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Title: Margaret Vincent - A Novel
Author: Clifford, Sophia Lucy
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 "Margaret Vincent - A Novel" ***

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_MARGARET VINCENT_

A Novel

_By_

MRS. W. K. CLIFFORD

AUTHOR OF

"LOVE LETTERS OF A WORLDLY WOMAN"
"MRS. KEITH'S CRIME" ETC.

[Illustration: Logo]

NEW YORK AND LONDON
HARPER & BROTHERS
PUBLISHERS 1902


Copyright, 1902, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._

Published April, 1902.



_MARGARET VINCENT_



I


Margaret Vincent is the heroine of this story, but there are others who
play important parts in it. Her grandfather was old Lord Eastleigh, well
known in his day, fascinating and happy-go-lucky, who, when he had spent
his patrimony in extravagant living, and disgraced himself as a
guinea-pig, discreetly died, leaving his elder son, Cyril Vincent, all
his debts and most of his difficulties. Cyril was rather amused by the
title, added to the debts to the best of his ability, married a lady
from the music-halls, and, finding London impossible, went a-ranching
with his wife on the other side of the world. There the life and its
isolation absorbed his energies and identification. But that was
five-and-twenty years ago--and this, be it said, is a modern story.

Gerald, the younger son and only other survivor of the Eastleigh family,
distinguished himself at Oxford, became engaged to the daughter of a
bishop, accepted a living from his prospective father-in-law, and
within six months changed his opinions, threw up the living, made
himself notorious in the days when agnosticism was a crime, by writing
some articles that closed the door of every second house in London
against him and secured his being promptly jilted by the woman with whom
he had been in love. He had just two hundred a year, inherited from his
mother. His habits were indolent, his tastes simple. The one desire left
him after the crash was to get out of everybody's sight, to think, and
to smoke his pipe in peace, and presently perhaps to write a book in
which he could freely express the bitterness packed away at the bottom
of his heart and soul. He travelled for a few years, and thus lost
sight, much to their satisfaction, of all his distant relations (near
ones, with the exception of his brother, he had none), dropped his
courtesy title of Honorable, and became a fairly contented loafer. He
was an excellent walker, which was lucky, seeing that two hundred a year
will not go far in travelling expenses, so he trudged over every pass in
Switzerland, up Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, down into Italy over the
St. Gothard--there was no rail then, of course--and back by the Corniche
road to France; up France by Avignon and Dijon to Paris, and at the end
of a few years back to England to realize that he was thoroughly well
forgotten.

The streets of London irritated him with their noise, and the people
with their hurrying. The pavement tired his feet, the manner of
life--that is, the manner of life to be had on so small an income as
his--he found irritating and almost impossible. One day he packed a
knapsack, filled his pouch, walked through Putney and Wandsworth and
onward. He breathed more freely when he reached Wimbledon, which had
then an almost rustic railway station and not a building near it, drew a
long breath at Surbiton, and, blessing the beautiful county of Surrey,
trudged on with a light heart. It was thus that he arrived at Chidhurst
and discovered Woodside Farm.

Chidhurst is some miles from Farnham, from Liphook and Fernhurst, from
Blackdown and Hindhead--from anywhere, in fact, with which the reader
may try to identify it. Its nearest station is Haslemere, and that is
five or six miles off. The village consists of a few cottages, one of
which is a general shop and the other a small beer-house. Against the
side wall of the beer-house there is a pillar-box, but stamps have to be
bought at Haslemere or of the local postman. There is not even a smithy,
man and beast must alike travel three good miles to be reshod--to the
blacksmith's near the cobbler's on the common. A little way from the
village, standing high among the wooded land on the right, is the
church. It is half covered with ivy; there are white tombstones round
it, and on its square tower a clock that is seldom right and never to
be trusted. From the churchyard there is a divine view: fir woods in the
foreground, beech woods to the left, heather moors to the right, and
blue in the distance--soft and misty in the memory of those who love
them--are the Surrey hills. A beautiful spot to stay and muse in on a
drowsy summer day, a blessed one to sleep in when time has met eternity.

A mile from the church, farther into the heart of the country, by the
road-side, there is a duck-pond, and just beyond it, on the right again,
a green lane with high, close-growing hedges on either side, of
sweet-briar and bramble, honeysuckle and travellers'-joy, while low down
are clumps of heather and the tender green of the wortleberry. There are
deep ruts along the lane, suggesting that heavy carts come and go, and
presently, on the right also, are the gates of Woodside Farm. Inside the
farm gates there is another duck-pond; and there are haystacks and
out-buildings, and all the signs of thriving agricultural life. Just
beyond the wide, untidy drive you can catch a glimpse of the Dutch
garden, with its green paths and yew hedges, its roses and sweet peas.
The house is an old one; moss and ivy and lichen grown; a porch, with a
seat in it, to the front door, and latticed panes to the window. The
door opens into a square hall or living-place, red tiled and black
beamed. On either side of the big fireplace there used to be a heavy
wooden chair with carved and substantial arms and a red cushion tied on
its back; in the centre of the room a large oak table; against the wall
a dresser, an old chest, an eight-day clock, and a portrait of Queen
Victoria in her coronation robes. It was here that the Barton family
always sat; for the best rooms were let to strangers in the summer and
carefully covered and darkened in the winter. Going up from the
living-place was a wide staircase, old and worm-eaten, with a dark
hand-rail to it, that many a dweller in distant cities would have been
glad to buy for an extravagant sum. Beyond the staircase was a door
leading to the red-tiled kitchen, where Towsey Pook, the house-servant,
who had lived at Woodside Farm for forty years, did such work as was
required of her--which meant on an average fourteen hours a day given
over to labor or thought of labor; but she was a strong woman, and well
content.

Mrs. Barton owned the farm in her own right at the time when Gerald
Vincent set out on the walk that ended at Chidhurst. It had descended
from father to son, or mother to daughter, for full two hundred years.
The tradition was likely to be kept up, since at well-turned
five-and-thirty, after eleven years of uneventful matrimony, Mrs. Barton
had found herself a widow with one child, a girl called Hannah.

Now, Hannah, even at nine years old, was an uncompromising little
person--a singer of hymns and observer of people; and this she owed to
her maternal grandparents, thriving farmers and dissenters, living at
Petersfield. Her father, one of a large family, had done well for
himself by his marriage, since through it he became the master of
Woodside Farm, which was the reason, perhaps, that his people had made
no objection to the churchgoing of his wife, or even of the child. After
all, too, the service at Chidhurst was a strictly evangelical one--the
sermon had been known to last near upon fifty minutes, and something has
to be conceded to those who hold property in their own right. Unluckily,
when she was eight years old, her father being delicate, and she in the
way at home, Hannah went to stay at Petersfield. Her grandfather, a
stern old Methodist, initiated habits and imbued her with notions that
took deep root in her nature, so that, when two years later she returned
to Woodside Farm to comfort her lonely mother, the result of his
training was already evident. She was a plain child, and a plain woman
later, with hard, gray-blue eyes and fair hair drawn back from her
forehead, a pink color that could never be counted a bloom, and a
somewhat thin face, with a straight mouth and pointed chin; moreover,
she had a voice that suggested a strong will and a narrow outlook.

It was a full year after James Barton's death that Gerald Vincent first
set eyes on the village of Chidhurst, and was charmed by it. He looked
carefully from right to left, hesitated, and stopped at the little shop
to ask if there were any rooms to be had for the summer.

"There's a house, sir," said the woman; "it stands back among the trees,
just as you come to the church. It was built for a vicarage, but Mr.
Walford found it too big, so it's let to strangers."

"I don't want a house," the stranger said, impatiently.

Then a voice from the back called out, "There's Woodside Farm, mother."

"To be sure," said the woman. "The rooms have never been let since James
Barton was first took ill; but I dare say she'll be glad to get
somebody. You go past the church and along the road till you come to the
duck-pond, then turn off to the right and walk on till you see it."

Mrs. Barton was spreading the white linen, which Towsey Pook had just
washed, over the bushes in the Dutch garden, when suddenly she beheld
not ten yards away a tall man in gray tweed, with dust-covered shoes and
a knapsack on his shoulders. He was young--thirty or less, though at a
first glance he might have been older; he looked studious, and as if he
were a somebody, Mrs. Barton told herself later. His manner was a little
awkward for the moment, but in his eye was courteous inquiry. The widow
stopped and criticised him with quiet excitement, while he thought how
good a picture she made with the sunflowers and sweet peas on either
side of her, and the rose-bushes and patches of white linen spread out
to dry in the foreground; and the yew hedges and the taller greenery
behind added to the effect of her. For she was comely still, though she
was nearly seven-and-thirty by this time; not stout, or even inclined
that way, since, being an active woman, she took plenty of exercise and
worried over much in secret, which prevented the spoiling of her figure.

Mr. Vincent asked if it would be possible to have some bread-and-butter
and tea, to which she assented readily; and while he ate and drank in
the living-place, he explained that he wanted to find a lodging in the
neighborhood, to which he could bring his books and peacefully read and
write for a few months. He hardly liked to propose himself as a lodger
all at once, for there was an air of something that was almost
distinction about the widow; it made him feel that if there were any
social difference between them the advantage was on her side. She stood
at first beside the oak table, and then was persuaded to sit, and she
made a picture, framed in one of the big arm-chairs, that he never
forgot, while she explained that there was a spare room that had not
been slept in for three years past, and the best parlor that had not
been used since Barton's funeral day. She bethought herself of the odor
of mustiness which was beginning to pervade them both, since she had
grudged a fire by which no one sat and gathered warmth. The farm
produce, too, was good and plentiful; it would be easy to feed the
stranger, and his stay would put some easily earned pounds into her
pocket. Thus the arrangement came about, and each of them was satisfied.

He stayed all through the summer months, and when the autumn came he
showed no signs of going. The widow grew more and more interested in
him, and they often--he being a lonely man and she a lonely woman, and
both unconsciously aware of it--had an hour's talk together; but it was
a long time before it was other than rather awkward and even formal
talk. Sometimes as he passed through the house to his own rooms he
stopped to notice Hannah; but she was always ill at ease with him, and
hurried away as fast as possible. He heard her speaking to Towsey
sometimes, and occasionally even to her mother, in a way that made him
call her "a spiteful little cat" to himself; but it was no concern of
his; there was nothing of the cat about the mother, and that was the
main thing.

Mrs. Barton was surprised at first that her lodger did not go to church
on Sundays, and the neighbors were curious about it, which embarrassed
her; but she felt that it was no business of hers, and that, since Mr.
Vincent was evidently above them in position and learning, it did not
become them to make remarks. Besides, as Towsey was always busy in the
kitchen at the back, it was comfortable to remember, while she herself
was in church on Sunday mornings, that some one was left in the house
who might be called a protection to it; for tramps had been known to
come so far, and even such a thing as a fire might happen. So when she
departed in her alpaca gown with crape trimmings, her widow's cap inside
her bonnet, and her prayer-book and black-edged handkerchief (she had
six of a goodly size and serviceable thickness) in her hand, across the
fields with Hannah by the short cut to the church, it was with a sense
of calm contentment. Mr. Vincent used to stand in the porch and watch
them start; then, filling his pipe, he smoked in peace, and revelled in
the extra quiet of the Sabbath day. The incumbent of St. Martha's, a man
of no particular attainments, who had slipped into orders through the
back door of a minor theological college, had thought of calling on the
stranger and tackling him about his soul, till he heard incidentally
that one of the writers of _Essays and Reviews_, who had been staying at
Guildford, had driven over to Woodside Farm. Then he came to the
conclusion that he might possibly get worsted in argument, and it would
be the better part of valor to leave his doubtful parishioner in peace,
even though it ended in perdition.



II


For two summers and a winter Gerald Vincent lodged at Woodside Farm. He
was a singularly silent man, and Mrs. Barton knew no more about him in
the last month than she had done in the first. But gradually she grew
fond of him. She watched him out of sight when he went for his walks,
and felt her heart bound when she heard his returning footsteps. The
best roses were cut for his writing-table, the ripest fruit for his
dessert and breakfast, and once when she lingered in the best parlor,
dusting it before he was down, she lifted a half-written slip and kissed
it, knowing that his hand must have rested on it; for youth does not
monopolize romance, and even eight-and-thirty can know its agitations.
After a time Mr. Vincent became aware of her feeling for him; it
embarrassed him a good deal, but he was touched by it. Then he realized
almost with surprise the clear outline of her face and the sweet, firm
curve of her lips. He told himself of her merits, her domestic virtues,
and the manner in which, single-handed and calm-headed, she managed the
farm. Gradually it came about that, instead of staying in his own room
in the evening, he sat with her--he on one side and she on the other of
the great fireplace in the living-room; and the companionship was all
the more pleasant because Hannah was away. For Hannah was a good twelve
years old by this time, and, for the sake of school advantages, staying
with her grandparents at Petersfield, where she learned more and more
fervently to despise the particular forms of the devil and all his works
in which those who were not of her own way of thinking most delighted.

It was on those evenings, and while Mrs. Barton knitted socks which he
knew well enough would be offered to himself, that Mr. Vincent noticed
the disappearance, first of crape and then of black in the widow's
dress. He saw, too, the little arts, such as an odd bit of finery and
the management of her hair by which she strove to add to her
attractions, and he never pretended to himself that he misunderstood
them. He realized, too, the good points of her figure--the set-back of
her shoulders, and that she was tall and had a certain presence, even
dignity, born of adherence to simple rules of life. And somehow, in a
quiet, unexcited way, he became fascinated. Here was the natural human
being, he thought, as God had meant it to be, unadulterated by
scholarship or passion or knowledge of the world. He felt that he and
she and nature made a trinity framed by the Surrey hills and all the
beautiful country round them. He wanted no other home than the farm, no
other method of getting about than the brown, wooden cart and the
broken-winded cob, no other companion than this sedate woman who knew
nothing of his history or inward life, yet who somehow gave all his
thoughts a setting, and put him into moods that helped him to write down
many things that he hoped some day to give to the world. It is difficult
to say how these things come about, or what will lead a man and woman
knowing little of each other to marry; but the unaccountable happens too
often to need dilating upon, and the great facts of life that stare us
in the face occasionally make in themselves a grotesque argument in
favor of spontaneous generation. Thus it happened that one night, after
a long silence, Gerald Vincent said, quite simply:

"Mrs. Barton, I have been wondering lately whether it is right of me to
go on staying at the farm on our present footing?"

"Why, Mr. Vincent!" She looked up at him with her pure, grave eyes, and
surprise was in her voice. "I'm sure, if James knew, he'd like to feel
that you were here."

"I wonder if he would; I have heard that he was a godly man, and I am
not."

"Don't say that," she answered, anxiously. "I've always held with doing
what was right rather than with the saying of prayers, though James's
people, of course, are different and very strict in their notions."

"You know nothing about me," he said, going on with his own train of
thoughts, "of my family, nor my doings before I came here, and yet I
have been wondering if you would marry me?" It did not seem necessary to
him to tell her that his father had been a peer, or that his brother had
made a foolish marriage and gone to the Antipodes, or that he himself
had thrown over the church and wrecked his prospects on a metaphysical
rock. These things, and knowledge of them, were so far outside her world
and thoughts that telling her could serve no good end. It was better to
be silent.

She went on with her knitting for half a minute, then put it down and
asked, and there was a something in her voice that reached his heart:
"Do you mean that you've got to care for me?"

"I think you are the kindest soul in the world," he said, and his own
voice was not very steady, "and too young still, and too handsome," he
added, with a little smile, "for it to be right that I should go on
living here, whether it is as your lodger or your friend. We have been
friends for a long time, you know--"

"I have come to think of you as one," she said, simply.

"You wouldn't like me to live anywhere else?"

"I couldn't bear the thought of it," she answered under her breath.

"But I can't go on staying here, except as your husband. I think we
could be content enough."

She turned her head away from him; a happy smile struggled to her lips.
He saw that she trembled. He rose and pulled her gently from her seat,
and they stood together in front of the fireplace.

"Well?" he asked.

"I don't know what folk would say."

"Does it matter? We shall live outside the world, not in it."

"And then you never go to church?"

"I will make an exception to the rule by taking you there for half an
hour while the parson prays over us. How is it to be? Perhaps you should
think it over before you answer. I have nothing to give you--"

"Oh--" she raised her eyes and looked at him reproachfully.

"I am a poor man, with a couple of hundred a year, and no more to come.
I can be no help to you in your home, but I want nothing more from it
than I have now. You can keep it all for Hannah by-and-by. Well?" he
asked again.

With a little sigh she drew closer to him. "I couldn't say 'No,' Mr.
Vincent, for I'm fonder of you than of any one in the world." He tried
to look into her eyes, but they were downcast, and a twitch came to her
lips. He stooped and kissed her forehead, and waited till she spoke
again. "You'll be good to Hannah?" she said, anxiously. "You see she
won't be away so much by-and-by, and she'll look to come to her home.
You wouldn't interfere with her?"

"My dear soul, I should interfere with nothing. I don't know why I am
trying to disturb our present relationship, except that it seems to be
the only way of preventing it from coming to an end. Things will go on
just the same as they have done. I don't propose to alter anything. We
will be married one morning at Haslemere--or Guildford, perhaps; no one
will be likely to come upon us there--and Woodside Farm will be Woodside
Farm still, though you are Mrs. Vincent. We will settle down for the
rest of our lives and let nothing in the distance disturb us."

"I will make you as comfortable as I can," she said in a low voice, at
which he smiled a little ruefully and looked round the living-room. Then
he put his arms slowly round her and drew her to him with quiet
affection and as if he thought their new relationship demanded it. This
was their sober betrothal.



III


The folk at Chidhurst village and at the outlying farms talked a good
deal when they heard that Mrs. Barton was going to be married to Gerald
Vincent--for somehow it soon came to be known. He was a stranger, and
nearly eight years her junior; they had discovered this, and one or two
other things concerning him, that he had two hundred pounds a year, and
did no work save writing--writing books, perhaps, which was not work at
all, but the sort of thing that people did when they had nothing else to
do. And then he never went to church or chapel. It was a strange and
awful thing to them to see in the living flesh, to have as a neighbor,
even though they saw but little of him, some one who was certainly going
to be damned hereafter. They were sorry for him in a way; for he was
good-looking, and when occasion offered gave his money freely; moreover,
they felt sure that his people had been above the common. So they tried
to make things a little pleasant to him in this world by showing him
politeness and extra consideration; but the fact of what was in store
for him could not be doubted.

When the Petersfield relations heard the news they thought it their
bounden duty to promptly take the train to Haslemere, and then to commit
the untold extravagance of hiring a fly to carry them to Woodside Farm.
They would have told their daughter-in-law to send the brown cart to
meet them; but they hoped by not giving notice of their coming to catch
the unbeliever in his iniquity. They had a vague idea that he was horned
and carried a pitchfork; and they would not have been surprised at
finding a faint odor of brimstone about the place. They looked sharply
round on arriving, and were disappointed at not seeing him; then they
made the best of the situation by at once sitting down in the
living-room and arguing with Mrs. Barton. In ten minutes at most they
hoped to make her see the folly of her position, and that it would not
only be flying in the face of Providence, which had always made her
comfortable in this world, but a disrespect to James Barton, dead and
gone to the next, if she married a man not good enough to lie in the
family grave if it pleased the Lord to take him also.

"But one of the things I like him for," she said, "is that he is a good
deal younger than I am, so most likely it's he that will have the
burying to do this time--it'll save me a world of trouble."

This was a point of view they had not considered, and were unprepared to
argue, so they tried a fresh one. There was Hannah. Had she remembered
that Hannah would have to live in the same house with him, too? Oh yes;
and after being used to a man about the place at Petersfield, she
thought it would be so good for Hannah to feel there was one over her at
Woodside Farm--an indirect compliment that somewhat pacified old Mr.
Barton. Moreover he was touched with the respect with which his
daughter-in-law listened to all he had to say, and the sincerity in her
voice when she regretted that Mr. Vincent had walked over to Lynchmere
and would not be back till past tea-time. She was sure he would have
liked to meet James's relations; but perhaps they would be able to stay
till he returned?

"When he comes," said Mrs. Barton the elder, "I hope you will see that
it is your duty to give him up, especially after the trouble that we
have taken in coming over. We should like to hear you tell him so before
we leave."

But the younger woman was quite calm and collected, and tried to change
the subject. "Won't you sit a little nearer to the fire, father?" she
asked the old man; "it's a rough road from Haslemere, and you must be
tired with your drive. You should have come in time for dinner; you will
have to be starting so soon after you have done your tea."

"We didn't come over for meals, Annie, but on more important business,"
he answered.

Mrs. Barton went to the oak chest and took out a fresh damask
tablecloth and put it on the table. Then she stood up beside it, as she
had done on the first day that Gerald Vincent came to the farm.

"I don't want to show you any want of respect," she said, firmly; "but
it's no good saying anything about Mr. Vincent, for I am going to marry
him, and his religion makes no difference. He has given up a great deal
because he would not make a pretence; he has thought about things, and
read and studied, and if he thinks they are not true he has a right to
say it. I think God will respect a man who says out honestly what he
feels. There are some who haven't courage to do it, and I know this--I'd
rather have his chance in the next world than the chance of many a man
who lifts his voice in Petersfield chapel at prayer-meeting on Sunday
nights. If he doesn't get to heaven because he has faith, why, he'll get
there because he's honest."

"And what do you think James would say?" asked old Mrs. Barton.

"James knew it would be hard for me to manage alone. I'll be proud to
stand up and tell him how Mr. Vincent came and took care of me after I
was left--he'll be glad enough."

"Not when it's an unbeliever, Annie--"

"A man that's honest and speaks the truth, even though it makes people
turn against him, mother."

The old people began to feel uncomfortable. Tears or excitement they
could have done with, but this quiet determination was more difficult to
fight.

"Have you thought of the example for Hannah?" they asked, harking back
to what they felt to be a strong point in their favor.

"I have thought of everything," she said, lifting her calm eyes. "He'll
not interfere with Hannah; she'll be allowed to go to Petersfield
whenever you want her, and she'll go to church just the same; and so
shall I." She turned to old Mrs. Barton and went on: "Hannah is James's
child, and she'll be brought up as James's people wish. She is a girl
that will have a will of her own--she has got it already, and it will
grow. There is no occasion to be anxious about her."

"And what's to become of the farm?"

"The farm will stand where it is. I shall deal fairly by it for Hannah,
if that's what you are thinking of."

Then the old man came to the rescue. "God will not have mercy on you
hereafter, Annie, if you marry this unbeliever."

"Father, I will trust God to deal fairly by me. He'll not do less than
man." She paused a moment and then went on: "You mustn't think I haven't
thought it over, for I have. We must all work out our salvation for
ourselves, and if we start from different points, and if Mr. Vincent
has chosen a different road that we don't go along ourselves, why, I
think the end will be the same for us all who try to do our best. It
would be shaking one's confidence in God to think different. But you'll
be wanting your tea, and it will be better than arguing about a man you
don't understand, and one that I am going to marry, say what you will."

"I never thought you'd be so obstinate, Annie," Mrs. Barton said.

But nothing moved the mistress of Woodside Farm, and the old people felt
their visit to be a mistake. They had not gained their point by coming;
on the contrary, they were going away beaten, and they didn't like the
position. They even began to cherish a latent hope that Mr. Vincent
would not return before they left, lest they should come off second best
in argument with him too. Meanwhile, they made a large and mournful meal
with the air of folk at a funeral feast, for they felt that it might be
the last time they would sit round the big oak table. Luckily the tea
was strong and the cream thick. Towsey's scones were admirable, the
strawberries in the jam were whole, and the poached eggs and ham done to
a turn. Then the fly was brought to the door, a reproachful farewell
taken of Mrs. Barton, and the disconsolate pair drove away towards
Haslemere station.

Gerald Vincent and Mrs. Barton were married a month later. Outwardly it
made little difference in their relations. The best parlor was still his
own retreat, and his books and papers were scattered about with a happy
confidence that no hands but his own would touch them. In the evening he
generally sat in the living-place with his wife; he liked its gauntness,
the big fireplace, the old oak table, the comfortable chairs, and the
heavy door that in the summer-time stood wide open and let in, from the
Dutch garden beyond the porch, the scent of flowers, the stir of leaves,
and the rustling sound from the tall trees behind. In the winter there
was the crackle of the beech logs, the flickering of the candles in the
double candlesticks with japanned shades, and the long, deep shadows on
the walls. It was all old-world-like and peaceful. He wondered that he
had ever endured the hurry and noise of towns. In the first year he used
to read to his wife--Scott and Kingsley and other authors that he
thought might interest her. She was always appreciative, and from her
pure-hearted outlook even gave some criticism that was worth hearing,
though she never became cultured in any sense. But simple though she
remained, Gerald Vincent was never ashamed of her, and she never bored
him. He felt that daily life, or such portion of it as he spent with
her, was to his soul pretty much what a cool bath was to his body.
After a time there was Margaret, a babe with blue eyes and little double
fists, and then, seeing that the child took up much of its mother's time
and thought, he drew back into the isolation of the best parlor without
fear of being thought neglectful.

The Petersfield relations kept Hannah with them till she was sixteen.
Then, since she had left school, and her hair, that always looked scanty
on the temples, was done up into a knot behind, and one of her eye-teeth
had decayed, they thought it well to send her back to the farm. But old
Mr. Barton had not talked to her in vain, and she went home with a
smothered resentment in her heart that had a touch of horror in it
towards the stranger, and a shrinking she could never overcome towards
his child. She kept herself well in hand, it is true, and, except that
he could never get behind her reserve and somewhat snappy manner, she
and Mr. Vincent got on pretty well together, seeing that they inhabited
the same house. She developed into a thrifty young woman with a distinct
capacity for that state of life in which she found herself, and with
dissent so strong within her that, within a month of her going back to
Woodside Farm for good, she had begun secretly to store such little sums
as she could honestly consider her own in order some day to build a
chapel at Chidhurst. Meanwhile, she contented herself with the somewhat
dreary service at the little church on the hill.

To Mrs. Vincent the years after her marriage were the happiest of her
life. She gave her husband a quiet, self-contained worship that
expressed itself in many creature comforts, for which, from sheer
blindness, he was never sufficiently grateful. But he knew that he was
the whole world to her, and, as time went on, this knowledge was not
untouched with dismay at finding that sometimes he wanted more
intellectual sympathy than she was able to give him. But she never
guessed this, and after her little Margaret was born it seemed sometimes
as if only tears would prevent her joy from being more than she could
bear.

It was during these years that Hannah saw her opportunity, and little by
little managed to govern her mother and every one on the farm with the
exception of Mr. Vincent. Even Margaret was made to feel that Hannah was
mistress of the situation, and the putting on of a best frock or the
arranging of a little holiday could not be done peacefully without
asking her consent.



IV


Mr. Vincent and his daughter drew very near together as the time came
when each from a different stand-point unconsciously hankered after
companionship. She read books with him, and did tasks that she found
delightful, since they kept her a prisoner in the window-seat of the
best parlor, whence, looking up, she could see him bending over his
papers. He even arranged to take her to Guildford twice a week, so that
she might have a music-lesson from the doctor's widow, who earned a
modest living by teaching. And on her seventeenth birthday he gave her a
piano. Its arrival was quite an event at Woodside Farm.

"It will be a rare thing to hear Margaret play," Mrs. Vincent said, as
she watched it being put into place.

But Hannah was half contemptuous. "It would have been better to have
bought a good harmonium," she snorted; "it might have been useful some
day--" She broke off abruptly, for none knew of her secret store towards
the chapel; and there was no occasion to speak of it, since it had not
yet reached the modest sum of twenty pounds. Money had perplexed Hannah
a good deal of late; there was the desire to put it away for the pious
dream of her soul, and the womanly impulse to spend it on finery--hard,
prim finery. For at Petersfield there dwelt a thriving young house
agent, in a good way of business, smart-looking and fair mustached, and
possessed of a far-seeing mother, who had suggested that Hannah would
have the farm and a bit of money some day, and make a thrifty wife into
the bargain. This accounted for what might be called an investigation
visit that Mr. Garratt paid her grandparents one Sunday afternoon when
Hannah was at Petersfield, and his asking her to take him across the
field to see a tree that had been struck by lightning the previous
fortnight. Afterwards he had been pressed to stay for tea, and his tone
was significant when he remarked on leaving that he had enjoyed himself
very much, and hoped to get over to Chidhurst one Sunday for the morning
service, and to see the grave of his aunt Amelia, who was buried there.
Hannah being too grim--it was counted for shyness--to say anything
pleasant for herself, old Mrs. Barton had told him, in a good
business-like tone, that when he went he had better look out for Hannah
and her mother, and walk back with them for dinner at the farm. This was
two months ago, but still Hannah waited patiently, thinking that if he
appeared it might be as well to hear what he had to say, since by this
time she was well on in her twenties--at the fag end of them, in
fact--and marriage was one of the possibilities to be considered in
life. Thus every week brought its excitement to her, and as yet its
disappointment.

Sunday brought its excitement for Margaret, too; but it was a happy one.
For when the country folk were sheltered in the church or busy with
those things that kept them out of sight she and her father had their
best time together. Then it was that they loitered about the deserted
fields and out-buildings, or went up to the great beech woods standing
high behind the farm, and watched the still landscape round them, just
as in the first years of his coming Gerald Vincent had watched it alone
from the porch. They called the beech wood their cathedral--the great
elms and beeches and closely knit oak-trees made its roof and the
columns of its aisles--and it seemed as if in their hearts they
celebrated a silent service there to a mysterious God who had made joy
and sorrow and all the beauty of the earth and given it to humanity for
good or ill. In a sense, Margaret had no other religion. Her father said
that when she was old enough to understand and think for herself she
could make her own beliefs or unbeliefs, meanwhile she need only
remember to tell the truth, to do nothing that would cause another pain,
and to help those nearest to her, never considering their deserts, but
only their needs.

Gradually Mr. Vincent grew uneasy concerning life at the farm. For
himself he was content enough, a little longer he could be content for
Margaret; but afterwards? Besides, a reaction comes to all things, and
now and then when he saw the far-off look in her eyes and heard the
eager note in her voice--a sweet, eager note like that of a bird at
dawn--he felt the ghost of old desires stirring within him, and an
uneasy longing to see the world again, so that he might know what manner
of place Margaret would some day find it. It came upon him with dismay
that she was growing up, that this tall girl of over seventeen would
soon be a woman, and that she was going to be beautiful. Pale generally,
and almost haughty looking, dreams in her eyes, and gold in the brown of
her hair, and a mouth that had her mother's sweet, curved lips. A girl's
face and simple, but eager and even thoughtful, the impulses of youth
characterized her still, but womanhood was on its way, and now and then,
in spite of her happy laugh, her blue eyes looked as if unconsciously
they knew that tragedy dwelt somewhere in the world, and feared lest
they should meet it. But as yet Hannah's scoldings were the only trouble
that had beset her. These were not to be taken lightly, for as she grew
older Hannah's tone became harsher, her manner more dominant, and the
shrinking from Margaret and her father, that she had always felt, did
not grow less. Margaret bore it all fairly well, sometimes resisting or
passionately protesting that she would run away from the farm and the
scold who had taken its whole direction into her hands, and at others
hiding herself in one of the lofts till the storm had passed. When it
was over she crept out to her mother--always to her mother at those
times--to be soothed and caressed. Even Mr. Vincent felt that Hannah was
a hard nut to crack; but he contented himself with the thought that some
day Margaret would break away from her present surroundings--a beautiful
girl, who had read a good deal and was cultivating the habit of
thinking, was not likely to make Woodside Farm her whole share of the
world.

The beginning of the end came one October morning in a letter from his
brother in Australia. It had been sent under cover to his lawyers; for,
though in a general way, the brothers knew each other's whereabouts, in
detail they knew nothing. Cyril Vincent (he was now, of course, Lord
Eastleigh) was ill of an incurable disease, and though he had no
intention of returning, his thoughts were reaching out to England. His
early career had been a disgrace, his marriage had proved a ghastly
failure, and the least he could do was to cover it up, together with his
own life, on the other side of the world. Gradually he had developed a
strong sense of social and moral obligation that had made him hate
himself when he remembered the advantages to which he had been born. Of
what use had he been with his dissipated habits, he thought bitterly, or
could he be now that he saw the folly of them, with his health
permanently ruined, his wife vulgar and often drunken? If birth or
accident had given such people the right to be counted as aristocracy,
then, by every law of Heaven, and for the sake of those things that make
for the salvation of the race, they ought to be stamped out.

The letter came at breakfast-time. Mr. Vincent was still thinking it
over when Hannah pushed back her chair with a grating noise along the
tiled floor, and said in a rasping voice:

"I shall be driving to Liphook this afternoon if anything is wanted."

He hesitated on his way to the best parlor. "You might call at the
post-office and ask when the Australian mail goes," he said.

Mrs. Vincent and Margaret looked after him; then, as was their custom,
they gathered up the breakfast things and carried them to the kitchen.
Hannah was there already, searching round the shelves and cupboards as
if she expected to come upon a hidden crime.

"I've no time to iron those muslins to-day," she said; "you had better
do them, Margaret. I never see why you shouldn't help with things.
Mother and I have enough to do."

"But of course I will; and I like ironing, especially in cold weather."

"There isn't a curtain fit to put to a window, and my hands are full
enough," Hannah went on, as if she had not heard. "Towsey will put down
the irons. Till they are hot, perhaps you had better run out a bit," she
added, impatiently; "you always make so much of the air. For my part, I
find it better to look after one's work than after one's health; one
brings the other is what I think."

Mrs. Vincent had gone slowly towards the best parlor. She opened the
door and looked in. "Shall I come to you for a minute, father?" she
asked him. Since Margaret's birth she had generally called him "father";
his Christian name had never come very easily to her.

"If you like," he answered, without looking up from his papers.

"I thought you were worried a bit with your letter." She stood behind
him and touched his shoulder. Time had accentuated the difference in
years between them, and the caress had something maternal in it.

"I meant to talk to you about it presently," he said, and turned
reluctantly towards her. "It is from my brother in Australia."

"Is he in any trouble?"

"Yes, he's in trouble, I suppose."

They were silent for a moment, then she spoke, and he loved her for the
firmness in her voice. "If it's money, we can help him. There's a good
bit saved from the farm these last years. I had no idea milk was going
to pay so well."

"It isn't money. He is ill, and not likely to be better." He stopped,
and then went on quickly: "He made a foolish marriage before he left
England; but I don't know that there is any use in our discussing that."
It seemed as if he were closing an open book.

"Has he no children to look after him?"

"No."

She was silent for a moment, as if she were trying to face something
that had to be done, and nerving herself to speak. "It isn't for me to
know what's best. I never knew any of your people, or saw any one
belonging to you--"

"That's true," he answered, awkwardly.

"--Every one has a right to his own history, and I don't hold with
giving it out just for the sake of talking. Many lives have been upset
by things there was no need to tell--" She stopped again, and then went
on bravely. "But what I am coming to is that if your brother is ill and
has nobody but his wife, who isn't any good, you might like to go out to
him?"

"To go out to him!" The thought made his heart leap. The quiet years
had ranged themselves round him lately like the walls of a prison--a
friendly prison, in which he was well content--but it seemed as if he
had suddenly come in sight of a door-way through which he might go
outwards for a little while and come back when he had seen once more the
unforgotten tracks.

"It might comfort him," she went on without flinching. "And you wouldn't
be more than a year gone, I expect. It must be terribly dull for you
here sometimes. I've often thought how good you've been."

He put his hand tenderly on her arm while he answered, "All the goodness
has been yours."

She turned her eyes to the window lest he should see the happiness in
them, for she had always been half ashamed of loving him as she did--a
staid woman of middle age, with homely matters to concern her. "I don't
see that I have done anything out of the way," she said.

"Did it never occur to you that you have not seen any one belonging to
me, and that really you know nothing about me? I was a stranger when I
came, and you took me in."

"One knows a good deal without being told. I've always felt that your
family was what it should be; and there's been all your life here to
judge you by."

He looked at her and felt like an impostor. He knew that the fact of
his father having been a lord, or his brother being one now, would not
uplift her as it would a vulgar woman. On the contrary, it would
probably be an embarrassment to her, and a reason for being silent
regarding them, since she would think it unlikely that people who were
her superiors in education and knowledge of the world would desire any
kinship with her. On her own side, too, there was a certain pride of
race, of the simple life that she and generations of her people before
her had lived--that and no other. Strangers might come into it, might be
welcomed, served, and cared for, even loved; but she herself did not
want to go beyond its boundaries, and though she treated all people with
deference, it was deference given to their strangerhood and bearing, and
to the quality of their manners, rather than to their social standing.
Her husband knew it and respected her for it, and felt ashamed to
remember that his father had been a spendthrift and a company promoter,
and that his brother had made a hideous marriage. People who did these
things were plentiful enough in London, but they were unknown at
Chidhurst. All that she definitely knew about him was that he had been
at Oxford--at college, as she always put it--and afterwards that he had
been in the Church and left it on account of scruples; but concerning
the scruples, and what they meant precisely, she was always vague. If
she had been asked to describe her husband's character she would
probably have said, as if it were a paradox, that he was a good man,
though he didn't go to church on Sundays.

They had stood silently together for a minute, busy with their own
thoughts, then he spoke. "I fear Hannah doesn't think much of my life,"
he said.

"She means well, but she's been brought up strict. James's people were
always strict, and he was, too, though he reproached himself at the end
for not being strict enough. That's why I feel I ought to give in to her
a bit, and let her do what she thinks is right, when it doesn't clash
with you. I wouldn't be surprised if she married some day; Mr. Garratt's
written saying he'll be at Chidhurst soon, and he'd like to pay his
respects to me, having known James's people so many years."

Mr. Vincent was amused. "Oh, well, if Hannah's going to have a young man
about the place, I'd better get out of the way," he said. "I'll write to
Cyril by the next post and tell him of your suggestion."



V


Other letters followed that first one from Australia. Lord Eastleigh had
caught at the suggestion of Gerald's visit. But he carefully faced the
probable course of his illness. The chances were that he might go on for
some time longer, and he thought it would be best for his brother to
come out when the end was getting near. Gradually they had learned all
there was to know of each other, and in middle life and far apart there
had grown up between them an affection of which their youth had shown
but little promise. Cyril Vincent had done some work in Australia--it
was the only thing for which he respected himself. Lately he had even
saved some thousands, and, after providing for his wife, he meant to
leave them to Gerald. For scrupulous Churchman as Cyril had remained,
even through all his excesses and mistakes, he recognized the courage
with which his brother had stood by what he believed to be the truth;
and now, when disease had seized him on the lonely Australian station,
the only happiness left him was the thought that he might see again the
one being who had not disgraced the family.

The months went by without alarms till Margaret was eighteen. It was
mid-spring at Woodside Farm; the early flowers were up in the Dutch
garden, the first green was on the trees, the sowers were busy in the
fields, and all the earth smelled sweet. In the house spring cleaning
was rife; it told, together with the non-coming of Mr. Garratt, on
Hannah's temper, and Hannah's temper told on the rest of the family.

"I don't think he has behaved well," Mrs. Vincent said to her husband.
"A man has no right to send a letter saying he hopes to get over soon
and pay his respects to her mother, and then not be as good as his word.
It isn't even as if he hadn't sent her a card at Christmas, showing he
still thought of her. You see, Hannah's getting on, and she isn't
satisfied at holding herself over for a chance." What else Hannah could
possibly do she didn't explain.

Mr. Vincent shrewdly suspected that Mr. Garratt's courage had failed
him, or perhaps that he regarded matrimony as a sober investment to be
made in middle age rather than as an exhilaration for youth, and so was
just keeping an eye open without committing himself. But whatever the
reason, Mr. Garratt had not yet appeared, and the effects were obvious.
Hannah brushed her hair back more tightly than formerly, her movements
became jerky, a little pink settled itself at the tip of her nose, and
her tongue took a freer range.

The hours were earlier at Woodside Farm as the spring advanced. By nine
o'clock Mr. Vincent had gone to his study, and Hannah was busy in the
dairy or out among the chickens. Then it was that Mrs. Vincent and
Margaret allowed themselves the luxury of a little foolish talk together
in the living-place. It was only possible when Hannah was not about, for
she had no patience with a great girl, who might be making better use of
her time, sitting on the arm of a chair. So Mrs. Vincent and Margaret
stole their little interviews together with the happy craftiness of
lovers.

The postman came into the porch one morning while they were talking.
Mrs. Vincent always listened for him now, knowing well that one day he
would bring the message she dreaded. There were two letters for her
husband, and her heart stood still when she saw that one was from
Australia. But she recovered in a moment; after all, there had been many
letters now, and this might be only one added to the number. The strange
thing was that she never asked a question. When he had to go he would
tell her, she thought; what was the use of worrying him? The other
letter was an English one--a woman's handwriting in violet ink on
pale-gray paper. She looked at it curiously, and felt that this, too,
was connected with his history--that part of his history of which she
knew nothing.

"You can take them to him, Margaret," she said, and sat down again.

"Father started when he saw the one directed with violet ink," Margaret
told her when she returned.

Mrs. Vincent looked at her daughter wonderingly, and tried to divert her
own thoughts. "I can't believe you are growing up," she said; "we
sha'n't be able to keep you much longer."

Margaret lifted the hair from her mother's forehead and kissed beneath
it--soft hair, with a crinkle in it that had of late grown gray. "What
is going to happen to me?" she asked, and thought of the blue distance
on the Surrey hills. It was beginning to attract her.

"I'd give the world to know. I can't bear the idea of your going away
from the farm."

"But if I go I shall return; a bird always comes back to its nest, and I
shall come back to your arms. Shall I tell you a secret?" she whispered.
Her mother nodded with a little smile on her lips, and tried to be
interested; but all the time she knew that behind the shut door of the
best parlor something was going on that might change the whole current
of their lives. "Father doesn't want to sit so much in-doors as he has
done," Margaret continued; "so he means to buy a tent, a little square
one, open in front, with room for a writing-table and two easy-chairs,
and a little sofa made of basket-work, you know. It's to be put up at
the edge of the field, and when it's fine he will sit there and work,
and sometimes we are going to invite you to tea--"

"My word! what will Hannah say?"

"Oh, she'll make a fuss, but it won't matter, for father's father. We
shall have a glorious summer," she added, with a sigh of content, "and I
am so glad it's coming. I don't believe Hannah's heaven will be half so
good as this world is in summer-time, when everything is green and a
dear mother loves you."

"It will be your heaven, too, Margey, dear," Mrs. Vincent said. "I don't
like you to talk so--"

"Then I won't," Margaret answered, impulsively. "I won't do anything you
don't like. Here is father."

"He has come to tell us something," Mrs. Vincent said. She started from
her chair and looked at him, and then for a moment at the green world
beyond the porch, as if she felt that it would give her strength. But
his news was not what she had expected.

"I'm going to London on Monday morning," he said, "and should like to
take Margaret with me. Can she go?"

"How long is it to be for?" Mrs. Vincent asked, while Margaret stood
breathless, seeing in imagination a panorama of great cities pass
before her eyes.

"Only for a day and a night."

"A night, too?" Margaret exclaimed; for on the occasional visits her
father had paid to London he had gone and returned on the same day. "It
sounds wonderful."

He thought out his words before speaking, as if in his own mind he saw
the outcome of things that were going to happen. "All the same," he
said, "you will probably be glad to come back."

"Yes, father, yes," she exclaimed, joyfully; "but then I shall know, I
shall have seen and remember it all. Dear mother!" and she turned to her
again, hungry for her sympathy.

Mrs. Vincent always understood, and she put her arm round Margaret,
while she asked her husband, "Where will you stay if you don't come back
till the next day, and will Margaret's things be good enough?"

"We shall stay--oh, at the Langham, I suppose. Of course they will be
good enough."

He went back to his papers and took up the two letters again. The one
from his brother was merely a reiteration of what he had said before.
The important part in it was that which concerned his health. Lately
there had been disturbing threats; it was possible that symptoms might
develop which would hurry the inevitable. It was to take a specialist's
opinion, so far as might be gathered from a letter, to see his lawyers,
and to arrange for a probable voyage in the near future that Mr. Vincent
was going to London. But it was the other letter that he lingered over,
the one written on gray paper with violet ink. Long ago that handwriting
had greeted him every morning. It had been a symbol of happiness, of all
the world to him. He read the letter again:


     "You will be surprised to hear from me after all these years; but I
     heard from Cyril lately; he gave me your address, and I feel that I
     must write to you. He told me of your marriage, and that you have a
     daughter. I knew nothing about you before, except what I gathered
     from your articles in the _Fortnightly_. Do you never come to
     London? If you do, come and see me; we will avoid all reference to
     painful by-gones and meet as old friends. I was near you last
     summer. I drove over with my girl and Tom Carringford (you remember
     his father) to look at a house we thought of taking. If I had
     known--

     "Let me hear from you. I want to be told that I am forgiven for all
     the trouble I caused you, and that you will one day come and shake
     my hand. Perhaps you will bring your child to see me.

     "Yours always,

     "HILDA LAKEMAN."


Gerald Vincent sat and thought of the years ago and of a ball--it seemed
a strange thing for him to remember a ball--and a long, maddening
waltz; he could hear the crash of the "Soldaten Lieder" now, the
long-drawn-out end, and the hurrying to the cool air. The girl on his
arm wore a black dress--she was in mourning for her sister, he
remembered--and some lilies were at her waist. The scent of them came
back to him through all the years. He saw the people passing in the dim
light; they had drawn back--he and she--so as not to be seen; he heard
the sound of laughter, the buzz of voices, the uneasy beginning of the
next dance. He remembered her perfect self-possession, and his own
awkwardness, that had made him let the opportunity to speak slip by; but
it had seemed to him that words were unnecessary. Looking back, he felt
that she had been interested in the hour rather than sharing it, and he
wondered, with a little sorry amusement at the remembrance of her
manner, how much or how little she had really felt. He thought of the
summer that followed, of days on the river in late July, when the London
season was in its last rushing days, the sound of oars, the trailing of
the willows at the water's edge, the visits to house-boats, the merry
little luncheon-party on the point at Cookham. Mrs. Berwick had been the
discreetest of chaperons, and when they had drunk their coffee--vile
coffee it had been--he and Hilda had wandered off while the others
stayed drowsily behind. How strange it was to think of it all! He could
feel still her arms clinging round his neck, and hear her low,
passionate whisper--"Yes, yes, I love you--I love you--I love you!"
Words had never come easily to him, and he had been ashamed of his
dumbness when she could find them. Remembering them now, her tones rang
false. He thought of his ordination, and the happy winter when gradually
he had put aside the foolish dissipations, and work and love made up his
life; of the curacy he held for a little while. Hilda had been full of
some scheme; he understood it dimly when he went to the bishop's palace
and she had whispered--it was the first sign of what was coming--"Who
knows but that some day we shall be installed here, you and I?" The
bishop gave him a living later, and she cried, triumphantly: "I made
father do it. It's the first step. I shall never be satisfied till you
are on the top one." The speech worried him, grated on him all through
the long first evening by his vicarage fire, though he tried to forget
it. He read her letter the next morning almost desperately; luckily it
had been a simple, affectionate one, and he thanked God for it, and
prayed that all her desire might be, as his was, in the doing of the
work before them, in the good they might bring to others, and not in the
reward they would personally reap from it. There had been a happy time
after that, just as if he had been heard. He remembered his simple
faith in her, his peace and security in those days, with wonder. At the
end of the summer he had not wanted to leave his parish so soon after
going to it, so he stayed on through August and September while Hilda
went with her people to the Engadine. A man came down to stay with
him--a queer chap, Orliter, of All Souls, professor of philosophy now at
a Scotch university. Orliter brought a cartload of books with him; he
read them all day and smoked, and Gerald did the same. Then followed
talks that grew more and more eager; often enough the night passed and
daylight came while they were still arguing--nights that were symbolical
of the darkness he walked through, and then the slow dawn of what seemed
to him to be the truth.

It wanted courage to do the rest, but he had done it. There had been the
difficult interview with the bishop, and the long, miserable one with
Hilda, who had treated his new views as though they could be thrown
aside as easily as a coat could be taken off. She had implored him to
remember that they meant the blighting of his career, social ruin, the
desertion of his friends, the breaking of her heart. It would be
impossible, she had explained to him, to marry a man her friends would
not receive--a man without position or prospects or money, with only
talents which he was evidently going to apply in a wrong direction, and
opinions that would create a little desert round him. He had looked at
her aghast. To him truth was the first condition of life and honor; to
her it was of no consequence if it spelled inexpediency. Her attitude
resulted in his writing some articles that made his position worse in a
worldly sense; but he loved her all the time, his infatuation even
became greater as he saw the impossibility of sympathy or agreement
between them. But he was too strong a man to let passion master him;
besides, it seemed as if all the time, afar off, Truth stood with the
clear eyes that in later years had been his wife's attraction to him,
and, cool, calm, and unflinching drew him to her--away from the woman
who protested overmuch, from the Church that pointed upward to an empty
sky, from all the penalties and rewards of religion. Whether his
conclusions are right or wrong, a man can but listen to the dictates of
his soul and conscience. And so Gerald Vincent turned his back on all
that he had believed and loved, but remained an honest man. While he was
in Italy, squarely facing the ruin of his life, he heard of Hilda's
marriage. There had been a quarter of a column about it in the daily
papers. He read it a little grimly. A few years later he heard of her
husband's death, but there had been no sign of her in his own life till
the letter came that morning. He read it again, then locked it away in a
desk.

He heard his wife's footsteps pass the door. He rose and looked out.
She was standing in the porch with her back to him and her face towards
the garden, for she and Nature were so near akin that on grave and
silent days they seemed to need each other's greetings. He stood beside
her, and looked silently down at her face with a little sense of
thankfulness, of gratitude, for all the peaceful years he owed her, and
he saw with a pang the deep lines on her face and the grayness of her
hair, as Margaret had done only an hour before.

"Why, father," she said, with a little smile, "what is it?" Then, with
sudden dread, she asked, "Is he worse? Does he want you yet?"

"I'm afraid it won't be long," he answered; "but I shall be able to tell
you better when we come from town."

Hannah grumbled, of course, when she heard of the journey. Then,
grumbling being useless, she busied herself in seeing that Mr. Vincent's
portmanteau was dusted out, and that the key, which was tied to one of
the handles by a bit of string, turned properly in the lock. And a
strange old bag, made of brown canvas and lined with stuff that looked
like bed-ticking, was found to carry the few things that Margaret was to
take. It was the one that Hannah herself often used when she went to
Petersfield, and therefore obviously good enough for any other member of
the household. But Mr. Vincent looked at it with surprise; he
remembered in his youth seeing the under-gardener's son set off for
Liverpool, and the bag he carried was just like this one.

"I think we must buy something else for you in London, Margey," he said.

"Oh, I dare say you'll do a great deal when you get there," Hannah
struck in, sharply. "It's to be hoped you'll take her to see Westminster
Abbey and St. Paul's, to say nothing of the City Temple and the
Tabernacle and Exeter Hall. It would be as well for her to see that, in
one way or another, people have thought a good deal of religion, though
you and others like you put yourselves above it." She waited, but Mr.
Vincent showed no sign of having heard her. "I'm afraid that one day
you'll find you have made a mistake," she went on. He pulled out a
little pouch and rolled up a cigarette.

"Are you going to drive us to the station yourself?" he asked.

"I suppose I'd better," she answered. "I don't know what's come to that
boy lately. If I send him over to Haslemere he never knows when to get
back."

So the cart came round on Monday morning. Mr. Vincent and Hannah got up
in front, and Margaret behind, with the portmanteau and the canvas bag
on either side of her. Mrs. Vincent stood waving her handkerchief till
they were out of sight, then went with a sigh to the best parlor,
thinking it would be as well to take advantage of her husband's absence
and give it an extra tidying.

The postman came a little later. He trudged round to the back door,
where he sat down on a four-legged stool that the boy had painted gray
only last week, and prepared for a little talk with Towsey.

"Have you heard that the house on the hill is let?" he was saying. "Some
one from London has taken it for the whole summer."

"What have you brought, postman?" Mrs. Vincent asked. He handed her a
letter for Hannah. A smile came to her lips when she saw it. "It's the
hand that directed the Christmas card," she said to herself. "And it's
my belief that Mr. Garratt's coming at last."



VI


Margaret was in the seventh heaven when they reached London. The drive
from Waterloo to the Langham--the bridge, the stream of people, the
shops--were all bewildering. She could have sung for joy as they drove
along in the hansom.

"It appears to please you," Mr. Vincent said, with a little smile.

"It does! It does!" she exclaimed. "Only I should like to walk along the
pavements--"

"You shall presently."

"And look into all the windows--"

"I'm afraid I couldn't stand that."

"I wish we had to buy something, then we should go into a shop."

"We will," he said, and presently put his hand through the little door
at the top of the hansom, which was in itself an excitement to her. They
stopped at a trunk shop.

"But, father--" She was breathless.

"We must get you a Gladstone bag," he explained.

She tripped into the shop after him. It was like entering the ante-room
of an enchanted land, for did not great travellers come here before
they started for the North Pole or the South, to fight battles, or to go
on strange missions to foreign courts? No one guesses the happy
extravagance of a young girl's heart on all the first times in her
life--the dreams that beset her, the pictures she sees, the strange
songs that ring in her ears.

"That's a great improvement," Mr. Vincent said when they re-entered the
cab and a good, serviceable, tan-colored Gladstone had been safely put
on the top. "We will throw the other away when you have taken out your
things."

"Oh no, father--it's Hannah's."

"True. She can take it away as part of her trousseau." Mr. Vincent
laughed at his own little joke. He looked young, he was almost gay, as
if he, too, felt that they had come out on a wonderful journey in this
simple one to town. But he had suddenly discovered a new pleasure in
life; for it had not occurred to him that Margaret was so
unsophisticated, or that there could be so much that was new to her.

Everything was a joy, even the little sitting-room at the Langham. This,
she thought, was what rooms in London looked like--rooms in hotels, at
any rate. But though a new experience came upon her every moment, all
the time at the back of her head she saw a white road with clumps of
heather and gorse beside it, and a church on a hill; a mile farther
there was a duck-pond and a lane that led to Woodside Farm; already,
even through her impatience to see more of this wonderful London, she
looked forward to the first glimpse of her mother's face watching for
them on the morrow.

"I'm afraid I shall have to leave you here for an hour or two. I have
come to London on business," Mr. Vincent said. "But I must try and show
you some sights presently, though I'm not good at that sort of thing.
Perhaps we might go to a theatre to-night--"

"Oh! But what would Hannah say?" At a safe distance it was amusing to
think of Hannah's wrath.

"I don't know." It amused him, too. "But it shall be something that
won't hurt us very much. I believe "King John" is going on still. I will
try and get places for it while I am out."

"Couldn't I go with you now--I mean about your business?"

He considered for a moment. It was one of his characteristics that he
always thought out his words before answering even trivial questions.
"It would be better not. I want to arrange some family matters."

"But I am family," she pleaded.

"That's true." He hesitated again before he went on. "You know that my
brother--he is your uncle Cyril, of course--is ill, and I may possibly
go out to him?"

"Yes, father, I know."

"I want to find out how ill he is, if it is possible, from the account
he gives of himself. A specialist may know."

"You never told me anything about him. Is he older than you?"

"Of course. That is why he inherited the title."

"Oh!" She looked up rather amused. Chidhurst folk had none of the
snobbishness of London, but titles are picturesque and even romantic to
a young imagination. "What title?"

"He is Lord Eastleigh," Mr. Vincent answered, reluctantly, "as my father
was before him; but a title without property to keep it up is not a very
praiseworthy possession. It generally suggests that there has been
extravagance or bad management, or something of the sort." He stopped
again, and then went on quickly: "After his marriage he went to
Australia, and we knew nothing of each other for years till he wrote
some months ago."

"Mother told me. Are you rich, father--can you afford to go to him?"

"I have two hundred a year and a legacy of five hundred pounds--it came
in some time ago, and will pay the expenses of the journey."

"I see." Gradually she was grasping the family position. "It must be
dreadful for his wife, to be all that way off alone with him, and he
going to die."

He looked up in surprise. It had not occurred to him to feel any
sympathy for his brother's wife. He liked Margaret for thinking of her.
"Yes, I suppose it is," he said; "though I believe she wasn't a very
desirable person. I don't know whether I'm wise to give you these
details. They are not necessary to our life at Chidhurst."

"But I'm growing older," she said, eagerly, and held out her hands to
him as if she were groping her way through the world with them. "I want
to know things. Don't keep them from me."

He looked at her in dismay. It was the old cry--the cry of his own
youth. "I won't," he said, and kissed her forehead.

She was glad to be alone for a little while, to get rid of the first
excitement, the first strangeness of the journey, and of being at the
hotel. She looked out at the hansoms setting down and driving on, at all
the swift traffic along the roadway, at the people on the wide pavement.
She had imagined what London would be like from pictures, and from
Guildford and Haslemere, and other places where there were shops and
streets. It was what she had expected, and yet it was different. She
felt herself so near to the heart of things, as if the people going to
and fro were the pulse of the world; she could almost hear the throb of
their lives. She wanted to be in the whirl of things, too, to know what
it was all like, to understand--oh, no, no! the farm was better, the
Dutch garden and the best parlor and the mother who was thinking of her.
She would sit down and write to her this very minute--it was an
excellent chance while she was alone. On the writing-table in the corner
there were paper and envelopes, with the name of the hotel stamped on
them. Her mother would look at it and understand the strangeness of her
surroundings. This was the first time they had been separated at all;
and writing to her was like a door creaking on its hinges, suggesting
that at some unexpected moment it might open wide to let her through.

When the letter was finished she took up one of the newspapers lying on
the table. There was a war going on somewhere along the Gold Coast; she
read about it, but she could not grasp the details. She looked at the
speeches that had been made in the House the night before, and tried to
be interested in them; but they were difficult. She read all the little
odds and ends of news, even the advertisements; and these were oddly
fascinating. There was one that set her thinking. It was of a dramatic
agency in the Strand. Young ladies could be trained for the stage, it
said, and engagements were guaranteed. She wondered what the training
was like, and what sort of engagements they would be. Now that she was
actually going to a theatre she felt that she ought to take an interest
in everything; her outlook was widening every moment; and she would
never be quite the same simple country girl again who had set out from
Chidhurst that morning.

Mr. Vincent came back at a quarter-past one. He looked worried, and she
was able to imagine reasons for it since their talk just now.

"Is the news bad?" she asked.

"It might be worse," he answered, with a shrug. "There is nothing
definite to say just yet. We must go down and lunch; an old friend of
mine is waiting--he wants to see you." Her father had put on the manner
that was his armor--the grave manner of few words that made questions
impossible. He opened the door with as much courtesy as a stranger would
have done, and walked beside her down the wide staircase. "I have
secured a table," he said as they entered the dining-room, forgetting
that his remark would convey nothing to her.

The table was in an alcove; beside it a middle-aged man was waiting for
them. He was tall and dark, and well set-up. A short, well-cut beard and
mustache, grizzled like his hair, covered his mouth; his eyes were brown
and alert, though time had made them dim and lines had gathered round
them; his face was that of a man who lived generously, but with
deliberation; his slow movements suggested tiredness or disappointment;
his manner had a curious blending of indulgence and refinement.

"This is Sir George Stringer; we were at Oxford together," Mr. Vincent
said to Margaret.

"I am delighted to meet you," Sir George said; "and it's very good of
your father to put it in that way, for, as a matter of fact, he was five
years my junior. I stayed up after taking my degree." Looking at him
now, she saw that he was quite elderly, though in the distance she had
taken him to be almost young. "I had not seen him for more than twenty
years," he went on after they had settled themselves at the table, "till
he walked into my office just now. I didn't even know that he was a
married man till the other day, much less that he had a daughter."

"But he knew where to find you?"

"Of course he did," Sir George said. "I am a permanent official--a
moss-grown thing that is never kicked aside unless it clamors, till the
allotted number of years have passed and the younger generation comes
knocking at the door."

"What do you think he has done, Margey?" Mr. Vincent asked, noticing
with satisfaction that she was quite unembarrassed by her new
surroundings. The people at the different tables put a pleasant
curiosity into her eyes, or provoked a little smile; now and then she
looked up at him when some strange dish or attention of the waiters
puzzled her, but she was neither awkward nor over-elated.

"What has he done?" she asked.

"We saw that the house on the hill had been let when we passed this
morning--"

"It's the most amazing thing that I should have hit upon it," Sir George
said.

"You have taken it!" she exclaimed, and clasped her hands with delight.
It would be like a little bit of London going to Chidhurst, she thought,
and her mother would like him, she was sure of it, this friend of her
father's, who would have been difficult to describe, for, though he was
old--to her young eyes--he was so agreeable. And he would be some one
else for her father to talk with; they would discuss all manner of
things concerning the world that she was discovering to be a wonderful
place, though Chidhurst, with its beauty and its silence, held aloof
from it--and she would listen to them; it would be like hearing a fairy
story told at intervals. If only her father did not have to go to
Australia--that threat was beginning to make itself distinct, though she
tried to forget it.

"It's very good of you to be pleased at the prospect of a grim old
bachelor being near you," Sir George said, and looked at her critically.
Her beauty had been taking him by surprise. How lucky Vincent was to
have her, he thought. He remembered his own empty rooms in Mount Street,
their luxury and loneliness, the precision with which everything kept to
its place, their silence and dulness. Vincent had made a mull of his
life, but he had a home, and a wife who, though no doubt she was homely
enough--mended his socks and cooked his dinner herself, perhaps--was
probably a handsome woman, since she was the mother of this beautiful
creature. In spite of his opinions, and the manner in which he had
kicked aside his prospects, Vincent had not done so badly for himself
after all.

"Did father tell you that we lived at Woodside Farm?" Margaret asked.

"Of course he did. I wish I had known it the other day. By-the-way,
Vincent," he went on to her father, "it was young Carringford who told
me of the house. You remember his father? He was President of the Union
just before your time. He died about a year ago worth a quarter of a
million, and left two children--this boy, who is only two or three and
twenty now, and a girl who married Lord Arthur Wanstead. They have a
hundred thousand pounds each."

"It sounds as if it could never be counted," Margaret said.

"Only three thousand a year if they have the luck to get three per cent.
for it, and income tax off that. Well, Master Tom has some friends
living on Hindhead--in red-brick houses that ought to be blown up with
gunpowder, especially when they have weather-cocks on their gables.
Hindhead, as you probably know, is celebrated for its red-brick houses,
philosophers, pretty young ladies, and afternoon parties at which games
are played with astonishing energy."

"We are miles and miles from Hindhead," Margaret said, bewildered. But
Sir George enjoyed talking, and took it for granted that others liked to
listen.

"Of course you are," he answered, genially; "but one fine day he and the
Lakemans were staying in the neighborhood. He rode over to Chidhurst,
saw this house, and thought it might do for them, so they all went over
to look at it--"

"She told me."

"Oh, you have heard from her? Mrs. Lakeman, as you probably know, is a
lady who does not care for quite so much unadulterated nature as there
is in your neighborhood, so the house didn't suit her. The other day Tom
told me of it, and I took it on the spot. When did you see her last?"

"A good many years ago." Mr. Vincent's manner was a shade curt.

Sir George looked up quickly. "Why, of course, I remember--what an idiot
I am!"

"Not at all. We are going there this afternoon. Who was Lakeman? I
didn't know him."

"No one in particular; but he was good-looking and fairly well off." Sir
George smiled to himself, and took a liqueur with his coffee. "She was a
fascinating woman," he added; "and has had my scalp among others."

"I think you might go up-stairs, Margey. We'll follow you presently."

Sir George looked after her as she disappeared. "She is going to be a
beautiful woman," he said. "Rather a shame to hide her on a farm at
Chidhurst, though, for my part, I always think that the devil lives in
town and God in the country."


Margaret felt that her father was embarrassed by his sense of
responsibility when he joined her half an hour later. "You ought to be
shown some of the things in London," he said again.

"I've seen the hansom cabs," she said, "and lunched at a little table at
the hotel, and everything is a sight to me."

"I suppose it is. Still, we might do Westminster Abbey, at any rate.
Hannah gave us leave, you know--and then we'll go to Mrs. Lakeman's."

"Who is she?"

"Her father was a bishop," Mr. Vincent said. He spoke as if the fact
needed some contemplation, and to Margaret it did, since she had never
seen a bishop in her life. She knew that he wore lawn sleeves and a
shovel hat, and was a great man; she had a vague idea that he lived in a
cathedral and slept in his mitre. "He died a good many years ago," Mr.
Vincent continued, with a jerk in his voice. "He gave me a living when I
was a young man; but I resigned it after a year or two, and differences
of opinion caused quarrels and separations. Perhaps," he added, rather
grimly, "Hannah would have called me a Papist then, and think it nearly
as bad as being an unbeliever now."



VII


Mr. Vincent looked at Margaret two or three times as they drove down to
Chelsea Embankment. A village dressmaker had made her frock, but it set
well on her slim young figure, and the lace at her neck was soft and
real; it belonged to her mother, who knew nothing of its value; her hat
was perfectly simple, a peasant, or a woman of fashion might have worn
it, and it seemed to him that Margaret would fall quite naturally into
place with either. Then he thought of his wife at the farm; she had
lived so simple a life among the growths of the earth and the changes of
the sky that she was wholly untainted by the vulgarities of the world,
and such as she was herself she had made her daughter.

The hansom stopped before a new-looking red-brick house.

"George Stringer would say it ought to be blown up with gunpowder," Mr.
Vincent remarked, and Margaret, turning to give some trivial answer, saw
that he was white and nervous.

The door was opened by a man servant. The hall was panelled; there were
rugs and pictures and palms and old china about, and her heart beat
quicker, for all this was part of the London show. The drawing-room was
part of it, too, with its couches and screens, its pictures and Venetian
glass and countless things of a sort that had no place at Woodside Farm.
It was all still and dim, too, almost mysterious, and scented with early
spring flowers put about in masses, or so it seemed to Margaret.

Some curtains separated a further room; they were drawn together, and
against them, clutching them with one hand, as if she were waiting and
half afraid, a woman stood. She was tall, and about forty-three. Her
figure was still slight; her black dress trailed on the floor, and made
her look graceful; the white cuffs at her wrist were turned back, and
called attention to the small white hands below them. She had a quantity
of dark hair, smoothly plaited, and pinned closely to the back of her
head. Her eyes were a deep gray, long lashed, and curiously full of
expression, that apparently she was not able to control. They seemed to
belong to an inward being who looked on independently at things, and
frequently thought and felt differently from the one that clothed it and
tried to pass itself off as a real personality. She had never been
pretty; but her face arrested attention. The lines on it suggested
suffering; there was humor about the mouth, and tenderness in the deep
tone of her voice. For a time and for some people she had a curious
fascination; she knew it, and liked to watch its effect. Her head was
small, and she carried it well, and the whiteness of the little ruffle
round her throat gave it a setting and made it picturesque. She looked
across quickly at Mr. Vincent. Then, as if she had gathered courage, she
held out her hands and went forward.

"Gerald!" she exclaimed. Her voice appeared to be thickened by emotion.
She stopped before him and let her hands drop.

He took them in his. "How do you do, Hilda?" he said, prosaically
enough. "It is a long time since we met."

She raised her eyes; they were grave and pathetic, but somewhere at the
back of them there was a glint of curiosity. She knew that he saw it,
and tried to convince him that he was mistaken.

"More than twenty years," she answered. "I never expected to see you
again."

"And now I have brought this tall girl to see you." He put his hand on
his daughter's shoulder.

Mrs. Lakeman looked up curiously, almost ruefully. With something like a
sob she whispered, "It's Margaret, isn't it?" and took her in her arms
and kissed her. "I knew your father before your mother did, and I have
loved him all my life," she said, and looked at the girl's face
intently for a moment; then, as if she had had enough of that phase, she
asked with a sudden touch of cynicism, "Did he ever talk to you about
me--but I don't suppose he did?"

"I was never a very talkative person," Mr. Vincent said, grimly. She
turned to him with a happy, humorous smile. She seemed to have swept all
emotion from her; she had become animated and even lively.

"No, you never were. You were always as silent and as wise as a dear
owl. I have a child, too," she went on. "You must see her--my Lena. She
is all I have in the world--a splendid girl and a wonderful companion."

"Where is she?" Mr. Vincent asked.

"She is in there," nodding towards the curtains, "in her own
sitting-room. You shall go to her, dear," she said, quickly turning to
Margaret. "She knows all about you, and is longing to see you. Tom
Carringford is there, too--he is always there," she added,
significantly. "You remember old Tom Carringford, Gerald? This is his
boy--awfully nice boy; I am never tired of him." She was gay by this
time, and it was obvious that good spirits were natural to her. "I'll
tell you who is with them," she went on. "Dawson Farley--I dare say
Margaret would like to see him. He is a genius in my opinion--the only
man on the stage fit to play a romantic part--and Louise Hunstan, the
American actress, you know. She is playing just now in 'The School for
Scandal' at the Shaftesbury--great fun to hear her do Lady Teazle with a
little twang in her voice; it is an awfully pretty twang, though. We are
devoted to the theatre, Lena and I." She appeared to be hurrying as much
information as possible into her words, as if she wanted to give her
listeners an impression of her life.

"We are going to the play to-night," Mr. Vincent said, but Mrs. Lakeman
hardly heard him. Other lives only interested her so far as they
affected her own. If the Vincents had been going with her she would have
taken any trouble, shown any amount of excitement; but as it was, why it
was nothing to her.

"You shall go to them," she said decisively to Margaret, evidently
carrying on her own train of thought. She went towards the curtains as
if to pull them aside. "Tell them we are coming in ten minutes, dear."

"Oh, but I don't know them," Margaret answered, appalled at being told
to rush in among strangers.

"Of course you don't," Mrs. Lakeman said, in a sympathetic voice. "I'll
take you. No, no, Gerald," as Mr. Vincent made a step to follow them;
"we must have a little talk to ourselves after all these years."

She led Margaret into a second drawing-room, and beyond it into a still
smaller room. There were pictures, and flowers again--quantities of
flowers, the air was heavy with their scent. Silk draperies shaded the
light that struggled through the small-paned windows, and bits of color
and silver gleamed everywhere. It was like entering a dream, and dim
figures seemed to rise from it--an indefinite number of them, it seemed
to Margaret, though she soon made out that there were only four. She
felt so strange as she stood hesitating just inside the room, like a
little wayfarer, who knew only of green fields and a farm-house,
straying into an enchanted world, for it was odd how the remembrance of
her home never left her through all those first hours in London, and in
her thoughts she sent it constant messages.

"Lena, my darling, this is Margaret Vincent. Be kind to her," Mrs.
Lakeman said, in a low, thrilling voice. "You must love her, for I used
to love her father--I do now." She turned to a young man who had come
towards them. "Tom, your father knew this girl's father, too. I am
coming back with him in a few minutes to tea. This is Tom Carringford,
dear," she said to Margaret. Then, as if she had done enough, she went
back with a look of amusement in her eyes and a gay little smile on her
lips. "I have got rid of the girl," she thought. "I wonder what that
old idiot will have to say for himself now she is out of the way."

Tom Carringford reassured Margaret in a moment. "How do you do?" he
said, and shook her hand. "Don't be afraid of us; it's all right. My
governor often spoke of yours, and I have always hoped I should see him
some day."

Before she could answer, there stole towards her a girl with a thin,
almost haggard, face and two sleepy, dark eyes that looked as if they
might burn with every sort of passion. "I have been waiting for you,"
she said. "Mother has told me about your father. It was splendid of him
to bring you." She spoke in a low tone, and, drawing Margaret to a seat
near the window, looked at her with an anxious expression in her great
eyes, as if she had been worn out with watching for her. "Stay, you
don't know Mr. Dawson Farley yet, do you?" She turned towards a man who
had risen to make room for them.

"Mrs. Lakeman told us about him just now."

"I'm not as famous as Miss Lakeman thinks." The clear pronunciation
caught Margaret's ear, and she looked at him. He was clean-shaven, with
a determined mouth and short, crisp hair. There was something hard and
even cruel in the face, but there was fascination in it, too--there was
fascination in all these new people; the magnetism of knowledge of the
world perhaps, the world that had only burst upon her to-day.

"Oh, but I know nothing," she said, shyly. "I came from Chidhurst this
morning--for the first time." Lena made a little sympathetic sound, and
put her arms out as if to protect her.

"Do you mean that you have never been in London before?" Mr. Farley
asked.

"No, never."

"What a wonderful thing!" The words came from a corner near the
fireplace. Margaret was getting used to the dimness now, and could see
through it. A woman moved towards her; she was not very young, but she
was fair and graceful.

"It is Louise Hunstan, dear," Lena said. For some reason she did not
know, Margaret recoiled from this girl, who had only known her five
minutes, yet called her dear and was affectionate in her manner.

"You must let me look at you," Miss Hunstan said. The twang of which
Mrs. Lakeman had spoken was faintly evident, but it gave her words a
charm that made it impossible not to listen to them. "Now tell me, do
you love it or hate it, or are you just bewildered with this great
London?" She seemed to understand the stranger-mood better than the
others.

"I think I am bewildered," Margaret answered. "Everything is so
strange."

"Of course it is," Tom Carringford said, "and we stare at her as if she
were a curiosity. What brutes we are! Never mind, Miss Vincent," he
laughed, "we mean well, so you might tell us your adventures before Mrs.
Lakeman returns."

He gave her courage again, and a sense of safety. She laughed back a
little as she answered. "Adventures--do people have adventures in
London? It sounds like Dick Whittington."

"Just like Dick Whittington," Lena answered. "You ought to carry a cat
under your arm and marry a fairy prince. Isn't she beautiful?" she
whispered to Dawson Farley.

The color rushed to Margaret's face. "Oh, please don't," she said. "I'm
not a bit beautiful."

"Where have you come from, Miss Vincent?" the actor asked, as if he had
not heard.

"From Woodside Farm at Chidhurst."

"I can tell you all about her," Lena said. "My mother was once engaged
to her father, Gerald Vincent--" Margaret turned quickly as if to stop
her. But she took no notice and went on. "He was a clergyman then, but
he changed his opinions, left the Church, and wrote some articles that
made a sensation. All his relations were furious, and mother couldn't
marry him. A little cry came from Margaret.

"Oh! How could she tell you?" she exclaimed.

"You oughtn't to have told us, anyhow," Tom Carringford said, turning
upon Lena: he was almost distressed. "It's an awful shame!"

"Miss Lakeman didn't mean any harm--she's not like any one else," Miss
Hunstan said to Margaret, with a look in her eyes that counted for more
than her words.

"It's history, dear--everybody knows it," Lena cooed, soothingly.
"Besides, I always tell everything I know, about myself and every one
else. It's much the best way; then one doesn't get any shocks in life,
and isn't told any secrets."

"There's something in that," Mr. Farley agreed, and then he turned to
Margaret; "I've read some of Mr. Vincent's articles. They are beyond my
depth, but I recognized their brilliance."

"You see?" Lena said, with a shrug that implied it was impossible to
cover up the history of a famous person. Mr. Farley looked at her
impatiently and then at the stranger-girl: it was odd how different from
themselves they all felt her to be.

"Are you going to any theatres?" he asked, trying to change the
conversation. "There are all sorts of things to see in London."

"We are going to 'King John' to-night."

"Mr. Shakespeare and rather slow," Tom Carringford put in, gayly.

"Ah, that's what you young men think," Mr. Farley said--he himself was
under forty.

"Tell me what you do in the country, little Margaret?" Lena asked, with
the air of a culprit who loved her, and ignoring the fact that Margaret
was a good five foot seven. "Do you bask in the sun all the summer, and
hide beneath the snow all the winter, or do you behave like ordinary
mortals?"

"We behave like ordinary mortals. Father and I read a great many
books--" she began.

"And what does your mother do?"

"Mother and Hannah are generally busy with the farm and the house."

"Who is Hannah?"

"My half-sister. She is a good deal older than I am."

"Can't you see it all?" Lena said, turning to the others. "I can, as
clearly as possible. Mrs. Vincent and Hannah look after the farm, and
Margaret and her father sit together and read books. The farm carts
rumble by, dogs bark, and chickens wander about; there are cows in the
fields, honeysuckle in the hedges, and bees in the hives at the end of
the garden. In my thoughts I can see them all jumbled up together, and
hear the notes of the thrushes in the trees."

"Rubbish!" said Tom Carringford. "Your talk is a little too picturesque,
you know. It always is. I can't think how you manage to invent it so
quickly."

"Are you eager, now that you have come into the world?" Lena asked,
taking no notice of Tom's crushing remark. "Do you long to run all over
it, and feel as if you could eat it up?"

"Rubbish!" said Tom again. "She doesn't feel anything of the sort."

"Everybody does who is really alive."

"All right," he said, imperturbably. "I am a babe unborn, or a mummy."
Then he turned to Margaret: "I have to go now; but I wish I had seen
your father, Miss Vincent. Where are you staying?"

"At the Langham Hotel--it's in Regent Street."

"Oh yes, we know; we have been in London for some time, you see," Mr.
Farley laughed. He liked this girl; she was fresh and unspoiled, he
thought. He had a curious hatred of Lena Lakeman, which had just been
intensified by her treatment of Margaret. There were times when he felt
that he should like to strangle her, just for the good of the community.
He hated her wriggling movements, her low tones, her sugary manner, and
the outrageous things she said and did with an air of unconsciousness.

Tom Carringford stood talking with Miss Hunstan before he departed. They
appeared to be making some arrangement together, for, as he wished her
good-bye he said, "All right, then; I will if I can. Anyhow, may I look
in at tea-time to-morrow?"

"You may look in at any time you like," Miss Hunstan said, and then she
explained to Margaret: "Mr. Carringford and I are old friends, and
always have a great deal to say to each other." She got up when he had
gone. "I'm going, too," she said; "but I wish I could stay longer." She
held out her hand to Margaret. "I am a stranger to you," she said; "but
I should like you to know that I am an American woman, and an
actress--who was once a stranger, too, here in London. I hope to stay
for some time, and if you come up again and would come and see me,
either at the theatre or at my home, I'd be more glad than I can say,
for you remind me of a girl I knew in Philadelphia, and she was the
sweetest thing on earth."

"I should like it so very much," Margaret said, gratefully.

"Write to me if you can, for I wouldn't like to miss you. Anyway, just
remember that I live in Great College Street, Westminster; and you will
easily find it, for it's quite near the Abbey. No, thank you, Miss
Lakeman, I won't stay for tea. Good-bye."

"I'll walk with you, Louise," Mr. Farley said. "Miss Hunstan is an old
friend of mine, too," he told Margaret. "We knew each other in America."

Then, when they were alone, Lena went up to Margaret. "I am glad they
are gone," she said. "Now we shall understand each other so much
better, and you must tell me"--she stopped to ring the bell--"all about
yourself. We ought to know each other, when we remember--" She had been
speaking in an intense tone, but the servant entered, and in quite an
ordinary one she asked for tea to be brought at once; then turned and
immediately resumed the intensity--"when we remember that your father
and my mother were lovers."

"Oh, don't say that," Margaret answered, almost vehemently, but with a
sweetness of which her listener was uneasily sensible. "It was all
finished and done with before we were born. I couldn't bear you to speak
of it, nor of my father's opinions, as you did when the others were
here; and I can't now, for we have only known each other an hour. There
are some things we should only say to those who are nearest to us, and
very seldom even then."

Lena wriggled a little closer. "You beautiful thing! Imagine your
knowing that. But don't you know that some people are never strangers?
And when mother brought you in just now I felt that I had known you for
years. You must love mother and me, Margaret. People always do; we
understand so well."

"You don't--you can't--or you would not have spoken as you did before
those strangers."

"Didn't you hear what I said? I am one of those people who think that
everything we do and feel should be spread out under the light of
heaven. There should be no dark corners or secret places in our lives."

"But why did you say that my father and your mother were lovers once? I
didn't want to know that he had ever cared for any one but my own dear
mother." Margaret was indignant still.

Lena looked at her with a bewildered smile. "How sweet you are, and how
unspoiled by the world," she said. "I wish I could come and live on your
farm, dear. Tell me about your mother."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I shouldn't like to talk about her to any one I don't know."

"Do you love her very much?"

"I love her with all my heart. That is why--"

"Tell me what she is like."

"I can't. I don't want to talk about her to you."

"Do you feel that I am not worthy?" Lena asked, with a gleam of
amusement in her eyes.

"I don't think you worthy or unworthy," Margaret answered; "but I don't
want to talk about her to you."

"You are very curious, little Margaret. I am glad we have met." Lena
leaned forward, as if she were trying to dive into the innermost depths
of the soul before her, but Margaret felt half afraid of her, as of
something uncanny.

"I don't think I am glad," she whispered, and shuddered.

"But you mustn't struggle against me, dear--you can't," she whispered
back; "because I understand people--mother and I do. The tea is ready; I
will go and bring your father here." She rose and slipped softly through
the curtains.



VIII


Mrs. Lakeman looked at her old lover triumphantly. "I felt," she said,
"that I must have you to myself for a little while. I couldn't bear the
presence even of that dear child." Her listener fidgeted a little, but
said nothing. "Gerald," her voice trembled, but in the tail of her eye
there lurked amusement, "have you hated me all these years?"

"Why should I? You did what you thought was right, and so did I." There
was a shade of impatience in his manner, though it was fairly polite.

She felt in an instant that tragedy would be thrown away upon him; she
changed her note and tried a suspicion of comedy. "I would have stuck to
you through anything else," she said, with a shake of her head and a
smile that she meant to be pathetic. "I would have gone to perdition for
you with pleasure--in this world."

"Quite so."

"I often think you people who do away with the next get a great pull
over us. You see it's going to be such a long business, by all
accounts."

"Yes." He looked bored: this sort of joke did not amuse him.

"I couldn't help myself. I couldn't break my father's heart and bring a
scandal on the diocese; I was obliged to do what I did," she said, with
a little burst.

"Of course, I quite understand that," he answered; "and, to be frank, I
think it would be better not to discuss it any more."

"You will always be dear to me," she went on, as if she had not heard
him; "and when Cyril told me you were at Chidhurst, I felt that I must
write and ask you to come and see me. I nearly took a house there, but
it fell through." Mr. Vincent remembered Sir George Stringer's remark,
and said nothing. "Perhaps I should have been more eager if I had
known--and yet I don't think I could have borne it; I don't think I
could have spent a summer there with you and--and--your wife"--she
stopped, as if the last word were full of tragedy, and repeated, in a
lower tone--"with you and your wife only a mile off. I couldn't bear to
see her," and quite suddenly she burst into tears.

Mr. Vincent looked at her awkwardly. She meant him to soothe her, to say
something regretful, perhaps to kiss her if he still knew how--she
doubted it. But he made no sign, he sat quite still, while she thought
him a fool for his pains. After a moment's silence he put out his hand
and touched her arm.

"It's a good thing you didn't take the house, then," he said, and that
was all.

She brushed her tears away, and wondered for a moment what to do with
this wooden man, who seemed incapable of response to any interesting
mood of hers.

"Tell me what she is like," she half whispered.

He considered for a moment. "I don't think I am good at describing
people," he answered, in quite an ordinary tone.

"I imagine her"--she began and stopped, as though she were trying to
keep back just the ghost of a mocking tone that would come into her
voice--"a dear, good, useful creature, a clever, managing woman, who
looks after everything and makes you thoroughly comfortable."

"I believe I am pretty comfortable," he answered, thoughtfully.

"Oh! And do you help with the farm?" she asked, with a possibility of
contempt--it depended on his answer.

"No, I fear I don't do that. I leave it to her and to Hannah. Hannah is
her daughter by her first husband."

"I dare say he was very different from you," and her lip curled.

"I don't know whether he was or not--I never saw him." His manner was
beginning to be impatient again.

"Tell me one thing more," she said, after a moment's hesitation; "do you
love her very much?"

He looked at her almost resentfully. "I fail to see your right to ask
that question," he said; "but, since you have done so, I will certainly
tell you that I care for her more than I do for any other woman in the
world."

"Gerald!" she cried, and burst into tears again; "I feel that you have
never forgiven me--that you will always despise me."

"This is nonsense," he said; "and I don't understand what you are
driving at. We broke off with each other years ago. You married another
man, and presumably you were very happy with him. I married another
woman, and am very happy with her, and there is nothing more to be
said."

She got up and stood with her back to the dull, smouldering fire; it had
been allowed to get low, for the day had been like a summer one.

"Just like you men," she exclaimed, with a little laugh and a sudden
change of manner. "You are curious creatures; sometimes I wonder if you
are anything more than superior animals. Shake hands, old boy, and let
us be friends. We are middle-aged people, both of us. Look at my gray
hair." She bent her head almost gayly, and put her finger along a
narrow line--"Rather too late for sentiment, isn't it?"

"Yes, I think it is," he was surprised, but distinctly relieved. "Now
perhaps you'll tell me when it was that Cyril wrote to you?"

"About two months ago. Poor old chap, his marriage wasn't up to
much--ei--ther." She checked the last word and finished it with a gasp.
"Awful pity, you know, to marry a woman from a music-hall. Lucky they
haven't any children, isn't it?"

"Perhaps it is, on the whole."

"I don't like the account of his health; it sounds as if he is in a bad
way."

"I'm afraid he is," Mr. Vincent assented, reluctantly; and then he
added, slowly, for he always disliked making any statement concerning
himself. "I shall probably go out to him."

"I knew you would," she cried, with a little glow of approval. But he
was unresponsive to this, too. "Of course, if anything happened, the
title would come to you?"

He looked up with quick indignation. But before he could speak the
curtain was drawn and Lena appeared.

"Are you coming to tea?" she asked, taking them both in with a long
look. "That sweet thing you brought to me just now and I are waiting for
you." She went up to Mr. Vincent and held out her hand. "I have heard
so much of you," she said, with perfect self-possession, "and often
wished to see you." She opened her large, dark eyes as if to show that
they were full of appreciation.

"This is your daughter, I suppose?" he asked her mother.

The question was so like Gerald, Mrs. Lakeman thought; he always made
sure of even his most trivial facts.

"Yes, this is my daughter--my ewe lamb, my Lena." She put her arm round
Lena's shoulders, and once more there was a thrill in her voice; but
still he failed to respond. He looked at them both with a little
embarrassment, dramatic situations were beyond him, and he had not the
faintest notion what to do next.

Mrs. Lakeman smiled inwardly. The man was a perfect idiot, she thought.
"Go, darling," she said, "we are coming."

Lena gave Mr. Vincent another of her long, intense looks as she turned
away. "Do come," she said; "I am longing to hear you talk."

"It's very kind of you, but I don't know that I have anything to say."
The suspicion of patronage in her manner amused him, but it irritated
him too, and he wanted to get out of the house. Mrs. Lakeman made a step
towards the curtains through which her daughter had disappeared, then
stopped, and, as if with a last great effort she had gathered courage,
said, "Tell me one thing--is Margaret like her mother?"

He considered for a moment before he answered. "I think she is," he
said, slowly. "She has the same eyes and mouth, and the same distinction
of carriage."

"Oh!" The exclamation was almost ironical. Then they went to the dim
room with the overpowering scent of flowers. Lena was making tea, while
Margaret surveyed the arrangements with great interest. They were so
different from any she had seen before. At Woodside Farm a cloth was
spread over the oak table in the middle of the room, a loaf and a large
pat of butter, a substantial cake, jam, and such other things as might
help to make a serviceable meal were set out. Occasionally a savory dish
of ham and eggs appeared, or of chicken fried in batter, of which the
cooking was a matter of pride to Hannah; plates and knives were put
round for each person, and chairs drawn up; altogether it was a much
more business-like but far less elegant affair than this dainty one over
which Lena presided.


"Good-bye, Margaret dear," Mrs. Lakeman said to her ten minutes later;
"you don't know what it has been to me to see you," and she kissed her
on either cheek. "You must come and stay with us some day. Gerald, you
will let her come, won't you?"

"Certainly, if she wishes it."

"She and Lena must be friends; our children ought to be friends. And you
and I," she said, with deeper feeling in her voice, "must not lose sight
of each other again."

"Of course not," he answered, and this time he managed to look at her
with his old smile, in which there had always been a charm. It went to
her heart and made her a natural woman. With something like a sigh she
watched him as he descended the stairs.

"I could love him now," she thought, "and go to the devil for him too,
with all the pleasure in the world. But he's so abominably good that he
will probably be faithful to his farmer woman till the breath is out of
his body."


"Well, would you like to go and stay there some day?" Mr. Vincent asked
Margaret.

"No," she answered, quickly, and then she added, reluctantly, and
because she couldn't help it; "I don't know why it is, father, but I
feel as if I never wanted to go there again."

"That's right," he said. What the answer meant she didn't quite
understand, but she rubbed her shoulder against his in sheer sympathy. A
hansom gives little scope for variety in caresses, but this did well
enough.



IX


At ten o'clock next morning Tom Carringford appeared at the Langham.

"Miss Vincent said you were staying here, so I made bold to come," he
explained, with a boyish frankness that immediately won over Mr.
Vincent. "Please forgive me, and don't think it awfully cool of me to
come so early. I was afraid I should miss you if I waited."

"I'm very glad to see you," Mr. Vincent said. "I knew your father well."
And in a moment Tom was quite at his ease.

"What did you think of 'King John?'" he asked Margaret.

"It was splendid; and a theatre is a wonderful place. How can people
call it wicked?"

"Well, they don't," he laughed, "unless they are idiots, then they do,
perhaps," at which she laughed too, and thought of Hannah. "I expect the
scenes with Arthur gave you a few bad moments, didn't they?" he asked.

"She wept," her father said, evidently amused at the recollection.

"That's all right." Tom beamed with satisfaction. She was a nice girl,
he thought, so of course she wept; she ought to weep at seeing that sort
of thing for the first time. Then he turned to Mr. Vincent. "My father
would be glad to think I had seen you at last," he said; "he often
wondered why you never turned up."

"I have not turned up anywhere for more than five-and-twenty years," Mr.
Vincent answered. "If I had he would have seen me." He was looking at
Tom with downright pleasure, at his six feet of growth and broad
shoulders, at his frank face and clear blue eyes. This was the sort of
boy that a man would like to have for a son, he thought; and then, after
a moment's characteristic hesitation, he said: "Stringer told us that
you went to Hindhead sometimes; perhaps one day you would get over and
see us?"

"Should like it," said Tom, heartily.

"You have left Oxford, of course?"

"Oh yes, last year."

"Any ambitions?"

"Plenty. But I don't know whether they'll come to anything. I believe
there'll be an unpaid under-secretaryship presently, and by-and-by I
hope to get into the House. Politics are rather low down, you know, Miss
Vincent, so they'll suit me. What did you think of Miss Hunstan? I saw
her last night; she had fallen in love with you."

"Had she?" Margaret exclaimed, joyfully. "I'm so glad. I love her,
though I only saw her for a moment."

"I'll tell her so. Every one does. My mother was devoted to her; that's
one reason why I am. She's great fun, too, though, of course, she's
getting on a bit," he added, with the splendid insolence of youth.
"There's something more at the back of this visit," and he looked at Mr.
Vincent. "I have been wondering if you are really going to-day?"

"By the 2.50 from Waterloo. We can't stay any longer."

"Well--I know this is daring; but couldn't you both come and lunch with
me? I have my father's little house in Stratton Street, and should like
to think you had been there. It would be very good of you."

Mr. Vincent shook his head. "No time."

"You'll have to lunch somewhere," Tom pleaded.

"Yes, but I must go to my lawyer's almost immediately, and one or two
other places, and don't quite know how much time they'll take up."

"Are you going alone?"

"Yes."

"Then look here," Tom exclaimed, delighted at his own audacity, "if you
are going to lawyers and people, couldn't I take Miss Vincent round and
show her something? Picture-galleries, Tower of London, British Museum,
Houses of Parliament, top of the Monument--that kind of thing, you know.
We'd take a hansom, and put half London into a couple of hours."

"Could I, father--could I?" she asked, eagerly.

Mr. Vincent looked from one to the other. They were boy and girl, he
thought--Tom was twenty-two and Margaret eighteen, a couple of wild
children, and before either of them was born their fathers had been old
friends. Why shouldn't they go out together?

"It's very kind of you," he said, "and it would prevent her from
spending a dull morning."

"It sha'n't be dull if I can help it," Tom answered, triumphantly.

"I may really go?" Margaret cried and kissed her father. "Oh, father,
you are a dear."

She was a dear, too, Tom thought, and so was the old man, as he
described Mr. Vincent in his thoughts.

The "old man" had an idea of his own. "Bring Margaret back here and
lunch with us," he said; "there might be just time enough for that, and
we will go and see you on another occasion."

"Good--good!" And Margaret presently found out that this was his
favorite expression. "It shall be as you say. Now, Miss Vincent, there's
hard work before us." Five minutes later Mr. Vincent watched them start.
They waved their hands to him from the hansom, and he turned away with
a smile.

"The real thing to do," Tom told Margaret, was to see the great green
spaces in the midst of a wonderful city, and the chestnuts which in
another month would be in bloom in Hyde Park, and the Round Pond and the
Serpentine. "But as, after all," he went on, "you probably have trees
and ponds at Chidhurst, we'll begin by going to St. Paul's. I'm afraid,
seeing the limited time at our disposal, that the Tower and the Monument
must be left alone." A brilliant thought struck him as they were driving
back down the Strand to the Houses of Parliament. "We'll take Miss
Hunstan a stack of flowers from Covent Garden--you must see Covent
Garden, you know. Hi! cabby, turn up here--Covent Garden; we want to get
some flowers."

"Oh, but I've brought no money with me."

"I have--heaps," he laughed, delighted at her innocence. "I had an idea
we might do something, you know. Now then, here we are. You must jump
out, if you don't mind."

They walked up and down the centre arcade, looking in at the shops, as
happy and as guileless as Adam and Eve in the first garden when the
world was all their own. They chose a stack of flowers, as Tom called
it; he filled Margaret's arms with them just for the pleasure of looking
at her.

"You make quite a picture loaded with them," he said. "Look here, I
should like to give you some roses, too, if you will have them?" he
said, almost humbly. "We get them in London, you see, before you do in
the country; and I want you to take some back with you."

"I should like to take my mother some," she answered, quite unconscious,
of course, of their value.

"Good! You shall take her a heap from us both--I should like to send her
some, if I may. But they shall meet you at Waterloo in a box, then
they'll be fresh at the last moment."

Margaret felt, as they drove on again, as if she had found a playfellow,
a comrade, some one who made life a wholly different thing. She had
never been on equal terms with any one young before--with any one at all
who laughed and chattered and looked at the world from the same
stand-point as she felt that she and Tom did, though till yesterday she
had not set eyes on him. It was a new delight that the world had
suddenly sprung upon her. This was what it was like to be a boy and girl
together, to have a brother, to have friends, what it would be like if
some day in the future she were married: people went about then laughing
and talking and delighting in being together. Oh, that wonderful word
together!

"We won't go to the Abbey," Tom said, "because you did that yesterday,
and before we inspect the House of Commons--"

"Some day you will be there!"

"Some day I shall be there," he echoed; "but before I show you the
identical seat in which it is my ambition to sit, we'll get rid of these
flowers. Great College Street is here, just round the corner. I wonder
if she's at home. Jolly little street, isn't it? with its low houses on
one side and the old wall on the other."

"And the trees looking over--"

"Here we are."

He flew out and knocked at the door. It was opened by a gray-haired
woman, middle-aged, and with a kindly face, overmuch wrinkled for her
years. Miss Hunstan had gone to rehearsal, she said.

"Oh--what a bore!" Tom was crestfallen. Then a happy thought struck him.
"Look here, Mrs. Gilman, we have brought her some flowers. Will you let
us come and stuff them into her pots?"

"To be sure," she answered. "I'll get you some water at once," and she
made off, leaving the street door open.

"Come in," he cried to Margaret. "Mrs. Gilman knows me, and she'll let
us arrange them." The hall of the little old-fashioned house was
panelled like Mrs. Lakeman's, but it was very narrow and painted white,
and there were no fripperies about. Miss Hunstan's sitting-room was on
the ground floor; it was small, and the walls matched the panelling
outside it. The two windows went up high and let in the light, and the
bygone centuries from over the way. In front of them were muslin
curtains, fresh and white, with frills to their edges. There were brass
sconces in the wall with candles and blue silk shades, but the
reading-lamp on the table suggested that they were seldom used. On one
side of the fireplace was a writing-table covered with papers, and over
it a bookshelf; here and there a photograph, above the mantelpiece an
autotype of the Sistine Madonna in a dark brown frame, and beneath it,
filled with white flowers, was a vase of cheap green pottery; there were
other pots of the same ware about the room, but they were all empty.

"We will fill them," Tom said, triumphantly.

Margaret looked at their handiwork with delight. "I like doing this,"
she said. "But it seems such an odd thing to be here in a stranger's
room among the things that help to make up a life--and the stranger
absent."

He looked at her for a moment. "Somehow she isn't a stranger," he
answered. "Lots of people are strangers, no matter how long you know
'em, but she isn't, even at the beginning, if she likes you. Let's put
these daffodils into this thing. Shall we?"

"They look as if they were growing out of the green earth," she said;
"pots should always be green, don't you think so? or else clear glass,
like water."

"Good," he said, and went on cramming the flowers in. At last there were
only the pale white roses left.

"We'll put them here," Margaret said, and set down the pot by the
photograph of a thin, sweet-looking woman on the left of the
writing-table.

"That's her mother," Tom said, half tenderly; Margaret pushed the roses
nearer to it, and loved him for his tone. Then when all the flowers were
placed about the little blue and white room, and the freshness of spring
was its own, they laughed again like the light-hearted children they
were, and went out to their cab.

"Good-bye, Mrs. Gilman," Tom cried, as he closed the doors. "Tell Miss
Hunstan we did it--Miss Vincent and I, and that we left her our
blessing."



X


The brown cart was waiting at the station, a successor to the heavy one
of former days, lighter and better built, and the cob--a new
cob--hurried along with it as though it were a cockle-shell. Hannah was
not there, only the boy who went out with the milk in the morning. He
sat up behind and took care of the luggage, while Mr. Vincent drove with
his daughter beside him, contented and happy. The visit to London had
drawn them closer together. To Margaret it had been a strange looking
back; for she had hardly realized till now that her father must have had
a history before the day when he had entered the farm gates and seen her
mother for the first time. She had heard Hannah speak of it--the coming
of the stranger, as it had remained in Hannah's mind through all the
years afterwards. Margaret thought, too, of her grandfather and uncle,
the relations of whom she had known nothing when she started yesterday.
She was glad they had been people of position, even though they had
spent their money or had done undesirable things, as something in her
father's manner seemed to imply; for it made her father's life appear a
more important thing, not to her, but in the world, that might otherwise
have thought it merely one of the details of the farm at Chidhurst. She
looked at the moor as they drove beside it. The clumps of broom and
gorse had come out since yesterday full and golden in the sunshine. The
fresh green of the whortleberries was showing itself, the bell-heather
was struggling into bloom; just so the possibilities of life had broken
into her imagination, and if some struck her with wonder, there were
others that filled her with joy. An unreasonable, undefinable happiness
that could not be put into words rose to her heart when she thought of
Tom Carringford. She could hear his laughter still, and his merry talk
as they made a bower of Miss Hunstan's room; she wanted to see him again
already, and something told her that he wanted to see her.

The farm-yard gates were wide open. It was good to see the corner of the
Dutch garden again, and in the porch, just as Margaret had known she
would be, her mother stood waiting. Mr. Vincent took his wife's hand
without a word, and looked into her face with a little smile.

"We have come home," he said. She gave him her hand for a moment, then
turned to Margaret, who saw with surprise that she was smarter than
usual. She wore her gray cashmere and the brooch with the topaz in it,
and one of her best hemstitched handkerchiefs was pushed into the front
of her dress. A smile came to her lips as she answered the question in
Margaret's eyes.

"Hannah didn't go to the station," she said, "for Mr. Garratt came over
this afternoon. Tea has been ready this hour and more, but we waited for
you."

A fresh cloth was on the table in the living-room, there was a vase of
flowers in the middle, the best china was put out, and fresh-cooked
scones and other good things were visible. Near the fireplace stood
Hannah, looking a little defiant and rather shamefaced. Margaret noticed
that her hair was brushed back tighter than ever and shone more than
usual. At her neck was a bow of muslin and lace, of which she seemed
uncomfortably conscious. Beside her, brisk and business-like, with a
happy, self-satisfied expression on his face, stood a youthful-looking
man of eight-and-twenty. He was fair and had a smart air with him. His
hair was carefully parted in the middle and curled a little at the tips.
He had a small mustache, which he stroked a great deal and pulled back
towards his ears. He wore a cutaway coat and a navy-blue tie with white
spots on it, and a gold watch-chain wandered over his waistcoat.
Margaret saw in a moment that he was altogether different from the men
who were her father's friends--from Mr. Carringford, for instance, or
Sir George Stringer, with whom she had felt natural and at home. There
was something about this man that made her haughty and on the defensive
even before she had spoken to him.

"Your train must have been late. Tea's been waiting this long time,"
Hannah said. "However, it's to be hoped you've enjoyed yourselves." Her
manner was quite amiable, but a little confused, as was only to be
expected.

"This is Mr. Garratt," Mrs. Vincent said. "You will like to meet him,
father; he has always known James's people at Petersfield."

"How do you do, sir; pleased to make your acquaintance, I'm sure," Mr.
Garratt said. "I hope you've had a pleasant visit to London?"

"How do you do?" Mr. Vincent answered, wondering whether this lively
young man could really be in love with the sedate Hannah.

"And Miss Vincent, I'm pleased to meet you," Mr. Garratt went on, in a
genial tone. "Have often heard of you, and hope you've enjoyed yourself
since you've been away."

"Yes, thank you," Margaret answered, distantly.

"I dare say you've come back ready for your tea." This was by way of a
little joke. "There's nothing like a railway journey, with the country
at the end of it, for starting an appetite," to which she vouchsafed no
reply, feeling instinctively that it would be wise to keep Mr. Garratt
at a distance.

Then the business of tea was entered upon, reflectively, and almost in
silence, as was the custom at Woodside Farm. The silence puzzled Mr.
Garratt a little, this being his first visit; then he wondered if it
were a compliment to himself, and whether these quiet people were shy
before him.

"Is there much doing in London?" he asked Mr. Vincent, thinking perhaps
that he was expected to lead the conversation.

"I suppose so," Mr. Vincent answered, a little coldly.

"I always think myself that it does one good to go up. I dare say you
find the same? Did you stay at one of the hotels in the Strand?"

"We stayed at the Langham."

"It's rather swagger there, you know." Mr. Garratt thought this would be
a pleasing remark.

"It's very quiet," Mr. Vincent said, haughtily.

"Did you go anywhere, father?" Mrs. Vincent asked.

"Yes; we went to Westminster Abbey."

"Magnificent building, Westminster Abbey," Mr. Garratt put in. "What did
you think of it, Miss Vincent?"

"I don't think I could say just yet," Margaret answered; "it was only
yesterday that I saw it."

"Quite right; it doesn't do to make up one's mind too soon," Mr. Garratt
remarked, cheerily, at which Hannah looked up a little sharply.

"For my part," she said, "I like people to know at once what they
think, and what they mean."

"Well, you see," he answered, looking back at her, "it isn't difficult
sometimes." Whereupon the color came to her face and amiability to her
expression. "What else did you see in London, Miss Vincent?" he turned
to Margaret again.

Something prompted Mr. Vincent to answer for her, and with extreme
gravity: "We went to the theatre."

"I'm sorry to hear it," Hannah said.

"And how did you like it?" Mr. Garratt asked Margaret, as if he had not
heard Hannah's remark.

"It was wonderful," she answered. "I long to go again."

"It's a place of iniquity," Hannah said, firmly.

Mr. Vincent looked across at her. A sharp answer rose to his lips, but
he remembered that the Petersfield young man was a suitor, and had been
long expected. Before he could speak Margaret struck in, quickly:

"It was one of Shakespeare's plays that we saw."

"I have read a good many of them," Hannah remarked, not in the least
pacified.

"Then, of course, you are aware, Miss Barton, that they are mostly
historical," Mr. Garratt said, in a conciliatory voice, "and it may be
said that to read him, or even to see him acted, makes us familiar with
historical knowledge;" a sentence at which Mr. Vincent gave a little
snort, but said nothing.

Hannah was delighted at the prospect of an argument. "History may teach
us some lessons, Mr. Garratt," she said, "but we can read them, just as
we can read other lessons. There is no occasion to do more; and as for
play-acting teaching us history, once people have taken to their graves
they might be left to lie in them and not be brought out and used as
puppets that dance to man's imagination." Mr. Vincent looked up; he was
becoming interested. "Moreover," continued Hannah, "it's making a mock
of God, for only He can bring the dead to life."

"What you say is very true, Miss Barton," Mr. Garratt answered, sending
another furtive look at Margaret, "and I never think myself that
Shakespeare is as interesting as a good modern piece."

"Do you go to the theatre then, Mr. Garratt?" she asked, quickly putting
down the teapot, but still keeping her hand on its handle.

"I don't make a practice of it, Miss Barton, but if one is in London one
is tempted to do as London does. Moreover, I believe in seeing the world
as it is, rather than in holding off because it is not as one wants it
to be," he added, with the air of a moralist, but an obvious capacity
for enjoyment lurking behind it.

"The world should be made a wilderness for the evil-doer--" Hannah
began, as if she were trying to remember a bit from a sermon.

"There should be a voice crying in the wilderness, Miss Barton--" Mr.
Garratt stopped, for it occurred to him that he might be going too far.

"Or what would be the good of the wilderness?" Mr. Vincent asked. "We
have finished tea, I think?" He rose and went to the best parlor. The
years he had spent out of the world, as he had once known it, made him a
little intolerant of many things, of this vulgar and good-tempered young
man with an eye to the main chance among them. But Mr. Garratt would do
well enough for Hannah--in fact, nothing could be better, for evidently
he was not narrow, and this might have a good effect upon her. For
himself and his daughter and for his wife there was a different plane, a
different point of view. The visit to London had made him see even more
clearly than before the manner of woman he had married, and for the
first time, after all these years and in the autumn of their days, he
was nearly being her lover.

Just as if his thought had brought her to him, she put her head inside
the door and asked, as she always did:

"Are you busy, father, or shall I come to you for a little while?"

He got up and went to her. "I wanted you," he said. "Come and sit by
the window; there are a good many things to say." She felt as if heaven
had flashed its joy into her heart; but only for a moment, then dread
took its place.

"Is the news bad from London?" she asked.

"It's not good," he said. "That is one reason why I want to talk to you,
dear wife." He stopped a moment before he went on. "I have told you two
or three times that you know nothing about me or my people. Now, that I
shall probably be going away very soon and that Margaret is grown up, I
think you ought to know about them: one can never tell what may happen.
There is not much to their credit to say--or to mine, I fear," he added,
and then, quite briefly, he gave her the points of the family history,
and made known to her the possibilities in the future. She was not
elated--he had known that she would not be; but she was surprised, and a
little offended.

"I didn't think there was this behind," she said; "I don't know what
people will say."

"Is there any occasion to tell them?"

"I don't suppose there is," she answered, absently, and then, with an
anxious look in her clear eyes, she said the one thing that hurt him in
all the years he knew her. "Father, you didn't hold it back because you
didn't think us good enough?"

He turned round quickly. "If it was anything of that sort," he
answered, "it was because I did not think myself good enough. My people
led useless, extravagant lives, and my own has not been much better. I
have felt ashamed that you should know anything concerning us, and it
wasn't necessary for our contentment here."

"No," she said, slowly, "it wasn't."

"Nor is it any more necessary to tell people our affairs now than it has
been hitherto. If Cyril dies I shall not alter my name--what good would
a title be to me? I have no son to come after me, no one at all to
inherit anything except Margaret, for whom this doesn't matter."

"I'm glad you've told Margaret," Mrs. Vincent answered. She was silent
for a moment, and then went on, thoughtfully: "She is changing in
herself; I can feel it. She'll not be content here always. She is
stretching her wings already, like a young bird that is waiting to fly."

"Well, at any rate, she had better stay quietly here till my return," he
said. "By-the-way, an old friend of mine has taken the vicarage
house--Sir George Stringer; he is sure to come over and see you."

"We are getting very grand, father," she said, ruefully, resenting it a
little in her heart. She had been so well content with her own station
in life, and had never wished to see it either lifted or lowered; the
first seemed undignified to her, the last would have meant humiliation.

"It doesn't make any difference, dear," he said. "We were a worthless,
ramshackling set, who put such privileges as we had under our feet; and
as for me, I haven't even enough grace to take me to church on Sunday. I
want to forget everything but the life of the last twenty years--you,
and Margaret."

She put her hands up slowly to his shoulders.

"Father," she said, "you will never know what you have been to me, never
in this world."

"I do," he answered; "I know--well."

"And I couldn't bear that you should be anything but just what you have
been always."

"I never shall be anything else," he answered, and stooped and kissed
her. "We won't tell Hannah about this," he went on, "and I don't suppose
Margaret will. There's no reason to make a mystery of it; if it comes
out, well and good, but if not we can be silent."

"I'd rather she didn't know," Mrs. Vincent answered, "unless she finds
it out; she'd only be talking and thinking things I wouldn't bear."


Meanwhile Towsey and Hannah were clearing away the tea things: Margaret
went out to the porch and looked at the garden and the beechwood she
loved rising high beyond it. Mr. Garratt cast a quick glance towards
the kitchen, and in a moment he was by her side.

"Are you inclined for a little stroll, Miss Vincent?"

His eyes said more than his words. She went a step forward and stood by
a lilac bush.

"No," she said, "I am going in directly."

The sunset with a parting shaft of gold touched her hair; a whispering
breeze carried a message from the roses to her cheek, and she was
young--young, the dawn was in her eyes, she seemed to listen to the song
of birds, to belong to the flowers that were springing from the earth.
She was different altogether from Hannah. A dozen possibilities darted
through his mind. His heart beat quicker, his usual ready speech failed
him, he stood tugging at his mustache and thinking that he had never
seen a girl like this before--but suddenly he was recalled to
common-sense.

"Mr. Garratt," Hannah said, her voice was severe and unflinching, "if
you want to see the grave of your aunt Amelia, I will take you."



XI


Mr. Vincent started for Australia a week after his visit to London. In
the first hours of his sailing Mrs. Vincent and Margaret measured in
their hearts every length the ship took onward, while Hannah wondered
whether the Lord would let it get safely to its journey's end, and
prayed fervently for Jews, Turks, and infidels. For Hannah did not
pretend to regret his departure. "It will be good for him to be away,"
she said to her mother, "and it's as well the place should be left for a
bit to those whose hold was on it before he came and will be after he's
gone." There was no question of her supremacy after Mr. Vincent
departed, and her mother was as wax in her hands.

But it was not only for peace, and because of a vague feeling that she
owed Hannah an indefinite reparation for the fact that she had set
another man in her father's place, that Mrs. Vincent gave way; it was
also because the keen interest she had once taken in the working of the
farm had been gradually lulled, even half-forgotten, in her great love
for the man she had first seen when middle-age had already overtaken
her. There was another reason, too, but it existed unknown to any one,
even to herself. Mrs. Vincent had become less active in the last year or
two, more silent and thoughtful. Her hair was grayer, the lines on her
face were deeper, dull pains beset her sometimes, and a lethargy she
could not conquer. She put it down, as those about her did, to the
gathering years and the hurrying of time; now and then it struck her
that she "wasn't over well, that some day she'd see a doctor," but she
dismissed the idea with the conviction that it was nothing, only that
she was growing old--the worst disease of all, she thought, since every
hour of life was sweet that she spent in the world that held her
husband. Oddly enough, she, as well as Hannah, had been almost relieved
when he went. It was the right thing for a man to go out and see the
world; no women folk should tie him down forever; she even felt a little
unselfish pleasure in remembering that it was she who had first proposed
it. While he was away she determined to rest well, and sleep away her
tiredness and all the uneasiness it brought, so that she might be strong
to welcome him back. But after the excitement of getting him ready, and
the passionate though undemonstrative farewell, a reaction came. She
shut herself up in her room once or twice, so that her tears might not
be suspected; or, when she had grown more accustomed to his absence,
sat brooding in the living-place or the porch, trying to imagine what he
was doing and to picture his surroundings.

"I must be a fool to go on like this at my age," she said to herself; "I
wouldn't let the girls know for anything."

For Margaret, her father's going brought all sorts of restrictions and
limitations; but her mother was too much wrapped up in her own dreams to
perceive it, or to draw closer to her than before, and so to make up for
the loss of his companionship. Thus Hannah was free to show the dislike
she had always felt and to worry her with petty tyrannies.

"The best parlor will be used by any one who likes till he returns," she
promptly announced. "It has been kept apart long enough, as if the whole
of the house wasn't fit for those who own it to live in, unless it was
sometimes by way of a treat."

"It was kept apart because father wanted to read and write and be
quiet," Margaret said.

"Well, there's no one who need read and write now; you can do more
useful things, and will be all the better for it; as for being quiet,
well, there's others that will want to be quiet sometimes, and it'll do
for them. Mr. Garratt is coming over to his dinner on Sundays, and we
shall sit there in the afternoon--if we are not taking a walk. Mother
is always in the porch, and we don't want you hanging about us."

"I am glad to get away," Margaret said, quickly.

"You do your best to keep his eyes fixed on you, anyway; but you needn't
think you'll draw him to yourself; it isn't likely he'd mean anything by
an unbeliever."

"I don't want him," Margaret cried, and fled up to the beechwood that
stood high behind the farm as though it were the landscape's crown.
Here, in some inconsequent manner born of the instinct that only comes
to a woman's heart, she waited for Tom Carringford, or for news of him.
That happy morning in London had changed the whole current of her
thoughts, had put something strange and sweet into her life that she did
not attempt to define and hardly knew to be there. But she wanted to see
him again--and she waited, dreaming as her mother did, yet differently.
He would come, or he would write, and soon; she felt it and knew it. But
the days went by, and the weeks, and the first month of her father's
absence, and nothing happened. She was a little disappointed, yet
thought herself unreasonable, for, of course, he was thinking of his
under-secretaryship, building castles concerning his parliamentary
career--in Margaret's thoughts he was sure to be prime-minister some
day--or going out with his friends; and she thought uneasily of the
Lakemans--he had no time to go to Hindhead, or to remember her father's
invitation. And why should she expect him to write? He would come,
perhaps, when Sir George Stringer was established at the house on the
hill.

But of Sir George there was not a sign. Every day, in the early morning,
or in the twilight, she hurried through the fields, towards the road on
which the church and the garden entrance to his house faced each other
on either side; but the gates were always closed, and a chain round them
fastened by a padlock showed that as yet he was not expected. Then she
came away slowly, and with dull disappointment in her heart, which
Hannah's temper and tyranny emphasized till she could hardly bear it.
The foundations of life seemed to be giving way--she felt it as she
passed the windows of the empty best parlor, or saw her mother, erect
still, but older and graver, sitting in the porch. The happiness of
home, the dear home of all her life, had waned lately.

"Are you well, mother?" she asked one day, uneasily. "Sometimes I think
you are suffering." This was five weeks after Mr. Vincent had started.

"It's nothing," Mrs. Vincent answered. "I'm getting on in years, Margey;
at fifty-six aches and pains have a right to take some hold on one. I
shall be better when your father returns; perhaps I did a little too
much before he went."

"Yes, you did, darling," Margaret answered, kissing the hands--large,
capable hands, that not even the rough farm-work had ever made coarse.

"There'll be a good many months to rest in before he comes," Mrs.
Vincent went on; "perhaps it's as well that he's away for a bit."

"But, mother dear, you used to be so active only a little while ago."

"You see, Hannah's older, and likes doing things herself," Mrs. Vincent
answered; "and that's as well, too; it gives me time to think over all
the years back. I was never able to do it before. You mustn't trouble
about me, Margey; when people are getting on they like being quiet." It
was evident that her mother wanted to be let alone, and Margaret
respected her wish, though it made her own life more difficult.

And then there was Mr. Garratt, brisk and vulgar, with the veneer of
shoddy education over him, and the alertness of intelligence that is
bent on "getting on" and making the most of chances. His coming and
going would have been of little consequence to Margaret if he had but
left her alone. But this was precisely what he would not do. She spoke
to him as little as possible, and showed unconsciously that she thought
him a rather inferior person; but Mr. Garratt faced everything, and was
a difficult young man to abash.

Moreover, Mr. Garratt had lately been going through an acute phase of
his own, for possibilities had suggested themselves that puzzled and
distracted him. He had seized a chance to improve his business by
establishing a branch at Guildford, where he proposed to live during the
summer months, leaving the Petersfield branch, more or less, to take
care of itself. Land had gone up in Surrey; there was a good deal of
buying and selling to be done among the people, who were anxious to
build the red-brick houses at which Sir George Stringer had scoffed, and
it had occurred to Mr. Garratt that the fashion might be used to his
profit. Besides, he was tired of Petersfield. Guildford was nearer town;
"a better class of people go there," he said, with the knowingness that
grated on Margaret. It had lately become a rule that he appeared on
Sunday morning and went to church with Mrs. Vincent and Hannah, walking
back with them to the mid-day meal, which never varied--cold beef and
baked plum-pudding in the winter, cold lamb and fruit tart in the
summer, always eaten in silence, as if the Sabbath were a time of
penance--and after it he was expected to submit, as he knew quite well,
to a _tête-à-tête_ in the best parlor. But while he was getting his
house and office ready at Guildford he often found it possible to take
the afternoon train to Haslemere, and at Haslemere he hired a little
dog-cart with a fat, gray pony, and drove himself over to Chidhurst,
where he stayed to tea, driving himself back again in the early summer
twilight. It was concerning the line he should take on these afternoons,
that were somehow easier than the Sunday visits, that he was exercised
in his mind. He had first considered Hannah from a matrimonial point of
view on the advice of his mother, who had been assured by old Mrs. James
Barton, of Petersfield, that she would ultimately possess Woodside Farm.
It had seemed to Mr. Garratt that, by the time he was prepared to
retire, the farm would be an excellent retreat for his old age, and
meanwhile Hannah would make him a careful wife. But he was a far-seeing
young man, who had a way of considering things in all their bearings,
hence he had purposely held aloof for a long time, for the simple reason
that there was no occasion to hurry. He knew what Hannah was like, and
had come to the conclusion that, on the whole, she would do. But she did
not inspire him to any display of sentiment, and there was no reason why
he should waste his time with her when he felt that he could be employed
quite as agreeably and perhaps more profitably at home. It was simply to
make sure that things were going on satisfactorily that he went at last
to Woodside Farm, and not from any particular desire to see her.

Then, to his surprise, Margaret had appeared. She took his breath away,
and being a young man of intelligence, he saw at once that she and her
father were altogether of a different class from that to which he was
accustomed. He wondered how she came to be there. How her father came to
be there, and what had induced him to marry Mrs. Vincent and settle down
at the farm. "There must be a screw loose somewhere," he thought; but
what would a dozen screws matter to him if only--for it promptly
occurred to him--he could marry Margaret? The thought intoxicated him;
she was young and beautiful; she made the blood dance through his veins
as it had not done since he was two-and-twenty, when he had fallen in
love with the daughter of a dentist who had thrown him over for the
purser of an Atlantic-going steamer: and that young lady had not been a
patch on this one. With a wife like Margaret, he told himself, there was
no knowing what might be done, to what heights he might rise in these
democratic days. He looked at Hannah's face; it was faded and somewhat
weather-beaten; there were lines of temper on it--they would be deeper
by-and-by; the hard gray-blue of her eyes chilled him, her tightly
pulled back hair repelled him, her manner suggested that time would make
her shrewish. Life with her would mean a clean, well-ordered home of a
sort, but hardly a gay and pleasant dove-cot. Luckily, he had not in any
way committed himself; he had merely been extremely polite and friendly,
and entered upon that stage which, in the class just below the one he
considered to be his own, was known as "walking-out"--a sort of prelude
to getting engaged. But he had not said a single word of love; he had
looked at her, it is true, but a cat may look at a king. The worst of it
was that he could never manage to make any impression upon Margaret; at
best, she was only civil to him; she spoke as little as possible, and
generally vanished soon after his arrival; there were times when he felt
her manner to be a little contemptuous; still, he determined not to bind
himself in another direction till he made sure that she was impossible.
He looked in the glass and came to the conclusion that he was by no
means bad-looking; the curl of his hair and the fairness of his mustache
he considered to be strong points to the good in his appearance.

"She is a little young," he said to himself, "and doesn't know what's
what yet. A girl isn't up to much till she is two-and-twenty. She's had
time then to look round at home, and to see that there mayn't always be
room for her in it. Moreover, she knows then when a fellow is worth
having, and doesn't give herself so many airs as she does at first. I
wonder if my dress is quite up to the mark? She's got a quick eye, and
she's been to London, and they always think they know a good deal after
that." He considered this point very carefully, with the result that the
next time he went to Haslemere he wore drab spats over his by no means
ill-made shoes; a white handkerchief, fine and slightly scented with
white rose, showed itself from his breast-pocket, and in his hand he
carried a crop, for he had determined that instead of driving he would
ride to the farm. It would look more spirited, he thought, to trot
beside the moor, past the church, along the road, and down the green
lane, arriving with a clatter at the porch, than to appear in even the
neatest of traps. There was a decent mare to be hired at "The Brown
Bear" at Haslemere. He wrote to the landlord, and felt quite excited at
an imaginary picture of himself and the effect it would have on
Margaret.



XII


Mr. Vincent had arranged that while he was away his two-hundred-a-year
should be paid to Margaret. The five hundred pounds legacy, of which he
had spoken, would, he knew, be more than sufficient for his travelling
needs. The payment of the little income to Margaret had been Mrs.
Vincent's suggestion. "You see, I shall not want it," she said, "and it
will be better for her to have it. Then if anything happens while you
are gone it will be there, and if not she'll save it, and when you come
back we'll do something with it." Margaret was only told of this after
her father's departure.

"You'll feel quite rich," her mother said.

"Why, yes," Margaret answered, and in truth it seemed like a fortune
laid at her feet. "You and I might go a-travelling, mother darling."

But Mrs. Vincent shook her head. "I'm better at home," she replied;
"travelling is not for old people."

Then, not as if she had generated the thought in her own mind, but as if
it had come stealing to her over the Surrey hills from the city far
away, Margaret wondered what it would feel like to go to London by
herself, to be among the people there, to see the streets and hear the
rumble of the traffic, to live alone, as Miss Hunstan did, in
white-and-blue rooms in a quaint old street with a gray-haired woman to
wait on her, and, above all, to do something outside in the open. She
had come to see that there was a high-road through the world along which
people worked their way. She had been thinking of it a great deal
lately. Moreover, the fascination of the theatre had laid hold of her.
All things had a beginning, she thought; the actress who played
Constance in "King John," though her tones had seemed to come from a
heart that had only to feel keenly to produce them, had once made a
beginning. What a wonderful thing it must be to make anything, or to do
anything that was counted in the world! If only she had been older, or
had talked it over with her father, or if some strange and hard
necessity were to overtake her and drive her onward, she felt as if
hidden capacities might develop themselves and strength come to her. It
was only a dream, of course, but the dream was a refuge from Hannah, and
a retreat to which she could hurry at will; it was even better than
books. After all, it was only the things that people had heard and seen
and thought that were gathered up and put into books; but if she went
out into the world she might get them at first-hand for herself. "I
want to know things," she had said to her father that morning in London;
"I want to know things, and to do them," she cried to herself, one
afternoon in the woods, and amid the stillness of the coming summer at
Chidhurst. Since her father went away she had drawn very close to nature
beneath the great elms of her cathedral. The mysteries and immensities
about her seemed to whisper secrets concerning the world that she longed
to understand.

Nearly six weeks since her father went, and, except for the coming and
going of Mr. Garratt, life had virtually stood still at Woodside Farm.
"If only Sir George Stringer would arrive," she said to herself one
afternoon, "I should feel as if it were the beginning of a new chapter."
She had not ventured to look at the house on the hill for the last day
or two, but she would go now, she thought--something told her there
would be news. "I will go this very minute," she cried, "and then if
there is no sign I will wait a whole week."

She went quickly through a copse and growth of underwood, over a ditch
into the fields, across the fields and out by the church to the road.
She saw in a moment that the gates of the house were open and her heart
gave a bound. He was coming, perhaps he had come already, and would know
something about Tom Carringford. She went a few steps up the drive,
between the larches and the fir-trees with the little monthly rose
bushes in front, and wondered if she dared go up to the house and ask
for him--her father's old friend would hardly take it amiss. Then she
met the handy man who looked after the garden. Sir George had come the
night before, he told her--come for a week, but he was out; drove away
in a fly, to see some of the country round-about, most likely.

Margaret went out of the gate with a smile on her lips, to find herself
face to face with Mr. Garratt on his steed. He was ambling past
cautiously, not in the least expecting to see her, but the moment he did
he pulled himself up and tried to look smart and unconcerned. She
laughed and nodded to him because she was so happy, and because it
amused her to see Hannah's sweetheart riding by supremely satisfied with
himself, and his spats, and his crop, and bowler hat. He tugged at his
mustache when he saw Margaret, and lifted his hat with a little
flourish.

"Why, Mr. Garratt," she said, "I didn't know you!"

He was delighted at her manner; he took it as a tribute to his improved
appearance; he held his reins tightly and swayed about a little in his
saddle, as if his steed were restive.

"Riding is a little more lively, Miss Vincent, than tooling along in a
trap; of course, if there's some one beside you it's different." He
tried to put significance into his tone.

"You should get Hannah to meet you at the station in the brown cart,"
she said, wickedly, "and drive you back."

"I'm not sure whether it would be an enjoyment or not, Miss Vincent."
She passed him while he spoke, and stood by the gate that opened into
the field.

"I'm sure it would," she answered, as she undid the latch. "We shall
meet presently," and she gave him a little nod of dismissal. "I'm going
this way."

In a moment he had dismounted and stood by her side. "I can lead the
mare across the grass and have the pleasure of escorting you at the same
time," he said, quickly. They stood looking at each other for a moment,
and the intolerance that she always felt for him came back.

"I'm not sure that I'm going home yet," she said, "or that I'm going
back this way, after all."

"Any way will do for me, I'm not in a hurry. We might have a little talk
about London, and the theatres," he added, with a sudden inspiration.
"Miss Barton is rather strict, you know."

"Hannah was brought up to think the theatre a wicked place, so she is
quite right not to go to one, and to disapprove of people who do--my
father doesn't think it wrong."

"Neither do I, Miss Vincent." They were walking across the field by
this time, he leading the mare, and she taking the narrow foot-path; "in
fact, though I wouldn't like to tell Miss Barton so, I am very fond of
it. Why, when I was up for a week a month ago I went four times." He
looked at her knowingly, as if to establish a confidence. "I went to see
'The Lovers' Lesson'--a lovely piece, Miss Vincent; it made one
feel"--Mr. Garratt lowered his voice at this point--"what real love was.
Oh, I say, there's a stile to this next field; I didn't know that. I
shall have to take the mare over." He put his foot into the stirrup,
vaulted into the saddle, and went over with the air of a huntsman
talking a five-barred gate; then dismounted and waited for Margaret.
"Allow me to give you a hand," he said, and squeezed her fingers as she
stepped down.

"Please don't," she said, haughtily.

"I'd do it again," he said, "to see the color come like that; you don't
know what you make one feel like."

"I don't wish to know. Be good enough to remember that you come to see
Hannah."

"But it isn't Hannah I want to come and see."

She turned upon him quickly. "It is only Hannah who wishes to see you,
understand that."

"Oh, I say, what a spitfire! Look here, Miss Vincent, don't be angry.
You and I ought to be friends, you know; and I don't mean any harm."

After all, he was only vulgar, Margaret thought. "I'm sure you don't
mean any harm--" she said, though not very graciously.

He felt that it would be a good move to get back to neutral subjects.

"Do you know the gent who has taken the house by the church?" he asked.
"You seemed to be taking an interest in him."

"He is a friend of my father's," she condescended to inform him.

"He must be a swell--he's a 'Sir,' anyhow. You know, I've got an idea
that you and your father are swells, too. Why, you and Miss Barton are
as different as chalk from cheese--there isn't any looking at her when
you are there."

Margaret walked on without a word, but he followed her meekly; it was
all the same to Mr. Garratt.

"You're a downright beauty, that's what I think. I say! There's Hannah
standing by the porch, looking out," for by this time they were within
half a field and the length of the garden from the house. "She will be
wild when she sees me walking with you, you know. Now, then," he added,
touching his own shoulder with the crop in his hand as she made a sign
of impatience, "don't be disagreeable again, there's a dear girl. Let's
talk about the theatre; you like that, you know, and we've only got five
minutes left. I'll tell you what you ought to have seen--'The School for
Scandal,' and Miss Hunstan in it."

"Oh, did you see her!" Margaret exclaimed, and took a step nearer to
him.

Hannah, watching from the porch, saw it. A deep pink came to her cheeks
and to the tip of her nose. Some one in the best parlor, looking through
the little lattice window, saw it, too, and drew conclusions.

"Oh, you want to know about her, do you?" Mr. Garratt said,
triumphantly. "Now, why is that?"

"I met her at a friend's house when I was in London with father."

"Did you? Well, I wouldn't tell Hannah that if I were you; she'd ask
them to put up a prayer in chapel for you."

"Tell me about Miss Hunstan--she played Lady Teazle--"

"Oh, you've heard about Lady Teazle, have you? Well, she was just
splendid. You should have seen her chaff that old husband of hers, and
the way she held her head when the screen fell. A friend of mine was
over in New York when she first came out--fifteen years ago, now;
getting on, isn't it?"

"What did she do first?"

"She walked on, holding up the train of a princess, but she did it with
such an air the young fellows used to go in just to look at her. Then
Dawson Farley went over there with an English company and spotted her, I
suppose, and gave her a small part to play. She was just about your
age," Mr. Garratt added, significantly. "People said they were going to
be married, and there was a lot of talk about it, but it didn't come
off, and she went about the States acting, and became a swell, and he
became a swell over here. Now she's over here, too, starring as Lady
Teazle. I wonder if she ever sees Dawson Farley?"

"Oh yes. I met them both when I was in London; he said they were old
friends."

"You seem to have done a great deal on that visit of yours, and it only
lasted a sandwiched night, I think?" he said, hurrying after her, but
handicapped by having to lead his horse.

"Did you see Miss Hunstan in anything else?" Margaret asked, taking no
notice of his remark.

"I saw her once in a mixture performance, got up for a charity--actors
and actresses showing off in little bits, you know."

"What did she do?"

"She recited a poem by an American chap called Field. I dare say you
know all about him, being fond of poetry?"

"No, I never heard of him."

Mr. Garratt was triumphant. "Really! I bought his poems and recited one
of them myself at an entertainment we got up for the new chapel at
Midhurst--"

"Oh!"

"I might lend you the book," but she made no answer. "I take a lively
interest in most things," he went on, quickly, for he saw that their
talk must necessarily come to an end in a moment, "and I should very
much enjoy getting a little more conversation with you than I do at
present. I think we take a similar view of a good many things. Now, Miss
Barton and I take a different one. To tell the truth, I'm not overfond
of chapel going and psalm singing. I believe in seeing a bit of life,
and London's the place to see it in. I say"--he went up nearer to
her--"I wish we were there together, don't you, eh?" and he gave her a
little nudge.

She stopped and flushed with rage. "No, I do not," she answered, "and
you will not touch me again, Mr. Garratt; I dislike people who are too
familiar." She rubbed her elbow as if it had been stung, and strode on.

"Well, you've got a plainer way of speaking than any other young lady
I've ever met in my life," he said, catching her up, "but I'll tell you
something before we part--there isn't anything in the world I wouldn't
do for you. Perhaps you think I'm a little free in my manner, but we
can't all be as high and mighty as you are--we're not made that way, you
know."

Margaret went through the garden gate without a word. Mr. Garratt had to
stand still and hold his horse. "Hannah!" Margaret called. He looked
alarmed, as if he thought she might be going to tell tales. "You had
better come--Mr. Garratt is here."

Hannah came quickly along the garden, her face very red, and its
expression by no means a pleasant one.

"How do you do, Miss Barton?" Mr. Garratt shouted, pleasantly. "I met
Miss Vincent on the hill and led the mare across the fields for the
pleasure of her company."

"Was it an appointment?" she asked, sharply.

"Not on her side," he said, by way of a little joke--"and not on mine,"
he added, quickly, for Margaret had stopped, and there seemed to be an
explanation on her lips; "only an unexpected pleasure. Shall I take the
mare round to the stable, Miss Barton?"

"Jim!" Hannah called at the top of her voice, and a boy appeared from
one of the side buildings. "Come and take Mr. Garratt's horse--and give
it a feed of corn," she added, for it suddenly occurred to her that she
was not making a very amiable appearance before her supposed suitor.
"Margaret, you had better go into the house; there is some one with
mother, and she wants you."

Margaret was half-way down a side path on the left, but she turned in an
instant, went quickly up the garden, and vanished through the porch.

"What was she up to?" Mr. Garratt asked Hannah, as they walked on beside
the yew hedge, reluctantly on his part, but she was a dominant person,
and not easy to thwart. "Going to meet any one?"

"Oh, she was only taking herself off to that wood up there--that's what
she does on Sunday mornings instead of going to church like a Christian
and walking home with mother," Hannah answered, resentfully, for if
Margaret had attended to her religious duties properly, she reflected,
it would not have been necessary for Mr. Garratt to walk back beside
Mrs. Vincent. "In these days, Mr. Garratt, people don't seem to be taken
with the thought of going to heaven, as they used, and they are not
afraid of eternal punishment as they should be."

"Well, you see, Miss Barton, according to them there is nothing to be
gained by dying, and the only thing to do is to make the best of what
they've got."

"Mr. Garratt, I don't like the way you're talking; it's not a reverent
spirit."

"It's not meant to be anything else, I assure you, Miss Barton," he
answered, in an apologetic tone, tapping his right leg with the crop
which he still held in his hand. She raised her eyes and saw his new
bowler hat, and the white handkerchief in his breast-pocket, and her
manner softened.

"When do you think of settling in Guildford, Mr. Garratt?" she asked.

"I shall be over there in another six weeks," he answered; "they're
painting the window-frames now. I hope you and Mrs. Vincent will come
over some day," he added, after a pause. "I should like to have your
opinion of the place."

"I shall be willing to give it to you," she said, demurely, and waited
expectantly, but he said nothing more. He was thinking of Margaret
again.

"Do you know anything of Vincent's people--has he got any besides this
brother out in Australia?" he asked.

"He's never spoken of them--not even of the brother, till last year. I
must tell you frankly, Mr. Garratt, that I never liked him. He is a man
who has rejected religion, and brought up his child to do the same."

"You know, it strikes me somehow that they are swells," Mr. Garratt
said, confidentially, "who have done something shady; or perhaps he did
something shady himself, there's never any telling. It may be that he
was suddenly afraid of being found out, and has taken himself off
altogether. You've only his word for it that he's got a brother, I
suppose?"

Hannah looked at him, dismayed. This idea would cover many odd feelings
and instincts that she had encouraged in regard to Mr. Vincent. That he
should be some sort of criminal in disguise seemed feasible enough when
she remembered his opinions, and that he should desert his wife and
daughter would be a natural outcome of them.

"He had letters with the Australian postmark," she said, remembering
this proof of her step-father's veracity.

"They might be managed," Mr. Garratt answered, in a knowing manner that
added to Hannah's consternation.

"There's some one that knows him come to see mother now. I was looking
for Margaret, and didn't stay to hear his name."

"It's probably the gent who's taken the house on the hill; we might go
and see what he's like," Mr. Garratt said, quickly, and turned towards
the house, elated at the thought of meeting on terms of more or less
equality some one whom in the ordinary course he would have had to treat
with the respect due to a superior.


But Sir George Stringer had been and gone. He was just going when
Margaret returned.

"I drove over for the pleasure of calling on your mother and of seeing
you again," he had said. "You were evidently having a most interesting
conversation as you came across the field--I hope it has not been
interrupted," he looked at her curiously, and saw the color rush to her
face.

"It's only Mr. Garratt," Mrs. Vincent explained; "he often comes over
from Guildford to see us."

"I've no doubt he does," Sir George answered. Margaret had no courage to
contradict the mistake, and Mrs. Vincent did not see it. "You would have
seen me before," he went on, "but I have had a sister ill at Folkestone.
I fear I can't stay any longer now, but I shall come again in a day or
two."

Margaret walked to the gate with him, confused and mortified, but she
made an effort to set matters right.

"I didn't know you were here--"

"Don't apologize," he said, good-naturedly. "I'm going to stay a
fortnight at least, and you'll see me very often. Are you and your
mother here alone?"

"There is Hannah--"

"Oh yes, the sharp-faced woman who let me in, I suppose? She keeps an
eye upon you. I saw her in the garden watching your approach with a
great deal of anxiety and not much approval." The fly had been waiting
in the lane instead of by the porch. He got in before he held out his
hand.

"Sir George, I want to tell you--" she began, and stopped, for it was
so difficult.

"I know," and he laughed again. "By-the-way, I dare say you'll have
Carringford over next week; he's going to Hindhead; he said he should
come and see you, and look me up on the way. Good-bye," and in a moment
he had started. She stood watching him almost in despair. Suppose he
told Tom Carringford about Mr. Garratt! Oh, but when he came again--he
said just now that he should come often--she would explain. Only it was
such a difficult thing to explain, it wanted so much courage, and why
should it matter to Mr. Carringford? Perhaps, too, it would be better to
leave it alone, and he would forget about Mr. Garratt; besides, Mr.
Walford, the clergyman, would be sure to call on Sir George, and if by
any chance he mentioned Woodside Farm he would probably tell him that
Mr. Garratt was walking out with Hannah--he was always at church with
her on Sunday mornings. She remembered joyfully that Sir George would
see them there together, and in a little place like Chidhurst everything
was known and talked about.

"Good Heavens! how lovely she is," Sir George thought as he drove away,
"and what a pity that she should be left to those two women!" For he and
Mrs. Vincent had spent an awkward ten minutes, not knowing in the least
what to say to each other, and he had naturally come to the conclusion
that she was a handsome but quite ordinary woman of her class. "And then
the young tradesman, with the crisp, curling hair showing under the brim
of his bowler hat, and the look of a bounder. Vincent ought to be shot
for leaving her to him." It was no business of his, of course, but it
vexed him so much that he felt as if he could not bring himself to pay
another visit to the farm.



XIII


Mr. Garratt hired the mare on which he had made so successful an
appearance by the month, and determined to enjoy his long rides across
the beautiful Surrey country. He thought matters well over, and came to
the conclusion that it would be as well to keep up an appearance of
paying attention to Hannah lest he should lose the bird in the hand
before he had made sure of catching the one in the bush. But he found it
difficult, for her voice set his teeth on edge, and her conversation,
which was always harking round to evangelical subjects, and hits at her
step-father and Margaret, irritated him till there were times when he
could have shaken her. He was fully alive to the charms of the property
that would one day be hers, and he saw her thrifty qualities clearly
enough; but this was not all a man wanted, he told himself. He wanted
besides a woman he could love and look at, and be proud of, and whose
possession other men would envy him.

"If Margaret only showed a little common-sense," he thought, "she might
be riding beside me two or three times a week. She would look stunning
in a habit, and I wouldn't mind standing it--and the nag, too. People
would sit up a bit if one day they saw us trotting through Guildford
together; as for Hannah, she isn't fit to lick her boots." Even in a
worldly sense he had come to the conclusion that Margaret would suit him
better. "She'd pull one up," he thought, "for I'm certain she's a swell,
though she mayn't know it herself, while t'other would keep one where
one is for the rest of one's days." He touched up the mare in his
excitement, and went by the church and towards the green lane in a
canter.

Sir George Stringer, hidden behind the greenery of his garden, saw him
pass. "That young bounder is going after Vincent's girl again," he said
to himself. "I'd rather marry her myself than let him have her--not that
she'd look at a grizzly old buffer five years her father's senior. I'll
tell Hilda Lakeman about it; perhaps she will ask the girl there and get
the nonsense out of her." He went up to town the next day, and made a
point of lunching at the Embankment, and of sitting an hour in the
flower-scented room afterwards; but Mrs. Lakeman was not as ready to
help in the matter as he had imagined she would be.

"Gerald's family has come to a pretty pass," she said, with contemptuous
amusement. "I'd do anything for him, dear old boy; but if his girl is
in love with this young man, what would be the good of bringing her to
town? I couldn't undertake the responsibility of it, I couldn't indeed,
old friend."

"Did little Margaret seem fond of her tradesman?" Lena asked, sitting
down on a low stool near her mother and looking up at Sir George.

"Well, I saw them get closer together as they crossed the field, and
loiter out of sight behind the hedge before they came into the garden,
and she blushed when she spoke of him."

"Dear little Margaret," purred Lena, "why shouldn't she marry him and be
happy? It would be far better than interfering. I must tell Tom about
it; he'll be so amused."

"I wish Tom would marry her," Sir George said, fervently.

"He's coming to-day; I'll tell him what you say."

"Then you'll mull it. I shall have to invite him to Chidhurst, I think."

"I think you had better invite us," said Mrs. Lakeman. "I should like to
see Mrs. Gerald."

"Of course I will. You must come for a week-end."

"Later, before we go to Scotland in August," Mrs. Lakeman answered. "Tom
is going with us," she added, and looked at Lena out of the tail of her
eye.

Lena rose and sauntered towards the curtains. "He is coming at four,"
she said, in a low tone. "I think I will go and wait for him."

Then Mrs. Lakeman put on her most dramatic manner, restrained, but full
of feeling. "George Stringer," she said, in a thick, harsh voice, "I
loved Gerald Vincent once, and would do anything in the world for him,
but I can't give away--even to his girl--my own child's happiness. You
won't interfere, will you, old friend? You won't throw Margaret Vincent
in his way?"

"I don't understand," he said, slowly. "What do you mean?"

She held out her hands to him.

"May God forgive me for betraying my child's secret"--she managed to put
a heartfelt tone into her words, and was quite pleased with it--"but I
think, for I can't give her away more explicitly than that--I think she
loves Tom."

"He hasn't proposed?"

"Not yet. But he's devoted to her. He sees her every day of his life,
does everything we do, goes everywhere we go. He can't live without
her," she said, with a little, crooked smile; "it hasn't yet occurred to
him that the end must be the only one for two children who love each
other--but it will."

Sir George looked at her and hesitated. "Humph! He's very well off?"

"Fairly well off," she answered, with a gleam in her blue eyes. "That
doesn't matter in the least," she went on, in an off-hand manner. "But I
can't play with my child's happiness, George, and I love the boy and
want him for my own."

"All right, my dear, all right," he said, and, seeing it was expected of
him, he took both her hands in his. "It's always better not to interfere
with young people." And so Mrs. Lakeman was satisfied. But Sir George
walked away with an uneasy feeling at the back of his head. "I wonder if
Hilda Lakeman was lying," he said to himself. "I never understand her,
and for the life of me I can never quite believe in her. She is
tricky--tricky."

He saw Mr. Garratt at Haslemere station waiting for the Guildford train.
"I should like to punch his head," he thought, but this desire, of
course, made no difference in any way.

Meanwhile matters had not improved at Woodside Farm. A fierce jealousy
was raging in Hannah's virgin heart; she found it difficult even to keep
her hands off Margaret. "I should like to box your ears and lock you up
in your room," she remarked, spitefully, when she could no longer
control herself.

"Hannah, for shame!" Mrs. Vincent said, but even her efforts to keep the
peace seemed somewhat futile.

"It's a pity you didn't go to Australia with your father," Hannah went
on. "You are only in the way here."

"Oh, if he had but taken me!" Margaret answered, fervently.

"Perhaps he didn't want you. We've only his word for it there is this
brother in Australia--and what is that worth, I should like to know?"

Mrs. Vincent looked up quickly from her seat in the porch. "I'll have
you speak with respect of the man who is my husband," she said, gently.

"And shame to you, mother, that he is. He has undermined your faith, and
made you forget your first husband's child."

"Hannah, you will be silent," Mrs. Vincent answered, with some of her
old dignity. "We have each kept to our own way of thinking, and neither
has meddled with the other. And I have never forgotten your father, nor
what was due to him; but one has to make the best of life, and I was a
young woman when he died."

Something in her voice touched Hannah. "I know that, mother," she said,
"and I've tried to be a good daughter to you, and if sometimes I've
thought I didn't get my share of what you felt, why it's only natural
that I should complain. What's come between us and is trying to come
between me and what is due to me, is the artfulness that has got no
principle to build upon."

"If I could only get away! If Mrs. Lakeman would ask me to stay with
her, or if only I were like Miss Hunstan, and could act and live by
myself till father comes back," Margaret said to herself, till the idea
took deeper and deeper hold upon her.

Why shouldn't she? All things have a beginning, all journeys a
starting-point. Mr. Garratt had told her how Miss Hunstan had begun by
holding up the train of a princess, and how step by step she had reached
her present position. She wished she could see Miss Hunstan. They had
only met once, and for a few minutes, but she had told Margaret that she
would like to see her again, and, as Tom had said, some people were
never strangers. She longed to go to London and ask her advice, and she
didn't think her father would be angry or object if he knew all that was
going on at Woodside Farm. He saw no harm in theatres, and she was not
sophisticated enough to understand the difficulties in the way of a girl
who was not yet twenty, going to London with a vague idea that she could
"walk on." But for the unfortunate meeting with Mr. Garratt she might
have consulted Sir George Stringer. She had hoped that he would come
again, but day after day went by without a sign of him. Half a dozen
times she went towards his house, wondering if she dared go up to the
door and boldly ask for him, and half a dozen times her courage failed
her.

"If he doesn't come to-morrow, I'll make myself go to him," Margaret
said, when nearly a fortnight had gone and he had not appeared; but
again she hesitated. Tom Carringford might be there, and she was afraid
to meet him, lest he should have heard of Mr. Garratt and be different.
Then a note arrived from Sir George. He was going back to London, was
starting when he wrote, and regretted that he had not been able to get
to the farm again; he hoped to do so later. And so all hope in that
direction vanished. She talked to her mother one day, but nothing was
gained by it.

"You couldn't go to London by yourself, Margey," Mrs. Vincent said. "I
was never strict in my heart as James Barton was, or as Hannah is, but I
shouldn't like you to take a step of that sort out into the world
without your father's approval."

"But, mother dear, every one has a life to live, and what is the use of
me here? Hannah does all the farm business, and there's nothing that you
want me to do. I just read and think and wait, and I don't know for
what, unless it's for father's return."

"It's a feeling that comes to us all," Mrs. Vincent answered. "It's the
fluttering of the bird trying to leave its nest. Better wait till your
father comes and sets you on your way." Then Mrs. Vincent shut her
lips--those beautiful, curved lips of hers--and said no more. All her
thoughts were with the man in Australia, the man younger than herself,
at whom her heart clutched, and all her hours were passed in a dream
beside him till she had no energy left for the actual life about her,
but let it slip by unheeded.



XIV


At last, on the afternoon of a day when Hannah was more than usually
unbearable, Margaret determined to write to Miss Hunstan, asking if she
might really go and see her if she went to London. This was in her own
room over the porch--a little room, with a latticed window and a seat to
it, and an old-fashioned cupboard let into the wall.

"I will write at once," she cried, "this very minute." It gave her some
comfort even to see the address on the envelope, for she wrote that
first. When the letter was finished she felt as if she had taken a step
towards freedom: she put her elbows on the table, and, resting her face
in her hands, tried to imagine what freedom would be like, and all that
might come of it. And then, faint in the distance, as in a dream, she
heard the sound of a horse's hoofs. They were coming nearer and nearer
along the lane. She rose and looked out, but it was not possible to see
the rider, for in the summer-time the hedges were thick and green. It
was June now, and the honeysuckle and traveller's joy grew high.

"Mr. Garratt again, I suppose," she said to herself in despair. The
sound of the hoofs came nearer; they had come in at the gate, past the
duck-pond, and the outbuildings and the hayricks, and round the corner
of the garden. They stopped at the porch, and she heard the boy call
out, "I'm coming, sir," and run to take the horse. "He generally rides
round to the stable himself," she thought; but she had made up her mind
that it was Mr. Garratt, and determined to keep to her room all the
afternoon. There was a knock at the front door, though it was standing
wide open, and at that she started, for Mr. Garratt never knocked; he
just walked in as if he felt that one day he would be the master. Towsey
came out of the kitchen and shuffled through the living-place to the
porch.

"Is Mrs. Vincent at home?" Then there was no doubt at all.

"It is Mr. Carringford," Margaret said to herself, and her heart bounded
with happiness.

"And is Miss Vincent at home?" she heard him further ask, as Towsey
showed him into the best parlor. "Yes! Yes! She was at home," she
thought, and danced a fan-fan round her room; but she stopped
suddenly--suppose he had heard of Mr. Garratt? Oh, what a good thing Sir
George had gone, for now, after all, Tom mightn't know. She stopped
before her glass, and in a moment had taken down her hair, and smiled as
she saw the glint of gold in it, and twisted it up into quite a neat
knot. "And my lace collar," she said, and pinned it round her throat and
fastened it with a little heart-shaped brooch that her mother had given
her on her birthday; "and my best shoes, for these are shabby at the
toes." Then she was ready.

She stopped for a moment at the head of the stairs to look in at her
mother's room, of which the door stood open. It had a great, gaunt
wardrobe in it, and an old-fashioned bed with a high screen round one
side--the farther one from the door. She put her hand to her throat, for
something like a sob came to it--and yet she was so happy. Outside her
mother's door, still nearer to the stairs, there was a little room used
as a box place and hanging cupboard: her mother's best dress and a long
cloak that she wore in the winter, and many things not often used, were
stowed away there, or hung on hooks. She looked at them as if to mark
something in her memory, or because of an unconscious knowledge perhaps
of a day that had yet to come. As she went down the old, polished
staircase she heard Hannah moving briskly in the kitchen.

"She is getting some scones ready in case he stays to tea," Margaret
thought, and demurely walked into the best parlor. Her mother was
sitting in the chintz-covered arm-chair by the window, and Tom sat
facing her near the writing-table. He looked tall and strong as he
jumped up and went forward to greet her.

"How do you do?" he said. "Mr. Vincent told me I might come, you know,
and here I am--I heard he had gone." His voice was cordial enough, but
in the first moment Margaret knew that he was different--different from
the morning when he had said good-bye at the Langham, and talked of
coming to Chidhurst, and foretold that they would have another drive
round London together. He was a little more distant, she felt, as if he
thought less of her, as if he liked her less, as if he had heard of Mr.
Garratt and despised her. It chilled her; she had nothing to say after a
bare welcome, and Mrs. Vincent, thinking that, now Margaret had come,
Mr. Carringford would naturally talk to her, was silent, too. Then Tom
jerked out--

"When are you going to get a letter from Mr. Vincent?"

"We expect it every day now," Mrs. Vincent answered, and turned to
Margaret. "Mr. Carringford has ridden over from Hindhead," she said,
"and I've thanked him for the roses and told him I couldn't remember the
day when I'd had any sent me before."

"Miss Vincent and I made an expedition together--"

"Oh yes, we've often talked it over together."

Margaret wished her mother hadn't said that; it made the color come to
her face; but luckily Tom was not looking at her, and then Mrs. Vincent
added simply, in the half-countrified manner into which, for some
strange reason, her speech had relapsed since her husband's departure,
"You'll be tired after your ride, Mr. Carringford; you must stay for a
cup of tea."

"I should like to, if I may."

"And while it's getting ready Margaret could show you the garden, if
you'd care to see it." She said it with the native dignity that was
always impressive. It had its effect on Tom.

"I should like to see it very much," he said, and five minutes later he
and Margaret were walking down the green pathway of the Dutch garden.
Almost without knowing it, she took him through the garden gate towards
the wood, and across a green corner, through a tangle of undergrowths,
up to the great elms and beeches. They had hardly spoken on the way;
they felt constrained and awkward; but when they reached the top things
seemed to adjust themselves in their minds, and they looked at each
other for a moment, and laughed as if they thought it good to be
together again. Then Tom shook off his awkwardness; the boyish happiness
was on his face again, and she was almost satisfied. "I say, what a
wood!" he exclaimed.

"It's father's and mine; we call it our cathedral."

"Good! good!" he answered. "When are you coming to London again?"

She clasped her hands and looked at him. "I don't know, but I want to go
again dreadfully. Do you think I could go by myself?"

"Well, no! But you might come up and stay with the Lakemans. You must
make haste about it if you do, for they're going to Scotland at the end
of July. Only another month, you know. By-the-way, I rather think you'll
see them here first. Stringer can't get away again till the middle of
August except for week-ends, and then he has to go to Folkestone; he has
a sister there--ill. But the Lakemans told me a day or two ago that they
were coming here for a Saturday to Monday; he had offered them the
house."

"When?"

"I don't know when, but pretty soon, I expect. Farley is coming, too; he
has taken a theatre, and is going to produce a legendary thing this
autumn, 'Prince of--something', it is called."

"Will there be a princess in it?"

"I expect so. Why?"

"When Miss Hunstan came out first she walked on the stage holding up a
princess's train."

"They generally begin in that way, you know. By-the-way, Stringer said
that you were walking about the fields with a friend--was it anybody
particular?"

"It was Mr. Garratt."

"Who is Mr. Garratt?"

"He used to be a house agent at Petersfield. He's at Guildford now. He
has just taken a house there."

"A married gentleman?"

"No," she laughed; "that's why he comes. He doesn't come for me," she
added, hurriedly, but he didn't understand her.

"Any success?" he asked, quickly--"of course not."

"Not yet; Hannah won't encourage him."

He mistook her tone altogether, and walked to the edge of the crown and
looked out at the view.

"That's rather hard lines" he said; "but it doesn't matter if you make
it up to him, of course. I say, it's magnificent up here," he went on;
"do you ever bring Mr.--what is he called?--Garratt up here?"

"No," she answered, quickly.

"Well, you took him across the field?"

"I met him by accident, and Hannah was very angry--" she began, but
stopped in sheer confusion.

"You seem to be rather afraid of Hannah," he said, for it simply never
occurred to him that there should be any question of love-making between
Mr. Garratt and Hannah. Margaret was such a nice girl, he thought; it
was a pity she should flirt, for perhaps, after all, it was only a
flirtation with a local house-agent; it put her on another level
altogether from the girl he had known in London. And so talk was not
very easy between them again, since each felt a little indignant with
the other. "Are you going to be here all the summer?" he asked, when
they returned to the garden.

"I suppose so," she answered, "unless I go to London. I want to do that
more than anything in the world."

"A romantic elopement with the gentleman we have been discussing?"

"Oh, how can you! He is nothing to me; he knows that--it is Hannah."

She looked downright beautiful when the color came to her face, he
thought, and wished Mr. Garratt at the bottom of the sea.

"When is your father coming back?" he asked, and his tone was
constrained.

"We don't know till we get his letter," she said, impatiently; something
was wrong with this interview, and it seemed impossible to set it right.

"You must tell the Lakemans when they turn up; then I shall hear."

Tea was ready when they returned--a generous tea, set out as usual in
the living-room. Tom took his place next to Mrs. Vincent and talked to
her gayly, while his eye wandered over the table with the satisfaction
of a school-boy. Margaret remembered how he had talked of going into the
House of Commons; but he didn't look a bit like a politician, she
thought, he was so splendidly young, and he and she had understood each
other so well in London. But now he seemed to be bound hand and foot to
the Lakemans, and he thought she cared for that horrid Mr. Garratt.

"I like big tea and jam," he said. "Do you ever come up to London, Mrs.
Vincent?"

"No," she answered; "but sometimes I have thought that I should like to
go with Margaret while her father is away."

"Did you think that, mother dear?" Margaret asked, in surprise.

"Better come and stay with me. I could take you both in."

Hannah was pouring out the tea, grasping the teapot with a firm hand,
putting it down with determination on the tray when the cups were
filled. "Mother is better where she is," she said, without looking up.
"Towsey, there is no slop-basin on the table. I hold with staying at
home, Mr. Carringford, though I've sometimes thought I'd like to go up
myself for the May meetings."

"May meetings? Of course--I know. I thought you meant races at
first--but it is Exeter Hall you are thinking of? I'm afraid Mr. and
Miss Vincent didn't go there when they were in town."

"I'm afraid not, Mr. Carringford."

"Good Lord, what an ogress!" he thought. "They had a pretty good time,
though," he said, aloud.

"Margaret has told me about it so often," Mrs. Vincent said, and Tom,
turning to look at her while she spoke, realized suddenly that this
mother of Margaret, who had grown old and gray, was beautiful. He looked
round the living-room; his eyes lingered on the black beams and the
great fireplace and the red-tiled floor; it made a peaceful picture, he
thought, in spite of the ogress.

"Did she tell you about Miss Hunstan?" he asked. "It was rather lucky
coming across her."

"She told me all about her," Mrs. Vincent answered, "and how you went to
her rooms and put the flowers into the pots. It made me hope--that, and
what my husband told me--that some day you would come and see us here."

"Thank you," he said, simply.

"Who is Miss Hunstan?" asked Hannah.

Tom answered, beamingly, "Why, Louise Hunstan, the actress, you know!"

"I didn't know, Mr. Carringford. I don't hold with theatres or any such
places, and I was surprised at Mr. Vincent taking Margaret to one. I
can't see that people are any the better--" She stopped, for there were
footsteps on the pathway outside, and a moment later Mr. Garratt walked
in with an air of being quite at home.

"How do you do, everybody?" he said. He wore his best clothes and the
spats over his shoes. The handkerchief in his breast-pocket was scented
more than usual. He took it out and shook it and put it back again,
while a whiff of white rose floated over the table. His hair was tightly
curled at the tips; he ran his fingers through it as he took off his
bowler hat.

"We didn't expect you, Mr. Garratt," Hannah said with sudden
graciousness, and made room for him beside her.

"Didn't know you had company," he answered, jauntily. "I hope I don't
intrude? Mrs. Vincent, how do you do? Miss Margaret, your humble
servant," and reluctantly he sat down beside Hannah.

"This is Mr. Carringford, a friend of my husband's," Mrs. Vincent told
her visitor.

"How d'ye do?" Tom looked up and nodded.

"How d'ye do?" Mr. Garratt nodded back, trying to do it easily. "Thought
it was Sir George Stringer at first till I recollected that he was a
middle-ager."

"We didn't expect you to-day, Mr. Garratt," Hannah remarked, pouring out
his tea.

"I told Miss Vincent I should come." He looked across at Margaret,
determined to show off before the stranger.

"I don't remember that you did--" Margaret began.

"Oh, come now, you knew I wanted to bring you that book of poems I told
you about. You shall have it if you're good."

"You had better give it to Hannah, Mr. Garratt. She will appreciate it
more than I shall. I had no idea that you meant to bring it."

Tom looked up and wondered what it all meant.

"Well, but what did I say the other night?"

"I don't know," Margaret answered, coldly. "I never remember the things
you say."

But Mr. Garratt was not to be snubbed. "Oh, come now, don't be showing
off again," he laughed, and turned to Tom--"Miss Vincent is a difficult
young lady, I assure you," he said, with an air of quite understanding
her. "But perhaps you've found that out too."

"How should I have found it out?" Tom asked, stiffly.

"Well, you see, I've heard a few things--no jealousy--that's only a
joke," as Margaret started; "you are one of Miss Vincent's London
friends, I think? It was you who gave her the roses she brought back.
You see I know all about it." He laughed with satisfaction, and gave
Hannah a kick under the table from sheer lightness of heart, and by way
of keeping everybody in tow, as he called it to himself.

"We certainly bought some roses in Covent Garden," Tom said, and got up
to go. He couldn't stand any more of this chap, he thought.

"I didn't tell you about it, Mr. Garratt," Margaret said, indignantly.
"Oh, don't go, Mr. Carringford."

"I know you didn't tell me," Mr. Garratt said, with a wink. "It was Miss
Barton who gave me that little bit of information--you kept it to
yourself." Tom had hesitated, but this decided him. Mr. Garratt was not
the sort of person with whom he could bring himself to compete.

"Well, good-bye, Mrs. Vincent," he said, shaking hands with her and then
with Margaret and Hannah. He nodded to Mr. Garratt, and strode towards
the door.

"But you must wait till your horse is brought round," Mrs. Vincent said.
"Hannah, will you tell Sandy or Jim?"

"It is ready," Mr. Garratt volunteered. "I wondered whose it was when I
went into the stable just now. I'll take you to it, if you like," he
added, graciously, to Tom.

"Pray don't trouble," Tom answered, in an off-hand manner.

"No trouble at all." Mr. Garratt led the way out as if he were the
master of the house, while Margaret looked after them and felt as if she
were being tortured.

"Fond of a ride?" asked Mr. Garratt as they went along.

"I suppose so," said Tom, distantly.

"I should like to show you the decent little mare I'm riding. I think
sometimes I shall get a fellow to it for Margaret. We are both of us
fond of the country and getting about." He called her Margaret
deliberately, and with an air of custom--for it would be better, he told
himself, to choke this Johnnie off as soon as possible.

"Would she like it?"

"Rather! Trust her," with a knowing wink.

"Beast!" thought Tom, as he mounted. "Well, good-evening," he said,
aloud, to Mr. Garratt, and went off at a brisk trot, wondering how
Margaret could stand him.

"He knows how to give himself airs, too," Mr. Garratt said to himself,
looking after him. "I'm rather surprised he didn't offer me a tip while
he was about it. I'd like to take down all these chaps and show 'em the
way they should go; but we are doing it," he added, thinking not of
himself but of his class--"and once we've got the upper hand we'll keep
it, and let 'em see that we can be swells as well as any one else." He
walked slowly back to the house, thinking of Margaret. He was getting up
to her ways, and he knew how to keep his temper--and the man who waited
won. He liked her, but his feeling was pique, rather than passion, and
he felt that to subdue her would be a gratification to his vanity
greater than any other he could imagine. "And she's such a beauty!"--he
always came back to that. "While there's a chance of her, I'd rather be
shot than kiss that sour old hen, Hannah. I'll have Margaret if I die
for it. I wish I'd thought of it and tried to find out if that chap knew
anything about Vincent's relations. I expect he's been up to something,
but I don't care--the girl isn't any the worse for it."

During his absence the storm had burst in the living-room, but luckily
circumstances obliged it to be brief.

"I should like to know what you think of yourself now with your slyness
and deceit?" Hannah had asked Margaret.

"I'll not have you speak to your sister in this way," Mrs. Vincent
began; but her remonstrances had grown ineffectual lately.

"Mr. Garratt told you he was coming, did he, though nobody else in the
house knew it?" Hannah went on. "You took good care that they
shouldn't."

"If he did tell me I had forgotten it," Margaret answered, scornfully.

"You can be trusted to forget anything--if it's convenient. What's this
poetry he's brought you, I should like to know?"

"I didn't know he meant to bring it. He said something about Eugene
Field's poems the other day, and that he had recited one at a chapel
festival."

The mention of the chapel somewhat mollified Hannah without subduing her
jealousy. "Well, something will have to be done," she said. "I'm not
going to put up with your conduct, and that you shall find out." At
which point Mr. Garratt entered a little uneasily, as if conscious that
things were not going smoothly. Margaret looked up and spoke to him
quickly.

"Mr. Garratt, I want to tell you that if you've brought me a book of
poems I would rather not have it."

"Why, what's up now?"

"Nothing is up," she said, with what Mr. Garratt called her high and
mighty air.

"Well, look here--" but she had turned away.

"Mother, shall we go into the garden?" she asked.

"It's a little chilly this evening," Mrs. Vincent answered.

"You've taken to feel the cold lately," Hannah said, uneasily. To her
credit be it said that she was always careful of her mother's health.

"I've taken to feel my years."

"Let us go into the best parlor, darling," Margaret said, tenderly. "I
might play to you for a little while. You always like that," and she put
her arms round her mother's shoulders.

Mr. Garratt took a quick step forward. "I should like to hear you play,
too, Miss Margaret, if there's no objection. I'm a lover of music, as I
think I've told you." He stood by the door of the best parlor and
waited.

Margaret turned and faced him. "Stay with Hannah. I want to have my
mother to myself," she said.

"Well, that's a nice handful!" Mr. Garratt remarked, as she shut the
door and turned the handle with a click.

"You should live in the same house with her," said Hannah, "then you'd
know."

"She might have left it a little bit open, at any rate; then we should
have heard her."

"Are you as anxious as all that?" asked Hannah, in a sarcastic voice.

"Well, you see, it makes it a bit lively."

"When I was at Petersfield the other day your mother asked me if I would
see that the grass on your Aunt Amelia's grave was clipped. I brought in
the small shears, and thought perhaps you might walk over and do it next
time you came."

"Damn my Aunt Amelia's grave!" he said, between his teeth.

"Mr. Garratt, you are forgetting yourself!" she cried, in amazement.

"She's enough to make any one forget anything," he said, nodding towards
the best parlor.

"You take far too much notice of her."

"She doesn't return the compliment, anyhow."

"And for my part," said Hannah, indignantly, "I don't understand what it
is you come here for."

At which Mr. Garratt faced her squarely. "Now look here, Hannah," he
said, "she gives herself tantrums enough; don't you begin, for two of
you in one house would be a trifle more than is needed."

She sat down without a word, and closed her lips firmly. The tip of her
nose became a deeper pink. Her eyelids fluttered for a minute quickly up
and down. She looked forlorn--even a shade tragic. Mr. Garratt, with his
heart reaching out to Margaret, obstinate and determined not to be
thwarted, yet felt a touch of pity for the woman before him; perhaps
unconsciously he recognized the limitations and the impossibilities of
her life.

"There, come along," he said, half kindly. "Come along, Hannah." The
sound of her Christian name soothed her considerably. "Let's go for a
little stroll; but I'm not going to hang about any one's grave. It'll be
bad enough when I come to my own."



XV


The letters from Mr. Vincent were not satisfactory. His brother was no
better, but the end was not likely to be immediate. A specialist from
Melbourne had even said that he might go on for another year. Mrs.
Vincent's heart sank as she read it. She was a strange woman, with a
wide outlook, and knew perfectly that time, which had dealt heavily with
her, had tempered the years to her husband; there were days when he
looked almost like a young man still, and in secret she fretted over her
age. She knew, too, though no such thought had ever entered his head,
that it was a little hard on him that he should be tied to a woman older
than himself, incapable of giving him the companionship that insensibly
he needed. She had not felt well lately, and found vague consolation in
the possibility to which this pointed. But she wanted to see him again,
even for a little while, then she could be content. Those about her
guessed nothing of all this: to them it only seemed that she had grown
more silent and dreamy than before.

Margaret heard of her father's probably protracted absence with
despair. Something must happen, she thought; she herself must get out of
the way, or Mr. Garratt must become engaged to Hannah. For matters had
in no way improved. A sort of struggle was going on. On Margaret's side
it was to keep out of his sight, on his to speak to her alone for some
uninterrupted minutes; but as yet success had attended neither of them,
and his attitude towards Hannah remained what it always had been. Once
or twice Margaret had an idea of boldly seeking an interview, and then
telling him that his attentions were simply making her miserable, of
even throwing herself on his mercy; but something in his manner
suggested that Mr. Garratt knew everything already, except the
impossibility of his own success. Meanwhile the fifty pounds, that her
father had arranged she should receive every quarter, arrived for the
second time.

"You are sure that you want me to have it, mother?" she asked.

"Yes, Margey. I told your father that I wished it."

"I feel as if I am rolling in wealth," she said. This was a month after
Tom Carringford's visit--a whole month, and there had not been another
sign of him--and the last Saturday in July. The mid-day meal was just
over, and Hannah was going to and fro between the living-place and the
kitchen, while Margaret sat in the porch with Mrs. Vincent. "Mother,"
she whispered, "I have been thinking lately that I would write to Miss
Hunstan again."

"The play-actress?" Mrs. Vincent whispered back, lest Hannah should
catch the word.

"Yes, the play-actress," Margaret said, with a laugh in her eyes. "She
is good and sweet--Mr. Carringford's mother loved her. She said again in
the letter she sent me that I was to go and see her if I was in London.
I want to go soon. I'm afraid she will be abroad if I don't; for she was
going to Germany in August."

"But you can't go till your father returns."

"I can't stay here unless something to make things better happens. Oh,
mother," she said, fervently, after a pause, "I do so hate Mr. Garratt."

Hannah heard the last words and stopped.

"It's a pity you don't tell him so," she said, "instead of always trying
to draw him to yourself. You make one ashamed of your boldness."

"He came first because of Hannah, Margey, dear, and is as good as her
promised husband," Mrs. Vincent urged.

"But he hasn't spoken--"

"And never will if you can help it," Hannah answered, quickly. "Besides,
it's my opinion that he doesn't want to be related to an
unbeliever--and perhaps something worse. It's just what he thought
would happen about the Australian business."

"What do you mean?" Mrs. Vincent looked up aghast.

"What I mean is that we don't know anything about--father," Hannah
answered, hesitating before she said the last word. "We never set eyes
on any one belonging to him; we have only his word for it that he has
got this brother; for all we know to the contrary he may have married
another woman before he came here, and have gone back to her. There is
nothing to hold him to what is right, or to help him to choose between
right and wrong. For my part, I only hope that I may be out of the place
before he comes into it again--if he ever does set foot in it again--for
I hate the ground he treads on, and the ground that Margaret treads on,
too--so now I've said it. It's my belief that the Lord will provide for
them both some day according to their deserts."

Mrs. Vincent rose from her chair and stood with her back to the
fireplace. Her face looked drawn and haggard, her lips were almost
rigid, but her voice came clear and low. It fell upon Hannah like a
lash.

"You are a malicious woman, Hannah," she said, "and I am ashamed of you.
I know everything about him, and that is enough. I have held my tongue
because you have never treated him as you should, and his affairs are no
business of yours. But you ought to be ashamed of your thoughts; and as
for religion, it is you that want it, not he. It's the leading of a good
life, the telling of the truth, and the thinking well of others that
makes religion and will gain heaven--that's my belief. Those that do
different are as good as denying God. I said it to your grandparents
long ago, and I say it again to you to-day." Mrs. Vincent's diction was
not always strictly correct, but her meaning was clear enough.

"And I know everything about father, too," Margaret said, gently--for
somehow she was sorry for Hannah--"and I cannot think why you should
hate him--or even why you should hate me." She went a step out into the
garden, and as she stood with her head raised, looking up at the high
woods beyond, Hannah felt insensibly that there was a difference between
them against which it was hopeless to contend--not merely a difference
in looks, but a difference of class. It was one of the things she
resented most.

"I know this," she said, "that it was a bad day for me when he first
walked through Chidhurst village to Woodside farm."

"Mother," said Margaret, turning round, "some one has come to the house
by the church. I passed it this morning and saw the luggage going in.
Mr. Carringford said that Sir George was going to lend it from a
Saturday to Monday to some friends of father's. Perhaps they have come."

"More of his fine feathers," said Hannah, contemptuously. "It's a pity
he was left plucked so long."

"Hannah, be quiet," Mrs. Vincent said, sternly. "Go to your work, and
don't come to me again till you have learned respect for those who are
better than yourself." It was almost a command, but Mrs. Vincent had
been roused into her old self again--the self of bygone years.

Luckily Towsey appeared on the scene.

"Sandy wants to know whether he's to be here to-morrow to take Mr.
Garratt's horse. You said something about his not coming."

Hannah hurried out to speak to the old cowman who usually waited for Mr.
Garratt's mare on Sunday morning before going to church.

"Mr. Garratt won't be over early to-morrow," she said. "He's driving a
trap from Guildford, and it'll take him all he knows to get here by
dinner-time. If you come up after church, Sandy, it'll do." This was an
arrangement Mr. Garratt had made, rather to Hannah's surprise, on his
last visit. It would be better than the train, he had explained; but it
was a long way, and it would be impossible for him to arrive before the
middle of the day.



XVI


Margaret had guessed rightly. Mrs. Lakeman and Lena, and Dawson Farley,
who, as usual, was with them, were at Sir George Stringer's house from
Saturday to Monday, while Sir George himself was at Folkestone with his
sister. Dawson Farley rejoiced in the absence of their host, for he had
wanted a talk with Mrs. Lakeman, and this visit promised to give him a
good opportunity. He was deliberating within himself as they sat
together after luncheon how he should begin it. Lena had slipped away,
and wriggled among the greenery.

"We'll go over to the farm presently," Mrs. Lakeman said. "I want to see
what the woman with the look of distinction is like," she added, with
the crooked smile peculiar to her. "Gerald faced it out very well, but I
expect he is frightfully bored."

"Why did he marry her?"

Mrs. Lakeman shrugged her shoulders. "Poor chap, he didn't care what
became of him; but it wasn't my fault--'pon my word it wasn't, Dawson.
My father made an awful row." Mrs. Lakeman was always a trifle slangy.

Dawson Farley looked at her and nodded absently. He quite understood
all she meant to imply, but he was busy with his own train of thought.
She was a curious woman, he thought, a curious, capable woman who never
bored him and knew how to do things admirably. It had often occurred to
him that it would be an excellent thing to marry her. The worst of it
was that he simply could not stand Lena. She was so like a snake with
her twisting and squirming, and the malicious things she said with an
air of unconsciousness. The mother, on the other hand, was an excellent
critic and companion, and would serve his purpose admirably. He was not
in love with her, of course--she was too old for that--and it was just
as well, for being in love with one's wife was a state that naturally
didn't last long. Luckily she was not a jealous woman, and so would not
be likely to resent it if he chose to flirt with his leading lady; on
the contrary, if he told her all about it, he felt certain it would
amuse her, and she had so excellent an eye for home-made dramatic
effects that even the worst domestic crisis would be followed by a
reconciliation, if only for the sake of contrast. She was a bit unreal,
but what did it matter? the tragedies of life were bound up with
realities, but there was comedy to be had from the make-believes.

The worst of it was, for his own peace, that at the back of his life
there was always Louise Hunstan. He had been in love with her once; but
he was glad that nothing had come of it, for he couldn't have endured a
wife in his own profession: if she had been a success he would have
hated her; if she had been a failure he would have despised her. He had
discovered Louise, that was the hard part of it; she had let go the
princess's train to enter his company and gratefully play small parts.
They had fallen in love with each other, and happiness and love together
inspired her until, almost unawares, she achieved a reputation. If she
had only made it on his advising, if he could have considered it his
gift to her, he could have forgiven her more easily and even loved her
through it. But she had struck out for herself, often contrary to his
advice, and made a reputation for herself. In her heart she had laid it
at his feet, and rejoiced in it, thinking it would make him proud of
her, but it roused a miserable jealousy and drove them apart. He gave
her to understand that he did not altogether believe in her success;
that it was a fluke, due to the good nature of the critics and the
stupidity of the public, and that it would vanish with her youth or her
freshness. She believed him at first, but gradually she saw through him.
She cared for him all the same for a time, though it was through a haze
of bitterness and disappointment. Then their engagement collapsed, and
he returned to England alone, while she remained in the States through
five hardworking years. At the end of them she came back to England. It
was then that Tom's mother met her, and took her by the hand and helped
her till she had achieved a permanent position. Over here she and Farley
had become friends to a certain extent, but he couldn't stand the
irritation of her success; he even found a secret pleasure in her
occasional failures; and a meeting between them involved an
embarrassment of manner that neither could put aside.

After all, he thought, Mrs. Lakeman would suit him much better. He liked
her adaptability of manner, her quick interest in his affairs. They had
only known each other a year, but she had become his most intimate
friend, his chum and companion; her society stimulated him; he wanted it
more and more. Why shouldn't he have it altogether? Only the girl stood
in the way; but probably she would marry; she had a curious fascination
for some people, and she had money.

"Is Carringford coming?" he asked. "I thought you invited him."

"He dines and sleeps here to-morrow with an old friend--they are staying
at Frencham together. I didn't want him here all the time," she said,
significantly. "He raved quite enough about Gerald Vincent's girl those
two days in town."

"I thought Stringer found out there was a 'young bounder' in the way?"

"Awfully lucky, wasn't it?" Mrs. Lakeman said, triumphantly, and off her
guard for a moment. "But Tom came afterwards and saw him, too--and was
quite choked off. It's extraordinary how completely the Vincents have
gone smash."

But Farley took no interest in the Vincents. "Carringford hangs about
Lena far too much unless something is coming of it," he said. "I should
tell him so if I were you."

"He's coming to us in Scotland on the tenth. They'll have opportunities
there," she answered, carelessly. "Let us go and look for her."

Lena meanwhile was sitting on a grave in the churchyard, her elbows on
her knees, her chin in her hands, looking out towards the Surrey hills,
and she, too, was thinking of Tom Carringford and Margaret. She had been
uneasy from the moment they had met each other on the embankment. She
had seen Margaret's beauty and Tom's recognition of it, and they were
something like each other--well-grown and healthy, a boy and girl that
matched. She was not violently in love with Tom herself, but she simply
couldn't bear that he should escape her, and on one pretext or another
she brought him perpetually to her side. It was easy enough, for they
had known each other since they were born, and Mrs. Lakeman had helped
him with the house in Stratton Street when he was left alone in it.
Since his father's death and his sister's marriage she had taken the
place of a near relation. He knew that Lena liked him, but it never
occurred to him that her feeling was anything more--she always squirmed
and looked into people's eyes and called them "dear"; if it had occurred
to him he would probably have proposed on the spot, for there was no
particular reason why he should not marry her, except that she was a
little too clinging, and too fond of darkened rooms and limp clothes. He
liked fresh air and a straightforwardness he could understand: there
were many praiseworthy elementary qualities in Tom Carringford.

"He'll be quite happy with us in Scotland," Lena said to herself. "We'll
sit by the streams or walk in the woods all day; he'll feel that we
belong to each other and tell me he loves me"--for she was cloying even
in her secret thoughts--"I think we must be married this autumn, then
mother will be free. I wonder if mother will marry Dawson Farley." Lena
was sharp enough, and was quite aware of the actor's vague intentions,
little as he imagined it. She looked up at the wood--the crown--in the
near distance, and then at the fields that led to the farm. That must be
Margaret's wood, she thought, for Tom, who was frankness itself, had
told the Lakemans of his visit to Chidhurst and his walk with Margaret.

Lena would have gone across the fields to the farm, but Mrs. Lakeman,
who always had an eye for effect, would not hear of it.

"We will pay Mrs. Gerald Vincent a formal visit," she said, "in our best
clothes and new gloves, and drive up to the door properly."


They had hired an open fly for the two days they were going to stay.
Nothing could make it imposing--it was just a ramshackle landau, and
that was all, and the driver was the ordinary country flyman. It
happened--though this had nothing to do with the Lakemans--that he was
the same man, grown old, who twenty years ago had taken the elder
Bartons to Woodside Farm when they went to expostulate with the widow
concerning her second marriage. He thought of it to-day as he went down
the green lane and in at the farm gates, for afterwards he had come to
know with what their errand had been concerned.

Mrs. Lakeman, with Lena beside her, sat on the front seat, Dawson Farley
facing them. "I never believe in treating these people carelessly," she
remarked, as she fidgeted with her lace handkerchief--it was scented
with violets--and held back her lace parasol as they drove in at the
gates. Then she was almost startled. "What a lovely place!" she
exclaimed. "Look at that porch, and those old windows. Gerald's not such
a fool, after all! And a Dutch garden, too--why, I could live and die
here myself!"

"I don't think so," Mr. Farley said, cynically.

"It's just what I thought it would be," Lena cooed. "I felt sure that
Margaret lived in the midst of flowers."

They had stopped by the porch. The front door was open, but not a soul
was visible.

"You must get down and ring the bell, Dawson," Mrs. Lakeman said, a
little puzzled, as if she had expected the inhabitants of the house to
run out and greet her. Then suddenly Towsey appeared. Margaret's hint
had evidently taken effect, for she wore the black dress that she
usually kept for Sundays, and a white apron that met behind her generous
waist. Above the porch, from the window seat of her own room, Margaret,
listening and watching, heard Mrs. Lakeman ask, in a clear voice that
always seemed to have a note of derision in it: "Is Mrs. Gerald Vincent
at home?"

"You are to come in," said Towsey, brusquely.

Mrs. Lakeman trailed into the living-room, followed by Lena and Mr.
Farley. She looked at the great fireplace piled with logs and bracken,
at the old-fashioned chair on either side, at the oak table in the
middle, and the chest against the wall, then back at the porch and the
glorious view beyond it. Within, all was dim and cool and still;
without, summer was at its highest and nature holding carnival.
Impressionable and quick to succumb to influences, she was charmed. "I
call this the perfection of peace and simplicity," she exclaimed, as
they stood in a group waiting.

A door on the left opened, a tall figure appeared and hesitated. Mrs.
Lakeman went forward with emotion, just as she had done to Gerald, but
there was a shade of fine patronage in her manner this time. "It must be
Mrs. Vincent--dear Gerald's wife," she said.

Mrs. Vincent looked at her visitor with calm wonderment.

"Yes," she said, simply. "I suppose you are a friend of his? Margaret
thought you might come."

"I am Hilda Lakeman. You have heard of me, of course." Mrs. Lakeman's
lips twisted with her odd smile. "You can imagine that I wanted to see
you. I made a point of coming at once. We are staying at Sir George
Stringer's till Monday."

"Perhaps you will come in," Mrs. Vincent said, a little awkwardly. Mrs.
Lakeman followed her into the best parlor, and looked round it with
surprise. The room was perfect in its way. She had pictured something
more comfortless.

"Dear Gerald's books," she said in a low tone to herself, glancing up
at the well-filled shelves--"and his writing-table and reading-chair,"
she added, with a thrill. "The piano, I suppose, is Margaret's?" she
asked, with an air of knowing how to place and value everything; for on
a closer inspection she had decided that, after all, Mrs. Vincent was
the simple farmer woman she had imagined. She was tall, and in the
distance had an air of distinction, it was true; but Mrs. Lakeman felt
it to be a spurious one--a chance gift of squandering nature. Her eyes
and mouth were still beautiful, but her hair was gray, her throat was
brown and drawn, her shoulders were a little bent. "She is quite an old
woman," Mrs. Lakeman thought, triumphantly, as she walked across the
room, listening to the rustling of her own dress, and noting the stuff
one clumsily made--such as a housekeeper might have worn--in which Mrs.
Vincent stood waiting to see what her visitors would do next. "I wonder
what she thinks of her prospect of being Lady Eastleigh?" Mrs. Lakeman
thought, and then, with courteous but extreme formality, and the swift
change of manner that was peculiar to her, she said: "This is my
daughter, Mrs. Vincent--she has been looking forward to seeing you; and
I have ventured to bring our old friend, Mr. Dawson Farley. I am sure it
needs no excuse to present so famous a person to you--"

She stopped, for Hannah had entered and stood, half humbly, half
defiantly, by the door. Hannah had dressed herself in her best, but the
blue alpaca frock and the black alpaca apron and the white muslin tie
round her neck only added to her uneasiness. Her hair was pulled well
back, and two horn hair-pins showed in the scanty knot into which it was
gathered at the top.

"That's Hannah," Mrs. Vincent explained, "my daughter by my first
husband."

"How do you do?" Mrs. Lakeman said, with an odd smile, and looked at her
insolently. "We are delighted to see you."

"How do you do?" Hannah answered, grimly. "Margaret thought you'd be
coming. Won't you sit down?" She indicated seats to the visitors with an
air of inferiority, and a consciousness of it, that was highly
satisfactory to Mrs. Lakeman, whose dramatic instincts were fast coming
into play.

"Miss--let me see--it was Miss Barton, I think? This is my daughter
Lena, and this is Mr. Farley." Her manner was almost derisive as she
presented them. "Ah! there is our Margaret. My dear!" and she folded
Margaret in her arms, "I told you we should come. You knew we should,
didn't you? It's such a wonderful thing," she went on, turning to Mrs.
Vincent, "to see Gerald's child."

"She's a fine, tall girl," Mrs. Vincent answered, looking at Margaret
with pride.

"We've come to see you in your home, you little thing," Lena whispered,
and pulled Margaret gently towards her.

"It's very kind of you," Margaret answered, repelled immediately. "But
if I'm a fine, tall girl I can't be very little, can I?"

"You are very sweet," Lena whispered again, and stroked her shoulder.
"You remember Mr. Farley, don't you, dear?"

"Oh yes," Margaret said, shaking hands with him.

"He is staying with us till Monday morning," Mrs. Lakeman explained.
"Then we are all going back together, very early, indeed, in order to
catch the Scotch express from Euston."

"It's not a long stay," Mrs. Vincent said, with the restraint in her
manner that was always impressive. "The place is worth a longer one. You
will come to think so."

"I dare say, but we must start for Scotland on Monday, and, as I never
can travel at night, we must leave here in the morning and go up to town
by the eight o'clock train in order to catch the day express. Tom
Carringford is coming over to-morrow afternoon"--and she looked up at
Margaret with a smile--"to dine and sleep. He is at Frencham now, dear
boy; but he said he must come and spend to-morrow evening with us and go
up and see us off in the morning." She wished Margaret to understand
distinctly that Tom belonged to them.

"Is he going to Scotland, too?" Margaret asked, rather lamely, for lack
of something else to say.

"Not with us. He is so disappointed, dear boy, at not being able to get
away, but he comes to us in a week or two." She stopped for a moment and
turned impulsively to Mrs. Vincent. "But I want to talk about Gerald,"
she said. "He told you of his visit to us? It was years since I had seen
him-- Mr. Farley wanted to meet him so much, too," she broke off to add,
always careful to include every one in the room in her talk. "They ought
to have gone to see him, of course--he had a magnificent part; but
Gerald would take Margaret to 'King John'. He thought it would educate
her more and amuse her less, I suppose."

"Is Mr. Farley an actor?" Hannah asked.

"Dawson, that ought to take it out of you!" Mrs. Lakeman laughed.
"There's one place in the world, at any rate, where they haven't heard
of you." And then turning to Hannah, she said, impressively, "He is the
greatest romantic actor in England, Miss Barton."

"It's a thing I am not likely to have heard," Hannah answered. "I have
never entered a theatre, or wished to enter one."

Lena made a little sound of sympathy. "I always like the Puritans," she
said. "They were so self-denying."

"I'm a very wicked person, perhaps," Dawson Farley said, with pleasant
cynicism, that almost won Hannah in spite of herself. "But all the same,
won't you show us your garden, Miss Barton?" It seemed to him sheer
insanity to come to the country and stay in-doors.

"I wish you young people would all go to the garden. I want to talk to
this dear woman alone, and we have only a quarter of an hour to stay,"
Mrs. Lakeman said.

"You'll take a cup of tea?" Mrs. Vincent asked, for it always seemed to
her that a visit was a poor thing unless it included refreshment.

"No, thank you; we must get back. And now tell me," she went on, when
they were alone, "what does Gerald say about Cyril? He sent me a little
note when he arrived, but he hadn't seen him then." The note was merely
an acknowledgment of a sentimental farewell one she had sent him, but
Mrs. Lakeman did not think it necessary to mention this.

"He sent you a note--from Australia?" Mrs. Vincent asked, wonderingly.

"Of course he did." She put her hand on Mrs. Vincent's. "You know what
he and I were to each other once?"

"What were you?" Mrs. Vincent asked, the light beginning to dawn upon
her.

"He didn't tell you?" Mrs. Lakeman said, in a low voice. "Perhaps he
couldn't bear to speak of it; but he and I were all the world to each
other till his opinions separated us. My father was Dr. Ashwell, Bishop
of Barford--of course you have heard of him?" Her tone implied that even
in these parts her father could not have been unknown. "He and my
mother, Lady Mary--she was Lady Mary Torbey before she married"--the
vulgarity of Mrs. Lakeman's soul was quite remarkable--"were devoted to
Gerald; we all were, in fact, and he was devoted to us. But of course it
was impossible," and she shrugged her shoulders.

"I suppose you thought it would have done you harm to marry him, when he
didn't pretend to believe what he didn't feel to be true?" Mrs. Vincent
said, in her calm, direct manner.

"Well, you see--it couldn't be." The woman was horribly phlegmatic, Mrs.
Lakeman thought. She was neither impressed nor jealous; her attitude, if
anything, was mildly critical. "Of course, I wasn't free to do as I
liked, as you were. Poor, dear Gerald! I know he suffered horribly.
That's the curse of a position like ours. One has to accept its
obligations," she added, loftily.

"I didn't know that anything need make one unfaithful to the man who
loved one, and to whom one was bound by promises."

"I thought so, too; but I couldn't break my father's heart. I have
never forgiven myself"--she tried hard to put tears into her eyes, but
they would not come--"for I know what he suffered. He was a wanderer for
years," she went on, "and never able to settle down in London again. I
suppose that was how he found his way here. Tell me about your
marriage." She gave a little gasp, as if she had screwed up courage to
listen to details that would still be harrowing to her; but a gleam of
amusement looked out of her blue eyes. Mrs. Vincent saw it, and, little
as Mrs. Lakeman would have imagined her to be capable of it, she
understood its meaning.

"I shouldn't care to talk about it to a stranger," she answered. "There
are things that are sacred outside the Bible as well as written in it."

"I am not a stranger. I can't be a stranger to Gerald Vincent's wife."
Mrs. Lakeman tried to be passionate, but it didn't come off very well.
"I wouldn't say it to any one else in the world, but I've never ceased
to care for him, and I don't believe--I don't believe," she repeated, in
a low tone, "that he has ever quite forgotten me."

"I don't suppose he has forgotten you," Mrs. Vincent answered, calmly;
"but I am certain that he has been faithful to his wife and child here."

"Of course he has."

"And he's loved them all the years he's known them. You let him go when
it would have been inconvenient to marry him; but he didn't marry any
one else till he had quite got over it. He's not the sort of man to do
anything dishonorable."

"Of course he isn't." Mrs. Lakeman began to feel uncomfortable.

"And it's better that what is past and dead should be buried, and left
unspoken of. I know"--she looked Mrs. Lakeman straight in the eyes--"he
feels that everything was for the best; and he's been content and happy
here. He said it not three months ago, and I think it would have been
better not to have raked up bygones."

"You are quite right," Mrs. Lakeman said, heartily, for she was a
quick-sighted woman and rather enjoyed being beaten: it made good
comedy. "You are a most sensible woman. And now, tell me, won't it seem
odd to you to be Lady Eastleigh?"

"I've not thought about it," Mrs. Vincent answered. "A living man has
the name at present, and I hope he'll keep it."

"I dare say you would rather he did," Mrs. Lakeman said, patronage
coming into her voice again. "It would be rather a difficult change,"
she added, humorously. "Fancy Gerald, Lord Eastleigh, living at Woodside
Farm, with Miss Barton for his step-daughter--the Gerald whom I remember
with every woman at his feet."

"I don't see that it would make so much difference," Mrs. Vincent
answered, "and I hope he won't call himself by any other name than the
one he has been known by. For my part, I never could see why people set
so much store on titles. The biggest lord that lives only lies in one
grave at last, and it isn't as if Gerald had a son to come after him, or
was coming to big estates that had to be thought of. He'll live here
again, and be just the same as he always was." She looked bravely at
Mrs. Lakeman though her heart was sinking, for she knew that the old
life at Woodside Farm was forever at an end. And if he brought this
title back with him, might it not cause people to come round him who had
never thought of coming before, people who would think her inferior, and
let her see what they thought, just as this Mrs. Lakeman did? She
couldn't understand it, for the pride of race was in her, too. Had she
not come of people who had belonged to the land--God's beautiful
land--and spent their lives looking after it, faithful to their wives,
bringing up their children to do right? There had not been a stain on
their records for generations past--neither drunkard nor bankrupt nor
anything of the sort had belonged to them. Suddenly she remembered Mrs.
Lakeman.

"Perhaps, as you have to go almost directly, you would like to see the
garden, too?" She got up, and for a moment she looked like an empress
putting an end to an interview.

Mrs. Lakeman was carried away by her manner. "You are a very remarkable
woman," she said, almost generously, "and the most unworldly person I
ever came across."

"But you see the fashions and things that people care for in London are
not in our way," Mrs. Vincent answered, with a smile. "Are you sure you
won't stay for a cup of tea?"



XVII


"Let me sit in the porch with Margaret," said Lena, when they came back
from their walk round the garden; "I am quite tired. Take Mr. Farley to
see the cows, dear Miss Barton."

Hannah had stood by the visitors and showed the glories of the garden
herself. It was her place, she thought, and time that she proved it.

"I want to rest," continued Lena, "and to talk to Margaret about her
lover." She sat down and held out her hands. "Do come to me, little
Margaret."

"It's all a mistake," Margaret began, in dismay.

"Who is it that's her lover?" Hannah asked, looking up sharply.

Lena scented an exciting track, and was happy. "George Stringer told us
about him. He saw them in the fields together." She put out her hands
again, but Margaret shrank back with something that was like horror. "He
said you looked so happy together, darling; and you lingered behind the
hedge just as lovers always do."

"He is not my lover, and I hate him!" Margaret exclaimed.

"Mr. Garratt cares nothing for her, I can tell you that," said Hannah,
emphatically.

"Oh, but he must," Lena answered. "George Stringer said you blushed so
sweetly when you took him to the gate, and spoke of him, and then
Tom--our dear Tom--told us how Mr. Garratt came to tea, and he was so
careful not to say that you had taken him to the wood for fear there
should be jealousy."

"Miss Lakeman, I want you to understand--" Margaret began.

"Darling, you must call me Lena."

"That Mr. Garratt comes here to see Hannah, my half-sister, and not to
see me."

"Oh, but Tom said that you and he talked to each other all the time,"
Lena went on in her sugary voice.

"This is just what I expected, considering the goings on," Hannah cried,
almost losing control over herself. "But it's not Margaret that he comes
to see."

"No one could come and see any one else when she is here," Lena
whispered to herself; but Hannah heard, and answered quickly:

"It's she that puts herself forward and forces herself upon him."

"Oh, she couldn't, she looks so sweet. Here comes Mr. Farley back from
his little walk. Shall we ask him if he thinks it possible that any one
doesn't love you?"

Margaret turned and blazed at her. "Please be silent," she said; "you
may not mean it, but you say things that are simply dreadful, and they
sound as if you said them on purpose."

"I'll ask Tom about it when he comes to-morrow; and I'll make him come
and see you again if I can." Lena put on an air of being puzzled and a
little injured. "But we have not seen each other for three days and I
want him for myself, just as Mr. Garratt wants you."

Margaret went forward and put her hand on Hannah's arm. "She's doing it
on purpose, Hannah," she said, with distress in her voice, "and because
she sees that it vexes you, and that I hate it."

Lena was enjoying herself immensely. "I have made you angry again," she
said; "but you look splendid, just as you did in London. Isn't she
beautiful, Miss Barton?"

Hannah could hardly bear it. "I have never been able to see it," she
said, as her mother and Mrs. Lakeman entered.

Dawson Farley was standing by the porch. "Are you likely to come to
London again, Miss Vincent?" he asked.

"I hope I shall, and soon," Margaret answered; and then she went on
eagerly, "I heard that you saw Miss Hunstan first when she walked on the
stage holding up a princess's train?"

Mr. Farley looked at her curiously. "There is a princess in my new
piece," he said. "Do you want to come and hold up her train?"

"I should love it!" she answered, and walked up the grass-covered path
with him.

Meanwhile Mrs. Lakeman, too, was amusing herself. "And what do you think
of your step-father's chance of coming into the title?" she asked of
Hannah.

Mrs. Vincent's lips locked closely together, but she said nothing.

"What title?" Hannah looked up quickly.

Mrs. Lakeman felt that here was quite a new sensation: she had always
been a gambler in sensations, an inveterate speculator in effects.

"You know that your step-father will be Lord Eastleigh when his brother
dies?"

"I know nothing about it. Why has a mystery been made of it?"

"There has been no mystery made of it," Mrs. Vincent said, firmly. "I
don't suppose father will take up the title, and, anyway, it needn't be
spoken of while the one who has it lives. It seems like hurrying him
into his grave."

But Hannah was not to be silenced. "I suppose this is why we never heard
anything of his relations," she said. "Was he ashamed of us?"

"Such a thing never entered his head," Mrs. Vincent answered.

"And why did this brother, who has got a title, go hiding himself in
Australia? Did he do something he oughtn't to have done?"

"He never did anything but spend his money too quickly," Mrs. Lakeman
answered. "He made an unlucky marriage, of course--dear old Cyril; but
heaps of men do that. We must be going, Mrs. Vincent. Some people are
coming to tea--the Harfords from Bannock Chase; do you know them?"

"I see them in church, but we have not their acquaintance," Mrs. Vincent
answered. Mrs. Lakeman told Dawson Farley afterwards that she said it
with the air of a duchess who had refused to call upon them.

"When are you going to be married, dear?" she asked Margaret, as she got
into the fly. "George Stringer and Tom told us about Mr. Garratt."

"It's all a mistake--" Margaret began, with passionate distress in her
voice.

"Don't tease her," Lena cooed, "she doesn't like it."

Mrs. Lakeman looked at her with an air of worldly wisdom and said,
significantly, "I should wait if I were you. You'll be able to do better
when your father returns." She opened her parasol, which was lined with
lilac silk--and framed her face in it. "Good-bye, Mrs. Vincent, I'm so
glad to have seen you." She made a last effort to put some feeling into
her voice and almost succeeded.

But Mrs. Vincent only said "Good-bye," and turned away almost before the
fly had started.



XVIII


Breakfast was always half an hour later on Sundays. Margaret had spent
the early hours in writing to her father, telling him of the
impossibility of remaining any longer at Woodside Farm unless the
relations between Mr. Garratt and Hannah were definitely settled.
Something would have to be done, and immediately, but he was not to be
distressed about her. She meant to go to Miss Hunstan and to take her
advice. Perhaps if she could gather courage she would consult Sir George
Stringer, but it was Miss Hunstan on whom she relied, she even asked her
father to direct his next letter to her care just on the chance. The
morning was sultry, the notes of the birds were languid, there was not a
stir among the branches though the scent of flowers came stealing
upwards from the bed against the house. She went to the window and
leaned forward to catch any passing breeze that might chance to wander
by. Suddenly Mrs. Vincent and Hannah came out of the porch and stood
just a few yards below her. Hannah was evidently continuing a
conversation.

"Well, I've no patience with them, mother, fine folks giving themselves
airs and ashamed to say who they are and what they've done; lord, or no
lord, he shall see that I don't care for his ways, nor for Margaret's
either." All the same there was in Hannah's heart an odd feeling of
curiosity. What would happen to her when her step-father was Lord
Eastleigh? What would the country people say to her, the people who now
and then, most politely, it is true, asked her to accept a present for
herself when they paid a quarter's account. And Mr. Garratt, what would
he say? He would surely know that Margaret, with her stuck-up ways,
would not look at him now. Most likely he would think himself lucky to
get Hannah, since she would gain a reflected importance. But she wasn't
sure, on the whole, if she wanted him any longer, and yet it would be
something to make sure of a man. She couldn't bear going over to
Petersfield and seeing women younger than herself, whom she remembered
as girls, walking out with their husbands, or nursing their children,
while she remained a spinster. "I do wonder what Mr. Garratt will have
to say to it all," she said, aloud, without meaning it.

"He'll see it's no good caring for Margaret," Mrs. Vincent said.

"Why should he? Not that he does care," Hannah answered, quickly. "She
isn't any better than she was yesterday, nor than I am. For my part, I
think this title business will make us the laughing-stock of the place."

"There is no occasion to speak of it; it's no one's business but our
own."

"I never was one for secrets."

"Neither was I," said Mrs. Vincent. "But I have always found that there
was more in silence than in talk. I hope you and Mr. Garratt will settle
up soon, Hannah, for these quarrels make me miserable."

"It's Margaret's fault, not mine," Hannah answered, doggedly. "After
all, mother, whatever's said, you know that I'm fond of you. If there
had been no strangers about all these years, and I'd had the taking care
of you by myself, I could have been content enough without any thought
of marrying."

"Jealousy is such a poor thing, Hannah."

"We ourselves are poor things in the sight of the Lord, mother. If
Margaret would once come to see that she might be different."

Margaret, above, could stand it no longer. "It's so mean to be listening
here," she said to herself; "and though Hannah was horrid last night she
is rather better this morning, and she's fond of mother. Oh, I'm so glad
that she loves her." Then she raised her voice and called out,
"Good-morning, mother. I can hear all you say. Let us have a happy
Sunday, Hannah. I won't look at Mr. Garratt; I will be thoroughly
disagreeable to him if that will please you." At which Hannah answered,
not without a trace of amiability and with the flicker of a smile:

"You had better come down to your breakfast; for my part, I never know
why we are so late on Sunday mornings." As she spoke, Towsey tinkled a
bell to show that the simple meal was ready.

When the breakfast was over and the things were put away as usual, there
was the getting ready in best clothes, and the starting of Hannah and
Mrs. Vincent across the fields for church. Mr. Garratt was not coming
till mid-day, and for the first time Hannah took an interest in
Margaret's movements.

"I suppose you are going to the wood as usual?" she asked.

"I'm going there with a book," Margaret answered.

Then, with anxiety in her voice, Hannah said: "I wish you'd take a book
that would do you some good."

"It can't do me any harm." Margaret was delighted at finding Hannah a
little softer than usual. "I'm going to take _Paradise Lost_--it's a
poem."

"It sounds very appropriate," Hannah said, solemnly.

Margaret blinked her eyes in astonishment, and wondered if Hannah were
making a joke, and on the Sabbath, too! Perhaps, as most people are
influenced by worldly matters, protest to the contrary as they will,
Hannah was somewhat soothed in her secret mind at yesterday's
revelations concerning the Vincent family. To be sure, the Australian
brother had gone away, according to Mrs. Lakeman, because he made an
unlucky marriage. And Gerald Vincent had lived quietly for twenty years
at Woodside Farm: perhaps he, too, considered his marriage unlucky, and
in his heart looked down on her and her mother; but even that would not
undo the fact of the relationship, or prevent the step-daughter of Lord
Eastleigh from being counted a more important person than hitherto when
she went to Petersfield. There were moments when Hannah had visions of
herself as an aristocrat in an open carriage driving through a park, or
going to court in a train and feathers; she had often heard that people
wore trains and feathers when they went to court. Nonsense and vanity
she called it, but the momentary vision of herself trailing along and
the white plumes nodding from her head was pleasant all the same.

"Well, we'll see when he comes back," she thought, as she walked across
the fields with her mother. "If he isn't going to call himself Lord
anything, and is going to live on here all the same, I may as well marry
Mr. Garratt and be done with it--that is, if he behaves himself
properly. He's getting a good business round him at Guildford, and we'll
hardly rank as tradespeople when they know who I am. Mother," she said,
aloud, "you'll not be staying on at the farm if what this Mrs. Lakeman
said is true, and father comes back with a title?"

"Nothing will ever take me away from it," Mrs. Vincent answered; "and
father will be just the same when he comes back, whether his brother be
living or dead. I'm sorry you know anything about it, Hannah, for it
won't make any difference one way or another."



XIX


Lena Lakeman, haunting the green landscape like an uneasy spirit,
watched Mrs. Vincent and Hannah go into the church. "I wonder what
little Margaret does with her morning when she's left alone?" she
thought, as she went through the gate that led across the fields, and
played about the field searching for clover, counting the blades in a
tuft of grass, or resting beneath the outreaching hedge of honeysuckle
like a lizard. From sheer sleepiness, she stayed there almost without
moving till presently she heard the country voices in church singing
"Oh, be joyful in the Lord all ye lands." She opened her eyes then and
looked at the beauty round her. The land did rejoice, she thought--in
the summer time. If God would only let it last His people would rejoice
all the year round; but how could they, how could they be religious,
when the climate was bad? Perhaps one reason why Roman Catholics took
their religions so closely into their lives was that it had generated in
those places that were filled with sunshine.

The voices had ceased. She tried to remember the order of the prayers,
so that she might know how much longer the worshippers had to stay, but
she could not hear with sufficient distinctness to recognize the words.
Suddenly there was the sound of wheels coming towards the church and the
road that led to the farm. She sat up and listened, then knelt and
looked through the hedge till she saw, going along at a brisk pace, a
fat gray pony and a little dog-cart, in which sat a spruce young man
with a handkerchief looking out of his pocket, a flower in his
button-hole, and a bowler hat stuck jauntily on his head.

"It's Mr. Garratt," she exclaimed, "he's going to see Margaret; they
will have a happy time together while the others are at church." She
watched the dog-cart vanish in the distance, then stole along the field,
keeping close to the hedge lest she should be observed from the farm.
And suddenly a thought struck her. "Margaret will take him to her wood,"
she said to herself; "presently I should find them together, but they
mustn't see me coming."

She crossed the field twenty minutes later, keeping close to the hedge
so as not to be seen, and made for the high ground. On the side of the
hill a young copse grew, reaching up to the great trees that Margaret
called her cathedral; the undergrowth of bracken and briar went up with
it and formed a green wall round the summit. Between the columns of the
cathedral, and over the green wall, the sweet country-side could be seen
stretching long miles away to the blue hills, with here and there a
patch of white suggesting a homestead, or a speck of red that betrayed a
cottage.

Lena went up softly and slowly, so that the stir of the vegetation might
not betray her, till suddenly she heard voices. She stopped and
listened, then went on still more cautiously till there was only a
screen of green between her and the speakers. Then she dropped among the
bracken and was completely hidden, though she could hear perfectly.
Margaret was speaking, and her voice was indignant--

"This is my wood; it belongs to me."

"Oh, come now!"

"How did you know where to find me?"

"Hannah told me herself; she said you spent your mornings up here
instead of going to church, so I thought I'd just look in."

Lena, peeping through the greenery, could see that they stood facing
each other--Margaret, with her head thrown back, resting one hand
against the trunk of a tree. On the gnarled roots that rose high from
the ground, and had evidently formed her seat, lay an open book. Mr.
Garratt, with a triumphant expression, stood a few paces off.

"You must go back instantly," Margaret said.

"Not I! Come, let's sit down and have a quiet little talk--we don't
often get the chance."

"Mr. Garratt, please--please go away," she said, "why should you try to
annoy me as you do. You came here to see Hannah--"

"Well I don't come now to see Hannah--"

"Then you had better stay away--"

"I should like to stay away if I had you with me. Look here, don't cut
up rusty or be silly. I'm not a bad sort of chap, you know," and he
tugged at his mustache; "lots of girls have rather fancied me, but I've
never cared a bit for one of them, though I've chaffed them a little now
and then, because I've liked to make them mad."

"I don't care what you like, and I want you to go away."

"But I mean business this time, give you my word I do. I'm awfully fond
of you and I'll tell 'em so when we get back if you'll say it's all
right--"

"It's not all right!" Margaret cried, passionately.

"Well, you needn't take on so--you're awfully pretty." He went a step
nearer. "I say, give me a kiss to go on with."

"I would rather die," and she drew back closer to the trunk of the tree.

"Well, you needn't shudder as if I were snakes or coal-tar; you may not
know it, young lady, but you are not everybody's money, in spite of your
good looks. I'm not a stickler myself, still it isn't all plain sailing
marrying a girl who won't go into a church, and whose family is a
mystery. It would not add to the business, I assure you."

"My family a mystery?" said Margaret. Lena cocked up her head like a
snake and looked through the leaves; she could see them quite plainly.
"How dare you--"

"Oh, well, we won't say anything more about it if you're going to
explode. Still, there may be all sorts of crimes covered up for what we
know to the contrary, and I understand that the farm will belong to
Hannah by and by--"

"And that's why you thought of marrying her, I suppose?" she asked,
indignantly.

"Of course it is," he answered triumphantly, "but I'd rather have you
with nothing at all. I'm quite gone on you, Margaret; I am, indeed."

"How dare you call me Margaret?"

"All right, then I'm very fond of you, ducky; will that do? And I'll
marry you to-morrow if you like--get a special license, wake up the
parson, and off we go. You've only got to say the word. Now, come, give
us a kiss and say it's all right. I'm not a bad sort, I tell you, and
I'm bound to get on, and we'll do all manner of things when we are
married--you bet. Come now?"

"Mr. Garratt," Margaret said in a low voice, "it's very kind of you to
want to marry me, but--but I want you to understand," and the hot tears
rushed down her flushed cheeks, "that I simply can't bear you."

"That's a straight one--you do give them out, you know."

"And I wouldn't marry you for the world," she went on; "either you must
make it up with Hannah, or you must leave off coming here." She had
brushed away her tears, and, flushed and haughty, looked him imploringly
in the face.

"Oh, I say, don't go on like this; I wouldn't make you unhappy for the
world," and he went a step forward.

"Oh, do keep back!" she said with another shudder. "I hate you--"

"All right, hate me," his wounded vanity getting the better of him, "but
I'll have something for my pains at any rate," and in a moment he had
darted forward and tried to clasp her in his arms.

Margaret gave a cry of fright that ended in one of astonishment, for
suddenly the leaves that formed a low wall half-way round her cathedral
parted and Lena appeared.

"You mustn't be so cruel!" she cried. He let go Margaret and stood
gaping at Lena, who crossed over to the tree.

"I said you would have to love us, little Margaret; I've come to rescue
you," she said, and put her arms round Margaret, to whom it seemed as if
her Eden were full of serpents.

"Well, if you don't mind, I should like to know who the deuce you are,
miss?" said Mr. Garratt, astonished, but not in the least confused.

"I'm Margaret's friend," Lena answered, in her sugary voice.

"And what business is this of yours?" he inquired, insolently.

"I know her father and I know her. Darling," she said, pulling Margaret
towards her, "I told you in London it was always best to tell everything
about yourself," and then she turned to Mr. Garratt. "She doesn't go to
church; it's very wrong of her, but she would go if she were coaxed.
Perhaps she'll go with me some day. And there isn't any mystery about
her family. It's a very, very old one, isn't it, dear?" she said,
looking at Margaret. "It came over with the Conqueror."

"Well, mine may have scudded about with Noah's for all I know to the
contrary. What's that got to do with it?" Mr. Garratt asked.

"He means it for a joke, darling," Lena said to Margaret. "He doesn't
mean to be rude--" She stood with her arms round Margaret, looking with
soft reproachfulness at Mr. Garrett.

"Look here, I'm off," he said with a sudden inspiration; "good-morning,"
and in a moment he had disappeared down the direct pathway towards the
farm.



XX


Hannah in the porch saw him coming.

"Mr. Garratt," she said, severely, "have you been for a walk? I thought
I heard the pony go by when we were in church."

"Yes, I've been for a walk," he answered, huffily, for he was beginning
to feel that matters at Woodside Farm were a little too much for him.

"Towsey says you went out directly the pony was put to."

"That's all right. What then?"

"Where's Margaret?"

"Up in the wood there," he said, nodding towards it, "with a young lady
who, judging from her conversation, has swallowed a bottle of soothing
syrup and let the cork come out inside her."

"And what did you go up to the wood for?" Hannah asked, severely.

"Because I chose. Look here, Miss Barton, I don't want to be
cross-examined, if you please."

"Well, what I should like to know is--to speak plainly--what are you
coming here for, Mr. Garratt?"

"That's my business," he answered. "If you like I'll put the pony to at
once and be done with it, though, on the whole, I should prefer having
some dinner first, seeing that I've come a good way." After all, Mr.
Garratt had a fair temper, for he said the last words with a smile that
somewhat pacified Hannah, who, seeing that she was likely to get the
worst of it, drew in her horns.

"I didn't mean to be disagreeable," she said, "but really it's difficult
to understand all the goings on here."

"That's just what I think. Who is that girl with Margaret? She was just
like a snake springing up from the green and wriggling about--said she
knew Vincent."

Then Hannah, being somewhat further pacified, told him the history of
yesterday's visit.

"Well, I'm jiggered," Mr. Garratt answered, after a moment's hesitation.
"I told you there was something behind it all. This brother of his, Lord
Eastleigh--of course I'm on to him directly. He was an awful rummy
lot--married Bella Barrington, who used to sing at the Cosmopolitan in
the Hornsey Road. A pretty low lot, I can tell you. Well, I am--"

"Mr. Garratt," said Hannah horrified, "they are a set of people we
should have nothing to do with."

"Rubbish. Margaret will be a toff."

"There's no money with it."

"Well, that's a pity," he said, "but it won't take the title away from
them. I always knew they were somebodies."

"Hannah," said Towsey, coming from the kitchen, for it was only to
Margaret that she gave a respectful prefix, "I'm ready for you to mix
the salad."

"You'd better go," said Mr. Garratt, "I've got no end of an
appetite--I'll just take a stroll to the end of the garden to improve
it." For as Hannah turned her head he had seen Margaret coming towards
the gate of the Dutch garden, and Mr. Garratt was a politic young man.

"Miss Margaret," he said, deferentially, "I want to apologize for what I
said just now about your family and about your not going to church--it
was my feelings that carried me away. I've just heard who you are. I
always said you looked like a somebody; you may remember that I told you
so that day going across the fields. And as for not going to church,
why, I quite agree with what I believe Mrs. Vincent thinks, that it's
what one does outside it that matters, not what one does inside."

"It's very kind of you to say all this, Mr. Garratt, but please let me
pass." He walked beside her down the green pathway.

"You know what my feelings have always been," he said, "and if true
devotion--" he felt as if this were the right line.

"Please don't say anything more." She was almost distressed, for
through the porch in the dim background she could see Hannah's wrathful
figure.

"If true devotion counts for anything," he went on, "why, you'd get it
from me. I understand there isn't any money to come with this title, and
it isn't going to make any difference in anything, and you'll want some
one to love you just the same. We all want that, Miss Margaret, and--"

"Margaret, you'd better come in and not keep dinner waiting," Hannah
called, shrilly. "I should have thought you had had enough of Mr.
Garratt, meeting him up in the wood when other people were in church."

Mr. Garratt was very silent at dinner. He had to decide on his own
course of action. He came to the conclusion that the safest plan was to
propitiate everybody, but it took his breath away to think that he,
Jimmy Garratt, house agent of Petersfield and Guildford, grandson on his
mother's side of James Morgan, grocer at Midhurst, wanted to marry Miss
Margaret Vincent, as he now described her to himself; still, there would
be nothing lost by going on with it; besides, he was a good-looking
chap, lots of girls liked him, and, after all, Margaret hadn't any
money. It would be a good move, he thought, to get her over to
Guildford and let her see the house; it had a real drawing-room and a
conservatory going out of it, and he could afford to let her spend a
little money; she should do anything she liked, and if people got on in
these days it didn't matter what they were in the beginning. There were
lots of them in Parliament who were nobodies, why shouldn't he get into
Parliament, too, some day--he had always been rather good at speaking,
and for matter of that he might get a title of his own in the end? He
had only to make money and get his name into the papers, and give a lot
to some charity that royalty cared about, and there he'd be.

"You are very absent to-day, Mr. Garratt," Hannah said, as she gave him
a large helping of raspberry and currant tart.

"It's very warm, Miss Barton; very warm, indeed."

"I always find," said Mrs. Vincent, unlocking her beautiful lips, and
looking like a woman in a legend, with her gray hair and high cheek
bones, "that the summer is a time for thinking more than talking."

"You are right, Mrs. Vincent; don't you agree, Miss Margaret?"

"I don't know," Margaret answered, carelessly. "The summer is lovely, of
course; it always seems as if the world had rolled itself up a little
bit nearer to heaven--"

"I thought you didn't believe in any such place," said Hannah, sharply.

Mrs. Vincent looked at her younger daughter with fond eyes. "One's heart
sometimes believes one thing and one's head another," she said. But
Margaret ate her tart in silence, and Mr. Garratt, still weighing the
chances of his future, followed her example.



XXI


The Sunday tea was over. Hannah had successfully monopolized Mr. Garratt
all the afternoon. He was becoming desperate. "She would drive a fellow
mad," he thought; "why, the way she tramps into that kitchen with the
tea things is enough to send any one a mile off her track. I should get
the staggers if I married her; besides, she wouldn't let one call one's
soul one's own by the time she was forty." He looked towards the door of
the best parlor. Mrs. Vincent and Margaret were there; he got up and
went in boldly. "May I venture to ask for a little music?" he asked.

Margaret had risen quickly as he entered. "Oh, but it's Sunday," she
answered.

"I thought perhaps there wouldn't be any objection to something sacred,"
he said. His manner was respectful, and altogether different from that
of the morning; and he had been attentive to Hannah all the
afternoon--which was soothing to Margaret.

"We used to sing and play hymns in mother's time," Mrs. Vincent said;
"the old piano was only given to the school when James died. It was
worn out and I thought they'd be glad of it." The sequence was not quite
clear, but no one perceived it. "I wish you could play hymns, Margey."

"Oh, but I can play something that is quite beautiful," she answered,
and went towards the piano.

"Allow me," Mr. Garratt said, opening it.

He stood behind her in an attitude while Chopin's magnificent chords
rolled upward--to Gerald Vincent's books, and down to the gray-haired
woman in the chintz-covered chair, before they stole out of the open
window into the Dutch garden and the indefinite wood beyond, as if they
sought the cathedral.

"Margaret," cried Hannah, hurrying from the kitchen, "close the piano at
once. Sunday is no time for playing."

"It's nothing frivolous," said Margaret; "it's a funeral march."

"I'll not have it done," Hannah answered doggedly, always jealous of
Margaret's accomplishments. "There's a shake in it, and it's a piece
only fit for week-days."

"People used to be buried on Sundays; what harm can there be in a
funeral piece?" Mrs. Vincent asked.

"It was played at my request," said Mr. Garratt. "I'll ask for it next
time on a week-day, Miss Margaret. I shall be here again soon," he
added, in a lower tone.

Hannah went up to the piano, locked it and put the key into her pocket.
"Mr. Garratt," she said, turning upon him, "I think you had better make
up your mind who it is you come to see week-days or Sundays, then we
shall know."

"I've known all along," he said, casting prudence to the winds.

"Well, then, you'd better speak and be done with it."

"It isn't you, Miss Barton; so now you know."

Mrs. Vincent stood up and looked at him, grave and distressed.

"And, pray, who is it?" Hannah asked; it seemed a needless question, but
nothing else suggested itself and something had to be said.

"Well, since you want to know, it's Miss Vincent. I've been in love with
her from the first moment I set eyes on her, and that's the truth. As
for you, Miss Barton, your temper is a little more than I can stand, and
I wouldn't be hired to live with you."

"Mr. Garratt--" Mrs. Vincent began.

"Mrs. Vincent," he said, turning round on her sharply, "let me speak. I
came here to look after Miss Barton, I frankly confess it; but I wasn't
in love with her, I only wanted to be, and I've found out that I can't
be. It's no good, her temper is altogether more than I could risk, so
now I've said it."

"Hannah, it's not my fault," Margaret said, going towards the door, and
feeling that absence would again be the better part of valor.

"Stop, please, Miss Vincent," Mr. Garratt exclaimed. "May I beg you to
remain a minute?" He shut the door and stood with his back to it, boldly
facing the three women before him: Mrs. Vincent in calm astonishment,
Hannah petrified but scarlet with rage and dismay, and Margaret feeling
that a crisis had indeed come at last but not able to restrain a little
unwilling admiration for Mr. Garratt's courage. "I want you to hear what
I have to say," he went on; "Mrs. Vincent, I love Miss Margaret. I think
she is the most beautiful girl in the world--the most beautiful young
lady she would like me to say, perhaps; but I can't see that what I have
heard about her to-day makes any difference, and I told her what I
thought of her this morning in the wood before I knew anything about her
family--"

"Oh!" came a note of rage from Hannah.

"And I've told her so at every other chance I've had of saying it, which
hasn't been very often, for she wouldn't give me any, and Hannah has
kept hold of me--as tight as a dog does of a rat. But I love Miss
Margaret, I love the ground she walks on, and I'll marry her to-morrow
if she'll have me." Mr. Garratt had become vehement.

"I wouldn't--I wouldn't--" Margaret said under her breath, but he took
no notice.

"And I'll never give up the hope of her. I'm happy to hear that though
she's likely to be the daughter of a lord, she's not likely to have any
money, so it can't be thought that I'm looking after that. I don't want
a penny with her. I understand that the farm is going to be Miss
Barton's, and I hope she'll keep it. I want Margaret, and I want her
just as she is and without a penny. I don't care what I do for her, nor
how hard I work. I can make her comfortable now--and I'll make her rich
some day--"

"Mr. Garratt, it's all impossible!" Margaret broke in.

"You say so now, Miss Margaret," he answered; "but when you come to
think it over perhaps you'll feel different. And you'll see that in
talking to Hannah I've only been trying to do what I came to do, but I
can't go on with it, and there's an end of it. It's no good saying I
don't love you, for I do, and I don't see why I shouldn't say it either.
I'd do anything in the world to get you, and everything in the world
when I had got you. I'm going away now," he said, quickly, suddenly
opening the door, "but I'll write to you to-morrow, Miss Margaret, and
you'd better think over what I say in the letter. You needn't think
you'll be standing in Hannah's way, for I'd rather be roasted on a
gridiron than marry her. Good-night, Mrs. Vincent; I hope you'll forgive
me. Miss Barton, I wish you a very good-evening. I know the way to the
stables, and can put the pony to myself." He stood holding the door to
for a moment, then opened it, and with something like real passion in
his voice--it swept over his listeners and convinced them--he added:
"Miss Margaret, I'm not ashamed of it, I'm proud of it, and I look back
to say before every one once more that I love you, more than I ever
thought to love anybody in the world, and I'd rather marry you than have
ten thousand a year. Good-bye." He shut the door, and a minute later
they saw him go slowly past the window on his way to the stable.

As if by common consent they waited and listened for the sound of Mr.
Garratt's departing wheels. It seemed to form an accompaniment to
Hannah's wrath, which burst forth with his departure.


That night, while Hannah was still testing the bolts below, Margaret
went softly into her mother's room.

"Mother, dear," she whispered, "I want to tell you something, and you
mustn't be unhappy, you must just trust me, darling; I shall never be in
Hannah's way again, for I shall go to London."

"It would break my heart!" Mrs. Vincent said, with almost a sob. "I'm
growing old, and am not so strong as I used to be. I couldn't bear to
part from you."

"But, mother dear, I cannot stay here any longer." She lifted her
mother's hands and kissed her fingers. "I cannot, darling!"

"But where would you go in London?" Mrs. Vincent asked, for she herself
felt the impossibility of peace at Woodside Farm while Margaret remained
and her husband was absent.

"I shall go to Miss Hunstan first. Sometimes I think I should like to be
an actress, too."

"You mustn't, Margaret!" Mrs. Vincent cried in terror. "Hannah would
never let you enter the house again, for she says that play-actors come
from Satan and go to him again when their day is done."

Hannah came up-stairs and stood in the doorway. Margaret faced her with
her arm round her mother's shoulder.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Leave me alone," Margaret said, gently. "To-morrow I shall go to
London."

"And what will you do there? You that never did a day's work in a week,
or said a prayer on Sundays, or asked a blessing on a meal, and that
belong to those who are ashamed to let people know what they are. Is
your head turned because Mr. Garratt has been carried away by your ways
and artfulness."

"I'll leave him to you, Hannah, and go away to-morrow."

"I'll take care that you do nothing of the sort. You will stay here till
your father comes back and learn to behave yourself."

Margaret made no answer. She pushed her mother gently down into the big
chair by the wardrobe and knelt by her and kissed her gray hairs and the
thin face and the muslin round her throat and the fringe of the shawl
that was about her shoulders.

"Come, get to your bed," Hannah said; "we don't want to be kept here all
night."

"Good-bye," Margaret whispered to her mother, kissing her softly once
again. Then she rose and slowly walked away. "Good-night," she said to
Hannah over her shoulder as she went to her own room.

"I'll lock her up if I have any nonsense with her," she heard Hannah
say, as she shut the door.

Margaret sat for a long time thinking. "It will be better to go and be
done with it," she said at last. "Hannah might prevent me in the
morning; there would be another scene, and it's enough to kill mother--I
can't let her bear it any longer."

Wearily she reached the Gladstone bag that her father had given her,
down from the shelf at the top of the cupboard in the wall. It was not
very large, and luckily it was light; she felt that she could carry it
quite well to the station. She put together the things she thought she
might want immediately, the bag held them quite easily. Then she drew
out a trunk and packed the rest of her clothes into it. At the far end
of the room there was a little old-fashioned bureau in which she kept
the two quarters' money that had come since her father went away. She
took it out and looked at it wonderingly. And at last she sat down to
write to her mother. As she opened her blotting-book she saw a sheet of
note-paper that she had spoiled on the day she first wrote to Miss
Hunstan. It set her thinking of Tom Carringford, and that awful tea at
which Mr. Garratt had triumphantly put in his remarks; and suddenly she
broke down and cried, for, after all, she was only a girl, and very
lonely. Perhaps the tears made her feel better, for she took up her pen,
but a little incoherent letter was all she could manage; she gave her
mother Miss Hunstan's address, and said she would write again as soon as
possible and every Sunday morning, and that she would love her every
hour, and be her own girl and worthy of her. When it was done she laid
it on the little black mahogany table, put on her every-day cape and
hat, and took up her bag, hesitated, and looked round incredulously.

It was such a strange thing to leave the house in the middle of the
night, she could hardly believe that she was awake. She opened the door
very cautiously and listened, but all was dark and still, save for the
ticking of the old-fashioned clock in the passage below. She went softly
down and waited and listened again, but no one had heard her. Along the
passage to the back door, for there were not so many bolts to it as to
the front one, and it could be opened more gently. The key was hanging
on a hook, she took it down, turned it in the lock, drew back the one
long bolt, and stepped out. The summer air came soft and cool upon her
face, but the sky was clouded. She drew the door to, locked it outside,
and slipped the key under it back into the passage, and stood a fugitive
in the darkness. She grasped her bag tightly and went softly over the
stones that were just outside the back door, and so round to the garden,
down the green pathway and through the gate; it closed with a click, and
she wondered if Hannah heard it in her sleep; across the field and over
the stile--she thought of Mr. Garratt--into the next field, and then
suddenly she realized the folly of this headlong departure. She might at
least have waited till the morning, for there was no train till six
o'clock. She had five or six hours in which to walk as many miles. She
sat down on the step of the stile and strained her eyes to see the
trees that made her cathedral, but they were only a mass of blackness
in the night; she left her bag by the stile, and went back across the
field to the garden gate, and looked at the house once more, and at her
mother's darkened window, then went back again to the stile. Gradually
the natural exultation of youth came over her.

"I'm going to London," she said, breathlessly, "to seek my fortune just
as Dick Whittington did, and as Lena Lakeman said I ought to have done."

She stooped and felt the grass--it was quite dry; she used her bag as a
pillow, and pulled her cloak round her and stretched herself out to rest
for an hour or two on the soft green ground. "Oh, if mother could know
that I was lying here in the fields, what would she say? But it's lovely
with the cool air coming on my face, and I have a sense of being free
already."

But sleep would not come; she was restless and excited, and it seemed as
if the shadows of all the people she had known crowded about her. She
could feel her mother's hand upon her head, hear Hannah scolding, and
see her father holding aloof--till she could bear it no longer. She sat
up and looked round; the dawn was beginning; in the dim light she could
see the green of the grass.

"Dear land," she said, as she put her head down once more, "when shall I
walk over you again towards my mother's house?"



XXII


Margaret's heart beat fast as the hansom stopped at the house in Great
College Street. Mrs. Gilman opened the door.

"Miss Hunstan went away on Saturday night, miss," she said; "she's gone
to Germany for three weeks."

"Oh yes--to Bayreuth; she said she might go, but I didn't think it would
be so soon." Margaret stood dismayed.

"Is there anything I can do, miss? You are the young lady that came that
morning with Mr. Carringford, and put out the flowers?"

"Yes--yes! I thought Miss Hunstan would advise me," Margaret answered,
desperately. "I have come to London alone this time, not with my father,
and I want to live somewhere." For a moment Mrs. Gilman looked at her
doubtfully.

"You are very young to be alone," she said.

"Oh yes, I'm very young; but that has nothing to do with it."

"And you have no friends in London?"

"I'm afraid they're all away," Margaret answered. "Mrs. and Miss
Lakeman are going to Scotland to-day."

"I know them," Mrs. Gilman said, her face brightening, "and you know Mr.
Carringford, too?"

"Oh yes. I stayed at the Langham Hotel with my father," she went on,
"but I am afraid to go there now--alone."

"I have a bedroom and sitting-room; perhaps you would like them, miss;
they are the drawing-rooms. Miss Hunstan preferred the lower floor
because it was easier to come in and out. I don't know if they'd be too
expensive?"

"Oh no," said Margaret, "I have plenty of money," for it seemed to her
that she had an inexhaustible fortune; and as this was a pleasant
statement, Mrs. Gilman invited her in with alacrity. And so in an hour
she was installed in two wainscoted rooms--as comfortable, if not as
dainty, as Miss Hunstan's beneath, and Mrs. Gilman had explained to
Margaret that she had known Miss Hunstan ever since she came to England,
and had often gone to the theatre with her or fetched her back. And
Margaret had told Mrs. Gilman that she wanted to be an actress, too.

"In time, miss, I suppose," Mrs. Gilman answered, with a motherly smile.
Then, when a telegram had been despatched to Chidhurst--for Margaret
felt that her mother's heart had been aching all the morning--and when
she had had breakfast alone in her own little sitting-room, she felt
that she had indeed set out on her way through the world alone. She
determined to make no sign to Mr. Farley till the Lakemans had started
for Scotland--they were to start at ten o'clock that morning from
Euston. To-morrow it would be safe, and she would write and ask if he
would let her "walk on" as Miss Hunstan had done once.

But suppose he refused, what then? Suddenly there flashed upon her the
remembrance of the dramatic agency in the Strand, that she had seen
advertised when she was at the Langham. If Mr. Farley could do nothing
for her, the agency might help her; it had said that engagements were
guaranteed. A spirit of adventure made her determine to try and find it
that very afternoon. It was in the Strand, where her father had bought
her the Gladstone bag, and, in the odd way that trifles sometimes lodge
in one's memory, the number of the house had remained with her. But now
she was tired out with the long excitement and the night beneath the
sky. She put her brown head down on a pillow, and in ten minutes was
fast asleep.

She asked Mrs. Gilman for the address, and wrote to Miss Hunstan before
she went out--a long letter, telling her all she had done and longed to
do, and asking for her advice. Then she went in search of the agency,
and found it easily. It was on a second floor, up a dirty staircase;
she stopped to gather courage, and gave a feeble knock at the door, on
which was painted in white letters, "Mr. Baker, Theatrical Agent."

"Come in!" said a voice. She entered and found a large room hung
indiscriminately with playbills and advertisements. At a writing-table
placed across the window sat a man of forty, with a florid face and a
bald head. In an easy-chair by the fireplace was a woman, expensively
and rather showily dressed. Her large, gray eyes were bright but
expressionless. She had a quantity of fair hair done up elaborately; the
color on her cheeks did not vary, she might have been any age between
twenty-eight and forty. Leaning against the fireplace was a young man,
clean shaven and well-dressed. Margaret heard him say:

"Certainly not, I won't pay a penny; if a manager has no faith in it he
can leave it alone."

"You'll never get any one to risk it," the woman said, with a laugh.
"Regeneration never pays--" she stopped as Margaret entered, and did not
try to disguise the admiration into which she was surprised.

But Margaret felt that it would be impossible to speak before her.
"Perhaps I'd better come another time?" she began. The young man by the
fireplace looked at her intently, but he took the hint.

"Good-morning, Baker, I'll come round later," he said, and, with
another look at Margaret, departed.

The man at the desk turned to her, "Now, madam, what can we do for you?
You can speak before Miss Ramsey--in fact, if you've come about an
engagement, she might be able to give you some advice." Margaret glanced
quickly at the woman and then round the ugly office, and as she did so a
little of the glamour of the stage seemed to vanish. Only for a moment;
then her courage came back, and hope, which is never fickle long to
youth, stood by her. This office was not the stage, not even its
threshold, she thought; it was only the little narrow street, dreary and
ill-kept, that branched off from the main thoroughfare.

"You look as if you'd come from the country," Miss Ramsey said. Her
voice showed a desire to be friendly.

"Yes, I've come from the country," Margaret answered. She turned to Mr.
Baker again, "I want to go on the stage," she said, "and understood that
you could give help and advice."

"Certainly," he said, in a business-like tone, and opened a book beside
him. "We charge one guinea for entering your name."

She looked at him, and a smile came to her lips. "I want to know first
what you can do for me," she answered, and Mr. Baker came to the
conclusion that she was not such a fool as he had imagined.

"We can do everything for you, my dear young lady, but you must give us
a reason for taking an interest in you. We don't give advice gratis--"
the door opened and a man entered.

"Can you tell me," he asked, referring to a notebook, "where 'The Ticket
of Leave Man' was played last, and whether Miss Josephine de Grey, who
came out in the provinces last year, has had any engagements lately?"

Mr. Baker consulted two books from a shelf behind him and answered
off-hand, "'Ticket of Leave Man,' Prince of Wales's Theatre, Harrogate,
22d last February, for a week. Miss Josephine de Grey played five nights
at the Royalty this March; engagement came to an end in consequence of
the non-success of the management."

"Thank you," the man said, put down a fee, and departed. The incident
had its effect on Margaret.

"I will pay the guinea," she said. "Would you tell me how I am to
begin?"

He took up the book once more--"Margaret Vincent--really your own name,
is it?--tall, graceful, good-looking. Shall we say nineteen? Would you
like to play boys' parts?"

"Certainly not."

"Burlesque or singing parts?"

"No, I want to act, or learn to act, in real plays. Some day I want to
play in Shakespeare's;" she felt that it was sacrilege to mention his
name in these surroundings. "Of course I know I must play very small
parts at first."

"Any one to back you with money?"

"No."

"Any friends among the aristocracy or the press?"

"No."

"She'll soon have them," said Miss Ramsey, with a laugh, which Mr. Baker
echoed in a manner that Margaret found particularly offensive.

"I quite agree," he said. "And you don't know any one in the
profession?" he asked her.

"I know Mr. Dawson Farley, and Miss Hunstan a little."

His manner changed altogether. "My dear young lady, what could be
better? They are at the top of the profession." He closed the book as if
he wanted time for reflection. "Our fee for appearance without salary is
two guineas; with salary, ten per cent. I think you said Great College
Street, Westminster--secluded and near the Abbey--very nice indeed,"
writing down the address. "You might call again, Miss Vincent, or you
shall hear from us," and he closed the book.

Margaret turned quickly to the door, giving Miss Ramsey and Mr. Baker a
little haughty nod between them.

"I don't think much of the young lady's manner," Mr. Baker said, after
she had gone, "but her face ought to be a fortune. I wonder if she
really knows Farley?"

Miss Ramsey got up and looked at herself in the fly-blown glass and at
the dirty cards stuck in its frame. "Wish I were as young as that girl;
I'm tired of playing in rubbish," she said.

"Why don't you ask Farley to give you something?"

"No good. I can't stand his patronizing ways."

"Make Murray write you a part."

"Bosh! He read me an act of one of his plays, long-winded talk and
nothing to do, too much poetry, and not enough--not enough bigness for
me. I want something to move about with in a play. Besides, he won't
risk any money even on his own stuff; too platonic for that--platonics
are always economical. Ta-ta."

"Have a whiskey and soda?"

"No, thank you," and she, too, disappeared down the dirty staircase that
Margaret had taken a few minutes before.



XXIII


It was five o'clock when Margaret knocked at the street door in Great
College Street again.

"There's a lady waiting for you," Mrs. Gilman said, as she let her in.

"A lady!" Margaret exclaimed, and hurried up-stairs. In the drawing-room
sat Hannah. She wore her blue alpaca frock and black straw hat with the
upstanding bow on one side; she had thrown aside her cape, and the
moment she saw Margaret she took off her hat as if to prepare herself
for the fray.

"Well," she said, "this is a pretty thing to do, isn't it? You'll just
come home with me this very moment."

Margaret stood with her back to the door. "It's very kind of you to come
up, Hannah, but I'm going to stay here," she answered.

"You'll do nothing of the sort."

The determination in Hannah's voice put the bit between Margaret's
teeth. "I am going to stay here," she repeated.

"Either you come home this minute," replied Hannah, who had made up her
mind that a firm policy was the right one to use with Margaret, "or you
don't come at all."

"Then I don't come at all--till my father returns."

"And that won't be for another year, if then. There was a letter this
morning which showed it plain enough."

"Then I'll come back when you are married, to take care of our mother."

Hannah turned pale with rage. "Now look here, Margaret," she said, "and
understand that I don't want any taunts from you. You've taken good care
to put an end to all that forever. It's my belief that you think Mr.
Garratt is going to follow you up to London." At which Margaret raised
her head quickly, but she only half convinced Hannah.

"I don't want Mr. Garratt," she said, "and I won't let him know where I
am, I promise you that, and if he finds out he shall not enter the
house. He lost his temper yesterday, but he didn't mean any of the
things he said, and now that I'm away he'll come back to you."

"I'll take good care he never enters the place," said Hannah. "Perhaps
you don't know that he's written you a letter? I could tell his
handwriting on the envelope, though he has tried to alter it."

"You can open it and read it, or give it back to him, or put it in the
fire," Margaret answered. "It's such a long way for you to have come;
won't you have some tea, Hannah?"

"I don't want any tea. If that's where you sleep," she added, nodding
towards the other room, "you had better go and pack up your things at
once. We shall have time to catch the 6.50; I don't mind taking a cab to
the station."

"It's no use; I'm not coming," Margaret, answered, firmly.

"And what do you think you are going to do in London?" asked Hannah,
beginning to lose her temper again. "And what sort of a house is this
you're in, I should like to know, with an actress lodging down-stairs?
I've found that out already."

"I hope I shall be an actress, too, soon."

"You!" Hannah almost screamed. "You that have no religion now want to be
an actress; where do you think it will all end?"

"I am not going to discuss it with you," Margaret answered, loftily, "it
was very kind of you to come, but if you won't have any tea you had
better go home again. I have written to father, and I know that my
mother will trust me. I have not got any of the religion that makes you
narrow and hard; you have made me afraid of even thinking about that;
and I'm going to be an actress. But I won't do anything wrong--"

"We are all weak--" Hannah began, in consternation.

"I will be as strong as I can," Margaret cried, passionately. "Go back,
Hannah, and think things over. If there can be peace at home, and Mr.
Garratt is not a bone of contention between us--I don't want him, you
understand--presently I will come home again."

"You return with me to-night," Hannah insisted, "or you shall not enter
the house again."

"I shall not return with you to-night," Margaret answered, doggedly.

"It's what I always knew would come of it. Understand now, Margaret,
once for all, that unless you go back with me I'll have the door closed
against you. I'd turn the key and close the bolts myself, though it were
the coldest night in winter."

"But remember I have a right to come," Margaret said, blazing a little.
"You have no right to lock me out of my mother's house."

"Right or not right, you shall not enter till I'm forced to let you in.
I've had unbelievers long enough about the place, but when it comes to
actresses, too, it's time I made a stand, and I'll make it. Now, then,
are you coming?" she asked, in a threatening voice.

"No, I'm not."

"Very well, then, the rest is on your own head." Hannah opened the door
and hesitated. "I'm sure I've had enough of you," she said, as she went
down the stairs. Margaret flew after her.

"Oh, tell my mother that I love her," she cried, entreatingly.

"Pretty love!" said Hannah, scornfully, as she stalked along the little
hall and out into the street.

"Hannah--"

"Pretty love!" repeated Hannah from the pavement, "I've no patience with
it," and, with her head in the air, she marched up the street.

Margaret went back to the drawing-room and threw herself down on her
knees beside the sofa. "Oh, what can I do?" she cried. "If I had only
some one to help me! This is what it means--this is why they want it
so," she went on incoherently to herself. "Human beings are not strong
enough to manage their lives alone--it is why all the mistakes are made.
I must write to her at once. Oh, my dear, dear mother." She went to the
writing-table on one side of the room. There was a worn-out old
blotting-book, and in it a sheet of crumpled note-paper. She smoothed
it, and with a wretched, spiky pen poured out her heart in a letter, and
felt better for it. Her mother would understand, her mother always did,
and would trust her and wait. How she wished that she had never left the
farm, that she had borne Hannah's scoldings, borne anything rather than
deserted the dear home of all her life. She only realized, too, now that
she was away from her, that her mother was growing old--how foolish it
seemed to miss any time at all with her. But Hannah was not to be
borne. Day after day, week after week, since her father went she had
tormented Margaret, and save by fits and starts her mother had been too
well lost in her own dreams even to notice it, except, of course, when
there had been scenes, and these were almost as trying to Mrs. Vincent
as to Margaret. After all, she had done a wise thing, especially since
Mr. Garratt had written, and her father was not coming home just yet.
"It's only the beginning that is so difficult," she said to herself,
"presently it will be better." She looked at the clock on the
mantel-piece. The Lakemans must be safe in Scotland by this time; Hannah
was on her way back to Chidhurst. She wondered whether Tom Carringford
was in London, and if he had thought of her at all yesterday when he
went to the house on the hill to dine--if he had looked across even once
at Woodside Farm.



XXIV


It was the strangest thing to wake in the morning and to realize that
she was alone, living on her own responsibility, in London; the
strangest thing to walk into her sitting-room and see breakfast laid for
her.

"Oh, I can't live by myself," she cried; "it's such a mad thing to do."
But hundreds did it, why not she? Courage! She had started on her way
through the world, and it would be better to begin at once arranging the
work she meant to do. She knew the name of Mr. Farley's theatre; she
wondered if it would be better to go and see him rather than to write.
It was so difficult to explain things in a letter, and she had learned
already that to get to any place she didn't know in London it was only
necessary to take a cab and to pay the man at the end of the journey.

She was too impatient to wait long, and it was only eleven o'clock when
she inquired for Mr. Farley at the box-office of the theatre, and was
directed to go to the stage door. The stage door was down a court, ugly
and narrow; the door-keeper, in a little office on the right, inquired
her business. Her name was written on a slip of paper and sent up to
Mr. Farley, and after she had waited some minutes in an ill-kept passage
a boy came and asked her to follow him--across the stage, that looked
like a staring desert, and past the scenery leaning against the walls,
lath and canvas and card-board and crude colors that brought home to her
uncomfortably the realities of the life she was seeking; up a little
staircase and into a comfortable, well-furnished room, hung with signed
portraits of celebrities. Mr. Farley came forward to meet her; he shook
hands and looked at her approvingly, for he had already divined the
object of her visit.

"And what did Miss--Miss Hannah was it--say to this scheme?" he asked,
with a smile, when she had stated her ambitions.

"She doesn't approve of it; but my mother will trust me."

"And does any one know that you are in London?" he asked, his thoughts
running to Tom Carringford.

"No one; I wrote to Miss Hunstan, but she is at Bayreuth. I don't want
any one else to know, Mr. Farley--my life is my own to live," she added,
quickly, "and I want to begin at once. Can you let me 'walk on' as Miss
Hunstan did once?"

The girl had some stuff in her, he thought. "Certainly you shall walk on
if you like, Miss Vincent; we can easily make room for one or two
more," he answered. "But, understand, it means hard work; you will have
to come to rehearsal and perhaps to wait about for hours, and when we
begin to play you will have to come down every night, of course, and
nothing must make you late or careless--ill or well you must be here. No
excuses allowed; your work must come before everything else, and to
begin with you will get a guinea a week. Young ladies are apt to think
they have only to run on the stage to become actresses, but you will
find that nothing is done without hard work and patient waiting, unless
you are a genius; if you are, we shall discover it. We begin rehearsing
at 11.30 to-day; you can wait, if you like." And so he dismissed her,
realizing that he was a different person altogether in the theatre from
the Dawson Farley of Mrs. Lakeman's drawing-room or the garden at
Woodside Farm. Nevertheless, he had been interested by her visit. It was
very odd, he thought, this girl coming from the atmosphere in which he
had seen her last week to lonely lodgings in Westminster. Very odd
altogether. Lucky for her that she had got into Mrs. Gilman's, a
respectable house, and a nice woman. He had half a mind to telegraph the
whole thing to Mrs. Lakeman, and suggest that she should invite Margaret
to Scotland; it would be far better for her than staying in London; but,
after all, it was no affair of his, and he disliked mixing up business
and private matters. Still, when he wrote to Pitlochry, he made up his
mind he would tell Mrs. Lakeman about Margaret; she was a clever,
practical woman, and would know if anything ought to be done for the
girl.

Meanwhile, Margaret had been given over to the stage manager, and waited
eagerly for the rehearsal to begin. It was uglier than she had expected.
The gaping, empty theatre, covered with holland sheets; the dusty stage,
with its whitewashed walls, and lumbering scenery packed together,
standing up against them; the every-day clothes of the actors and
actresses, made it all so vastly different a matter from seeing a play
at night from the stalls with her father; but it was absurd of her, she
thought, not to have remembered that it would be so; "it is like being
at the back of the world," she thought. The company was a good-sized
one, and Margaret, shy and awkward, stood apart, looking at it. Some of
its members were ladies and gentlemen; they glanced at her, curiously
wondering who she was, but only for a moment; they were intent on their
own life battle. Some were not ladies and gentlemen, but tawdry
make-believes, or shabby and anxious-looking. One or two of them looked
as if they would have spoken to her, but she gave them no chance. When
Dawson Farley came on he was busy and full of the responsibility of a
great speculation; he had forgotten all about her. Even in that first
day she realized that she was a little unit of no account in an
important whole. True, when she had to go across the stage at the end of
the first act, he turned his head for a moment. She walked well, he
thought; if he heard that she was intelligent, he might some day give
her a small part. She was beautiful; he realized that. Ten years ago the
story of Louise Hunstan might have been repeated (on his part), but now
he was wiser. Then it struck him, as he waited in the wings, that her
mother had looked ill the other day, like a woman who was not going to
live long, and that if she died Mrs. Lakeman might want to marry her old
lover, Gerald Vincent. Perhaps it would be wise if he tried to hurry
things up a little.

Margaret had discovered that it was only a little way from the theatre
to Great College Street, and she walked back from the rehearsal. After
the stuffiness and dimness of the theatre she was glad to be in the open
air again, and all manner of new experiences suggested themselves. She
looked at the people she passed in the narrow streets near the stage
door; they seemed to have suffered so much, to have hoped for so much,
and each one to have a strange little history of some sort. A first
glimmering of the temptations of life dawned upon her, the expression of
a woman's face, or a man's casual speech, brought home to her a sense
of some things at which Hannah had railed. Hannah had only known of them
by instinct, or she had railed at them parrot-like, because she had
heard others do so; but under it all lay a foundation, though she had
never dug to it. Gradually Margaret realized that of all people and of
all things there was a justification, from a given point of view, and
that, even if it had made no difference to a condemnation, it should
never be forgotten.

The morning, the third day of Margaret's stay in London, brought her a
letter from her mother--a simple, trusting letter with not a shadow of
reproach in it. "I wish you hadn't left us so, Margey, dear," she said,
"for it has made Hannah very angry, and I don't think it would be any
good your coming back just yet, but if you want anything write to me. It
is a good thing that you are living in a house with such a nice woman.
Perhaps you could write to Sir George Stringer, for he knew your father
when he was young, and would help you to do what was best. Hannah is
packing your trunk to send up, but I am afraid to say anything to her.
When she goes to Petersfield at the end of the week I'll send you some
eggs and butter and flowers, but I don't like to say anything about it
now, for it's no good making her cross. I wrote to Mr. Garratt, and told
him you had gone to London, and I sent him back the letter, as you
asked me. I'm not very well, but you must not be anxious. I think it's
the trial of Hannah's temper when you were here. Perhaps, after all,
it's as well that you are away for a bit. She may have got over it a
little in a month or two. I think I ought to tell you that she is very
angry indeed about your being an actress. She says old Mr. and Mrs.
Barton, of Petersfield, will say I am doing very wrong in giving my
consent, but I have never believed in the world being as bad as they do,
or could see why the theatre should be wicked. Your father said once
that everything was just what we made it, and it could always be made
good or bad, and I want you to remember that about your life. It is what
I have always felt about your father, and that God, who knows him, will
be satisfied, no matter what people say."

Margaret kissed it, and gave a long sigh of thankfulness. "She isn't
angry," she said to herself, "and she understands. My mother always did,
bless her." She rose and walked up and down the little drawing-room. She
had not known till now how much she had longed for a letter, for some
sign that she had not done a wicked or foolish thing when she fled from
home. "Now I feel as if I can go on," she said, "and who knows but that
some day I shall be a great actress as Miss Hunstan is--she has my
letter this morning, I wonder what she'll say when she writes to me."
The little clock on the mantel-piece struck ten. As if in answer to it
there came a double knock to the street door, the sound of a voice and
some hurried steps, and the next moment Tom Carringford walked in.
Margaret started to her feet with a cry of surprise:

"Oh," she said, "how did you know I was here?"

"Miss Hunstan wired--had it ten minutes ago--so got into a hansom and
came at once. And now what is the matter?" he asked, just as if he had a
right to do so. He sat down in the easy-chair facing her, his face
beaming with happiness, even though Mr. Garratt rankled in his memory.
"Why are you in London? You said something about coming, in the wood
that day, but I didn't think you meant it."

"I am here just as Miss Hunstan is. I have taken these rooms, and want
to be an actress as she was."

"What for?"--his eyes were full of astonishment--"and what does your
mother say to it?"

"She understands. She knows that I can't go back till my father
returns."

"And what about Mr. Garratt?" his tone was brisk and gay, but he waited
eagerly for her answer.

"Oh!" and she grew crimson, "I did so want to tell you about Mr.
Garratt, but I didn't feel I could unless you asked me. He came to see
Hannah--"

"I don't believe that," he laughed. "I saw Hannah, you know."

"And then he thought--that--he liked me--and he said--well, he said
things--you know," she added, rather lamely.

Tom nodded to give her courage. "Well?"

"And he went up to the wood when I was there, and Lena Lakeman came up
and found him, and--and, oh, I hated Mr. Garratt," and she burst into
tears. "I can't tell you how much I detested him, and yet you know he
was very straightforward in a way, and he was not afraid of saying what
he thought, and, of course, he couldn't help being vulgar--"

"And what about Hannah?"

"It was impossible to stay there with Hannah--and Mr. Garratt--and--all
the scenes." She was confused and incoherent, but Tom made out the story
in his own mind.

"And then?" he said.

"And then I slipped out in the darkness on Sunday night and came up
here. I thought, perhaps, Miss Hunstan would help me."

His face beamed with happiness. "Of course, I knew there couldn't really
be anything between you and Mr. Garratt; only it looked very odd, didn't
it? And then Lena told me about Sunday--about his being up there, you
know, and how she found you--"

"Oh, don't," Margaret cried, passionately. "It was mean of her to tell
you, for she heard everything I said to him--"

"Well, never mind," he answered, in a consoling voice, "we've done with
him, haven't we? But you know, Margaret," he added, falling into the
familiar address without being aware of it, "you can't go on staying in
rooms in London by yourself; and as for going on the stage, why it's all
nonsense. I am very impertinent to say it, of course; but you see our
fathers knew each other all their lives, so you must look upon me as an
old friend. It's a great bore the Lakemans being in Scotland; you might
have stayed with them--"

"No, I couldn't."

"Why not? Mrs. Lakeman is a good sort. Lena is a bit of a bore, of
course"--a remark which, for some unknown reason, brought exultation to
Margaret's heart. "As for being an actress, why you know it's all
nonsense--don't look so offended." His voice would have been tender if
he had not checked it. "People often come to grief in London--things are
too much for them."

"I am not offended," she answered; "but if things are too much for me I
suppose I must bear it as others have done; after all, the soldier who
falls on the battle-field is more to be envied than if he dies in his
native village."

"I should think you have done a good deal of reading; that sounds like
it, you know," at which they laughed, like the boy and girl they were.
"I wish you'd go back," he half entreated.

"But I won't," she said, obstinately.

"Then let me wire to the Lakemans and ask if they can have you?"

"I wouldn't for the world."

"You are very positive. And you mean to say that you are bent on this
stage business?"

"Yes; I'm bent on it," and she told him of her visit to Mr. Farley in
the morning and of the two rehearsals. He got up and walked about. He
was worried, of course--he felt that he ought to be worried--but he was
so happy at hearing that there was nothing between her and Mr. Garratt
that he found it difficult to be serious. "I wish I could make you see,"
he said, "that you are only taking the bread out of other people's
mouths. When I get into the House I shall make bread-snatching a penal
offence, and send you to prison."

"Bread-snatching! What do you mean?"

"Why, you see lots of women have to work for food and clothes and a
roof. Some try to act, some to dressmake, or write novels, or teach
infants--that's all right, of course. They've got to do it to get
through the world. If you have got a great deal of talent for acting,
even though you are not obliged to do it, it is all right to go on the
stage, and, of course, if you have genius you have no business to keep
it from the world. But there are a whole heap of women who want to do
things for the sake of getting a little more money than they really
need, or because they like being talked about, or for some other reason
that doesn't hold water, and they do it under easy conditions and snatch
the chances from the women who have got to do it for their
bread-and-butter. I think they are an immoral lot myself."

"But, Mr. Carringford--"

"You don't want money, do you?"

"I've got a hundred pounds in my pocket--"

"Splendid! I've only got two pounds ten in mine. But what have you got a
year?"

"Father has only two hundred. I have it while he is away."

"But when your father returns he'll be rich. His brother has made a pile
out there--heard so the other day--and he hasn't any children. Do go
back to the farm, there's a dear girl."

"But I can't," said Margaret, carefully concealing the pleasure she felt
at being called a dear girl. "Hannah wouldn't even let me in now.
Besides, I may be very stupid or I may be a genius; I want to find out,
and I shall be quite safe here."

"Oh yes, you'll be quite safe here. Mrs. Gilman is a nice woman. She's a
great friend of mine. I shall go and talk to her in a moment. My people
used to know her--believe it was my mother who sent Miss Hunstan here.
Well, if you are not going back to the farm, when you've done your
rehearsal to-day we might have a spree--drive about, or something. Mr.
Vincent let us do it before, so he wouldn't mind our doing it again."

"Of course not," she answered, joyfully.

"Shall I call for you at the theatre?"

"I don't know what time the rehearsal will be over."

"Then suppose I come here at four and we drive to Richmond, walk about
in the park, dine early, and get back here by nine? That'll be all
right, you know, or we'll take a steamer on the river Thames, as the
guide-books say, and go to Greenwich. Meanwhile, does Sir George
Stringer know that you are here?"

"No; but I am going to write to him, only I didn't think of it till
mother wrote."

"I shall tell the Lakemans you are here, of course."

"Yes," she answered, very doubtfully.

"I don't believe you care about them?"

"I've only seen Mrs. Lakeman twice." She stopped a moment. "Mr.
Carringford--" she began.

"Why do you call me that? It sounds so absurd."

"Does it," she said, and the color came to her face. "I was going to
ask--are you engaged to Lena Lakeman?" She almost laughed, for now,
somehow, the question seemed absurd.

"No. Are you engaged to Mr. Garratt?"

"Why, of course not!"

"That's all right, then. Didn't you say your rehearsal was at 11.30? I
might drive you down. Only twenty minutes--you must be punctual, you
know, if you are going on the stage."

"Of course," she laughed. "I'll go and get ready at once."



XXV


Ten days had passed. It was like a dream to Margaret to be in London
alone, her mother and Hannah at Woodside Farm, and her father on the
other side of the world. But she was beginning to be uneasy at what she
had done--at taking this step out into the world without her father's
knowledge. Perhaps he would be angry with her, or would say, as Tom did,
that she had joined the great army of bread-snatchers, the women who
were not obliged to work for their living, who had no genius to justify
them, no particular talent even, and yet from sheer restlessness and
inability to settle down in their homes and quietly fulfil the duties
there, had come out into the open and meddled with work that others
might do better, and for a wage that meant to those others not added
luxuries and frivolities, but the means of living. She wished a hundred
times that Mr. Garratt had never come near Woodside Farm, that she had
never left it, that she were sitting on the arm of her mother's chair in
the living-room once more, looking out at the garden and the beech wood
beyond; but something in her heart told her that that happiness was
forever at an end. No one approved of the step she had taken except her
mother, who had seen the impossibility of her remaining at home. Hannah
had shut the door on her, and Tom had shaken his head.

Sir George Stringer had appeared as promptly as possible after getting
her note; but, since he was away when it arrived, that was not till a
couple of days after she had written it.

He was emphatic enough.

"My dear Margaret--I think I may call you that, as I have known your
father all my life--this is simply madness, and, what's more, it's
wrong," he said. "You are not old enough to choose your life yet. Take
my advice and go back as fast as you can."

"I can't," she answered, dismayed.

"Of course it was unpleasant to have the attentions of the young man I
saw." (Tom Carringford had told him the correct version of that story.)
"But you have surely wit enough to let him see that they are distasteful
to you?"

"I did--I did."

"If my sister were not such an invalid I should insist on your going to
her at Folkestone."

"Oh, but I want to stay in London," she said, firmly, and told him of
her engagement at Farley's Theatre. He was furious, and could not hide
it.

"The fact of the matter is, you like this rehearsing business. It's
madness!" he said. "And I expect you like seeing Master Tom, and that is
madness, too. He and Lena Lakeman have always been fond of each other,
and you will only upset their relations with your pretty eyes, or ruin
your own peace of mind." A more untactful gentleman than Sir George in a
matter of this sort it would have been difficult to find. "I suppose you
know that he and Lena Lakeman are fond of each other? She's fond of him,
at any rate, or else it would have been the best thing in the world;
'pon my soul, I wish some one would marry you."

"But I don't want to be married." Margaret was indignant, but amused at
his vehemence.

"Yes, you do," he said, recovering his good humor. "All girls want to be
married--nice girls, that is. Quite right, too. For my part, I think
women ought to be married as soon as possible; if they are single at
eight-and-twenty, they ought to be shunted off to the colonies. They are
only in the way here; but they might be of some use out there."

"Do you think I ought to go after my father to Australia?" Margaret
asked, demurely, with a twinkle in her eye.

"No, my dear, I don't think that." He was quite pacified by this time.
"But I think you ought to go home, and, if you can't do that, you had
better come and stay with me. I'm going to Chidhurst myself at the end
of the week--day after to-morrow--if I can get off, unless I go to
Dieppe for a few days first; better come with me--perhaps that wouldn't
do either. 'Pon my soul, a young lady is a very difficult thing to
manage."

"I am quite safe here, dear Sir George," she said. "When you are at
Chidhurst I wish you would go and see my mother."

"I'll go and see your mother, and tell her she ought to be ashamed of
herself to let you stay here." His voice had become abstracted; he was
evidently considering something in his own mind. He got up and walked up
and down once or twice. He turned and looked at Margaret half
wonderingly, then at himself in the glass, and at her again. "My dear
Margaret," he said, "I dare say you will think I am as mad as a hatter,
but do you think you could marry me?"

She nearly bounded off her chair.

"Marry you?"

"Well, really, it seems to me that it's the best way out of it. I'm five
years older than your father, but there's life in the old dog yet. You
are a beautiful girl--I thought so the first moment I saw you--and I
could be thoroughly fond of you. In fact, I believe I am already. I have
no one belonging to me in the world except my sister, and I'm afraid she
won't be here long, poor thing; no entanglements of any sort--never
had. Quite well off; can give you as many pretty things as you like, and
I'll take care of you, and not be grumpy. Do you think you could?"

"Oh no, I couldn't, indeed!" She was still staring at him, but she put
both her hands into his with frank astonishment. "You are very kind, but
you are--"

"Old, eh?"

"Oh no, no!" she said, "but I'm a girl--and I couldn't--"

"Why not? It seems to me it would work well enough, my dear."

"I couldn't!--I couldn't!" she repeated.

"Is it Master Tom?" he asked, like an idiot.

"No."

"Because he ought to marry Lena Lakeman and no one else."

"And I can't marry any one," she answered.

He stood still for a moment, holding the hands that she had held out,
looking at her gravely. When he spoke there was real feeling in his
voice, and Margaret knew it.

"Think it over," he said. "I would be very kind to you, dear; you should
do pretty much as you liked, and there's no fool like an old fool,
remember. I didn't mean to say this when I came in--hadn't an idea of
it; but I think it's a way out, and a good one. I am very lonely
sometimes; I should be another man if I had a girl to look after, and
an old fogy would perhaps delight in your girlhood more than a boy would
know how to do. I think I'll run over to Dieppe for a few days instead
of going to Chidhurst, and come and hear what you have to say to me when
I return."

"It will be just the same," she answered.

"You don't know;" he shook her hand and hesitated, then stooped and
kissed her forehead. "I have known your father all my life, and would do
well by you," he said.

He walked away from Great College Street muttering to himself. "Upon my
life, I believe she's in love with Tom. I don't know what Hilda Lakeman
will say to it all. I wonder if Hilda was lying? She generally is.
Pretty fool I've made of myself, for I don't believe the girl will ever
look at me. I wish she would. I suppose now she'll go and tell Tom;
that'll be the next thing, and he will laugh at me. Best thing I can do
is to tell him myself, and have done with it. Here! Hi!" and he stopped
a hansom. "Stratton Street." He got in rather slowly. "I'm blest if
there isn't a twinge of gout in my foot now--just to remind me that I'm
an ass, I suppose." He met Tom coming out of his house.

"Just wanted to see you for a minute--can you come back?"

"All right; come along," and Tom led the way into the house.

"Look here, my dear boy, I came to speak to you about Margaret Vincent.
You know she wrote to me?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, it seems to me sheer idiotcy--worse, almost a crime--that
Vincent's girl should be here alone in lodgings and apparently stark,
staring mad about the stage."

"I have told her so--but I am looking after her."

"Which only makes matters worse; besides, the Lakemans won't like it."

"It doesn't matter to them."

"Well, but I suppose you are going to marry Lena some day?"

"I never dreamed of it."

"Never dreamed of it?" Sir George repeated, looking at him
incredulously, and then with a glimmering of common-sense it occurred to
him not to repeat Mrs. Lakeman's confidence. "But you are going to them
in Scotland?"

"I ought. Lena's very ill, I fear, and Mrs. Lakeman telegraphs to me
every day to go and cheer them up."

"Humph!" said Sir George to himself, "trust Hilda for knowing what she's
about. Well," he added, aloud, "I didn't think it was a good thing for
that girl to be here in London alone, and I knew that you were due in
Scotland and belonged to the Lakemans--"

"To the Lakemans?" Tom repeated, rather bewildered.

"So, when I went round to see her just now, I thought the only way out
of the difficulty was--was--well, the fact is, I asked her to marry me."

"Lor'!" Tom said, and opened his blue eyes very wide. "What did she
say?"

"Wouldn't look at me. Now, of course, I feel that I have made a fool of
myself, and upon my life I haven't the courage to go near her again for
a bit. Think I'll run over to Dieppe and shake it off. What I want to
say is"--he stopped, for it suddenly occurred to him that he might be
mismanaging things all round. "Something must be done about the girl,
you know," he said.

Tom held out his hand.

"It's all right," he answered; "don't worry about her; I'll see that she
doesn't come to grief."

Sir George looked back at him and understood. "I know you are a good
boy," he said, and grasped Tom's hand, "and will do the best you can.
Don't think me an old fool. I did it as much for her sake as my own. I
shall come back next week and look her up again before I go to
Chidhurst." And he took his departure.

But Tom stayed behind, and thought things over more seriously than was
his wont. "I wish Mrs. Lakeman would be quiet, or Lena would get
better. I ought to go to them, I suppose, but can't till this matter is
settled." Then he went down to the theatre and fetched Margaret from her
rehearsal; it was nearly three o'clock before it was over.

"I have had two telegrams," she told him. "Mr. Farley, I suppose, told
Mrs. Lakeman that I was in London, and she has sent me this."

He took it from her and read:


     "Come and stay with us here. Pitlochry--train leaves Euston
     to-morrow night at eight; meet you at Perth; ask Farley to see you
     off."


Mrs. Lakeman was always practical and full of detail. The other telegram
was from Lena, and ran:


     "Do come, little Margaret; we want you."


"What are you going to do?" asked Tom.

"I telegraphed back, 'Thank you very much, but quite impossible.'"

"Good! good!" but his voice was a little absent. He was becoming
serious.

Miss Hunstan had written, but from a cheering point of view; for she,
too, had once set out on her way through the world alone.

"I wish I'd been there to receive you," she said in her letter; "but
when I come back you will be in your rooms above, and I in mine
beneath. We must be friends and help each other."

"It's just like her," said Tom; "but she's a dear, you know. By-the-way,
I saw Stringer just now; he told me he had been to see you."

"Yes," Margaret answered, uneasily. They were in a hansom by this time,
driving to Great College Street.

"What did he say?" asked Tom, maliciously.

"He was very kind," she answered--the color came to her face; "he said I
oughtn't to be in London alone."

"Quite right!" and Tom thought that she was a nice girl not to betray
her elderly lover; a proposal was a thing that every woman should regard
as confidential--unless she accepted it, of course.



XXVI


Another week and the whole world had changed. Margaret forgot Hannah and
Woodside Farm; sometimes she even forgot her longing to see her mother's
face again. She was blind to the people in the street, to everything
about her; her ambition to be an actress was lulled into pleasant
abeyance. A great happiness dawned in her heart--she did not try to put
a name to it; she did not even know it to be there; but the whole world
seemed to be full of it, and in the world there was just one person--Tom
Carringford. He came to her every day; in some sort of fashion he
constituted himself her guardian, though they preserved the happy
playfellow terms of boy and girl. They made all manner of innocent
expeditions together--to Battersea Park, where they rowed about in a
boat on the lake, and then drove back to dine in Margaret's little
sitting-room (a simple dinner that Mrs. Gilman arranged); to Richmond,
where they dined by an open window and drove back again before it was
dark, for Tom, with all his exuberance, had an occasional uneasy sense
of conventionality, though he said nothing about it to Margaret. "I
don't want to put her up to things; she is much too nice as she is," he
thought. They went to Chiswick and Kew; they talked about Pope at
Twickenham and walked along the tow-path; to Bushey and Hampton Court,
and had tea--by an open window again--at the old-fashioned inn, and
returned in the cool of the evening. One day they went to the Zoo, where
they laughed at the animals and fed the monkeys, and again had tea, and
ate so many cucumber sandwiches that they were ashamed to count
them--for it was a proof of their youth and unsophistication that they
generally made eating a part of their entertainment when they went out
together.

They lived only for each other, yet neither stopped to realize it, till
at the end of ten days Tom was roused to a sense of what was happening
by a letter from Mrs. Lakeman. Lena was very ill indeed, she said, and
had been waiting day after day for Tom; why hadn't he come? She had
heard from Sir George Stringer that the Vincent girl was in town--was
Tom aware of it? Probably she was too much taken up with the young
grocer from Guildford to have made a sign to him? This was an unwise
remark for so tactful a woman as Mrs. Lakeman, for it made Tom snort
indignantly, and it brought home to him the difficulties of Margaret's
position. Just as he was starting to meet her after the rehearsal that
afternoon a telegram arrived:


     "Come immediately; Lena dangerously ill."


"Whew!" he said, "I must go by the eight-o'clock mail this evening." He
turned back to tell his man to pack a bag, take tickets, and meet him at
Euston, then drove to the theatre to find that the rehearsal was over
and every one gone. He went on as fast as possible to Great College
Street.

Margaret tried not to show her consternation, but her face betrayed her.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. Sir George told me you belonged to Lena--but that
isn't true, is it?"

"Of course not," he answered, staring at her, and wondering that she
could repeat anything so absurd; "but they have been very kind to me,
and I ought to go. Besides," he added, for Tom was always loyal, "I like
them both." He stopped a minute, and then he said, suddenly, "I wish you
would give up the theatre."

"I can't," but her tone was not so positive as it had been.

"You know," he began, slowly, "I have been thinking a great deal about
things lately, and wondering--"

"Yes."

"I'm not sure that I want to tell you--I'm rather afraid; suppose we go
and drive about a bit, and perhaps you shall know when we come in."

"It's such a rum thing," he thought, when she had gone to get her hat,
"that she should be living here alone; I feel as if I simply can't go
away and leave her. And if I say anything and she doesn't care for me,
it will be all up, and I shall find myself where poor old Stringer is. I
wonder if he's got over it a bit, and will come and look after her while
I am away in Scotland." Sir George had returned from Dieppe the day
before, but he had been shy of going near Margaret. Tom had seen him in
the street and thought it wise not to recognize him.

Margaret came in ready to go out. She wore a white dress and a black hat
that drooped a little on one side with the heaviness of its trimming.
There was a thin gold chain round her neck; he knew that the locket
attached to it contained her mother's hair. He looked at her for a
moment, at her blue eyes and proud lips, and her slim, tall figure, and
his reticence went to the winds.

"I can't bear to think I am going to-night," he said.

"And I can't," she answered, almost without being aware of it.

Then it seemed as if fate took hold of him and forced him to speak.
"Margaret," he said, and his tone brought the color to her face, "this
can't go on; it will have to come to an end somehow. You know we like
being together--it's glorious, isn't it? But--I have grown fond of
you--I can't help it. I wonder if you like me, if you care for me--it
would make everything so easy. I love you--more than anything in the
world, and you always seem happy enough with me. Do you think you could
stand it always. Cut the theatre, you know, and all that at once, and
marry me?"

"Oh, Tom!" she said, and without any rhyme or reason she burst into
tears and sat down on the little sofa, for it seemed as if the
floodgates of heaven had opened and poured its happiness into her
heart--just as it had seemed to her mother once in the best parlor at
Woodside Farm.

"My darling!" he said, "My little darling, what is the matter?" He knelt
down by her and pulled her hat-pin out. "Ghastly long thing," he said to
himself, even in that moment, "enough to kill one." He stuck it into the
back of the sofa, took off her hat and flung it--her best hat--to the
other end of the room, and gathered her into his arms and kissed her.
"Why, what are you crying for?" he asked. "I have not frightened you,
have I?" But his tone was triumphant, for since she made no resistance
he thought it must be all right, so he wisely went on kissing her, for
there is nothing like making the most of an opportunity--especially a
first one.

"Oh, you mustn't--you mustn't!" she said, afraid lest he should see the
shame and the joy in her eyes.

"You know this is what it means," he said, holding her closer. "Why, we
liked each other from the first, didn't we? Think what a spree we had
that morning when we came here with the flowers."

"I know," she whispered; "but I can't be married."

"Why not?"

"It seems so strange."

"You'll get used to it."

"And father is away."

"All the more reason."

"But we can't, till he comes back."

"Yes, we can; there are plenty of churches about. By-the-way, you don't
go to one, do you? You know, I never thought much of those unbeliefs of
yours."

"What do you mean?" she asked, struggling out of his arms and trying to
be collected and sensible, but finding it rather difficult.

"Well, you know, I think people often believe in things and don't know
it, or don't believe in anything and yet imagine they do. I can't see
that it matters myself, so long as one tries to do the right thing. If
all the roads lead to heaven, it doesn't matter what language one talks
on the journey, or whether one arrives in a monk's cowl or with a
feather in one's cap."

"You are talking nonsense," she said, looking at his face and thinking
what a dear one it was.

"Of course I am; we are much too happy to talk anything else.
By-the-way, I ought to beg your pardon for thinking you cared about
Garratt."

"I think you ought," she laughed.

"Though I don't know whether I'm any better than he is," he added,
modestly. "I say, you do care for me, don't you? You know you haven't
said it yet."

"I do care for you," she said.

"When did you begin?"

"I don't know; I don't know a bit, Tom dear, but what I have felt is
that--"

"Yes, go on."

"--That it was the greatest happiness in the world to be with you. Why,
I have simply laughed for joy at the sound of your step, and when you
are away I think of you all the time and every minute, and I don't even
care for the theatre now, or for being an actress."

"Good! good!" he cried, triumphantly. "Go on."

"And I am so happy now," she continued--"so stifled and overcome with
happiness that I feel as if I should die of it."

"Oh, well, don't do that--it's quite unnecessary, and it would be rather
a bore, you know. When shall we be married?"

"Oh, but--"

"There's nothing to wait for. I've got enough money, and the house in
Stratton Street is literally gaping for you to go and live in it. It
seems to me that the only thing to be done is to get a ring and a
license."

"But we can't be married till father knows; we can't, indeed."

"All right, dear; we'll send him a cable. We might send your mother a
telegram at the same time--what do you think?"

Margaret considered for a moment. "How soon, do you think, I could give
up the theatre?" she asked.

"Why, this very minute, of course. I'll write to Farley before I start,
and so shall you, and tell him all about it."

"But can he get any one in my place immediately?"

"Of course; probably a whole crowd are waiting round the stage door
ready to jump into it. There are too many people in the world who want
to work--too many who must work," he added, with a shade of seriousness;
"but what about your mother?"

"Why, if I really needn't go to the theatre any more, we won't
telegraph. I should so love to tell her. She liked you, you know--she
liked you so much. I'll go home to-morrow and tell her."

"Good! good! But what about Hannah; will she let you in?"

"I think she will, when she knows that I am not going to be an
actress--and about this."

"She might think you are doing worse."

"No, she won't."

"Well, that's settled; now we'll send the cable. Let's write it out
here, then we need only copy it out in the office. Where is your paper?"
he asked, impulsively, going to the writing-table. "Now then.
'_Carringford to Vincent. May I marry Margaret?_--_Tom._' Will that do?"
he asked.

"Splendidly," she laughed.

"I think you ought to send one on your own account."

"Yes, yes," she cried, joyfully; so a second cable was written.
"'_Vincent to Vincent. Please say yes._--_Margaret._' Will that do?" she
echoed.

"Splendid!" he echoed back. "What a glorious girl you are, Margey--your
mother called you Margey, you know. I think I should like to send one to
your mother, not telling her, of course, but as a sort of
preface--enough to make her guess something." He considered for a moment
and then he wrote. '_Tom Carringford sends his love to you._' "It shall
go as if it were a little message flying out of space." He stopped and
considered again. "I should like the Lakemans to know before I get
there. I have telegraphed already to say that I start to-night; but if
Lena's very ill, it looks rather cruel to burst upon them with news of
happiness."

"Must they be told at once?" Margaret asked. For some reason she dreaded
their knowing.

"Well, they've always been so kind to me." Almost mechanically he took
up his pen and wrote: '_Margaret and I want you to know that we are
engaged, but, of course, I start alone to-night. Kind love._--_Tom._'
Margaret kept her lips closed, for she thought of the Lakemans with a
dislike that was almost beyond her control, but she felt that her
father's memories, no less than the fact that they were Tom's friends,
demanded her silence. "Now then," he said, "that's all over. Where's
your hat?"

"Over there, on the floor," she answered, demurely, "upside down--my
best hat."

"Never mind, I'll give you a dozen new ones. Let's send off these things
and go for an hour's drive in the fastest hansom we can find--just to
calm us down a little. Then, suppose we come back and dine quietly here
at seven. Mrs. Gilman will manage it. I shall have to fly at half-past."
Tom reflected quickly that Great College Street was the best shelter for
a quiet _tête-à-tête_. "Come along." He took her hand and ran with her
down the narrow staircase. "I don't believe you know how fond I am of
you, but you'll find out in time," he said, stopping half-way.

"I do know," she answered, "and I love you--dreadfully."

He looked at her and kissed her, then a happy thought struck him.

"Mrs. Gilman," he called, boisterously, for there were no other people
in the house, "I want to tell you," he said, when that good woman
appeared, "that Miss Vincent and I are engaged."

"Oh, Mr. Carringford!"

"It's all right," he added, rather afraid she was going to cry. "We are
coming back presently, and you must give us some dinner at seven sharp.
I start for Scotland at eight--from Euston--so let it be quite punctual.
Now, Margey." He looked back and spoke to Mrs. Gilman again. "We'll stop
in Stratton Street," he said, "and tell my man to bring round a couple
of bottles of champagne. You must keep one and drink our healths. Keep
the other cool and send it up at dinner. Oh, that's all right. Great
fun, isn't it?"

"Tom," said Margaret, as they drove away; "what do you think Mrs.
Lakeman will say?"

"Why, she'll be delighted, of course, and so will Lena."



XXVII


Mr. Dawson Farley had a flat in Victoria Street. He came down at nine
o'clock and leisurely opened his letters. The one from Margaret, telling
him of her engagement to Tom, was on the top. Tom, who had known his
private address, had advised her to send it there and not to the
theatre. Mr. Farley started when he read it. "Now, this is the devil!"
he said. "I thought that girl couldn't be in London without getting into
some mischief. It's lucky I wrote and told Hilda about her; but I expect
it's too late to do anything. It may make a serious difference, for I
can't stand that wriggling snake, Lena, in any house in which I have to
live. Why the deuce hasn't Hilda written?" he went on, as he looked
through his letters; "perhaps wants to take time or to worry one a
little, but I didn't think she was that sort of woman." Almost as he
said the last word, the door opened and Mrs. Lakeman walked in. She wore
a billycock hat and a long cloak; she looked almost rowdy.

"Dawson," she said, with her odd, crooked smile, "I thought it better to
come up and answer your letter in person; I travelled all night and
have just arrived."

"You dear woman," he said, feeling that he ought to be equal to the
occasion. "I knew you would do the very best thing."

"I'm going to do the very worst," she answered; "I'm going to refuse
you."

"Refuse me?" he exclaimed.

"Only because I don't feel like marrying, dear friend," and she rolled
some feeling into her voice. "Have you forgotten that I am an old frump
with gray hair?" She took off the billycock hat and bent her head, just
as she had done to Gerald Vincent.

"I don't care," he said, "I want you." He put an arm round her shoulder
in a well-considered manner.

"I am very fond of you," she said; "I have a great affection for you,
but I'm not going to be the laughing-stock of the town--a middle-aged
frump marrying an actor a little younger than herself. Let's go on as we
are, anyhow till Lena is married."

"Then what did you come up for?"

"It was quite time," she answered, dryly. "I suppose you know the
Vincent girl is engaged to Tom Carringford?"

"She has just written to tell me, and thrown up the theatre business."

"She sha'n't have him, the little devil!" Mrs. Lakeman exclaimed. "I'll
take good care of that; I have," she added, "for he's at Pitlochry by
this time."

"At Pitlochry?" Farley exclaimed.

"Having breakfast with Lena. Lena, in a muslin morning gown lying on a
sofa--Tom holding her hand--the rest you can imagine."

"This is madness! I don't understand."

Mrs. Lakeman's blue eyes were full of wickedness. "I knew something was
wrong from his letters, so I have been careful to tell him that Lena
wasn't well, and to make a few remarks about Margaret Vincent and the
young grocer at Guildford, which I didn't think would please him
altogether. As he didn't come and didn't write, I thought it as well
yesterday morning to telegraph and let him know that she was dangerously
ill."

"Which was strictly untrue, I suppose?"

"Strictly," she answered, with much relish. "But he answered at once
that he would start at eight o'clock last night, and he's there this
morning."

"He must have proposed to Miss Vincent yesterday afternoon. I didn't
know that she had even seen Carringford till three days ago, when I came
upon him at the stage door waiting for her in a hansom."

"It's a great pity. It shouldn't have gone so far, if I'd known in
time."

"But, after all, why should you interfere?" he asked, thinking that, if
Mrs. Lakeman were not going to marry him, he didn't take any particular
interest in Lena's making a good marriage. "Carringford is a good
fellow, and Miss Vincent's an uncommonly handsome girl. Why shouldn't
they have each other?"

"And break Lena's heart?" she said, raising her eyes to his. "Besides,
Tom belongs to us, and no one shall take him away."

"Still, it isn't quite fair to Miss Vincent, and I don't much care to
help in the matter," he answered, quite pleasantly, but with
determination; "besides, if you are not going to marry me, why should
I--where do I come in?"

In a moment she saw the whole drift of his reasoning.

"I shall marry no one," she answered, "until Lena's future is settled."

"And if Lena marries Carringford?"

"Then you shall have your answer. You must see that a young man like you
would look rather ridiculous going about with a middle-aged wife and a
grown-up step-daughter."

He saw her policy; it was odd how well they saw through each other; he
recognized her adroitness and her falseness, but it made no difference
in his point of view; to marry her would be a worldly-wise transaction
that he did not mean to forego if he could help it, and he wanted Lena
out of the way. After all, he thought, if Margaret didn't marry
Carringford, she would probably do still better--a handsome girl, well
born, and probably well off when her father came back. And even if she
were in love now, what did it matter? She would be all the better for a
disappointment, perhaps: a woman who had not been made to suffer
generally became a trifle heartless. Besides, what was the girl to him?

"Where is Margaret Vincent staying?" asked Mrs. Lakeman. "When I invited
her to Scotland I telegraphed to the theatre, not knowing her private
address, and she telegraphed back without giving it, which I thought
rather impertinent. Tom, too, has only thought proper to send a telegram
every other day lately."

"He has been too much occupied with other things," Farley said, with a
little smile.

"Where is she staying?"

"In Louise Hunstan's house, in Great College Street. Louise is at
Bayreuth."

"That's a good thing. I'm going"--and the tone of her voice showed that
she meant to be victorious. "You may give me a kiss"--and she put up her
face--"a matter-of-fact salute on my cheek would be highly appropriate
to the situation."

"Stay a moment--when are you going back?" he asked, as he followed her
to the door.

"To-night, at eight. I shall see Tom to-morrow morning at breakfast; he
won't even know that I have been in London. I am supposed to be ill in
my room," she laughed. "Violent neuralgia; not able to see anybody."

"You are a wonderful woman!" Farley said, as he let her out. "But I'm
not sure that I could stand her," he thought as he went back to his
letters; "she is a little too diplomatic for my taste."

"It was like Farley's impudence to think I should marry him," Mrs.
Lakeman said to herself as she drove along. "He's not quite in my line,
I can tell him. Still, he adds a little amusement to the occasion." She
was full of pleasant excitement, curious to see how much her dramatic
power would accomplish with Margaret, and resolved, at any rate, to
thoroughly enjoy the interview.



XXVIII


Margaret meanwhile awoke full of happiness. She was engaged to Tom
Carringford; she was going back to her mother to-day--it seemed too good
to be true. A telegram came from Tom before she had finished her
breakfast; he was safe at Perth, and just starting onward. She wondered
how Lena was, and what her illness could be. It was dreadful for Mrs.
Lakeman, she thought, and she was glad that Tom was gone. The post
brought a letter from her mother; it was dated two days ago; but they
were slow in posting things at Woodside Farm; probably it had been put
on one side and forgotten. Mrs. Vincent was not very well, it was only a
cold, but it had affected her heart, the doctor said, and she must be
kept very quiet; there was not the least danger, and she would write
again to-morrow. She begged Margaret not to think of coming, for Hannah
was very bitter--she doubted if she would let her in, and Mr. Garratt
had been there yesterday and made matters worse. "Hannah is fond of
saying," Mrs. Vincent went on, "that the door is locked and barred
against you, and shall remain so till she is forced to open it. She
told Mr. Garratt so yesterday when he wanted your address. He said he
should never care for anybody but you, and she told him not to come here
again, and that if he did he should find the doors shut, as you would.
Perhaps it will be better when we have had a letter from your father,
for she was always in some fear of him."

While Margaret was still reading the letter there came the sound of
wheels in the cobbled street. Something stopped in front of the house; a
loud knock echoed through it and made Margaret start to her feet. For
one horrible moment it struck her that Mr. Garratt had found her out.
Then the door opened and Mrs. Lakeman entered. Her face was drawn, her
lips were firmly shut, a strange, uncanny expression was in her eyes.

"Margaret!" she exclaimed. "Margaret Vincent, my old lover's child. I
have come to throw myself on your mercy." She pushed Margaret back on
the sofa, threw herself down by her, and burst into what sounded like
hysterical tears.

Mrs. Lakeman had got her dramatic moment.

Margaret was aghast. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Is it Lena? Has anything
happened to her?"

Mrs. Lakeman struggled for utterance; when she gained it her words were
thick, her voice desperate. "I have come to ask you for her life!" she
said.

"Me?"

"Your telegram has killed her."

"Oh!" Margaret's face blanched, for she saw what was coming. Mrs.
Lakeman raised herself, and sat down on the sofa and took Margaret's
hands, and looked at her with eyes as strangely blue as they were
mocking.

"Margaret," she said, "I have done a desperate thing; but my child has
been ill, she has been fretting and waiting for her lover--for the boy
who has always been her lover. She can't bear separation from him.
Yesterday morning I sent for him, and told him she was dangerously ill;
at five o'clock your telegram--"

"It was Tom's telegram."

Mrs. Lakeman was impatient at the interruption. "Tom's telegram,
then--came. By an accident it was given into her hands instead of mine,
and a quarter of an hour later I was bending over her wondering if she
would ever open her eyes again. Tom has been ours--all his life," Mrs.
Lakeman went on, vehemently; "he and she have grown up together; he has
always loved her; he has done everything for us; they have never been
three days apart till we went to Scotland the other day. She worships
him, and it has been the one hope of my life to see them married. She
has never dreamed of anything else; he is the air she breathes and the
world she lives in. When that telegram came yesterday it struck her like
a death-blow."

"Oh, but Tom and I love each other," Margaret cried, in despair.

"No, dear," Mrs. Lakeman answered, impressively. "You must know the
truth, for my child's life hangs on it. He does not love you--he loves
her. He may have been infatuated with you during the last fortnight in
which he has been parted from her. It's so like Tom," she added, with a
little smile, for she found the tragic rôle a difficult one to maintain.
"He has been infatuated so often."

"So often?" repeated Margaret, incredulously.

"Oh yes," Mrs. Lakeman answered, and the odd smile came to her lips.
"You wouldn't believe how many times he has come to confess to me that
he has made an idiot of himself. He is always falling in love, and
getting engaged, and going to be married."

"I can't believe it! I won't believe it!" Margaret cried, passionately.

"It's quite true," Mrs. Lakeman answered, coolly. "Generally I have
managed to conceal everything from Lena, and to get him out of his
scrapes--I have known perfectly well that they were only boyish
nonsense, for at the bottom of his heart, Margaret Vincent," she went
on, resuming her solemnity, "he loves no one but my child; any other
woman would be miserable with him. You won't give him any trouble?" she
asked, insultingly; "you will give him up quietly, won't you?"

"I can't--I can't believe it."

"You would have believed it," Mrs. Lakeman said, slowly, opening her
eyes wide, and this time contriving to keep the humor out of them, "if
you saw her lying straight and still in her little room at Pitlochry, as
she would have been now but for my presence of mind."

"What do you mean?" Margaret asked, a little scared by Mrs. Lakeman's
manner.

"You mustn't ask me." She dropped her voice, and the words appeared to
be dragged from her. "I can't tell you; it shall never pass my lips. I
shouldn't dare to tell you," she whispered. "I have left her with a
woman I can trust, more dead than alive. I told her I would come and ask
her life of you, and I've come to ask it, Margaret. You are your
father's child, and will do the straight and just thing by another
woman?"

"I don't know what to do," Margaret said, desperately, and, rising
quickly, she walked up and down, clasping her head in her hands, trying
to think clearly. The whole thing was theatrical and unreal, and the
mocking look in Mrs. Lakeman's eyes nearly drove her mad.

"It won't break your heart to give him up; it can't." Mrs. Lakeman's
tone was a trifle contemptuous. "You were in love with the other young
man only a few weeks ago."

"I was never in love with Mr. Garratt," Margaret answered,
indignantly--"never for a moment."

"You may think so now, just as Tom thinks he cares for you; but you did
care for him. George Stringer saw it directly, and Tom saw it the day he
had tea with you all. In fact, he thought it was more on your side than
on his," she added, watching the effect of her words with an amusement
she could scarcely control. "He came and told us about it at once--he
tells us everything--he was so funny when he described it all to us,"
Mrs. Lakeman added, as if the remembrance were highly diverting. Then
recovering, she asked, in a deep voice: "What are you going to do,
Margaret; are you going to give me back my child's life?"

"I am going to wait and see Tom, and hear what he says."

"I can't believe you will be so cruel."

"I don't understand," Margaret cried, desperately. "If Lena is so very
ill, if she is dying, why have you left her?"

"Because I knew that there was only one thing that could save her."

"You must have started directly you got the telegram."

"I did--as soon as she recovered her senses. I told you she was with
some one I could trust; I have been in the train all night." From her
tone it might have been a torture-chamber. "I have come to throw myself
on your mercy. I felt that for a fortnight's foolish infatuation you
couldn't be so cruel as to wreck my child's whole life. Your father
would not let you do it, Margaret. Be worthy of him, dear; be the noble
woman you ought to be and give him up."

Mrs. Gilman entered with two telegrams. Mrs. Lakeman gave a little
suppressed shriek; but there was unreality in it, and Margaret felt it
at the back of her head.

"There's one for you, ma'am, and one for Miss Vincent," Mrs. Gilman
said.

Mrs. Lakeman chattered her teeth till Mrs. Gilman had left the room. "I
can't open it," she said, and tried to make her hand tremble. But
Margaret had read hers already.

"_Forgive me, dear_," it ran, "_I am here with Lena_. _Better go
home._--_Tom._" She stood rigid and scarcely able to believe her eyes.
Was it true, then?

"Thank God!" exclaimed Mrs. Lakeman, holding out her telegram to
Margaret. "_We are together again and happy, darling. Be gentle to
little Margaret._--_Lena._"

"Now do you see?" said Mrs. Lakeman, triumphantly.

"Yes, I see," Margaret said. "You needn't have come," she added, with
white lips that almost refused to move.

"I came partly out of love for you," Mrs. Lakeman began, and then seeing
how ill this chimed in with her previous remarks, she added, lamely, "I
couldn't let my child die, could I?"

"What do you want me to do?" Margaret was in despair.

"Will you go to Paris for a time as my guest. You might start to-night.
A former maid of mine could go with you. It would do you a world of
good. It would be better to go away for a time, dear."

"I won't," Margaret answered, quite simply and doggedly. "If Tom loves
Lena better than he does me let him go to her, but I shall stay here."

Then Mrs. Lakeman had an inspiration, and, as usual, she was practical.

"Go out to your father," she said, "in Australia. A cousin of mine is a
director of one of the largest lines of steamers; I'll make him put a
state-room at your disposal. You'll come back in a vastly different
position from your present one. Cyril can't live many months--I
shouldn't be surprised if he's dead already--and you, of course, will be
the daughter of Lord Eastleigh." She stopped, for Mrs. Gilman entered
again with a cablegram. Perhaps the gods were listening and thought the
moment an apt one for its arrival.

"It is from my father," Margaret said, with a quivering lip. "We cabled
to him yesterday." She opened it, and the violent effort to keep back
her tears brought the color to her face. It contained the one
word--_delighted_.

"What does he say?" Mrs. Lakeman asked.

"It doesn't matter; it makes no difference," Margaret answered, crushing
it in her hand; and then she said, gently and sweetly, so that it was
impossible to take offence: "I will give up Tom, Mrs. Lakeman, but you
must go away now, for I feel as if I can't bear any one's presence. And
I can't go away; you must manage as you please, but I shall stay here."

"But there's something else I want you to do," Mrs. Lakeman said. "I
want you to keep this visit of mine a secret from Tom--for Lena's sake."

"Doesn't he know that you have come?"

"He doesn't dream it; and I'm going back to Pitlochry this evening."

"But I don't understand! Where is Tom, and where does he think you are?"

"Tom is with Lena," Mrs. Lakeman said, with a confident smile, "and he
doesn't miss me; he is too happy. I couldn't humiliate my child in her
future husband's eyes"--Margaret quailed at the word--"by letting him
know that I had come to beg her life of a woman for whom he had had a
passing infatuation. Now," she added, and her manner showed her
alertness for practical detail. "Why won't you go to Australia?"

"I don't wish to go," Margaret answered, positively. "I don't wish to
leave my mother."

"Your dear mother," Mrs. Lakeman said, with a funny little twitch. "Go
home to her, Margaret; let me drive you to the station and know that you
are on your way back to the farm?"

"I can't go home now," Margaret answered. "I will do as you wish about
Tom, and I will not tell him that you came to me; but you must leave the
rest in my hands."

"But how is he to know?" said Mrs. Lakeman, feeling in a moment that her
house of cards might fall. "How is he to know that you give him up?"

"I will write to him," she said, bitterly.

"You had better telegraph at once."

Margaret felt as if these telegrams were becoming a nightmare; but, at
any cost, she must get rid of Mrs. Lakeman.

"Oh yes; I will telegraph if you like." She crossed over to the table at
which Tom had sat so joyfully only yesterday.

"Tell him you are going away," Mrs. Lakeman said. "Oh, Margaret, you
don't know how they have loved each other all these years."

"You said he'd been infatuated so often?"

"He has always laughed at it afterwards."

Margaret took up her pen and wrote: "_Stay with Lena; I do not want you.
I am going away._--_Margaret._"

"You had better put your surname, too," Mrs. Lakeman said, and she wrote
it. "I'll take it for you, dear," she said; "you don't want to go out
just yet, and you don't want the landlady to see it. Now, tell me what
you mean to do?" she asked, in a good, businesslike tone.

"I don't know," Margaret answered, gently. "I want to be alone and
think. I have done all I could; it has been very hard to do, and I hope
Lena will be happy. Please go; I feel as if I couldn't bear it any
longer, unless I am alone."

Mrs. Lakeman took her in her arms and kissed her, and, though Margaret
submitted, she could not help shuddering.

"It's rather a desperate game," Mrs. Lakeman thought, as she drove away;
"but it's thoroughly amusing. The best way will be to insist on Tom
marrying Lena at once--a special license. A man is often caught in a
rebound."



XXIX


Margaret sometimes wondered how she lived through that day. Mr. Farley
sent her a little note releasing her from her engagement, but saying
that if at any time she wanted to come back he would gladly take her on
again. Margaret felt it to be a kindly letter. Oddly enough, too, a note
came from the agency in the Strand, asking her to call the next day. "I
will," she thought, "if I have had a letter from my mother." At the
bottom of her heart there was some uneasiness, and once or twice it
occurred to her that she would go back to Chidhurst and ask a neighbor
to take her in, but the inhabitants of Woodside Farm had always kept
their affairs to themselves, and she did not want to give occasion for
gossip in the village. She read her mother's letter again. No, there was
nothing in it to be alarmed about; it was only her own miserable state
of mind. She was desperate, maddened, ashamed every time she remembered
Tom and his kisses, and her own protestations to him. She couldn't bear
to think that he was with Lena--Lena who would never love him as she
did. Somehow, too, at the bottom of her heart, she felt that there was
trickery in the whole business. She didn't know how or where, only that
Mrs. Lakeman's manner had not been very real; but everything in the
world had become unreal and torturing. There was only one thing left
that could comfort her--home and mother. She hungered and thirsted for
her home. She wanted to see her mother's face, to sit on the arm of her
chair in the living-room, to talk to her, even to hear Hannah scold. She
wanted to go up to the wood and to think out the nightmare of the last
few hours in her cathedral. She imagined the great rest of arriving at
Haslemere Station, of walking the long six miles to Woodside Farm, of
entering the porch and finding her mother sitting there. Oh! but it was
no good; Hannah would not allow her to enter. Hannah was a firm woman
who kept her word, and would think that she proved her religion by being
cruel. As the day went on and no telegram came from Tom, the latent hope
she had unconsciously cherished vanished. It was all true, then, and he
really cared for Lena.

"I'm glad mother didn't know," she thought; "it would have made her so
unhappy when this ending came; and I couldn't have borne Hannah's
gibes." She longed desperately for some one to speak to, but there was
no one; besides, her lips were closed; she had promised to be silent.
Suddenly, she remembered Miss Hunstan; she would write to her. But no,
it was impossible; she had left Bayreuth and the new address had not yet
come. "And I don't know what to do, or what to say to father," she
thought. "Oh, it's maddening. If it were a case of life and death I
could bear it, but this is some trick, I know it--it is a case of sham
life and death."

Late in the afternoon Sir George Stringer called. He entered awkwardly,
as if he were afraid of meeting her; but the moment he saw her face he
knew that something was the matter, and all his self-consciousness
vanished.

"I told you I should come again," he said; "there is no reason why I
shouldn't look after my old friend's girl, is there?"

"No, none," she answered, hardly able to collect her senses sufficiently
to talk to him.

He looked at her sharply. "Something's the matter," he said; "you have
been crying?"

"Oh no--yes, I have been crying; I am very homesick." He put his hand on
hers as her father might have done.

"Take my advice and go home, my dear," he said. "Is the stage fever
over?"

"Yes; I suppose that's over."

He looked at her again, then suddenly he asked: "Has Tom Carringford
been playing fast and loose with you?"

"Don't ask me any questions, dear Sir George; I don't want to say
anything at all. He is in Scotland with Lena Lakeman."

"He is a fool," he said, with conviction.

"So am I," she answered, ruefully.

"And I'm another. My dear, I'm not going to ask you to tell me anything
you want to keep to yourself." He stopped for a moment, then he asked,
awkwardly, "I suppose what I asked you the other day is impossible?" For
answer she only nodded, and her eyes filled with tears. "Then we won't
say anything more about it." He took her hands and held them tightly in
his own. "But I should like to be your friend--your father, if you like,
till your own returns. If you can't go home to your mother, or if that
young bounder at Guildford worries, or if there is any reason of that
sort, why shouldn't you go to my house by the church and shut yourself
up there? You would be very comfortable. I thought of going there
myself, but I could easily go somewhere else."

It seemed a good idea at first, and she caught at it, then she shook her
head.

"No," she said; "people would know and they would talk."

"I suppose they would--damn them. I wish you'd tell me what Master Tom
has been up to, dear."

"I can't talk about him to-day, Sir George; I can't talk about
anything--my head is so bad. I wish you would go now," she said, but so
very gently it was impossible that he could be hurt, "and come and see
me to-morrow; my mother is not well and I am worried. To-morrow I shall
have thought out plans and will gladly talk them over with you. I want
some one's help and advice."

"I think you do," he answered, "and I'll come to-morrow, my dear."

Margaret sat and thought again when she was alone; she had thought and
thought since Mrs. Lakeman had gone that morning till her head was
dazed, but it was no good; the whole thing was a _cul-de-sac_. Then an
inspiration seized her. "I'll write to Hannah," she said, "and beg her
to let me go home and see my mother for a little while, at any rate.
She'll get the letter in the morning, and I'll ask her to telegraph if I
may go." She sat down at once and told Hannah, with all the vehemence in
her heart, that she had never cared for Mr. Garratt; that perhaps she
had even cared for somebody else; that she had given up her engagement
at Mr. Farley's theatre; that she was miserable about her mother, and
wanted to come and see her; would Hannah telegraph in the morning if she
might come at once, even for a few hours. She felt better when she had
written it, and determined to go out and post it herself. She was just
starting when Dawson Farley appeared. His heart had smote him for his
share in the morning's transactions.

"I thought I would come round and tell you how sorry I am at your
resignation," he said.

"And it was so unnecessary, after all, for my sudden engagement to Mr.
Carringford is broken off."

"I know."

"How do you know?" she asked, astonished.

"Mrs. Lakeman came to see me and told me."

"Oh yes, Mrs. Lakeman," she answered, bitterly. "Is Lena really
dangerously ill?" She wondered at her own question, but some other self
had asked it--a self that doubted everything.

Mr. Farley, too, was taken by surprise. "I suppose so," he said, with a
little smile. "Mrs. Lakeman's facts are sometimes a little elusive; but
she can hardly have invented that one. Carringford has always been by
way of--I mean he has always been considered Lena Lakeman's property."
Quite suddenly Margaret lost her self-control for a moment, and
shudderingly put her hands over her face.

"I'm sorry if she's ill, but I do dislike her so," she said.

Mr. Farley, too, was off his guard. "I hate her," he said, quickly.
"Tell me, frankly, what you think about it?"

But Margaret shook her head impatiently. "I oughtn't to have said that;
and I can't talk about it, Mr. Farley. I'm sure you will understand that
the whole thing is painful, and not one that I can discuss."

"At any rate, I may congratulate you on your father's probable return?"

"Oh, he will not be here for a long time."

"But you know that his brother is dead?"

She started to her feet. "When did he die; how did you know?"

"He died yesterday after an operation at Melbourne. I have just seen it
in an evening paper," Mr. Farley answered.

"Oh, my dear mother, she will get my father back," burst from Margaret's
lips. "She is ill, but this news will make her better. I have been
writing to my half-sister"--and she took up the letter--"I will open it
and tell her, for she may not know." Without knowing it, she showed her
impatience to be alone, and in a few minutes Dawson Farley discreetly
took his leave.

"I'm not going on with it," he thought, as he walked back to Victoria
Street. "That girl is a sweet woman, dignified and courageous, and I
can't be turned into a common scoundrel to please Mrs. Lakeman."



XXX


It was past seven when Margaret came in from posting her letter; she had
walked on almost unconsciously for an hour or two--into the city,
deserted after the business of the day, and back by the Embankment, to
avoid the traffic near the theatres.

The last few hours had been so full of events they had changed the whole
current of her life; but as yet she was hardly able to take in all the
meanings attached to them. She was like a woman in a dream struggling to
awake; it seemed as if everything that had happened concerned some one
else rather than herself. Oh, if she could feel more acutely--she even
longed for pain, for anything that would make her realize that she was
still alive.

Mrs. Gilman let her in, evidently full of pleasant excitement. "Miss
Hunstan is coming back," she exclaimed. "I have just had a letter, and
knew you would like to be told. She expects to be here in a day or two.
She will be pleased about you and Mr. Carringford."

Margaret stopped, dumfounded; but Mrs. Gilman would have to know. She
thought it would be better to get it over. "But perhaps we are not going
to be married, after all--Mr. Carringford and I," she said, lamely. "We
made up our minds too quickly."

"Oh no, miss, I couldn't think that; and, if I know anything about it,
he loves the ground you walk on. There was a glow in his face whenever I
let him in, or whenever he was with you, that did one good to see."

But Margaret was on her way up-stairs and answered nothing.

Mrs. Gilman called after her: "Oh, Miss Vincent, I forgot to say there's
a letter for you--you'll find it on the drawing-room table."

A letter! She went almost headlong into the room, while her heart beat
quickly with hope and wonder.

The letter had the Chidhurst postmark; it was directed in an uneducated
hand, and inside there was written, almost illegibly:


     "I think mother is very ill, but Hannah will not have it. Do not
     say I wrote. Better come at once. From

     "TOWSEY."


A cry escaped from Margaret's lips; pain had come to her now acutely
enough.

"Oh, mother, mother, if you should die! How could I think of anything
else in the world when you were ill; but I didn't know, darling, I
never dreamed it."

In ten minutes she was on her way to Waterloo. The hansom went so slowly
she beat the doors with her fists in her impatience. All thought of Tom
had vanished or been pushed into the background of her life; the older
love asserted itself, and every thought was concentrated on the dear
life at Chidhurst. She had just time to catch the train--it went at
7.45. It wanted two minutes to the quarter when she reached the station.
She flew out of the cab almost before it had stopped, handed the fare to
the man, and hurried to the booking-office. It seemed as if the clerk
gave her a ticket with deliberate slowness; she snatched it, and ran to
the platform. The doors were being closed; she had just time to enter an
empty carriage before the train started. Thank Heaven, she was alone.
She could walk up and down and wring her hands or throw herself upon the
seat, or lean her head against the side of the carriage and pray--to any
power that existed and was merciful. "Let her live--let her live! She
mustn't die while father is away; it would be so cruel. Mother--mother,
darling, you mustn't die. Father is on his way back, and I am coming to
you; don't you feel that I am coming?"

Oh, the misery of it, and the slow, slow plodding of a train that goes
towards a house over which death hovers. It seemed to Margaret as if it
were hours before she even reached Woking; but it was something to be in
the dear Surrey country once again. The door opened when the train
stopped and two people got in; they looked like man and wife. Margaret
locked her hands and clinched her teeth, as she had done in the morning
in order to bear the presence of Mrs. Lakeman, and presently in her dim
corner she shut her eyes and pretended to sleep, though every sense was
throbbing with impatience. She heard the woman say to the man--and it
made her start, for Annie was her mother's name, though they, of course,
had nothing to do with her:

"I think Annie's growing taller; don't you?"

"I dare say," the man answered; "she's a girl I never cared for myself."
He stopped a moment as if considering. "Do you think Tom means anything
by it?"

Tom, too! Margaret thought.

"Well, they seem to think he's looking after Mabel Margetson," the woman
answered.

"There'd be some money there," the man said.

"A good bit, no doubt," the woman answered; "but money isn't
everything."

No, money isn't everything, Margaret's heart answered them. Money is
nothing, after a certain point; nothing is anything except the love of
your dearest, the sound of a living voice, the sight of a dear face,
the touch of a thin, gaunt cheek against your own. "Oh, she must live,"
she cried dumbly to herself, though never a sign or movement betrayed
it. "I wish I could send my own life into your heart, darling; but
live--live till father comes. Oh, dear Christ, if You can see into our
hearts, as people say, let my mother live, or, if she must die soon,
still let her live till my father comes--or till I get to her," she
added, in despair, for in her heart she felt as if the rest must be
denied. "We love her, love her best on earth, as she does us."

"Why, it's Guildford already," the woman said. "I declare, this train is
in a hurry." She reached down the basket that was in the rack, the man
rose, they opened the carriage door, and again Margaret was left alone.

The oil in the lamp burned low and flickered; she opened the window at
the other end--they were both open--and the soft darkness of the summer
night came in. She knelt by the carriage door, and rested her arms on
the window-frame and her face down on them; it gave her a devotional
feeling; it made her love the land and trees and the great sky above
them; they had always seemed to understand everything; she felt as if
they did now. The scent of the pines came to her; she could see the
fir-trees black and dim as the train rushed past; but all nature seemed
to know the misery in her heart--it soothed her and made her able to
bear it calmly. She looked up at the little stars that had been there
thousands of years before she was born, and would be there thousands of
years to come--at the stars and the black trees that made the shadows,
at the woods in which she had never trodden and yet knew so well, at the
deep gray sky, the rough fence that bounded the railway line--and
everything seemed to know as she passed by that she was going to her
mother, only to find that nothing, nothing in this wide world, can alter
the inexorable law of nature and the great decree when it has once been
given.

There were three little stations to pass before she reached Haslemere.
The station-master's gardens were bright with flowers; she could see
plainly the patches of color in the darkness, and the scent of late
sweet-peas was wafted to her. She could see the cottages of Surrey as
the train went on, here and there a light shone from an upper
window--lattice windows generally, like her mother's. Behind them people
were going to bed; they were not ill, not dying, as perhaps her mother
was, in the big bed at Woodside Farm. A brook, some trees, a house built
up high on the bank a little way back from the road, the slackening of
the train--and Haslemere at last. The train seemed to hurry to the
farthest end of the platform on purpose, and she was impatient at every
yard she had to tread. She gave up her ticket and passed through the
narrow doorway of the station-house and out again on the other side. It
was ten o'clock--late hours for the country-side. The inn on the high
bank opposite was closed.

"Is it too late for a fly?" she asked the porter.

"Too late to-night, miss, unless it's ordered beforehand," and he turned
out an extra gas-light. Almost before the words were said she had darted
forward; she was young and strong, and her feet were swift. She hurried
up the hill on the right, past the inn at the top--she could see the
white post and the little dark patch above that constituted the sign. On
and on past the smithy and the wheelwright's, and the little cottages
with thatched roofs and white fenced-in gardens. She could have walked a
hundred miles--flung them behind her with disdain. It was the time, it
was the time! Life hurried away so at the last; it might not stay even
for her longing or her praying. She turned off from the main road, over
a bridge on the right--a narrow road just wide enough for two carriages
to pass--the oaks and plane-trees leaned out above the hedges, she could
see the trailing outline, against the sky, of a little clump of
larches--a deep blue sky now in which the stars had gathered closer.

Nearly three miles were behind her. She was near the outbuildings of a
farm that was half-way to Chidhurst; she smelt the newly garnered grain
in them as she passed. Another quarter of a mile and she had come to the
edge of the moor. Along the white road beside it--the road she had
driven with her father the day she returned from London, and that Mr.
Garratt had trotted along so often with his fat, gray pony or on his
mare, pleased and jaunty, with his hunting-crop in his right hand. The
bell heather was dead, the gorse was turning brown, she knew that there
must be patches of ling, but it was too dark to see them.

On she hurried, the white road was stretching behind her instead of in
front. Another quarter of a mile and she had come to Chidhurst village;
it was still and sleeping. How strange it seemed to skurry through it at
this hour! A few minutes more and the square tower of the church stood
out before her. The darkness had lifted so well that she could see the
clock; it had stopped, of course--at a quarter-past three; a lump came
to her throat and her heart stood still, for low on the ground beneath
the church tower she saw the whiteness of the tombstones round the
church. She turned her head quickly away; on the other side of the road
were the gates of Sir George Stringer's house--the sight of them gave
her comfort--and on her right, at last, was the little gate that led
into the fields that made the short cut to the farm. She gave a cry of
thankfulness as she went through it, and stood on her mother's land
once more. It was only a month since she had slept on the green ground
beneath her feet, and kissed it and wondered when she would walk over it
again. She had not thought it would be so soon. Across the field by one
of the pathways that made a white line leading to the stile, over the
stile and into the second field, and she ran now, for she knew that in a
moment she would see the house.



XXXI


Margaret stood in sight of her mother's window and could have cried with
joy, for there was a light in it. She lifted up her heart in
thankfulness, feeling as if Heaven had heard her. Then another fear
presented itself, one that had been haunting her all through the
journey, but that in the overwhelming dread of not finding her mother
alive she had not stayed to consider--Hannah. What would Hannah do?
Would she refuse to let her enter the house while her mother was
ill--perhaps dying? The letter which she had written was still in the
post; it would not arrive till the morning; there was not yet the chance
of that softening her. She had no right to keep Margaret out; but it was
no good considering any question of right now; she dreaded high words
and Hannah's rasping voice. Her feet flagged as she went down the green
path of the Dutch garden; she stood irresolute at the bottom of it,
looking up at the dimly lighted window, wondering what to do. The front
door was certain to be bolted at this time of night, and probably every
one was up-stairs, so that no one would hear her if she tapped, and she
was afraid to ring lest she should disturb her mother. She went softly
past the house, beside the flower-bed against the wall, and beneath her
own bedroom window, round to the back door by which she had left the
house a month ago, and cautiously tried the latch, but it was fastened
on the inside, as she knew it would be. Then suddenly a light came from
the kitchen window; evidently some one had entered with a candle;
perhaps Towsey had come down, or Hannah--she was afraid to knock lest it
should be Hannah. A thick muslin blind was drawn over the window, which
was so high that Margaret was not tall enough to look in. She remembered
the four-legged stool painted gray--it generally stood between the
wood-house and the back door; the postman used to sit on it sometimes
and talk to Towsey while he rested. If she stood on that she might see
into the kitchen. She found it, and, still not making a sound, put it
down beneath the window, mounted, and looked in. Through the muslin
curtain she could see Towsey by the fireplace; she had put a little
saucepan on the fire, and was beginning to stir something that was in
it, and there was no one else in the kitchen. Margaret tapped gently,
and Towsey started as if she divined that it was Margaret; she came to
the window and, lifting the curtain, looked out. Margaret put her head
close to the glass so that in the darkness there could be no mistake of
her identity.

Then Towsey signed to her to go to the back door, and went and softly
unbarred it. She only opened it a little way and put out her head as if
she were afraid that even a whisper might be heard inside the house.

"Miss Margaret," she said, "I knew you would be here."

"Is she better?" Margaret asked, breathlessly.

Towsey shook her head. "She's never going to be better," she whispered;
"but she's always been a healthy woman, and it may take a deal of dying
to bring her to the end."

The words smote Margaret, and she held on to the doorway to support
herself.

"Is Hannah with her?" she asked.

"Ay, she is with her; you may be sure of that."

"Has she said nothing about me? Didn't she mean to send for me?"

"Not a word. You see it has all been so sudden; she was only took worse
last night."

"Did she get a telegram yesterday?"

"Ay, late yesterday afternoon. She said I wasn't to say anything to
Hannah about it; she looked as if she were pleased. Hannah had gone over
to Petersfield for the afternoon when it came and didn't get back till
half an hour after."

"What is the matter with mother?--is it her heart, or what?"

"Yes, it's her heart, I expect; we sent Daddy for the doctor at nine
o'clock last night, and he came again this morning. He hadn't been since
last week. He said she was better; but he didn't seem to think well of
her."

"Has Hannah said nothing about me?"

"I asked her if she'd wrote after he had gone, but she told me to mind
my work and leave her to mind other things."

"And then?"

"And then I just got George Canning to write those lines and post them
in Haslemere when he went for the physic. I thought if he posted it
before twelve you'd likely get it to-night."

"I did--I did!" and Margaret put her hand on Towsey's arm in token of
gratitude. Towsey turned her head back for a moment as if she were
listening, but all was still above.

"Has mother asked for me?" Margaret whispered.

"Ay, every hour."

"I must come in, I will come in!" she said, desperately.

"You have a right to," Towsey answered; "but after she came from London
she said she would turn me from the door if I ever opened it to you."

"I must see my mother!" Margaret said, and a sob came to her throat.
"She has no right to keep me from her."

"That's true enough, Miss Margaret. But she's that bitter I believe
she'd shut the door on you if your mother was lying dead."

"I would insist," said Margaret, in despair; "but it would be so
terrible to have a quarrel now, and it might kill her. She's my mother,
Towsey," Margaret added, in a heart-broken whisper.

"And Hannah may say what she pleases, you shall enter," whispered Towsey
with determination, and opened the door wide. Margaret went swiftly past
her into the kitchen, and Towsey shut the door softly and followed her.
"You'll be tired with the journey," she said, tenderly; "let me get you
something to eat and drink."

"I don't want anything to eat or drink, Towsey, dear; I want to creep up
and be near mother even if I can't see her. Oh, I wonder if Hannah would
prevent my seeing her?"

"Ay, that she would," said Towsey, with conviction. "You'd better sit a
bit," and she led Margaret to a chair very carefully, so that the sound
of their footsteps should not be heard above, and still they spoke in
whispers.

"Is there no hope?" Margaret asked, chokingly.

Towsey shook her head. "Hannah won't believe she's going, but I can see
it. I have seen plenty go, and know the signs. The pain's gone--it's
never been very bad--but it's all gone now. She's just waiting for
death, though, somehow, I don't think it will come till she's seen you."

"But doesn't Hannah know she's dying?"

Towsey shook her head. "She doesn't see it, and you can never make
Hannah believe anything she doesn't think inside her."

"Is Hannah likely to come down?"

"Likely she'll be down presently for the arrow-root. Look you, Miss
Margaret, I'll make an excuse and go up for something. You take off your
shoes and walk softly by me, keeping well to the side of the staircase.
There's only the little lamp in the room, and there's no light outside;
she'll not see, even if she looks out."

"But what shall I do when I get up?" Margaret asked, too dazed to think
for herself. She took off her hat as she spoke and put it on the table.
Towsey lifted it gently and hid it in the settle where she kept her own
things.

"As I go into the room you can slip into the cupboard outside the
door--you'll find it open--and hide among the things hanging up. I'll
try and get Hannah down and keep her to eat a bit of supper; then,
perhaps, you could steal in and look at her for a moment without any one
knowing you are there."

"But if it did her harm--if it excited her?"

"It won't," said Towsey, firmly; "it'll make her happy before she goes.
It would be terrible if she died without seeing you or her husband, when
she's waiting and longing for you both that badly she can scarce
breathe."

"Let us go at once," whispered Margaret.

They crept out of the kitchen together, Margaret's hand on Towsey's
shoulder. The tears came into the old woman's eyes as they crossed the
threshold. "I nursed you a lot of times when you were a baby," she
whispered; "and now you are such a beauty--she said it," and she nodded
upward, "only yesterday."

They went along the passage and stopped near the foot of the stairs that
were between the kitchen door and the door of the best parlor. They
could hear Hannah's voice. She was sitting by her mother's bedside
reading the Bible. Towsey went up a few steps and stopped and craned her
neck, and came back.

"The door's nearly to," she whispered. "Hannah won't see."

Margaret softly followed Towsey up-stairs, keeping close to the wall
till she reached the landing, then she slipped into the cupboard that
was next her mother's room. She remembered how she had looked into it
the day that Tom Carringford came to the farm four months ago; her
mother's long cloak and best dress had been hanging there then, and they
were there now. Margaret knew the feel of them so well--it gave her a
thrill to touch them. It was quite dark within the cupboard; even if the
door were open and Hannah passed, she would not be likely to see her.
She was afraid to move the door lest it should be noticed, but she hid a
little way behind it. Towsey, seeing she was safe, looked in at Hannah,
who, perhaps, made some sign to her, for she went softly down to the
kitchen again. Then, as Margaret stood hidden and listening, out of her
mother's bedroom door there came still the sound of Hannah reading of
love and mercy; but her voice told that neither had entered her own
heart.

Presently Mrs. Vincent asked feebly, "Has any one come, Hannah?"

"Did she know?" Margaret wondered.

"The doctor said he wouldn't be here again to-day--he thought you better
this morning," Hannah answered.

"I feel sure I am dying, Hannah. I shall never see him again."

"She is thinking of my father," Margaret thought, and could hardly keep
herself from crying out.

"You don't know how to do with illness," Hannah said; "you've not had
any for so long. We are all in God's hands, remember that."

"I want you to send for Margaret--she's so young," Mrs. Vincent pleaded;
"I can't bear to think of her away from home."

But Hannah answered firmly: "She has disgraced us, mother."

"She has done nothing wrong," Mrs. Vincent answered; "nothing could make
me believe that."

"She has disgraced us with her play actors and her forwardness. Would
you have an unbeliever beside your sick-bed?"

"But I want her," Mrs. Vincent said. "I want her and her father," she
moaned. "I can't die without seeing them again."

"You are making too much of the illness," Hannah answered, anxiously.
"People have more of it before they die."

"Tell Towsey to send for Margaret," Mrs. Vincent said, as if her mind
were detaching itself from Hannah's argument.

"She shall not cross the doorstep," Hannah said; "and, if you were
dying, it would be for your salvation's sake that I would still say it;
for one must have fear of God as well as love of God. Let us go on with
the reading, mother."

"I can't listen; I want Margaret and her father. There is the sea
between him and me, but you can send for Margaret."

"You are tired and had better sleep a little," Hannah said for answer,
and, for all her firmness, her voice was kind and even gentle, as though
she were striving to save a soul at bitter cost to her own heart. No
answer came to her last words, and five minutes went by; they seemed
like hours to Margaret; then Hannah spoke again, and her voice was
different--there was something like fear in it.

"Mother," she asked, "mother, why do you look round so; do you see
anything?"

"I'm looking for Margaret," the faint voice said.

"You'd better try to sleep; you'll be stronger if you sleep a little."
But for answer there was only a little moaning whisper that Margaret's
heart told her was her own name, and in agony she rocked to and fro and
clung to her mother's skirt hung against the wall, and kissed it, and
the tears came into her eyes and scalded them.

"I will go and get you a cup of arrow-root," she heard Hannah say; "it
is past midnight, and time that you had nourishment." She pushed back
the chair on which she had been sitting and came out of the room and,
passing the door of the cupboard in which her sister was hiding, went
down-stairs. Then Margaret slipped softly into her mother's room and
knelt by the bedside.

"Mother!--mother!" she whispered, and put her face down on the thin
hands and covered them with kisses. "Mother, darling, I am here--beside
you."

A look of fright and joy came into Mrs. Vincent's dulling eyes.
"Margaret?" she gasped. "Thank God, I've seen you! Hannah won't believe
that I am dying. Did Towsey--"

"Yes, darling, yes," Margaret whispered; "and I love you so--I love you
so. Get well, darling; father is coming back--he is coming back
immediately; get well for him," she whispered between the kisses she
rained on the thin face and the hands that had a strange chill on them.

"I shall never see him," Mrs. Vincent said; "but tell him that I thought
of him and of you all the time."

"Oh, mother--mother--"

"Bless you, dear, bless you," Mrs. Vincent said. A happy smile came for
a moment over her face, though fear quenched it. "If Hannah finds you
she will drive you out. You must go--I couldn't bear it, dear. I entreat
you to go."

"I will hide, darling; Towsey will manage everything," Margaret said.

"Hannah is very hard," the dying woman whispered, anxiously; "but she
doesn't mean it--and she's been very good to me--it's only because she's
strict. Tell your father he will come to me, and I'll be waiting. Go,
dear--go--I couldn't have died without seeing you." With a last effort
Mrs. Vincent kissed her again, but her lips would hardly move, though a
cry of fear came through them, for Hannah had quickly crossed the hall
below and begun to ascend the stairs; and Margaret knew that if she
left the room she would meet her on the threshold. Mrs. Vincent's eyes
turned in terror towards the door and remained fixed; a strange
expression came to them, as if she saw many waiting and was satisfied,
knowing why they had come.

In a moment Margaret was on the other side of the bed and had hidden
behind the screen that was partly round the top and down one side of it.
She could not stand for trembling; she crouched down on her knees and
held her breath.

"Mother, I thought I heard you cry," Hannah said as she entered, but
there came no sound for answer. "Mother," she said again, and waited;
but all was still. Then Hannah went to the door and called: "Towsey,
Towsey, come here!" and Towsey, startled by her tone, came running in
haste, and Margaret knew that they were standing together at the
bedside. The moments went by with a strange stillness, dragging and
terrible, as though an unseen host held on to them. She heard Towsey
whisper, "She is going"; she heard her mother's quick breathing, she
heard her try to speak, but the words were only half articulated, and
still she did not dare to move.

Hannah said: "Mother, mother, Christ will save you; pray to Him," and
her mother whispered once more:

"Tell father and Margaret--and there will be James, too." Then the
breathing grew quicker, and the death-rattle came in her throat, and
Margaret put her hands to her own throat and covered her mouth, and
crouched lower and lower towards the floor, so that she might not cry
out in her agony. Then all was still, and she knew that her mother had
died.

"She is better off; God be merciful to her, a sinner," Hannah said, and
sat down in the arm-chair at the bedside. It seemed to Margaret as if
hours went by while she cowered and rocked in her hiding-place, hoping
that presently the dead would be left alone for a little, and that then
she might creep out and see her mother's face once more.

But this was not to be, for when Hannah rose she called down the
staircase: "Towsey, you can come; we must make her ready." Then she came
back into the room, and it seemed as if some spirit had whispered to
her, for she walked round the bed and moved the screen behind which
Margaret was hidden. She started back almost in horror when she saw the
crouching figure.

"Margaret! is it you that have dared?"

Margaret stood up and faced her, and even Hannah saw that the young face
was drawn with misery, and that her lips trembled.

"It is you that dared not to send for me," she said, in an agonized
voice.

Hannah turned to the bed and drew the sheet over their mother's face.

"I wrote to you this afternoon, telling you that she was ill, though you
had no right to be here." So the sisters had both written, and neither
letter had reached its destination in time.

"But she was my mother, and called for me," Margaret answered. "It was
my right as well as yours to be by her."

"You gave up your right," Hannah said, doggedly, "and the place is
mine." But she took care not to look at Margaret, and her hands were
twitching.

Then Towsey came forward. "For shame, Hannah!" she said; "this is your
mother's child you're speaking to, and in the presence of the dead. You
can't mean that she's not to stay here."

"Oh, you can't mean that I am not to stay while she is here?" Margaret
said, passionately, looking towards the bed. "I think that the agony I
have borne this last hour will set me free of hell, if it is true. You
can think, if you like, that God has sent it me for punishment, but we
needn't speak of these things," she pleaded; "I only want to stay in
peace till she has gone forever."

"And it's peace that God gives," said Towsey, "to them that have
suffered."

"You can stay," Hannah said. "It's true that she was the mother of us
both, and I'd rather you had been beside her when she died than hidden
there." She turned her head away quickly. "It's that I can't forgive,"
she added, with a break in her voice.

"Hannah," said Margaret, and went a step forward, for Hannah's voice
even more than her words overcame her--"Hannah, I was afraid you
wouldn't let me in; you said I shouldn't enter the door."

"She wasn't dying then," said Hannah, with grim sadness, "and I didn't
think it would be yet; besides, one often says things--I even said them
to her; but I wouldn't have had this happen for all I could see."

Margaret put her hand on Hannah's arm, but Hannah stood quite rigid and
stern, with her face turned towards the still form that was hidden from
them.



XXXII


The dawn came soon in those late August days, but it seemed as if the
darkness would never be at an end that night. Margaret sat in the
living-room in the big chair by the fireplace; it faced the one that had
been her mother's, and she looked at the arm on which she had perched
herself so often in the happy morning talks of old--the mornings that
were all at an end for ever and ever. She had set the door wide open and
the sweet air came in, chilly, and with a strange sense of what had
happened.

Towsey found her presently. "We wondered where you'd got to," she said.

"I went to the garden, and through the field--I wanted to think for a
little while."

"I made the bed in your room ready, but I suppose when you looked in it
was still covered up, and you didn't feel like staying there."

"I don't like staying anywhere," Margaret answered, with the
restlessness that cannot find expression keen upon her.

"You had better come into the kitchen--there's a cup of hot milk ready;
you must want something. Hannah's just gone to lie down; she's been
anxious and wondering what had become of you; but she thought you had
gone to the wood, and it was no good looking for you."

They sat down in the kitchen opposite each other by the table, the old
woman, whose eyes were swollen with weeping, and the girl with the
scared, white face, who had just seen death for the first time.

"I am thinking of my father," she said to Towsey; "he doesn't know
yet--probably he's grieving for Uncle Cyril, but looking forward to
coming back to mother. It is so dreadful to think that he'll never see
her more."

"Life's a queer thing," Towsey answered, "and difficult to make the best
of, and worse when one's old, for then one knows; but when one's young
one hopes."

"There's nothing left to hope for."

"There is for you, Miss Margaret. When any one's first gone one feels
adrift, and doesn't see the good of living one's self, but when one's
young others come along after a bit. Just you go and lie down, poor
lamb; you look worn enough."

"Is Hannah asleep?"

"Maybe--she's in her room. She's been pretty bad, but she doesn't like
any one to see."

Margaret put down the milk she could not finish. "I'll go up-stairs,"
she said. "Rest a bit yourself; you look so tired, Towsey, dear." She
crept up again, past her mother's closed door, and towards her own room.
Hannah's door was open; she hesitated, then went softly towards it and
looked in.

Hannah was lying on the bed in her clothes, asleep, or appearing to be
asleep. The dawn shed a blue light into the room. Margaret, standing by
the bed, could see that Hannah had been crying; her face was red and
blotched with it. Her cheeks were hollow, her poor nose was very pink,
her dull, light hair seemed to be more scanty than ever, and she looked
so forlorn and sad as she lay there that Margaret could hardly bear it;
she realized, as she watched her, how little the world had given Hannah,
how little it promised her. Slipping off her shoes, she lay down very
softly beside her--a little lower, so that she could nestle her head on
Hannah's breast, and put her arm round the square, thin shoulder. Hannah
opened her eyes and looked at Margaret and closed them again, and, as if
in sleep, drew closer to her with weary satisfaction, and so, for the
first time in their lives, they rested an hour together. But neither
slept, and, when it was impossible to feign it longer, they looked at
each other, and Margaret knew that Hannah was softened.

"I wrote to you yesterday," she began, a little grimly, as if ashamed of
being anything else. "I didn't want Towsey to know--I would not even
let mother know--for I'd said you shouldn't come back so often. I went
out and posted it myself. It will be there this morning. I didn't think
the end was coming, or I would have sent before. I'm not as hard as
that."

"You wrote to me!" Margaret exclaimed. "Why, Hannah, I wrote to you
yesterday--yesterday afternoon; our letters will cross on the way, and
both will arrive at the same time."

"It must have been the Lord drawing us to each other."

"If it had only been in time," Margaret whispered.

"I must have seemed harder than I was," Hannah went on; "but I didn't
forget that she was the mother of us both, and I didn't think it'd be so
soon. I'll never forgive myself while I live."

"I ought to have known you were not so hard as you seemed. And, of
course, you didn't know what was going to happen."

"It was the man that came between," said Hannah, bitterly; "it's always
a man that comes between women."

Then Margaret pulled herself up on the bed and sat there beside Hannah,
looking at her tortured face.

"Mother is lying in the next room," she said, "and can never know, but
for her sake let us try and make things better between us. I want you
to believe me, Hannah, when I say solemnly that I never liked Mr.
Garratt, or wanted him, or could help anything that he did."

"It doesn't matter," Hannah said. "He's a base and sordid man, and I've
done with him forever. He's been here lately, and I've told him so. He
only came after me because his mother had heard that the farm would be
mine. If the truth's to be told, I never thought much of him, and as for
taking a man, caring as he does for theatres and races, for I've found
out that he goes to both, why, I'd rather die. But we needn't talk him
any more; he'll never come here again."

Then Margaret drew a little closer to her, for even through her own
sorrow and the horror of the night her heart was aching for Hannah and
clung to her.

"What have you done about the play-acting?" Hannah asked, after a minute
or two.

"I have given it up," and there was another silence. Then, grim and
forlorn-looking, and with the tears welling into her eyes, Hannah spoke
in a low voice, as if she had brought herself to it.

"Margaret," she said, "I've been very hard on you, often and often."

Margaret bent her head and kissed her sister's dress and said nothing,
for it was true enough, though she forgave it.

"But I'd like you to understand it," Hannah went on, "then you won't
think so bad of me. You see, father came when I was old enough to know,
and took mother from me. I felt that he took her, and there was the way
he thought about religion and the way that you thought."

"Hannah," said Margaret, "let us speak of it--it's better to do so now
while death seems to have broken down the barriers between us. I
understand what you mean about father's coming, I do, indeed--I should
have felt it, too. But about the religion--you think it a crime that he
doesn't believe as you do, but can't you see that if God has given him
intellect to think and feel, and he has used them quite conscientiously,
and so come to the conclusions that are his now, he is an honest man? He
proved his honesty by giving up a great deal--all sorts of worldly
advantages, and some one he loved very much before he saw our mother,
and, if he came to a wrong conclusion, don't you think that God--God
whom you say is a God of love and very just--will at least honor him for
being courageous and not making a pretence?"

"If one doesn't believe in the Lord--" Hannah began.

"Oh, but let me speak," Margaret went on, passionately; "it's being
honest that matters, and doing right--trying to be all that Christ
preached--if we are only that we can leave the rest. It is not we who
doubt God, but you who doubt Him when you think He could be hard and
cruel to us. There are so many forms of religion in the world besides
the one that you believe in; are all the people to be condemned who try
to do right from different points of view? It's all a mystery and beyond
our comprehension."

"I'd like to know what it is you think?" said Hannah.

"I think that one should be thankful to the Unseen Power that has put
all the beauty and happiness into the world; that one should try never
to think unkindly or judge harshly, and that we should help each other
all we can, and leave the rest to the Power one doesn't understand. Some
one wrote once, 'I want to accept the facts as they are, however bitter
or severe, to be a lover and a student, but never a lawgiver,' which
means that we should not judge others, but only love them and help them
and do our work as best we can."

"I think you mean well; but I wish you felt more about religion," Hannah
said, a little grudgingly. She looked down at her again, for Margaret
had crept back into her arms. It was a new sensation to feel any one
there, and she felt almost ashamed of the comfort it gave her. "I'm
sorry if I seemed hard," she said, gently. "You know the Bartons were
always strict. But you won't go away again? I can't bear to think of you
in London."

"I don't want to go away again," Margaret answered; "I want to stay here
with you and father; I feel as if I could never go anywhere else as long
as I live."

"There hasn't been anything wrong?" Hannah asked, with a note of alarm.
"You haven't done anything you shouldn't?"

"No, Hannah, nothing; but I wish I had never gone."

"There's always something to be sorry for; we have to bear it as the
penalty of our weakness. I'd give all I had in the world to remember
that we'd both stood by mother at the last," Hannah answered, with a
sigh, and then she said--almost tenderly, "You had better try and sleep
a little; you look worn out, and there's father to tell yet. It'll be
bad for him; I don't know how he'll take it." She held Margaret closer
in her arms and watched her, and gradually, worn out with the long night
and weeping and excitement, they fell asleep.

Towsey came in a couple of hours later and looked at them.

"I never thought to see them like that together," she said, and went
softly out again. "I wish she had seen it; but there, perhaps she
does--she may be standing by looking on for all we know."

Sir George Stringer went to Great College Street early that afternoon;
the expression of Margaret's face haunted him, and he could not rest
till he had seen her again. Mrs. Gilman had told him of Margaret's
sudden departure the night before and the reason of it.

"Poor thing! poor thing!" he said to himself as he walked away. "I think
I'll go to Chidhurst for the week-end. I might be of some use to
her--that young scoundrel, Tom, is in Scotland, and she has only the
grim half-sister to look after her."

He walked across the fields in the evening to the farm, and stopped,
hesitating in the porch, afraid to enter or to ring and disturb the
silence that death consecrates.

Hannah saw him and came forward, grim as usual, but gaunt and sad.

"Did you want to see any one?" she asked.

"I heard that your mother was dead," he answered, awkwardly; "I came to
see if I could be of any use. I have known her husband all my
life--where is Margaret?"

"She's lying down; she's made her head bad with fretting."

"What have you done about her father?"

"We haven't told him yet. Margaret says he's coming back. It will be bad
for him then."

"But he ought to be told."

"We'll send a telegram to-morrow. It'll be time enough; it's no good
hurrying sorrow on him. He'll have had a day longer to think he'll see
her again."

Sir George looked at her shrewdly. "A kind woman at heart," he thought,
and then he said aloud, "You know that he is Lord Eastleigh now?"

"Yes, I know; but I can't see that it matters. It won't make any
difference to the end."

"You are quite right"; and he shook her hand. "Give my love to
Margaret," he said, and turned away. "It would be a good thing," he
thought, as he went back across the fields to his house, "if we all
lived in the country; people get spoiled when they congregate in cities;
that woman looked quite indifferent to Vincent's title. Upon my soul, I
liked her to-night."



XXXIII


When Tom had travelled all night and driven five miles by the edge of a
forest at the foot of a chain of hills, he found himself at the place
the Lakemans had taken near Pitlochry. A lovely house, with a wood round
it, and through it a view of a glen, and a stream that hurried white and
frothing towards the distance. He asked how Miss Lakeman was in a
whisper, half expecting to hear that she was dead.

"Miss Lakeman hasn't been very well, sir," the servant answered, and
showed him into a charming room where there was a divine view from the
open windows. Near the farther window there was a breakfast-table laid
daintily for two, with fresh fruit and late roses in a bowl. Lena was
lying on a sofa beside it in a muslin gown, just as Mrs. Lakeman had
told Dawson Farley she would be. Her face looked thin and pale, her eyes
large and restless; she seemed weak and worried, but there was not a
sign of dangerous illness about her. She tried to raise herself as he
entered, but apparently was not able to do so.

"Tom, dear," she said, "I have been waiting for you--I knew you would
come."

"Of course," he answered; "but what is the matter?"

"I have been ill--very ill, but I'm better. I shall be well, now you
have come."

"I thought you were dying," he said, a little resentfully, thinking that
he had been hurried away from Margaret for nothing.

"I should have died if you hadn't come," she answered. "Sit
down--there," and she signed to a chair close to the sofa.

"Where's Mrs. Lakeman?" he asked, looking round uneasily.

"She has one of her bad attacks of neuralgia. You are glad to come to
us?" She turned up her great eyes almost imploringly at him.

"Yes; but I don't understand." He looked out at the glen beneath the
windows, and followed the course of the stream with his eyes. "That sort
of telegram shouldn't be sent without a good deal of reason."

"But I have been very ill, Tom, dear; and I have wanted you so." She
held out her hands; he looked at her uneasily, but he did not take them.
Somehow her manner was different from the one to which he was
accustomed, and a misgiving, he did not know of what, rose in his
heart. "I felt that no one else could make me well," she added, in a
pathetic voice.

"Good! We'll see what can be done. Now, are you going to give me some
breakfast?"

"It will be here directly. Tell me about naughty little Margaret. Is her
lover with her?"

"Why, of course not; I have just come away."

He didn't like being called a lover. "She and I are engaged; I
telegraphed yesterday--"

"Oh, but it was only a little joke, Tom, dear; you wouldn't be so unkind
to Mr. Garratt."

"It's all nonsense about Mr. Garratt--" He stopped, for the breakfast
was brought in. "Look here; I'd better pour out the coffee," he said;
and when he had done so, and given her some toast and buttered a scone
and helped himself to kidneys and bacon, he felt distinctly better.
"Now, then," he said; "it's all nonsense about Mr. Garratt, and she and
I are going to get married--soon as possible."

"No, no, Tom, dear, it's not nonsense," Lena said, with one of her usual
wriggles. "She told me all about him, and I saw them meet in the wood,
you know."

But he refused even to discuss it.

"That's all nonsense," he repeated, firmly. "What's the matter with Mrs.
Lakeman?"

"It's only neuralgia," Lena said; "you know she has a bad, black day now
and then. You don't mind being with me, Tom, dear? We always like being
together?" She was beginning to feel that she couldn't hold him; that
she had attempted more than she could carry out. She almost wished she
had left him to Margaret; her power over him seemed gone, and she was
handicapped by her mother's absence.

With a puzzled air he ate his breakfast. "What have you done to
yourself?" he asked, when he had finished; "have you caught a cold, or
overtired yourself, or just given in and taken to a sofa for no
particular reason?"

"I'm not strong," she said, looking up at him; "and I felt as if I
couldn't bear the waiting. We expected you every day; why didn't you
come?"

"I was with Margaret," he answered, at which Lena turned and buried her
face in the cushions and sobbed softly to herself.

"Oh, but I say, what is the matter?" he asked, in dismay; "there's
something behind all this; tell me what it means."

"It means that I am going to die," she said. "I must die, I can't live."
She held out her hands to him again, and almost against his will he felt
himself going towards her till he had taken them in his. "I want you,
dear," she said, and twined her arms round his neck. "I can't let you go
to little Margaret. She has Mr. Garratt, remember, and I shall only
live a little while. You must stay with me till I die--you will, won't
you?"

"This is all nonsense," he said again; and in a kindly, affectionate
manner, as a brother might have done, he gave her a kiss for the simple
reason that he didn't know what else to do. "You are ill and played
out."

"Yes, I'm ill," she said, and wriggled more completely into his arms.

He sincerely wished she wouldn't, but he held her for a few minutes
rather awkwardly and then laid her back on the sofa.

"Look here," he said, "I should like to go and unpack and all that, and
you ought to rest for a bit."

Of all the days that Tom had ever lived, that was the strangest--that
day alone with Lena, who was ill and not ill; with Mrs. Lakeman
invisible, he couldn't tell why; and with something at the back of--he
couldn't tell what. He wrote out some telegrams before he went
up-stairs. When he came down they had gone, and some instinct told him
there was a reason for their disappearance; that the answer that came
from Margaret later in the day was somewhat juggled, but how or why he
didn't know. Lena wriggled and looked in his face and talked in low
tones and called him "dear," but she had always done that. She did it to
most people, and, though it made him uncomfortable, he couldn't bring
himself to attach importance to it; he didn't even like being puzzled by
it. Perhaps Mrs. Lakeman would be down to-morrow, he thought, and then
things would explain themselves. Meanwhile he comforted himself by
writing a long letter to Margaret, and with hoping that the morning
would bring him one from her, but when it came there was not a sign.
Then he felt uneasy, and determined that unless there was some good
reason to the contrary he would go back to London that night.



XXXIV


Mrs. Lakeman appeared as naturally as possible at the Pitlochry
breakfast-table the next morning. She looked haggard and ill with her
two nights' travel; and now that the excitement of getting Tom away from
London, and of the interview with Margaret was over, she asked herself
once or twice whether the game had been worth the candle. After all, she
thought Tom had only three or four thousand a year, and she didn't
believe he would ever do much in politics. It was the dread of losing
him that had roused her, the dramatic situation that had interested her,
but now that she had created the situation she didn't know what to do
with it; she was even a trifle bored. But everything bored her. She was
a woman of humor and enterprise rather than of passion and sentiment, so
that nothing kept a lasting hold upon her when once it had lost its
novelty. In some sort of fashion she knew herself to be a sham, always
experimenting with effects and make-believe feelings, but, try as she
would, she could never drive realities home into her heart. In a sense
Lena was like her, always wanting the thing beyond her reach, and
experiencing a curious sense of satiety as soon as she possessed it.
Even the presence of Tom after the long interviews of yesterday had lost
some of its fascination.

"I don't think I want him," she told her mother, "but I don't want to
let him go."

"It's my opinion that I made a fool of myself in going up to London,"
Mrs. Lakeman said. Her energy had flagged, and she wondered at her own
nerve in going to Margaret; she scoffed at Dawson Farley and his
proposal of marriage; she felt Tom to be in the way at Pitlochry. There
were some people staying at Kingussie--she had heard of them from an
acquaintance she met on the platform at Euston--she wanted to get over
to Pitlochry. They were rich people and full of enterprise; a couple of
grown-up sons, too; the elder infinitely better off than Tom
Carringford. It was quite possible that he would fall in love with Lena.
The worst of it was that Tom was here; besides, she had set herself a
task and had to go through with it. After all, it might afford her some
amusement, and she was always eager for that; better begin and get it
over. She took him into the garden after breakfast to a seat in a
secluded corner under a pear-tree; the glen and the rushing, gurgling
brook were behind it, and made an accompaniment to their interview.

"Well, what about Margaret Vincent?" she asked him.

"I have had no letter from her. I don't understand it."

"I didn't think there would be one," she answered, significantly, and
with an insolence in her manner that put him on the defensive.

"Why didn't you?"

Mrs. Lakeman smiled and said nothing.

"You got my telegram," he inquired--"telling you we were engaged?" Lena
had spoken of it two or three times yesterday, but he could hardly
believe that so important a communication had been received in the
cavalier fashion in which it was apparently treated.

"Of course."

"I can't think what your telegram meant," he said. "Lena isn't
dangerously ill, or anything like it."

Then Mrs. Lakeman tried to pump up a little dramatic energy. "Tom
Carringford," she said, "do you know that I am the best friend you ever
had?"

"I know that you have been awfully good to me."

"Shall I tell you why I telegraphed as I did?"

"I wish you would, for I can't make it out."

"Dawson Farley told me about Margaret Vincent--I have heard a great deal
about Margaret Vincent lately, from a good many sources. Tom," she went
on, in a suddenly tragic voice, "I loved Gerald Vincent; I have never
really cared for anybody else, but this girl is different; she has been
brought up by a common mother."

"She is not at all common," he answered, indignantly. "I saw her--"

"And a half-sister who, twenty years ago, would have been in respectable
service instead of wasting her time at home, for the mother looks after
the farm herself. Margaret belongs to her mother's people and not to her
father's; you can hear that in her provincial accent"--the accent, of
course, was invented on the spur of the moment--"and she was quite
content to marry her Guildford grocer, or whatever he is, until she
became stage-struck."

"Look here," said Tom; "you are a good soul, and have been very kind to
me, but you mustn't talk to me in this way, for I'm engaged to Margaret,
and I mean to marry her."

"You'll pay dearly for it if you do." She stopped a minute, then she
lowered her voice, but she was becoming excited; after all, there was
some interest left in the situation, and she offered up her child's
dignity to its dramatic possibility. "There was something more in the
telegram than I have told you," she said. "You are killing Lena, and not
behaving as an honorable gentleman."

"What do you mean?" he asked, bewildered, but remembering uncomfortably
Lena's manner of yesterday.

"I mean," said Mrs. Lakeman, indignantly--for it was a theory of hers
that a claim was always stronger than a plea, and gained more
consideration--"that you have no right to marry Margaret Vincent, or
anybody else. I mean that you have made my child love you, that you are
all the world to her, and you made her believe that she was all the
world to you."

"We have never been anything but friends!" He was aghast.

"Outwardly. At heart you have been lovers, and you can't deny it. She
has given you the one love of her life, dear"--Mrs. Lakeman was becoming
sentimental--"and I never dreamed that you had not given her yours. You
can go back to Margaret Vincent, if you like, but you have killed my
child--my one, only child. You must see how ill she looks, how changed
she is."

"But this is ghastly," he said; "I'm not a bit in love with Lena. I
never cared for any one in that way but Margaret, and I want to marry
her."

"Go and marry her," Mrs. Lakeman answered, in a low voice; "Lena will
not be alive to see it. Do you suppose that I would give away my own
child's secret, or bring myself to speak to you as I'm doing now, if it
were not a case of life and death?" She said the last words with a
thrill.

He looked at her in despair.

"What are you going to do?" she asked, after a pause.

He turned away and followed the course of the stream with his eyes as it
rushed through the glen. This was very awkward, he thought, but for the
life of him he didn't believe in it.

"You have been very kind to me," he said; "but it's no good not telling
the truth about a thing of this sort--I couldn't marry Lena. I'm very
fond of her, but she isn't the kind of girl that I could fall in love
with; she flops about and you never know where you have her, and as for
her being desperately in love with me, why, I don't believe it. We
should worry each other to death if we were married; besides, I mean to
marry Margaret Vincent."

"If the grocer hasn't stolen a march on you."

"Look here," he answered, turning very red, "if you say that sort of
thing we shall quarrel."

"I don't care," she answered, defiantly; "if you can't behave like a
gentleman, it doesn't matter whether we quarrel or not."

"You know," he said, "I don't believe in this business--I mean in Lena's
being in love with me."

"I should have thought you might have seen it yesterday." She stopped
for a moment, then almost demanded, "What are you going to do?"

"I am going back to town at once; but it's no good not being straight
in a matter of this sort, and first I shall have it out with Lena."

"It will be thoroughly indecent of you."

"Can't help it; I'm going," and he marched towards the house and into
the morning-room again.

Lena was lying on the sofa; he went up to her and sat down on the chair
beside her, determined to have it over and be done with it.

"Look here, I want to talk to you," he said; "this place has become a
sort of nightmare, and I want you to wake me up from it like a sensible
girl."

"Tell me about it, Tom, dear," she said, and wriggled towards the edge
of the sofa. "You wouldn't say things to me yesterday."

"Too much worried. Now, then," he went on, drawing back a little and
looking her well in the face, "I have fallen in love with Margaret
Vincent. She has been in London for the last three weeks, and we have
seen each other every day--perhaps you didn't know that? It's all
nonsense to suppose that she's in love with Mr. Garratt; I have found
out the truth of that business. He is merely a bounder who went to look
after Hannah, the half-sister, then found out he liked Margaret
better--I don't wonder. Hannah bothered her about it, and she went up to
town. Louise Hunstan wired me from Bayreuth that Margaret was in Great
College Street, and I went and looked after her. If this hadn't
happened--your wires, I mean--I dare say I should have got a special
license by this time. I want you to be good to Margaret," and he put his
hand affectionately on Lena's. "I love her and don't mean to marry
anybody else. Now, then, how is it going to be?"

"Poor little Margaret; I shall love her," said Lena, "because you do."

Tom blinked his eyes to make sure he was awake; either Mrs. Lakeman was
as mad as a March hare, he thought, or he was dreaming, for there was
not a sign of disappointment in Lena's manner.

"Oh," he said, helplessly.

"It will be nice for her to marry you, dear," she went on; "you are so
different from Mr. Garratt."

"Mr. Garratt has nothing to do with it. But unless you take kindly to
the marriage, of course we shall have to cut each other afterwards.
Well, then, is it all right?"

"Of course it is," she said, and wriggled closer to him.

"Good, good! Now I am going," he said, with determination.

"But where are you going?" she asked, anxiously.

"Over to Aviemore; I know some people there. But I shall take the train
back to London this evening. It's all right," he said to Mrs. Lakeman,
who had sauntered up to the window with a newspaper in her hand; "Lena's
a sensible girl; I knew she was."

Mrs. Lakeman looked at him almost vacantly; she had ceased to take the
slightest interest in his love affairs. "Have you seen the _Scotsman_?"
she asked; "the boy has just come with it."

"No; why?"

"Cyril is dead, and Gerald is Lord Eastleigh."

"Good! he'll be coming back," Tom answered; "I'm off in half an hour,"
he added.

"Oh!" She was too much preoccupied even to ask him to stay; but when he
had gone, as if with a jerk she remembered the excitement of the
morning. "We made a nice fiasco over Tom," she said to Lena; "I don't
know which is the greater idiot, you or I."

"It was very interesting," Lena answered. "But I should never have
energy enough for the life he likes. I can't bear coarse effects or
strong lights or exercise, or any of the things he cares for--people
should always be restful."

"You had better marry a minor poet," Mrs. Lakeman answered, grimly, "or
an inferior painter, and live in a Chelsea studio."



XXXV


Tom Carringford went straight to Great College Street the next morning.
Margaret, of course, was not there; but Louise Hunstan had arrived, and
from her and Mrs. Gilman together he heard of Mrs. Lakeman's visit; of
Margaret's assertion that her engagement was broken off; of how Sir
George Stringer and Dawson Farley had been to see her, and of Margaret's
hurried departure to Chidhurst.

"Well," said Miss Hunstan when they were alone, and the little twang Tom
always liked had come into her voice, "I think this is a matter that
requires some investigation; you know it's my opinion that Lena Lakeman
is just a little snake, and that her mother doesn't always know what
she's about--still, they're amusing people if you don't see too much of
them."

"Oh, they're all right, if you don't take them too seriously," he
answered, incapable of thinking ill of any one. He was not in the least
alarmed at Margaret's statement to Mrs. Gilman. He knew that Margaret
loved him, and that, if any mischief had been made, why, it would soon
be explained away. The thing that astonished him was Mrs. Lakeman's
visit. "I can't think how she could have been shut up in her room with
neuralgia and in London at the same time," he said to himself. "She is
certainly mad! However, that doesn't matter. I shall go to Chidhurst
this afternoon. I might be of some use, and I want to see Margaret." He
knew that, if her mother were ill, she would be unhappy and want him,
and, like the kind boy he was, he began casting about in his mind for
things he could take Mrs. Vincent. There were heaps of flowers in the
Dutch garden, of course; but she might like a box of roses, all the
same, and Margaret would remember the first one they had bought
together--and peaches and grapes; he didn't remember seeing any glass at
Woodside Farm; perhaps they hadn't any. "I'm awfully fond of Margey," he
said to Louise Hunstan, glad to put it into words, "and we shall have a
splendid time together. You'll often see us here, you know."

"Of course I shall," she answered; "I am just looking forward to it."

He stopped at Sir George Stringer's house as he drove through Whitehall,
but only to find that he had gone to Chidhurst. "Good," he said,
absently, to himself, "I'll telegraph to him, and he'll put me up."

Tom remembered all his life the drive from Haslemere to Chidhurst that
evening. He enjoyed every yard of it; up the hill and past the cottages,
along the road beyond; beside the moor covered with ling, and through
Chidhurst village, till he came in sight of the church, and the gates of
Sir George Stringer's house just opposite the little gate that led
across the fields to the farm. He looked at the box of roses and the
basket of peaches and grapes on the driver's seat. "I hope my
mother-in-law is better," he thought, with a happy laugh in his eyes. "I
believe I shall be fond of her, and Vincent is a brick."

"You know there's a death at the farm, sir?" the driver said, as he got
down. "Mrs. Vincent was took last night after two days' illness--she
hadn't been herself for some time."

An hour later a little note was brought to Margaret. It ran:


     "DEAREST,--I am at Stringer's house, and have just heard. I know
     how unhappy you must be, and there isn't anything to say except
     that I love you, which you know already. I am glad I saw her. Send
     for me when you can see me; I shall be waiting here. Your devoted

     "TOM."


And so that trouble was lifted from Margaret's heart; but her tears fell
fast while she read the letter.

"If mother were only here," she thought, "and I can't bear to tell
Hannah, for she has nothing in her life--nothing to look forward to.
Towsey!" she said, going into the kitchen. Towsey gave a start; she was
almost asleep. Margaret sat down on her lap, as she had often done years
ago when she was a little girl, and she put her arms round Towsey's
neck, and cried for a minute or two softly on her shoulder. "I want you
to tell me something," she said, when she looked up; "are you sure that
mother smiled when she had the telegram that last day she was alive?"

"Ay, that she did," said Towsey; "it didn't hold much, but she seemed to
read a great deal into it, somehow."

"Thank God! She must have known. It was from Mr. Carringford, Towsey."

"Yes, I know," said Towsey, "and she thought how it'd be."

It was almost more than Margaret could bear. "If I had only not gone
away," she cried, "mother, dear!--mother, dear!"


Mr. Vincent, to call him by his old name, did not return nearly so soon
as he might have done. There were his brother's affairs to wind up, he
said, and his brother's wife to settle down in a house at Melbourne.
Perhaps he dreaded returning to the farm alone. At any rate, he made
excuses, and it was nearly four months before he wrote that in another
fortnight he would set sail.

All that time Tom and Margaret were waiting to be married. Tom had
argued that it would be better to do it quietly and at once, but
Margaret refused.

"Not yet," she pleaded; "let us wait the few months till father returns.
We have all our lives to give each other. I don't feel as if I could go
into the little church to be married just yet, for it's only--" She
stopped, for she did not want him to know that she dreaded lest she
should still hear the sound of the heavy, shuffling feet that had
carried her mother into it for the last time. She wanted to forget it,
to remember only the long, happy years, and the summer mornings she had
sat on the arm of the chair in the cool living-place, with her mother
leaning against her while they watched the sunshine covering the Dutch
garden with glory.

"We might be married at some other church if you liked," he suggested.

"Oh no," she answered, quickly, "I wouldn't for the world. I want to be
married near the dear farm--and near her: she would be happy if she
knew; she would listen and be so glad. Oh, Tom, you do understand, don't
you, darling?" For answer he nodded, took her in his arms and kissed
her, which is always the best answer a man can give the woman who loves
him.

And so they waited till the winter had gone, a long, silent winter,
though it held its whispered happiness. February came cold and clear.
The men were busy in the fields, turning the brown earth over, and here
and there, under the hedges, a snowdrop hid, lonely and shivering. Then
one day Hannah made a really brilliant remark, or Tom, at any rate,
thought it one.

"I don't see how you can get married directly father comes, either," she
said; "he'll find it hard enough to come back to an empty house; you
can't well fling a wedding in his face. For my part, I think it would be
a good thing to get it over beforehand, and go and meet him."

Tom looked at her for a moment, then he shook her hand vigorously, as he
always did when anything pleased him mightily. "You are quite right," he
said, and the next minute he was striding down the Dutch garden on his
way to the cathedral where Margaret was waiting for him. "Look here," he
said, when he found her, "Hannah has had a brilliant idea. Some one
ought to go and meet your father; he can't come back here alone, you
know."

"Oh, Tom," she said, "I have often thought how dreadful it will be for
him."

"Of course it will, and we have no business to let him do it. Suppose we
went out and picked him up at Naples and brought him home ourselves. You
see, Hannah could make everything comfortable here while we are
gone--alter things a bit, and so on. And we might keep him two or three
days in Stratton Street on the way back, and get Hannah up there." All
manner of developments crossed his fertile mind while he spoke. "We must
get married before we start," he said, in a business-like tone, as if it
were only a matter of convenience, "or we should have to get a chaperon,
which would be rather a bore."

And so it came about that they were married very quietly one morning six
months after Mrs. Vincent's death. Hannah and Margaret walked across the
fields together, and Tom and Sir George Stringer met them at the church
gate, but there were no others present.

Tom's sister, Lady Arthur Wanstead, sent Margaret a diamond comb and a
long letter, and Mrs. Lakeman sent her a fitted travelling-bag, and Lena
sent a full-sized green porcelain cat.

It is just two years since that morning at the church. The Carringfords
are at Florence now, and Lord Eastleigh, and Sir George Stringer, who
has retired from his office, are with them, and they are looking forward
to Louise Hunstan, who is coming out on a six weeks' holiday. Lena
Lakeman has married an army doctor and gone to India; and Mrs. Lakeman,
who was very angry at Lena's marriage, which she thought a bad one, took
to speculating in West African mines, and left England lately in order
to look after her ventures. It was said last year that she had made a
great fortune; but, even if it is true, she will probably lose it again,
and console herself with the thought that the sensation of being a
beggar is altogether a new one.

Hannah is at Chidhurst alone, and something that would be almost droll
seems possible. One afternoon a stranger appeared at the farm, a
loutish-looking man of six-and-thirty, but with more intelligence in him
than appeared on the surface. He was a student of agriculture, he
explained, second son of a land-owner in Somerset, and had a fancy for
renting a property in Surrey. He had heard that Woodside Farm might
possibly want a tenant. Hannah assured him to the contrary with some
asperity; but eventually, being overcome by the stranger's manner, she
not only showed him over the farm, but, since he had come from a
distance, gave him tea with a dish of chicken fried in batter, and
scones that had been hurriedly made by Towsey. She explained to him
while the meal progressed that she found the farm somewhat difficult to
manage single-handed. The stranger felt the truth of this, and she
struck him as being a most sensible and capable woman. A farm, he told
her, wanted a man to look after it, to which she agreed and invited him
to come again.

"The coming of the stranger," said Margaret to Tom when she had read a
prim letter in Hannah's spiky writing.

He looked at her for a moment, then her meaning dawned on him. "Good!
good!" he said; "history makes a point of repeating itself, you know. I
shouldn't wonder--"

"And I shouldn't," she laughed.

Meanwhile the villagers nod their heads and say that this year spring
cleaning was even more thorough than usual at Woodside Farm.


THE END



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