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Title: Wild Heather
Author: Meade, L. T., 1854-1914
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 "Wild Heather" ***

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



WILD HEATHER

by

L. T. MEADE

With a Frontispiece in Colour
and Three Black-and-White Plates



Cassell and Company, Ltd.
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne
1911

All Rights Reserved



LIST OF PLATES


    HEATHER                                             _Frontispiece_

    "'OH, BUT HE MUST STAY,' I ANSWERED"                           116

    "'ALLOW ME TO TELL YOU, CAPTAIN CARBURY,'
    SAID LADY HELEN, 'THAT MY STEPDAUGHTER IS
    NOT FOR YOU'"                                                  184

    "WE SAT ON THE HEATHER, AND HE TOLD ME THE
    STORY OVER AGAIN"                                              310



[Illustration: HEATHER]



WILD HEATHER



CHAPTER I


There are all kinds of first things one can look back upon; I mean by
that the first things of all. There is the little toddling journey
across the floor, with father's arms stretched out to help one, and
mother's smile to greet one when the adventurous journey is over. And
there are other baby things, of course. Then there come the big things
which one can never forget.

My big thing arrived when I was eight years old. I came home with father
from India. Father's name was Major Grayson, and I was called Heather. I
was petted a great deal on board ship, and made a fuss about, and, in
consequence, I made a considerable fuss about myself and gave myself
airs. Father used to laugh when I did this and catch me in his arms and
press me close to his heart, and say:

"My dearest little Heather, I can quite perceive that you will be a
most fascinating woman when you grow up."

I remember even now his words, and the look on his face when he said
these things, but as I did not in the least comprehend them at the time,
I merely asked in my very pertest voice for the nicest sweetmeats he
could procure for me, on which he laughed more than ever, and, turning
to his brother officers, said:

"Didn't I say so? Heather will take the cake some time."

I suppose at that period of my life there was no one in the wide world
whom I loved as I did father. There was my nurse, but I was not
specially devoted to her, for she was fond of teasing me and sticking
pins into my dress without being careful with regard to the points. When
I wriggled and rushed away from her she used to say that I was a very
naughty and troublesome child. She never praised me nor used mysterious
words about me as father did, so, of course, I clung close to him.

I very, very dimly remembered my mother. As I have just said, my first
memory of all was running across the nursery floor and being caught by
my father, and my mother smiling at me. I really cannot recall her after
that, except that I have a very dim memory of being, on one occasion,
asked to stoop down and kiss her. My father was holding me in his arms
at the time, and I stooped and stooped and pressed my lips to hers and
said: "Oh, how cold!" and shuddered and turned away. I did not know then
that she was dead. This fact was not told me until long afterwards.

We had a most prosperous voyage home on board the _Pleiades_, with never
a storm nor any unpleasant sea complication, and father was in high
spirits, always chatting and laughing and playing billiards and making
himself agreeable all round, and I was very much petted, although one
lady assured me that it was on account of father, who was such a very
popular man, and not because I was little Heather Grayson myself.

By and by the voyage came to an end, and we were safe back in old
England. We landed at Southampton, and father took Anastasia and me to a
big hotel for the night. Anastasia, my nurse, and I had a huge room all
to ourselves. It did look big after the tiny state cabin to which I had
grown accustomed.

Anastasia was at once cross and sorrowful, and I wondered very much why
she was not glad to be back in old England. But when I asked her if she
were glad, her only answer was to catch me to her heart and kiss me over
and over again, and say that she never, oh never! meant to be unkind to
me, but that her whole one desire was to be my dearest, darling "Nana,"
and that she hoped and prayed I would ever remember her as such. I
thought her petting almost as tiresome as her crossness, so I said, in
my usual pert way:

"If you are really fond of me, you won't stick any more pins in me,"
when, to my amazement, she burst into a flood of tears.

Now I had a childish horror of tears, and ran out of the room. What
might have happened I do not know; whether I should have lost myself in
the great hotel, or whether Anastasia would have rushed after me and
picked me up and scolded me, and been more like her old self, and
forbidden me on pain of her direst displeasure to ever leave her side
without permission, I cannot tell. But the simple fact was that I saw
father in the corridor of the hotel, and father looked into my face and
said:

"Why, Heather, what's the matter?"

"It's Anastasia who is so queer," I said; "she is sorry about something,
and I said, 'If you are sorry you will never stick pins in me
again'--and then she burst out crying. I hate cry-babies, don't you,
Daddy?"

"Yes; of course I do," replied my father. "Come along downstairs with
me, Heather."

He lifted me up in his arms. I have said that I was eight years old, but
I was a very tiny girl, made on a small and neat scale. I had little,
dark brown curls, which Anastasia used to damp every morning and convert
into hideous rows of ringlets, as she called them. I was very proud of
my "ringerlets," as I pronounced the word at that time, and I had brown
eyes to match my hair, and a neat sort of little face. I was not the
least like father, who had a big, rather red face and grey hair, which I
loved to pull, and kind, very bright, blue eyes and a big mouth,
somewhat tremulous. I used to wonder even then why it trembled.

He rushed downstairs with me in his usual boisterous fashion, while I
laughed and shouted and told him to go faster and faster, and then he
entered a private sitting-room and rang the bell, and told the man who
appeared at his summons that dinner was to be served for two, and that
Miss Heather Grayson would dine with her father. Oh, didn't I feel
proud--this was an honour indeed!

"I need not go back to the cry-baby, then, need I?" I said.

"No," replied my father; "you need not, Heather. You are to stay with
me."

"Well, let's laugh and be very jolly," I said. "Let me be a robber,
pretending to pick your pockets, and you must lie back and shut your
eyes and pretend to be sound, sound asleep. You must not even start when
I pull your diamond ring off your finger. But, I say--oh, Daddy!--where
_is_ your diamond ring?"

"Upstairs, or downstairs, or in my lady's chamber," replied Daddy.
"Don't you bother about it, Heather. No, I don't want to play at being
burgled to-night. Sit close to me; lay your little head on my breast."

I did so. I could feel his great heart beating. It beat in big throbs,
now up, now down, now up, now down again.

Dinner was brought in, and I forgot all about the ring in the delight of
watching the preparations, and of seeing the grand, tall waiter laying
the table for two. He placed a chair at one end of the table for father,
and at the other end for me. This I did not like, and I said so. Then
father requested that the seats should be changed and that I should sit,
so to speak, in his pocket. I forget, in all the years that have rolled
by, what we had for dinner, but I know that some of it I liked and some
I could not bear, and I also remember that it was the dishes I could not
bear that father loved. He ate a good deal, and then he took me in his
arms and settled me on his knee, sitting so that I should face him, and
then he spoke.

"Heather, how old are you?"

I was accustomed to this sort of catechism, and answered at once, very
gravely:

"Eight, Daddy."

"Oh, you are more than eight," he replied, "you are eight and a half,
aren't you?"

"Eight years, five months, one week, and five days," I said.

"Come, that is better," he said, his blue eyes twinkling. "Always be
accurate when you speak. Always remember, please, Heather, that it was
want of accuracy ruined me."

"What is ruined?" I asked. "What in the world do you mean?"

"What I say. Now don't repeat my words. You will be able to think of
them by and by."

I was silent, pondering. Daddy was charming; there never was his like,
but he did say puzzling things.

"Now," he said, looking full at me, "what do you think I have come to
England for?"

I shook my head. When I did not know a thing I invariably shook my head.

"I have come on your account," he replied.

"On mine, Daddy?"

"Yes. I am going back again to India in a short time."

"Oh, what fun!" I answered. "I love being on board ship."

He did not reply at all to this.

"Why don't you speak?" I said, giving his grizzled locks a lusty tug.

"I am thinking," was his answer.

"Well, think aloud," I said.

"I am thinking about you, Heather. Have you ever by any chance heard of
a lady called Aunt Penelope?"

"Never," I answered. "Aunt Penelope--Aunt Penelope--what is an aunt,
Daddy?"

"Well, there is an Aunt Penelope waiting to see you in old England, and
I am going to take you down to her to-morrow. She is your
aunt--listen--think hard, Heather--use your brains--because she is your
mother's sister."

"Oh!" I answered. "Does that make an aunt?"

"Yes, that makes an aunt; or if she were your father's sister she would
also be your aunt."

I tried to digest this piece of information as best I could.

"I am taking you to her to-morrow, and you must learn to love her as
though she were your mother."

I shook my head.

"I can't," I said.

"Well, don't think about it," was Daddy's reply. "Love her, without
knowing that you love her. I believe she is a very good woman."

"I 'spect so," I said. "I don't much care for good womens."

As a rule I spoke quite correctly, but when excited I did make some
lapses.

"Well, that's all," said father, suddenly putting me down on the floor.
"Run up to bed now and to sleep. You will see Aunt Penelope to-morrow;
you will like her very much. I have brought you all the way to England
in order that you might see her."

I was a bit sleepy, and it was very late for me to be up. So I kissed
Daddy two or three times and ran upstairs all alone. Anastasia was
waiting for me at the head of the stairs.

"Anastasia," I shouted, "we are going to have a real jolly time. We are
going to Aunt Penelope to-morrow. She is aunt because she is mother's
sister; she would be aunt, too, if she was father's sister. I wonder how
many people she is aunt to? Is she your aunt, Anastasia?"

"No, my dear child," said Anastasia, in quite a gentle tone.

"And isn't it fun, Anastasia?" I continued. "Daddy has brought me all
the way to England just to see Aunt Penelope, and we are going back to
India almost immediately--Daddy said so."

"Said what, Miss Heather?"

"That we were going back to India almost--almost at once. Isn't it just
lovely? You will come too, of course, only you might remember about the
pins."

Anastasia, who had placed me on a little chair, now went abruptly to the
fire and stirred it into a brilliant blaze. I stared at it as a child
will who has seldom seen fires. Anastasia stood with her back to me for
a long time, even after she had done poking the fire, and when she
turned round I thought her eyes looked funny.

"Are you going to cry again?" I said. "I don't like cry-babies."

"Of course not, Miss Heather. Now let me undress you."

A minute later I was in bed, the firelight playing on the walls. The bed
was big and warm and soft. I felt tired and very happy. I dropped into
profound slumber. When I awoke it was broad daylight, and Anastasia was
shaking me.

"Get up, miss," she said. "If you want to be off in time you must be
stirring."

"Oh, hurrah!" I answered. "This is Aunt Penelope's day. Are we all
going, Anastasia? And when we go, shall I ask her at once if she is your
aunt, too?"

"Now, for goodness' sake, stay still, Miss Heather, while I tie your
things. You are such an awful fidget."

I was dressed in an incredibly short space of time, and I had eaten a
good breakfast, and Anastasia had taken me by the hand and brought me
downstairs. Daddy was waiting for me in the hall, and he looked very big
and broad and important. He went up to Anastasia and said a few words to
her, and I think he slipped something into her hand, but I am not sure.
She turned abruptly and walked away, and I said:

"Where is she going, father?"

"Never mind."

Then we got into a cab, and I said:

"But where's Anastasia?"

"Oh, if she's quick we may meet her at the railway station," said
father; "and if she is slow she must come on by the next train."

"Oh, dear, what a nuisance!" I answered. "I did want her to come with
us."

"It all depends upon whether she is quick or slow," said father.

"Well, at any rate," I answered, with a child's easy acceptance of a
situation which she cannot understand, "it is lovely to go to Aunt
Penelope."

We reached the railway station. Anastasia was slow--she was nowhere to
be seen. Father said, in his cheerful voice:

"All right, little woman, she'll catch the next train." And then we
found ourselves facing each other in two padded compartments of a
first-class carriage, and the train moved out of the station, and we
were off. There happened to be no one else in the carriage, but Daddy
was very silent, and almost pale, for him. Once he said, bending
towards me and speaking abruptly:

"Promise me one thing?"

"Yes, Daddy," I answered.

"You will never think badly of me whatever you hear?"

Now this was such a queer speech that I could not in the least
understand it, but I answered at once, in the queer sort of metaphor
that a child might use:

"I would not think badly of you, father, if the world rocked."

He kissed me two or three times after I said this, and so far recovered
his usual self that he allowed me to sit on his knee and play with his
watch chain. I was greatly taken with a little charm he wore, and when I
said I liked it he told me that it had once belonged to a great idol in
one of the most marvellous temples in the historic town of Delhi. He
said it was supposed to be a charm and to bring luck, and then he
detached it from his chain and slipped it on to a narrow gold chain
which I wore round my neck. He told me to keep it always, for it was
certain to bring luck. I said:

"What's luck?"

He answered: "Fair gales and a prosperous sail."

I nodded my head satisfactorily at that, and said:

"Then I will wear it, and you and me, Daddy"--I went wrong again with my
grammar--"will have fair gales and a prosperous sail when we are
returning to India."

He thrust his head out of the carriage window when I said this, and when
he put it back again I noticed that for some reason his face was as red
as ever.

Aunt Penelope's name was Penelope Despard, and she lived in a pretty
little place outside a pretty little town about fifty miles away from
Southampton. We got out at the station, which was called Cherton, and
there a cab awaited us, which had evidently been sent by order, and some
luggage was put on the roof. I was too excited by then to make any
comment with regard to the luggage, although I noticed it afterwards and
observed that it was all marked "H. G.," and there was nothing marked
"G. G.," for father's name was Gordon Grayson. I said to father, as we
got into the cab:

"I do wonder when Anastasia's train will arrive." And he said:

"So do I. I must make inquiries presently." But although I expected him
to make these inquiries at once he did not do so, and the cab started
off in the direction of Miss Despard's cottage.

Miss Penelope Despard lived in a little house with a little garden
attached. The little house went by the name of Hill View, and the garden
and tiny lawn were very pretty and very neatly kept. But I was
accustomed to big things--that is, except on board ship, when, of
course, I had the sea to look at, which seemed to go on for ever and
ever. So I was not excited about Aunt Penelope's garden. Father's face
continued to be very red. He held my hand and took me up the neatly-kept
gravel walk, and pushed a very brightly-polished brass button, which was
instantly answered by a neat-looking boy, with a perfectly round face,
in buttons.

"Is Miss Despard in?" asked father. And then a lady in spectacles came
out of a room at one side of a narrow hall, and father said:

"Hallo, Penelope! It is years since we met, and, Penelope, this is
Heather. Heather, my darling, here is your Aunt Penelope."

"I hope you are a good child and do what you are told always," said Aunt
Penelope.

She spoke in a very prim voice, and stooping down, kissed me, hurting my
face as she did so with the rim of her spectacles. I disliked her on the
spot and told her so with the frank eyes of a child, although I was not
quite rude enough to utter any words by my lips.

"Well, Gordon," said my aunt, "you were a little late, and I was
beginning to fear that you had missed your train. We shall just have
time to arrange everything before you return to Southampton."

"I am going to London to-night," said father.

"Well, well, it really doesn't matter to me. Child, don't stare."

I looked away at once. There was a parrot in a cage, and the parrot
said, in his shrill voice at that moment: "Stop knocking at the door."

I burst into a peal of laughter and ran towards him. I was about to
approach his cage with my finger, when Aunt Penelope said:

"He bites."

I did not want him to bite my finger, for his beak was so sharp. So I
said:

"Please, Aunt Penelope, are you aunt also to Anastasia?"

"I have never heard of her," said Aunt Penelope. "Little girls should be
seen and not heard."

At that moment the parrot again shouted out, "Stop knocking at the
door," and I was so amused by him that I did not mind Aunt Penelope.
After all, nothing much mattered, for I would be going to London
immediately with Daddy.

I stood and stared at the parrot, hoping much that he would speak again.
The parrot cocked his head to one side and looked at me, but he did not
utter a word.

"Speak, oh! do speak," I said in a whisper; the parrot turned his back
on me.

Aunt Penelope said, "Sit down, Heather."



CHAPTER II


A few minutes later we went into another room to lunch. It was a very
small room, smaller than many of the state cabins on board the good ship
_Pleiades_. There was a little table in the centre of the room, and
there were places for three laid at the table. Opposite to me was a milk
pudding, and opposite to Aunt Penelope was a tureen of soup, and
opposite to Daddy I really forget what. The boy in buttons came up and
helped me to a portion of pudding.

"I don't like it," I said at once. "Take it away, please, boy."

Aunt Penelope said: "Leave the pudding where it is, Jonas. Heather, my
dear, you must invariably eat what is put before you. I consider milk
pudding proper food for little girls, and had this made on purpose for
you."

"But I hate milk puddings, Aunt Penelope," I answered, "and I never,
never eat them."

"The child is accustomed to feed as I do," said my father, speaking in a
harsh, grating sort of voice, and avoiding my eyes.

"Well, in future," said Aunt Penelope, "she will eat as I want her to
eat. I must bring her up in my way or not at all, Gordon."

"Eat your pudding like a darling," said my father, and as Aunt Penelope
had really made a most silly speech, for father and I were leaving for
London almost immediately, I ate the horrid pudding just to please him.

When lunch was finished, Aunt Penelope went up to father and spoke to
him. He nodded, and I noticed that his face was very pale. Then he said:

"Perhaps so; perhaps it is the best thing." Then, all of a sudden, he
stooped and took me in his arms and pressed me very, very close to his
heart, and let me down on the floor rather suddenly. The next minute he
had taken half-a-crown out of his pocket.

"Your Aunt Penelope and I want to have a little private talk," he said,
"and I was thinking that you might--or rather your aunt was thinking
that you might--go out for a walk with Buttons."

"His name is Jonas," said Aunt Penelope.

"I beg his pardon--with Jonas--and he will take you to a toy shop. You
have never seen any English toys, and you might buy a new doll with
this."

"I'd like to buy some sort of toy," I answered, "but I don't want
dolls--I hate them. Can I buy a parrot, do you think, and would he talk
to me? I'd rather like that, and it would be great, great fun to have
him when we are sailing back with gentle gales and a prosperous sail to
darling India."

"Well, go and buy something, darling," said father, and I nodded to him
brightly and went out of the room.

Buttons, as I continued to call him in my own heart, for I could not get
round his other name of Jonas, was really quite agreeable. He took me
away to a high part of the town and very far from the shops, and on to a
wild stretch of moor; here he told me all kinds of extraordinary stories
about rats and cats and mice and caterpillars. He confided the fact to
me that he kept white mice in his attic bedroom, but that if Miss
Despard found it out he would be sent about his business on the spot. He
implored me to be extremely secret with regard to the matter, and I
naturally promised that I would.

"You need not fear, Buttons," I said. "Ladies, who are true ladies,
never repeat things when they are asked not."

"And you are a real, true lady, missy," was his answer.

He further promised to enlighten me with regard to the method of
producing silk from silk-worms, and told me what fun it was to wind the
silk off the big yellow cocoons.

"I think," I said, "I should like that very much, for if I got a big lot
I should have enough silk to make a yellow silk dress for Anastasia."

"Whoever's she?" asked Buttons.

"I believe, Buttons," I said, dropping my voice, "that Aunt Penelope is
really aunt to her, too, and she is coming on by the next train. She is
very nice when she is not a cry-baby, and when she doesn't stick pins
into you. She has a somewhat yellow complexion, so, of course, the
yellow silk dress would suit her."

"Yes, miss, I am sure of that," said Buttons.

He took me so far that I began to get tired, and the sun was going down
behind the hills when we returned to the town. We had very nearly
reached the little house of Hill View when I remembered Daddy's
half-crown, and that I had never bought a toy.

"It's too late to-day, miss," said Buttons, "but you can come out
walking with me to-morrow and we can get it then."

I laughed.

"I can get it in London, I expect," I said. "London's a great big
place. Oh, I do hope," I continued, "that I haven't been keeping darling
Daddy waiting!"

When Buttons opened the little gate of Hill View I ran up the
neatly-kept avenue and pounded with my hands on the glass panels of the
door. It was Aunt Penelope herself who opened it.

"Where's Daddy?" I said. "Am I late? Oh, I hope I am not! And has
Anastasia come?"

Aunt Penelope looked quite gentle. She took my hand and led me into the
drawing-room. The drawing-room was bigger than the dining-room, but was
still a very tiny room.

"Now, Heather," she said, "I have something to say to you."

"Where's Daddy? I want Daddy," I said. "Where is he?"

I began to tremble for fear of I did not know what. The terror of
something hitherto unknown came over me.

"He sent you his best love and his good-bye, and he will come and see
you again before he sails."

Aunt Penelope tried to speak kindly, although she had not by nature a
kind voice. I stared at her with all my might and main.

"He went away without me?" I said.

"He had to, dear. Now, Heather, I can quite understand that this is a
trial for you, but you've got to bear it. Your father will come and see
you again before he returns to India, and meanwhile you are my little
girl and will live with me."

I stood perfectly still, as though I were turned into stone. Aunt
Penelope put out her hand to touch me, and just at that moment the
parrot cried, "Stop knocking at the door!" Aunt Penelope tried to draw
me towards her, she tried to lift me on to her knee.

"Come," she said, "come--be a good little girl. I shall try to be good
to you."

I raised my hand and slapped her with extreme violence on the face.

"I hate you and all aunts, and I will never, never be good to you or to
anyone!"

And then, somehow or other, I think I lost consciousness, for I cannot
remember, even after this lapse of years, what immediately followed.



CHAPTER III


The next thing that I recall was also connected with that most terrible
day. I was lying on a tiny bed, a sort of cot bed, in a very small room.
There was a fire about the size of a pocket-handkerchief burning in the
wee-est grate I have ever looked at. A woman was sitting by the fire
with her back to me, the woman was knitting and moving her hands very
rapidly. She wore a little cap on her head with long black lappets to
it. I noticed how ugly the cap was and how ugly the woman herself looked
as she sat and knitted by the fire. I suppose some little movement on my
part caused her to turn round, for she came towards me and then I
observed that it was Aunt Penelope.

"That's a good girl," she said; "you are better now, Heather."

A sort of instinct came over me at that moment. Instead of bursting into
a storm of rage and tears, I stayed perfectly quiet. I looked her calmly
in the face. I remembered every single thing that had happened. Father
had gone, and I was left behind. I said, in a gentle tone:

"I am much better, Aunt Penelope."

"Come," said Aunt Penelope, speaking cheerfully, "you shall have some
nice bread and milk presently, and then I will undress you myself and
put you to bed. Lie quite quiet now like a good child, while I go down
to prepare the bread and milk."

I made no answer, but lay still, my eyes fixed on her face. She turned
and left the room.

The moment she had shut the door I sat up in bed. I had been acting a
part. I was only eight years old, that is, eight years and a half, or
very nearly so. Nevertheless, I was a consummate actress all the time
Aunt Penelope was in the room. The instant she had gone I scrambled to
my feet and slid off the little bed and stood upright on the floor. I
saw the hat I had worn when I came from Southampton, lying on a chair,
and also the little jacket. I further noticed with satisfaction that my
boots were still on my feet. In a flash I had managed to button on my
jacket and to slip the elastic of my hat under my thick hair, and then,
with the half-crown which father had given me safely deposited in my
pocket, I softly, very softly, opened my bedroom door. Oh, yes; I was
acting splendidly! I was quite excited with the wonder of the thing, and
this excitement kept me up for the time being. I heard Aunt Penelope's
voice downstairs. She was saying something; her words reached me quite
distinctly.

"Go at once to the chemist's, Jonas, and tell him to make up the
prescription the doctor has given, and bring it back again as fast as
ever you can. Wait for it until it is made up. The child is highly
feverish, and must have the medicine at once."

Jonas said, "Yes, Miss Despard," and I heard the front door of the
little house open and shut again. I also heard Aunt Penelope going away
to the back part of the premises, and I further heard the shrill voice
of the parrot, making use of his constant cry, "Stop knocking at the
door!" Now was my opportunity.

I glided downstairs like a little ghost. I ran swiftly across the hall,
I opened the front door--it was quite easy to open, for the door was a
very small one--and then I let myself out. The next minute I was running
down the street, running as fast as ever I could, and as far as possible
from Hill View House. I had a distinct object in my mind. I did not mean
to run away in the ordinary sense; my one sole desire was to go to the
railway station to meet the train which would bring Anastasia. Father
had said with his own lips that she would come by the next train. Of
course, I had no idea where the railway station was. I felt that I must
run as quickly as possible, for Jonas might see me, and although he was
quite a kind boy, I did not want him to see me then. I hoped the
chemist--whoever the chemist was--would keep him some time, and that the
feverish person--whoever the feverish person was--would be kept waiting
for whatever Jonas was fetching for that person. I did not meet Jonas,
and I ran a long way. Presently I came bang up against a stout,
red-faced woman, who said:

"Look out where you are going, little 'un."

I paused and looked into her face.

"Have I hurt you?" I asked.

The woman burst out laughing.

"My word!" she answered. "As if a mite like you would hurt _me_. Is it
likely? And who are you, and where are you going?"

"I am going to the railway station to meet Anastasia," I said. Then I
added, as a quick thought flashed through my mind, "Anastasia is my
nurse, and she's coming by the next train. I will give you some money
if you will take me to the railway station to meet her."

"How much money will you give me?" asked the red-faced woman.

"I will give you a whole half-crown," I said. "Please, please take
me--it is so dreadfully important, for the next train may come in, and
Anastasia may not know where to go to."

"Well, to be sure," said the woman, looking me all over from top to toe;
"I don't seem to know you, little miss, but there's no harm in me taking
you as far as the station, and the next train will be due in a very few
minutes, so we'll have to go as fast as possible."

"I don't mind running, if you don't mind running too," I answered.

"I can't run," said the woman; "I'm too big."

"Well," I said, "perhaps the best thing of all would be for you to show
me how to get to the railway station. If you do that, I can run very
fast indeed, and you shall have your half-crown."

"That would be much the best way," said the woman; "and look, missy, you
haven't very far to go. Here we are at the foot of this steep hill.
Well, you run up it as fast as ever you can, and when you get to the
top you will see the railway station right in front of you, and all you
have to do is to ask if the train is in. There's only one train in and
one train out at a little railway station like ours, so you can't miss
your way. You will have to ask a porter, or any man you see, to show you
the platform where the trains come in, and there you are. Now, my
half-crown, please, missy."

"Yes. Here it is," I answered, "and I am very much obliged to you,
woman."

I thrust the money into her hand and began to run as fast as ever I
could up the hill. I was a very slight child, and ran well. With the
fear and longing, the indescribable dread of I knew not what in my
heart, there seemed to be wings attached to my feet now, for I went up
the hill so fast--oh, so fast!--until at last I arrived, breathless, at
the top. A man was standing leisurely outside an open door. He said,
"Hallo!" when he saw me, and I answered back, "Hallo!" and then he said:

"What can I do for you, little miss?" and I said:

"I have come to meet the next train, and, please, when will it be in,
for Anastasia is coming by it?"

"Whoever is Anastasia?" asked the man.

"My nurse," I answered; "and she's coming by the next train."

The man whistled.

"Please show me the right platform, man," I said. "I have no money to
give you at all, so I hope you will be very, very kind, for I gave all
the money I possessed in the world to a stout, red woman at the bottom
of the hill. She showed me how to get here, but she could not run fast
enough, for she was so very stout, so I left her and came on alone.
Please show me the platform and Anastasia shall give you some money when
she comes."

"I don't want any money, missy," said the man in a kind tone. "You come
along of me. There's the London express specially ordered to stop here,
because Sir John Carrington and his lady are expected. The expresses
don't stop here as a rule, missy--only the slow trains; but maybe the
person you want will be in this express."

"She's sure to be if it's the next train," I said. "Is it the next
train?"

"Well, yes, miss, I suppose it is. Ah! she is signalled."

"Who is signalled?" I asked. "Is it Anastasia?"

"No, missy; the train. You grip hold of my hand, and I'll see you safe.
What a mite of a thing you be."

I held the man's hand very firmly. I liked him immensely--I put him at
once third in my heart. Father was first, Anastasia second, and the
railway porter third.

The great train came thundering in, and a kind-looking gentleman,
accompanied by a beautifully-dressed lady and a number of servants,
alighted on the platform. But peer and peer as I would, I could not get
a sight of Anastasia.

"Now, missy, you look out," said the porter. "Wherever do she be?"

"Hallo--hallo! Where have you dropped from?" said a voice at that moment
in my ears, and, looking up, I saw that Sir John Carrington was a man
who had come all the way from India on board the _Pleiades_, and that,
of course, I knew him quite well.

"Why, Heather," he said. "My dear," he continued, turning to his wife,
"here's Major Grayson's little girl. Heather, child, what are you doing
here?"

"I am looking for Anastasia," I said, in a bewildered sort of way.

Lady Carrington had a most sweet face. I had never noticed before how
very lovely and kind it could be.

"You poor little darling," she said, "Anastasia isn't here." Then she
began whispering to her husband and looking down at me, and her soft,
brown eyes filled with tears, and Sir John shook his head and I heard
him say, "Dear, dear, how very pathetic!" and then Lady Carrington said,
"We must take her home with us, John."

"No, no," I answered at that; "I can't go home--I must wait until the
_next_ train, for Anastasia will come by the _next_ train."

"We'll see that she's met," said Sir John. "Come, Heather, you've got to
come home with us."

I have often wondered since what my subsequent life would have been had
I really gone home that night with Sir John and Lady Carrington, whether
the troubles which lay before me would ever have existed, and whether I
should have been the Heather I now am, or not. But be that as it may,
just as Lady Carrington had put sixpence into the hand of my kind porter
and was leading me away towards the beautiful motor car which was
waiting for her, a strong and very bony hand was laid on my shoulder,
and a voice said fiercely, and yet with a tremble in it:

"Well, you are enough to try the nerves of anybody, you bad, naughty
child!"

"Oh, Aunt Penelope," I said. "Oh, Aunt Penelope, I can't go back with
you!"

"We knew this little girl," said Sir John; "she came from India on board
the _Pleiades_ with us."

"Heather Grayson came from India on board the _Pleiades_ to live with
me," said Aunt Penelope. "Her father has just committed her to my care.
She is an extremely naughty child. I haven't the least idea who you
are."

"This is my card," said Sir John.

When Aunt Penelope read the words on the card she became kinder in her
manner.

"I suppose I must welcome you back again, Sir John," she said. "It is
years and years since you visited your native place. But I won't detain
you now. Heather, come with me."

"Pray give us your name," said Lady Carrington.

"Miss Despard, of Hill View," was her answer, and then she took my hand
and led me out into the street.

I suppose I was really feverish, or whatever that word signifies to a
child, for I do not remember anything about what happened during the
next few days; then by slow degrees memory returned to me. I was very
weak when this happened. Memory came back in a sort of dim way at first,
and seemed to be half real and half a dream. Once I was quite certain
that I saw a tall and broadly-made man in the room, and that when he
stood up his head nearly touched the ceiling, and that when he sat down
by my cot and took my hand I said "Daddy, daddy," and after that I had a
comfortable sleep. There is no doubt whatever that I had a sort of dream
or memory of this tall man, not once, but twice or thrice; then I did
not see him any more.

Again, I had another memory. Anastasia had really come by a train at
last, and was in my room. She was bending over me and smoothing my
bed-clothes, and telling me over and over again to be a good girl, and I
kept on saying, "Oh, Anastasia, don't let the pins stick in," but even
that memory faded. Then there came more distinct thoughts that seemed to
be not memories but realities. Aunt Penelope sat by my bedside. There
was nothing dreamlike about her. She was very upright and full of
purpose, and she was always knitting either a long grey stocking or a
short sock. She never seemed to waste a moment of her time, and while I
looked at her in a dazed sort of way, she kept on saying, "Don't fidget
so, Heather," or perhaps she said, "Heather, it's time for your gruel,"
or, "Heather, my dear, your beef tea is ready for you."

At last there came a day when I remembered everything, and there were no
shadows of any sort, and I sat up in bed, a very weak little child. Aunt
Penelope was kinder than usual that day. She gave me a little bit of
chicken to eat, and I was so hungry that I enjoyed it very much, and
then she said:

"Now you will do nicely, Heather, and I hope in future you will be
careful of your health and not give me such a fright again."

"Aunt Penelope," I said, "I want to ask you a question, or rather, two
questions."

"Ask away, my dear," she replied.

"Did father come here by any chance? While I was in that cloud sort of
world I seemed to feel that he came to see me, and that he looked taller
and broader than before."

"I should think he did," said Aunt Penelope. "Why, he had to stoop to
get in at the door, and when he was in the room his head almost touched
the ceiling."

"Then he was here?" I said.

"Yes. He came three times to see you. That was when you were really
bad."

"When is he coming again?" I asked.

"Finish your chicken, and don't ask silly questions," snapped Aunt
Penelope.

I did finish my chicken, and Aunt Penelope took the plate away.

"Was Anastasia here also?" I asked. "And did I say to her, 'Please,
don't let the pins stick in'?"

"The woman who brought you back from India came to see you once or
twice," said Aunt Penelope.

"Then she did catch the next train?" I said.

"You have talked enough now, my dear Heather. Lie down and go to sleep."

"When will she come again?" I asked.

"You have talked enough. I am not going to answer any silly questions.
Lie down and sleep."

I was very sleepy, and I suppose that when you are really as weak as I
was then, you don't feel things very much. Now I allowed Aunt Penelope
to lay me flat down in my little bed, and closing my eyes I forgot
everything in slumber.

Those are my first memories. I got well, of course, of that childish
illness, and Aunt Penelope by and by explained things to me.

Anastasia was not coming back at all, and father had gone to India. Aunt
Penelope was rather restrained and rather queer when she spoke of
father. She told me also that she had the entire charge of me, and that
I was being brought up at her expense, as father had no money to spend
on me. She gave me to understand that she was a very poor woman, and
could not afford any servant except Buttons, or Jonas, as she called
him. She said she preferred a boy in the house to a woman, for he was
smarter at going messages and a greater protection at night. I could not
understand half what she said. Almost all her narrative was mixed with
injunctions to me to be good, to be very good, to love my aunt more than
anyone in the world, but to love God best. When I stoutly declared that
I loved father better than anyone in any world, she said I was a naughty
child. I did not mind that--I kept on saying that I loved father best.

Then I got quite well and was sent to school, to a funny sort of little
day school, where I did not learn a great deal, but made friends slowly
with other children. I liked school better than home, for Aunt Penelope
was always saying, "Don't, don't!" or, "You mustn't, you mustn't!" when
I was at home; and as I never knew why I should not do the things she
said I was not to do, I kept on doing them in a sort of bewilderment.
But at school there were rules of a sort, and I followed them as
attentively as I could.

Thus the years went by, and from a little girl of eight years of age I
was a tall, slender girl of eighteen, grown up--yes, grown up at last,
and I was waiting for father, who was coming back for good, and my heart
was full to the brim with longing to see him.



CHAPTER IV


During all these long years I had grown to tolerate Aunt Penelope. I
found that her bark was worse than her bite; I found, too, that if I let
her alone, she let me alone. She was always changing Buttons, and the
new boy was invariably called Jonas, just as the last had been. The
parrot kept on living, and kept on shouting at intervals every day,
"Stop knocking at the door!" but he never would learn any fresh words,
although I tried hard to teach him. He did not like me, and snapped at
me when I endeavoured to be kind to him. So I concluded that he was a
kind of "double" of Aunt Penelope, and left him alone.

The little house was kept scrupulously clean, but the food was of the
plainest, and Aunt Penelope wore the oldest and shabbiest clothes, and
she dressed me very badly too. At that time in my career I did not
greatly mind about dress. What I did mind was that she never would let
me talk about father. She always shut me up or turned the conversation.
She had an awful book of musty old sermons, which she set me to read
aloud to her the very instant I began to ask her questions about my
father, so that by degrees I kept my thoughts to myself. I wrote to
father from the very first, but I never got a reply. I used to post the
letters myself, so I knew they must have reached him, but he never
answered, and as the years went on I wrote less often, for you cannot
keep up a correspondence on one side only. I used to wonder at the time
if Aunt Penelope kept back his letters to me, but I did not like to
accuse her of such a monstrous crime.

At last, however, just after I had passed my eighteenth birthday, and
was a tall, shabbily-dressed girl, who had learnt all that could be
taught at the High School--the only one to which Aunt Penelope could
afford to send me--she herself came to me in a state of great
excitement, and said that father was returning home.

"He is coming to settle in England," she said. "I must be frank with
you, Heather, and tell you that it is not at all to your advantage that
he should do so."

"Aunt Penelope," I answered, "why do you say words of that sort?"

"I say them," she replied, "because I know the world and you don't. Your
father is not the sort of man who would do any girl the slightest good."

"You had better not speak against him to me," I said.

"I have taken great pains with you," said Aunt Penelope, "and have
brought you up entirely out of my own very slender means. You are, for
your age, fairly well educated, you understand household duties. You can
light a fire as quickly and deftly as any girl I ever met, and you
understand the proper method of dusting a room. You can also do plain
cooking, and you can make your own clothes. I don't know anything about
your intellectual acquirements, but your teacher, Miss Mansel, at the
High School, says that you are fairly proficient. Well, my dear, all
these things you owe to me. You came to me a very ignorant, very
self-opinionated, silly, delicate little girl. You are now a fine,
strong young woman. Your father is returning--he will be here
to-morrow."

I clasped my hands tightly together. There was no use in saying to this
withered old aunt of mine how I pined for him, how his kindly,
good-humoured face, his blue eyes, his grizzled locks, had haunted and
haunted me for ten long years.

"I understand," said Aunt Penelope, "that your father, after running
through all his own money, and all of yours--for your mother had as much
to live on as I have--has suddenly come into a new fortune. In his last
letter to me he wrote that he wished to take you to London to introduce
you to the great world. Now, I earnestly hope, my dear Heather, that you
will be firm on this point and refuse to go with him. I am an old woman
now, and I need your presence as a return for all the kindness I have
done for you, and the life with your father would be anything but good
for you. I shall naturally not object to your seeing him again, but, to
speak frankly, I think, after all the years of toil and trouble I have
spent on you, it is your bounden duty to stay with me and to refuse your
father's invitation to go to London with him."

"Stop knocking at the door!" called the parrot at that moment.

When Aunt Penelope had finished her long speech I looked at her and then
said quietly:

"I know you have been good to me, and I have been many times a naughty
girl to you, but, you see, father comes first, and if he wants me I am
going to him."

"I thought you would say so. Your ingratitude is past bearing."

"Fathers always do come before aunts, don't they?" I asked.

"Oh, please don't become childish again, Heather. Go out and get the
tea. I am tired of the want of proper feeling of the present day. Do you
know that this morning Jonas broke that valuable Dresden cup and saucer
that I have always set such store by? It has spoiled my set."

"What a shame," I answered. And I went into the kitchen to prepare the
tea.

The Jonas of that day was a small boy of thirteen. He wore the very
antiquated suit of Buttons which the first Jonas had appeared in ten
years ago. He had very fat, red cheeks, and small, puffy eyes, and a
little button of a mouth, and he was always asleep except when Aunt
Penelope was about, when he ran and raced and pretended to do a lot, and
broke more things than can be imagined. He awoke now when I entered the
kitchen.

"Jonas, you are a bad boy," I said; "the kettle isn't boiling, and the
fire is nearly out."

"I'll pour some paraffin on the fire and it will blaze up in a minute,"
said Jonas.

"You won't do anything of the kind; it is most dangerous--and Jonas,
what a shame that you should have broken that Dresden cup and saucer!"

"Lor', miss, it was very old," said Jonas. "We wears out ourselves, so
does the chaney."

"Now don't talk nonsense," said I, half laughing. "Cut some bread and
I'll toast it. Jonas, I am a very happy girl to-day; my dear father is
coming back to-morrow."

"Lor'," said Jonas, "I wouldn't be glad if my gov'nor wor coming back.
He's sarvin' his time, miss, but don't let on that you know."

"Serving his time?" I answered. "What is that?"

"Lor', miss, he's kept by the Government. They has all the expense of
him, and a powerful eater he ever do be!"

I did not inquire any further, but went on preparing the tea. When it
was ready I brought it to Aunt Penelope.

"Do you know," I said, as I poured her out a cup, "that Jonas says his
father is 'serving his time'? What does that mean?"

Aunt Penelope turned red and then white. Then she said, in a curious,
restrained sort of voice:

"I wouldn't use that expression if I were you, Heather. It applies to
people who are detained in prison."

"Oh!" I answered. Then I said, in a low tone, "I am very sorry for
Jonas."

The next day father came back. Ten years is a very long time to have
done without seeing your only living parent, and if father had been red
and grizzled when last I beheld him, his hair was white now.
Notwithstanding this fact, his eyes were as blue as ever, and he had the
same jovial manner. He hugged and hugged me, and pushed me away from him
and looked at me again, and then he hugged me once more, and said to
Aunt Penelope:

"She does you credit, Penelope. She does, really and truly. When we have
smartened her up a bit, and--oh! you know all about it, Penelope--she'll
be as fine a girl as I ever saw."

"I have taught Heather to regard her clothes in the light in which the
sacred Isaac Watts spoke of them," replied Aunt Penelope:

    "Why should our garments, made to hide
    Our parents' shame, provoke our pride?
    Let me be dressed fine as I will,
    Flies, flowers, and moths, exceed me still."

"That's a very ugly verse, if you will permit me to say so, Penelope,"
remarked my father, and then he dragged me down to sit on his knee.

He was wonderfully like his old self, and yet there was an extraordinary
change in him. He used to be--at least the dream-father I had thought of
all these years used to be--a very calm, self-contained man, never put
out nor wanting in self-possession. But now he started at intervals and
had an anxious, almost nervous manner. Aunt Penelope would not allow me
to sit long on my father's knee.

"You forget, Heather, that you are not a child," she said. "Jump up and
attend to the Major's comforts. I do not forget, Major, how particular
you used to be about your toast. You were an awful fidget when you were
a young man."

"Ha! ha!" said my father. "Ha! ha! And I am an awful fidget still, Pen,
an awful fidget. But Heather makes good toast; she's a fine girl--that
is, she will be, when I have togged her up a bit."

Here he winked at me, and Aunt Penelope turned aside as though she could
scarcely bear the sight. After tea, to my infinite disgust, I was
requested to leave the room. I went up to my tiny room, and, to judge
from the rise and fall of two voices, an animated discussion was going
on downstairs. At the end of half an hour Aunt Penelope called to me to
come down. As I entered the room the parrot said, "Stop knocking at the
door!" and my father remarked:

"I wonder, Penelope, you don't choke that bird!" Aunt Penelope turned to
me with tears in her eyes.

"Heather, your father wishes you to join him in London at once. He has
arranged, however, that you shall spend a certain portion of each year
with me."

"Yes," remarked my father, "the dull time in the autumn. You shall
always have her back then--that is, until she marries a duke or someone
worthy of her."

"Am I really to go with you, Daddy?" I asked. "Really and truly?"

"Not to come with me to-night, pretty pet," he answered, pinching my
cheek as he spoke. "I must find a habitation worthy of my little girl.
But early next week your aunt--your kind aunt--will see you into the
train and I will meet you at the terminus, and then, heigho! for a new
life!"

I could not help laughing with glee, and then I was sorry, for Aunt
Penelope had been as kind as kind could be after her fashion, and I did
wrong not to feel some regret at leaving her. But when a girl has only
her father, and that father has been away for ten long years, surely she
is to be excused for wishing to be with him again.

Aunt Penelope hardly spoke at all after my father left. What her
thoughts were I could not define; I am afraid, too, I did not try to
guess them. But early next morning she began to make preparations for my
departure. The little trunks which had accompanied me to Hill View were
placed in the centre of my room, and Aunt Penelope put my very modest
wardrobe into them. She laid between my nice, clean, fresh linen some
bunches of home-grown lavender.

"You will think of me when you smell this fragrant perfume, Heather,"
she said; and I thought I saw something of a suspicion of tears in her
eyes. I sprang to her then, and flung my arms round her neck, and said:

"Oh, I do want to go, and yet I also want to stay. Can't you understand,
Aunt Penelope?"

"No, I cannot," she replied, pulling my hands away almost roughly; "and,
what is more, I dislike silly, nonsensical speeches. No one can wish to
do two things directly opposite at the same time. Now, count out your
handkerchiefs. I bought you six new ones for your last birthday, and you
had before then, how many?"

I am afraid I forgot. I am afraid I tried Aunt Penelope very much; but,
after all, her time of suffering was to be short, for that very evening
there came a telegram from father, desiring Aunt Penelope to send me up
to London by the twelve o'clock train the following day.

"I will meet Heather at Victoria," he said.

So the next day I left Hill View, and kissed Aunt Penelope when I went,
and very nearly kissed the parrot, and shook hands quite warmly with the
reigning Jonas, and Aunt Penelope saw me off at the station, and I was
as glad to go as I had been sorry to come. Thus I shut away the old
life, and turned to face the new.

I had not been half an hour in the carriage before, looking up, I saw
the kind eyes of a very beautiful lady fixed on mine. I had been so
absorbed with different things that I had not noticed her until that
moment. She bent towards me, and said:

"I think I cannot be mistaken, surely your name is Heather Grayson?"

"Yes," I answered.

"And you are going to meet your father, Major Grayson?"

"How do you know?" I said.

"Well, it so happens that I am going up to town to meet both him and my
husband. It is long years since I have seen you; but you are not greatly
altered. Do you remember the day when you went to the railway station at
Cherton, and asked for a person called Anastasia, and my husband and I
spoke to you?"

"Oh, are you indeed Lady Carrington?" I asked.

"Yes, I am; and I am going to town to meet your father and Sir John. You
were a very little girl when I had the pleasure of last speaking to you;
now you are a young woman."

"Yes," I replied. Then I added, looking her full in the face, "I suppose
I am quite grown-up; I am eighteen."

"Do you mind telling me, Miss Grayson, if you are going to live with
your father?"

"I think so," I replied.

She looked very thoughtful. After a minute she said:

"You can confide in me or not, Miss Grayson. I ask for no confidences on
your part that you are not willing to give, and if you would rather not
tell me, I will not press you."

"What do you want to say?" I asked.

"Have you any idea why you have been separated from your father for ten
long years?"

"My father was in India," I replied, "and Aunt Penelope says that India
is not thought good for little girls. I liked it immensely when I was
there, but Aunt Penelope says it injures them in some sort of fashion.
Of course, I cannot tell how or why."

"And that is all you really know?"

"There is nothing else to know," I replied.

She was silent, leaning back against her cushions. Just as we were
reaching Victoria she bent forward again, and said:

"Heather--for I must call you by that name--I have known your father for
years, and whatever the world may do, I, for one, will never forsake
him, nor will my dear husband. I have also known your mother, although
she died many years ago. For these reasons I want to be good to you,
their only child. So, Heather, if you happen to be in trouble, will you
come to me? My address is 15A, Princes Gate. I am at home most mornings,
and at all times a letter written to that address will find me. Ah!
here we are, and I see your father and--and my husband." She abruptly
took my hand and squeezed it.

"Remember what I have said to you," was her next remark, "and keep the
knowledge that I mean to be your friend to yourself."

The train drew up at the platform. Father clasped me in his arms. He
introduced me to Sir John Carrington, who laughed and said: "Oh, what a
changed Heather!" and then my father spoke to Lady Carrington, who began
to talk to him at once in a very earnest, low voice. I heard her say:

"Where are you taking her?" but I could not hear my father's reply.

Then the Carringtons drove off in their beautiful motor-car, and father
and I stepped into a brougham, a private one, very nicely appointed, my
luggage--such very simple luggage--was placed on the roof, and we were
away together.

"Now I want Anastasia," I said.

"We'll find her if we can," said father. "You'd like her to be your
maid, wouldn't you, Heather?"

"Oh, yes," I answered. "I did miss her so awfully." And I told father
how I had run to the railway station to meet the next train on that
terrible day long ago and how Aunt Penelope had followed me.

He laughed, and said I was a rare plucky one, and then we drew up before
a grand hotel and entered side by side. We were shown immediately into a
private sitting-room, which had two bedrooms opening out of it, one for
father and one for me. Father said:

"Heather, I mean to show you life as it is, and to-night we are going to
the theatre. We shall meet a friend of mine there--a very charming lady,
who, I know, will be interested in you, and I want you to be interested
in her too, as she is a great friend of mine."

"But I only want you to be great friends with me," I said.

Father laughed at this, got a little red, and turned the conversation.

"What dress have you for the theatre?" he asked.

"I don't think I have any," I said. "I don't possess any evening dress."

"But that won't do," he replied. "What is the hour? We really haven't an
instant to lose."

He looked at the clock on the mantelpiece.

"We can manage it," he said. He spoke down a tube, and presently was
told that his carriage awaited him.

"Come, Heather, come," he said. "You must be togged up properly for
to-night."

After my very quiet life at Hill View this complete change made me so
excited that I scarcely knew how to contain myself.

We got into the brougham and drove to a smart shop, where fortunately a
pretty dress of soft black was able to be procured. This was paid for
and put into a box, and we returned to the hotel, but not before father
had bought me also some lilies of the valley to wear with the dress.

I went up to our sitting-room alone, for he was busy talking to a lady
who seemed to have the charge of a certain department downstairs, the
result of which was that after tea a very fashionable hairdresser
arrived, who arranged my thick dark hair in the latest and most becoming
fashion, and who even helped me to get into my black dress. When I
joined father my eyes were shining and my cheeks were bright with
colour.

"Oh, what fun this is!" I said.

"Yes, isn't it?" he answered. "Where are your flowers?"

I had put them on, but he did not like the way I had arranged them, so
he settled them himself in a more becoming manner, and then he slipped a
single string of pearls round my white throat and showed me--lying on a
chair near by--a most lovely, dainty opera cloak, all made in pink and
white, which suited me just perfectly.

"Now, we'll have some dinner, and then we'll be off," he said. "Lady
Helen Dalrymple will admire you to-night, Heather, and I want her to."

Who was Lady Helen Dalrymple?



CHAPTER V


It certainly was a wonderful night. Lady Helen Dalrymple had placed her
box at the theatre at our disposal. She was a tall and slender woman,
dressed in the extreme height of a fashion which I had never even
dreamed about. Her cheeks had a wonderful colour in them, which was at
once soft and vivid. Her lips were red and her eyes exceedingly dark.
She greeted me with great _empressement_; her voice was high-pitched,
and I cannot say that it impressed me agreeably.

"Welcome, welcome, my dear Heather," she said, and then she invited me
to seat myself on the front chair near her own, whereas father sat
behind at the back of the box.

The play began, and to me it was a peep into fairy land. I had never
seen a play before, but, of course, I had read about plays and great
actors and actresses, and this one--_As You Like It_--took my breath
away. I could scarcely restrain my rapture as the different scenes
flitted before my eyes, and as the characters--all real to me--fitted
their respective parts. But in the midst of my delight Lady Helen bent
towards me and said:

"Don't the footlights dazzle your eyes a little, child? Would you not
prefer to take this chair and let your father come to the front of the
box?"

Now, my eyes were quite strong, and the footlights did not dazzle them
in the very least, but I slipped back into the other seat, and, after
that, if the truth must be known, I only got little glimpses of the play
from time to time. Lady Helen and father, instead of being in raptures
over the performance, kept up a running fire of whispered talk together,
not one word of which could I catch, nor, indeed, did I want to--so
absorbingly anxious was I to follow the story of Rosalind in the Forest
of Arden.

When at last the performance was over, father suggested that we should
all go to the Savoy Hotel for supper, where, accordingly, we went. But
once again, although there was a very nice table reserved for us, father
and Lady Helen did all the talking, and I was left in the cold. I looked
around me, and for the first time had a distinct sense of home-sickness
for the very quiet little house I had left. By this time Aunt Penelope
would be sound asleep in bed, and Buttons would have gone to his rest in
the attic, and the parrot would have ceased to say "Stop knocking at the
door!" I was not accustomed to be up so late, and I suddenly found
myself yawning.

Lady Helen fixed her bright eyes on my face.

"Tired, Heather?" she asked.

I had an instinctive sort of feeling that she ought not to call me
Heather, and started back a little when she spoke.

"Oh, you need not be shocked, Heather," said my father. "Lady Helen is
such a very great friend of mine that you ought to be only too proud
when she addresses you by your Christian name."

"I shall have a great deal to do with you in future, my dear," said Lady
Helen, and then she looked at father, and they both laughed.

"The very first thing I want you to see about, kind Lady Helen," said
father, in his most chivalrous manner, "is this poor, sweet child's
wardrobe. She wants simply everything. Will you take her to the shops
to-morrow and order for her just what she requires?"

Lady Helen smiled and nodded.

"We shall be in time to have her presented." Lady Helen bent her face
towards father's and whispered something. He turned very white.

"Never mind," he said; "I always thought that presentation business was
a great waste of time, and I am quite sure that we shall do well for
little Heather without it."

"I am so tired," I could not help saying.

"Then home we'll go, my girl. Lady Helen, I will call early to-morrow
and bring Heather with me, if I may. Whatever happens, she must be
properly dressed."

"I shall be ready to receive you, Major, at eleven o'clock," said Lady
Helen, and then she touched my hand coldly and indifferently, but smiled
with her brilliant eyes at my father. Her motor-car was waiting for her;
she was whirled away, and we drove back in our brougham to the hotel.

"Well, Heather," said my father, "what a wonderful day this must have
been for you. Tell me how you felt about everything. You used to be such
an outspoken little child. Didn't you just love the play, eh?"

"I loved the beginning of it," I said.

"You naughty girl! You mean to say you didn't like the end--all that
part about Rosalind when she comes on the stage as a boy?"

"I could not see it, father--I could only see the back of your head; and
oh, father, your head is getting very bald, but the back of Lady Helen's
head isn't bald at all--it is covered with thick, thick hair, which goes
out very wide at the sides and comes down low on her neck."

"It's my belief she wears a wig, Heather," said my father, bending
towards me. "But we won't repeat it, will we, darling? So she and I took
up all your view, poor little girl! Well, we did it in thoughtlessness."

"I don't think she did," I answered stoutly "I think she wanted to talk
to you."

"She'll have plenty of time for that in the future," he said; "but tell
me now, before we get to the hotel, what do you think of her ladyship?
She's a very smart-looking woman--eh?"

"I don't know what that means, father, but I don't like her at all."

"You don't like her--why, child?"

"I can't say; except that I don't."

"Oh, you mustn't give way to silly fancies," said my father. "She's a
very fine woman. You oughtn't to turn against her, my dear Heather."

"Do you like her, father?" I asked, nestling up to him and slipping my
hand into his.

"Awfully, my dear child; she's my very dearest friend."

"Oh! not dearer than I am?" I said, my heart beating hard.

He made no reply to this, and my heart continued to beat a great deal
faster than was good for it.

By and by I went to bed. I was very, very tired, so tired that the
strange room, with its beautiful furniture, made little or no impression
on me. The very instant I laid my head on the pillow I was far away in
the land of dreams. Once more I was back with Aunt Penelope, once more
the parrot screamed, "Stop knocking at the door!" once more Jonas broke
some crockery and wept over his misdeeds, and once more Aunt Penelope
forgave him and said that she would not send him away without a
character this time. Then, in my dreams, the scene changed, and I was no
longer in the quiet peace of the country, but in the bustle and
excitement of London. Father was with me. Yes, after all the long years,
father was with me again. How I had mourned for him--how I had cried
out my baby heart for him--how glad I was to feel that I was close to
him once more!

By his side was Lady Helen Dalrymple, and I did not like Lady Helen. She
seemed to push herself between father and me, and when at last I awoke
with the morning sun shining into my room, I found myself saying to
father, as I had said to him in reality the night before, "Lady Helen is
not dearer than I am?" and once again, as on the night before, father
made no reply of any sort.

I was awakened by a nice-looking maid, who was evidently the maid in
attendance on that special floor of the hotel, bringing me some tea and
some crisp toast. I was thirsty, and the excitement of the night before
had not yet subsided. I munched my toast and drank my tea, and then,
when the maid asked me if I would like a hot bath in my room, I said
"Yes." This luxury was brought to me, and I enjoyed it very much. I had
to dress once again in the clothes that father thought so shabby, the
neat little brown frock--"snuff-coloured," he was pleased to call
it--the little frock, made after a bygone pattern, which just reached to
my slender ankles and revealed pretty brown stockings to match and
little brown shoes; for Aunt Penelope--badly as she was supposed to
dress me--was very particular where these things were concerned. She
always gave me proper etceteras for my dress. She expected the etceteras
and the dress to last for a very long time, and to be most carefully
looked after, and not on any account whatever to be used except for high
days and holidays. But she had sufficient natural taste to make me wear
brown ribbon and a brown hat and brown shoes and stockings to match my
brown frock.

I went down to breakfast in this apparel and found father waiting for me
in the private sitting-room which he had ordered in the Westminster
hotel. He came forward at once when I appeared, thrusting as he did so
two or three open papers into his coat pocket.

"Well, little girl," he said, "and how are you? Now, if I were an
Irishman, I'd say, 'The top of the morning to you, bedad!' but being
only a poor, broken-down English soldier, I must wish you the best of
good days, my dear, and I do trust, my Heather, that this will prove a
very good day for you, indeed."

As father spoke he rang a bell, and when the waiter appeared he ordered
_table d'hôte_ breakfast, which the man hastened to supply. As we were
seated round the board which seemed to me to groan with the luxuries not
only of that season, but of every season since cooking came into vogue,
father remarked, as he helped himself to a devilled kidney, that really,
all things considered, English cooking was _not_ to be despised.

"Oh, but it's delicious!" I cried--"at least," I added, "the cooking at
a hotel like this is too delicious for anything."

"You dear little mite!" said father, smiling into my eyes. "And how did
Auntie Pen serve you, darling? What did she give you morning, noon, and
night?"

I laughed.

"Aunt Penelope believed in plain food," I said.

"Trust her for that," remarked my father. "I could see at an eye's
glance that she was the sort of old lady who'd starve the young."

"Oh, no," I answered; "you are quite mistaken. Aunt Penelope never
starved me and was never unkind to me. I love her very dearly, and I
must ask you, father, please, not to speak against her to me."

"Well, I won't, child; I admire loyalty in others. Now then, leave
those kidneys and bacon alone. Have some cold tongue. What! you have had
enough? Have a kipper, then. No? What a small appetite my little girl
has got! At least have some bread and butter and marmalade. No again?
Dear, dear--why, the sky must be going to fall! Well, I'll tell you
what--we'll have some fruit."

"Oh, dad, I should like that," I said.

"Your bones are younger than mine, child," remarked the Major; "you must
press that bell. Ah! here comes James. James, the very ripest melon you
can procure; if you haven't it in the hotel, send out for it. Let us
have it here with some powdered ginger and white sugar in less than ten
minutes."

"Yes, sir," answered the man. He bowed respectfully and withdrew.

"What are you staring at, Heather?" asked my father.

"You called that man James," I said. "Is that his name?"

"Bless you, child, I don't know from Adam what his name is. I generally
call all waiters 'James' when I'm in England; most of them are James, so
that name as a rule hits the nail on the head. In Germany Fritz is
supposed to be the word to say. But now, what are you thinking of? Oh,
my little darling, it's I who am glad to have you back!"

I left the table, and when James--whose real name I afterwards heard was
Edgar--came back, he found me throttling father's neck and pressing my
cheek against his.

"Where's the charm I gave you, Heather? I trust you have it safe."

I pointed with great pride to where it reposed on a little chain which
held my tiny watch.

"By Jove," said father, "you are a good child to have kept it so long.
It will bring you luck--I told you it was a lucky stone. It was about to
be placed on the tomb of the prophet Mahomet when I came across it and
rescued it, but it was placed before then on many other sacred shrines.
It will bring you luck, little Heather. But now, in the name of fortune,
tell me who gave you this gold watch?"

"Aunt Pen gave it to me," I said. "She gave it to me my last birthday;
she said it had belonged to my mother, but that she had taken it after
mother's death. She said she knew that mother would wish me to have
it--which, of course, is the case. I love it and I love the little gold
chain, and I love the charm, father."

"The charm is the most valuable of all, for it brings luck," said my
father. "Now, sit down and enjoy your melon."

I don't think I had ever tasted an English melon before, and this one
was certainly in superb condition. I rejoiced in its cool freshness and
ate two or three slices, while father watched me, a pleased smile round
his lips.

"I am going to take you to Lady Helen this morning, Heather."

"Yes, father," I answered, and I put down my last piece of melon,
feeling that my appetite for the delicious fruit had suddenly faded.

"Why don't you finish your fruit, child?"

"I have had enough," I said.

"That's a bad habit," said my father, "besides being bad form. Well-bred
girls invariably finish what is put on their plates; I want you to be
well-bred, my dear. You'll have so much to do with Lady Helen in the
future that you must take advantage of a connection of that sort.
Besides, being your father's daughter, it also behoves you to act as a
lady."

"I hope I shall always act as a lady," I said, and I felt my cheeks
growing crimson and a feeling of hatred rising within me towards Lady
Helen; "but if acting as a lady," I continued, "means eating more than
is good for you, I don't see it, father, and I may as well tell you so
first as last."

"Bless you, child," said father, "bless you! I don't want to annoy you.
Now, I'll tell you what your day is to be. Lady Helen will take you and
get you measured for some smart dresses, and then you are to lunch at
the Carringtons. Lady Carrington has been kind enough to send round this
morning to invite you. She and Sir John are staying at their very smart
house at Prince's Gate, Kensington. Lady Helen will put you down there
in her motor, and then she and I will call for you later in the day. You
will enjoy being with Lady Carrington. She is the sort of woman you
ought to cultivate."

"Lady Carrington used to live not far from Hill View," I said. "Once I
met her and she--she was going to be kind to me, when Aunt Penelope
stepped in and prevented it."

"Eh, dear," said my father, "now what was that? Tell me that story."

I did not like to, but he insisted. I described in as few words as
possible my agony of mind after parting with him, and then my
determination to find Anastasia, who, according to his own saying, was
to come by the next train. I told him once again how I ran away and how
I reached the railway station, and how the train came in and Lady
Carrington spoke to me, as also did Sir John, but there was no
Anastasia, and then Aunt Penelope came up, and--and--I remembered no
more.

"You were a troublesome little mite that day," said my father, kissing
me as he spoke, and pinching my cheek. "Well do I recall the frenzy your
poor aunt was in, and the telegrams and messages that came for me; well
do I recollect the hunt I had for Anastasia, and how at last I found her
and brought her to see you, and how you quieted down when she sat by
your bedside. Well do I remember how often I sat there, too."

"I remember it, too," I said, "only very dimly, just like a far-off
dream. But, father, dear father, why didn't Anastasia stay?"

"Your aunt would not have her, child."

"And why didn't you stay? Why did you come when I could not recognise
you and keep away when I could?"

"_Noblesse oblige_," was his answer, and he hung his head a little and
looked depressed.

But just then there came a rustling, cheerful sound in the passage
outside, and Lady Helen, her dress as gorgeous as it was the night
before, with a very _outré_ picture hat, fastened at one side of her
head, and with her eyes as bright as two stars, entered the room. She
floated rather than walked up to father's side, took his two hands, then
dropped them, and said, in her high-pitched, very staccato voice:

"How do you do, Major? You see, I could not wait, but have come for the
dear little _ingénue_. I am quite ready to take you off, Heather, and to
supply you with the very prettiest clothes. Your father has given me
_carte blanche_ to do as I please--is not that so, Major?"

"Yes," answered my father, bowing most gallantly and looking like the
very essence of the finest gentleman in the land. "I shall be glad to
leave Heather in such good hands. You will see that she is simply
dressed, and--oh, I could not leave the matter in better hands. By the
way, Lady Helen, I have had a letter this morning from Lady Carrington;
she wants the child to lunch with her. Will you add to your many acts of
goodness by dropping her at Prince's Gate not later than one o'clock?"

"Certainly," said Lady Helen.

"I shall have lunch ready for you, dear friend," said my father, "at a
quarter past one precisely at the Savoy."

"Ah, how quite too sweet!" said Lady Helen. She gave the tips of her
fingers to father, who kissed them lightly, and then she desired me to
fly upstairs and put on my hat and jacket. When I came down again,
dressed to go out, I found Lady Helen and father standing close together
and talking in low, impressive tones. The moment I entered the room,
however, they sprang apart, and father said:

"Ah, here we are--here we are! Now, my little Heather, keep up that
youthful expression; it is vastly becoming. Even Lady Helen cannot give
you the look of youth, which is so charming, but she can bestow on you
the air of fashion, which is indispensable."

Father conducted us downstairs and opened the door of the luxurious
motor-car. Lady Helen requested me to step in first, and then she
followed. A direction was given to the chauffeur, the door was shut
behind us, father bowed, and stood with his bare, somewhat bald head in
the street. The last glimpse I had of him he was smiling and looking
quite radiant; then we turned a corner and he was lost to view.

"Well, and what do you think of it all?" said Lady Helen. "Is the little
bird in its nest beginning to say, 'Cheep, cheep'? Is it feeling hungry
and wanting to see the world?"

"All places are the world," I answered, somewhat sententiously.

"For goodness' sake, child," said Lady Helen, "don't talk in that prim
fashion! Whatever you are in the future, don't put on airs to me. You
are about the most ignorant little creature I ever came across--it will
be my pleasure to form and mould you, and to bring you at last to that
state of perfection which alone is considered befitting to the modern
girl. My dear, I mean to be very good to you."

"That is, I suppose, because you are so fond of father," I said.

She coloured a little, and the hand which she had laid for a moment
lightly on my hand was snatched away.

"That kind of remark is terribly _outré_," she said; "but I shall soon
correct all that, my dear. You won't know yourself in one month from the
present time. Child of nature, indeed! You will be much more likely to
be the child of art. But dress is the great accessory. Before we begin
to form style and manner we must be dressed to suit our part in this
world's mummer show."

The car drew up before a large and fashionable shop. Lady Helen and I
entered. Lady Helen did all the talking, and many bales of wonderful
goods, glistening and shining in the beautiful sun, were brought forward
for her inspection. Lady Helen chose afternoon dresses, morning dresses,
evening dresses; she chose these things by the half-dozen. I tried to
expostulate, and to say they would never be worn out; Lady Helen's
remark was that they would scarcely drag me through the season. Then I
pleaded father's poverty; I whispered to Lady Helen: "Father cannot
afford them."

She looked at me out of her quizzical dark eyes and, laying her hand on
my shoulder, said:

"You may be quite sure of one thing, little girl--that I won't allow
your father to run into unnecessary expense."

I began to be sick of dresses. I found myself treated as a little
nobody, I was twisted right way front, and wrong way back. I was made to
look over my right shoulder at my own reflection in a long mirror; I was
desired to stoop and to stand upright; I was given a succession of
mirrors to look through; I got deadly tired of my own face.

When the choosing of the dresses had come to an end there were stockings
and shoes and boots to be purchased, and one or two very dainty little
jackets, and then there was a wealth of lovely chinchilla fur, and a
little toque to match, and afterwards hats--hats to match every costume;
in addition to which there was a very big white hat with a huge ostrich
plume, and a black hat with a plume nearly as big. Gloves were bestowed
upon me by the dozen. I felt giddy, and could scarcely at last take the
slightest interest in my own wardrobe. Suddenly Lady Helen looked at her
watch, uttered an exclamation, and said:

"Oh, dear me! It is ten minutes past one! What am I to do? I must not
fail your father at the Savoy. Do you think, child, if I put you into a
hansom, you could drive to the house at Prince's Gate? I would give all
directions to the driver."

"I am sure I could," I answered.

I was not at all afraid of London, knowing nothing of its dangers.

"Then that is much the best thing to do," said Lady Helen. She turned to
a man who was a sort of porter at the big shop, and gave him exact
orders what he was to do and what he was to say. A hansom was called,
the cabman was paid by Lady Helen herself, and at last I was off and
alone.

I was glad of this. I had a great sense of relief when that patched-up,
faded, and yet still beautiful face was no longer near me. When I
reached the house at Prince's Gate I felt rested and refreshed. There
was a servant in very smart livery standing in the hall, and of him I
ventured to inquire if Lady Carrington were at home.

"Is your name, madam, Miss Heather Grayson?" inquired the man.

I replied at once in the affirmative.

"Then her ladyship is expecting you. I will take you to her."

He moved across a wide and beautifully carpeted hall, knocked at a door
at the further end, and, in answer to the words "Come in," flung the
door open and announced "Miss Grayson, your ladyship," whereupon I found
myself on the threshold of a wonderful and delightfully home-like room.
A lady, neither young nor old, had risen as the man appeared. She came
eagerly forward--not at all with the eagerness of Lady Helen, but with
the eagerness of one who gives a sincere welcome. Her large brown eyes
seemed to express the very soul of benevolence.

"I am glad to see you, dear," she said. "How are you? Sit down on this
sofa, won't you? You must rest for a minute or two and then I will take
you upstairs myself, and you shall wash your hands and brush your hair
before lunch. It is nice to see you again, little Heather. Do you know
that all the long years you lived at High View I have been wanting, and
wanting in vain, to make your acquaintance?"

"Oh, but what can you mean?" I asked, looking into that charming and
beautiful face and wondering what the lady was thinking of. "Would not
Aunt Penelope let you? Surely you must have known that I should have
been only too proud?"

"My dear, we won't discuss what your aunt wished to conceal from you.
Now that you have come to live with your father, and now that you are my
near neighbour, I hope to see a great deal of you. Your aunt was
doubtless right in keeping you a good deal to herself. You see, dear,
it's like this. You have been brought up unspotted from the world."

"I like the world," I answered; "I don't think it's a bad place. I am
very much interested in London, and I am exceedingly glad to have met
you again. Don't you remember, Lady Carrington, how tightly I held your
hand on that dreadful day when I was first brought to Aunt Penelope?"

"I shall never forget the pressure of your little hand. But now I see
you are quite ready to come upstairs. Come along, then--Sir John may be
in at any moment, and he never likes to have his lunch kept waiting."

Lady Carrington's beautiful bedroom was exactly over her sitting-room.
There I saw myself in a sort of glow of colour, all lovely and
iridescent and charming. There was something remarkable about the room,
for it had a strange gift of putting grace--yes, absolute grace--into
your clothes. Even my shabby brown frock seemed to be illuminated, and
as to my face, it glowed with faint colour, and my eyes became large and
bright. I washed my hands and brushed back my soft, dark hair. Then I
returned to the drawing-room with Lady Carrington.



CHAPTER VI


A tall man was standing on the hearthrug when I came in. There was a
cheerful fire burning in the grate, and he was standing with his back to
it, and apparently enjoying the pleasant glow which emanated from its
bright depths. There was also a young man in the room who was nearly as
tall as the elder gentleman. The younger man had very dark eyes and an
olive complexion, straight, rather handsome features, and a strong chin
and a good mouth.

"John," said Lady Carrington, "here is little Heather."

"How do you do, my dear--how do you do?" said Sir John.

He came forward as he spoke and wrung my hand, looking into my eyes with
a curious mingling of affection and amusement.

"Ah!" he said; "you have grown a good bit since that wonderful night
long ago, eh, Heather?"

"I am grown up," I answered, trying to speak proudly, and yet feeling,
all of a sudden, quite inclined to cry.

"Yes, of course, you're grown up," responded Sir John, and then his wife
introduced the strange gentleman to me. His name was Captain Carbury,
but when the Carringtons spoke to him they addressed him as "Vernon." He
had a nice, frank manner, and it was he who was deputed to take me into
the next room to lunch.

"I have heard a lot about you," he said. "The Carringtons have been
quite keen about you. They've been wondering what day you would arrive,
and making up all sorts of stories about what you'd look like, and your
life in the past and what your life in the future will be."

"Heather, you must not mind Vernon, he always talks nonsense," said Lady
Carrington. "Will you have clear or thick soup, dear? We always help
ourselves at lunch, it makes the meal so much less formal."

I said I would have thick soup, and Captain Carbury took clear. He
looked at me again once or twice, and I thought that his expression was
somewhat quizzical, but, all the same, I liked him.

I had made in the course of my life a little gallery of heroes; they
were of all sorts and descriptions. In that gallery my father held the
foremost place, he was the soldier _par excellence_, the hero above all
other heroes. Then there were splendid persons whose names were
mentioned in history. The great Duke of Marlborough was one, and Sir
Walter Raleigh, and King Edward the First, and King Henry the Fourth.
And there were minor lights, great men, too, in their way, statesmen and
ambassadors and discoverers of new worlds. But besides the historical
personages, there were those few whom I knew personally. Amongst these
was one of the many "Jonases" who had lived with Aunt Penelope, and who
was admitted into a somewhat dark and shadowy part of my gallery.

He was a very ugly Jonas, and slightly--quite slightly--deformed; that
is, one shoulder was hitched up a good bit higher than the other. In
consequence, he never felt happy or comfortable in buttons, and used to
coax me to let him play with me in the garden in the dress he wore at
home, which was loose and unwieldy, but, nevertheless, fitted that
misshapen, poor shoulder. Aunt Penelope had been very angry with him for
not appearing in his buttons costume, and she was not the least
concerned when he told her that it made his shoulder ache; she was more
determined than ever that he should wear his livery, and never be seen
out of it while in her employ. He told me, that poor Buttons, that he
would have to wear it, notwithstanding the pain, for the very little
money he earned helped his mother at home. It was after he said this,
and after I found out that what he said was true, that I put him into my
gallery of heroes. He never knew that he was there. He became ill quite
suddenly of some sort of inflammation of the spine, and was taken away
to the hospital to die. I wanted very badly to see him when I heard he
was so ill, but Aunt Penelope would not hear of it. Then I gave her a
message for him.

"Tell him, if you are going yourself," I said, "that he is in my gallery
of heroes. He will know what it means."

But Aunt Penelope forgot to give the message, so that poor Jonas never
knew.

But I had other heroes also. There was a pale young curate, like the
celebrated curate in the song, and my heart went out to him--my girlish
heart--in full measure, and I put him into my gallery right away; there
I gave him a foremost place, although I never spoke to him in my young
life, and I don't think, as far as I remember, that his eyes ever met
mine.

And now last, but by no means least, I put Captain Carbury into my
gallery of heroes, and as I did so I felt my heart beating with
pleasure, and I looked full up into my hero's face and smiled at him
with such a look of contentment, admiration, and satisfaction that he
smiled back again.

"What a nice child you are," he said. "I wonder what you are thinking
about?"

Some visitors had now come in and had joined Sir John and Lady
Carrington in the drawing-room, and Captain Carbury and I were alone.

"You ought to be very proud," I said, lowering my voice to meet his.

"What about?" he asked.

"Why, this," I answered; "I have done you a tremendous honour."

"Have you, indeed? I can assure you I am pleased and--quite flattered.
But do tell me what it is."

"I have just put you, Captain Carbury, into my gallery of heroes."

"You have put me into what?" said the young man. He sat down by my side
and lowered his voice. "You have put me into what, Miss Grayson?"

"I have a gallery," I said, "and it is full of heroes. It, of course,
lives in my imagination. You have just gone in; those who go in never
come out again. There are a great many people in my gallery."

"Oh, but I say, this is interesting, and quite fascinating. Please tell
me who else holds that place of vantage."

I mentioned the Duke of Marlborough and Sir Walter Raleigh and a few of
the heroes of old, but I said nothing about father, nor about the pale
curate, although I did mention Jonas.

"Who is Jonas?" asked Captain Carbury.

"Jonas is no longer in this world. When he was here he was a very great
hero."

"But what was he? Army, navy, church, or what?"

"Oh, nothing of the sort," I answered; "he was only our Buttons, and he
had one shoulder much higher than the other. I put him in because he
bore the pain of his livery so bravely. You see, he had to wear his
livery, or Aunt Penelope would have dismissed him. He wore it because he
wanted the money to help his mother. I call him a real hero--don't you?"

"I do. And what have I done, may I ask, to be such a privileged
person?"

"You haven't done much yet," I answered, "but I think you can do a great
deal. For instance, if there was a big war against England, I think
you'd fight and probably get your V.C."

"Bless you, child, you talk very nicely. Do you know, I have never met a
little girl who talked like this before. I hope we shall see much more
of each other, Miss Grayson."

"I hope we shall," I answered.

"I come here a good deal," continued Captain Carbury. "I am a sort of
cousin of Lady Carrington's, and she always treats me as though I were
her son. There are no people in the world like the Carringtons. By the
way, you must be excited, coming up to town just in time for your----"

"In time for what?" I asked.

"Is it possible you don't know?" he said. And he looked full at me with
his dark and serious eyes. Just then Lady Carrington came up.

"I am going to take Heather away now for a little time," she said.
"Thank you so much, Vernon, for trying to entertain her. We will expect
you to dinner this evening--no, I'm afraid Heather won't be here; she
will be much occupied for the next few days."

"Well, good-bye, Miss Heather, and thank you so much for putting me into
the gallery," said the Captain, and then he left the room.

"He is a very nice man," I said, when he had gone and I was back in the
drawing-room. "Do you know many men as nice as Captain Carbury, Lady
Carrington?"

"No, I do not," said Lady Carrington, not laughing at my remark, as some
women would have done, but pondering over it. "He is one of the
best--that is all I can say about him."

I looked across the room. The visitors had gone; Sir John had taken his
leave; Captain Carbury was no longer there.

"I want to ask you a question," I said, looking full up into Lady
Carrington's face. "Captain Carbury said something to me."

"Yes, dear child. What?"

"He supposed I was glad or excited or something, at being in time
for--and then he stopped. Please, Lady Carrington--I see you know it by
your eyes--what is it I am in time for?"

"I was going to speak to you about that," said Lady Carrington, with
extreme gravity.

"Please do," I said.

She took my hand and pressed it between both her own.

"Sir John and I," she said, "have never been blessed with a little
daughter of our very own, so we want you, as much as your father and
mother can spare you, to come and be with us. We want you morning, noon,
and night--any day or any hour."

"My father and _mother_!" I said, raising my voice to a shriek. "Lady
Carrington, who are you talking about?"

"Of course, dear, she will be only your stepmother."

"Whom do you mean?" I asked. "Please say it out quickly. Is father going
to marry? No, it can't be--it shan't be! What is it, please, Lady
Carrington--please say it quickly?"

"For many reasons I am sorry, Heather, but we must make the best of
things in this world, dear, not the worst. Your father is to be married
on Monday next to Lady Helen Dalrymple."

I sat perfectly still after she had spoken. Her news came on me like a
mighty shock--I felt quite stunned and cold. At first, too, I did not
realise any pain. Then, quickly, and, as it seemed to me, through every
avenue in my body at the same moment, pain rushed in--it filled my heart
almost to the bursting point. It turned sweetness into bitterness and
sunshine into despair. Father! Father! Father! Had I not waited for him,
all during the long years? And now!

I felt so distracted that I could not keep still. I stood up and faced
Lady Carrington; she put out her hand to touch me--I pushed her hand
away. I began to pace up and down the floor. After a few minutes Lady
Carrington followed me. Then I turned to her, almost like a little
savage. I said:

"Is there anywhere in this big, grand, horrid house where I can be quite
alone?"

"Yes, Heather, you shall be quite alone in my bedroom," said Lady
Carrington.

I had no manners at that moment, no sense of civility.

"I know the way to your bedroom," I said. I dashed upstairs without
waiting for her to lead me; I rushed into the room, I turned the key in
the lock, and then I flung myself on the floor. I was alone, thank God
for that! How I beat out my own terrible suffering, how I fought and
fought and fought with the demon who rent me, I can never describe to
any mortal. No tears came to my relief. After a time I sat up. I had so
far recovered my self-possession that I could at least remain quiet. I
went stealthily towards the big looking-glass; I saw my reflection in
it, my little pale face, my dark hair in its orderly curls--those curls
which even my tempest of grief could scarcely disarrange, my neat,
snuff-coloured brown dress--so old-fashioned and therefore none so
beloved. That morning I had gone shopping with _her_--I had allowed her
to buy me dresses on dresses, and hats and toques, and muffs, and
gloves, and shoes--oh! I would not touch one of her things! I felt at
that moment that I could have killed her! To be torn from father, to
find him again and then to lose him, that was the crudest stroke of all!

I looked at my wan face in the glass and hoped that I should die soon;
that was the only thing left to wish for--to live in such a way that I
should die soon. I thought that I might effect this by a course of
starvation. I would begin at once. To-day was Thursday--if I ate nothing
at all from the present moment until Monday, there was a good chance of
my dying on Monday. That would be the best plan.

There came a tap at the room door.

"It is I, dear," said Lady Carrington.

I even hated kind Lady Carrington at that moment. Had she not given me
the news? I went unwillingly and slowly towards the door. I unlocked it
and she entered.

"That is right," she said, looking at me and suppressing, as she told me
afterwards, a shocked exclamation, "you are calmer now, darling."

"I cannot speak of it," I said.

"Dear child, no one wants you to; and I have been arranging with your
father that you are to stay with me for the present."

"Oh, I don't want that," I said, a great lump rising in my throat; "I
want to be with him while I can have him. There is only between
now--this Thursday--until Monday. I'd like to be with him for that
little time."

"But you won't, dear Heather. He will be occupied almost entirely with
Lady Helen Dalrymple."

"Then it doesn't matter," I said. "Did you say they were downstairs,
Lady Carrington?"

"Yes; they are in the drawing-room; they are waiting for you. They asked
me to break it to you, and I did my best."

"I am quite ready to--to see them," I said.

When we reached the drawing-room a servant flung open the door. Lady
Carrington went first and I followed.

My father was standing with his profile towards me; he was looking at a
newspaper, and I think, just for a second, he was rather shy, although I
could not be sure. Lady Helen, however, made up for any awkwardness on
his part. She rushed at me and clasped me in her arms.

"Dear little daughter!" she said. "Now you know everything; in future
you will be my own little daughter. Think what a splendid time we'll
have together! Why, I'll take you everywhere--you won't know yourself.
Just tell her, Gordon, what a right good time she'll have with me."

"Jove! I should think so," said my father.

I struggled out of her arms. If I had remained in that hateful embrace
for another moment I might have slapped her. I flung myself on father's
neck, and kissed him many times, and then, all of a sudden, I began to
whisper in his ear.

"Eh, eh? What, what?" he said. "Child, you're tickling me. Oh, you want
to speak to me alone! Helen, you won't mind?"

"No, dear, I won't mind."

Lady Helen looked at me out of those strange dark eyes of hers. Her face
was brimming all over with good humour, but I know she was not pleased
with me at that moment. I had repulsed her advances, and now I was
taking father away.

"Here is a little room," said Lady Carrington, "you can both have it to
yourselves."

She opened a door, and father and I entered. The moment we were alone I
ceased to whisper and stood before father, just a little way off, but at
the same time so close that he could see me well.

"I have heard the news, Dad," I said.

"Well, and isn't it just rippin'?" he said. "Don't you congratulate
me--I, a poor beggar--to get a wife like that, and you--a mother like
that!"

"She will never be my mother, father, if you marry her a hundred times."

"Come, come, that is so _bourgeoise_, that kind of speech is so
completely out of date; but Helen will explain to you. Now, what is it
you want, little Heather? I'm sure Helen has spent enough money on your
little person to satisfy you for one morning."

"Was it her own money she spent?" I asked.

"Gracious, child!" cried my father. "What other money could she spend?"

"Why, yours--I thought it was yours," I said, with a sob.

"Mine!" he said. "I haven't a stiver in the world to bless myself with.
But there, I am a rich man for all that. Helen is rich, and what is hers
is mine, and she's going to do the right thing by you, Heather--the
right thing by you."

"Daddy," I said, very slowly, "I waited for you during all the years
while I was growing up, and yesterday I found you again--or rather, I
ought to say a few days ago, when you came to see me at Hill View, and
now again I have lost you."

"_Bourgeoise, bourgeoise_," muttered my father; "those words are
Penelope's words. She'd be sure to speak to you like that."

"Lady Carrington has asked me to stay here, and I should like to do it,"
I replied; "I am not going to wear any of the clothes _she_ bought--no,
not one, not one! But if you would come to see me to-morrow evening,
perhaps we might have one long, last chat together. That is what I
really wanted to ask you. Will you promise me, Dad?"

"Dear me, how afflicting!" said my father. "How afflicting and
sentimental and unnecessary--and after all I have lived through! I
didn't know you'd grow up that sort of child; you were such a jolly
little thing when I took you down to your aunt. It's your aunt who has
spoilt you. You can stay here, of course, if you prefer this house to
the Westminster. Helen won't like it; she has got a box for us at the
opera to-night."

"I can't go," I said.

"Very well. She would hate to see a dismal child, and your clothes won't
be ready for a day or two--at least, most of them--so perhaps you had
better stay here. I'll just go and speak to Lady Carrington."

Father left the room. By and by Lady Carrington came back alone.

"They've gone, dear," she said, "and I have made arrangements with Major
Grayson that you are to stay with us during the honeymoon, so that
altogether you will be with us for quite a month, my child. Now, during
that month I want you to be happy and to make the best of things. Do you
hear me?"

"Yes. I think I shall be happy with you. But oh! I have got a blow--I
have got a blow!" I said.



CHAPTER VII


Father did not come to see me on Saturday night, although I hoped
against hope that he would do so, but, to my great surprise, on Sunday
evening he walked in, just as Lady Carrington was preparing to go out to
evening service. I had refused to accompany her--I am afraid I made
myself unpleasant to my kind friend on that occasion. I was overcome by
the shock I had received, and this fresh and most unexpected parting
from father, so that I could only centre my thoughts on myself.

Father bustled into the house, and I heard his cheerful voice in the
hall.

"Hallo!" he said. "And how is the little woman?"

Lady Carrington dropped her voice to a whisper, and father began to talk
in low tones. Then they both approached the room where I was lying on a
sofa by the fire. I was feeling cold and chilled, and the little colour
I had ever boasted of in my face had completely left me. Now, as I heard
steps coming nearer and nearer, my heart beat in a most tumultuous
fashion. Then father and Lady Carrington entered the room.

"Heather, here's your father," said my kindest friend. "Sir John and I
are going to church, so you will have him quite to yourself. Now, cheer
up, dear. By the way, Major Grayson, won't you stay and have supper with
us afterwards?"

"Will Carbury be here?" asked my father suddenly.

"Yes, I think so. We asked him to come."

"Then I'd better not--better not, you know." He exchanged glances with
Lady Carrington, and I noticed a delicate wave of colour filling her
smooth and still girlish cheeks. She went away the next moment, and left
father and me alone.

"Well, pussy cat," he said, looking down at me, "what is the meaning of
all this rebellion? I didn't know you were such a queer little girl."

"Oh, father!" I said.

"Well, here is father. What does the little one want him to do?"

"Pet me, pet me, pet me," I said, and I gave a great sob between each
word.

"Why, Heather, you are as great a baby as ever! Lady Helen says you are
the most babyish creature she has ever come across in her life. My word,
Heather, if you but knew it, you are in luck to have such a stepmother.
I tell you, my child, you are in wonderful luck, for she is downright
splendid!"

"Please--please--may I say something?" My voice shook violently.

"Of course you may, little mite."

"Don't let us talk of her to-night. I'll try very hard to be good
to-morrow, if you will promise not to speak of her once to-night."

"It's hard on me, for my thoughts are full of her, but I'll endeavour to
obey your small Majesty."

Then I sprang into his arms, and cuddled him round the neck, and kissed
his cheek over and over again.

"Oh, I am so hungry for your love!" I said.

"Poor mite! You will have two people to love instead--oh! I
forgot--'mum's' the word. Now then, Heather, let's look at you. Why,
you're a washed-out little ghost of a girl! Even Aunt Penelope would be
shocked if she saw you now."

"Never mind Aunt Penelope just for the present," I said. "I have so
much to say to you, and this is the very last evening."

"Not a bit of it; there are hundreds of other evenings to follow."

"Oh, no," I said; "this is the very last between you and me, quite to
ourselves, Daddy."

"I like to hear you say 'Daddy'--you have such a quaint little voice. Do
you know, Heather, that when I was--when I was--"

"When you were what, Daddy?"

"Never mind; I was forgetting myself. I have lived through a great deal
since you last saw me, child, since that time when you were so ill at
Penelope Despard's."

"Weren't you enjoying yourself during those long years in India, Daddy?"

"Enjoying myself? Bless you, the discipline was too severe." Here my
father burst out laughing, and then he unfastened my arms from his neck
and put me gently down on the sofa and began to pace the room.

"As a wild beast enjoys himself in a cage, so did I, little Heather; but
it's over, thank Heaven, it's over; and--oh, dash it!--I can't speak of
it! Heather, how do you like your new clothes?"

"I haven't any new clothes," I answered demurely, "except the little
black frock you gave me the night I came to you at the Westminster
hotel. I put that on every evening because Lady Carrington wears
something pretty at dinner-time."

"But what have you done with all your other clothes?"

"I told you, Daddy, I wouldn't wear them. _She_ gave them to me."

"Now, look here, Heather, once and for all you must stop this folly. I
presume you don't want me to cease to love you. Well, you've got to be
good to your stepmother, and you have got to accept the clothes she
gives you. She and I are taking a beautiful house in a fashionable part
of London and you are to live with us, and she will be nice to you if
you will be nice to her--not otherwise, you understand--by no means
otherwise. And if I see you nasty to her, or putting on airs, why, I'll
give you up. You'll have to take her if you want to keep me, and that's
the long and short of it."

I trembled all over; my hero of heroes--was he tumbling from his place
in my gallery?

"Promise, child, promise," said my father, brusquely.

"Will it make you happy if I do?" I said.

"Yes. I'll call you my little duck of all girls--I'll love you like
anything, but we three must be harmonious. You will stay here until we
come back, and on the day we come back you are to be in the new house to
meet us, and you are to wear one of your pretty frocks, and you are to
do just what _she_ says. It's your own fault, Heather, that I have to
bring in her name so often. Bless her, though, the jewel she is! My
little love, we'll be as happy as the day is long. It's terribly
old-fashioned, it's low down, to abuse stepmothers now--don't you
understand that, Heather?"

"I don't," I answered. "I suppose I must do what you wish, for I cannot
live without you, but if--if--I find it _quite_ past bearing--may I go
back to Aunt Penelope?"

"Bless me, you won't find it past bearing! We need not contemplate such
an emergency."

"But, promise me, Daddy darling--if I do find it past bearing, may I go
back to Aunt Penelope?"

"Oh, yes, yes, yes--anything to quiet you, child. You are just the most
fractious and selfish creature I ever came across. You don't seem to
realise for a single minute what anybody else is feeling."

"It's settled, and I will try to be happy," I said.

"That's right. Now, let's talk of all sorts of funny things. I haven't
half heard about your different Jonases, nor about the parrot, who would
only say, 'Stop knocking at the door!'"

"Daddy," I said, with great earnestness, "may I have Anastasia back? It
would give me great, great help if she came back."

"Bless me!" said my father, rubbing his red face, "I must ask her
ladyship. I'll see about it; I'll see about it, little woman. Now, then,
stand up and let me look at you."

I stood up. I was wearing my snuff-coloured dress, and the electric
light and the firelight mingled, fell over a desolate, forlorn, little
figure.

"Run upstairs this minute, Heather, and put on one of your pretty
frocks. I know for a certainty they haven't gone back, because I told
Lady Carrington she was to keep them. Find a servant who can tell you
where they are, and put one on, and come down and let me see you in it."

He smiled at me. Surely there never was anyone with such a bewitching
smile. You felt that you would cut your heart out to help him when he
gave you that smile, that you would lie down at his feet to be trampled
on when he looked at you with that expression in his bright blue eyes.

I went upstairs very slowly. Lady Carrington's maid happened to be in,
and I said to her, in a forlorn voice:

"I want one of my pretty new frocks. May I have it?"

The woman gave me a lightning glance of approval, and presently I was
dressed in softest, palest, shimmering grey, which fell in long folds
around my young person. I held it up daintily, and ran downstairs.

"There's my rose in June!" said father, and he came and took me in his
arms. He chatted in his old fashion after that, but he went away before
Lady Carrington returned from church. She came back, accompanied by
Captain Carbury. I was in the drawing-room then, and there was plenty of
colour in my cheeks, for father's visit had excited me a great deal.
Captain Carbury gave me a wistful glance and drew a chair near mine.

"Do you know what I was thinking of?" he said, suddenly.

"What?" I asked.

"That it would be very nice after the wedding to-morrow----"

I shivered, and clutched my chair to keep myself from falling. I felt
his dark eyes fixed on my face.

"After the ceremony to-morrow," he continued, "if you and Lady
Carrington and I went to Hampton Court to spend the day. We will go down
in my motor-car, come back afterwards and dine in town, and then go to
the theatre. What do you think? I know Lady Carrington is quite
agreeable."

"Do you want me to go, Captain Carbury?"

"Yes, I want you very much."

"Well, I will do it, if it pleases you," I said.

He looked steadily at me, then he bent forward--he dropped his voice.

"I, too, have a gallery," he said, "in which I place, not my famous
heroes, but my famous heroines, and just at this moment, when you gave
up your real will to mine and--forgot yourself--I put you in."

"Oh, thank you," I said, and my eyes brimmed with tears.

Captain Carbury went away early, and after he had gone Lady Carrington
sat down by my side and began to talk to me.

"You and he are famous friends," she said, "and I am so glad. Perhaps I
ought to tell you, however, that Vernon is engaged to a most charming
girl. I know he will want you to meet her--they are to be married next
summer."

"Oh, I hope she is good enough for him."

"I hope so also. Her name is Lady Dorothy Vinguard. She is beautiful
and--and rich--and her people live in a lovely place in Surrey."

Suddenly a memory flashed through my mind.

I asked a question:

"Why did father say he would not meet Captain Carbury to-night at
supper?" I said.

Lady Carrington coloured. She got up and poked the fire quite
vigorously.

"Why are you getting so red?" I said. "Why would not father meet him?"

"You see, he is an army man," answered Lady Carrington.

"But that has nothing to do with it," I replied. "Father's in the army,
too."

"Don't ask so many questions, Heather."

"Has father a reason for not wanting to see him?"

"He may have, dear, but if he has I cannot tell you."

"That means you won't," I replied.

"Very well--I won't."



CHAPTER VIII


Lady Carrington and I went to St. Margaret's, Westminster, to see my
father married to Lady Helen Dalrymple. I had never witnessed a marriage
ceremony before, and thought it a very dull and dreary affair. My ideas
with regard to a bride had always been that she must be exceedingly
young and very beautiful, and now, when I saw Lady Helen, all drooping
and fragile, and in my opinion quite old, not even her beautiful Honiton
lace veil, nor her exquisite dress of some shimmering material, appealed
to me in the very least. It was with difficulty I could keep the tears
out of my eyes by fixing them firmly on the back of my father's head. I
noticed again how bald he was getting, but then his shoulders were very
broad, and he did not stoop in the least, and he had a splendid manly
sort of air. As I listened to the marriage service, I could not help
thinking of that other time, ages ago in his life, when he took my young
mother to wife, my mother who had died when I was a baby. He was young
then, and so was the bride--oh, I had no sympathy with his second
marriage!

Lady Carrington insisted on my wearing a white dress, and when the
ceremony was over, we all went to the Westminster hotel, where there
were light refreshments, and tea and coffee, and champagne, which I
hated, and would only take in the smallest sips. By and by, Lady Helen
went upstairs to change her dress. She came down again in a magnificent
"creation"--for that was the word I heard the ladies around me
describing it by--and a huge picture hat on her head. She kissed me once
or twice at the very last moment, and told me to be a good child. I
hated kisses as much as I hated her, but father, dear father, made up
for everything. He caught me in his arms and squeezed me tightly to his
breast, and said: "God for ever bless you, dear little woman!" and then
they went away, and Lady Carrington and I gazed at each other.

"Now, my dear Heather," she said cheerfully, "we are going to motor back
to my house in order to change our dresses, so as to be in time for
Captain Carbury when he brings his car round for us. You remember, dear,
that we are going to Hampton Court to-day, and we haven't a minute to
spare."

"Oh, not a minute," I replied, and I tried to feel cheered up and
excited.

After a time Captain Carbury made his appearance, and if I had no other
reason for wishing to behave bravely just then, I would not for the
world show cowardice before the man who had put me into his gallery of
heroines.

We motored down to Hampton Court, and the Captain proved himself to be a
very merry guide, so much so that I found myself laughing in spite of my
sorrow, and whenever I did so Lady Carrington gave me an approving
smile.

"I have been telling Heather about you and Dorothy, Vernon," she said,
after we had been all over the old palace, and found ourselves having
tea at one of the hotels which faced the river.

Captain Carbury gave me a quick glance, a little puzzled, a little sad,
a sort of glance which amazed me at the time, and the meaning of which I
was not to understand until afterwards.

"You must get to know Dorothy some day," he said. "I have her picture
here"--he tapped his watch-pocket--"I will show it you by and by."

As he said this, he looked full into my eyes, and I noticed more than
ever the sad expression in his. I wondered at this, and then my thoughts
wandered to Lady Dorothy Vinguard. What sort of a girl was she? Was she
nice enough to marry the man who occupied a place in my gallery of
heroes?

I spent a fairly happy fortnight with Lady Carrington. She was kindness
itself to me, and she gave me a great deal of valuable advice. She took
me to see many interesting sights, and Captain Carbury came to the house
almost every day. One day he brought Lady Dorothy to see me. I was
seated in the inner drawing-room when a tall, very pale, slender girl,
most beautifully dressed, entered the room. Her face was exactly like
that of a waxen doll; it had not a scrap of expression in it, neither
was it in the very least disagreeable. My first impression when I looked
at her was that she wanted intelligence, but then I changed my mind, for
her light-blue eyes were peculiarly watchful, and she kept looking and
looking at me, as though she would read me through. It was impossible to
tell whether Captain Carbury was devoted to her or not; she ordered him
about a good deal, and he obeyed her slightest behests. She kept all the
conversation to herself, too, and neither he nor I could edge in a
word. I never met anyone who talked so fast, and yet who seemed to say
nothing at all. Each subject she began to speak about she changed for
another before we had begun even to think of what we meant to reply.
Thus her conversation gave me at last a feeling of intense fatigue, and
I wondered how a really clever and earnest-minded man like Captain
Carbury could endure the thought of spending his life with her.

He went out of the room after a time, and then she told me, with a great
yawn, that he was a perfect lover, and that she herself was intensely
happy.

"You, of course, will fall in love and get engaged some day," she said.
"You are rather good-looking, in the old-world style; personally, I
admire the up to date sort of beauty myself, and so, I know, does
Vernon. He hates the people who are, as he expresses it, 'all fire and
flash in the pan.' That is, I am sure, how he would describe you, if he
troubled himself to describe you at all."

"I don't think he would," I said, turning very red. I longed to tell
this haughty girl that I was in his gallery of heroines, but I felt
instinctively that such a piece of information would only make her
jealous, and therefore I refrained.

By and by Captain Carbury returned, and they both went away. She
certainly was very dainty. She was like a piece of exquisite china, and,
as I said afterwards to Lady Carrington, when she wanted to get my
opinion with regard to her:

"I felt almost afraid to look at her, for fear she should break."

Lady Carrington laughed at my description, and said she did not know
that I was such a keen observer of character.

This was my very last day with my kindest of friends, for on the next I
was to go to Lady Helen's house in Hanbury Square. I knew nothing
whatever with regard to this part of London, nor where the smartest
houses were, nor where the "classy people," as they called themselves,
resided, but Lady Carrington informed me that Hanbury Square was in the
very heart of the fashionable world, and that Lady Helen's house was one
of the largest and handsomest in the whole square.

"But why is it called Lady Helen's house?" I asked. "Surely it is my
father's."

"Of course it is," she replied, and she looked a little grave, just as
though she were holding something back. How often I had seen that look
in her face--and how often, how very often, had it puzzled me, and how
completely I had failed to understand it. I did love Lady Carrington;
she was good to me, and when I bade her good-bye the next morning the
tears filled my eyes.

"Now understand, Heather," she said, "that whenever you want me I am at
your service. A new life is opening before you, my child, but I shall,
of course, be your friend, for your dead mother's sake, and for----"

"Yes, yes?" I cried. "Say the rest, say the rest!"

"And, little Heather, for the memory of what your father was."

"I don't understand you," I said; "you hint and hint things against my
own darling father--oh! don't do it again! Speak out if you must, but
don't hint things ever again!"

"Think nothing of my words," said Lady Carrington; "forget that they
were uttered. Don't turn against me, little Heather; you may need my
friendship."

I was, indeed, to need that friendship, and right soon. But I felt
almost angry with Lady Carrington as I drove away.

Certainly the house in Hanbury Square was very smart; it had all been
newly got-up, in preparation for the bride. There was new paint outside,
and new paint and beautiful wainscots and soft papers within, and there
were flower-boxes at every window, and the floors were covered with
heavy-piled carpets, and there were knick-knacks and flowers and very
costly furniture greeting one at each turn. It was a big house, in short
a mansion, with front stairs and back stairs, and rooms innumerable. A
very lovely room had been set aside for me. It was called the
"Forget-me-not" room, and was on the first floor. I had a bathroom, with
hot and cold water laid on, quite to myself; I also had a dressing-room,
with a wonderful toilet table and wash-hand stand and appliances for the
toilet. And in my bedroom was a great wardrobe made of walnut wood, and
the beautiful little bed had lace-trimmed pillow-slips and sheets. Until
I entered this room I had never even imagined such luxury.

A very neat, quiet-looking girl, who told me her name was Morris, met me
on the threshold of my room.

"I am your special maid, miss," she said. "Lady Helen said I was to do
everything in my power to help you."

"But you are not Anastasia," I replied.

The girl started back, and stared at me.

"Who is Anastasia, miss?" she asked, after a minute's pause.

"Oh," I answered, "Anastasia is my dear old nurse; she brought me home
from India years and years ago, and afterwards I lost her. I want father
to find her again for me, for I really wish her to be my maid."

"You will perhaps speak to my mistress, miss," replied Morris, in a
demure voice.

"Why so?" I asked. "I shall speak to my father, Major Grayson."

The girl made no answer, but I noticed that a smile, a peculiar smile,
lingered round her lips.

"Perhaps, miss," she said, after a pause, "I had best begin to unpack
your trunks, for her ladyship and the Major may be here by tea time,
and, of course, you will like to be ready to meet them, and you'd wish
me to arrange your hair, and help you on with your afternoon frock
before they come."

I took some keys out of a little bag I wore at my side.

"Do as you please," I said.

I sat on a low chair and watched her. Then I said, suddenly:

"I am horribly sick of dress!"

"Oh, miss!" remarked Morris, raising her placid face to mine, for she
was on her knees by this time, unfastening my largest trunk, "I did
think that young ladies lived for their dress."

"Well, I am not one of those young ladies," was my reply. "I never
thought of dress until a few weeks ago. I used to put on the dress I was
to wear when I first got up in the morning, and I never thought of it
again until I took it off to go to bed."

"You must have lived in a very quiet way, miss."

"I lived in a sensible way," I replied.

"I should not like it for myself, miss."

"Perhaps not, perhaps you are vain--I can't bear vain people."

The girl coloured, and bent again over the trunk. I rested my elbows on
my knees, pressed my hands against my cheeks, and stared at her.

"I don't wish to offend you, Morris," I said; "I want us two to be
friends."

"Thank you, miss."

"But I do wish to say," I continued, "that I consider it awfully
frivolous to have to put on a special dress for morning, and another
dress for afternoon, and yet another dress, just when tea comes in, and
another dress for dinner. Privately, I think it quite wicked, and I am
sure you must agree with me."

"It is what's done in society, miss," answered the girl. "They all do
like that, those who move in the best society."

She began to unpack rapidly, and I watched her. I reflected within
myself that I had left Hill View with no clothes except the ones I was
wearing, and what were contained in my tiny trunks. Now I had several
big trunks, and they were crammed, pressed full, with the newest and
most wonderful dresses; and besides the dresses there were mantles, and
coats, and opera cloaks, and all sorts of the most exquisite, the most
perfect underclothing in the world. Morris was a quick lady's maid; she
evidently understood her duties thoroughly well. She had soon unpacked
my trunks, and then she suggested that I should wear a dress of the
palest, most heavenly blue, in order to greet her ladyship and Major
Grayson. I said, "Is it necessary?" and she replied, "Certainly it is,"
and after that I submitted to her manipulations. She helped me into my
dress, arranged my hair in a simple and very becoming manner, and then
she looked at me critically.

"Am I all right now?" I asked.

"Yes, miss, I think you will do beautifully."

I thanked her, and ran downstairs. There were three, or even four
drawing-rooms to the house, each one opening into the other. I chose the
smallest drawing-room, ensconced myself in an easy-chair, and tried to
imagine that I was about to enjoy everything; but my heart was beating
horribly, and I came to the conclusion that every one of the four
drawing-rooms was hideous. They were not the least like the reception
rooms at Lady Carrington's. There the furniture was rich, and yet
simple; there was no sense of overcrowding, the tables were not laden
with knick-knacks, and there were comparatively few chairs and lounges,
only just enough for people to use. The walls were undecorated, except
by one or two pictures, the works of masters. There were not more than
two pictures in each room, for Lady Carrington had assured me that
pictures were the richest ornaments of all, and I fully agreed with her.
Now these rooms were totally different--the chairs, the tables, the
sofas, the lounges, the grand piano, the little piano, the harpsichord,
the spinning-wheel, the pianola, gave one a sense of downright
oppression. The walls were laden with pictures of every sort and
description--some of them I did not admire in the very least; and there
was old china and old glass, very beautiful, I had little doubt, but to
me extremely inharmonious. I discovered soon that what these rooms
needed was a sense of rest. There was not a single spot where the eye
could remain quiet; wherever one looked one felt inclined to start and
exclaim, and jump up and examine. I came to the conclusion that I
preferred Aunt Penelope's very plain little drawing-room at home to
this.

By and by an exceedingly tall young man in smart blue livery threw open
the folding doors, and another equally tall young man in the same livery
entered with a silver tray. The man who first came into the room pulled
out a table and placed the tray on it, and presently a third man
appeared with quantities of food. The first man poked up the fire, the
second acquainted me with the fact that tea was quite ready, and
afterwards the three left the room, closing the door softly behind them.
Their velvet tread oppressed me; I wanted the door to bang; I wanted
to hear a good, loud, wholesome noise.

Yes, I was at home in my father's house, but truth to tell, I had never
felt less home-like in the whole course of my life. I poured myself out
a cup of tea, and ate a morsel of bread and butter. Suddenly, before I
had finished my first cup of tea, I heard quick sounds in the hall;
there were footsteps, and several voices speaking together; people
seemed to be rushing hither and thither, and I heard a staccato voice
mingling with the tones of a deep one, a deep one that I knew and loved.
Then the voices and the footsteps came nearer, until a big man and a
lady entered the outer drawing-room and came straight into the little
room where I was sitting. The man smiled all over his face, said,
"Hallo, little woman!" caught me up in his arms and kissed me; the lady
said coldly, "How do you do, child? Pour me out a cup of tea, and be
quick; I am fainting with exhaustion. Gordon, will you go upstairs and
take your great-coat off, and then come down and have tea like a
Christian?"

"Oh, but he must stay," I answered, for I was feeling his face and
kissing him over and over, and rubbing my cheek against his.

[Illustration: "'Oh, but he must stay,' I answered".]

"Gordon, please go at once," said his wife.

My hands were released, the blue eyes of Major Grayson looked full into
mine. Certainly father's eyes were the most wonderful in all the world.
They seemed to me to hold within their depths a mixture of every sort of
emotion, of fun, of reluctant, half ashamed, half pleased, half boyish
penitence, of sorrow, of a pathos which was always there and always half
hidden, and also of a queer and indescribable nobility, which,
notwithstanding the fact that I had not seen him for years, and
notwithstanding the other fact that he had married a worldly woman when
he might have made me so happy, seemed to have grown and strengthened on
his face. He kissed one of his hands to me, raised Lady Helen's jewelled
hand to his lips, bowed to her, smiled, and departed.

"He has charming manners," she said, and then she turned to me.

"Bring me food, child," she said; "I want you to wait on me to-day; I am
tired; we had a very rough crossing. To-morrow I shall take you in hand,
but you are tremendously improved already. Yes, your father has
delightful manners--we shall win through yet; but it will be a battle."

"What do you mean by 'winning through'?" I asked.

"Nothing that you need interfere about," she answered, a little sharply;
"only listen to me once for all. I am not Lady Helen Dalrymple for
nothing, and when I stoop to conquer I do conquer. Now then, fetch me
the cake basket; I am ravenously hungry and have a passion for
chocolate."

I gave her what she required, and she ate without looking at me, her
sharp eyes wandering round and round the room.

"Why, how hideous!" she suddenly exclaimed. "How more than wrong of
Clarkson! I gave orders that the curtains in this room were to be
rose-pink; those dull blue abominations must come down; we won't have
them--they'd try anyone's complexion. Child, for goodness' sake don't
stare! And yet, come and let me look at you. That blue dress suits you;
but then you are young, and you have a complexion for blue."

She patted my hand for a minute, then she yawned profoundly.

"I am glad to be home," she said. "A honeymoon when you are no longer
young is fatiguing, to say the least of it, and I am sick of hotel
life. I have already sent out my 'At Home' invitations, and for the next
few days the house will be crammed every afternoon. You will have to be
present--why, of course, you will--don't knit your brows together like
that. I mean to be a good stepmother to you, Heather. Ah, here comes
Gordon. Gordon, you look very presentable now. Sit close to me on this
sofa, and let Heather give you some tea. It's nice to have one's own
girl to wait on one, isn't it?"

"Profoundly nice," said the Major; "exquisitely nice. To think that we
have a child of our very own, Helen!"

"I don't think about it," replied Lady Helen. "It isn't my custom to
wear myself out going into raptures, but, Gordon, I am very seriously
displeased about those curtains."

"Curtains, dear--what ails them? I see nothing wrong in them."

"But I do. I told Clarkson's people rose-colour, soft rose-colour, and
they sent blue--I will never get anything at Clarkson's again."

"They must be changed, sweetest one," replied my father.

I was giving him a cup of tea just then, and my hand shook. My
stepmother noticed this; she said, in a sharp voice:

"Heather, get me a fan; that fire will spoil my complexion."

I fetched her one. She held it between herself and the fire.

"By the way, Gordon," she said suddenly, "we had better tell the child
now."

"Oh, what?" I asked in some astonishment and also alarm.

"Really, Heather, you need not give way to such undue excitement. A year
of my training will completely change you. I only wished to mention the
fact that your name is no longer Grayson; in future you are Heather
Dalrymple. Your father and I have agreed that you both take my name;
that is a thing often done when there is a question of money. I hold the
purse strings. I am a very generous person as regards money; Major,
dear, you can testify to that."

"I can, Helen. There never was your like, you are wonderful."

"You therefore are little Heather Dalrymple in future," continued my
stepmother, "and your father and I are Major and Lady Helen Dalrymple.
It's done, child, it's settled; the lawyers have arranged it all.
Grayson is a frightful name; you ought to be truly thankful that it is
in my power to change it for you. You need not even wait for your
marriage; the change takes place at once."

"But I prefer my own name," I answered. "I don't want to have your name.
Father, please speak--father, I am not Heather Dalrymple!"

"Oh, make no fuss about it, child," replied my father. "I have long ago
come to the wise conclusion that nothing wears one out like making a
fuss. Now, my dear, good, sweet, little Heather, I grieve to have to
tell you that your disposition promises to land you in old age before
your time. You fuss about everything. You fussed yourself almost into
your grave when I was obliged to leave you with Penelope Despard, and
yet how good poor old Pen was to you all the time! And then you were
very impolite to your new mother when you heard that I was about to be
married."

"Oh, I am willing to forget and forgive all that," said Lady Helen. "The
child was young and taken by surprise. We enter to-day a new world. I do
my best for her; she must do her best for me. If you are a good girl,
Heather, you will see what a happy life you will have as my daughter."

"Please, please, father," I said, suddenly, "may I have Anastasia to be
my maid? There is a girl upstairs who calls herself Morris, and she says
she is my maid, but I really do want Anastasia back."

"Ask her ladyship, and do it in a pretty way," said my father, and he
gave my hand a playful pinch.

"And this carpet," muttered Lady Helen. "I particularly said that the
carpet was to be of a pale green, that sort of very soft green which
sets off everything, and it is--goodness gracious!--it is a sort of pale
blue, not even the tone of the curtains. How atrocious! Yes, Heather,
yes--what is it?"

"I do want to ask you, please," I said, "if Anastasia may come back?"

"Anastasia?" said Lady Helen. "I have never heard of her. Who is she?"

"She used to be my nurse when I was in India, and she sailed with father
and me in the good ship _Pleiades_. Oh, father! don't you remember the
charm you gave me, and how we talked of gentle gales and prosperous
winds? And, father, here's the charm, the dear old charm!"

"When you talk to me," said Lady Helen, "you will have the goodness to
look at me. You want the woman--what did you say her name was?"

"Anastasia. It's quite a nice name," I answered. "I want her to be my
maid instead of Morris."

"To be your maid?"

"Please, please, Lady Helen."

"Can she sew? Can she make blouses? Can she arrange hair fashionably?
Can she put on your dress as it ought to be put on? I may as well say at
once that I don't intend to take a pale, gawky girl about with me. You
must look nice, as you can and will, if you have a proper maid, and I
attend to your clothes. Can she alter your dresses when they get a
little _outré_? In short, is the woman a lady's maid at all?"

"She used to be my nurse, and I love her," I answered stoutly.

"I cannot possibly have her back. Don't speak of it again. And now,
Heather, I have something else to say. When you address me you are not
to call me 'Lady Helen,' you are to say 'Mother.' The fact is, I can't
stand sentimental nonsense. Your own mother has been in her grave for
many years. If I am to act as a mother to you, I intend to have the
title. Now say the word; say this--say, 'Please, mother, may I go
upstairs to my private sitting-room, and may I leave you and father
alone together?' Say the words, Heather."

I turned very cold, and I have no doubt my face was white.

"Yes, Heather, say the words," cried father.

His blue eyes were extremely bright, and there was a spot of vivid
colour on both his cheeks. He looked at me with such a world of longing,
such an expression of almost fear, that for his sake I gave in.

"I will do what you wish for my father's sake," I said, slowly. "I am
not your child, and you are not my mother. My mother is in her grave,
and when she lived her name was Grayson, not Dalrymple; but if it makes
father happy for me to say 'mother,' I will say it."

"It makes me most oppressively happy, my little Heather," cried my
father.

"Then I will do it for you, Daddy," I said.

Lady Helen frowned at me. I went slowly out of the room.



CHAPTER IX


It is doubtless the law of life to get, more or less quickly, according
to one's nature, accustomed to everything. In about six weeks I, who had
lived so quietly with Aunt Penelope, had settled down to my new
existence. I was spoken of as Lady Helen's daughter, and invariably
addressed as Miss Dalrymple. I was dressed according to Lady Helen's
wishes, and I was taken here, there, and everywhere. What I did notice,
however, was that although Lady Helen, my father, and I went to numerous
concerts, and although Lady Helen had her box at the opera, and took a
box frequently at the theatres, and although we often dined at the
Savoy, and the Carlton, and the Ritz hotels, and on all these occasions
my gallant-looking father accompanied us, yet when we went into
so-called Society he was hardly ever present. I asked Lady Helen the
reason one day. I said to her:

"It is so dull without father. Why doesn't he come with us?"

On this occasion she frowned and looked anxious; then she said:

"Oh, we shall manage it, probably, by next year; we must not be too
eager. People forget very quickly, and we must not expect too much this
year, but next year doubtless things will be all right."

"But what can there be to forget?" I said.

"Nothing, nothing at all," she replied. "Don't be so inquisitive,
child."

Meanwhile, I will own that I was having a good time--that is, if
admiration, expressed and unexpressed, could give it to me. Lady Helen
was proud of me when she saw people flocking round me and when she
observed that the nicest men asked me to dance, and the ladies whose
houses she was most anxious to get invited to sent me also invitations.
She made a fuss over me, and petted me according to her lights. So I was
happy in a kind of fashion, although, to tell the truth, there were
times over and again when I felt very like a prisoner--a prisoner in a
gilt cage.

One day something rather peculiar occurred. I did not think much of it
at the time, although I was destined to give it several thoughts later
on. Lady Helen received a letter amongst many others, which she opened
shortly after breakfast. Father was in the room. He was leaning back in
a big chair, and was reading _The Times_. I noticed that father always
turned to the army news first in reading any paper; he was looking at
the army news at that moment. He was intensely interested about
everything to do with the army; and that I could scarcely wonder at,
seeing that he himself was a Major in His Majesty's service.

Lady Helen opened her letter, turned a little white, and flung it across
the table to father.

"There!" she said. "What are we to do now?"

Father took up the letter and read it slowly. His face did not look
exactly white, but a very peculiar mottled sort of colour spread slowly
over his cheeks, and his eyes became fierce and wild. As a rule, he was
quick and eager in his movements, but now he rose up deliberately,
stamped his foot, and crossing the room, put the letter into a small
fire which was burning in the grate.

"Gordon, why have you done that?" said Lady Helen.

"Because your brother will not enter this house," was his reply.

"Ah, poor fellow!" she exclaimed. "And am I never to see him? I must see
him--I _will_! Child, go out of the room."

"No, child, you are to stay here," said my father. He swept his arm
round my waist, and drew me down to sit close to him. I could feel that
he was trembling all over. Lady Helen got up.

"Heather, I wish you to leave the room."

"Darling father, come to me presently to my own room," I whispered. "Do,
please--what--mother wishes--now."

I brought out the words with an effort.

"You are a plucky girl, my darling," he said, kissing me. "Well, then,
go--I will come to you by and by."

I was glad to escape. I ran up to my room, and sank down into an
easy-chair. Morris, who constantly walked out with me in the morning,
came in to know if she was to do anything, but I sent her away. I took
up a book, I tried to read, I put it down again; I could not fix my
attention on anything. Oh, never, never before had I seen father's eyes
blaze with such fire, and never before had I seen Lady Helen at once
angry and cowed. What were they saying to each other now? Until that
moment I had not guessed that Lady Helen had a brother. Who was he, and
why could not he come? Why should father be so angry? Why should father
have burnt his letter? Why did father tremble from head to foot, and try
to keep me in the room? Ah! I heard his step on the stairs. I ran to my
door and flung it open.

"Daddy, daddy, come in!" I said.

He strode towards me; in a minute he was in the room, and had clasped me
to his heart.

"Upon my word, little woman," he said, "upon my word, I have gone
through a pretty scene!"

"Sit down and rest, Daddy darling; don't talk for a minute or two. This
is my room, and you are my visitor, and you shall do just as you like."

"Smoke a pipe, for instance?" he asked, giving me a quizzical glance.

"Indeed you may and shall," I said. I began to poke in his pocket for
his pipe, and when I found it filled it for him and lit it, as I used to
do when I was a small child; then I gave it to him to smoke.

"You are a dear little thing," he said. "You are the comfort of my
life."

His pipe and the peace of my room seemed to soothe him wonderfully, but
over and over I heard him mutter, "Upon my word!" and then I heard him
say, "No, not quite that; I have done a good bit for her ladyship, but
that scoundrel--she must know that he can never come here."

"Daddy, what is wrong?" I asked.

He took his pipe out of his mouth, gave a profound sigh, and looked me
full in the face.

"There's nothing wrong at all," he said. "I was in a bit of a
passion--not a temper--a _passion_--my passion was right and
justifiable, but her ladyship's nearly all right now."

"And won't you let her brother come to see her, Daddy?"

"Stop that, Heather; you are not to question me."

"Then he is not coming?" I said.

"That man shall never darken my doors."

"Daddy!"

"Miss Curiosity is not to know the reason," he said, smiling once more
and pinching my cheek. "Now then, look here. Her ladyship is in a bit of
a tiff--oh, not much; she'll be herself by this evening. You and she are
going to a very big affair to-night, and what do you say to _our_
enjoying a very big affair to-day? Richmond, eh? in her ladyship's
motor, eh? and no questions asked, eh, eh?"

"Oh, father, how truly rapturous!"

"Well, then, we'll do it. Get Morris to make you look as smart as
possible, and I will order the motor-car to come round. Now, then, off
with you!"

I flew to get ready, and father and I had a very happy day together. As
we were coming back in the motor-car, just in time for me to get dressed
for that great function which he would not attend, I said to him:

"Daddy, I thought that when people were a long time in the army----"

"Eh, eh?" he said. "What about the army?"

"I thought that they got promotion--I mean you ought to be a full
colonel, or even a general, by now."

"Little Heather, will you promise with all your heart and soul never to
repeat something I am going to say to you?"

"Of course, I will promise you, my own daddy."

"Well, I am not in the army--I haven't been in the army for years."

"Daddy!"

"Now listen, and keep that knowledge deep down in your heart. But for
that scoundrel who wanted to pay us a visit I'd have been a general in
his Majesty's service now. No more words, Heather; no more words--keep
it dark, _dark_ in your heart. I am called Major by her ladyship as a
matter of courtesy, but I was snuffed out some time ago, child; yes,
snuffed out. Now then, here we are! We've had a good day--very jolly to
be alone with my little Heather--life's not half bad when you consider
that your own child need not understand every black and evil thing about
you. But I am snuffed out for all that, little Heather mine."



CHAPTER X


About a month passed by, and the scene which I have alluded to seemed to
have receded like distant smoke. Lady Helen and my father were the best
of friends. I went to see Lady Carrington as often as I could, but for
some reason Lady Helen Dalrymple and she were only the merest
acquaintances, and I could see that Lady Helen was jealous when Lady
Carrington invited me to her house. The days I spent with that good
woman were the happiest of my life just then, but they were few and far
between.

I saw very little of father. After our long delightful day at Richmond
he seemed to pass more or less out of my life. He seemed to me to be an
absolute and complete cipher, so much so that I could not bear to look
at him. His hearty, happy, jolly, delightful manners were subdued, his
eyes were more sunken than they used to be, and the colour in his cheeks
had quite faded. I used to gaze at him with a pang at my heart, and
wonder if he were really growing thin. He hardly ever said now, "Hallo,
hallo! here we are!" or "Oh, I say, how jolly!" In fact, I never heard
any of his old hearty exclamations; but what annoyed me most was that
when Lady Helen was present he hardly took any notice of me.

Nevertheless, I had my good times, for by now I was tired of sitting up
half the night and of going to endless dances and listening to
innumerable empty compliments, and being smiled at by men whom I could
not take the faintest interest in, and whose names I hardly remembered.
But as the summer came on faster and faster, and the London season
advanced to its height, I did enjoy my morning walks with Morris. Lady
Helen had said something about my having a horse to ride, but up to the
present I was not given one, and consequently I walked with Morris, and
we invariably went into Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens.

I remember a day early in May, when I unexpectedly met Captain Carbury.
I was sitting on a chair, with Morris next to me, when I saw him in the
distance. He pushed rapidly through a crowd of people, and came up to my
side. He took a chair close to mine.

"Can't you get your maid to walk about for a short time?" he said. "I
have something of great importance I want to say to you."

I turned towards Morris.

"Morris, will you kindly go to the first entrance and buy me two
shillingsworth of violets?" I said to the girl.

Morris rose at once to do what I asked.

"That's right," said Captain Carbury, when we were alone. "I have such a
strange thing to tell you, Miss Grayson."

"That isn't my name now," I said.

"I beg your pardon," he replied, turning a little red, "Miss Dalrymple."
Then he added: "I have been wanting to see you for weeks, but did not
know how to manage it."

"But was there any difficulty?" I asked. "You know where my father and
Lady Helen live. You could have called."

He coloured and looked down on the ground.

"We have met at last," he said, after a pause, "and now I have this to
tell you."

"What?"

"You saw Dorothy Vinguard once, didn't you?"

"The girl you are engaged to? Of course."

"I am not engaged to her any longer; our engagement is broken off."

"Oh, I am sorry," I said, and I looked at him with a world of sympathy
in my eyes.

"Dear little Miss Heather," he replied, "you needn't be sorry, for I
assure you I am not."

"But why is it broken off?" I asked. "I thought when people were engaged
that, if they were nice people, they considered it sacred, and--and
_kept_ engaged until they married."

"Oh, you dear little innocent!" he replied. "How little you know! Well,
at any rate, I am not going to enlighten you with regard to the ways of
this wicked world. The engagement is broken off, and I am glad of it. I
didn't do it; she did. She has engaged herself now to another man, with
five or six times my money. She is all right, and so am I."

Then I said slowly, "You puzzle me very much, Captain Carbury. I thought
you were very, very fond of her."

He dug his stick into the gravel walk near; then he glanced round at me
impatiently.

"You can put all that sort of thing into the past tense," he said. "Now
tell me about yourself. How are you getting on?"

"I am not getting on," I answered.

"You surprise me! I hear quite the contrary I hear that dear little
Miss Heather, who was so kind to me, and did me such immense honour as
to put me into her gallery of heroes, is making quite a stir in society.
When society begins to appreciate you, Miss Heather, you ought to
consider yourself in luck. They say--and by 'they' I mean the people who
live in this wicked world, the people who are 'in the know,' you
understand--that if you are not engaged to be married before this time
next year, you will be the height of the fashion."

I found myself colouring very deeply.

"I don't intend to be either engaged or married," I said; "and to make a
stir in society is about the very last thing I should wish."

"I wonder what you would wish?" he asked, looking at me attentively.

I looked back at him. Then I said, in a low, quiet voice:

"I can't quite understand why it is, but I find it very easy to tell you
things. Perhaps it is because you are in my gallery and I am in yours."

"Yes, of course, that is the reason," he replied, with one of his quick,
beautiful smiles.

"I will tell you what I really want."

"Do, Miss Heather--I really can't call you Miss Dalrymple, so it must
be Miss Heather."

"I don't mind," I answered.

"Well, now then, out with your greatest wish!"

"I should like," I said, speaking deliberately, "to leave London, and to
go into the heart of the country, to find there a pretty cottage, with
woodbine and monthly roses climbing about the walls, and dear little
low-ceiled rooms, and little lattice windows, and no sign of any other
house anywhere near at all. And I should like beyond words to take
father and live with him, all by our two selves, in that cottage. I
should not want fine dresses there, and society would matter less than
nothing to me."

Captain Carbury looked somewhat surprised, then he said, quietly:

"About your father; well, of course, I--I _can't_ speak about him, you
know, but there's--there's Lady Helen. How would she enjoy your
programme?"

"There would be no programme at all, no dream to be fulfilled, no
happiness to be secured, if she went with us," I answered.

"Oh, I see," he answered; "poor little Miss Heather!" And he whistled
softly under his breath.

I looked full at him.

"You don't like her either," I said, and it seemed to me that a new and
very strong chord of sympathy sprang up between us as I uttered the
words.

"No," he answered. "I won't say why--I won't give any reasons; she may
mean all right, but she's a worldly woman, and I don't care a bit about
worldly women. I am afraid you won't have your dream, Miss Heather, so I
must tell you what is the next best thing for you to do."

"But there is no next best," I replied.

"Yes, there is. Now listen to me attentively. The very best thing, all
circumstances considered, for you to do is to get engaged right away to
the sort of fellow who understands you and whom you understand--the sort
of man who would put you into his gallery, you know, and whom you would
put into your gallery. Oh, yes, you comprehend what I mean. The best
thing for you, Miss Heather, is to get engaged to that man, and when
once you are engaged not on any account to break off your engagement,
but to have it speedily followed by marriage. You'd be as happy as the
day is long with the man who understands you, and whom you understood.
And, for that matter, you _could_ have your cottage in the country, only
it would not be shared by your father but by--well, by the other
man--the man who understands you so well, you know."

"I don't know," I said; "and I certainly won't marry any man unless I
love him."

"But you must love him," he said, giving me a long and most earnest
glance, "if you put him into your gallery of heroes."

"Oh, I don't know," I replied to that. "I can admire immensely
without--without loving. Why, Captain Carbury, I have put you in,
and----"

But then he gave me another glance, and it was so very earnest, and his
dark blue eyes looked so very pleading, that suddenly the colour leaped
into my cheeks, and I lowered my own eyes and began to tremble all over.

"It is the best thing for you, Miss Heather," he said, dropping his
voice almost to a whisper. "Oh! yes, I know what I am talking about.
Lots of girls do dreadful things; they mar their lives fearfully. I'll
tell you how they mar them. They--they marry, and not for love."

"But I am not one of those girls," I replied.

"Are you not, really?" he said. "Now, I have heard rumours, oh,
yes!--and while the rumours are being circulated, everything sounds very
nice and very golden, but----" He bent a little closer, until his arm
touched mine.

Morris was coming back. I saw her trailing her dress over the grass, and
carrying a great basket of violets, white and different shades of blue,
in her hand.

"Listen," he said. "Even if you did not love with all your heart and
soul and strength, don't you think that you might just try the man you
put into your gallery of heroes? Don't you think you might begin"--he
dropped his voice, and it became quite hoarse--"to love him a little?"

"Oh! oh! oh!" I said; "I could not! You were engaged only a few days ago
to Lady Dorothy Vinguard! Why, Captain Carbury, I never even thought of
you. I don't love anybody at all, except father--that is--yet."

"There's a great deal in the little word 'yet,' Miss Heather. We should
not be rich, neither would we be exactly poor, but I am quite sure I
could make you happy. Truly, I never really cared for Dorothy. She was
thought a good match for me, and all that sort of thing, you know; but
she was too statuesque. I want life, I want warmth, I want soul, I
want--oh! all the things you could give. I would make you as happy as
the day is long; I could, and I would. Then--let me whisper. You need
never see _her_ any more. Think of it, dear little Heather! Heather,
Morris is quite close, and I must whisper a secret to you. It was from
the day I first met you that I began to find out what sort of girl Lady
Dorothy really was--I discovered then that there was a better girl in
the world than Lady Dorothy. I want a wife like you; I want you, your
very self; you, before you learn to love the world and the ways of the
world; you--just because you are so young and so pure and sweet. Think
of it, think of it, Heather, and don't say no! Wait at least until
to-morrow. I will be in this very place at eleven o'clock to-morrow
morning, waiting to get your answer."



CHAPTER XI


I do not know how I parted with Vernon Carbury. I cannot recall even to
this day whether I shook hands with him or not, or even whether he
walked with me as far as the gates of the Park. What I do remember
vividly is this: that I went home to Hanbury Square like one walking in
a dream. The whole world seemed to me to be filled with a wonderful new
light. In the midst of this radiance was one figure, one face; out of
the brightness one voice seemed to speak, and one pair of eyes to shine.
I was certain I did not in the least love Captain Carbury, but I did
know that our meeting had been full of keen excitement, and that I was
altogether lifted out of myself into a new and wonderful world. I wanted
to be quite alone, to think over what had happened. I was puzzled, too,
at the fact that I was trembling, and that my cheeks were hot one minute
and that I felt cold all over the next.

Morris walked discreetly behind me, and the beautiful smell of the
violets came in wafts now and then to my nostrils. During our walk home
Morris had not spoken to me. When I reached the house I went straight to
my pretty bedroom; I wanted more badly than ever to be quite by myself,
but Morris annoyed me. She followed me into my bedroom, carrying the
violets.

"Shall I arrange these in your sitting-room for you, miss?" she asked.

"Please do," I answered; "and Morris, do not come near me for a time,
for I wish to be quite alone."

"Certainly, miss. I was to say, please, that the Major and her ladyship
have gone on the river, but that lunch will be ready for you whenever
you wish for it in the smaller dining-room."

"I am not hungry, and I don't wish for lunch," I replied.

"Shall I bring you up some tea and a lightly boiled egg, miss?"

"Yes; that will do nicely," I answered.

She tripped away, and I shut and locked the door. I could not bear to
encounter her face, for it was full of meaning. She treated me as though
I were slightly ill, and as though she were my nurse. I hated beyond
words the knowledge that she shared my secret with me; but then, of
course, I had no secret, for although Vernon Carbury had said those
wonderful, those amazing words, I did not love him back again. How was
it possible that I, a girl who respected myself, could love a man who a
few weeks before had been engaged to another?

I sat in my room, leaning back in my comfortable chair; then I started
up and paced the floor impatiently; then I tried very hard to make
myself angry with Captain Carbury--I wanted to force myself even to hate
him a little bit--but I did not succeed. I could only remember the look
in his eyes, and the smile on his lips, and the thrill in his voice,
when he told me how he cared for me, and I could only recall the fact
that I certainly would meet him at eleven o'clock on the following
morning in Hyde Park.

Morris must share my secret. It was a terrible thing to reflect about,
but I could not go to Hyde Park alone; she must, therefore, accompany
me. Well, that would end the whole thing. I would tell dear, kind Vernon
that all my life long I would remember his good words to me, and that I
would ever and ever keep him in my gallery of heroes, but that, of
course--and I knew that I must speak very steadily and firmly at this
juncture of my conversation--I could never love him, nor, by any
possibility, marry him. I should be quite pleased to be his friend, but
beyond that anything else was impossible.

There came a tap at my door. It was Morris, bearing a tray with some
delicately-prepared tea, some fragrant toast, some little pats of
delicious butter, on a silver tray, and a nice, fresh, brown egg,
lightly boiled. Morris carried the tray in one hand; in the other she
held a great basket full of the most exquisite roses I had ever seen in
my life.

"For you, Miss Dalrymple," she said, and she laid the basket of roses on
the dressing-table.

"Oh! oh!" I said. I adored flowers, and I buried my face now in the
fragrant blooms.

"Aren't they beautiful, miss?" remarked Morris. "They must have cost a
small fortune."

My cheeks were very red indeed, nor did I look up from sniffing at the
flowers until Morris had left the room, closing the door softly behind
her. Then I rose slowly, and carrying the basket with me, laid it on the
floor at my feet. I sat down by the table, where my small lunch awaited
me, but I did not care to eat. I began carefully to take one beautiful
blossom after another out of the basket. Of course, Vernon Carbury had
sent these flowers to me; there was no doubt whatever on the subject.
How reckless of him--how wrong of him! And yet, how splendidly nice and
delightful of him! But I must speak to him on this very point to-morrow.
He was, of course, far from rich, and he must on no account spend his
money on me; I would not permit it for a moment. Still, it was
delightful to sniff these roses, and to think of him, and to wonder,
deep down in my heart, what he could find in a little, insignificant
girl like me to love.

I had finished my tea and was standing by the window, when, to my
amazement, I heard a firm and determined knock at the door. Whoever the
person was who waited without, she did not linger long; she turned the
handle of the door and entered.

It was my stepmother. Her eyes lighted up with pleasure as they fell on
the beautiful basket of hothouse roses.

"Ah!" she said, "I might have guessed as much. This explains everything,
and how lovely!"

"I thought you were on the river," I said.

"A tiresome thing happened," she replied, "and I have come back. Aren't
those flowers lovely?"

"Yes," I said. I felt quite pleased and surprised at her sympathy. Was
it possible that I had been mistaken in her all the time? Was she really
the sort of woman who would wish me to care about a man like Captain
Carbury?

She came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder.

"Heather," she said, "you are one of the lucky people of the world. I
knew that, from the moment I laid my eyes on you; I told your father so,
and for some time we both have seen what was coming. Yes; you are of the
fortunate ones of the earth. Remember, Heather, in your days of
prosperity, that you will always have to thank me for this."

"But nothing is coming," I answered, for although I was surprised and
liked her for her sympathy, I would not even pretend that I cared for
Vernon Carbury. Then I continued:

"It was impossible for you to know it, whatever you mean by 'it,' for
any length of time, for he has only just broken off----"

"He--he has only just broken off!" exclaimed my stepmother. "What are
you talking of, child? Really, Heather, you are the most tiresome girl I
ever met. What you want, my dear, is an early engagement, and a quick
marriage."

"Oh, just what--what----"

"Now again you interrupt--I cannot understand you in the very least.
What do you mean by 'just what--what'?"

"Nothing, mother," I said. It hurt me awfully to say the word, but I
forced myself to do it, for father's sake.

"I don't believe you know yourself," remarked Lady Helen. "Now, get into
your prettiest dress. We are going to motor in the Park, you and I, all
by ourselves."

"But Where's Daddy?" I asked. "I want Daddy to come with us."

"Your father won't be in until dinner-time; he is very busy. By the way,
two gentlemen, special friends of mine--and, indeed, I think one of them
is a special friend of yours--are coming to dine here to-night."

"Oh!" I said. I felt myself changing colour.

My stepmother gazed at me, and a curious smile, which I did not like,
flitted across her face.

"Come," she said; "you are a good girl; you are not quite as silly as
you seem, and I perceive that you are taking kindly to my arrangements."

"Please tell me the names of the gentlemen who are dining here
to-night?" I asked.

"I shall do nothing of the kind. I never give away my pet secrets. You
will see them when they come, and I wish you to look your very sweetest
and best. That new feathery sort of dress, with the silver embroidery,
will exactly suit you. You can wear a great bunch of these roses just
here"--she indicated the front of my dress--"and Morris will arrange a
few on the skirt. I assure you, with those additions to your white and
silver dress, you will, my dear daughter, be irresistible. It isn't
every girl who does so well in her first season; but then, it isn't
every girl who has the advantage of a mother like me. Now I mustn't
waste any more time. Ring for Morris. Tell her that she is to put you
into your dark blue costume, with the blue hat to match, and the silver
fox fur. Get ready as fast as you can. Ah! here you are, Morris. Attend
to Miss Dalrymple, please."



CHAPTER XII


Lady Helen swept out of the room, and Morris began to dress me.

"It's strange, her ladyship coming back," she remarked. But I was in no
mood to exchange confidences with my maid. I said at once:

"I suppose Lady Helen can change her mind."

"Oh, of course, miss; but all the same it is strange. It means--yes,
miss, I know what it means."

"Please, Morris, don't talk now; my head aches."

"Poor young lady!" said Morris. She gave me a significant look. "If I
was you I'd be firm," she said. "It means courage, but you have plenty
of spirit. We remark on it in the servants' hall. We say that it would
take a great deal to knock Miss Heather's spirit out of her."

There was no use in finding fault with Morris. I remained silent.

"Those roses are superb," she said again, as she arranged my dark blue
cloth dress, and got me ready for my drive in the Park with my
stepmother.

I made no response, but my heart throbbed when she mentioned the roses.
I wondered if Captain Carbury were coming to dinner. I forgot altogether
the fact that Captain Carbury and my father, for some extraordinary
reason, did not wish to meet. As I considered the possibility of the
Captain's dining with us that evening, something else happened. I began
to long inexpressibly for him. I earnestly hoped he would come, that he
would be the person allotted to take me in to dinner, that I should sit
by his side, and that I should have an opportunity of scolding him--of
course, very gently--with regard to the roses. I made up my mind to tell
him that he was foolishly extravagant, and to implore of him not to do
such a thing again. It would be impossible for me to be too severe when
I was wearing his roses, for I determined just when Morris was arranging
my hat at the most becoming angle not to wear the silver thing in my
hair, but a bunch of the softest roses, exactly where he would like to
see them, nestling behind my ear.

Morris was very quick in getting me into my afternoon costume, and a
few minutes later my stepmother and I were bowling away in the direction
of Hyde Park. There we joined a long procession of carriages and motors.
It was a beautiful day, and we both looked around us, enjoying the gay
and brilliant scene.

Lady Helen was dressed in her usual extravagant style, and her face was
covered with a thick veil. She managed by this means to keep all
appearance of age at bay, and looked quite an elegant woman of the world
as she leaned back in her expensive motor-car with her wonderful sables
round her shoulders. By and by a look of excitement flashed from her
dark eyes. She desired the chauffeur to stop. We pulled up at the kerb,
and a fine, aristocratic-looking man with a slightly withered face and
tired grey eyes came forward. I had met him several times at different
balls and assemblies. I liked him, and felt that there was even a
possibility of our being friends. I regarded him in the light of an
uncle.

"How do you do, Lord Hawtrey?" said Lady Helen.

Lord Hawtrey bowed to Lady Helen. Then he bowed to me. His tired eyes
lit up with a smile, and he began to talk eagerly. While he talked he
looked at me, and each moment it seemed to me that his eyes grew less
tired, and the wrinkles seemed to leave his face. He certainly had a
very fatherly manner towards me, and I smiled back at him in return, and
felt very happy. I noticed on that special occasion, however, that there
was a great deal of sadness behind his outward suavity of manner. I
pitied him for this, as it was my nature to pity all creatures in the
world who were not perfectly happy.

"I am so glad you are coming to dine to-night," said Lady Helen.

So he was one of the guests! Well, that did not matter. Captain Carbury
must, of course, be the other. As the motor-car started forward again
Lord Hawtrey gave me a long, penetrating, observant glance. It seemed to
me afterwards that it was a peculiar glance.

Lady Helen was now in the highest spirits, and loud in the praises of
his lordship.

"It is a feather in your cap, my dear," she said, "to be noticed so
kindly by a man like Hawtrey. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that
he is one of the most sought-after men in London, because he is one of
the best catches of the season."

"What do you mean by a catch?" I asked.

"Oh, you ignorant little thing! But I suppose some people would find a
charm in all that. Doubtless he does."

"Please do tell me what you mean by a good catch?" I repeated.

She laughed disagreeably.

"A good catch," she said, "is--is--well, let me think--the best fish in
the sea, the best trout in the stream, the best--the best--oh, the best
of everything; that is, if money means anything, and birth anything,
and--charm anything, and the finest house in England anything. That is
what a good catch means. Now, perhaps, you understand."

"You think, perhaps, that some girl may like to marry Lord Hawtrey?" I
said, after a long pause.

"Some girl will," she exclaimed. "Any girl who is not previously engaged
would give her eyes for such a connection."

She looked at me intently.

"But surely," I said, "he is old enough to be a young girl's father?"

"Your childishness oppresses me," said Lady Helen. "I thought he'd be in
the Park; that is the true reason why I came out. I wanted to be
certain of him to-night. I think we'll go home now. I am anxious for my
tea, and the air is turning chilly."

We returned to the house. I was still feeling happy. And this, I had to
own to myself, was because of Captain Carbury. I accepted the certain
fact, and with a joyful beating of my heart, that he stood between me
and my stepmother, that he had placed himself deliberately as a shield
between her and me. I remembered, too, that chivalrous, beautiful light
in his eyes when he told me that morning that he loved me. Oh, of
course, I would not marry for years and years, but it was nice to know
that one like Vernon Carbury loved me.

Morris was very fidgety about my dress that evening. She was really a
splendid maid, and performed her duties deftly and quietly. As a rule,
she never made a fuss. She seemed to know what was the right dress for
me to wear, and I put it on at her bidding. But to-night she was quite
excited. I felt almost sure, as I glanced at her face, that she shared
my secret, and once or twice, while I was going through the long and
tedious process of the toilet, I longed to ask her if she knew that
Captain Carbury was coming to dinner. But something kept me back from
uttering the words. I knew I should blush if I asked her that question,
and then Morris would be sure. Morris was not sure yet; she could only
guess.

By and by I was fully dressed. Had Aunt Penelope seen me, she would not
have recognised in the radiant girl to whose cheeks excitement had given
a passing tinge of colour, to whose eyes excitement had lent the glow
which comes straight from the heart, the Heather she had counselled to
live the simple life, and walk worthy of her God. Nevertheless, I said
to myself, "I should love to kiss the dear old thing to-night."

Just then Morris entered the room with a wreath of roses, which she had
skilfully twined together. These she fastened with the deftest of deft
fingers across the front of my dress. She put another spray of roses on
one shoulder, and a little bunch in my hair.

"Now, if I was you, miss," she said, "I wouldn't wear one jewel. I
wouldn't have the string of pearls round my neck, nor anything. I'd just
wear these real roses on that silver white dress. Oh, Miss Dalrymple,
you do look lovely!"

"By the way, Morris," I said, suddenly, "where are the violets we bought
to-day?"

"The violets, miss? What have they to do with your toilet?"

"I want just a very few to pin into the front of my dress," I said.
"Fetch me a bowl of them from my sitting-room, and be quick, Morris."

"They'll spoil the effect; it's a dreadful pity," said Morris.

"I must have them," I replied.

Morris went and fetched them. I chose a big bunch, and fastening it in a
heap, pinned it next the roses at my left side. Then I picked up my fan
and gloves and ran downstairs.

Lady Helen and my father were both in the big drawing-room. My father's
cheeks were blazing with excitement. I had not seen his face look so red
for a long time. Lady Helen had evidently been whispering something to
him, because when I appeared they started asunder, and looked almost
guiltily one at the other. Then my father came up to me, made a low bow,
and, taking my hand, raised it to his lips.

"Nonsense, Daddy!" I said. "I am not going to have you treating me in
this formal fashion," and I flung my arms round his neck and kissed him
several times.

"For goodness' sake, Gordon, don't crush her roses!" cried Lady Helen.

We started apart, for the first visitor, Lord Hawtrey, was announced. He
was greeted by Lady Helen and my father, and then he turned to me. I
noticed that he looked me all over, and that his eyes shone with
pleasure when he observed my lovely roses. I had never felt shy with
Lord Hawtrey, and was not shy now.

"Do you like my roses?" I said, going to his side.

"They suit you," was his answer.

"They were sent to me by a very great friend. I am sure you cannot guess
his name," I said.

The footman flung the door open again, and a man entered who was called
Sir Francis Dolby. He was a tall, very thin man. I knew him slightly. I
also disliked him. My heart sank low, very low, within me, when he
entered the room. So Captain Carbury was not dining in my stepmother's
house that evening.

Lady Helen came and whispered something to Lord Hawtrey. The result of
this was that he took me in to dinner. He talked charmingly during the
meal. He took no notice of the fact that I was a little distraite--that
my heart was very low within me. Whether he guessed any of my thoughts
or not I can never tell, but he certainly did his best to restore my
flagging spirits. By and by, when he saw that the kindest thing was to
leave me alone, he devoted himself to the rest of the party, and soon
had my father in roars of laughter over his good stories.

At last, the weary dinner came to an end. The smell of the roses was so
strong that I felt almost faint. My head was aching. What could be the
matter with me? I began, however, to centre my thoughts on one bright
beacon star of hope. I should meet Captain Carbury at eleven o'clock
to-morrow morning in the Park.

Lady Helen gave the signal, and we went into the drawing-room; there she
said, eagerly:

"My child, you look pale. Are you tired?"

"No," I answered; "I am not the least tired." But then I added, rather
petulantly, "I have too many flowers on my dress; the smell of the roses
in these hot rooms makes me almost faint. May I not take some of them
off?"

"By no means," she answered, and she stepped back a few paces and looked
at me attentively.

"Really, Heather," she said, "you are, I believe, intended by
Providence to look pale; that pallor in your cheeks, joined to the
darkness of your big eyes, gives you a wonderfully interesting, almost
spiritual, look."

"If you but knew," I answered, "how very, very little I care for how I
look!"

I said these words defiantly. I was certain she would scold me for
uttering them. She paused, however, as though she were listening, then
she said:

"In future, my dear child, you may look as you like, and act as you
like; for the present, just please me. Reward me for my good services to
you by being my good little Heather on this one evening."

I was surprised at her words, and at the sort of affectionate admiration
in her manner. She made me sit next to her on the sofa.

"You are not a bit fit to go to the theatre," she said. "I shall go with
Frank Dolby; nothing will induce him to miss a play."

"And father?" I remarked.

"I doubt if your father will care to go, Heather; he'll probably amuse
himself in the smoking-room."

"He and Lord Hawtrey together in the smoking-room," I answered.

"I did not say that." She smiled, glanced at me, and looked away. "Lie
back on the sofa and rest, dear," she said.

Voices were heard in the hall; she bustled out of the room; I wondered
at her manner. But I was really tired now--she was right about that; my
head ached; I was suffering from cruel disappointment. The day had been
most exciting, the day had been brimful of hope, and now night brought
disappointment. People were talking eagerly in the hall. I felt
indifferent. Then there was silence. The next minute the drawing-room
door was opened, and my father came in.

"God bless you, my Heather!" he said. "And now, child, listen to me. You
must do whatever you think right. Her ladyship's away, Heather, 'hey!
nonny, nonny!'--her ladyship's away, and I won't be bullied about my own
little girl. You do just what you think right."

He knelt down as he spoke, bent over me, put his arm round my neck,
pressed his lips to mine, and then hurried out of the room. I was just
intending to go up to bed; I was longing for the quiet of my own
chamber; I wanted intensely to put my treasured roses into water; I
wanted to creep into bed and dream about Captain Carbury. I pined for
the shelter of my little room, for the darkness, the peace. I should
fall asleep presently, but until then I could think and think of the man
who had said good words to me that day, of the man whom I should meet
to-morrow. Of course, I would not marry him--no, not for the wide world;
but I might think of him, I might--I made up my mind that I would.

The house was quite silent. I raised myself from the sofa, and walked as
far as the fireplace; I bent down over the fire, then, raising myself, I
caught my own reflection in the glass. The vision of a girl looked back
at me from its mirrored depths--a girl with eyes like stars, lips
slightly parted, a radiant face. Somebody came in quickly--who was it? I
turned. Lord Hawtrey was at my side.

"I won't stay long, unless you give me leave," he said. "Lady Helen
thought you would not mind seeing me, and your father is in the
house--he is in the smoking-room; Lady Helen thinks you won't mind."

"Sit down, won't you?" I said.

"Oh, no. I cannot sit while you stand."

"But I am a young girl, and you are an old man," I said. "Do, please,
sit down. You look very tired, too," I added, and I gave him an
affectionate glance, for I really quite liked him.

His face flushed uncomfortably when I called him an old man; but I could
not by any possibility think of him in any other light.

"I cannot sit," he said. "Old or young, I must stand at the present
moment. I thought to write to you, but her ladyship said, 'Better
speak.' Have I your leave, Miss Grayson, to say a few words? Do you
greatly mind?"

"They call me Dalrymple here," I answered, speaking in a weary voice.

"I know that, but your real name is Grayson, and I mean to call you by
it. Whatever the rest of the world may feel, I am not ashamed of your
real name."

"Is anyone?" I asked. I was sitting on the sofa now; my cheeks were
blazing hotly, and my eyes were very bright.

"Of course not," he answered, and he fixed his tired eyes for a minute
on my face.

"My child," he said--and surely no voice in all the world could be
kinder--"it is my firm intention not to allow you to be forced in any
way. I will lay a proposition before you, and you are to accept or
decline it, just exactly as you like. If you accept it, Miss--Miss
Heather, you will make one man almost too happy for this earth; if you
decline it, he will still love and respect you. Now, may I speak?"

He paused, and I had time to observe that he was anxious, and that
whatever he wished to say was troubling him; also that he wanted to get
it over, that he was desirous to know the worst or the best as quickly
as possible. I wondered if he was a relation of Captain Carbury's, and
if he was going to speak about him; but I did not think it would be like
Captain Carbury to put his own affairs into the hands of anyone else.
Still, I had always liked Lord Hawtrey, although quite in a daughterly
fashion.

"What is it?" I said, gently. "Are you related to--to him?"

"I have hardly any relations, little Heather Grayson," was his next
remark. "I am a very lonely man."

"I did not know that rich people were ever lonely," I said.

He laughed.

"Rich people are the loneliest of all," he said.

"I cannot understand that," I answered.

"Why, you see, it is this way," he answered, bending slightly forward,
and looking at me--oh! so respectfully, and with, as far as I could
guess, such a very fatherly glance; "rich people, who live on unearned
incomes, have neither to work nor to beg; they just go on day after day,
getting every single thing they wish for. Not one desire enters their
minds that they cannot satisfy. Thus, little Miss Grayson, it is the law
of life, desire itself ever gratified, fades away and is not, and the
people I speak of are utterly miserable."

"I do not understand," I replied.

"I am rich, and yet I am one of the most lonely and, in some respects,
one of the most miserable men in London."

I sprang to my feet and confronted him.

"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself," I said. "If you are rich,
rich like that, think what good you ought to do with your money; think
what grand use you ought to make of it; think of the people who are out
of employment, and the poor young people--girls especially--who are so
shamefully underpaid, and think of the hospitals that need more funds,
and the big, great charities that are crying aloud for more help! If you
want to be happy, to use your money right, you ought to give to all of
these, and you ought to learn to give with discrimination and judgment.
When I lived in the country Aunt Penelope taught me a lot about the
right giving of charity, so I can understand. You need not be quite so
frightfully rich if you give of your abundance to those who have much
less; and if you not only give of your money, but of yourself, of your
life, of all, or a greater part of your time, you'll be just awfully
happy. People who do that sort of thing invariably are. Aunt Penelope
says so, and she ought to know."

"Your Aunt Penelope must be a very wise woman. I should like to meet
her; and that is a most brilliant idea. I wonder if it could be carried
into effect?"

"Surely there is nothing to prevent it."

"Then, little Heather Grayson, will you help me to carry it into
effect?"

"I wish I could; but how can I? I am such a very young girl."

I began to find him less interesting than I had done a minute ago. I
pushed a big sofa-pillow between my back and the edge of the sofa; I
pined for eleven o'clock on the following day.

"I must make my meaning plain," he said. "I want someone just like you,
young, and pure, and innocent, and, I believe, holy--to help me, to
live with me, to be my--oh! I want someone whom I could train and--whom
I could love."

"A sort of companion," I said, in some amazement; "or, perhaps, you mean
an adopted daughter; but then, you see, I am father's daughter, although
he has married Lady Helen."

"Ah, poor child!" he said. "I can quite see that you are your father's
daughter, although he has married Lady Helen. But tell me--do you really
think me old enough to be your father?"

"But, of course--yes, Lord Hawtrey, you are."

"Perhaps I am; on the other hand, perhaps I am not. But, after all,
little Miss Heather, the question of age scarcely matters. Deep in my
heart there lives eternal youth, and now and then--oh, by no means
always--but now and then, and especially when I am with you, it comes to
the surface. Eternal youth is a beautiful thing, and when I see you,
little Miss Grayson, and watch your innocent country ways, it visits me;
it is like a cool, refreshing fountain, bubbling up in my heart."

"But aren't we perhaps talking fairy talk?" I said, pulling one of the
roses out of its position in front of my dress and letting it fall to
the floor.

He got very red, but nevertheless he kept himself well in control.

"I want you to think it over," he said. "I know you will be unprepared
for what I mean to say. I want you as my wife. I can give you all the
outward things that the hearts of most women desire--I can give you
wealth, and beautiful dresses, and a lovely house--several lovely
houses--to live in; and I can make the best, and the greatest, and the
cleverest people your friends. I can take you far away, too, from this
flash and glitter. Little child, I can help to save you. Will you be my
wife? Don't--at least to-night--say no. I promise to make you the best,
the most devoted of husbands. I shall love you as I never loved woman,
and you will soon get accustomed to my grey hairs, and to the fact that
I am forty years of age. Don't say no, little Heather. I have loved you
with my whole heart, from the first moment I saw you."

I knew that, in spite of myself, my eyes opened wide, so wide that
presently they filled with tears, and the tears dropped down and
splashed on the roses which I had put on with such pride. I knew now
from where the flowers had come. I hated the roses; I loathed their
heavy perfume. I rose abruptly.

"Lord Hawtrey," I said, "I ought to thank you, but I am too young and
confused, and--and--oh, I must say it!--too _distressed_! You don't want
to force me to this?"

"No. You must come to me of your own free will."

"I believe you are a very good man," I said; "I am sure of it, and I
thank you very much; but you must understand that to me you seem like a
father, and I can never, never think of you in any other light. You will
forgive me, but I cannot say any more--I can never say any more. I do
like you, but I can never say anything more at all."

I did not touch his hand. I walked slowly towards the door; Lord Hawtrey
opened it for me; I passed out. He bent his head in acknowledgment of my
"Good night," and then, as I was going upstairs, I noticed that he shut
the drawing-room door very softly.



CHAPTER XIII


When Lady Helen went to the opera or the theatre, or to special balls or
suppers, she invariably was late for breakfast the next morning, and on
these occasions my father generally had his breakfast with her in her
bedroom. Lady Helen would not put in an appearance until lunch time, and
I therefore would have the morning all to myself. After that eventful
day and after that almost sleepless night, I was quite certain that I
should not find anyone waiting for me in the breakfast-room. To my
astonishment, however, both Lady Helen and my father were there. They
looked at me when I came in, my father with anxiety and affection, Lady
Helen with a world of meaning in her knowing, worldly old face.

On the night before I had torn the roses with feverish haste from my
dress, stuck them into a great bowl of water, and desired Morris to take
them away; I said that the perfume gave me a headache, and that I did
not wish to see them again. She obeyed me in some astonishment, raising
her brows a trifle.

When I entered the breakfast-room this sun-shiny spring morning, I
interrupted a very animated _tête-à-tête_ between my father and his
wife. I sat down quietly. Neither spoke to me beyond saying the most
conventional "Good morning," and I ate in feverish haste what breakfast
I required. Immediately afterwards I rushed to my room, pinned some
fresh violets into my pretty morning dress, put on a shady hat, and
desired Morris to accompany me to Hyde Park. Morris was quite agreeable.
As we walked along I saw that she was murmuring something under her
breath.

"What are you saying, Morris?" I asked, speaking with slight impatience,
for my heart was beating so very fast I could scarcely control myself.
"I dislike people muttering in the streets," I continued.

"I am sorry, miss," said Morris. "In future I'll keep my thoughts to
myself; they are all about you. Oh, dear! I wish I had one of those
Marguerite daisies; maybe I'd know the future if I could pull off the
petals."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"He loves me, he don't; he'll have me, he won't; he would if he could,
but he can't, so he won't," said Morris, bringing out the gibberish in
a rapid tone.

I laughed. "Oh, Morris," I said, "how your thoughts do run on love and
lovers! Now let's think of something else."

"There's nothing else for a young maiden to think of in the spring
time," said Morris, in oracular tones.

"There is in my case," I replied. "We will buy some fresh violets
to-day, for one thing."

"Shall we get them, miss, when we are going into the Park, or when we
are coming out?"

"I want to sit just where I sat yesterday," I answered; "and while I am
there you can buy them, as you did yesterday."

"Oh, yes, miss; I quite understand," replied Morris. Then she added: "It
must be nice, very nice, to be married, and to be very rich. But it must
be lovely to be married when you care for the man with all your heart,
and he is poor, very poor. I'm not meaning anything special, miss, but
it's the spring time, and, as the poet says, it makes my fancy 'lightly
turn to thoughts of love.'"

I made no reply. I had planned my visit to the Park so that it should
take place almost precisely at eleven o'clock, and when I got to the
neighbourhood of the seats where Morris and I had rested yesterday, I
perceived that one of them was occupied by a tall young man in a morning
suit of dark grey tweed. The moment he saw me he started to his feet,
and I turned quickly to Morris.

"Go, Morris," I said, "and buy violets--three shillingsworth, please,
and get as many white violets as ever you can."

"And shall I meet you inside the gates, miss?" asked the discreet
Morris.

"Yes," I answered; "go at once."

She turned on her heel, tripping away through the long vista of trees
without once looking back. Captain Carbury came eagerly forward. He held
out his strong hand, and took one of mine; he held my hand very tightly.
I sat down--I felt my breath coming fast. I had thought of this hour
ever since I had last parted with him, and now that it had come I found
that I had not in my imagination, even for one moment, believed that it
was half as good as it proved to be.

"Won't you look at me, Heather?" he said, and he bent down and tried to
peep at my eyes from under my shady hat. I raised them just for a
minute.

"Is it right to meet you like this?" I said.

"You need never meet me like this again," he said. "You have only to say
'Yes' to my request, and you and I together will go straight back to
Hanbury Square, and I myself will ring the bell at Number 13, and we
will ask for an interview with your father, and afterwards I shall be
free to come to the house during the brief time we are engaged. For, oh,
darling! we must be married very, very soon."

"But I never promised to marry you," I answered.

"Oh, Heather!" was his reply. He bent forward and looked into my eyes.

"I never, never did," I said, shaking my head, and trying to avoid his
eyes.

"You certainly did not yesterday," was his answer then. "I don't know
that I even wanted you to, but when you came to me to-day I saw 'Yes'
written all over your face. You cannot deny it--you are mine, mine only;
you would give up every other man in the wide world just for me."

I tried very hard to reply; I tried to tell him that he was impertinent
and vain, but the words would not rise to my lips. On the contrary, I
had the utmost possible difficulty in keeping myself from bursting into
tears, for I knew well that I loved him, if not yesterday, most
certainly to-day. There was something about him which appealed to my
whole heart, to which my heart went out. Still, I sat silent, declining
to speak--perfectly happy, perfectly contented, afraid to break my bliss
by the uttering of a single word.

As I sat so, with my shoulder within an inch or two of his, I began to
consider the violets, just as though he had given them to me. I had
bought those violets yesterday, and they were full of him; I had brought
some back with me to the Park to-day, but they were already slightly
faded. Not that our hopes were faded--far from that--only the violets. I
considered the violets--his special flowers--just as though he had
plucked them and given them to me; they seemed to be mixed up with him,
and I believed that all my life long I should love with a tender sort of
passion the smell of violets, and hate, beyond all words, the smell of
roses, and in particular of white roses.

"What are you thinking about, Heather?" he asked.

"Of you," I answered.

He glanced around him to right and left.

"There is no one looking," he said, drawing his chair two or three
inches nearer; "may I--may I hold your hand?"

"I cannot help it," I replied, and I spoke in a low, uncertain manner.

He smiled, took my hand, and held it very tightly between both his own.

"You have a very little hand, Heather," was his remark, and he held it
yet tighter.

"You are squeezing it," I said; "you are quite hurting me."

"That is the last thing I would do," was his reply. He loosened the
pressure of his hand over mine the merest fragment. After a minute of
silence, he said:

"Of course, as you allow me to hold your hand, things must be all
right."

"I--I am not sure," I answered.

"But I mean that you are willing that I should arrange this thing, take
all the trouble off you, you understand. You are willing, quite willing,
that we shall be married as soon as ever I can arrange it?"

"But this time yesterday," I replied, "I hardly thought about you. I
certainly knew that I liked you, and that you were my friend. I little
guessed, however, this time yesterday, that we could ever, by any
possibility, be husband and wife."

I flushed crimson as I said the words, and looked down.

"But now, Heather--now--you are willing that we should be married if I
can arrange it?"

"I hardly thought of you this time yesterday," I said again.

"But since that time yesterday, Heather?"

"I have thought of no one else," I said. Then I coloured crimson,
wrenched my hand away, and covered my face.

"Come," he said, rising at once; "that's all right; that's as right as
anything in all the world could be. Little Heather, little darling, we
were made for each other. I felt certain of it the very first day I saw
you. You came into my life, and by the witchery of your fresh and
beautiful character you turned the great Lady Dorothy out! Not that at
any time I really cared for her, compared to you! We met, and
immediately into my picture gallery you went, and into your picture
gallery I went. Oh, of course, we were made for each other! Now, shall
we go, or that servant of yours will be returning. We will go straight
to Major Grayson and get his consent."

"But suppose he doesn't give it?" I said; and I trembled very much as
this fear struck me.

"You must leave all that to me, Heather; I think I can manage. And,
darling, we won't have a long engagement. We'll be married almost
immediately."

"I thought people were usually engaged about two years," I said.

"But you and I will not conform to the usual standard," was his reply.
"We'll be engaged, if you please, Heather, for six weeks at the longest.
Oh, we've a lot to do with our beautiful lives, and we'll begin by
enjoying ourselves--that, at least, is fair. We will just be married
when the summer is at her glorious prime, and we'll go away and away,
and be happy for evermore! That is what we'll do, dear little one. And
now, let's be quick. I want to set this matter in train. I want to hurry
the lagging hours; I want to claim my wife!"

Captain Carbury rose. He was a tall man, and I was, if anything, rather
short for the modern girl.

"Why, Heather," he said, looking down at me, his eyes dancing with
pleasure and happiness, "I didn't realise until this minute that you
were only a little girl."

"Am I?" I said.

"You have a tall effect," he remarked; "but you are little--on the
_petite_ side."

"That is, compared to you," I answered.

"I am six foot one exactly," was his reply. "Heather, how dark your eyes
are! and how delicate your complexion--and how very soft and beautiful
is your hair! You resemble in some ways an Eastern princess, except that
you have all the fire, and intelligence, and imagination of the West.
You are my princess, Heather. Now, what are you going to say to me? You
must flatter me, too, you know, although," he added, his voice becoming
very serious, "there is no flattery in my present remarks. What are you
going to say to me?" he inquired.

"You are my prince," I said, looking up at him, and then looking down at
once.

"Your poor prince must have a name."

"You are my prince, Captain Carbury."

"Oh, come! What nonsense! You must say more."

"If you wish it," I answered. "You are my prince----"

"Well, go on."

"Vernon."

"There! I never knew I had so nice a name; simply because I have never
heard it before from your sweet lips. Now, shall we get back to your
house, otherwise her ladyship may be downstairs, and it happens to be
Major Grayson whom I want to see."

We walked quickly across the Park, and met Morris with her fresh basket
of violets. She walked behind, and as we crossed the streets we kept
rather close to each other, for although, of course, we did not touch,
even once, over and over I repeated to my own heart, "Heather, you are
engaged to Vernon Carbury--Heather, some day Vernon Carbury will be your
husband--Vernon Carbury, Vernon Carbury. And yet, a few days ago, you
hardly knew that you cared for him; but you know it now--yes, you know
it now!"

At last we reached Hanbury Square.

There is no more fashionable square in the best part of the West of
London, there are no finer houses to be found anywhere.

I ran up the steps of the house, and Captain Carbury did likewise, and
it was he who rang the bell.

A powdered footman opened the door, and Captain Carbury said:

"Is Major Grayson in?"

"Major Dalrymple is in, sir."

"Will you say that Captain Carbury has called to see him? Ask him if he
will be good enough to give me a few moments of his time."

The man opened the door of one of the sitting-rooms, and Vernon and I
went in.

"I dare not ask you to kiss me yet," he said; "but I will after--after I
have seen your father."

"Please, Vernon," I said.

"What is it, my dearest darling?"

"May I come with you to father?"

"If you really wish it, of course you may; but I should prefer to be
alone with him just now."

Before either of us had time to utter another word the door was opened,
and Lady Helen Dalrymple and my father entered the room side by side.

Lady Helen gave a freezing bow to Captain Carbury, who was a very slight
acquaintance of hers, and a more freezing stare at me; and then she
said:

"Will you have the goodness to go upstairs, Heather?"

But Captain Carbury interfered.

"If you will permit me, Lady Helen, I should like Miss Heather Grayson
to remain where she is."

He then approached my father, stood stock still for a minute, and then
held out his hand. My father looked at him stiffly; then he spoke:

"You know who I was, you know what happened to me, and you know exactly
what I am now."

"I know everything," said Captain Carbury.

"Knowing everything, you wish to shake hands with me?"

"I hope you will accept my hand," replied Captain Carbury.

My father stretched his out, and Captain Carbury wrung it.

"Well, of all the extraordinary things to happen!" began Lady Helen. She
sank into a low chair, arranged herself comfortably and becomingly, and
looked from father to Captain Carbury. Then again she glanced at me, and
when she caught my eye she looked in the direction of the door; but I
would not take her hint--at that moment I was past caring about her.

"I have come, Major Grayson," said Vernon Carbury, "to speak to you
under the name by which you were known, and honoured, and deeply
respected in her late Majesty's army, and I wish to say at once that it
is only as Major Grayson that I can treat with you in this matter. I am
anxious that you should give me for all time the hand of your only
child, Heather Grayson. I wish to make her my wife. I love her beyond
words, and I believe she is not indifferent to me. I do not require any
money with her; I am neither rich nor poor, but I have enough to support
her, and I believe I can make her happy. I shall certainly endeavour to
shelter her from the evils of this wicked world. It is true that I was
for a short time engaged to another lady, but that engagement is broken
off, with perfect satisfaction on both sides. I now beg of you to allow
me to pay my addresses to your daughter, for I love her with all my
heart and soul."

"You amaze me," said my father.

"And allow me to tell you, Captain Carbury," said Lady Helen, rising
from her seat, and coming forward, "that my stepdaughter Heather is not
for you, for she is now the affianced wife of Lord Hawtrey of Leigh."

[Illustration: "'Allow me to tell you, Captain Carbury,' said Lady
Helen, 'that my stepdaughter is not for you.'"]

"That is not the case," I answered.

Vernon Carbury had very bright eyes, and they flashed an angry fire; but
when he turned and gave me a quick glance, and saw the fire of anger in
my eyes, all indignation passed out of his. His eyes smiled.

"Child," said my father, coming up to me, "this is not the place for
you. I must request you, Heather, to leave us for the present."

"Father! oh, father!" I said.

I spoke exactly as I used to do when I was a little child. I took his
hand and drew him imperiously outside the door.

"Father," I whispered, "Lord Hawtrey did--oh, very, very kindly, too--he
_did_ ask me last night to marry him, and oh! he was most good--but,
darlingest Daddy, I could not marry him, for I do not love him one
bit--I mean, not that way, Daddy. Why, Daddy, he is old enough to be my
father, and I only want one father, and you are he; but I do--yes, I do
care for Vernon Carbury. Please, please, father, think of our great
unhappiness if we are parted, and of our wonderful joy if you allow us
to be engaged to each other!"

"I will do my utmost, my poor little one--my utmost," he answered.

"Gordon, we are waiting for you," said Lady Helen's hard voice, and
then he wrenched my hands away from his neck, and returned to the room
where Lady Helen and my lover were to fight a battle for me. Oh, if only
father would be strong and take my part!

I ran up to my room and flung myself on my bed. Morris knocked at the
door, but I told her to go away; I did not want her then; I did not want
the flowers I had bought that morning. Flowers, love, sunshine; the joys
of God's earth would all be as ashes in my mouth if my hero were
banished. They were discussing me downstairs; they were tearing my love
from me--oh, I could not bear it! My heart began to beat so fast that I
could scarcely endure the thumping sensation which was going through my
body. I longed to sleep, just because in sleep I might forget; I wanted
the minutes to pass quickly.

Suddenly I sat up; I began listening intently. In my distant bedroom I
could hear no sound of what went on in the downstairs rooms. I flew to
the window and opened it. Oh, he would not go away--he would see me,
whatever happened he would see me--it would be impossible for him to go
away without seeing me! Yes, we were made for each other, for was I not
in his secret gallery of heroes, and was not he in mine? And could any
mere human creature divide us? I thought of Lady Helen, with her hard,
cruel face, and of my father. Father loved me, and I told him quite
distinctly what I wanted, and I believe that he understood. Had he not
always loved his own little Heather? Oh, it must be all right!

Just then I heard, far away, like a distant sort of echo in the house, a
door bang. Once again I rushed to the window--I did not mind who saw
me--I opened it wide at the top, and put my head out. Captain Carbury
was walking quickly down the street. Would he, by any possibility, look
back? Would that invisible link between us cause him to raise his eyes
until he saw my face? Would he look back, and look up? He did neither.
At the first corner he abruptly turned, and was lost to view.

"She has done it!" I said to myself. "Oh, how deeply I hate her! But I
will never marry Lord Hawtrey, and I will marry Vernon--I will--for I
love him with all my heart and soul!"

The depth of my feelings, and the wildness of my anger, gave me courage.
I rushed downstairs. I had the free run of every part of the house,
except Lady Helen's boudoir; that door was shut. I was never expected
to go in without knocking; I knocked now in frantic haste. A voice--a
cold, surprised voice--said:

"Who is there?"

I repeated to myself the words "Who is there?" and the thought occurred
to me that I should not be allowed to enter. They would shut me out,
just as surely as they had torn me from the arms of the man I loved, so
would they now--my father and Lady Helen--shut me from their
consultations. I opened the door, therefore, and went boldly in.

"You can see the person who was outside the door," I said, and then I
walked straight up to my father, who was lying back in a deep chair, his
legs crossed one over the other, his head resting against the back of
the chair; his face was perturbed, and very red, his blue eyes bright.

Lady Helen, on the contrary, was standing. She had a fan in her hand,
and with it she was fanning her hot face. Why were they both so hot and
indignant? Why did they look for all the world as though each hated the
other?

"I want to know," I said, "and I _will_ know, what you have done with
Vernon Carbury."

There was no response whatever to my question. It was received with
deep and surprised silence by both my stepmother and my father. Then my
father turned, looked at me, blinked his eyes a trifle, and, putting his
hand out, drew me down to sit on the edge of his chair.

"If, Gordon," said my stepmother, "you mean to make a fool of yourself
over that most troublesome, refractory, and good-for-nothing girl, I
will leave you with her. If you listen to her sentimental and silly
remarks, I can at least go and rest in my room; but clearly understand
what my view of this business is."

"I have not uttered a word, Helen," replied my father.

"Uttered!" said Lady Helen, a volume of scorn in her voice; "have not
your eyes spoken, has not your hand spoken, has not your action spoken?
That girl dares to come into my private room uninvited, and you
encourage her."

"I have come to ask about Captain Carbury," I said. "He is mine, and I
want to know everything about him. Where is he--what have you done with
him--have you sent him away? Why did he go away without speaking to me?
I tell you he is mine. I _will_ see him."

Lady Helen suddenly changed her manner. She sank into a chair and burst
out laughing.

"Gordon," she said, without taking the least notice of me, "may I
venture to inquire the exact age of this little spitfire?"

"How old are you, Pussy?" inquired my father.

"As if that mattered!" I said. "I am a hundred years old, as far as
feelings go."

"But as far as the law goes," said Lady Helen, "I think, my dear, you
will find that you are eighteen, and therefore a minor, and therefore
unable to marry without the consent of your father and your stepmother.
You will find that such is the case, Heather; you had better understand
this at once."

"Very well," I answered, "if that is really the law, and you won't give
your consent--you, who are no relation to me at all--and if father won't
give his consent, although he is a very near relation, then I shall do
this: I shall wait until I am twenty-one; I know Vernon will wait, and
then we will marry."

Lady Helen laughed again.

"You poor, silly, fickle child!" she said. "Don't you know perfectly
well that you will fall in and out of love perhaps twenty times between
now and the day that sees you of age? And don't you know, also, that
Captain Carbury will do precisely the same? Has he not himself
confessed as much? He was engaged to a girl who was fifty times a better
match for him than you a few weeks ago; he is tired of her now; he and
she have willingly broken off the engagement. For my part, I
congratulate Lady Dorothy. I would not have anything to do with that
fickle sort of man, not if he were to buy me a kingdom. And, mark my
words, Heather, as surely as Vernon Carbury imagines that he cares for
you at this moment, so surely will he forget you and turn his butterfly
thoughts to someone else, when he meets a fairer face than yours. It is
perfectly safe to give you leave to wait until you are twenty-one, for
long before then, whatever you may choose to do--although I expect no
strength about you, nor constancy, nor any of those so-called
virtues--young Carbury himself will be married."

"No, no, you are not to say it!" I answered. "Father, may I speak to you
by yourself? Father, darling, may I?"

"Your father is going out with me," said Lady Helen. "He is tired, and
not very well, and I mean that we shall both motor into the country; we
may be away even for to-night--there's no saying. We did not intend to
tell you our position with regard to that exceedingly foolish and rash
young man, until our return; but as you burst uninvited into my room, I
may as well have it out, and then you will know how to act. Captain
Carbury proposed for you, telling us the usual sort of nonsense that
young men will speak on these occasions, and our answer to him was quite
emphatic. We denied him admission to the house; we refused to entertain
for a single moment the idea of your marrying him. We told him plainly
that we had other views for you, and that nothing that he could say
would get us to change them."

"Did you tell him what those views were?" I asked.

"Yes," said Lady Helen, "we did. We told him that Lord Hawtrey of Leigh,
one of the best matches in London at present, had honoured you with a
proposal of marriage, and that you would be his wife before the year was
out."

I looked at Lady Helen while she was speaking; then I put my arms round
my father's neck, and hid my face on his shoulder. He began to pat me
with his big hand softly on my arm. He said, in a very low tone, "Hush,
now, sweetheart; hush, now. Things will come right in the end."

But I could not listen. Lady Helen went on talking; I did not listen to
her either. I was distressed beyond measure; I was distracted at what
had happened. Lady Helen got up; she spoke very quietly:

"I will leave you two," she said. "Gordon, I shall expect you to be
ready for our drive in half an hour's time; meanwhile, you may pet your
daughter as much as you please--perhaps you can tell her one or two
things which will change her opinion of me. Meanwhile, I shall go to my
room and rest."

She swept out of the room; I heard the rustle of her silk petticoats.
When the door closed behind her I raised my tear-dimmed face:

"Daddy, Daddy," I said, "she can't dispose of me like that--she can't
take the man I love away, Daddy, and make me marry against my will a man
I don't like! Oh, darling, it isn't possible, is it?"

"You shan't marry Hawtrey against your will--I promise you that," said
my father.

"Then, Daddy, it's all right, because I refused him last night--I
refused him absolutely. He will never ask me again."

"I think it likely that he will ask you many times, poor child."

"He mustn't--he shan't! I won't see him."

"Heather, listen to me. Sit up; don't give way. It cuts me to the heart
to deny you anything, and I fully believe that Carbury is all right and
as straight as possible. A gallant soldier, child--yes, a gallant
soldier. Mark my words, there are no men in all the world like soldiers,
Heather; they are the pick of the earth--so brave, so honourable, so
true. That's what Carbury is, and if he were rich and in the same
position as Hawtrey, you should be his wife with all the pleasure in the
world. But, Heather, my poor little girl, I can't fight against such
long odds. I could once, but, child, I am a broken man, a broken man,
and I can't withstand her. She has got me into a sort of trap. She
pretends she's done everything in the world for me; I was mad
enough--oh! I won't speak of that--I am her husband now, and I suppose
most people would think that I'd done well for myself--they'd revel in
the contrast between my life of late and my life now, and say 'That
beggar Grayson'--but there! I won't speak of it."

"Daddy--has--Lady Helen--got ... I don't like to say--has she got a ...
I mean, Daddy, are you a little--_tiny_ bit--you, a brave soldier--a
little, tiny bit afraid of her?"

"Afraid!" said my father. "Poof! not a bit of it. It is she who has
cause to be afraid of me. I could--and, as there is a heaven above us, I
will, too--frighten her into giving me some of my own way; yes, and I
will, if she doesn't act fair by you, little girl."

"Father, why don't you tell me things? You are hiding something."

"Yes," said my father; "I am hiding something, and you must never
know--never, as long as you live."

"Daddy, my heart is broken."

"Poor little maid! But you will get over it. And now I have something
else to say. Lady Helen is not at all bad, and you would be extremely
happy as Hawtrey's wife; he's a bit old, but he's a thorough gentleman,
and you'd be very rich, and Helen would deal handsomely by you--she's
promised that. She's very rich, too; I wish she wasn't. There's nothing
in the world more hateful than depending upon your wife's money, and
that's my cursed position. But if you promised to marry Hawtrey, she'd
make things a bit square for you; she's settled to do that. It's awfully
kind of her; it's downright generous; it's more than most people would
expect. She'd do it in her lifetime, too; she'd settle twenty thousand
on you--think of that, little Heather--twenty thousand is not to be
despised."

"Oh, father, if it's money, I don't care a bit about it!"

"There she is," said my father, rising suddenly; "she is calling me.
Wipe away your tears and run upstairs. To-night you must show a cheerful
face--whatever happens in the future, you must be cheerful to-night. Off
with you now, out of my sight. Believe me, I'd cut off my right hand to
help you. Bye-bye for a bit, little sweetheart."

My father left me. After a time I heard the "toot" of the motor-car as
it puffed out of sight. Then I started to my feet, clasped my hands, and
stood considering. There was something about me which could never stand
inaction. If I were to be saved now from deadly peril, I must act. I was
terribly upset; I was awfully miserable. All of a sudden I came to a
resolve. I rang the bell; one of the footmen answered my summons.

"I want you to bring me the cards of the different people who have
called here during the last fortnight," I said.

"Yes, miss," replied the man.

He returned in a few minutes with a number of visiting cards on a
salver. I sorted them out carefully, and presently came to Lord
Hawtrey's. It bore the address of his club, one of the most exclusive
and distinguished clubs in London, also the address of his big country
seat--Leigh Castle--and in addition his town address, 24c, Green Street.

"Lord Hawtrey is kind; he is the only one who can save me," I said to
myself. I made up my mind then and there to go and visit him.



CHAPTER XIV


At that moment I had no thought of either right or wrong. I was
determined to go straight forward and appeal to a very generous and
chivalrous man to help me; I thought he could do it, and I believed that
no one else in all the world would. I ran quickly upstairs--what a
comfort it was to know that Morris was nowhere in sight, how delightful
was the sensation of putting on my own hat and jacket, of tying a scarf
round my neck and slipping my hands into my gloves. It was also
perfectly delicious not to be obliged to look even once into the
glass--little did I care at that moment how I looked!

I had a small sealskin purse; I slipped the purse inside my muff and
went downstairs. Soon it would be too warm to wear muffs, for the fine
summer weather was fast approaching, but I was glad of mine to-day.
Perhaps my sorrow had chilled me, for I felt rather cold. A taxi-cab
came slowly by; I motioned to the man to stop. I got in, telling the
driver to take me to 24c, Green Street, "And go as quickly as you can,"
I said. I was all impatience, and the possibility of Lord Hawtrey being
out did not once occur to me.

We got to Green Street in a very few minutes and drew up at the right
number. There was "24c," painted in most distinct lettering on the
highly-enamelled door. The door was enamelled a very soft shade of
green, and I thought it looked remarkably well. I also remarked the
flower boxes in each of the windows and how fresh and smart the flowers
looked, but somehow they did not please me. I supposed that Lord Hawtrey
had a passion for flowers, otherwise he would never have given me those
roses. I hated the memory of those roses now; this time yesterday how
passionately I had loved them, but now I hated them. I had supposed that
they had come from my own true love, and they had in reality been the
gift of an old man who might have been my father, for so I considered
Lord Hawtrey.

I stepped out of the cab, paid the driver his fare, saw him move away,
and then ran up the low flight of steps and rang the bell.

"Is Lord Hawtrey in?" I asked of the man in livery who attended to my
summons.

A reply in the negative was instantly given to me.

"His lordship is out, miss." The man gave me a cold stare. But I was far
too excited to think about his manner.

"Will he be in soon?" I asked. "I have come to see Lord Hawtrey on very
important business."

"If you will step inside, miss, I will make inquiries. May I ask if his
lordship is expecting you?"

"No," I answered. "This is Lady Helen Dalrymple's card; I have come from
her house."

The man took the card and gave me a second glance, which now showed
absolute respect. How magical was the effect of my stepmother's name! I
wondered at it. I was glad that I had put a few of her cards in my
purse.

In a very few minutes the servant returned to say that his lordship
would be in almost immediately, and asking me if I would wish to wait in
the white boudoir.

I said yes. Little did I care where I waited at that instant. The
servant conducted me upstairs to a pretty room, which must have been
arranged for a lady's comfort. It was furnished in white. The walls were
white, so was the furniture. The only bit of colour anywhere was a very
soft, very bright crimson carpet, into which one's feet sank. The effect
of the crimson carpet on the white room was extremely effective. There
were no pictures round the walls, but there were a great many mirrors,
so that as I entered I caught the reflection of myself from many points
of view. I sat down on a low chair and was glad to find that I could no
longer look at my small, tired face.

The minutes passed; a little clock over the mantelpiece told me the
time. Five minutes went by, ten, fifteen, then there was a sound
downstairs, men's voices talking together, men laughing and chatting
volubly, some ladies joining in their talk. Then there was a sudden kind
of hush. All the visitors entered a room a considerable way off, and a
minute later there was a hurried ascending of the stairs, the door was
opened with a sort of impetuosity, and Lord Hawtrey, looking slightly
flushed, surprised, and not altogether pleased, entered the room.

"My dear Miss Dalrymple," he began, "I am amazed to see you here
and--and charmed, of course--but is there anything wrong, is there
anything I can do for you? What is it, my dear little girl?"

Lord Hawtrey dropped his society manners on the spot. With his quick,
kind eyes he read the distress on my face.

"I want you to help me," I said, "I want to speak to you all alone--but
you have brought visitors in. May I stay here until they go?"

"Oh, no, that won't do at all. Of course, I should be delighted to talk
to you now; let me think. My sister, Lady Mary Percy, is downstairs--I
will see her. She will come and talk with you."

"But it is you I want to see, Lord Hawtrey."

"Leave the matter in my hands, dear child, I'll attend to everything. By
the way, where is your stepmother and where is your father to-day?"

"They have gone in the motor-car into the country."

"I will see my sister; she will be with you in a minute or two."

Lord Hawtrey left the room. I felt puzzled and distressed. I wondered if
I had done wrong. A very few moments passed and then the same servant
who had admitted me appeared, bearing a charming little tray which held
afternoon tea for two.

"Lady Mary Percy will be here in a moment, miss," he said, "she desires
you not to wait for her."

I did wait. I did not want tea, nor did I want to see Lady Mary, but in
a very few minutes, true to the servant's words, she appeared. She was a
very pretty woman, and looked quite young beside her brother. She had a
kind, thoughtful face, a high-bred face, the face of one who had never
in the whole of her life thought of anything except what was good and
noble. I was certain of that the moment I saw her. I was glad now that
Lord Hawtrey had asked her to come to me. In my excitement I forgot that
she must think my conduct strange, and must wonder what sort of a girl
I, Heather Dalrymple, was. She came up to me and held out her hand, then
she looked into my face.

"Lord Hawtrey has begged of me to come and see you. Shall we have some
tea together?"

She sat down at once and poured out tea for us both. She offered me a
cup, and I felt that I should be very rude if I refused it. It was with
difficulty I could either eat or drink, but Lady Mary seemed to expect
me to do so, and for her sake I made an effort. The tea did me good, for
it was strong and fragrant, the bread and butter was delicious, it did
me good also. I felt more like a child and less like an anguished,
storm-tossed woman than I had done before that meal. When it came to an
end Lady Mary touched a silver gong, and presently a woman, dressed
beautifully all in white, and whom Lady Mary called Blanche, appeared.

"Take these things away, please, Blanche," she said, "and order my
carriage to be at the door in half an hour."

"Yes, my lady," replied Blanche.

She removed the tea things, the door was shut behind her, and Lady Mary
and I faced each other.

"Now," she said, "you had better tell me what you intended to say to my
brother, Lord Hawtrey. I can see that you are in trouble, and I should
very much like to help you."

"Oh, but it is impossible to tell you," I replied.

The colour rushed into my cheeks, then it receded, leaving them very
pale. I knew they were pale, for I felt so cold.

Lady Mary changed her seat. She came over, took a low chair, seated
herself by my side, and stretching out her hand, clasped one of mine in
hers.

"Dear," she said, in a gentle tone, "you are very young, are you not?"

"I suppose so," I answered, "but I do not feel so. I am eighteen."

"Ah! But eighteen is extremely young; I know that, who am twenty-eight;
my brother Hawtrey is forty."

"I know," I said, "your brother is old, is he not? I thought I might
come to see a kind old man. Have I done wrong?"

"No, child, you have not done wrong; nevertheless, you have done
something that the world would not approve of. Now, I want you to come
away to my house. I live in another part of London; in my house you can
see my brother if you wish, but why do you not confide in me? I should
like to be your friend."

I looked straight up at her. After all, she was nearer to my own age.
Could I not tell her? I said impulsively:

"I will go away to your house with you and I will tell you there, and
you can advise me what I ought really to do."

"Yes, I am sure that will be much the wisest plan. And now let us talk
of other matters."

She began to chat in a light, winsome voice. After a time she begged of
me to excuse her and went downstairs. She came back again in a few
minutes.

"I have told my brother that you would tell me what you intended to say
to him, and he is quite pleased with the idea," she said, "and my
carriage is now at the door, so shall we go?"

"Yes," I answered.

We went downstairs together. We entered a very luxurious carriage, which
was drawn by a pair of spirited bay horses. In a few minutes we found
ourselves in another part of fashionable London. I cannot even to this
day recall the name of the street. The house was not at all unlike Lord
Hawtrey's house; it was furnished with the same severity, and the same
excellent taste. Lady Mary took me into a little boudoir, which was
destitute of knick-knacks and bric-à-brac. But it had many flowers, and,
what I greatly enjoyed, a comfortable sense of space. My hostess drew a
cushioned chair forward and desired me to sit in it; I did so. Then she
seated herself and took one of my hands.

"Your story, Miss Heather Dalrymple?" she said.

"I will tell you," I answered. "Perhaps you will be dreadfully angry,
but I cannot help it, you must know. I am eighteen and Lord Hawtrey is
forty. I think Lord Hawtrey one of the best men in all the world; he is
so kind and he has such a beautiful way with him. Last night he dined at
our house and afterwards he came to see me quite by myself, and he spoke
as no other man ever spoke to me before, only you must understand,
please, and not be angry, that I could not do what he wanted. He wanted
a very young girl like me, a girl who knows nothing at all of life,
to--to marry him. Do you think that was fair or right, Lady Mary Percy?"

Lady Mary's brown eyes seemed to dance in her head. It was with an
effort she suppressed something which might have been a smile or might
have been a frown. After a minute's silence she said gently:

"It altogether depends on the girl to whom such a speech is addressed."

"I know that," I answered, "but this girl, the girl who is now talking
to you ... I cannot even try to explain to you what a simple life I have
lived--just the very quietest, and with a dear, dear old lady, who is
poor, and doesn't know anything about the luxuries of the rich people of
London. She has brought me up, during all the years I have been with
her, to think nothing whatsoever of riches; she has got that idea so
firmly into my mind that I don't think it can be uprooted. So whatever
happens, I am not likely to care for Lord Hawtrey because he is rich,
nor to care for him because he is a nobleman or has high rank, or
anything of that sort. I said to him last night: 'You don't want to
force me to be your wife,' and he answered, 'You must come to me of your
own free will.' Well, it is just this, Lady Mary. I can never come to
him of my own free will, never, never!"

"He told me, child," said Lady Mary, in a quiet, low, very level sort of
voice, "that he had spoken to you. I was a good deal astonished; I
thought the advantages were on your side. You must forgive me; you have
spoken frankly to me, it is my turn to speak frankly to you--I thought
the disadvantages were on his side. A very young, innocent, ignorant
girl, I did not think a suitable wife for my brother, but he assured me
that he loved you, he assured me also that there was something about you
which wins hearts. That being the case, I--well, I said no more. Now you
speak to me as though I earnestly desired this marriage. I do not
earnestly desire it--I don't wish for it at all."

"Then you will prevent it? How splendid of you!" I said, and I bent
forward as though I would kiss her hand.

She moved slightly away from me. She was in touch with me, but not
altogether in touch at that moment.

"I will tell you what has really happened," I said. "I must. I admire
your brother beyond words, I know how tremendously he has honoured me,
and I think somehow, if things were different, that I might feel tempted
to--just to do what he wants. But things are so circumstanced that I
cannot possibly do what Lord Hawtrey wishes, for I love another man. He
is quite young, he--he and I love each other tremendously. He asked me
this morning to be his wife and I accepted him. I was in the Park when I
met him, and he asked me there and then. We walked home together, my
maid was with us, so I suppose it was all right. This is a very queer
world, where there seems no freedom for any young girl. I brought Vernon
Carbury----"

"Whom did you say?"

"Captain Carbury, I mean. I brought him into the room with my father and
mother--or my stepmother--and--he told them what he wanted. They sent me
away--I was rather frightened when they did that--and when they had him
all alone they spoke to him and they told him that he was to go out of
my life, because, Lady Mary, your brother, Lord Hawtrey, was to come
in. They said that they wanted me to marry your brother, and I won't--I
can't--and I much want you to help me in this matter."

"Upon my word!" said Lady Mary. She rose abruptly and began to pace the
room. "You are the queerest girl I ever met! There must be some queer
sort of witchery about you. On a certain night you are proposed to by my
brother Hawtrey, the head of our house, one of the richest men in
England, and certainly one of the most nobly born. You snub him, just as
though he were a nobody. On the following morning you receive a proposal
from Vernon Carbury, he who was engaged to Lady Dorothy Vinguard."

"Yes, but all that is at an end," I said.

"I know, I know. Dorothy is not a perfectly silly girl like you, and she
is marrying a man older and richer and greater than Carbury. And so you
have fallen in love with him? Yes, I know; those blue eyes of his would
be certain to make havoc in more than one girl's heart. It is a pretty
tale, upon my word it is, and out of the common. Now you have confided
things to me, I don't think Hawtrey will trouble you any more; perhaps I
can see to that. Would you like to go back home--and before you go, is
there anything I can do for you?"

"No, oh, no," I said, "you have made me quite happy!"

"I am glad of that. You are a very strange girl; I suppose you will
marry Captain Carbury some day. You are, of course, quite unaware of the
fact that Hawtrey must have loved you beyond the ordinary when he made
up his mind to take as a wife the daughter of Major Grayson?"

I sprang to my feet.

"What do you mean by those words?"

"Don't you know, child, don't you know?"

"I know nothing, except that my father is the best man in all the
world."

Lady Mary looked at me, at first with scorn, then a strange, new,
softened, pitying expression flashed over her face.

"You poor little girl!" she said. "Have you never suspected, have you
never guessed, why he married Lady Helen Dalrymple, and why he took her
name, and why----"

"Don't tell me any more," I said, "please don't, I would rather not
know. Good-bye--you have been kind, you have meant to be very kind, but
you are hinting at something quite awful--all the same, I will find
out--yes, I will find out! My father do a mean thing! Indeed, you little
know him. Good-bye, Lady Mary."

"Stay, child; the carriage must take you home."

"No, I will walk," I said.

My heart was burning within me. I really thought that I should break
down, but although I heard Lady Mary ring her bell, and passed an
astonished servant coming up the stairs in answer to her summons, I
managed to get into the street before she could interfere. I was glad of
this. I must walk, I must get away from myself, I must find out once for
all what terrible thing was the matter--what secret there was in my
father's life.

I walked and walked, and was so absorbed in myself and my own
reflections, that I was quite oblivious of the fact that people glanced
at me from time to time. I had not the manner of a London girl, and did
not wear the dress of the sort of girl who walks about London
unattended. At last I came to a big park--I think now it must have been
Regent's Park, but I am by no means sure. The trees looked cool and
inviting, the grass was green, there were broad paths and, of course,
there were flowers everywhere. It occurred to me then, as I entered the
park and sat down on a low seat not far from the water, that I could not
possibly do better in existing circumstances than go back to Aunt
Penelope. If I could only see Aunt Penelope once more I should know what
to do, and I should force her to tell me my father's story.

"It is positively wrong to keep it from me," I thought; "I cannot act in
the dark, I cannot endure this suspense; whatever has happened, he is
right, he is good, he is splendid and noble. Nothing would induce me to
believe anything against him."

I took my purse out of my pocket, and opening it, spread its contents on
the palm of my hand. I had three pounds in my purse, plenty of money,
therefore, to go back to the dear little village where I had been
brought up.



CHAPTER XV


I think God gave me great courage that day, for I really acted like a
girl who was accustomed to going about by herself, who knew her way
about London, and who was saving with regard to money matters. I had
come out of one of the richest houses in London; I had left a house
where I was attended all day and practically half the night, where
my slightest wish was considered, where the most beautiful clothes
were given to me, and the most lovely things--that is, to all
appearance--happened to me. I went out of that awful house, which I
hated, which I loathed, just because it was so rich, so stifling with
luxury, and felt that each minute I was becoming a woman, and that soon,
very soon, I should be quite grown up.

I got to Paddington Station and took the first train to Cherton. Cherton
is not far from a great centre, and, as a rule, you have to change
trains and get into a "local" before you can arrive at the little
old-world place. I travelled third, of course, and had quite an
interesting journey. My compartment was full and I enjoyed looking at
my companions. They were the sort of people who do travel third--I mean
they were the sort of people who have a right to travel third. A great
many ladies now go third-class when they ought to go second or first,
but these people had a right to their third-class compartment, and
thoroughly they seemed to enjoy themselves. They brought parcels
innumerable; some of them brought birds in cages. There was a small,
sharp-looking boy who had a pet weasel in his pocket. The weasel thrust
out his head now and then and looked at us with his cunning bright eyes,
and then darted back once more into his place of shelter. The boy looked
intensely happy with his weasel; in fact, the creature seemed to
comprise all his world. I managed to enter into conversation with the
boy, and he told me that he was going to Cherton to be apprenticed to an
old uncle of his; he was to learn the boot and shoe business and was to
make a good thing of it, so that he might be rich enough to help his
father and mother by and by. He had nice, honest, brown eyes, and when I
asked him his name he said that he was called Jack Martin, but that most
of his friends called him Jack Tar. They all thought he would fail--all
except Sam--but Sam prognosticated his success. I asked the boy who
"Sam" was, and he answered in his simple, direct way:

"Why, he's my best pal, lydy."

I liked the little fellow when he answered in that fashion, and told him
in a low voice that I was also going to Cherton, that I had spent many
years in that little, out-of-the-world village, and that I was going to
seek my aunt. He was much interested, and we became so chummy that he
offered me the loan of "Frisky," as he called the weasel, for a short
time, if I'd be very kind to it. I thanked him much for the honour he
meant to confer on me, but explained that I was not in the habit of
carrying weasels about with me, and perhaps would not understand
"Frisky's" manners.

"He's a rare 'un for giving you a nip," said the boy in reply, "but Lor'
bless yer, that don't matter. There's nothing wicious about he."

The other people in the carriage were also interested in the boy, and
even more so in "Frisky," who by and by extended his peregrinations from
one person to another, nibbling up a few crumbs of cake, and putting
away with disdain morsels of orange peel, and altogether behaving like a
well-behaved weasel of independent mind. The boy said he hoped "Frisky"
would be allowed to sleep in his bed at his uncle's place, and the women
sympathised, the men also expressing their hearty wishes on the subject.

"And why not?" said one very burly-looking farmer. "I'd a whole nest of
'em once, and purtier little dears I never handled."

The third-class carriage was, indeed, packed full; the endless luggage,
the boxes little and big, boxes that went on the rack and boxes that
would not go on the rack, but stuck out all over the narrow passage and
got into everyone's way. There were shawls, and a pretty bird in a cage,
and a white rabbit in another cage, and bundles innumerable. But
everyone talked and laughed and became chatty and agreeable. The boy was
the first to tell his story. It was a very simple one. He was poor; his
father and mother had just saved up money enough to apprentice him to
Uncle Ben Rogers. He was going to him; he was off his parents now, and
would never trouble them again, God helping him.

By and by the people in the carriage turned their attention full on me.
They had confided their histories each to the other, their simple
stories of love and of hate, of ill-nature and of good-nature, of stormy
days of privation and full days of plenty. Now it was my turn. I was
assailed by innumerable questions. "Why did I wear such smart clothes?
Where did I get the feather that was in my hat? Why did I, being a lydy,
travel with the likes of them?"

I told these good, kind creatures that I loved to travel with them, and
that I hated wealth and grand people. I said also that I was going back
to a kind aunt of mine, who hated fine clothes as much as I was
beginning to hate them, and that I earnestly hoped she would let me stay
with her. I said that I was a very miserable girl, and then they all
pitied me, and one woman said, "Poor thing, poor, pretty young thing!"
and another took my hand and squeezed it, and said, "Bear up, my deary,
God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." I did not exactly know what she
meant, but I took comfort from her kindly words and kindly face. And so
at last we got out at the big junction and then I took the little train
to Cherton. One or two of my fellow-travellers, amongst others the boy
with the weasel, accompanied me. He was looking a little nervous, and
when I said:

"I'll come and see you some day," his little woebegone face brightened
up considerably, and he answered:

"Don't forget, lydy, as I'm mostly known as Jack Tar, although I was
never at sea in the whole course of my life; but my father makes tar,
and I was christened Jack, so what could be more likely than that I
should be called Jack Tar?" He then added again that his real name was
Martin; but that was no use to him at all, he was always "Jack Tar," and
he would not like to be anything else.

I smiled at the boy and we parted the best of friends. Cherton looked
perfectly lovely. It was just the crown of the year, that time in early
May when, if the weather is fine, the whole world seems to put out her
brightest and sweetest fragrance. The may trees were not yet in bloom,
it is true, but the blackthorn was abundant, and as to the primroses and
violets, they seemed to carpet the place. My heart beat faster and
faster. Oh, the old streets, and the little town, and the happy,
peaceful life I had led here! Would Aunt Penelope be glad to see me? Of
course she would. She was not a demonstrative old woman, but she was
good to me; she, of course, had been very good to me. From the time she
had taken me--a tiny, motherless girl--from my father, she had done her
best in her own fashion for me. After all, I had not been so long away
from her, only a few months; but so much had been crowded into those
months that the time seemed years.

I had--I knew quite well--stepped from childhood into womanhood. My eyes
had been opened to discern good from evil, but I was glad of that; I was
glad, more than glad, that Cherton meant good to me, and that London
meant evil. I recalled the first time I had come to Cherton and what a
miserable little child I had been, and how I had rushed away, all by
myself, to the railway station to meet the train by which Anastasia was
to come. Things were different now. Now Cherton meant home, and I had, I
will own it, almost forgotten Anastasia.

At last I mounted the little hill which led to Hill View, Aunt
Penelope's house. I wondered if the same Jonas would open the door for
me who had parted with me with many tears on the morning when I had gone
with such a light heart to join my father in London. I reached the
little brown house. It looked exactly the same as ever, only that, of
course, the spring flowers were coming out. There were a great many
ranunculuses in the garden, and the irises were coming out of their
sheaths and putting on their purple bloom, and there were heaps and
heaps of tulips of different shades and colour. These were real flowers;
these were the sort that I loved, the sort that Vernon Carbury would
love if he saw them. These were very different from the hothouse roses
and the flowers of rare beauty which decorated Lord Hawtrey's house.

I walked up the path which led to the front door with the confident step
of a girl who is returning home; I rang the door bell. At first there
was silence, no one replied to my summons; then a head was pushed out of
a door down the area, there was a muffled exclamation, and somebody came
scampering up the stairs, and there--yes, there--was the old Jonas
waiting for me!

"Jonas," I said, "don't you know me?"

"Miss Heather," he answered. His face grew scarlet, and then turned very
white; the next minute, forgetting altogether his position, he took both
my hands and dragged me into the house.

"Was it in answer to the big prayer that you've come?" he said. "Speak,
and speak at once. I'm a Methody, I be. I had a big prayer last night; I
wrestled with the Lord for you to come back. Was it in answer to that
you come?"

"Perhaps so, I don't know--who can tell? Oh, Jonas! is anything wrong?"

"Stop knocking at the door!" shouted a familiar voice, and then I gave a
scream, half of pleasure, half of pain, and dashed into the parlour and
went up to Polly. I could not be afraid of her any longer, and although
she was not at all a friendly bird to me, and never had been during all
the years I had lived with her, yet she was so far subdued at present
that she allowed me to ruffle the feathers on the top of her grey head.

"Where's Aunt Penelope?" I said then, turning to Jonas.

"Upstairs in bed. The doctor he come and the doctor he goes and I do
what I can, but 'tain't much. She's off her feed and she's off her luck,
and she's in bed. She's got me in to tidy up this morning, she did so.
She said, 'Jonas, it ain't correct, but it must be done; you bring in
your broom and tea leaves and sweep up,' she said, 'and then dust,' she
said, 'and I will lie buried under the clothes, so that you won't see a
bit of my head. It's quite a decent thing to do when it's done like
that, Jonas; and don't make any bones about it, for it's to be done.' So
I done her up as best I could, and oh, my word! the room did want it
badly. There now, that's her bell. Doctor says she should stay in bed
and not stir, but she hears voices, and she's that mad with curiosity.
Doctor thinks maybe she's going; doctor don't like her state, but I does
the best I can. I'm getting her beef-tea ready for her now, Miss
Heather, and maybe you'll take it up to her. It's you she's been
fretting for; she's never held up her head since you went, but don't you
go to suppose she spoke of you. No, she never once did. But her
head--she never kept it up. Don't you fret about her, Miss Heather; you
have come back, and it's in answer to prayer. Now then, come along with
me into the kitchen. I'll shout at her to let her know I'm here, but
I'll not mention your name. Coming, ma'am--heating up the
beef-tea--coming in a twink! There, Miss Heather, she'll know now I'm
coming, and you--you get along to the kitchen as fast as you can and
watch me, to see as I does it right."

I went with Jonas to the little old-world kitchen. He really was not a
bad boy, this present Jonas, for the kitchen, seeing that its mistress
was so long out of it, was fairly clean, and his attempt at making
beef-tea was fairly good, after all. While Jonas was warming the
beef-tea and making a tiny piece of toast, I removed my hat and jacket
and smoothed my hair, and when the refreshment was ready I took it
upstairs with me, up and up the narrow, short flight of creaking stairs.
I passed my own tiny bedroom, and there was Aunt Penelope's room, facing
the stairs. I opened the door very softly and stood for a second on the
threshold.

"Now, what is it?" said a cantankerous voice. "Jonas, you're off your
head. It's just because I admitted you to my bedroom to-day to sweep and
dust. But come in, don't be shy. There is nothing against your coming
into the room with an old lady. You can lay the tray on the table and
walk out again without looking at me."

"It isn't Jonas," I said, standing half-hidden by the door,
"it's--it's--Heather. I have come back, auntie."

The moment I said the words I went right in. Aunt Penelope drew herself
bolt upright in bed. She did look a very withered, very ill, and very
neglected old lady. Her face was hard and stern, but in her eyes that
moment there burnt the light of love. Those eyes looked straight into
mine.

"Heather, you're back?"

"Yes, of course I am, auntie, and now you must take your beef-tea and
tell me all about everything. How are you, darling, and why did you get
ill, and why did you never write or send for your own child,
Heather?--and, oh! you have been naughty! But I have come back, and I
mean to stay for just as long as you want me."

"Then that will be for ever and ever, Amen," said Aunt Penelope. She
laid her hot, dry old hand in mine, and she raised her face for me to
kiss her. I stooped and did so, and then I said, almost sternly, for it
was my turn now to take the upper hand--

"You will have to allow me to wait on you; and you're not to talk at
all, nor to expect any news from me whatsoever, until you have had your
beef-tea, and until I have made you comfortable. Dear, dear, you do want
your child Heather, very badly, auntie."

"Badly," said Aunt Penelope. "I wanted you, Heather, unto death--unto
death, but _he_ said that you were to come when the season was over. I
counted that perhaps you'd come in August. It's only May now, and the
season has just begun. I counted for August, although I scarcely
expected to live."

"No more talking," I said, trying to be stern, although it was very
difficult, and then I sat on the edge of the bed and watched Aunt
Penelope as she sipped her beef-tea and ate some morsels of toast.

I forgot myself as I watched her. My own sufferings seemed to be far
away and of no consequence. My tired heart settled down suddenly into a
great peace. I was home once more.



CHAPTER XVI


When Aunt Penelope had finished her little meal, I proceeded to get
fresh linen from the linen cupboard upstairs, and fresh, clean towels; I
also went down to the kitchen and brought up a big can of hot water, and
then I proceeded to wash her face and hands and to change her linen and
make her bed, and altogether refresh the dear old lady. How I loved
doing these things for her! I felt quite happy and my own trouble
receded into the background with this employment. When I had done all
that was necessary, the doctor, the same who had attended me so often in
my childish ailments, came in. He was delighted to see me, and gave me a
most hearty welcome.

"Miss Heather," he said, "you are good. Now this is delightful--now I
have every hope of having my old friend on her feet once more."

Aunt Penelope gave him one of her grim smiles--she could not smile in
any other way if she were to try for a hundred years. The doctor
examined her, felt her pulse, took her temperature, said that she was
decidedly better, ordered heaps of nourishment, and desired me to follow
him downstairs.

"What possessed you to come back, Miss Grayson?" he said, when we found
ourselves together in the little drawing-room.

I told him that I had not come back because the news of Aunt Penelope's
illness had reached me, but for a quite different reason, and one which
I could not divulge, even to him.

"But that is very strange," he said, "for I wrote three days ago to ask
your father to send you back immediately. I was quite tired out
expecting you and wondering at your silence. I would not tell the dear
old lady for fear of disappointing her. Your coming back of your own
accord and without hearing anything is really most extraordinary, _most_
astounding. But, there! you have come, and now it's all right."

"You may be certain, doctor," I replied, "that I will do my utmost for
Aunt Penelope, and that she shall want for nothing as long as I can
obtain it for her."

"Good girl; you are a good girl, Heather," he replied; "you are doing
the right thing, and God will bless you. I may as well tell you that I
was exceedingly anxious about your aunt this morning. You see, she had
nobody to look after her; that boy did his best, but he couldn't be
expected to know, and when I suggested a nurse, or even a charwoman,
bless me, child, she nearly ate my head off! She is a troublesome old
woman, is your aunt, Miss Heather, but a most worthy soul. Well, it's
all right now, and my mind is much relieved."

I went upstairs a few minutes later to find Aunt Penelope sitting up in
bed and looking wonderfully fresh and cheerful.

"Now just sit down by me, Heather," she said, "and tell me the news. Why
have you come back? I made up my mind that I'd keep my vow and promise
to your father not to ask for you, even if I died without seeing you,
until August."

"But that was very wrong of you, auntie, and you ought not to be at all
proud of yourself for having made such a vow."

"Well, I made it, and I'm the last sort of woman to break my word. But
you have come back, so it's all right now. Did you dream about me or
anything of that sort?"

"Oh, no," I answered. "I came back, dear auntie--I came back of my own
accord."

"What!" said Aunt Penelope. "Heather, child, I am not very strong, and
you mustn't startle me. You don't mean to say, you don't mean to hint,
that you--you aren't happy with your father?"

"I'd be always happy with father," I answered, "always, always. But the
fact is, I don't think, Auntie Pen, dear, I don't think I love my
stepmother very much."

"Thank the Lord for that!" exclaimed Miss Penelope. "She must be a
horror, from all I can gather."

"I don't like her, auntie."

"You ran away, then? Is that what you mean? They'll be coming for you,
they'll be trying to get you back; I know their ways, Heather. But now
that you are here, you must promise to stay with me until the worst is
over; you will promise, won't you? I don't pretend to deny, child, that
I have missed you a good bit, yes, a very great deal. I am a proud old
woman, but I don't mind owning that I have fretted for you, my child,
considerably."

"And I for you," I replied. "I am happy in the old house: I am glad to
have returned."

"I am not too weak to learn the truth," said Aunt Penelope. "I have, in
my humble opinion, the first right to you, for it was I who trained you
and who gave you what little education you possess; therefore I hold
that I have a right. What did that woman do, why did you run away from
her? As to your father, poor chap--well, of course, he's bound heart and
soul to the horrible creature, but that's what comes from doing wrong.
Your father did a very bad thing and----"

"Aunt Penelope," I interrupted--I took her hand and held it
firmly--"don't--don't tell me to-night."

She looked at me out of her hard, bright eyes, then seemed to collapse
into herself, then said slowly--

"Very well, I won't, I won't tell you to-night, that is, if you promise
to say why you have returned."

"I will tell you," I answered. "Auntie, Lady Helen's house is the world,
and you taught me to despise the world; you taught me not to spend my
time and my money on dress and grand things; you taught me not to waste
such a short, valuable, precious thing as life. Oh, Aunt Penelope, in
that house people do nothing but kill time, and my Daddy is in it--my
own Daddy! You know how brisk he used to be, how bright, how determined,
but now--something seems to be eating into his heart, and breaking his
strength and spirit--and--people have hinted things about him!"

Aunt Penelope nodded her head.

"They're likely to," she answered. "Major Grayson could not expect
matters to be otherwise."

"But, auntie, that is one of the hardest things of all. My darling
father is not even called Major Grayson--he has to take the name of
Dalrymple."

"What!" said Aunt Penelope. "Does he dare to be ashamed of his father's
honest name?"

"I don't understand," I answered. "But I am called Dalrymple,
too--Heather Dalrymple."

"Don't repeat the words again, child; they make a hideous combination."

"Well," I continued, "the house did not please me nor the people who
came to it, and I hardly ever saw father, and I lived my own life. Lady
Carrington was very kind to me, and I went to her when I could, but my
stepmother was impatient, and did not want me to spend my time with her,
and she put obstacles in the way, so that I could not see my kind friend
very often. Still, I had no idea of deserting father and of going back
to you; the thought of returning to you only came to me to-day--to-day,
when I was in awful agony. Oh, auntie, dear, I can put it into a few
words. I have met--I have met at Lady Carrington's house one----"

"You're in love, child," said Aunt Penelope. "I might have guessed it,
it is the way of most women. I had half hoped that you'd escape. I never
fell in love--I would not let myself."

"Oh, but if the right man came along, you could not help it," I replied.

"Then you think he is the right man--you have found your Mr. Right?"

"Yes, I have found the one whom I love with all my heart and soul; he is
good. You would love him, too--but there's another man----"

"Two! God bless me!" said Aunt Penelope. "In my day a girl thought
herself lucky if she found one man to care for her, but two! It doesn't
sound proper."

"The other man is rich, and--oh, he's nice, he's awfully nice, only he
is old--I won't tell you his name, there is no use--but Lady Helen
wanted me to marry the rich old man, and to give up the young man whom I
love, and--and father seemed to wish it, too--and somehow, auntie
darling, I can't do it--I can't--so I have run away to you."

"Where you will stay," said my aunt, speaking in a firm and cheery
voice, "until the Lord wills to show me clearly the right in this
matter. You marry an old man whom you don't love, my sister's child
exposed to such torture as that!--child, I am glad you came to me, you
anyway showed a gleam of common sense."

"And you have taken me in," I answered, "and I'm ever so happy; it is
home to be back with you."

Thus ended my first evening with Aunt Penelope. That night I slept again
in my little old bed in my tiny chamber, and so kindly do we revert to
the old times and to the things of youth that I felt more at home in
that little bed and slept sounder there than I had done since I left it.
I had gone out into the world, and the world had treated me badly. I was
not destined, however, to stay long in peace and quietness at Aunt
Penelope's. On the very next day there arrived a letter from my father.
I recognised the handwriting, and as I carried Aunt Penelope up her tea
and toast and her lightly-boiled fresh egg, I took the letter also,
guessing in my heart of hearts what its contents were.

"Here is a letter from father, auntie," I said.

She looked into my face and immediately opened it. She was decidedly on
the mend that morning: she said she had slept very well. As I stood by
her bedside she calmly read the letter, then she handed it to me; I also
read the few words scribbled on it:--

     We are in great perplexity and very unhappy, Penelope. My dear wife
     and I returned unexpectedly from Brighton last night, and found
     that Heather had been out all day. Her maid was in a distracted
     state. I am writing to know if by any chance she has gone back to
     you? I have just been to Carrington's; she is not with them. I
     think the child would probably go to you; in any case, will you
     send me a telegram on receipt of this, to say if she is with you or
     not?

     Your unhappy brother-in-law,

     GORDON GRAYSON.

"What do you mean to do?" I said to Aunt Penelope, as I laid the letter
back again on her breakfast tray.

"Leave it to me," she said. "You're but a silly sort of child, and never
half know what you ought to be doing. You want wiser heads than your own
to guide you."

"But you won't tell him--you won't tell him?" I repeated.

Aunt Penelope made no remark, but began munching her toast with
appetite.

"You do cook well, Heather," she said. "Although you are a society girl
I can see that you'll never forget the lessons I imparted to you."

"I hope not," I answered.

"I consider you a very sensible girl." Here Aunt Penelope began to
attack her egg.

"Really?" I answered.

"Yes, very. You have acted with judgment and forethought; I am pleased
with you, I don't attempt to deny it. Now then, what do you say to my
telling your father exactly where you are?"

"But, of course, you won't--you could not."

"Don't you bother me about what I won't or I could not do, for I tell
you I will do anything in the world that takes my fancy, and my fancy at
the present moment is to see you through a difficult pass. I don't trust
Gordon Grayson--could not, after what has happened."

"Auntie! _How_ can you speak like that!"

"There you go, flying out for no reason at all. Now, please tell me,
what sort of person is that young man you care for--I hate to repeat the
word love. To 'care for' a man is _quite_ sufficient before marriage; of
course, you may do what you like afterwards--anyhow, you care for or
love, forsooth! this youth. What is he like?"

"Just splendid," I said. "I have put him into my gallery of heroes."

"Oh, now you are talking rubbish! Is he the sort of man your dear
mother, my blessed sister, would have approved of your marrying? Think
carefully and tell me the truth."

"I am sure she would," I replied, "for he is honest and tender-hearted,
and poor and true, and devoted to me, and I love him with all my heart
and soul!"

"Poof, child, poof! You're in love and that's a horrid state for any
girl to be in; it's worse in a girl than in a man. You haven't a
likeness of him by any chance, have you?"

"No, he never gave me his photograph, but he's very--I mean he is quite
handsome."

"You needn't have told me that, for, of course, I know it. He is
handsome in your eyes. You have no photograph, however, to prove your
words; you are just in love with this youth, and your father wants you
to return because he and that grand lady of his intend you to marry the
old gentleman with the money. What sort is the old man? Is he in trade,
in the butter business, or tobacco, or what?"

"Oh, no, he's a lord," I said feebly.

"Heaven preserve us--a lord! Then if you married him you'd be a
countess?"

"I don't know--perhaps I should; I don't want to marry him."

"You blessed child! And he is rich, I suppose?"

"I'm sure he is very rich, but then I don't care about riches."

"Heather, you mustn't keep me the whole day chattering. When a girl
begins on the subject of her sweethearts she never stops, and I have
plenty of things to attend to. Here's a list of provisions I wrote out
early this morning. I want you to go into the town and buy them for me.
Don't forget one single thing; go right through the list and buy
everything. Here's thirty shillings; you oughtn't to spend anything like
all that. But pay for the things down on the nail the minute you have
purchased them. Now then, off with you, and I will consider the subject
of your sweethearts. Upon my word, to think of a mite like you having
two!"

I left Aunt Penelope's room and went out and bought the things she
required. She had a troublesome lot of commissions, and they took me
some time to execute. When I had done so I returned home again.

"You are to go up to your aunt's room, and as quickly as you can, miss,"
said Jonas, when I found myself in the little hall.

"Jonas," I said, "several nice things will be sent in from the shops,
and I have got a little bird for auntie's tea, and I want you to cook it
just beautifully."

"You trust me," said Jonas. "I'll see to that."

He left me, and I went upstairs to Aunt Penelope's room.

"The doctor has been, Heather, and he says you are the finest medicine
he ever heard of, and that my chest is much better, and I am practically
out of the wood; but here's a telegram from your father."

"Oh!" I said, breathlessly, "has he discovered anything?"

"Read," she answered, gazing at me with her glittering black eyes.

I read the following words:--

     Leaving Paddington by the 11.50 train. Hope to be with you about
     1.30.

     GORDON GRAYSON.

"How did he know? Why is he coming?" I asked, my face turning very
white.

"He is coming, if you wish to know, Heather, because I asked him to
come. And now, you will have the goodness to sit down by me. No, I am
not hungry for dinner. I won't touch any food until you know the story I
am about to tell you. Sit down where I can see your face, my child. Your
father is coming, of course, because I wish it, and now I have something
to say to you."

I sat down, feeling just as though my feet were weighted with lead. I
was trembling all over. Aunt Penelope looked at me fixedly; she had the
best heart in the world, but the expression of her face was a little
hard. Her eyes seemed to glitter now as they gazed into mine.

"Aunt Penelope," I said, suddenly, "be prepared for one thing. Whatever
you tell me, whatever you believe, and doubtless think you have good
cause to believe, I shall never believe, never--if it means anything
against my father."

"Did I ask you to believe my story, Heather?"

"No, but you expect me to, all the same," was my reply.

"I expect you to listen, and not to behave like an idiot. Now sit
perfectly still and let me begin."

"It doesn't matter, if you don't expect me to believe," I said.

"Hush! I am tired, I have been dangerously ill, and am not at all
strong. I must get this thing over, or I'll take to worrying, and then I
shall be bad again. Well, now, about your father. You understand, of
course, that he left the army?"

I nodded.

"Oh, you take that piece of information very quietly."

"He told me so himself," I said, after a pause. "Of course, I must
believe what he tells me himself."

"He told you himself? That's more than I expected Gordon Grayson to do.
However, he has done so, and I don't think the worse of him, not by any
means the worse, as far as that point is concerned. It hasn't occurred
to you, I suppose, my poor little girl, to wonder why a man like your
father is no longer in the army, to wonder why every army man will have
nothing to do with him, to wonder why he married a woman like Lady Helen
Dalrymple, and why she is received in society and he is not?"

"How can you tell?" I asked, opening my lips in astonishment, "you
weren't there to see."

"A little bird told me," said Aunt Penelope.

This was her usual fashion of explaining how certain information got to
her ears: there was always a "little bird" in it; I knew that bird. I
sat very still for a few minutes, then I said, as quietly and patiently
as I could--

"Speak."

"It happened," said Aunt Penelope, "in India, and it happened a long
time ago--the beginning of it happened before you came to live with me,
Heather. Of one thing, at least, I am glad--your poor, sweet mother, my
precious sister, was out of it all. She believed in your father as you
believe in him; she was spared the terrible knowledge of the other side
of his character."

"Oh, hush! don't say such things."

"And don't you talk rubbish. Listen to the plain words of a plain old
woman, a woman who, for aught you can tell, may be dying."

"I am sure you are not, auntie; I have come back to help you to get well
again."

"I am saying nothing against you, poor child; you are right enough, you
do credit to my training. Had you been left to his tender mercies, God
only knows what sort of creature you'd have grown into. But now I will
begin, continue, and end in as few words as possible. Your father came
courting your mother long years ago in a dear little seaside garrison
town. He was a young lieutenant then, and was very smart, and had a way
with him which I don't think he ever lost."

I thought of my darling father, with his cheerful, bluff manners, with
his gay laugh, his merry smile, his ready joke. Even still he had "a way
with him," although it must be sadly altered from the time when my
mother was young.

"Your mother was a good bit my junior, Heather, and she and I kept a
little house together. She was a very pretty girl indeed, and, of
course, men admired her. We were pretty well off in those days, the
pressure of penury had not come near us; we were orphans, but were left
comfortably off. We used to subscribe to all the pleasant things that
took place in our little town, and we occupied ourselves also in good
works, and I think we were loved very much. Your father came along and
got introduced to your mother, and to me, and we both took to him from
the first."

"Oh, auntie, did you like him, then?"

"Like him! Of course I did. Heather, he was just the sort of man to
beguile young girls to their destruction.

"Well, he cast his spell over your mother, and people began to talk
about them both, and I began to get into a rage, for I knew what those
soldier lads were when they liked. I knew how easy it would be for him
to flirt and make love and ride away. I was determined he should not do
that. Your mother could not have borne it. She was so pretty, Heather,
and so clinging, and so gentle, and she had just given her whole heart
to your father. So one day I asked him, after he had been with her the
whole morning, and they had walked together by the seashore, and sat
together in the garden, and he had read poetry to her, and she had
listened with her heart in her eyes--I said to him, 'Do you know what
you are doing?' He stared at me and coloured, and said, 'What?'--and
then I said again, 'You must know perfectly well that a girl's heart is
a sensitive thing, so just be careful what you are doing with my young
sister's heart.' He coloured all over his face, and I never liked him
better than when he sprang forward and took my hand and said,

"'Why, Penelope!'--I knew I ought to be shocked, but I did not even
mind his calling me Penelope--'Why, Penelope, if I could only believe
that I had been fortunate enough to make any impression on your sister's
heart, I'd be the happiest man on earth, for I love her, Penelope,
better than my own life!' Yes, Heather, I can hear him saying those
words just as though it were yesterday, and I was ever so pleased, ever
so glad; the delight and joy of that moment come back to me even now. Of
course, your father and mother got engaged, and everything was as right
as possible. They were married, and soon after their marriage they went
to India, and in about a year's time I heard of the birth of their
child--of you--Heather. Your mother was very poorly after your birth,
and had to be sent to the hills, up to a place called Simla. But even
the air of the hills did not do her any good. She pined and pined, and
faded and faded, and when you were about five years of age she died."

"I remember about _afterwards_," I said then, "I saw her after she was
dead."

"Well, you needn't tell me, the knowledge would be harrowing," said Aunt
Penelope. "After your mother's death I wrote to Gordon, proposing to
adopt you, and begging of him to send you to me at once. He refused
rather shortly, I thought, and said that he preferred you to be near
him, and that he knew a family who would keep you in the hills during
the hot weather. So the next few years went by. Then, when you were
about eight years old I got a letter from your father. He said he was
coming back to London, that he wanted to come on special business, and
also that he had now changed his mind, and would bring you to me, if I
had not changed my mind about having you. Of course I had not, and he
brought you, and that was the end of that story. You were left with me
and you fared well enough. While your father was in London I saw him
several times, and I marked a great change in him, and what I considered
a great deterioration of character. He knew the woman he has since made
his wife even then, and often spoke of her. She was in society in
Calcutta, where his regiment was stationed, and he often met her. He
used to mention her in almost every letter he wrote, and I was fairly
sick of her name, and also of the name of her brother. I told Gordon so
in one of my letters. I said that Lady Helen's brother might be the best
man on earth, but that he was nothing at all to me, and that if he
wanted to write about him he had better choose another correspondent.

"Then, all of a sudden, without the slightest warning, the blow of blows
fell. Your father was arrested on a charge of forgery; he had forged a
cheque for a considerable sum of money. Oh, I forget all the
particulars, but he had been made secretary to the golf and cricket
clubs, and held, so to speak, the bank--in fact, he made away with the
money, but he was caught just in time, and was tried by the laws of
India, and sentenced to prison--penal servitude, in short. Of course,
such a frightful disgrace carried its own consequences. He was cashiered
from the army, they would have nothing whatever to do with him. His term
of imprisonment was over late last autumn. I often used to wonder what
would happen when he was free, and to speculate as to what your feelings
would be when you saw him again. I used to make myself miserable about
him. Well, you met, as you know, and he carried off everything with a
high hand, and insisted on taking you away with him, and insisted
further on marrying Lady Helen Dalrymple. It seems she stuck to him when
all his other friends deserted him. He has lived through his punishment
as far as the law of the land is concerned, but he will never outlive
his disgrace, and there isn't a true soldier in the length and breadth
of the land who will speak to him. Well, that's his story, and I was
obliged to tell you. Now, you can run away and change your dress--oh, I
forgot, you have no dress to change into. Well, you can tidy your hair
and wash your hands, and by that time we'll be ready for dinner. Now,
off with you, and be sure you have your hair well brushed. Good-bye for
the present."



CHAPTER XVII


I left Aunt Penelope's room. I walked very slowly. My room was next to
hers, and the walls between were quite thin; you could almost hear a
person talking in the adjoining room. I wanted to be very quiet. I
wanted no one to hear me, and yet I could not bear the perfect stillness
and the cramped feeling of the tiny room.

I put on my hat, snatched up my gloves and parasol, and ran downstairs.
Jonas met me. He looked much excited. He came up to me with his cheeks
flushed.

"Why, missie!" he said, "is there anything the matter?"

"No, no; nothing at all, Jonas," I said. "You are preparing Aunt
Penelope's dinner, are you not?"

"Yes, missie; that is, as well as I can. I'm not at all sure about the
soup, though; I am not certain that it is flavoured right. If you,
missie, were to come along into the kitchen and just taste it, why--it
would be a rare help, that it would."

I clenched one of my hands tightly together. It was with the utmost
difficulty that I could keep down the wild words which were crowding to
my lips. But Aunt Penelope, whatever she told me, however awful and
cruel her words were, must be looked after, must be tended, must be
cared for. Crushing down that defiant, that worldly self which clamoured
to assert itself, I followed the boy into the kitchen. I looked up an
old receipt book and gave him swift directions.

"You will have dinner all ready," I said, "and if by any chance I am
out--if I haven't come in, you will not wait for me, for Aunt Penelope
must have her dinner to the minute. You understand, don't you, Jonas?"

"Oh, yes, Miss Heather. Yes, I understand; but"--he looked at me
longingly--"there's the telegraphic message, miss," he said.

"Oh, you mean that my father is coming. I'll be back in time to see him.
It's all right, Jonas. Don't tell Aunt Penelope that I am out. Take her
this soup, when it is ready, and, for Heaven's sake! don't keep me now."

Jonas's round eyes became full of wonder, but I would not glance at
them. I must get out. I must go up on the heights above the little town
before my father arrived. I must be by myself, whatever happened; I must
be quite alone.

It was a hot day. Summer was coming on in great strides. In Aunt
Penelope's village the weather was very hot in the summer time. But the
air was more or less my native air. I was glad of it. I was glad to feel
its soft zephyrs blowing against my cheeks. I soon reached the high part
of the town, and then I found myself on the moors. I sat down on a clump
of purple heather--the flower after which I was called--and pulled a
spray of the blossom and crumpled it between my fingers and watched the
little delicate flowers tumbling into my lap. All my life seemed to rise
up before me at that moment, and the anguish that I lived through could
scarcely be surpassed. Oh, Aunt Penelope, Aunt Penelope! What a dreadful
thing you did when you told me that story about my father! Why did you,
who kept it to yourself all your days, tell it to me now? Oh, it was not
true! I did not believe it! Long ago, on the very day when I, a little,
shy, frightened girl of eight years of age, had come to live with Aunt
Penelope, the then reigning Jonas--the "Buttons" in possession--had
taken me to these very heights and had walked over them with me and
shown me the blue of the sea and the beauty of the landscape; and I had
been excited, and pleased as a child will be, particularly such a child
as I was--a child with a natural and intense love of nature in her
heart.

Yes, I had been happy then, up on these fragrant heights; but I had come
back--oh, to such misery! For my father had gone; he had left me alone
with Aunt Penelope. I sat now on the Downs, and remembered all that
miserable day, my passionate, frantic pain, my mad search for my nurse,
Anastasia; the woman who had taken my money and had shown me how to get
to the railway station; the kind friends who had met me there and had
assured me that Anastasia had not come by the next train; and then Aunt
Penelope's face, which to me on that day seemed so hard and cold and
cruel.

What immediately followed was a blank to me: no wonder, for I was very
ill. I recalled the days, the months, the years that followed--Aunt
Penelope's simple life and my gradual and yet sure enjoyment of it, the
little things that pleased me, the tiny happenings that were all
important, the little joys that were great joys to me; the school
prizes; the breaking-up days; the rare occasions when I was given a new
frock; the careful, thrifty life. And all the time, noble lessons were
being poured into my soul, and I was being taught by the sturdy example
of one very brave, very poor old woman to refuse the evil and choose the
good. I recalled what took place a few months ago--my father's return,
his dear, jolly, red, good-natured face, his kindly eyes, his pleasant
smile, the way he had hugged and kissed me, the manner in which my heart
had gone out to him; my raptures when he said that he had come to take
me away, that in future I was to be his child, his little girl who was
to live with him. Oh, I was happy! I forgot Aunt Penelope in my joy. She
was in bitter grief at the thought of losing me; but I was selfish, and
did not mind.

Then there came my hurried journey to London; the meeting with my
father, the meeting with Lady Helen Dalrymple, and the beginning of a
new life, the beginning of fresh troubles. First of all, there was my
father's second marriage. I was not to have him to myself; Lady Helen
was to share my felicity; and I hated Lady Helen, I recalled that
time--that awful time. I thought of the great rich house in London and
of what Lady Helen Dalrymple was, and of my anguish when she told me
that I must change my name, and must in future be called Heather
Dalrymple, and never again as long as I lived Heather Grayson. She
further informed me that my father had taken her name and was Major
Dalrymple, not Major Grayson. I was wild with anger, but a look on his
face made me submit. Then by degrees I saw that my darling father was
not at all happy. His fun had gone out of him; he no longer made a joke
about everything. He sat very silent; sometimes I thought he was even a
little bit afraid. Then Lord Hawtrey appeared on the scene, and
then--then! my true lover, Vernon Carbury.

Oh! yes, I loved Vernon Carbury. He was all that a romantic young girl
would most adore. He was so handsome and gay and chivalrous, and such a
perfect gentleman; and he had such a soldierly air and such a proud,
upright bearing; and he was mine. He loved me as much as I loved him. It
didn't matter a bit about his being poor. Lord Hawtrey, kind old man,
wanted to marry me; and his sister, Lady Mary Percy, seemed to think it
a very good match. But what was that to me? I loved Vernon and would
marry no one else. But--but--there was my father; my father who had--oh,
it couldn't be true! God in heaven! it was not true.

I buried my face in my hands. I sobbed aloud. I was frantic with the
grief of it, and the shame of it, and the torture of it. My father--my
own father! If I had been told that Lady Helen had done a thing like
that I should not have been surprised; but my father! It could not be;
it was impossible.

Suddenly I started to my feet. I would know the worst. Aunt Penelope
believed the story, but I would never believe it unless I heard it from
my father's lips, and if it was true, then of course I must give Vernon
up. He should not marry a girl whose father had done something to make
her ashamed. Much as I loved him, I felt that he must never do that; for
that very reason, he must not do it--just because I loved him too well.

I had a beautiful little jewelled watch with a long gold chain which was
slipped into my belt. I took it out, and looked at the time. It was a
quarter past one. If I walked quickly, I could reach the railway station
in time to meet my father. I would take him away with me at once. We
would go up on the Downs, and I would ask him point-blank if Aunt
Penelope's story was true. He, at least, would tell me the truth.
Afterwards, I could decide.

I rose from my seat on the heather. I had crushed the beautiful purple
heather down with my weight. But it was elastic, strong, and wiry. The
winds of heaven and the sun would soon kiss it and tempt it, and rouse
it to an upright position again. I had not really injured my own
heather. I straightened my hat. Of late I had been forced to think a
good deal about dress and fashion. Nobody else did at Cherton. Cherton
was a little old-world place, and fashions put in their appearance there
several years after they were seen in London.

I pulled my gloves on tidily, pushed back my tumbled hair, and went
rapidly towards the railway station. I knew how to get there now. I
needed no fat old woman to show me the way. I arrived just as the London
express was coming in. As I have said before, it but seldom stopped at
our little wayside station. But it did stop to-day. I wondered if some
great people like the Carringtons were returning. I did not want to see
the Carringtons just then. The only person, however, who stepped out of
the train, and that was out of a first-class carriage, was an elderly
man with white hair and a haggard expression. He was very well dressed,
and carried a smart walking-stick. But there was a decided stoop between
his shoulders, as though he did not care to keep himself upright. I gave
a faint cry, then ran up to him. I linked my hand inside his arm.

"I thought I'd come to meet you. I am here; I am all right, you see."

"Oh, I say! My darling little Heather! This is first-rate. Child, what a
fright you have given Lady Helen and myself. You have been disgracefully
naughty."

"You must forgive me, Dad. Dad, darling, you haven't come all the way
from London to a little place like Cherton just to scold your own
Heather?"

"Bless you, my beauty!" was the reply. "Aren't you the very joy of my
heart? But all the same, you did wrong. You didn't think of what I went
through last night. You forgot that, little Heather. But never mind,
never mind; only I'd best send a wire to her ladyship. She will be in a
fume if she doesn't hear. Ah! here's the telegraph office. I won't be a
minute, child; you wait for me outside."

I made no response. He went in, while I stood in the fierce heat of the
sunshine. I hoisted my parasol, but the heat penetrated through it. How
long my father stayed in that little office! And how old and tired he
looked! and yet--oh, of course, he had done nothing wrong. It was but to
look into those kind blue eyes; he could not have done that thing which
Aunt Penelope accused him of. My spirits rose. She had made a mistake.
He himself would explain everything to me, of that I was quite
convinced.

He came out again. He was rubbing his hands. He was in high spirits.

"Upon my word, Heather," he said, "we are a pair of truants, you and I.
I feel like a boy let loose from school. And how is the old aunt? How is
Aunt Penelope?"

"She is not at all well, Dad. It was most providential from her point of
view that I did return, for she wanted someone to look after her."

"Do you mean to tell me, Heather, that she is in danger?"

"She is better to-day," I answered; "but she was very ill yesterday,
very ill indeed, and the doctor was a little frightened, but he is ever
so pleased to-day."

"You have been nursing her, then?"

"Yes, I have. But oh, Daddy, I am glad to see you again!"

"And I to see you," was the reply. "A pair of truants out from
school--eh, little girl, eh, eh?"

"Yes, Daddy; oh, yes, Daddy."

I slipped my hand inside his arm. I might not have done this if I had
been quite certain about that story of Aunt Penelope's; but then I was
doubting it more and more each moment. I was firmly convinced that there
was not a syllable of truth in it, and I had him quite to myself, and I
could soon talk him round with regard to Vernon. Of course, he would not
wish me to marry an old man like Lord Hawtrey when there was a young man
like Vernon Carbury longing to have me, longing to clasp me to his heart
as his true love--his true wife. Daddy was not worldly-minded--of that I
was certain.

We walked down the steep hill about which I had got directions from the
fat woman, and plunged into the little town.

"I suppose we'd best get to your aunt's at once, child?" said my father.

"No," I answered; "I want us to come up on the Downs first. Are you
frightfully, frightfully hungry? For if you are, we can buy some cakes
and eat them up on the Downs."

"Well, I am not disinclined for a meal; but I'll tell you what we will
do. We will go on the Downs first, and afterwards we will visit the best
restaurant in Cherton. Come along, little woman; let's march. Eh, dear!
it's a good thing to stretch one's legs. It's an awful matter to have to
confess, Heather, but I'm about sick of that everlasting motoring. I'd
give a good deal to be rid of it once and for all. But there! that is
high treason. Lady Helen wouldn't like me to talk like that; and she is
a good soul, you know, Heather--a right, good, generous creature. She
doesn't mind how much she spends on a person. She has never stinted you,
has she, Heather? Come now, confess the truth."

"Oh, no," I replied, "she has been horribly, terribly generous."

"Child! What on earth do you mean?"

"I will tell you when we get on the Downs."

He looked at me in a surprised sort of way, opened his lips as if to
speak, then remained silent. I found I was walking too quickly for him;
I was obliged to slacken my steps. I was surprised at this, for in all
my long experience I had considered him one of the very strongest of
men, a man who would never be tired, who was possessed of unbounded
vitality, with such a great, strong flood of life in him that nothing of
the ordinary sort could extinguish it. Nevertheless, he panted now and
puffed as I walked with him up towards the Downs.

"Why, Dad!" I cried, "is this too much for you?"

"I expect so," he answered. "It's that beastly motoring--I never can
stretch my legs. Upon my word, I am losing my muscle; I shall be a
worn-out, rheumatic old man in no time--it's all Helen's fault."

"You ought to play golf," I said; "men of your age, not old men--of
course, you're not old--but men of your age spend hours at golf, and
that keeps them active. That's what you ought to do--it is, really and
truly."

"It is, really and truly," he repeated, looking at me with a twinkle in
his blue eyes. "So that's your way of looking at it, Miss Heather, and
you think her ladyship will approve of my playing golf, and you think
she'll approve of my absenting myself from her for long hours every
day?"

"Oh, I don't know--oh, I can't bear it!" I said.

My voice was choked, there came a lump in my throat. After a moment I
said, in a totally different sort of voice:

"We'll walk slowly, darling. Darling, I understand."

"Bless the child! of course she understands," he replied, and he
squeezed my arm in his old, affectionate manner.

Thank God! we were on the top at last. The beautiful fresh air came
towards us, laden with salt from the sea, laden with freshness, and
purity, and beauty. My father's tired eyes brightened; he stretched
himself and looked about him. There was a lot of sunshine flooding the
place, and there was no sort of shade, but neither he nor I minded that.

"Come where the heather is most purple," I said. "Now, here--here's a
bed for you and another for me. Stretch yourself; I'll lie close to you.
Isn't it just lovely?"

"Upon my word, it is, Heather; it's heavenly."

"Daddy, I wonder sometimes why you called me Heather?"

"It was your mother's wish--your first mother, I mean."

"Oh, father, I could not have two mothers; you know that it would be
impossible!"

"So it would. Well, it was your mother's--your real mother's wish. Fact
is, she was very ill when you were born, and there was a bit of Scotch
blood in her; she had lived in Aberdeenshire. She was all Aberdeen in
every sort of way, through and through, in her nature, I mean; canny,
and straight and true, like the real, best Scotch folks. After you were
born she had a sort of fever, and she saw purple heather all around
her--the heather of the moors. So she begged of me to call the child
'Heather,' and I did. You are called after the moors in Aberdeenshire--a
very respectable sort of ancestress, too, eh, Heather, my love, eh, eh?"

"Yes, father."

My father had now recovered his breath; he sat upright and looked at me;
he took my hand.

"I have something to say to you," was his remark.

I looked back at him and nodded. Our joyful time together was over now;
our time of pain had begun. I knew this fact quite well. I nodded to him
emphatically.

"And I have something to say to you."

"Well, Heather, I, being the elder, have the privilege of my years, have
I not?"

"You have," I said.

I was glad of this. I was a coward at that moment, and wanted to put off
the evil day.

"Well, now, little girl, a straight question requires a straight answer.
Why did you leave your mother's house and mine yesterday, and go away
without saying a word to anybody? Do you think you acted kindly or well
to Lady Helen or myself?"

"I acted as I only could act under the circumstances," was my reply.

"But tell me why, Heather."

"You know what you did, father. You sent away the man I loved. I love
him with all my heart and soul and strength. You sent him away. Then you
and Lady Helen spoke to me; you said I was to give him up. I don't--I
mean that kind of thing would never make me give him up, never! I could
not live in the house with Lady Helen. She wanted me to marry Lord
Hawtrey; father, I will never marry him--he knows it. You, father, you
and Lady Helen, did your utmost to break my heart, but my heart is my
own as my life is my own. I could no longer stay with you. Father, I
have chosen; I have come back to the poor life, to the humble life, to
the little life at Cherton, to Aunt Penelope's house and to Aunt
Penelope's home once more. I don't want grandeur, I don't want what Lady
Helen calls a high position--I should hate it, I should loathe it; it
would be torture to me. Father, I won't have it!"

He was quite silent, but, just as I had done that morning, he began to
pull up pieces of purple heather and to scatter the little bells on the
grass by his side. His eyes were lowered.

"I hate the world!" I said.

After a long pause, he spoke.

"Bless you, Heather."

"Father!"

"For saying those words," he continued.

"Oh, father, I knew you agreed with me in your heart of hearts."

"I do, but I am tied and bound--yes, child, tied and bound. I can't
escape; I can never escape; never, never!"

"Father, I am coming to your part of all this in a few minutes, but
first I want to speak about myself. Do you dislike the man I love? You
don't know him; I do. I have seen him often at the Carringtons. He is
strong, and brave and upright; he is not rich, but neither is he poor;
he could marry me without taking any fortune with me; he could marry me,
yes, me, just as I stand, and we should be happy--happy as the day is
long. Father, I won't have that old man, and, what is more, I know that
he won't have me. I will tell you what I did yesterday. You and Lady
Helen between you broke my heart--oh, I had an awful time! I don't blame
you much, but I must--I must say that I blame you a little. I sat in my
room until you went out, and then I determined that whatever happened I
would live my own life, that I would not be tied and bound to that
awful, dreadful stepmother of mine. I saw that she was ruining you, that
she was destroying your happiness, that she was making your life a hell
to you, and I vowed that she should not destroy mine. I wondered who
could help me, I wondered and wondered, and at last a bold thought
occurred to me, and I determined to go into the lion's den."

"Child, what do you mean?"

I put my hand on his; his hand was fat and flabby, not the firm, brown,
muscular hand that I used to remember.

"I went to Lord Hawtrey," I said very quickly.

He snatched his hand away, stood upright, and looked at me.

"What! you went to Hawtrey--to his house?"

"Yes. I found his address on a visiting card. I went there in a
taxi-cab; he was out, but I waited for him--he came in presently, he was
very nice--oh, yes! I saw him for a minute or two. I said I wanted to
speak to him; he told me he could not attend to me then or in his own
house, but he would send his sister to me."

"Thank goodness!" said my father.

"Her name was Lady Mary Percy. She was a nice woman; she came and she
took me to her house, and there and then I told her everything. I told
her about Vernon and about--about her brother, and what her brother had
said to me. She was kind, although she said one or two strange things. I
could not quite understand her, and some of the things she said stuck in
my mind. She seemed to think that I had refused the greatest match in
England."

"And so you have, you most silly of all little Heathers."

"Oh, no, Daddy! The greatest match in all England I have not refused; I
have accepted Vernon Carbury. He is the best husband in all the world
for me."

"It is amazing what love will do," said my father then. "I felt
something like that for your mother--eh! but that was a long time ago!"

"Then, of course, you understand," I said, nestling up to him, "you are
my darling old Dad, and you quite understand."

"I don't, not a bit; and yet, at the same time, I do. Well, go on. You
were at Lady Mary Percy's when you left off talking. How, in the name of
fortune, did you get here?"

"I left her after a bit. I would not go back to you, so I came to Aunt
Penelope. I took the train here; I had money; and it was quite simple. I
found my darling auntie very ill, but the sight of me has made her
better. The doctor was so glad when I came back, and so was poor little
Jonas--the Buttons, you know, Dad--you remember the Buttons?"

"Yes, yes; of course, I remember him."

"Auntie is in bed, very weak."

"Then she won't want to see me," said my father, restlessly.

"Yes; of course she will; she is expecting you. But now, I want to say
something to you. I must say it; oh, Daddy, I must."

His face turned white. He pulled his soft hat a little over his eyes and
looked fixedly at me.

"Well, Heather, speak. You--you're no coward."

"I don't think I am. It began first in this way," I said. "It was
something Lady Mary said; these were her words. She said: 'You are, of
course, aware of the fact that Hawtrey must have loved you beyond the
ordinary love of an ordinary man when he made up his mind to take as a
wife the daughter of Major Grayson?'"

"So he must; that's true enough, Heather."

"Father, oh, father! Do you think I listened to those words tamely? I
said: 'My father is the best man in all the world.' Lady Mary looked at
me; at first she was angry, then a softened expression came over her
face. She said: 'You poor little girl!' and then she said: 'Have you
never suspected why he married Lady Helen Dalrymple?' Oh, father, it was
after those words I came here, for I was determined to find out, and
to-day--oh, my own Daddy, I did find out! I asked Aunt Penelope."

"She told you--my God! she told you!"

"She did, but I don't believe it--it isn't true."

"Give me your hand, Heather."

I gave it. I had some little difficulty in doing so, for a cold, icy,
terrible doubt was flooding my mind, flooding my reason, flooding my
powers of thought.

"Keep it up," said my father to me. "Be brave, right on to the end. Tell
me what she said. You are my daughter and--once I was a soldier; tell
your soldier father what she said."

"Oh, Daddy, Daddy, she said that you, you, my father--had--oh, it's so
awful!--that you were arrested in India on a charge of forgery--you had
made away with a lot of money--you were cashiered from the army and--you
were imprisoned. All the time while I was picturing you a brave soldier,
filling your post with distinction and pride, you were only--only--in
prison! Oh, Daddy, it isn't true--it could not have been true; she said
it was true, she said that your term was over last autumn, and that you
came straight here to see me, and that, in some extraordinary way, you
had money, and you carried everything off with a high hand, and insisted
on taking me away with you, and the next thing she heard was that you
had married Lady Helen Dalrymple. She says, Daddy, that you will never
outlive your disgrace, and there isn't a soldier in the length and
breadth of the land who will speak to you!"

I laid my head down on his coat sleeve. Sobs rent my frame. There was an
absolute silence on his part. He did not interrupt my tears for a
moment, nor did he say one single word of contradiction. After a minute
or so he remarked, very quietly:

"Now, you will stop crying and listen."

I sat upright. I looked at him out of glassy eyes; he gazed straight
back at me; there was not a scrap of shame about his face; I wondered
very much at that, and then a wild, joyful thought visited me. He could
clear himself, he could show me that this disgraceful story was all a
lie.

"Now, stop crying," he said again. "Whatever I did or did not do, I was
a soldier and fought the Queen's battles when she was alive--God bless
her!--and I was accounted a brave man."

"You were never a forger--you never saw the inside of a prison?"

"Those are your two charges against me, Heather?"

"Not mine, not mine," I said; "I just want you to tell me the truth."

"Well, as a matter of fact, I was accused of forgery."

My eyes fell, I trembled all over.

"I was had up for trial; I stood in the prisoner's dock. I was convicted
by jurymen, and a judge of our criminal courts proclaimed my sentence.
The case was a particularly aggravated one, and my sentence was
severe--I was sentenced to ten years' penal servitude--I lived all that
time in prison. Not a pleasant life. Ah! it's spoiled my hands a good
bit--have you never remarked it?"

"Now that you speak, I--do remark it," I said.

"And of course I was cashiered," he continued.

I nodded.

"Well, I have answered you."

"You have," I said.

"Is there anything else you'd like to know?"

"Yes. Why did you marry Lady Helen?"

"Why, that was part of the bond."

"The bond?" I said.

"The fact is, we understood each other. She had been very fond of me,
poor woman, and she stuck to me through my disgrace, and when I came out
of prison she was willing to do the best possible for me and for you.
Of course, you can understand that without marriage I could not accept
her services, so--I married her. I don't go about with her a great deal,
you will have observed that?"

"Yes, and I have wondered," I said.

"But she has been good to you. She has taken you about."

"Oh, yes. I hated going about with her."

"She was anxious, and so was I, that you should marry well. She held out
to me as the bait--your salvation."

"What do you mean?"

"Exactly what I say. When I entered into that worst prison of all, it
was for your sake."

"Father--oh, father!"

"It is true, child. There, it's out. It is the worst prison of all--God
help me! And now, at the end, you desert me!"

"No, I won't," I said, flinging my arms round his neck; "no, I never
will! It doesn't matter what you did, I'll stick to you--I will, I will,
I will!"

"My little girl, my own little girl! But she won't have you back except
on her own terms; she only wants you in order to get you well married,
to have the éclat and fuss and glory of a great marriage; that's her
object. You have refused Hawtrey; I doubt if she'll forgive that."

I was clinging close to him, I was holding his hand.

"Can't we both leave her?" I whispered. "Can't we go away and be very
poor together, and forget the world?"

"Child, there is your lover, Carbury."

I gave a quick, sharp sigh.

"I can't think of him now," I said.

"Oh, child, he proposed for you, knowing everything."

"I won't marry him," I said, "I am going to stay with you in that worst
prison."



CHAPTER XVIII


My father kept on holding my hand. We neither of us spoke; there are
moments when words fail us, and these happened to be some. The sun crept
higher and higher in the heavens, it beat down on us, but it was
tempered by the pleasant, cool sea breezes. We were both looking into
the future, and, truth to tell, our hearts were sad. I was making up my
mind, and father was making up his mind. At last I, being the younger
and more impulsive, spoke:

"It is all right, Daddy," I said. "It was a bit of a dreadful shock; I
don't pretend it was anything else. I have always put you--oh, on such a
pedestal! But I'll get used to it. You were tempted awfully, or you
would never have done it. I am certain of that, and--I have never been
tempted at all, so, of course, I can't understand. You were tempted,
poor darling, and it--it happened. It is hateful of people to stamp on
you, and crush you when you're down; but I suppose it is something
horrid inside of them makes them do it. Daddy, I'm not made like that.
I couldn't stamp on you--I couldn't crush you. On the contrary, I have
made up my mind. You and I against the world, Daddy mine, against the
whole wide world. You won't return to London to-night; you'll stay here,
and you'll write to Lady Helen, and you'll tell her that you and I have
escaped from the worst prison, and are going to live always together,
and that we aren't a bit afraid of poverty, and that, in short, we've
made up our minds. We've cut the Gordian knot. We'll be happy together,
and we don't care a scrap about poverty."

"That's your firm resolve, is it, Heather?" said my father.

"It is. I have been thinking it out--I can't get away from it."

"All right. Give me a kiss, child."

I put my arms round him, and kissed him many times. Again I noticed that
there wasn't a bit of shame in his eyes; they looked quite clear, and
steadfast, and blue, with that wonderful blue light which I think only
comes into the eyes of men who are accustomed to face the sea and the
wind, and who have lived a great deal out of doors.

"So that is your final decision?" he repeated. "I like to feel your
kisses on my cheek, Heather."

I kissed him again.

"It is," I said.

"Well, now you've to hear mine."

"Oh, yours," I said; "you won't go away from your own Heather--you
couldn't--you love her too well."

"God knows I love you, pretty one. You are the only creature on earth I
do love. I love you with all my heart and soul, and that's saying a
great deal. For the ten long years I was in prison I kept thinking and
thinking of you, child. But for you I might have lost my reason; but
your little face, and your ways, and your love for me kept me--well, all
right. And now I am a free man again--I mean, I am free to claim your
love. But you haven't decided what part Carbury is to play in this."

I shivered very slightly.

"I have told you," I said. "He won't play any part. I--I'm going to
write to him. We need not talk about him any more. Yesterday you and my
stepmother were opposed to my marrying him; now I also am opposed. There
will be no marriage between us. I am all yours."

"Oh, you best child in all the world!"

"Then it's settled, isn't it, Daddy?"

"My little girl, I can't tell. It rests with Carbury himself. But my
part--you've got to hear my part now."

I felt very, very sad when he said this. I seemed to guess in advance
that a great strain and trial was about to be put upon me. My father
looked at me, and then he looked away. Again he took up some great, full
bells of heather and crushed them in his hand; he threw them away and
turned and faced me.

"There! The worst is out. I have got to stay with her ladyship."

"Father!"

"Yes. I can't get away from it, Heather child. I can't live on nothing,
nor, my little girl, can you. We are both dependent on Lady Helen for
our daily bread."

"I am not--I won't be," I said.

"But you are," he answered, "and you must be; that's just it. You can't
get away from it. She holds the purse. Do you think she will unfasten
those purse strings to give you and me an allowance to live away from
her?"

"But we can live on so little," I said; "and I can work. I should love
to work."

"Well, now, Heather," said my father, "you are no fool."

"I hope I am not," I said.

"You're a very wise girl for your age."

"I hope so," I replied.

"I have watched you, and I know you are wise for your age--very. Being
so, therefore, what can you do to earn a living? Just tell me."

I sat very quiet and still. I thought over my different accomplishments.
I could play a little, I could sing a little; I had a smattering of
French--a very slight smattering--and I was fond of good English books,
history books, and books of travel, and I adored books of adventure, and
I could recite a good many pieces from our best poets. But all these
things did not form much of a cargo to take on board my ship of life. My
father kept looking at me, with that whimsical light in his blue eyes.

"Eh, little woman? Suppose I take you at your word, how do you propose
to support yourself and me? There would be, first of all, our lodgings.
We might go to Plymouth, or some other place, not too dear. We might
find rooms--kind of country cottage rooms--by the sea, and pay, say, six
shillings a week each. It is very unlikely we'd get them for that, but I
really want to bring you down as lightly as possible. Well, six
shillings a week for you and six shillings for me means twelve
shillings, and that would mean, probably, a tiny, tiny sitting-room, and
two of the wee-est bedrooms in all the world. Still, it might be done
for the price of twelve shillings a week. There would be extras, of
course--landladies greatly live by extras--and we should have to put
them down, counting coal and light, one part of the year with another,
at about three shillings a week, which mounts up, our lodging and our
light and coal, to fifteen shillings a week.

"Then, my dear little Heather, there comes that important thing, food,
for the bravest of all little girls would get very hungry at times, and
if she didn't get hungry she wouldn't be worth her salt. There'd be your
breakfast, my dear, and my breakfast, and your snack in the middle of
the day, and your tea in the afternoon, and your dinner in the evening;
and I don't think the shopkeepers would give us bread, and butter, and
milk, and beef, and mutton, and vegetables, and all those sort of things
for nothing--I have an impression that they wouldn't. Of course I may be
wrong, but that is my impression, and I have a pretty good knowledge of
the world. I don't think, dear, that even at starvation price we could
be fed under something like another fifteen shillings to a pound a
week. Now, my little Heather, how are you to earn, say, one pound
fifteen shillings a week--to say nothing of the expense of note-paper,
and stamps, and envelopes, and dress?"

"Oh, I have heaps of dress," I said. "There are a great many dresses of
mine at the house in London."

"Which have been supplied to you by Lady Helen. I don't really know, if
we made this great severance from her, whether we should have any right
to take those dresses from her or not--I am inclined to think not, if
you ask me. However, suppose you don't want dress for the time being, at
least you will want shoe leather, and gloves, and trifles of that sort.
My dear, we can't put down our living, between us, however hard we try,
at less than two pounds a week, and that means over a hundred pounds a
year. Now, Heather child, I have nothing a year--nothing!"

He stretched out both his arms as he spoke.

"Oh, yes; I am supposed to be one of the richest of old men. I can drive
in my motor-car, and I can have a horse, and I can go here, there, and
everywhere. I can live in the softest rooms, and I can eat the most
dainty food, and I can curse luxury in my heart as you curse it in
yours; but I haven't a penny piece to get away from it--not a penny
piece; and, as far as I can tell, no more have you."

"Couldn't we live here with Aunt Penelope?" I said.

My voice was very weak and faint. A good deal of my courage was being
taken out of me.

"As if we would, Heather! Think how that brave woman supported you
during the long years when I was in prison, and could not earn a
halfpenny! No, no, Heather; no, no! It was partly to relieve your aunt
that I married her ladyship, and, Heather child, I can't get away from
her now--I can't--and I am greatly afraid you can't either."

"But she won't have me," I said; "she'll have you back, of course, but
not me; and, father, darling, I _can't_ go back!"

"She would have you if I pleaded," said my father, "and if I could tell
her you had quite given up young Carbury. She has taken a dislike to
that poor boy, God alone knows why--but I think I can manage it. You
see, it's this way. Her ladyship has a great horror of anything
approaching a scandal; I never knew anyone with such a downright horror
of it; upon my word, in her case it amounts to a downright sin--it
does, really. Well, there she is, hating scandal, and if you left her
there'd be no end of talk, for in your way you have paid her well for
all the luxuries she has showered upon you. People have been civil to
her, not for her sake--who would look at a frowzy old woman like
her?--yes, child, I say it; I don't mind what I say to you--but a great
many people would want to look at your dear, fresh little face; and it
is just because of that same dear little face that so many people have
come to her ladyship's 'At Homes'; and it is because of that same little
face that you and Lady Helen have been asked out so much. She knows it
well enough; she knows why she's popular. I can easily get her to let
the old life go on, and you shan't be worried with--with that poor
fellow Hawtrey. I said to myself, when she was so full of it, 'I don't
believe the child will consent,' but there, she told me I was wrong. She
said there wasn't a girl in England who'd refuse a match like that; and
even I allowed myself to be persuaded that that was the case."

"But, oh, father, wouldn't you have hated it?"

"No, child, not altogether; there might have been worse fates for you.
He's a good man, is Hawtrey; he'd have treated you well; he'd have been
very kind to you. I have heard before of girls marrying men old enough
to be their fathers, and being happy with them. I dare say if young
Carbury had not come in the way you'd have taken him, for there isn't
his like in England for chivalry and kindness of heart."

"But he did come," I said.

"Yes; youth naturally mates with youth--it's the true story of life. I'm
not blaming you a bit, Heather--not in my heart, I mean. I had to
pretend to blame you, of course, the other day."

Here my father rose to his feet.

"You shan't be worried about Hawtrey," he said, "and I'll promise that
Carbury shall not cross your path. But I don't think there is any help
for it; you'll have to come back with me. I'll stay here to-night; I'll
telegraph to her ladyship again, and tell her that you are all right,
and that we are coming back to-morrow morning. I'd rather have you in
the house than not in the house, for even though we can't often talk to
each other we can at least understand each other."

"But Aunt Penelope is ill; even if I could agree to what you wish, Aunt
Penelope is very ill. I ought not to leave her now."

"Well, perhaps not; perhaps your aunt ought to be considered. In that
case I would go back myself to-night--it would be best for me to do so;
her ladyship might want me, and I know I'd be in the right to go back,
and as quickly as possible. Well, we'll go and see your aunt now; only,
before we visit her, I want you to make me a promise. You will come to
London--you will take up the old life for my sake?"

I looked him in the eyes.

"Do you want this very, very badly?" I said.

"I want it more than anything on earth."

"And wanting it so badly," I said very sadly, "you yet would have
pretended to be glad if I had said 'Yes' to Lord Hawtrey?"

"I might have, there's no saying. I'd have had your house to come to
then; but that's out of the question, and needn't be thought of. You'll
come back to me, Heather, when your aunt can spare you?"

"Yes, I will come," I said, and then I kissed him, and we walked slowly
back from the Downs, my hand clasped in his.

Aunt Penelope was better; the doctor had been again, and was pleased
with her. Jonas, in his very best suit, his face shining with soap and
water, gave us the good news on our arrival. There was a nice little
lunch waiting for us in the tiny dining-room, and my father, as he
expressed it, was "downright hungry."

"Delicious, this cold beef and salad tastes," he said. "Upon my word,
there's nothing like plain food; one does get sick to death of made-up
dishes."

I helped him to the best that my aunt's little table could afford, and
then I ran softly up to her room. She was lying high up in bed, her eyes
were bright, and she was watching for me.

"Well, child; well?"

"You are better, aren't you, auntie?"

"Better? I am all right, child; what about yourself?"

"I am quite well, of course."

"Heather, is that poor man, your father, downstairs?"

"He is."

"Has he expressed a wish to see me?"

"He has come back for the purpose."

"I will see him; only he must be quiet, in order to prevent my coughing.
If I start coughing again I may get really bad; you tell him that.
Heather, my love, you're not going to leave me, are you?"

"Not at present, at any rate," I said.

"Kiss me, dear. You are a very good girl; you take after your mother.
You have got her patient, steadfast light in your eyes. Now send that
father of yours up, and tell him, whatever he does, to be careful that
he doesn't set me coughing."

I ran downstairs, and gave my father Aunt Penelope's message. He said:

"Poor old girl! I'll be careful, right enough," and then he went softly
and slowly upstairs. I watched until he was out of sight; then I ran
quickly into the little drawing-room. I had not a minute to lose, and I
would not delay. I would not postpone setting a seal on my own fate for
a single moment.

There was the little room, looking just as of old. I had dusted it and
tidied it that morning, and put a few fresh flowers in one or two vases,
and made it look quite gay and pretty. I knew where Aunt Penelope kept
her note-paper; I opened her Davenport and took out a sheet now and
began to write. I wrote straight to Vernon Carbury. My letter was very
short.

     "I have to give you up, Vernon," I wrote; "there is no other way
     out. My father, Major Grayson, has told me his true story. I never
     heard it until to-day. I understand everything now, and I wish you,
     Vernon, clearly to understand that I, Major Grayson's daughter,
     take his shame, and bind it on me, and not for all the world will I
     loosen that badge of shame from my heart. So, because of this very
     thing, I can never be your true wife. You are a brave soldier of
     the King, and my father has been cashiered, because of a crime,
     from the King's Army. Is it likely that you and I can be husband
     and wife? Good-bye, dear. It gives me dreadful pain to write this
     letter, but all the same, I am glad we have met, and that you have
     put me into your gallery of heroines, as I have put you into my
     gallery of heroes. Forget me soon--find a girl who has no shame to
     bind round her heart, and be happy. Dearest darling, best
     beloved,--Your little

     "HEATHER."

I knew his address, and put it on the letter. I stamped it, and ran out
with it myself. Jonas saw me going, and called after me:

"Miss Heather, I'll post that for you."

"No, thank you," I answered; "I'd like to go."

The letter was dropped into the post-box before my father came
downstairs again after his interview with Aunt Penelope. His face was
pale, and he looked tired.

"Upon my word, this has been a trying day to me. She's the best of
women, Heather; I don't wonder you're proud of her. She reminds me
wonderfully of your poor mother; not in appearance, of course, for I
never saw your mother except with the glint and the glamour of youth on
her face; but she's what your poor mother would have been had she lived.
She's a right-down good woman. She wants you to go on living with her,
but I have got her to see reason, and she is satisfied that you shall
return to me as soon as she is well. Take care of her, child--here's a
ten-pound note to spend on her, and when you want more money you have
only to write to me."

"But--but I thought you had no money?" I answered.

"I have, and I haven't. As long as I live with Lady Helen I have more
money than I know what to do with. Don't take that little drop of honey
out of my cup. I can spend that money as I please, and no questions
asked; and now, my child, I'm going back to London. I'll write to you in
a day or two; you needn't fear her ladyship, she'll go on giving you a
good time, and some day perhaps you'll marry."

"No," I said. "You know that--father--you know that I won't."

"Well, well, there's no saying, and a girl of your age can't prophesy
with regard to the future. Good-bye, little girl. God bless you! You
have comforted me as you alone could to-day."



CHAPTER XIX


Aunt Penelope got better very quickly; having turned the corner, there
were no relapses. Whether it was my society or whether she was easier
and happier in her mind, or whatever the cause, she lost her cough, she
lost her weakness, and became very much the Aunt Penelope of old. I
watched her with a kind of fearful joy. I was glad she was so much
better, and yet I trembled for the day, which I knew was approaching,
when I must return to Hanbury Square. Aunt Penelope used to look at me
with the steadfast gaze which I had found very trying when a little
child, but which I now appreciated for its honesty and directness. It
was as though she were reading my very heart.

Meanwhile, no letters of any sort arrived; not one from my father, not
one from Captain Carbury. I pretended to be very glad that Vernon did
not write, but down deep in my heart of hearts I know that I was sorry;
I know, too, that my heart beat quicker than usual when the postman's
knock came to the door, and I know that that same heart went down low,
low in my breast, when he passed by without any missive for me.

At last there came an evening when Aunt Penelope and I had a long talk
together. On that evening we settled the exact day when I was to return
to my father and to Lady Helen. We were able to talk over everything now
without any secret between us, and that fact was a great comfort to me.
Once she spoke about my dear father's sin, but when she began on that
subject I stopped her.

"When you forgive, is it not said that you ought also to forget?"

"What do you mean, Heather?"

"Well, you have forgiven him, haven't you?"

"I never said I had."

"I think you have, and I think you must; and as you have forgiven, so,
of course, you will absolutely forget."

She made no reply for a long time. Then she rose, kissed me lightly on
the forehead, and said:

"You are a good child, Heather, you take after your poor mother. Now go
out and help Jonas with the tea."

I went out, and it was that very day that an extraordinary thing
happened--that thing which, all of a sudden, changed my complete life.

Jonas and I were in the kitchen; we were excellent friends. I was busy
buttering some toast, which he was making at the nice, bright, little
fire. Tea had been made and it was drawing on the top of the range.
There was a snowy-white cloth on the little tray, and when enough
buttered toast had been made I was going to carry the tray into the
drawing-room, for Aunt Penelope liked me to do this, in order to save
Buttons and give him more time to "look after the garden," as she
expressed it. We were so employed, and were fairly happy, although we
both knew quite well that I must shortly take my leave, and that the
little house would have to do without me--that Jonas would have nobody
to help him, and that Aunt Penelope would miss me every hour of the day.

Well, as we were thus occupied, I suddenly heard someone run up the
steps which led to the front door. There were four or five steps, rather
steep ones. The person who ascended now must have been young and agile,
for there was quite a ringing sound as each step was surmounted. Then
there came a pull at the bell and a sharp, very quick "rat-tat" on the
front door.

"Miss Heather, who can it be?" said Jonas.

He had his toasting-fork in his hand and a great slice of tempting brown
toast, which he was just finishing, on the edge of it; his round, very
blue eyes were fixed on my face. For no earthly reason that anyone can
tell I felt myself changing colour, and I knew that my heart began to
beat in a very queer and excitable way.

"What can it be?" repeated Jonas. "It's a man, by the step. I'll take a
peep out by the area."

"Oh no, Jonas, you mustn't," I said; but I might as well have spoken to
the wind. Jonas, toasting-fork, toast and all, were out of sight. The
next minute he came tiptoeing back.

"It's as smart a young gent as I ever laid eyes on," he said. "Miss
Heather, for the Lord's sake slip upstairs and put on your best
'Sunday-go-to-meeting' dress and tidy your 'air, miss, it's ruffled from
doing things in the kitchen, and take the smut off your cheek,
and--there! I mustn't keep him waiting any longer. He be a bloomin' fine
boy and no mistake."

"Let me pass you, Jonas; I'll go first," I said, and in this fashion we
both left the kitchen, I rushed to my room--I wasn't above taking a
hint from Jonas; soon one of my pretty frocks, which I used to wear at
Lady Helen's, was on once more, a white embroidered collar encircled my
throat, my hair was tidily arranged, the obnoxious smut removed, and I
came slowly downstairs. Jonas was waiting for me on the bottom step.

"It's you he's asked for, miss--he's a captain in the harmy, no less.
Carbury his name be. I 'as took in the tea, and my missus is chatting
with him as lively and pleasant as you please. You go in, miss; you're
all right now, you look like any queen. Ring if you want me, Miss
Heather; don't you be doing things yourself when a gent like that's in
the house. Ring and give your orders properly, same as if there was
twenty Jonases here instead of one. I'm not tired, not a bit of it; I'm
real pleased to see you looking so perky, miss."

I put out my hand and touched his; he grasped mine in a sort of pleased
astonishment, and tears absolutely moistened his eyes.

"Go in and prosper, miss," he said, and then he dashed downstairs.

I entered the drawing-room.

There was no one like Vernon. He had a trick of making friends with
people in about two minutes and a half. It could never be said of Aunt
Penelope that she was a person who was brought quickly round to be cosy
and confidential and friendly with anyone; it had taken me the greater
part of my life to know the dear old lady as she really ought to be
known, and yet, here was Vernon, seated on a low chair facing the tea
table, and absolutely pouring out tea for himself and Aunt Penelope! He
looked up as I entered, threw down the sugar tongs with a slight
clatter, came towards me and gave my hand a squeeze.

"She's much too weak, Heather, to be bothered making tea, so I thought
I'd do it."

"He is making it very nicely, Heather, my dear," said Aunt Penelope,
"and I don't see why he should not go on. I'm quite interested in
Captain Carbury's stories about the army; it is so long since I have met
a soldier. I assure you, Captain Carbury, in my young days I hardly ever
met anyone else."

"And a very great advantage for the army, madam," said Vernon, with that
pleasant twinkle in his eyes which would have made an Irish girl call
him "a broth of a boy" at once.

I sat down; I found it difficult to talk. Aunt Penelope took no notice
of me; she kept up a ceaseless chatter with Vernon. He was in the best
of spirits; I never saw anything like the way he managed her. What could
he have said to her during those very few minutes while I was changing
my dress and tidying my hair and getting that smut off my cheek?

The tea came to an end at last, and then the dear old lady rose.

"Heather," she said, "I am a little tired, and am going to lie down. You
can entertain Captain Carbury. Captain, I have not the least idea what
this dear child of mine has ordered for supper, but whatever it is I
hope you will share it with us. We should both like you to do so."

"Thank you, I shall be delighted," he replied, and then Aunt Penelope
went out of the room. The moment she had gone Vernon looked at me and I
looked at him.

"Oh, you have done wrong," I said, "you know you have done wrong!"

"Shall we have our little talk," he said, in his calmest voice, "before
or after Buttons removes the tea-things?"

"Oh, what do the tea-things matter?" I replied. "Let them stay. Vernon,
you oughtn't to have come here."

"Oughtn't I? But I very well think I ought. Why shouldn't a man come to
see the girl who has promised to marry him?"

"Vernon, you know--you got my letter?"

"I did certainly get a letter--an extraordinarily dear, sweet, pathetic
little letter. Well, my dear, I have acted on it, that's all."

"Acted on it, Vernon! What do you mean?"

He put his hand into his pocket and took the letter out.

"Come and sit close to me on the sofa, Heather."

"No, no; I can't; I daren't!"

"But you can and dare. Do you suppose I am going to stand this sort of
thing? You are the girl I am going to marry. Heather, what nonsense you
are talking! Kiss me this minute!"

"Vernon, you know I daren't kiss you."

"And I know you dare and shall and will. Come, this minute--this very
minute."

"Oh, Vernon! Oh, Vernon!"

Before I could prevent him his arms were round me and his lips were
pressed to mine. The moment I felt the touch of those lips I ceased to
struggle against his will and lay passive in his arms. My heart quieted
down, and a great peace, added to a wonderful joy, filled me.

"Vernon, dear Vernon!"

"Say 'darling Vernon'; that's better than dear."

"Oh, well, if I must--darling Vernon!"

"Say 'your very own Vernon,' whom you will marry."

"Vernon, I can't. I will not tie you to me and to shame."

"Of course you won't, you poor darling; but suppose--now I think this is
about the stage when the hero and heroine had best sit on the sofa, or
the heroine may perhaps faint."

"Vernon, what are you talking about?"

"We are quite comfortable now," he said.

He drew me very close to him, and put his arm round my waist.

"You little angel!" he said, "you darling! When I marry you I marry
_honour_, not shame. Yes--honour, not shame. I marry the bravest girl on
earth and the daughter of the bravest gentleman in His Majesty's army."

"Vernon, what do you mean?"

"I will tell you. Now you stay quite quiet and listen. Are you aware of
the fact--perhaps you are not--that that dear Lady Helen, that precious
stepmother of yours, has a brother who was in the army?"

"Has she?" I asked. "I didn't know."

"Well, I happen to be aware of the fact. He was a good-for-nothing, if
anyone was in all the world. His name was Gideon Dalrymple. Surely your
father has sometimes spoken to you about Colonel Dalrymple?"

"Never," I said.

"Well, it doesn't greatly matter; you're not likely to hear a great deal
about him in the future--he is the sort of person whose history people
shut up; but before that time comes I--have some work to do in
connection with that same excellent officer in His Majesty's army."

"Stop!" I said suddenly. I bent forward and looked into his eyes; my own
were blazing with excitement, and my cheeks must have been full of
colour.

"Vernon, I recall a time, it comes back to me. I went unexpectedly into
a room where my father and stepmother were seated. I saw my darling
father in a rage, one of the few rages I have seen him in since his
marriage. I heard him say to her: 'Your brother will not enter this
house!' Can he be the same man?"

"Beyond doubt he is. Well, now, I will tell you that when I first knew
you I also knew, as did most people who were acquainted with your
father, something of his story. I knew that he had gone through a time
of terrible punishment; that he had been cashiered; that he was supposed
to have committed a very heinous crime--in short, that he was the sort
of person whom no upright soldier would speak to."

"Yes," I said, trembling very much; "that is what one would think, that
is what I said in my letter. Only you understand, Vernon, that I am on
his side--he and I bear the same shame."

"Little darling, not a bit of it. There's no shame for you to bear. But
let me go on. You remember that day when I met you in Hyde Park?"

"_The_ day?" I said.

"_The_ day, Heather. You and I walked back to the house in Hanbury
Square together. You were sent out of the room. I had a long talk with
your stepmother and with your father--no matter now what was said. I was
beside myself for a time, but I made up my mind then that whatever
happened I'd woo you and win you and get you and keep you! Something
else also haunted me, and that was the fact that your father, Major
Grayson, was not in the least like the sort of man I had expected him to
be. I have, Heather, I believe, the power of reading character, and if
ever there was a man who had a perfectly beautiful, honourable
expression, if ever there was a man who could _not_ do the sort of thing
which Major Grayson had been accused of doing, that man was your father.
Before I left the house I was as certain of his innocence as I was of my
own."

"You darling!" I said. I stooped and kissed his hand.

"Then I thought of you, and I said to myself: 'She's Major Grayson's
worthy daughter,' and--I gave myself up to thinking out this thing.
People can go to the British Museum, Heather, and can read the
newspapers of any date, so I went there on the following morning and
read up the whole of your father's trial. I read the evidence for and
against him, and I discovered that there was a great deal of talk about
a Gideon Dalrymple--the Honourable Gideon Dalrymple, as he was called.
He was mixed up in the thing. I went farther into particulars, and
discovered that this man was the brother of Lady Helen. I sat and
thought over that fact for a long time. I took it home to my rooms with
me and thought it over there; I thought it over and over and over, but I
could not see daylight, only I was more and more certain that your
father was innocent.

"Then I got your letter, and that letter was just enough to stir me up
and to make me wild, to put me into a sort of frenzy. So at last I said
to myself: 'There's nothing like bearding the lion in his den,' and one
day, quite early in the morning, I called at the house in Hanbury
Square. I asked to see Lady Helen Dalrymple, and as I stood at the door
a boy came up with a telegram. The telegram was taken in, and I was also
admitted, for I gave the sort of message that would cause a woman of her
description to see me. She was in her boudoir, and she came forward in a
frenzy of distraction and grief, and said: 'What do you want? Go away! I
am in dreadful trouble; I won't see you--it's like your impertinence to
come here!'

"'I won't keep you long,' I said. 'I want to get at once from you
Colonel Gideon Dalrymple's private address, for I have something of the
utmost importance to talk over with him.'

"'What?' she screamed. 'You can't see him--you can't possibly see him.
He's very ill. I've just had a telegram from a nursing home where he is
staying. I am on my way to see him myself. My poor, poor brother!'

"'Oh, then, if he is ill, of course he'll confess,' I said. 'I may as
well go with you. He has got to confess, sooner or later, and the sooner
he does it the better.'"

"Vernon! You said _that_ to her?"

"Yes, Heather; I said all that."

"Oh, you had courage. But what did you mean?"

"I knew quite well what I meant. I had gathered a few facts together
from those papers, and I meant to put the screw on when I saw the
victim. Was not I working for home, and love, and wife? Was I likely to
hesitate? Was I not working for a good man's honour? What else is a
soldier worth if he can't make the best of such a job as I had set
myself?

"Well, the long and short of it was this, Heather. That woman got as
meek as a mouse. I put the screw on her right away, and she was so
frightened she hardly knew what to do; so terrified was she that in less
than ten minutes I could do anything with her, and in a quarter of an
hour she and I were going in her motor-car to the home where the
Honourable Gideon was lying at the point of death, owing to a fresh
attack of his old enemy, D.T. We both saw him together, and the moment I
looked at his face I said to myself: 'You're the boy; you have got the
ugly sort of face that would be capable of doing that sort of low-down,
mean thing.'

"Afterwards I saw him alone; I put the screw on at once, but quite
quietly. The doctor had said that he couldn't possibly recover, and I
said that it would be much better for him to ease his conscience. So he
did ease it, with a vengeance. He was in such a mortal funk at the
thought of dying that he told me the whole thing. It was he who forged
the cheque and took the money, and he and Lady Helen between them got
your father to bear the brunt of the blame--in short, to act as the
scapegoat. You see, your father was half mad about Lady Helen then, and
she could do anything with him: he was badly in debt, too, and half off
his head with trouble. Your father spent ten years in penal servitude,
and all for the sake of a woman who was not worth her salt. It was
arranged between them that he was to save her brother, and that she
would marry him and take his part, and give him of her enormous wealth
when he came out of prison. It was a nicely-arranged plan, and why he
ever yielded to it is more than I can make out; but guilty--he was never
guilty.

"When that precious Gideon had told his story, I got in proper witnesses
and had it all written down, and he put his signature to it, and I had
that signature witnessed. After that I did not bother much about him; he
died in the night.

"I went to Lady Helen next day, and told her what was to be expected. I
said: 'Your husband's honour has to be cleared.' She was in an awful
funk, but I did not care. I never saw anyone in such a state; I don't
know what she did not promise me. She said I might marry you, and
welcome, and that she'd settle ten, or even twenty thousand pounds on
you. As if either of us would touch a farthing of her money! But in the
end your father himself came to the rescue, and said that if you knew he
was innocent, and I knew he was innocent, he was accustomed to the
opinion of the world, and he would be true to Lady Helen as long as he
lived. It was quixotic of him--much too quixotic; but there, that's how
things stand. Oh, of course, I forgot--your Aunt Penelope is to know,
and we may be married as soon as ever we like--to-morrow by special
licence, if we can't wait any longer, but anyhow as soon as possible.
There, little Heather. Now, haven't I a right to kiss you? And what
nonsense you did talk in your sweet little letter, your precious letter,
which I will keep, all the same, until my dying day!"

Vernon put his arm round me, and I laid my head on his shoulder. My
first sensation was one of absolute peace. Oh! my light and happy heart!
Oh! my father--my hero once again!



CHAPTER XX


Certainly Vernon's story was the most amazing that any girl had ever
listened to. Notwithstanding my great joy I could not take it all in at
once. The first time of telling seemed to have little or no effect on
me, except that it lightened my heart in a most curious manner of a load
which was almost insupportable. I sprang suddenly to my feet.

"Will you come out with me?" I said. "Shall we go up on the Downs, and
will you tell me there the whole story from beginning to end over
again?"

He smiled and said, in his bright way:

"All right, little Heather."

I flew upstairs. Aunt Penelope was moving about in her room, but I would
not go to her. I felt somehow that I could not meet her just yet, and
she, dear old thing, must have guessed my feelings, for she did not
attempt to trouble me. I put on my hat and jacket, snatched up my
gloves, and ran downstairs. Vernon was waiting for me. How tall he was,
and broad, and how splendidly he carried himself!

"Oh, Vernon," I said, looking into his face, "I am so proud that you are
a soldier!"

He laughed.

"Thank you very much indeed, little Heather," he said.

When we got out he drew my hand through his arm, and we went up to the
beautiful Downs. We sat on the heather and he told me the story over
again; I took it in much better this time. When it was quite finished I
said:

[Illustration: "We sat on the heather and he told me the story over
again."]

"And father--what is to become of father?"

"I'm afraid he'll have to go on living with Lady Helen," was Vernon's
answer. But I shook my head.

"No," I said; "not at all. I have a better scheme than that. Lady Helen
is very much frightened, isn't she, Vernon?"

"A 'blue funk' doesn't even describe her," replied Vernon.

"Well, then," I said, "I have a plan in my head. You and I will go up to
London to-morrow." "I am quite agreeable, Heather--that is, if it causes
you to hurry on our wedding day."

"Oh, there's time enough for our wedding day," I said. "We mustn't be
selfish, you know, Vernon."

"Selfish? By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Little you know about selfishness
when you accuse me of it."

"Oh, Vernon," I said, "I'm just so happy I scarcely know what to do. But
because I am so happy I don't want the one I love best in all the world
after yourself to be out in the cold."

"What do you mean by that, Heather dear?"

"Just what I say. I don't want to leave my own darling father absolutely
miserable."

"Jove! you're right there. But what can you do? You can't part a man
from his lawful wife."

"No more I can--that's quite true; but I do want to see him and--I must
see Lady Helen, too. Vernon, you'll help me, won't you?"

"By all means," he answered. "But now, let us talk of ourselves. How
soon do you think we can be married--in a fortnight? Surely a fortnight
would be long enough for any reasonable girl."

"I am by no means certain of that," I replied. "I will marry you,
Vernon, as soon as ever I can put other matters right."

"Oh, but I have a voice in this, for I mean to marry you without a
moment's delay--that is, I mean that I will give you one fortnight and
not an hour beyond. It is the fashion now to be married by banns. Well,
we'll have our banns cried on Sunday next and on the following Sunday
and the Sunday after, and we can be married on the Monday after that.
That's about right, isn't it? That's as it ought to be."

"Vernon, you are so--so impulsive."

"Well, little girl, I'm made like that. When I want a thing I generally
contrive to get it, and that as soon as possible. Jove! I did have work
in getting you. If I hadn't thought and thought, and very nearly driven
myself distracted, do you imagine for a single moment I'd have ferreted
out that secret of Gideon Dalrymple's? So much thinking is exceedingly
bad for a fellow, Heather, and the sooner you can set his heart at rest,
the better for his general health."

"All right," I replied. "I will marry you in a fortnight if father is
happy and if Aunt Penelope is satisfied."

"You needn't doubt her," said Vernon. "I put the question to her before
you entered the drawing-room. When you were upstairs, putting on that
pretty frock and tidying your hair, I had the brunt of the business
settled with her. She likes sharp work; she told me so. When you
appeared on the scene I was quite like an old family man pouring out the
tea for her, and all the rest."

"There never was anyone like you," I said, and I took his hand timidly
in mine.

"Come--this is all nonsense! Kiss me, Heather."

"No, no, Vernon--I--I can't."

"Don't be a dear little goose. I must be paid for what I've done. Kiss
me this instant."

"It's your place----" I began.

"All right, if that's how you put it."

He clasped his arms round me and drew me close to him and kissed me over
and over and over again.

"There now," he said; "it's your turn."

"But you have kissed me."

"Of course, I have. I want _you_ to kiss _me_. Now begin. Come, Heather,
don't be shy."

I did kiss him, and after I had kissed him once I kissed him again, and
my dark eyes looked into his blue ones, and I seemed to see the
steadfast, bright, honourable soul that dwelt within his breast, and I
knew that I was the happiest of girls.

We went slowly back from the Downs into the more shady part of the
little town. We stopped at Aunt Penelope's house. A great deal had been
happening in our absence. Buttons was flying about like a creature
demented, the parrot was calling in a voice loud enough to deafen you:
"Stop knocking at the door!" and Aunt Penelope was in her very best cap
and in her softest and most stately black silk dress. She wore black
silk dresses of the sort which are never seen now. It was thick; it
would almost stand by itself; it had a ribby sort of texture, and in
order to enrich the silk it was heavily trimmed with bands of black
velvet and with a fringe of what they called black bugles. The effect
was at once dull and extremely handsome. It suited Aunt Penelope to a
nicety--that and her little cap with the real point lace and the soft
mauve ribbons.

When I appeared she just nodded to me and said something to Vernon, and
he said: "Yes, certainly." I ran upstairs. Presently I heard a tap at my
door. I went to open it; Aunt Penelope stood outside.

"May I come in, Heather?"

"Of course, darling auntie."

I took her hand; I drew her into the room.

"Heather, I know--it's too wonderful. What a splendid fellow! Heather, I
am glad."

"Oh, auntie, my heart is bursting with happiness!"

"Heather, child, I'm a woman of few words, but if your mother were alive
she'd be proud of this day. He has the very soul of honesty in his face;
he is better looking than your poor dear father ever was, but he has the
same sort of nature, so boyish, so impulsive, so brave. He's a
dear--that's all that I can say about him."

"And if you weren't a dear for your own sake, you'd be one for calling
him one," was my somewhat incoherent answer.

"Well, now, that's enough sentiment, child; we must to business. How do
you like my dress?"

"It's magnificent--and you have put it on in honour of me."

"In honour of a captain in His Majesty's army. Child, I do so greatly
respect army men."

"Oh, yes, I see. Thank you, so do I. Indeed, it's a very handsome
dress," I continued.

"I think so," she replied. "It was made fifteen years ago, at least. I
only wear it on the very best occasions, otherwise it would have got
greasy ages and ages before now. It's amazing how difficult it is to
keep these really good silks from turning greasy; the grease seems to
cling to them in some sort of fashion, and you can never get it out, try
as you will."

"It looks awfully nice--it really does, auntie."

"I am proud to be wearing it for your sake and for his to-night."

"And you have asked him to dinner?"

"Yes. I have come to speak of that. It is a real dinner; Jonas and I
have concocted it between us. You are to know nothing about it; you are
just to eat it when it comes on the table, and to be right-down
thankful. Now that you are happy you must eat well, for nothing in some
ways takes it out of one more than happiness. You have been looking
sadly worn out, child, and now you have got to eat and drink and get
your pretty, youthful roses back again. Oh, Heather, Vernon agrees with
me about the world; he hates fashionable people. He told me, dear boy,
that for a short time he was engaged to one of them. I never met anybody
so confiding."

"I know all about his engagement," I said. "I saw her once, too; she was
very handsome."

"Ah, yes; I have no doubt--a society doll. Well, he hasn't chosen badly,
when he's elected that your little face and your brown eyes and your
warm heart shall accompany him through life. You'd best smarten yourself
up a bit for dinner, Heather; I don't want your old aunt to take the
shine out of you, my love--and, remember, this dress is uncommonly
handsome."

"Yes, auntie, I know. I shouldn't be surprised if you did take the shine
out of me; but I don't think I shall greatly mind."

So I put on a pretty white dress, for a few of my dresses had been sent
from London, doubtless by my dear father's orders, and ran downstairs.
Bless that boy Buttons--he had effected marvels! The tiny dining room
was gay with flowers, the very best old dinner service had been got out
for the occasion, the best silver had been polished up, and I, who was
accustomed to doing pretty nearly half the work of the house, wasn't
allowed to put my hand to anything. I really felt annoyed. I did not
like to be at Hill View without attending to its household economy.

Vernon came in from his rooms at the little hotel, looking spick and
span, as he always did. We three sat down to dinner, and certainly that
dinner was a triumph. I have often puzzled myself to wonder how Aunt
Penelope contrived to manage it. First of all there was soup, the best
soup I had ever tasted, and then there was fish, trout which had been
alive a couple of hours before, and then there was pigeon pie and peas
and potatoes, and afterwards strawberries and cream. There was also a
bottle of very old port wine, which Aunt Penelope fingered with a
trembling hand.

"I have had it in the house since long before your mother was married,"
she said to me. "Vernon, my boy, you will find it worthy of even your
refined tastes."

Vernon immediately begged to be allowed to draw the cork; he said that
such precious old wine as that required most tender handling. Aunt
Penelope and I had a little glass each, and Vernon had one or two, and
afterwards he told Aunt Penelope something of our plans and how he and I
were going to London on the morrow to see my father and Lady Helen.

Aunt Penelope nodded her head several times.

"I have only one improvement to make on that plan," she said.

"Oh, but what improvement can you make, auntie?" was my reply.

"I can and I will," she said, with emphasis. "I am quite well now, as
well as ever. Now what I mean to do is this; I mean to go with you two
good young people. I will never be in your way, never for a moment, but
I will guard you from the malicious tongue of Mrs. Grundy. She's a nasty
old body, and I don't want her to get at you. There's a quiet little
hotel in Bloomsbury where Heather and I can have rooms, and where we can
stay, and I make not the slightest doubt that I can help Heather very
considerably in her dealings with Lady Helen Dalrymple."

"Oh, you can, you can," I said; "it will be quite splendid!"

So the plan was carried out. Jonas was informed that very evening that
Miss Penelope and I were going to leave Hill View early on the morrow.

"We shall probably be back in a few days," said Aunt Penelope. "In the
meantime, Jonas, you must attend to the house cleaning; give it a
thorough turn-out. Wash every scrap of paint, Jonas; be sure you wash
the backs of the shutters, don't leave a single place with a scrap of
dirt in it; remember, I'll find it out if it exists--be certain of
that."

"Yes, mum; thank you, mum," said Jonas. "I'll be sure to do what you
wish, mum."

"And Jonas, you understand the garden. You can get the grass into order
and remove all the weeds. We may be having a smart time down here by and
by, there's no saying, there's no saying at all, but at least remember
that you haven't a minute to lose. You are a good boy, Jonas, and you'll
work as hard when I am away as though I were at home."

"Yes, mum; of course, mum," said Jonas. "Me and the parrot," he added.

"Stop knocking at the door!" shouted the parrot.

"There! if that bird isn't enough to split one's head," said Aunt
Penelope.

She went upstairs. Vernon had already gone back to the hotel. Buttons
gave me a feeling glance.

"Stay below for a minute, missy. Is it true? Is there nuptials in this
'ere thing?"

"Yes, Jonas."

"I thought as much. Didn't I twig it when I heard his steps and saw the
starty sort of way you got into? I'm a smart boy, I am. Missy, you'll
have me at the wedding, won't you?"

"I promise you, Jonas, you shall certainly come," I answered rashly.

The next day we went up to London. We had no special adventure on our
journey to town. We went first-class. I remembered my journey down, and
how interesting I had thought the third-class passengers, but now we
travelled back in state. Vernon said it would be less tiring for Aunt
Penelope. When we got to Paddington we drove to the little hotel that
Aunt Penelope knew about; it was a quiet little place at one corner of a
small square in Bloomsbury. It was very old-fashioned and not much
frequented of late. The proprietor, however, knew Aunt Penelope quite
well. Had he not entertained her and my mother also in the long-ago days
when they were young? Aunt Penelope was anxious to secure the same
rooms, and, strange as it may seem, she managed to get them. The
landlord was very pleased indeed to show them to her, and she told me
afterwards that the sight of them brought a prickly sensation into the
back of her eyes, and made her feel inclined to cry. The rooms were
quiet and clean, and that was the main thing. Vernon did not think much
of them, but they pleased Aunt Penelope, and that, of course, was the
most important matter of all.

Having arranged about the rooms, Vernon now suggested that we should
engage a taxi-cab and drive straight to Hanbury Square, but here Aunt
Penelope put down her foot.

"What sort of cab did you say, my dear boy?"

"A taxi-cab, auntie." He called her "auntie" from the very moment we
were properly engaged.

"I don't like new sorts of cabs," replied my aunt. "I want what in my
young days used to be called a 'growler.' I hate hansoms; I wouldn't
dare go in one of them."

In vain poor Vernon pleaded for the light and swift motion of the cab
which was driven by petrol. The old lady held up her hands with horror.

"Not for worlds would I go in a motor-cab," she said. "Vernon, I have
admired you and stood up for you, but I shall do so no longer if you
even mention such a thing to me again."

So in the end we three had to drive to my stepmother's in a four-wheeled
cab. Aunt Penelope said that it was quite a handsome conveyance, and not
the least like the "growlers" she used to remember in the days when she
and her sister were young. We got to the great and beautiful house about
noon. We walked up the steps and Vernon rang the bell.

"Perhaps they'll be out," I could not help whispering in his ear.

"No, I think not," he replied. "I sent a telegram this morning which I
imagine will keep them at home. Now, you'll keep up your courage, won't
you, darling?"

"You needn't be afraid," I replied.

He gave my hand a squeeze, and the door was flung open. The automaton
who opened it could not help becoming flesh and blood when he saw my
face. A queer flicker went over his countenance; he coloured, faintly
smiled, then, remembering himself, became a wooden man once again.

"Is Lady Helen in?" I ventured to say.

"Yes, Miss Dalrymple. I'll inquire of her ladyship if she can see you,
and----" he glanced at Vernon, he looked with downright suspicion at
Aunt Penelope.

"It is all right," I said. "We can go into the little sitting-room at
the left of the hall. Will you please say that I have called, and that
Miss Despard and Captain Carbury are with me? Say that we wish to see
her ladyship."

"And as soon as possible," snapped Aunt Penelope. "Have the goodness
further to inform Lady Helen that we are in a considerable hurry, and
would be glad if she would make it convenient not to keep us waiting
long."

"Certainly, madam," replied the man. He disappeared, and we waited in
the little room towards the left of the hall.

"Aunt Penelope, you _are_ brave," I could not help saying.

"I come of a brave stock," said the old lady. "Did not my father die
when little more than a boy in the battle of Inkerman, and my
grandfather at Waterloo? Yes, I had need to be brave."



CHAPTER XXI


While Aunt Penelope talked my heart beat very hard. From time to time I
could not help glancing at Vernon. Was he guessing my thoughts--was he
understanding?

He stood with his back to us, looking out of the window. Once or twice
he whistled a little, he whistled a bar of a popular melody; then he
thrust his hands into his pockets, turned swiftly round, took up a
newspaper, flung himself into a chair, and pretended to read. I might
have felt vexed with him, I might even have accused him of want of
sympathy, if I had not suddenly noticed that he was holding the paper
upside down--he was not reading at all. He was in reality as excited and
troubled as I was myself. My heart warmed to him with a great glow when
I observed this. I felt what good, what splendid friends we would be in
the future, how like nobody else in all the world he was, and what a
lucky, very lucky, girl I was to have won him. But no--even at the risk
of losing my own happiness I would not leave my father to the mercies
of Lady Helen. Unless that matter could be put right, I would not marry
my darling Vernon. The thought brought a great soreness into my heart,
and I felt the tears pricking my eyes from behind, and I was glad when
our time of suspense was over, for the same flunkey who had opened the
door for us now appeared, standing on the threshold of the little room
where we had taken refuge, and said:

"Lady Helen's compliments, and she will be pleased to give you an
audience, Miss Dalrymple."

"I am coming, too. Does her ladyship know?" inquired Aunt Penelope.

"She said Miss Dalrymple," replied the man.

"Nonsense!" said Aunt Penelope. "We'll all come, my good man. Will you
have the kindness to show the way? Now march, please; although you're
wearing such a smart livery, you're not nearly such a good servant as my
boy Jonas."

The man's name was Robert, and he was one of the most superior servants
of the house, and I really felt annoyed with Aunt Penelope for attacking
him in this fashion. He got very red, but then his eyes met mine, and
something in my eyes must have begged of him to be patient, for he
certainly was patient, and then, without another word, he went before
us, and we three followed, and a minute or two later we were in Lady
Helen's presence.

I was at once relieved and surprised to find that my father was not
there. It happened to be a very hot day; it was now July, and London was
suffering from a spell of intensely hot weather. Lady Helen's
sitting-room looked very cool and inviting. There were soft, bluey-green
blinds draped across the windows--the effect was a sort of bluey-grey
mist, at once refreshing and becoming. There were quantities of flowers
in the room, so much so that Aunt Penelope began to sniff at once. She
sniffed audibly, and said in a loud aside to Vernon:

"No wonder the poor woman looks ill; such a strong smell of flowers is
bad for anyone."

Lady Helen herself was in a most wonderful make-up that morning. She had
a very elegant figure, notwithstanding her years. She was dressed in the
extreme height of the prevailing mode, and looked--that is, until the
full light of day shone upon her--like a woman who was between forty and
fifty, at most. She must have been wearing a completely new arrangement
on her head; I cannot call it her own hair, for I happened to know that
it was only hers in the sense that she had honestly paid for it. It was
of a pale golden shade; when last I saw her she was wearing chestnut
curls. This _coiffure_ was arranged in the most becoming manner on the
top of her head, and fell in soft little ringlets round her ears and
about her neck. Her dress was of the "coat and skirt" style, cut in
tailor fashion, and extremely smart. On the back of her golden head she
wore an enormous black crinoline hat, trimmed with great ostrich tips;
altogether her appearance was too wonderful for Aunt Penelope to bear
long with patience. She was standing up as we entered the room, and now
she came quickly towards us.

"How do you do, Heather?" she said to me. "I am quite willing to see you
again, but this lady and this gentleman!"

"You know me very well, Lady Helen," said Vernon. "I am that Captain
Carbury who stood by your brother's death-bed--who hold his written
confession, and who is about to marry Heather Grayson."

"All nonsense, all nonsense!" said Lady Helen.

"But I thought----" I began.

Lady Helen looked at Aunt Penelope.

"It does not matter what you think, Heather; you are only a child. May I
be informed who this lady is--the lady who has dared to come into my
presence uninvited?"

"My name, madam, is Miss Despard, and I am real own aunt to Heather
Grayson. Heather Grayson's mother, the first wife of Major Grayson,
happened to be my sister. I presume therefore, madam, that I have a
right over this young girl, more particularly as she lived with me, and
I trained her, and educated her from the time she was eight years old
until she was eighteen."

"Ah, yes," said Lady Helen in a soft voice; "that dreadful time, those
ten terrible years!"

"We all know the story of those years; you are, of course, aware of
that," said Captain Carbury at that moment.

Lady Helen gave him a quick glance.

"Yes," she said suddenly. "You observe my dress. I am in mourning for my
dear one."

Her voice trembled for a minute. I looked at her and saw that she was
really sorry for the man who was dead.

"He is in his grave," she continued, "poor, dear Gideon! We did what we
could for him, your father and I. Now our one desire is to let his poor
bones rest in peace."

"Perhaps it is, madam," said Vernon just then, "but there are other
people who have a say in the matter. Now, Heather, it is time for you to
speak."

I looked at Lady Helen and took my courage in my hands.

"Stepmother----"

"Oh! You acknowledge that I am your stepmother? Well, what have you to
say for yourself? You have been a nice stepdaughter to me!"

"I could not help it," I said. "I never intended to be nasty to you."

"Well, I don't wish to complain. But who gave you all the good things
you enjoyed, your dress, your home, your fun, your pleasure, your good
time all round? Answer me that question--who gave you those things?"

"You did."

"Ah! I'm glad you acknowledge it."

"Of course I acknowledge it."

"And do you think you have behaved well to me in return? Because I did
the very best possible for you and because a needy, poor man, almost a
pauper, for he has practically no private means, came and demanded your
hand, and your father and I considered it an improper and unsuitable
request, you took the bit between your teeth, and, without a word,
without a hint, ran away. Never shall I forget our return from Brighton
and the agony that your poor father, whom you profess to love, was in.
You ran away. Why did you run away?"

"Because I couldn't do what you wanted."

"And you did even worse," continued Lady Helen, "for I have discovered
everything. You had the audacity, the impropriety--you, a young girl--to
go to Lord Hawtrey's, and to try to interview him. Oh, yes; I have heard
that story, and I know what it means; and a nice meaning it has for you,
miss--a very nice meaning, indeed!"

"You broke my heart and went away to the country and took father with
you," I said. "I could think of no one else. I went to him because I
knew he was a gentleman, and would act as such."

"Suppose we come to the matter in hand," interrupted Vernon, who was
getting impatient at all this dallying.

"Yes, that's right, Vernon; that's right. Keep her to the point,"
exclaimed Aunt Penelope.

I looked back at them both. Aunt Penelope's bright eyes were like little
pin points in her head; they were fixed on Lady Helen's got-up face. She
had really never before, in the whole course of her life, met such a
woman. She was studying her from every point of view.

"I have come here, stepmother," I said, "to tell you that I--I--know all
the story with regard to my--my darling father. Vernon has told me, and
Vernon and I have made up our minds to marry, and father has given his
consent, and we mean to be married, if all comes right, in about----"

"Best say a week, Heather," interrupted Vernon.

"In about a fortnight from now," I continued.

"Well, if you must put it off so long," he remarked, leaning back in his
chair.

"But the question I have come here to-day to ask is this," I continued.
"What is to become of my father?"

"The more proper thing for you to say, Heather Dalrymple, is this: What
is to become of the man who has had the good fortune to marry Lady Helen
Dalrymple?"

"But I don't think it a good fortune at all," I said. "Oh, Lady Helen,
I must speak the truth; I can't beat about the bush any longer. My dear,
my darling father is not a bit happy, not a bit! He did what he did--oh!
it was so noble of him!--to--save your brother--I know the whole story.
Oh, he was a hero! But must all his life be sacrificed because he is a
hero? Your brother is in his grave; give my own dad back his freedom;
let him come and live with Vernon and me!"

"Upon my word, I never heard of such a request in all my life!"

"But you will do it," I said. "There need be no scandal; you can go
abroad or anywhere you like, and I am sure father will visit you
sometimes, and no one need think anything about that, and--and you know
you're not really fond of father, because if you were you would not make
him so terribly unhappy. Oh, do let him come and live with us!"

"You take my breath away! You are the most audacious, dreadful girl I
ever came across. What do you take me for?"

"Lady Helen, I know you have a heart somewhere."

She looked at me. The rims round her eyes were blackened, her eyebrows
were artificially darkened, her face was powdered--could I get at any
soul behind that much bedecked exterior? Bedecked, do I call it?
Disfigured is the word I ought to use.

"Lady Helen," I said suddenly, "give my father his happiness! Don't, oh,
don't be cruel to him any longer, I beg of you, I beseech of you!"

"Child, don't make a fool of yourself." Lady Helen rose.

"Listen, you good people," she said. "This little Heather Dalrymple, my
stepdaughter, would never have thought of such an absurd and ridiculous
scheme but for you; you, Miss Despard, and you, Captain Carbury, thought
this thing out. You wanted to drag me before the world as a woman
separated from her husband; you thought to disgrace me before the eyes
of the world, and you imagined that I would obey the whim of a child. I
know better. Heather, I distinctly and once for all refuse your
request."

"Then, madam, it is my turn to say something," cried Vernon.

"You must say it pretty quickly, sir, for my motor-car will be round in
a few minutes."

"I fear your car must wait. You have an important matter to listen to.
It is this. You love your brother, and we all, even the most hardened of
us, have a feeling of respect towards the dead. But I can at least
assure you that there is such a thing as even greater respect for the
living who have been wronged, and the entire story of Major Grayson's
conduct shall be published before the world unless you agree to what
this young lady proposes. He will come out very much a hero, I fancy;
but your conduct in the matter will not be quite so gratifying to you
and your friends."

"I echo every single word that Captain Carbury says!" exclaimed Aunt
Penelope. "I am very outspoken, and from first to last I have always
detested everything I have heard about you, Lady Helen; and now that I
see you I hate you more than ever. It would give me sincere pleasure to
drag your crime into the light. What right had you to work on the
feelings of the most tender-hearted of men in order to save your brother
from the shame and the punishment his sin deserved? My poor noble
brother-in-law volunteered to take your wicked brother's place. Why,
Lady Helen, it was a Christ-like deed! The least he can get for the rest
of his days, poor fellow, is peace and happiness. Oh, yes, you can
refuse, but the moment you do so the whole of this affair shall be
placed in the hands of my solicitors, for I am determined that my
brother-in-law and my niece's father shall no longer be considered
unworthy to be a true soldier of our late Queen."

"You can leave me," said Lady Helen. "Go at once, all three of you;
don't attempt to stay another moment in my presence. You drive me mad!
Go--go--go! Oh, I shall have hysterics! I--Heather, ring the bell; my
maid must come to me; I feel the attack coming on. Oh, you awful people!
Heather, you can stay if you like; you don't mean to be cruel, I know
you don't. I who have suffered so sorely--I who am broken-hearted! But
leave me, you two others; leave me at once--at once!"

"Not until my niece goes with me do I stir one step out of this room,"
said Aunt Penelope.

"Well, Heather child, if you must go you must. Oh, try to turn their
wicked, cruel hearts! but I--yes I----"

"What do you mean to do?" said Vernon. "You haven't told us that yet."

"Nothing, I tell you--nothing. You can't be so cruel--so monstrous!"

"Miss Despard's address is 90A, Torrington Square, W.C.," said Vernon,
in his calmest voice; "that address will find her and Heather and me any
time between now and noon to-morrow. If at noon to-morrow we have not
heard from you, we shall be forced to draw our own conclusions--namely,
that you have refused to consider Heather's most natural petition, that
she should be allowed to make her father happy. It will then be our duty
to put the matter absolutely into the hands of Messrs. Fenchurch and
Grace, Miss Despard's solicitors."

Lady Helen sank back again in her chair, her eyes shone with feverish
hate.

"Leave me, you terrible people!" she said. "Go, all of you!"

We went.



CHAPTER XXII


We said very little to each other that night at the comfortable little
hotel. I think we were all very tired. Aunt Penelope went early to bed,
Vernon and I stayed downstairs and talked about our future. We talked
languidly, however; our thoughts were not even with our own happy future
at that moment. I was thinking all the time of my father, and I know
well that Vernon was thinking of him also. Aunt Penelope went to bed
between nine and ten o'clock; it was between ten and eleven when the
door of the private sitting-room was flung open and a servant announced:
"Major Grayson," and my dear father came in. His face was flushed, and
his eyes looked feverishly bright. He came up to us both with his hands
extended.

"My dear, good, kind children," he said; then he paused for a minute
until the waiter had shut the door. Then he took me into his arms and
kissed me half a dozen times, and then he wrung Vernon's hand and said,
"My dear boy--my good boy!" Afterwards we all got a little calmer and
sat down, I sinking close to father's side and Vernon standing opposite
to us.

"Come, now," said father, after a minute's pause, "you must give it all
up, you know. Yes, Vernon, my boy, you must give it up, and so must that
dear Pen, and so must my little Heather. I am but fulfilling a promise
made long years ago. You none of you understand. I'll pull along
somehow, in some kind of fashion, but I won't drag that poor woman's
name into the dust. You see, my children, she doesn't know what it
means, but I do. I have plenty of strength in me--the great strength of
innocence, which supported me all through my terrible period of
imprisonment, and also the strength which is but seldom given to a
woman. Anyhow, she is not to suffer; I put down my foot. She has told me
all; I found her in a terrible state; I had to send a doctor to her. She
is in bed now; he was obliged to give her a soothing draught. Children,
both of you, I shall live in your happiness, and my own does not matter.
I can't desert Helen Dalrymple, and, what's more, I won't!"

"Oh, Daddy!" I said. "Oh, Daddy!"

I laid my head on his shoulder and began to sob.

"I can't live without you," I whispered, and I pressed my lips to his
rough cheek and kissed him. He put his arm round me very firmly.

"You will live and be very happy, little girl. And now, look here; I
could not leave our house in Hanbury Square until Helen was asleep, then
I thought I'd come round and have a talk with you. When she wakens she
must be told that you are not going to do anything. She will drop you
out of her life, Heather, and so much the better--yes, so much the
better. I can get a promise out of her that I shall come and see you now
and again, and when I do come I can assure you, my two dear young
people, I shall be as jolly as a sand-boy; you won't have anything to
complain of on that score. But while I'm here I'll just hold to the
bargain I made long years ago."

"Oh, father, father!" I said. "Why did you make it? Why did you do it?
Why did you sacrifice yourself for her and for that man?"

"Hush, child! You can't read all a man's motives. At that time I--I
really cared for Lady Helen. Not, perhaps, Heather, as I loved your
mother, but I was fond of her, undoubtedly; and if this trouble had
never come I should probably have married her. She loved me too. I'll
tell you one or two things I left out the other day. I had proposed to
her long before that fearful scandal came to our ears in connection with
her brother. She had refused me. I had begged and prayed her to be my
wife, but she had firmly refused. Then I got into debt; I always was an
extravagant slap-dash sort of person. I was very unhappy, and I brought
you back to England--you remember that time, don't you, little woman?"

"Oh, yes," I said, trying to bring my thoughts back to the distant past.

"She wanted me to do so. She thought it very bad to have a child as old
as you in India. I settled with your aunt to keep you. My debts haunted
me and although Lady Helen refused to marry me, she lent me money to pay
my debts. I went back to India, and then the thunderclap came. Lady
Helen's brother would undoubtedly have been arrested if I had not thrown
myself into the breach. I thought out a plan very quickly; I liked Helen
and I pitied her, and I did not think my own life worth saving. I went
to Helen and told her that I could put the officers of justice off the
scent and get the crime fastened on myself, and I would do so on
condition that she married me when I came out of prison. She agreed,
and there we are. Now, my dear Heather, as that's the story, I could not
go back from my bargain now."

"It was a very bad bargain for you," I could not help saying. I trembled
very much, and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

"But we must keep our bargains, whether they are good or bad, Heather,"
whispered my father to me. "That is the law of life: as we sow we shall
reap. And I am not altogether unhappy, not since this good fellow has
found out the truth and I am cleared in his eyes, and in the eyes of
you, my child, and in my sister-in-law's eyes. Nothing else greatly
matters. Heather, you are in the morning of your days, I am in the
evening of life. When we come to the evening of life nothing concerns
us, except so to live that we may fear God and do His commandments, and
so fulfil the duty of man. That's about all, child. I am more grateful
to you than I can say, and more than grateful to you, Carbury. Give poor
dear Pen my love when she wakes, and tell her that it is quite all
right--yes, quite all right. I am in the evening of life, and I will do
my duty worthily to the very end."

As father said the last words he got up. He took me in his arms and
kissed me; there was a solemnity about his kiss, and his dear, bright
blue eyes looked softer than I had seen them for a long time.

"Heather, you're the image of your mother," he said abruptly. "And
she--bless her memory!--she was the one woman in all the world for me."

Then he wrung Vernon's hand and went away. We could not detain him. I
sat up for a little longer with Vernon, and then I went upstairs to bed.
Vernon was staying in an hotel not far away.

All that long night I lay awake, not for one minute could I slumber. My
past seemed to come before my eyes, it seemed to torture me. I felt
somehow as though I were passing into a region of great darkness, as
though I were going--I, myself--through the Valley of the Shadow of
Death. What right--oh, what right had I to be happy when my father, my
darling father, was thought so cruelly of by the world! I felt I could
not bear it. I got up, I paced the floor, I drank cold water, I went to
bed again, I tried every dodge for coaxing sleep to come to me, but
sleep would not obey my mandate. At last morning broke, and with the
first blush of dawn I got up. I was downstairs and in the breakfast-room
when Vernon appeared. He brought in some beautiful roses; he laid them
on my plate.

"Have you told Aunt Penelope yet?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "I have not seen her since last night."

Just at that moment my dear auntie entered the room.

"Well, children," she said, "I hope you have slept well. I have. I have
got a great accession of strength and am determined to go right through
with this matter. We'll wait here, as promised, until twelve o'clock,
then we'll go straight to my solicitors, and, hey, presto! the thing is
done. That fine madam will be down on her knees to us before the day is
over. I know the sort--horrible, painted wretch!"

"You will have some breakfast before you do anything else, won't you?"
said Vernon.

He took the head of the breakfast table. Really nothing could ever
discompose Captain Carbury. He poured out tea and coffee for us both.
Aunt Penelope ate her breakfast with appetite; then she desired me to
sit by the window and watch.

"We have given her till twelve o'clock, but the woman may send round
long before then, that's what I am expecting."

I looked at Vernon. The waiter had removed the breakfast things; we had
the room to ourselves. Vernon went and shut the door, then he came up to
Aunt Penelope and took her hand.

"Twelve o'clock won't make any difference, my dear friend," he said.

"Why, what on earth do you mean, Vernon?" was her remark. "You surely
are not backing out of it!"

"Heather and I can have nothing to do with it."

"You and Heather? what nonsense you talk! I don't believe I am hearing
you aright."

"Yes, you are. Major Grayson was here last night; he came after you had
gone to bed. He doesn't wish it done; he says he will abide by his
bargain. He is as brave a soldier as I have ever come across, and for my
part I don't see why he should be deprived of his laurel wreath."

"Oh, what are you talking about!" said Aunt Penelope. "His laurel
wreath! Why, you know as well as I do that he's cashiered from the
army. And you call that a glory, or whatever else you consider a laurel
wreath!"

"In the eyes of God he is a hero, and he doesn't much mind what man
says. Now, I'll tell you everything. You've got to listen--you can't go
against a noble spirit like his."

Aunt Penelope fidgeted and trembled. A great spot of pink colour came on
one of her cheeks, leaving the other pale.

"Well, have your say," she murmured. "Have your say, I'm sure I don't
care."

But when Vernon had done speaking, there was my dear old auntie crying
as though her heart would break. I was about to comfort her, or at least
to try to do so, when there came a hasty knock at the door. A servant
appeared with a telegram on a salver. Vernon tore it open, it was
addressed to him, and had been brought across from his hotel. His face
turned pale.

"There is no answer," he said to the man, who withdrew. Then he put his
hand on my shoulder, and with his other hand he drew Aunt Penelope to
her feet.

"I have something to tell you both," he said. "We are sent for; we have
to go to Hanbury Square. There has been a very bad accident. I cannot
quite understand this telegram, but he is hurt. His motor came into
collision with another last night, and he was thrown out and hurt rather
badly on his head. It may not be a great deal; it may be--everything. We
are to go at once."

Now I knew why I had lain awake all that long night, why I had felt
instinctively that there was a dark cloud coming up and up and
enveloping my sky. I did not say a word. There are times when one cannot
shed tears, tears are so inadequate. I ran upstairs and put on my hat
and jacket, and Aunt Penelope stumbled after me and got into her outdoor
things, and Vernon had a carriage at the door, and in a few minutes we
were off.

A few minutes later we found ourselves in Hanbury Square. There were two
doctors' carriages at the door, but they moved away to make room for us.
We entered. The servants looked distracted, the solemn sort of order
which always prevailed in that great house was lacking on that special
morning. An elderly man, with a fine head and a shock of snow-white
hair, was coming down the stairs. He turned in the hall and looked at us
three, and especially he looked at me.

"Am I right or wrong," he said, "but do you happen to be the young lady
my patient is calling out for?"

"Father," I said. "My father; you are speaking of my father?"

"I am speaking of Major Dalrymple."

"He is my father."

"And his name is Grayson," snapped Aunt Penelope.

The doctor took no notice of her, but he put his hand on mine.

"You've got to be very brave, my dear," he said. "I'm glad you have
come. He is ill, you know; in fact, rather bad; in fact, very bad. Come
softly, I'll take you up to his room."

I followed the doctor. We went up to the first floor. The doctor turned
the handle of a door. There was a spacious room; within it looked like a
hospital ward. Most of the furniture had been removed, the floor was
covered with white linen, stretched very tightly over the thick carpet.
A narrow bedstead had been drawn out into the centre of the room, the
curtains had been removed. There was a table covered with white cloths,
on which bottles had been placed. There were two trained nurses moving
softly about the room.

A man lay stretched on his back in the centre of the bed. I went quickly
up to him.

"Now, show courage, don't give way," said the doctor.

I knelt down by the man and looked into his eyes.

"I said you'd come."

His voice was so low I could scarcely recognise it, but his eyes smiled
at me. There never were such blue eyes, there never was anyone in all
the world who could smile as sweetly as my father. I knelt by him
without speaking one word. The doctor stood behind me without moving.
Presently my father raised his voice a trifle.

"Leave us two quite alone," he said.

The doctor and the nurses immediately went out. When there was no one
else present my father said:

"Stoop very low, Heather."

I did stoop.

"I said last night 'the evening of life'--the night has come. You will
keep my secret always? Promise."

"Yes," I said.

He smiled at me again and then closed his eyes.

The doctor came back. Suddenly he bent forward and put his hand on my
father's hand and felt where his pulse ought to be, and then he said to
me:

"Come away, my dear," and I went.

They asked me downstairs, those two who waited, what my father had said,
and what had happened, but I only replied: "I will keep his secret--we
must all keep it--for his dear sake."

I have kept it to this day. I am a happy wife and mother now, and the
old things are passed away. I never see Lady Helen, and I am glad of
that. I like to forget that she ever came into my life, and into
father's. Father, of course, is very happy, happier than any of us. I
talk to my children about him on Sunday evenings, and we wonder together
what he is doing in the land where there are no secrets, and where no
one is misunderstood.


PRINTED BY CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED, LA BELLE SAUVAGE, LONDON, E.C.

       *       *       *       *       *

    _BOOKS FOR YOUNG WOMEN_


    BETTY OF THE RECTORY
    By L. T. MEADE

    FLAMING JUNE
    By MRS. G. DE HORNE VAIZEY

    WILD HEATHER
    By L. T. MEADE


    CASSELL AND CO., LTD.





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