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´╗┐Title: White Turrets
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
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 "White Turrets" ***

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



White Turrets
By Mrs Molesworth
Illustrations by W. Rainey
Published by W and R Chambers, Ltd, London and Edinburgh.
This edition dated 1895.

White Turrets, by Mrs Molesworth.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
WHITE TURRETS, BY MRS MOLESWORTH.

CHAPTER ONE.

"HERTHA."

A dull afternoon in November.  In London, too, where, though bright and
beautiful November days are not utterly unknown, they are, it must be
allowed, the exception.

A not very lively scene indoors either.

A large--too large for the present purpose at least--concert-room in a
public building, very far from well filled, and somewhat dimly lighted;
the dimness aggravated by a suspicion of fog.

"Rather an unlucky day, I fear," said one lady to her next neighbour.
"Still, at this season, what can one expect?"

"And after all," was the reply, "the dull season is the best for charity
things.  People--such of them as are in town--are glad of something to
do."

For the concert was one for a benevolent object, not seemingly a very
popular one, or possibly merely but little known.  It had been difficult
to collect the performers, more difficult to obtain the lady
patronesses, most difficult of all to sell the tickets.  And as a
natural consequence, but few had been sold.

"The programme is a very fair one," resumed the first speaker, glancing
at it as she spoke.

"I'm glad you think so," replied the other lady, who had had some hand
in getting up the concert.  "That last violin solo was a little too
long."

"Perhaps so--but still--the audience was very attentive; more than
attentive indeed.  Just look at those two girls--I have been watching
their faces.  They seem quite absorbed and delighted.  Look at them now.
What pretty girls they are, too!"

Mrs Balderson--for such was the name of the second speaker--smiled.
Her companion's remarks pleased her.

"They are two young friends of mine," she replied in a lower tone.  "I
put them in front so as to see the performers well.  They are full of
interest in everything.  They are staying with me for two or three
weeks--their first real visit to London."

"Indeed! how you must enjoy having them!  Are they relations?" came
next.

Mrs Balderson answered in a semi-whisper, till a slight rustle of
expectancy warned her that the momentary interval between the long solo
and a song which came next was over, and she relapsed into dutiful
silence.

The sisters in front had been talking also, though in subdued tones.

"Celia," said the elder of the two, a handsome, eager-faced girl, with
brown hair and eyes--"Celia, are we not lucky?  Do you see what the
first song is?"

"I saw it ever so long ago, but I did not tell you.  I thought it would
be such a surprise.  I wish you hadn't seen it till you heard it," said
the younger girl.

"What an Irishism!" returned the other, laughing.  "You mustn't count on
my short-sightedness, you see;" for Winifred, the elder girl, was a
trifle short-sighted.  "I am very glad I saw it; I like the pleasures of
anticipation."

She did not look her age, though she was fond of impressing upon her
friends that she was "no longer very young."  Her complexion and the
rounded outlines of her face might have been in keeping with seventeen
or eighteen.  Only a certain tone of decision, a slight, very slight
touch of brusqueness, made her twenty-four years credible.  Late hours
and heated rooms, the wear and tear of over-amusement or
over-excitement, had nothing to answer for in the case of these country
girls--country girls, in a sense, of the old-fashioned kind.

Celia, who was not yet twenty, was prettier than her sister; taller and
fairer--a more flowerlike creature--with an entire absence of
self-consciousness, born to a certain extent, perhaps, of her absolute
reliance upon Winifred, which added curiously to her charm.

"So do I," she replied.  "I like to know the name of the singer and to
picture her to myself beforehand--especially when she is going to sing
anything one loves _so_ clearly as," and she mentioned the song (an old
ballad which I will not name, as I should like my readers to think of
_the_ old ballad they care for most).  "If she is ugly or ungraceful, I
shall just shut my eyes after the first glance and try to forget her.
But her name is--pretty? no, not exactly, but nice, somehow, and rather
queer.  `Hertha Norreys.'  Did you ever hear it before, Winifred?"

"`Norreys,' spelt like that, is a very good name," said Winifred the
all-wise, "but `Hertha!'  What is it I know about `Hertha?'  We must
look it out in our `Christian names,' Celia, when--"

But a touch on her arm from the quicker-eyed Celia silenced her, and
like their chaperon and her friend, they grew mute, more than mute,
motionless with interest which soon developed into an intenser feeling,
as they watched the new-comer quietly making her way to the front of the
platform.  Saw her, and soon _heard_ her.  Yet the two perceptions
seemed almost as one.  From that first day, it was and ever remained to
both--to Winifred especially, perhaps--impossible to think of Hertha
Norreys in her absence except as singing, impossible to hear elsewhere
the familiar notes of her favourite songs without seeing _her_.

For her songs, as a rule, were well known and simple; ballads familiar
to most of us--the kind of thing which is, in great measure, "made" by
the artist; which may be "marred" into utter nonentity.

And she was not--no, certainly not--"pretty," and by no means "to the
multitude" beautiful, though the word describes less inadequately than a
poorer one the impression she made on the "some;" an impression which
after knowledge of her, never lessened or effaced.  She was not very
tall, though of what used to be considered more than average height for
a woman: nothing in or about her was startling or even striking.  Her
features, though in almost perfect proportion--perhaps for that very
reason--never provoked admiration of their individual merits; her eyes,
clear and sweet, could light up with affection or with occasionally a
flash of consciousness almost approaching the inspiration of genius,
into rare beauty; her whole face, her whole personality, spoke above all
of simple yet powerful goodness, the true, large-hearted, thoughtful
goodness of a noble woman.

At this time Hertha Norreys was twenty-eight.

The Maryon sisters--for Maryon was their surname--sat, as I said, in
more than silence, while the wonderful--yes, wonderful I must call them
in their perfect purity and sweetness--notes floated over them; now in
joyousness, now in pathos, to die away at last in unutterable regret, as
dies the wind on an autumn evening.

She was encored, of course.  Though not in the first ranks of vocalists,
for her voice was of no astounding compass, Miss Norreys was allowed on
all hands to be "very good, very good indeed in her way," and in herself
she was a favourite with many, though not with all; so it was the proper
thing, especially on an occasion like the present, when she gave her
services gratuitously, to applaud her heartily.

And till she had reappeared and sung again the last verse of the ballad,
neither Winifred nor Celia spoke or moved.

Then came--from Celia--the first half-timid words.

"I am so glad she sang the last verse over again," she whispered.
"Anything else would have spoilt it."

"Of course," said Winifred, and her tone was a little impatient.  But in
a moment, ashamed of her hastiness, she spoke again.  "Oh, Celia," she
said, "I am not cross.  But I seem so--so worked up.  Isn't she
_wonderful_?  Not her singing only--and after all, I know you understand
music better than I do--but the whole of her, her face, her way of
moving, even her dress!  It was just perfect."

"Blue-grey bengaline--that lovely shade," said Celia, in whom there was
now and then a queer, sudden matter-of-fact-ness which a superficial
observer would rather have expected to find in Winifred.  "And it fitted
so well--so naturally, you know."

"Everything about her is natural--that's the beauty of it," Winifred
replied, repressing her indignation at hearing the texture of her
divinity's garments put into vulgar words.  ("I wonder Celia does not
tell me how many yards of stuff there must be in the dress," she said to
herself.) "Everything about her is natural--at least in perfect
harmony," she repeated, and then she gave a deep sigh.  "Celia, is she
to sing again?" she inquired in a low voice.

"Yes," Celia replied, consulting the programme she held, "once--no,
twice--once alone and another time in a trio, or quartette rather.  I
daresay it is some kind of glee: the name sounds like that."

"I shall not care for that," said Winifred, "but oh, I am so glad she is
to sing again alone."

She did care for the quartette when it came, for Miss Norreys' voice was
far ahead of the others, and then there was the pleasure of seeing her!
And the third time she sang, the impression of the first was
intensified, for though the song itself was a gayer one, the
indescribable pathos of her voice was there too--it was as if a spirit
were singing of joys which had once been his, long ago, in some golden
age of childhood.

After that, Winifred, though she sat silent and apparently attentive,
heard but little of the music.

Then came the little bustle of collecting discarded cloaks and furs, and
the interchange of remarks upon the performance, as the "assistants," in
the French sense, most of whom were women, made their way to the door.

"Winifred, my dear, Celia," said their hostess, when they were waiting
with her for the carriage at the entrance, "I want to introduce you to
my friend, Lady Campion."

"You have enjoyed the concert, I think," said the stranger--the same
whose remarks about the Maryon girls had pleased Mrs Balderson.

"Very much, oh, very, _very_ much," both sisters replied.

Their chaperon gave a little smile of satisfaction as she glanced at
Lady Campion.

"There's some pleasure in having girls like these to take about, isn't
there?" the smile and glance seemed to say, and the answering expression
in Lady Campion's bright eyes showed that she understood.

"It is cold, isn't it?" said Mrs Balderson, drawing her fur-lined cloak
more closely round her, with a slight shiver.

"It _looks_ cold," replied Lady Campion, as she glanced up and down the
street where the incipient fog veiling the dim red still lingering in
the sky, and the yellow glare of the just-lighted lamps, gave a curious,
half-mysterious effect, not without its charm.  "It looks cold," she
repeated, "but I don't think that it really is so."

"It was beautifully warm in the concert-room," said Winifred.  "London
is so much less chilly than the country just now.  It _is_ so delightful
to be here."

"Yet the country is often charming in November: there are days when one
longs to sit out sketching," said Lady Campion, who tried her hand at
painting as well as at several other accomplishments.  "The hazy
colouring is so wonderful sometimes."

"If I were an artist," said Celia, who had not yet spoken, "I should
like nothing better than to try _London_ effects on a day like this.  I
never saw anything more curious than the lights just now."

Lady Campion glanced at her in some surprise.  There was a touch of
originality in the remark which she had not expected, for she had
already in her own mind put down Celia as "the pretty sister," and
Winifred as "the clever one."

Just then Mrs Balderson's footman hurried up to announce the carriage.

"Good-bye, so glad to have met you," said his mistress, as she began to
shake hands with her friend.  "But--how are you going home?" she added
suddenly.  "You are driving, of course?"

"No, that is to say I have no carriage here.  I am going to get a
hansom," replied the younger woman.

"Then do come with us, and let us drop you.  It will not be out of our
way at all," said Mrs Balderson, cordially.  "There is plenty of room
for us all."

"Thank you very much.  Well, yes, it would be very nice," replied Lady
Campion, who felt rather pleased to see a little more of the two girls.
They interested her, and she liked to be interested.

So in another moment or two the four found themselves comfortably
ensconced in the landau, which, like everything belonging to Mrs
Balderson, gave one a not unpleasing impression of space and plenty--of
a rather old-fashioned kind.

"You are not tired, my dear Winifred?  You have not got a headache, I
hope?" said her hostess.  For Miss Maryon was sitting silent with an
absent look.

The girl started, then she smiled brightly.  Her smile was very
pleasant, relieving her face from the heaviness which in repose was its
possible defect.  And she had beautiful teeth!

"Oh dear, no," she replied.  "I never have headaches.  None of us do,
except Louise, and that very, very seldom.  I was--only thinking."

"I know," said Celia.  "Mrs Balderson, shall I tell you what it is?
Winifred has fallen in love, and at first sight."

"My dear!" exclaimed Mrs Balderson, rather taken aback, while Lady
Campion listened with a quiet smile, her interest and amusement
increasing.

"Yes," Celia went on, unabashed, "and so have I, though not quite so
badly, perhaps.  It is Miss Norreys--Miss Hertha Norreys, the singer."

Mrs Balderson's face cleared.

"She is so--I can't find a word for her," said Winifred, half
apologetically, but tacitly pleading guilty to her sister's impeachment.
"Isn't she wonderful, Mrs Balderson?--_you_ think her so, I am sure;
don't you?" she went on, turning to Lady Campion, in whose face she
fancied she read quicker sympathy.

"I think she sings charmingly, in her own way," began the elder woman,
who was by no means ignorant of music; "and in herself she is, of
course, most--"

"No, no; I agree with Miss Maryon," interrupted Lady Campion, but in a
pretty eager way peculiar to her, which took away all shadow of
offensiveness from the solecism.  "Hertha Norreys, take her all
together, _is_ wonderful.  I know no one the least, the very least like
her."

"You know her, then?" exclaimed Winifred, her eyes sparkling.  "You know
her privately?"

"Is it her real name?" added Celia, "I thought actors and singers always
changed their names, or at least altered them somehow."

"Not always--more often indeed not now-a-days, when they are of her
class and position," Lady Campion replied.  "She is an `artist,' so to
say, of the modern school, retaining all the privileges that are hers by
birth, except--and that `except,' I fear, means a great deal--that she
is, or would be if she did nothing, very poor."

"If she did nothing?" repeated Winifred, musingly.  "What a
different,"--then she broke off hurriedly, asking again--"You know her?
Privately--personally, I mean?"

Lady Campion nodded her head.

"I have that honour," she said quaintly.  "And an honour it is.  But
here we are at my own door.  A thousand thanks, dear Mrs Balderson;
but--now, won't you do me another kindness?  Come in and have tea with
me, and I shall be able to tell our young friends a little more about my
dear Hertha."

Mrs Balderson hesitated.  Her first impulse was always to do whatever
she was asked to do, if such doing, that is to say, promised to give
pleasure to the asker or any one else concerned.  But, as often
happened--for she had learned by experience--there came second thoughts.

"I fear I must not," she said.  "Mr Balderson and Eric are coming home
early.  Eric has some accompaniments he wants me to try over before
dinner.  But I should be very glad for you girls to stay half an hour or
so with Lady Campion," she went on, turning to the Maryons.  "I cannot
send the carriage back again, I fear, for I have had it out so much
to-day, but your footman could see them into a hansom; they would be all
right?" she added, reverting to Lady Campion.

"Oh, perfectly.  I shall be delighted," she replied; and the "delight,"
without any polite figure of speech, shone in Winifred's eyes, as she
eagerly repeated the word "perfectly," adding--"That will be charming.
Celia and I want very much to go about a little alone in hansoms--to
learn to manage for ourselves."

But Celia hesitated.

"Winifred," she said, "I think one of us _should_ write home.  We only
sent a postcard of our arrival last night, and they will be so looking
forward to a letter to-morrow morning.  I had planned to write just now
as soon as we go in.  Might I--could _I_ go home with you, dear Mrs
Balderson, and--and Winifred stay with--"

She spoke nervously, for she _felt_ her sister's disapproval.

"Certainly not," said Miss Maryon, decidedly.  "Of course, if any one
writes, it must be me.  Not that I think it necessary--in fact, you are
absurd, Celia.  But still, as you have got it into your head.  Thank you
a thousand times," she went on, turning to Lady Campion with a frank
heartiness which was one of her attractions.  "I am ashamed to make such
a fuss.  Perhaps Celia is right, but--you will ask us again to come to
see you, I hope?  I should so enjoy it, and I long to hear about Miss
Norreys."

"I like the elder girl best," thought Lady Campion, as she entered her
own house.  "She is so entirely unaffected: the other, it strikes me, is
a bit of a prig."

But it is not the mark of a prig to look guilty; and poor Celia looked
decidedly guilty as they drove off again.  Mrs Balderson, gifted with
the kind of tact which comes from an extremely warm heart, exerted
herself to disperse the little cloud which had arisen, by giving her
young friends a few details about Lady Campion.

"She is so clever," she said; "she can do almost anything she sets
herself to.  But I think she takes up too many things.  She has no
children, and few responsibilities; for they are not very rich--just
comfortably off--and her husband is much older than she, and manages
everything, so her time is greatly in her own hands."

"_What_ a pity she married!" exclaimed Winifred, with extreme
conviction.  "She might have been really great at something, if she had
not thrown herself into trammels."

Mrs Balderson smiled, but there was some perplexity in her smile.

"My dear!" she exclaimed, "you don't mean to say that that is how you
look upon marriage--a happy marriage, too, for Sir Hugh Campion is
devoted to his wife and she to him, only he spoils her a little."

"Ah, yes," said Winifred, "a plaything when not a slave!  I have my own
ideas, dear Mrs Balderson, but you mustn't be shocked at me.  You must
allow that happy marriages are rare."

"If you mean perfect marriages, perhaps so.  But happy marriages--no, I
can't agree with you.  I know as many happy-together husbands and wives
as mothers and daughters, or brothers and sisters, or any other
relations," said Mrs Balderson.

"I am using the word `happy' in a wider and deeper sense than yours,"
said Winifred, a little loftily.  "But we must talk about it some other
time.  I flatter myself I have thought it out pretty thoroughly."

"At one--no, two-and-twenty?" said her hostess, with a good-humoured
smile.

"I am four-and-twenty--past," said Winifred.  They had reached Mrs
Balderson's house by this time.

"Come and have some tea before you take off your things," she said.  "It
is sure to be ready.  And then you can write your letters up-stairs if
you like.  I hope the servants keep up a good fire in your room,
Winifred?"

"Oh dear yes," said Winifred.  "Not that we really need one.  London
houses are so much warmer than country ones, you know."

"Yes--we have a few advantages over you, I allow," said Mrs Balderson.
"This house is very warm though it is commonplace.  But even that must
be a change to you after your wonderful old home, with its quaint nooks
and crannies and odd-shaped rooms, inexplicable staircases, and--oh,
that reminds me.  You must tell Lady Campion all about your ghost when
we see her again.  Ghosts are one of her manias."

A slight frown showed itself on Winifred's face at the words.

"You know I don't believe in it," she said.  "It is so silly."

"Oh, Winifred, don't say that," exclaimed Celia, with sudden anxiety.
"It always frightens me a little when you speak so."

CHAPTER TWO.

BLACK AND PINK.

Eric Balderson was awaiting his mother--not impatiently, he was never
impatient about anything--in the drawing-room, as she had foreseen when
they went in.  And so was tea, thanks to Eric.  He was one of those
people in whose case it is not difficult to take the bad with the good,
for the latter so decidedly predominated.  If slow, tiresomely slow
sometimes, he was so considerate; if in a certain sense heavy, he was so
entirely to be relied upon, and in unselfish thoughtfulness for others,
above all in small matters--for in important ones I cannot endorse the
popular axiom that "the best of men are selfish"--he was almost like a
woman.

"Now, isn't that nice?" said his mother, appreciatively.  "Tea _just_
ready.  You are clever, Eric.  Isn't he a good boy, Winifred?  Of course
it's all due to my splendid bringing up, but still he does me credit,
doesn't he?"

Winifred smiled, but did not speak.  She knew he was excellent, but she
did not care much for Eric Balderson.  Celia liked him better.

"I suppose you have learned to be daughter as well as son to your
mother," she said quietly, as she stood by the table, while this very
"tame-cat" young man, as Winifred contemptuously called him, poured out
the tea for his mother and her young friends.

"Yes, that's to say she has had to put up with my feeble efforts in that
direction, failing better," he said.  "Now then, I think I have got
hers--my mother's--tea just as she likes it; will you be so good as to
tell me of any peculiarities of taste of yours, or your sister's--cream,
sugar, both or neither, or which?"

"Winifred takes no cream--I take both.  Yes, I will hand Mrs Balderson
hers, and you can look after Winifred.  This is mine?  Thank you," and
Celia seated herself near the tea-table.

"Did you enjoy the concert this afternoon?" young Mr Balderson
inquired.  "It was a concert you were at, wasn't it?"

"Oh yes, very much, very much indeed," said Celia.  "It was a very nice
concert.  But _the_ thing that we cared for most was Miss Norreys'
singing."

"Miss Norreys--Hertha Norreys, do you mean?"

"Yes," said Mrs Balderson, "these girls have both fallen in love with
her, Eric."

"With _her_ as well as with her singing," said Winifred.

Eric looked up with a comical expression.

"She is very charming, I am told," he said.  "I cannot testify to the
fact from personal experience, for you can't exactly call a person
charming who deliberately snubs you."

"How do you mean?" said his mother.  "I didn't know you had ever met
Miss Norreys, and if you have, why should you think she snubbed you?"

"Because she did," Eric replied simply.

Winifred's eyes sparkled.  Her admiration for Hertha rose still higher.

"Just what I should have expected of her," she thought to herself.

"My dear Eric," said his mother, with a very slight touch of annoyance
in her tone, "I think you talk nonsense sometimes."

He smiled.

"Sometimes, perhaps, but not always," he said.

But he rose from his seat as he spoke, for he was more than quick at
reading his mother's feelings, and went towards the piano.

"I'll look out the songs, mother, that I want to try over," he remarked.
"That's to say, if you are still good for a little practising before
dinner."

"Certainly I am.  Indeed, we hurried home partly on that account," Mrs
Balderson replied.  "I will run up-stairs and take off my things in a
moment.  And you, dears, will have a little quiet time for your letters,
and for resting, if you are tired."

"I shall be glad to write my letters, but I am not the least tired,
thank you," said Winifred, in her clear, slightly incisive tone, almost
as if resenting the kindly imputation.

"I _am_, rather," said Celia gently.

"I scarcely see how you could help it, after such a busy day," agreed
Mrs Balderson.  "You have been on the go since early this morning.
Such a contrast from your regular restful life at home.  Not that we
Londoners can stand so much fatigue as country people often imagine we
can, fancying that a rush is our usual existence."  She was leaving the
room as she spoke, but stopped to add, "Remember I want you to be fresh
this evening, though it is only a small party.  Your cousin is coming,
for one."

"Oh dear," said Winifred, in a half-complaining voice, when her hostess
had gone, "I forgot about Lennox being in London just now.  Mrs
Balderson really need not have troubled to ask him.  We have quite
enough of him at home."

Eric glanced at her.

"I fear we can scarcely put him off now, except with grave discourtesy,"
he said.  And Winifred could not tell if he was laughing at her or not.
"Besides," he went on, "though I cannot hope the fact would carry any
weight with it, I am very fond of Lennox.  I do my best to see something
of him whenever I get a chance."

"Oh yes," said Winifred, coolly, "I know you and he are chums.  Well, as
long as he does not sit beside me at dinner and entertain me with
questions about the cows and the pigs and the old women at home, whom I
am more than thankful to forget for a week or two--"

"He shall not sit beside you at dinner; so much I can guarantee," said
Eric.  And though Winifred thanked him laughingly, as if all that had
been said was a joke, she did not entirely disagree with Celia's first
observation when they found themselves alone in their own room.

"Winifred," said Celia, "I think Mr Eric Balderson was _really_ rather
angry at your tone about Lennox.  I heard it in his voice, though he has
that dry way of speaking that makes it difficult to know whether he is
in fun or earnest."

She was standing in front of the fire--a brightly glowing one--in the
large room, which, with a dressing-room out of it, the two girls shared
together.  And as she spoke she turned round slowly, and looked at her
sister half timidly.

"Well, and what if he were?" said Winifred.  "After all, Lennox is our
cousin, not his.  He does not need to take up the cudgels in the poor
dear's defence.  It would be very impertinent."

"He would not mean it that way," said Celia, "and though you are so much
cleverer and wiser than I, you know, Winifred, onlookers sometimes see
the most.  Don't you think, considering how things are with Lennox, it
would be better always to speak very nicely of him?  After all, his
caring for you is no crime--you need not _despise_ him for it."

"Oh, bother!" said Winifred, throwing herself back into a comfortable
chintz-covered arm-chair, "perhaps it would be better.  But I hate
beating about the bush and always thinking such a lot about what to say
and not to say.  I do like to be natural.  However, I'll be more
careful.  But I am so tired of Lennox and all that dull, humdrum country
life that Mrs Balderson calls restful and delightful.  And so are you,
Celia; we are at one on these subjects."

"Of course we are," said the younger girl, "though my feeling is not
that I want to leave home, but simply to have--you know what--my chance,
my test, which I _cannot_ have at home.  But you are very good, dear
Winifred, not to think _me_ impertinent for warning you."

For a moment or two there was silence.

Then said Winifred, raising herself, "I must write to mamma."

A shadow of disappointment flitted across Celia's face, but there was no
trace of it in her voice.

"To mamma?" she said.  "Oh, then, I will write to Louise."

"Of course," said Winifred, majestically.  "It would never do for _me_
not to write first to mamma.  Indeed, I don't see that there is any
hurry for your writing at all."

She got out her paper and pens as she spoke.  Then with the queer
mixture of candid self-deprecation which existed in her, side by side
with unusual self-assertion, she startled Celia by an unexpected speech.

"About what you were saying of Lennox just now, Celia," she began, her
fingers toying idly with the pen she had already dipped into the ink,
"do you know, at the bottom of my heart, I don't think I believe that he
_does_ care for me?"

Celia gasped.

"Winifred," she exclaimed, "that is going too far.  Whatever he is
_not_, he is certainly not a mean hypocrite.  You can't think that for--
for any selfish or interested motives, he would _pretend_ to care for
you?  He couldn't."

"No, no, I don't think him the least of a hypocrite," said Winifred,
eagerly.  "You don't understand, Celia.  He _thinks_ he does, quite
honestly.  He's always been put in the position--not told he _must_ care
for me, for, of course, with a man of any spirit or principle that would
only drive him the other way.  And Lennox has plenty of principle and
spirit too, of a kind.  But he has been tacitly told he _does_, and so
he has come to believe it."

Celia looked extremely perplexed.  This was a new light indeed upon the
subject, but a light which seemed, at first at any rate, only to
increase the already existing perplexity.

"If--if you think _that_," she said at last, "I don't wonder at what you
always say about him.  I mean about it all.  Not that I don't sympathise
with you--I do, as you know.  I _couldn't_ imagine being in love with
Lennox;" and she smiled to herself, as it were, at the very thought.
"But I always thought it must make a great difference if a girl knows a
man is very devoted to _her_, you know."

"Oh," said Winifred, in her very off-hand way, "as far as that goes, I
_think_ I could stand Lennox better if I knew he did not care much for
me," which paradoxical speech gave her younger sister considerable food
for reflection.  And before Celia spoke again, Winifred dismissed the
subject in her high-handed fashion, quite ignoring the fact that it was
she herself, and she alone, who had started the conversation.

"You really must not chatter or let me chatter any more, Celia," she
said.  "I must get my letter written."

And for the best part of an hour there was no sound to be heard but the
scratching of their pens--of Winifred's pen alone after a while, for
Celia's correspondence was confined to her sister Louise, while Miss
Maryon, once she had got her hand in, so to say, went on writing long
after her rather short and not very graphic letter to her mother was
finished.  For she was a young woman of great energy and almost perfect
physical condition.  It was quite true, as she had declared to Mrs
Balderson, that she was not "the very least tired."

She looked up suddenly, when she had closed and addressed her fourth
envelope.

"It must be getting rather late," she said.

"Shall I ring for our letters to be taken down, do you think, Celia?
They are not in time for to-night's mail, but still, if posted now, they
will get to Barleyfield for the afternoon delivery to-morrow."

But to her question there came no reply, and looking up, the silence was
quickly explained to her.  Celia was fast asleep!  Her pretty head
supported by her arm, which had found a resting-place on the end of a
sofa standing by, she was far away in some happy dreamland probably, to
judge by the half-smile upon her face, and the calm, childlike softness
of her breathing.

"Poor little Celia," said Winifred to herself.  "How sweet she looks!"
and with deft and gentle hand she moved the couch, so that the fair head
itself could lean on the cushion.  "Let me see," she went on, glancing
at the clock on the mantel-piece, "a quarter--no, five minutes to seven.
I will run down with the letters so as not to wake her by ringing, and
then I will let her sleep till a quarter past.  She will be all the
brighter for it afterwards."

Bright, and better than bright--each charming in her own way--looked the
two girls an hour later when they entered the drawing-room again, where
their hostess and her husband, a thin, elderly man, with pleasant,
luminous blue eyes, and grey hair rapidly turning to white, were having
a consultation after the orthodox conjugal fashion as to "who takes
whom" down to dinner.

"At my left, you say, my dear?  Young Mrs Fancourt at my left?--oh yes,
Lennox Maryon takes her.  Why, I thought--" Mr Balderson was saying,
when the opening of the door made him stop abruptly, looking after the
manner of men decidedly guilty, as an admonitory "sh" from his wife
warned him that the new-comers were his young guests.

"That's right," said Mrs Balderson, heartily.  "Good girls.  I like to
have my home party about me on these little occasions.  What can that
lazy Eric be doing?  He is not generally so late."

The delinquent entered as she spoke--before, indeed, the door had closed
behind the two sisters.  He came quietly into the room with some little
laughing rejoinder to his mother, and walked over to where Mr Balderson
was standing, without seeming to notice either Winifred or Celia in any
special way.  Yet Celia was perfectly aware that even as he passed them
he took in every detail of their appearance and attire.

"I hope he thinks we are nicely dressed," she thought, though she would
not have liked Winifred to read her unspoken reflection.  "I suspect he
is rather critical, though in a nice way.  Well, Winifred looks very
pretty, I am sure, but I wish she were not quite so fond of black."

Yes, Winifred looked very well indeed, for, though her black dress was
almost severely simple, it was of rich material and fitted well.  This
was in accordance with Miss Maryon's principles.  She would have scorned
to spend much time or thought upon her clothes, still shabbiness or
dowdiness or eccentricity she did not consider a fitting accompaniment
of woman as she should be.  The worst that could be said of her way of
dressing was that it was far too old, and on the whole monotonous.  But
to strangers this latter defect was naturally absent, and perhaps the
very heaviness and stiffness of style she affected had practically the
opposite result of making the girl herself look all the younger.

However that may have been, she was genuinely indifferent about herself;
to-night her thoughts were more on dress than usual, nevertheless, for
she was exceedingly interested in Celia's appearance, and, considering
her theories, almost inconsistently eager that she should be admired.

"Does she not look lovely?" she could not help whispering to Mrs
Balderson, and her whole face sparkled with pleasure when there came the
hearty reply.

"_Most_ lovely; that pale pink suits her to perfection, and--" But the
rest of the kind woman's admiration remained unexpressed, for at that
moment some of her guests were announced, and she had to hasten forward
to meet them.  Others followed quickly, causing a little bustle in the
room, under cover of which a young man made his way in quietly; not
sorry to do so, if the truth were told, for Mr Lennox Maryon, very much
at home in the hunting-field or at a steeplechase, was decidedly shy in
a London drawing-room.  Nor was the consciousness of his cousin
Winifred's observant, albeit short-sighted, brown eyes, likely to put
him more at his ease.

He was in luck, however, on the present occasion.  Both Winifred, and
Celia were for the moment somewhat apart from the Baldersons and their
other guests, feeling, perhaps, as perfect strangers to the latter, just
a little "out of it."  Lennox hurried up to them with great
satisfaction, though not without a touch of the nervousness which
somehow always hovered about him when near Winifred.

"_How_ are you?" he said with somewhat unnecessary emphasis, considering
there was not the slightest need for anxiety as to the state of health
of either of the girls.  "So delighted to find you here.  When did you
come up? left all well at home, eh?"

"One question at a time, please, Lennox, if you have no objection," said
Winifred, coldly.  "Not that any of yours strike me as very important;
we came up yesterday, and we are both perfectly well, and as you saw
everybody at home the day before, there is no reason for special anxiety
about their health that I can see."

Lennox gave a half-awkward little laugh.  What he was laughing at he
could not have told, but he took it for granted that Winifred's speeches
had something clever in them, and the laugh helped to hide his shyness.
And he did not overhear Celia's reproachful tone as she whispered in her
sister's ear:

"Winifred, how can you?  Poor old Lennox."

"We are enjoying ourselves very much indeed, Lennox, you will be glad to
hear," the younger girl said brightly.  "I can scarcely believe we only
left them all yesterday.  It is delightful to see a home face again."

The young man turned to her gratefully, his handsome, rather sunburnt
features lighting up with a very pleasant smile.

"Good little Celia," he said approvingly.  "I don't believe there's much
fear of _your_ falling in love with London."

There was a little bitterness underlying the accent he put on the
pronoun.  Winifred heard it, and was ready for battle on the spot.

"Celia is absurd," she exclaimed.  "She is only talking that kind of way
to please you, Lennox.  Why, the very first thing she said this morning
was: `Oh, Winifred, if only we were to be here three months instead of
three weeks!'  You know it was, Celia."

"And no harm in it, that I can see, if she did say so," said Lennox,
flushing a little.  "I think London's very good fun, myself, once in a
way."

He could pluck up a spirit now and then with Winifred, but I scarcely
think it profited him much.

"Very good fun!" she repeated.  "You do express yourself so oddly,
Lennox.  I am afraid our ideas on the subject of London are not more
likely to agree than on--"

But a touch on her arm stopped her.  Celia was drawing her attention to
the fact that Mr Balderson was on the point of introducing a man to
her.  An elderly, or at least middle-aged, man, whose name was known to
her as that of a distinguished-in-his-own-line writer.

"Mr Sunningdale--Miss Maryon."

The middle-aged man bowed somewhat absently.  He dined out most nights
of his life; he saw only a young woman in black, whom he did not
remember ever having seen before, and he had been interrupted in a
conversation, at the other side of the room, with a woman he knew well,
whose conversation always amused him.  These little _contretemps_ will
happen in the best-regulated houses.  He was not an ill-tempered man,
and resigned himself to fate.  But Winifred's face, on the contrary,
changed from steely coldness to sunshine.  You would scarcely have
recognised her for the same girl, as she replied to some little
commonplace observation of the great man's with her most winning manner.

"Good eyes," thought he to himself, "I hope I shall not need to talk to
her much;" while Winifred, in a flutter of gratification, was saying to
herself how very kind it was of Mrs Balderson to have given her to Mr
Sunningdale, of all people, to take her in to dinner.

Lennox moved away with a little sigh, which Celia heard, though it was
all but inaudible.  The girl's tender heart quivered for him, for she
was far from endorsing her elder sister's startling suggestion that
Lennox did not really "care for her."

"He is just devoted to her--quite devoted," thought Celia.  "How unlucky
it seems!  These things generally go that way, I suppose; at least, if
what one reads in novels is true.  I hope that I shall never care for
any one, and that no one will care for me, for it would be sure to be
only on one side or the other."

She had no time to say anything consoling or sympathising to her
cousin--indeed, what could she have said?--for he was already told off
to his lady, the young Mrs Fancourt, whom Mr Balderson had alluded to;
and Celia herself was soon appropriated by the husband of the pretty
little woman in question, on whose arm she made her way down-stairs.

She had scarcely looked at him; she was thinking so much of Winifred and
Lennox, that she was quite indifferent about her own fate, and Mr
Fancourt, a good-natured man, whose rather limited ideas were entirely
absorbed by admiration for his wife, soon gave her up as decidedly dull
and heavy.  Celia did not care--she had plenty to think of and plenty to
amuse herself with; she was rather glad when her monosyllables resulted
in Mr Fancourt's directing his attentions to the woman on his other
side.  And one or two courses had been removed before a voice on her
right hand startled her into realising that she had a neighbour in that
quarter too.

"Miss Maryon, what are you thinking about so intently?" were the words
she heard.  "I have been watching you for quite five minutes--you are in
a regular brown study."

Celia started, then smiled, and, finally, as she became satisfied that
Eric--for it was he--was not really shocked at her, could not repress a
little laugh.

"I am so sorry," she said.  "Why didn't you speak to me before?  I
didn't even know you were there."

"So I saw--at least, I hoped it was so--that there was no special motive
in the resolute way in which you turned a cold shoulder upon me, and--"

"No," said Celia, laughing again, "my shoulders are not at all cold,
thank you.  This part of the room is delightfully out of any draught."

"And," continued Eric, "fixed your eyes upon the flowers in front of
you, and let your thoughts wander to--No! that I can't guess.  I wonder
where they were wandering to."

CHAPTER THREE.

AT THE DINNER-TABLE.

"Not very far," said Celia, smiling, and colouring a little.  "I was
very much entertained by watching all the people round the table, and
perhaps I was thinking mostly of poor old Len."

Eric looked across in young Maryon's direction.

"Why do you say `_poor_ old Len'?" he inquired.  "I think he's quite
happy.  Mrs Fancourt seems to be drawing him out beautifully."

Celia glanced at her companion doubtfully.

"Do you really think so?" she asked, "or are you saying it to--to draw
me out?"

"I really think so, and I don't need to draw you out," he replied.  "I
know exactly what you mean about Lennox, and--you needn't pity him.  It
will be all right."

"Oh, I am afraid not," said Celia.  "I'm afraid it will never come
right.  I didn't know you knew about it, but as you do--no," and her
voice dropped almost to a whisper, "Winifred will _never_ care for him.
I see it more and more, and now she is thinking all sorts of things--
quite differently, you know."

"Indeed," said Eric, raising his eyebrows in inquiry, "do you mean--is
there--some other more fortunate person in the field?"

"No, no, not that at all," said Celia.  "Winifred has much higher ideas
than most girls.  She wants to make a path for herself--to feel that she
is doing something with her life--and she must be right.  Why should
girls be condemned to do and be nothing?  A young man without a
profession is always considered the greatest mistake.  Why should women
be forced into leading idle and useless lives?"

"They never should be," said Eric, "I quite agree with you.  But there
are considerations: if a girl _does_ marry, you will allow that she
finds her work cut out for her--her vocation or profession, or whatever
you like to call it.  And I do not think any woman has a right to cast
herself adrift from the _chances_ of marrying, so to say; she should
allow herself fair-play."

Celia gave her head the tiniest of tosses.  "Winifred does not want to
marry, and she is old enough to judge," she said.  "I don't deny--well,
honestly, I should have been very happy if she had married Lennox, that
is to say; if she could have cared for him.  It would have pleased a
good many people, and--did you ever hear the legend of White Turrets?"
she went on, dropping her voice, and looking half-frightened at herself.

"No," said Eric, with interest.  "I've heard something about its being
haunted, like nearly all very old houses, but I never heard of any
legend."

"Ah, well, there is one.  It and the ghost are mixed up together," said
Celia, still in a slightly awe-struck tone.  "It--_she_ is supposed to
be the spirit of an ancestress of ours, who was cruelly treated because
she had no son.  She had two or three daughters, and she died soon after
the last was born, and she left a sort of a curse.  No," with a little
shudder, "I don't like to call it that.  It was more like a--"

"A prophecy," suggested Eric.

"Yes," said Celia, her face clearing, "it was more like that.  It was to
warn her descendants that the luck, so to say, should run in the female
line, and that whenever a man was the owner of the place, the Maryons
might--"

"Look out for squalls," Eric could not resist adding.

Celia glanced at him half indignantly.

"If you're laughing at me," she said, "I won't tell it you."

"I beg your pardon, I do really," he said, penitently.  "It was only
that I did not like to see you looking so solemn about it."

"I can't help it," said the girl, simply.  "It always makes me a little
frightened, though I know it's silly.  Winifred gets quite vexed if it
is mentioned.  She says it is contemptible nonsense.  Louise believes
it, but she is so good, it doesn't frighten her.  Still, for other
reasons, we seldom allude to it.  It has come so true, over and over
again: I could tell you lots of things.  Papa, you know, has had heaps
of trouble.  Poor papa, just think what a life of endurance his is!  So
you see if--if Winifred could have married Lennox (he is our
second-cousin, you know), it would have done so well--keeping the old
name, and she being the owner of the place."

"I see," said young Balderson.

"Or even if she could have been a more ordinary sort of girl, content to
settle down at home," Celia went on, "for--" and here the frightened
look came over her face again--"there's more in the legend: the worst
luck of all is to come if a woman of the family deserts her post.  And
once a rather flighty great-grand-aunt of ours _did_--she couldn't live
at home, because she thought it was a dull part of the country, and she
came up to London, and travelled about to amuse herself, and all _sorts_
of things happened."

"Did burglars break in, or was the house burnt down, or--?" began Eric,
but Celia interrupted him.

"You are laughing at me again," she said reproachfully.  "No, it was
worse than that.  Her son turned out very badly, and was killed in a
duel, and her daughter died, and they lost a lot of money, and in the
end it came to our grandmother, you see, whose husband took the name
Maryon.  But the family has never been so well off since."

"And in the face of all those warnings, your sister persists--no, what
is it she wants to do or not to do?" said the young man, looking rather
perplexed.  "The ghost can't bully her for not marrying a man she
doesn't care for, surely?  I thought better of ghosts than that!"

"No, it's not that.  It is that she wants to leave home and make a
career for herself.  And I admire her for it.  That's why we were so
pleased to come here: we want to find out about a lot of things."

Eric looked really grave.

"Why is your sister not content to stay at home?" he inquired.  "Even if
she were a man, there are men whose vocation it is not to have a
profession, whose work and duties are there, all ready for them.  Is it
not much the same with Miss Maryon, considering your father's illness,
and all there must be to look after?"

His hearer seemed surprised and almost startled.  There are aspects of
our daily life, ways of looking at our surroundings, with which we might
long have been familiar--commonplace, matter-of-fact reflections,
requiring no special genius of discrimination to call them forth--which,
nevertheless when put into words by an outsider, strike us with
extraordinary effect.  Almost do they come upon us with the force of a
revelation.

So was it just now with Celia Maryon.  As she took in the full bearing
of young Balderson's observations, she felt more and more struck by
them.  She looked up in his face with a strange cloud in her eyes, and
Eric himself felt surprised.  He imagined that he had somehow or other
hurt or offended her.

"I beg your pardon," he began, "if--Of course I would not be so
presumptuous as to suppose I could judge of the circumstances."

Celia smiled.  She would be true to her colours at any cost, and her
colours meant her sister Winifred.  The truth was that she was at a loss
how to reply; she had never looked at things in this light before.  She
wanted to think it all over quietly by herself, but she was not going to
allow this to any one else.

"No," she said, "of course you can't judge.  You don't know Winifred, or
what there is in her.  My other sister, Louise, is the home one.  She is
not nearly so clever as Winifred, but she does pretty well.  The bailiff
isn't bad, though I'm afraid he's going to leave, and old Mr Peckerton,
the lawyer, comes over if he's wanted.  Things _go_ on in a groovy,
old-fashioned way, but, oh, no!  Winifred could never find her life-work
in these directions."

And again Celia smiled, a superior, almost contemptuous little smile
this time.  Her own words half-persuaded herself that she had been
foolish to be so impressed by the young man's scarcely conscious
remonstrance.

"Ah, of course I can't pretend to judge," he repeated, and the modesty
of his tone encouraged her to say a little more, to stifle her own
misgivings as much as to keep up her sister's dignity.

"Winifred is intended for a larger life altogether," she said.  "And
there are three of us at home.  People are beginning to see the facts
about women's lives differently.  Why should we be condemned to trivial
idleness?  Look how some have thrown off the trammels!  There is Miss
Norreys, for instance.  Could you imagine _her_ spending her life in
ordering legs of mutton and darning stockings?"

"No," said Eric simply, "I couldn't.  And I don't think any woman's life
need be, or should be, so dull and narrow.  But still, Hertha Norreys is
not a fair example.  She has a gift, an undoubted gift.  I think its
greatness is scarcely yet recognised by herself or others; perhaps it
never will be.  But still she has not ignored it.  She felt she had a
talent and she was bound to cultivate it, and she has done so.  In her
case there was no choice."

Celia looked interested.

"I am glad you allow _that_, at any rate," she said, and glancing at
her, the young man almost fancied that she blushed a little.  "Of course
_I_ think cleverness like Winifred's a gift, but I can understand
ordinary people not looking upon it as if she had a great talent for
music, or--or painting.  It is easier when you have the one distinct
power.  Now there is Lady Campion.  Your mother seems to think her so
talented, but she has not concentrated her talents."

"No," said Eric, drily, "she certainly has not."

"And," pursued Celia, "she is married.  She shouldn't have married if
she wanted to _be_ something."

"But perhaps she didn't, or, at least, not what you call `something.'
She thinks herself very much `something' or `somebody,' and her marriage
has certainly not stood in her light."  Celia hesitated.

"You don't like Lady Campion?" she said, abruptly.

"Oh yes, I do," he replied, lightly.  "She's by no means a bad sort of
woman," he went on, hastily.  Celia was not the kind of girl to whom it
seemed natural to talk slang.  "But she wouldn't have been half what she
is if she hadn't married.  The best of her, in my humble opinion, comes
out as a wife.  I like to see her with her husband.  She recognises his
superiority."

"Oh dear," thought Celia, "what a man's way of putting it!"

"For he really is a first-rate fellow in his own line.  And she is not a
genius, though she is--oh yes! she is--clever, though sometimes she
makes herself just a little ridiculous."

Celia did not speak.  This was again a new light to her.  She felt
confused.  She had pictured Lady Campion quite differently, somehow, and
she felt sure Winifred had done the same, pitying her for having married
and thus rashly clipped her wings.

"She--Lady Campion--admires Miss Norreys exceedingly," said Celia, after
a little silence.  "That should be a bond between you, for I can see you
admire her exceedingly too."

Eric looked somewhat surprised.  The young girl had more perception than
he had given her credit for.

"Yes," he said, "I do.  I admire her very much indeed.  As an artist, I
place her more highly than might be generally thought reasonable, and,
as a woman, yes, I admire her too, and respect her, except for--"

"What?" asked Celia, eagerly.

"I cannot tell you," he answered.  "I was going to say that, as a woman,
there is one direction in which I cannot admire her.  But I cannot
explain more fully, and perhaps I may have misjudged her.  She is one in
whom it would be difficult to believe there existed any of the
weaknesses that one finds in smaller characters."

This was high praise.  Celia's interest in Hertha grew with every word.

"I wish I knew her," she said, earnestly.  "I should so like to meet
her."

Her words reached the ears of her companion on the other side.  Mr
Fancourt was beginning to feel as if he had had about enough of the
neighbour--a talkative woman of forty or thereabouts, well up in the
topics of the day, and of his own small section of the world in
particular--on his left, whom hitherto he had deliberately chosen in
preference to the pretty young creature on his right.  And now, with the
calm _insouciance_ of an experienced diner-out, he turned to Celia.

"There must be more in her than I suspected," he said to himself.  "She
seems to have succeeded in making Balderson talk, and he can be pretty
heavy in hand when it doesn't suit him to be lively."

"You are speaking of Miss Norreys, are you not?" he asked.  The name had
caught his attention, and, when Celia bowed in response--"Yes, she is
charming," he went on.  "It is curious: I have found myself thinking of
her two or three times during dinner.  There is a certain something
which I cannot define, which reminds me of her in that girl on the other
side of the table--nearer our host--yes," as he followed Celia's eyes,
"the girl next but one to my wife.  You know _her_, Mrs Fancourt, by
sight--in pale green?  No?"  (He thought everybody knew his wife.) "Ah,
well, you know her now."

"She is very pretty," said Celia, simply.

"I cannot contradict you," he said, with a well-pleased smile, which
made Celia think that, after all, he must be rather a nice man--she
liked husbands who thought their wives very pretty--and disposed her to
question the truth of Winifred's sweeping assertion that conjugal
affection was never to be found among "smart" people.  "But," continued
Mr Fancourt, "look at the girl I mentioned--the girl in black.  Do you
see the slight something--scarcely resemblance--about her, which recalls
Miss Norreys?"

In her turn Celia now smiled with pleasure.

"She is my sister," she replied.  "She will be delighted when she hears
what you say.  No, I don't think it would have struck me that there was
any likeness.  But I daresay there _is_ some likeness in character.  My
sister is very self-reliant and--and--dauntless.  And I should think
there is something of that about Miss Norreys."

Having found a topic of interest, the rest of the dinner passed
pleasantly enough, and Mr Fancourt felt that doing his duty had not
been the arduous task he had anticipated.

But it was her conversation with Eric Balderson which left its mark on
Celia's mind.

"Oh, Celia," said Winifred, when she managed to get her sister to
herself for a moment in the drawing-room, "I feel in a new world.  Mr
Sunningdale has been talking to me so delightfully, so _perfectly_.  All
my intuitions about the larger, wider life I should find in London are
being realised.  How narrow our small home-world seems in comparison!  I
told Mr Sunningdale something of what I am hoping to do, and I can see
he sympathised in my longing to throw off the narrow trammels we have
been brought up in.  People here have much wider ideas!"

"You must have made friends very quickly," said Celia.

In her tone there was not the complete and responsive sympathy which she
was, as a rule, eagerly ready to give to her sister.  She could not help
it.  A slight chill of doubt, of questioning of the perfect wisdom of
Winifred's theories, had been, though unintentionally, cast over her.
But the elder Miss Maryon was too excited and enthusiastic to perceive
it, and this Celia was glad to see.  For, after all, the faintest idea
of disagreement with Winifred's opinions or judgment was extraordinary
and unnatural to her.

"Yes," said Winifred, "we did.  But it does not need time to make
friends when people are sympathetic.  Mr Sunningdale has evidently
thought out all the great questions of the day about women most
thoroughly."

She looked so bright and happy, so handsome and almost brilliant, that
her younger sister gazed in loving admiration.

"Dear Winifred," she said to herself.  "No wonder Mr Sunningdale or Mr
Anybody admires her when she looks like that.  I do feel sorry for dear
old Lennox though."

Poor Mr Sunningdale!  Much had been credited to him which he would have
been greatly astonished to hear of.  He was, as has been said, a
kind-hearted and eminently good-natured man; a man, too, who not only
had a special line of distinction, but was above the smallness of being
ashamed of talking about what he really understood.  And Winifred Maryon
was certainly intelligent enough to be a good listener, all of which
explains the two having "got on so well."  It was not, to do her
justice, till towards the end of dinner that Winifred ventured to allude
to her aspirations.  And the great man, gratified, as even great men can
be, by the enthusiastic admiration--or veneration--in the girl's bright
eyes, listened--how could he have done less?--to her confidences, with
here and there a word or smile of kindly, half-amused encouragement.
Though, truth to tell, the subject matter of these same confidences, if
it did not go in at one ear to come out at the other, left but the
vaguest and most fleeting impression behind it.

"Pretty girl--handsome rather than pretty--intelligent, too, but rather
bitten by the advanced ideas of the day.  She'll settle down when she's
married," was his commentary upon her to his hostess.  "An heiress, did
you say?  All the better, if she falls into good hands."

And if Mrs Balderson had begun to build air-castles as to the possible
consequences of her introduction--Winifred being, as she expressed it,
"just the sort of girl to prefer a man a good deal older than herself"--
they speedily fell to the ground.  Mr Sunningdale had a history: the
not uncommon one of an adored girl-wife dead almost before he had
realised she was his.  And, despite the cynicism which many declared lay
beneath his surface good-nature, there was something deeper down still.
He was not the man to dream of a second marriage.

Nor, as we know, were Miss Maryon's ideas likely to turn the least in
such "commonplace" directions.

The results of this first taste of London society were, however, to all
appearance, eminently satisfactory.  Winifred, as she bade her kind
hostess good-night, was profuse in her thanks for the delightful evening
she had spent.  And if Celia's pretty eyes had a slight shadow over
them, it could only have been that she was a little tired, thought the
good woman.

"You took care of her at dinner, I hope, Eric?" she said to her son, who
had been known to be afflicted with fits of absence on social occasions
of the kind.

"Oh dear, yes.  We got on capitally, like a house on fire," he replied,
cordially.  "I was so much obliged to you for giving me Celia to look
after instead of her sister.  I can't stand that other girl, and I think
Lennox a lucky fellow to be out of it."

"It is to be hoped he will come to see it in that light himself," said
Mrs Balderson.  "Not that I agree with you about Winifred.  I like and
admire her extremely, and I can understand her feeling that poor Lennox
is not enough for her.  With her talents and strength of character she
may aspire higher, not to speak of her--well--material advantages."

Eric gave a little grunt.

Mrs Balderson sometimes found her son's grunts irritating.

"Celia, of course, is a sweet little thing," she proceeded; "but nothing
in her."

Mrs Balderson was _not_ a worldly mother.  Still she did not much want
Eric to fall in love with Celia.

He grunted again.

"You are very uncivil, Eric," she said, with a touch of asperity.
"Can't you say out what you mean?  When you are like that, you make me
feel you are influenced by nothing but commonplace, masculine
contradiction."

"Perhaps so," he replied.

CHAPTER FOUR.

A FIRST STEP.

"Winifred," said Mrs Balderson, the next morning but one, at the
breakfast-table, "here is something that will please you, I think," and
she held out to Miss Maryon a letter she had just opened.

It was from Lady Campion, asking them--the sisters and their hostess,
or, if Mrs Balderson were otherwise engaged, the Maryon girls by
themselves--to tea that same day, to meet Miss Norreys!

Winifred's eyes sparkled.

"Oh, how delightful!" she said.  "How kind of her to have remembered
about it!"

But Mrs Balderson's face had clouded over with an expression of
perplexity.

"It is unlucky," she said.  "I had forgotten for the moment that we were
engaged to go with my cousins, the Nestertons, to the Exhibition of
Embroidery in Street, and to tea with them afterwards.  It _is_ a pity.
Mrs Nesterton took some trouble to arrange it, and it is the last day
of the Exhibition."

"Oh, but it really doesn't matter," said Miss Maryon, and on Mrs
Balderson's looking up with some surprise--for she had supposed that
Winifred was exceedingly anxious to meet the woman she had so
admired--"I mean," she went on calmly, "I don't at all mind missing the
Exhibition, and I really don't know the Nestertons, you see, dear Mrs
Balderson."

Mrs Balderson did not feel very "dear" at that moment.

"There are other things to be considered," she said, stiffly.  "You
_were_ very eager to see the Exhibition, and I cannot be rude to my
cousins, whether you know them or not, my dear Winifred.  Besides, there
is your sister as well as yourself.  What do you say, Celia?"

It was new for Winifred to take in that Celia could have a voice of her
own apart from hers; it was new for Celia to realise the fact.  But she
saw that Mrs Balderson was annoyed; she had infinitely greater power of
putting herself in another's place than was possessed by her elder
sister.

"I should be very sorry not to see the embroidery," she replied,
quickly, her face flushing a little, "besides it would never do to be so
rude to Mrs Nesterton."

"I think Lady Campion deserves some consideration too," said Winifred,
unyieldingly.  "She is a very busy person, and she has evidently planned
this on purpose to please m--us.  And Miss Norreys must be a still
busier person.  I don't see that Mrs Nesterton _could_ be offended if
it were all explained to her."

There was something in what she said as regarded Lady Campion and Miss
Norreys.  But Mrs Balderson, for once, was really vexed.

"Engagements are engagements," she said, in a dry tone not usual with
her.

Celia's face was still flushed.  If only she could give Winifred a hint
to be more deferential!  She was so used to taking the lead at home,
thought Celia, she could not help that authoritative manner.

Eric Balderson had watched the breakfast-table drama with slightly
cynical interest.  It gratified him to see Miss Maryon showing herself
to disadvantage.  He did not like her.  But he loved his mother, and he
liked Celia.  He did not wish them to be worried.  And he was of a
kindlier nature than he allowed to himself.  So he came to the rescue.

"Can't you make a compromise?" he said.  "Supposing Miss Maryon goes to
Lady Campion's, and you, mother, and Miss Celia Maryon keep to the
Nesterton engagement?  You might call for Miss Maryon on your way back,
which would give Ce--Miss Celia Maryon," with a slight twinkle of
amusement in his eyes at his own involuntary freedom, "a good chance of
seeing Miss Norreys too.  And,"--with an obtrusively ponderous sigh--"if
it would smooth down Cousin Barbara, I certainly haven't called there
for an immense time.  I might--there's no saying to what lengths the
spirit of self-sacrifice won't carry me--I _might_ meet you myself at
the Exhibition, and go back to the Nestertons' with you."

Mrs Balderson's face cleared.  She hated being vexed with anybody; it
was quite against her nature, if not her principles; she was already
regretting her cold words to Winifred, and was pleased to find a
consistent way out of the difficulty.

"That would be _very_ nice," she said, heartily.  "The Nestertons would
be so pleased to have you, Eric, that I daresay they would scarcely
regret even Winifred."

It was hardly in human nature to have refrained from this little hit.

"Exactly," said Winifred, coolly.  "They can't miss me when they don't
know me.  Very likely they will not even notice I am not there."

Her coolness struck Celia as it had never done before.  She would have
given worlds to hint to her sister that something in the way of thanks
for falling in with her wishes, to both her hostess and her son, would
not have been unbecoming.  But the suggestion would have been thrown
away upon Miss Maryon, who was a striking example of the possibility of
not seeing what she did not want to see.  A word timidly hazarded by
Celia on the subject, when they found themselves alone for a moment a
short time afterwards, showed the younger sister that any such effort
was better unmade.

The afternoon's programme was adhered to, Celia setting off with Mrs
Balderson to the "rendezvous" at the Exhibition, in apparently great
content, for, if she were secretly disappointed at the small chance of
her having more than a glimpse of Hertha Norreys, she was too unselfish
and too sensible of what was due to her kind old friend to show it.

And at about a quarter to five, Winifred, in happy independence, and
blissfully unconscious of having in any way fallen short in
consideration of others or deference to their wishes, found herself
making her way into Lady Campion's drawing-room.

Her heart--for she was a girlish creature after all--beat considerably
faster than usual: much faster, in all probability, than if she had been
about to be introduced to some personage of exalted rank or social
position.  Her short-sightedness added somewhat also to her unusual
embarrassment.  For the room was fitfully, rather than dimly, lighted,
after the fashion of drawing-rooms of the present day; and Winifred was
used to old-fashioned lamps and white-panelled wainscoting, reflecting
the clear, generally diffused radiance.  And there seemed to her to be a
whole crowd of people sitting or standing about, as somewhat awkwardly,
only just avoiding a catastrophe of some kind, she threaded her way
through the too abundant pretty things on every side to the lady of the
house.

She was not annoyed or ashamed of herself, however.  She was too much in
earnest about meeting Miss Norreys to think about herself.  So there was
real simplicity in her bearing, though, for once in her life, she looked
decidedly timid.  And the look added wonderfully to her charm--in some
eyes at least.

It is to be doubted if Hertha would ever have "taken to" the girl as she
did, but for the gentleness and appeal about her, this first time they
met.

For Lady Campion had found time to whisper a word or two to her friend
when Miss Maryon's name was announced.

"This is one of the little country girls--_the_ one," she said, "who
fell so desperately in love with you the other day, as I was telling
you.  Be nice to her, poor dear, won't you?  Don't be stuck-up and
stand-off."

For both these dreadful things Miss Norreys _could_ be, said rumour--and
rumour sometimes speaks truly, on occasion.  But not when she was sorry
for any one, not when her large, pitiful heart was touched; then no
woman could be sweeter and gentler and less alarming than Hertha.

And her first glance at Winifred made her sorry for her.  Lady Campion's
"poor dear" had misled Miss Norreys.  She had no idea that the girl was
one of the prosperous of the earth, and Winifred was plainly dressed.
She was neat, but that was about all.  Her morning attire left more to
be desired than her evening toilettes, which, though a trifle heavy,
perhaps, and on the outside of simplicity, were yet, as I said, of rich
material, whereas her country ideas had not risen far as regarded the
tailor-made tweeds and black or blue serges which were her usual winter
garments.

And the room was imperfectly lighted.  All that Miss Norreys saw was a
girl of not more than average height and slightly square build, standing
with perplexed eyes and an unmistakable air of strangeness, looking
about for Lady Campion.

The face was a good one, good in form and pleasant in colouring; the
eyes, despite their bewilderment, were clear and sweet; the whole was
sweeter than Winifred's face was wont to be, thanks to the passing touch
of wistfulness and perplexity.

In a moment Lady Campion was greeting her, exerting the charm of manner
on which she not unjustly prided herself, to make the girl feel at her
ease.

And soon Winifred found herself replying, with her usual readiness, to
her hostess's inquiries as to what had become of Mrs Balderson and
"your sister."

"They are coming later," said Miss Maryon.  "They have gone first to the
Lace Exhibition, in Street, and then to the Nestertons.  It was an old
engagement, but Mrs Balderson will certainly call here on her way
home."

"It was very good of _you_ to come," said Lady Campion.  "It would have
been too bad if you had all failed us."

"I was only too delighted," said Winifred.  "I am so glad to see you
again, and,"--with a not unbecoming hesitation and rising colour, as she
glanced towards where she had, by this time, discovered Hertha--"you
know I am _so_ grateful to you for giving me the chance of meeting Miss
Norreys.  It was so very good of you to remember my wish."

That Lady Campion was _still_ remembering it she felt doubtful, as other
guests came crowding round her, and she showed signs of moving away.

"I must say it right out, or she will forget to introduce me," thought
Winifred, with her customary determination.

But Lady Campion was not quite so flighty and unreliable as she got the
credit of being.  And she was really good-natured; she rather liked
Winifred's downrightness.  With a hand on her arm, she gently drew the
girl forward towards the couch where sat Miss Norreys, a not
uninterested spectator of the little drama.

"Lady Campion _is_ a kind woman," she said to herself.  For there had
been times when she was inclined to judge the lady in question too
severely.  With all her gifts, Hertha did not possess the capricious
power so often found where one could least expect it, so even more
frequently absent where one would have made sure of it--of correct,
almost unfailing discernment of character.  She was often mistaken, and
being by nature much more enthusiastic than she allowed to appear, she
had often been disappointed.  And this had resulted in a certain
hardening of her sympathies, which one felt to be perplexing.
_Sometimes_, too, she had found herself obliged to reverse an
unfavourable impression--a demand of honesty which brings with it some
sting of mortification, interfering with the softening effect of what
should be a gratifying discovery.

But hers was a character to mellow as she grew older.  And with her a
spark of pity was at all times, enough to ensure a glow of kindly
interest.

This was what happened just now.  She rose from her seat as Lady Campion
and Winifred approached, and held out her hand with ready graciousness
to the--as she imagined--somewhat shrinking girl, who was feeling
herself, no doubt, strange and out of her element.

"It would have been kinder to have asked her by herself--or at least not
among quite such a crowd," she thought.

And to any one knowing Winifred, there would have been something almost
amusing in the half-protecting tone with which Miss Norreys at once
addressed her.  But if love is blind, so is youthful enthusiasm, and
Winifred was truly enthusiastic about the young singer.  More than this,
that any one could by any possibility look upon _her_ as an object of
protection or pity had never dawned upon the girl, whose self-confidence
and matter-of-fact preoccupation with her own ideas often dulled her
perceptions.  If she noticed any special warmth in Miss Norreys'
greeting, she put it down, though perhaps scarcely in so many words, to
the favourable impression she herself made on her new acquaintance.

"We took to each other from the first moment," she said to Celia
afterwards in describing the meeting.

"Will you come and sit down by me for a little--there is plenty of room
on the sofa?" said Hertha, and Winifred delightedly obeyed.  "Lady
Campion tells me," she went on, "that this is, practically, almost your
first visit to London.  I think I envy you."

"Do you?" said Winifred, not quite sure of her meaning.  "I--I really
don't know.  We live quite, _quite_ in the country, you see.  It is, of
course, very interesting to see London for the first time when one is
old enough to take it in better, but--"

"That is what I meant," interrupted Miss Norreys, pleased at being
understood.  "I did not mean--at least I was not just then thinking of
the other side--the delights of true country life, of `quite, _quite_ in
the country' life," with a little smile.

"Oh!" said Winifred with a sigh.  "If you knew what it was--all the year
round--so monotonous, so _narrow_.  I feel, since coming here, as if all
my time hitherto had been wasted."

"Poor child!" thought Miss Norreys, "a country parson's daughter, I
think Helena Campion said and, _of course_, poor.  I can fancy the life
must be rather terrible--grinding away to make both ends meet.  Probably
a lot of younger brothers and sisters.  And she is evidently a clever
girl--a girl of ideas."

"It is never too late to mend," she said, cheerfully.  "You will go home
enriched by a store of new thoughts and knowledge.  I doubt if you would
have benefited in the same way had you seen more of this wonderful--yes,
it is wonderful--modern London life when you were younger.  Though you
are very young still."

"No," said Winifred, quaintly, with a little shake of her head, "I am
not very young.  And--I have come up to London with an object.  I have
waited so long, and I have tried to be patient!  But now, at last, I do
trust I am to find an opening.  I _must_ get something to do--a career.
It was surely a good omen that I should have seen you, Miss Norreys, the
very first day, for I feel you will sympathise with me--you who have
risen above the stupid old-fashioned trammels so grandly.  Of course I
know there can be no comparison--you are a genius, _I_ have only very
ordinary powers very imperfectly trained.  But I have determination and
courage.  I feel it is in me to do _something_--not to be condemned to
the terribly narrow life, which is all I have to look to unless I
succeed."

She spoke so rapidly, and yet so earnestly, that Hertha could not
attempt to stop her.  Yet it was hardly the place or time for a personal
discussion of the kind.  Miss Norreys felt touched, and yet a trifle
annoyed.  It was scarcely fair of Lady Campion, who must have known all
about this girl, to have encouraged her to thus appeal to her, a
stranger, for advice and assistance.  For, in plain English, these, no
doubt, were what she was in want of.

"And what can I do for her?" thought Hertha.  "My world is the musical
world.  She does not speak of any special gifts in that direction.  Yet,
poor girl, evidently she is in the right about doing _something_.  I do
sympathise with that.  If I had had no music in me, no voice, or no
distinct talent, still I could have done _something_, rather than drag
on, striving to make both ends meet, with no energy left for better
things, as some poor women do."

These reflections passed through her mind, softening her momentary
irritation.  But for a few minutes she sat silent.

Winifred watched her intently.

"You will advise me?" she said at last, in a half-whisper.  "You do
sympathise with me?"

Miss Norreys roused herself.

"My dear Miss Maryon," she said, "of course I sympathise with you; I
understand the position only too well, and I feel for you very much.
But what can I do?  You have no marked musical talent, I suppose; the
only advice of mine really worth anything, for it is backed by my own
experience, would refer to a musical career."

Winifred shook her head.

"No," she said.  "I am not musical.  I wish I were--at least--no, I am
not sure that that is the gift I covet most.  Yet, do not misunderstand
me," she added hastily; "I _love_ music.  When listening to some music,
when listening to your voice, I feel as if my soul were awakening, as if
it had found itself."

She was in earnest--her eyes glowed, her really fine features seemed
full of emotion; yet, was it her extreme, though unconscious, egotism
that slightly repelled Miss Norreys?

"I wish she were not so high-flown," she thought.  "Still, she is not
affected: she does not mean to be so, at any rate.  And she is candid.
But I do love simplicity.  I don't think she would ever do to be a
governess, but probably she has no thought of so commonplace a career."

"Then what--in what direction do you mean to turn?" she asked aloud.
"You have thought too much about it not to have some definite ideas?"

"I have several," Winifred replied eagerly.  "I ask nothing better than
to tell you all.  And what I thought you would advise me about was as to
living in London: I must arrange that almost first of anything.  Don't
you think I am quite old enough to live alone?"

"Certainly not," Miss Norreys replied, with a smile.  "Besides, you
would find it very expensive if you care about any sort of comfort."

"I don't," said Winifred, confidently.  "But--well, yes, I suppose I
must consider it to some extent, for the sake of my people, you see--
and--if you really think I can't live alone--"

But at that moment Hertha saw approaching her a great friend of hers--a
man to whom she was bound by long-standing ties of affection and
gratitude, but whom, owing to his and her own busy lives, she met less
frequently than she would have wished.  She turned to Winifred--

"I must speak to Mr--to the man who had just come in," she said,
half-rising from her seat.

"Some other time, perhaps, Miss Maryon--"

"How tiresome!" said Winifred.  "Just when we were getting into a really
nice talk.  Cannot you just say a word or two to him, and come back
again, Miss Norreys?"

But Hertha was on her feet by this time.

"We must arrange some other day.  I will write to you," she said,
hurriedly, eager not to miss the pleasant chance before her.

And Winifred remained alone on the sofa.  She was satisfied on the
whole; she had made a beginning.  Miss Norreys was appreciative, and she
felt sure of her ground with her.

"If such a thing could be as my living with _her_!" thought Winifred.
"That would be ideal.  Whatever work I take up, I could manage to fit it
in to such an arrangement.  And if I decide on writing as my principal
occupation, of course I shall be very independent--pen and ink can do
their work anywhere."

She watched Miss Norreys and the tall stranger--a man of forty or
thereabouts--slightly grey, and with a somewhat peculiar stoop.

"How good she is!" thought Winifred; "I can see he is boring her.  I
wonder what they are talking about."

Better, perhaps, for her that she could not hear.  "I did not interrupt
you, I hope," the new-comer was saying.  "You seemed rather engrossed
with that little person on the sofa.  But I came here on purpose to see
you."

"I hoped, too, I should see _you_," she replied.  "No, the girl over
there is a stranger to me, Helena Campion introduced us--rather rashly,
for the poor thing imagines I can help her, and I really can't.  She has
to make her way in the world, and wants advice.  I am sorry for her,
but--I am really so busy."

"My dear, you must not take any more burdens upon you.  You really must
_not_," said her old friend, decidedly.  "What does the girl want?  She
is a lady, I suppose--well educated?  I might introduce her to the
`Reasonable Help Society.'  They are increasing their staff, and she
might get a small salary."

Miss Norreys looked and felt grateful.

"It would be most good of you," she said.  "I _should_ be glad to help
her, or, indeed, any one so placed, but the little I can do is in my own
line, and I am overwhelmed with applications for assistance and advice
in that direction."

Mr Montague nodded sympathisingly.

"No one would believe it," continued Hertha, with a half-rueful smile,
"I could easily spend all my time in answering letters, trying songs,
listening to would-be vocalists, and where would my own work be then?
Yet the service which each asks--the individual service--seems so small.
But how they mount up!"

"It is the same in every department," her friend replied.  "Once your
name gets before the world, people seem to think you are common
property, and have no right to your own time and strength.  Literary
people are even more bothered than you, if that is any comfort to you.
For it is not every one that can deceive him or herself into imagining
they possess musical gifts, whereas _everybody_ nowadays has a try at
authorship."

And if Hertha's smile had been rueful, Mr Montague's was grim.

"This girl is _not_ musical, Heaven be praised!"  Miss Norreys replied.

"I rejoice to hear it--for your sake," he answered, fervently.  "Tell me
her name," and he drew out a tiny note-book.

"Maryon--Miss Maryon--that is all I know," said Hertha.

"Miss Marion," he wrote, "Marion _what_?"

"Oh, it is her surname--M-a-r-y, not `i'," she corrected.  "Lady Campion
mentioned it in her note.  A Miss Maryon who was dying to meet me, or
some nonsense."

"It is too bad," Mr Montague repeated.  "But I will see what I can do,
and she must call at the office to be examined as to her capabilities.
`Maryon,' an uncommon name.  There are some rich people--a very old
family--Maryons down in Brakeshire."

"Ah, she can't belong to them, poor girl," said Hertha.

And then, feeling she had done her duty, she and Mr Montague turned to
other things.

CHAPTER FIVE.

MISAPPREHENSION AND MISGIVING.

Lady Campion's drawing-room continued to fill--to fill and to empty--for
as some went out, others came in.  And everywhere and at all moments,
Hertha Norreys was surrounded and eagerly greeted.

"It is wonderful how much she is made of," thought Winifred from her
corner.  "Not, of course, that she does not deserve it, but I have so
often been told that the best people are not the most appreciated by the
common herd."

The expression would scarcely have been deemed appropriate.  If there
was one thing Lady Campion prided herself on, it was that her "habitues"
formed a very _un_common herd indeed.  _Her_ lions and lionesses must be
well dressed and charming--perfectly well-bred and unexceptionable.  And
as Winifred heard the names--now and then mentioned to her in passing by
her good-natured hostess, or by some of the friends she introduced the
girl to, with the excuse that she was "a perfect stranger, never been in
London before"--of men and women she had hitherto reverenced from afar,
she began to allow to herself that if she had known it was to be so much
of a party, she would have dressed better.  "Though I never imagined
people like `so-and-so' cared about dressing at all," she added to
herself.

The rooms were thinning--indeed they had never been what to more
experienced eyes would have seemed very full, when Mrs Balderson--
followed by Celia, Eric bringing up the rear--came in.

"What a lovely girl!" said a voice beside Winifred; and turning with
quick pleasure, she saw that the speaker was Miss Norreys's Mr
Montague.  And close beside him, though Winifred had not been aware of
her proximity, stood Hertha herself.

"Yes, indeed," she replied, warmly.  "She is like a beautiful lily."

Celia was better--at least more becomingly--dressed than her sister, and
her taller, more graceful figure showed whatever she wore to advantage.

Mrs Balderson had reviewed her before they went out, and Winifred had
taken her usual interest in Celia's appearance, attiring herself, later
in the afternoon, with her customary indifference to everything but
neatness.

A flush of gratification rose to her face at the words she overheard,
and moving forward so as to approach Hertha a little more nearly, she
said in a low voice:

"I am so glad you admire her: she is my sister, my younger sister."

Miss Norreys turned.  For a moment she half doubted if she herself was
addressed.  In the interest of meetings and talk she had almost
forgotten Winifred's existence.  But now the face, looking up at her so
brightly and eagerly, attracted her much more than before.

"Your sister, Miss Maryon!" she said, with a sunny smile on her face;
"well, I need not repeat what I said, as you heard it.  But it is
certainly true."

And she felt drawn to the girl as she had not hitherto done.

"May I, oh, may I introduce her to you?"  Winifred went on, and
encouraged by Miss Norreys' "By all means, if you like."

"Celia, Celia!" she said anxiously--for Celia at that moment was being
monopolised by some friends of Mrs Balderson's--"Celia," when the girl
at last heard her, "do come here.  I want to introduce you to Miss
Norreys."

Celia was feeling profoundly shy, and her shyness, as usual, veiled
itself by excessive stiffness.  The impression she made upon Hertha was
not of the most favourable.

"She is very pretty, _very_ pretty," thought Miss Norreys, "but
evidently nothing more, and very spoilt.  This poor dear elder sister
denies herself, no doubt, to do all she can for her.  Their very dress
shows it.  I must not be prejudiced.  I daresay this girl is a noble
character.  I must be kind to her."

And it was with increased cordiality she bade Winifred good-bye, having
already got her address and promised to write to her.

"Is she not _too_ delightful?" said Winifred, ecstatically, to her
sister.

"She has evidently taken a great fancy to _you_," replied Celia,
evasively.  "And that is _the_ thing."  In her heart she felt a touch of
disappointment.  "Why did Miss Norreys look at me with a kind of
disapproval?" she asked herself.  "She surely can't be stuck-up or
capricious--she has such a _good_ face."

"Do you think she will really be able to help us--you?" she went on.

"I am sure of it.  I had not time to tell her about _you_, Celia, but
you see once _I_ get an independent footing it will be all right for
you.  I managed to tell her a good deal.  I am certain she sympathises
with the position, the longing for emancipation--oh, yes, I feel that I
have got my foot on the first rung of the ladder," she concluded,
enthusiastically.

Some days passed, nevertheless, without any more of the ladder appearing
through the haze.  Miss Norreys made no sign.  The days passed
pleasantly, however, so pleasantly that Winifred sometimes felt half
guilty for enjoying them and making no further effort towards the
realisation of those schemes for the future which had been the
underlying "_but_" of her own and, indeed, of Celia's visit to London.
It was difficult to do anything, or to know what to do.  Mrs Balderson,
in her innocence of these girls having any thoughts or aspirations other
than those she remembered in her own girlhood, exhausted herself in the
endeavour to make them enjoy themselves, to "have a good time," and she
succeeded.  They had never had a better--never, indeed, half so good!

They were scarcely free, however, to do anything but what was planned
for them.  Morning, noon, and night for the first two weeks of their
stay, engagements of all kinds were the order of the day.  Shoppings,
exhibitions, concerts, plays, afternoon teas, occasional dinner-parties
at home, or, more rarely, an invitation for one girl to accompany her
host and hostess to dine elsewhere, one or two very mild winter dances
even--what, in the old and less sophisticated days, would have been
called "carpet-dances"--all these things followed each other in such
quick rotation as to make life in London, even in November, seem to
these country girls a sort of kaleidoscope.

"I suppose we are learning a good deal, even unconsciously.  I suppose
it is all a sort of experience it is well to go through," said Winifred,
dubiously.  "But it is not what I expected.  I see what it is, Celia; I
shall have to come up again on my own account, really, to go into things
and arrange something.  Father and mother cannot object now that I have
got friends here, and some one to advise me."

"Do you mean Miss Norreys?" said Celia.

"Yes--and--I should not be very surprised if Lady Campion asked me to
stay with her, do you know?  She was quite interested the other day when
I said a little to her--just a very little--of my wish to _do
something_.  She seemed quite struck by it, and said she would like to
talk more about it."

"Are you sure she understood what you mean?  She may have thought you
would like to help in her Decoration Guilds, or Shakespeare Recitals, or
some of those things she has so many of," said Celia.  "There are heaps
of those half-play, half-work things for girls who don't need to work
really, you know."

Celia had guessed rightly.  Lady Campion, though she had inadvertently
conveyed to Miss Norreys a wrong impression of Miss Maryon's position,
had no thought of suggesting to the girl any work of the kind Winifred
had set before herself.

Her face clouded over a little at Celia's words.

"But I don't want to be thought that sort of girl," she said.  "I don't
want to be thought rich, and I am _not_ rich.  I am dependent on papa.
Besides, if I were--if I had been a son, I should not have been debarred
from a profession because I was the heir to `White Turrets' and
Busheyreeds, and all the property.  Why should a woman be treated
differently in such a case?  Why should _her_ wings be clipped and she
be restricted to a narrow, monotonous life any more than a man?"

Celia scented danger.  She saw that Winifred was lashing herself up to
one of her "revolts," as she called them herself sometimes, and she knew
that any, even the slightest suspicion of less full sympathy than she
had hitherto been able to give would be sharply resented.  Yet she was
too honest to evade the possible discordance, painful though the
smallest disagreement with her sister would be to her.  For a moment or
two she sat silent.  Then she said boldly:

"I am not sure of that ground, Winifred.  I have been seeing things a
little differently lately.  If you had been a son--placed as you are--I
doubt if it would have been thought right for you to have a profession--
outside work, so to say--when there is so much to do at home."

"What nonsense!" said Winifred.  "Do you mean to say that because a man
had property to look after he would be debarred from cultivating his
special gifts?  Why, some, perhaps not many, but some of our greatest
men--artists as well as statesmen and writers--have been rich men, men
of property.  No, it is only _women_ who are always hedged-in with one
excuse or another."

"But you haven't any special gifts," said Celia, "at least you always
say so.  Your wish is to be of use, and--to be independent;" and in her
heart she felt the latter should have been placed first.  "You can't be
a statesman, and I don't think even you would regret that for a woman.
But you can be of any amount of _use_ at home.  And you could study all
sorts of things about the management of property that would help you to
be still more so."

She felt half-frightened at her own daring, and her fears were not
without foundation.  Winifred stared at her, not quite sure if she were
going to let herself get angry or not.

"What has come over you, Celia?" she said at last.  "You are worse than
Louise.  Who has been talking to you and putting all these ideas into
your head?  Do you apply them to yourself too?  What about your longing
to paint--to have really good instruction?"

"I still long for it," said Celia, "and I _think_ I still believe it
would be right for me to have it.  I think I should test myself so as to
find out if, I have a gift, a decided gift.  For if so, I should
cultivate it.  In my case no definite responsibilities are before me in
life, as is the case with you, yet--"

"Rubbish!" said Winifred, crossly.  "There are just as many before you
and Louise as before me.  I shall never marry, and you and she will be
just as much concerned in the management of things some day as I."

"Perhaps," said Celia, "but not just yet, in any case.  And yet--as I
was going to say--I don't quite see at present what is right for me to
do.  If there are many difficulties in the way, if it would cause
unhappiness at home, perhaps it would be my duty to wait--to wait even
for the testing myself," and she sighed.  "I don't want to leave home
for the sake of leaving home, but I do want to know if I am deceiving
myself in thinking I _have_ a gift.  And father and mother are so kind
and reasonable.  I don't think I need give up the idea."

"You are very selfish, dreadfully selfish, though perhaps you don't know
it," said Winifred.  "You would make out that what _you_ want is right
just because you want it.  But I, many years older than you, who have
thought over these questions for the last ten years--"

"You are not many years older than I, and ten years ago you were _ever_
so much younger than I am now.  You were a child," interrupted Celia.

"--Who have thought about these questions ever since I could think at
all," Winifred resumed calmly--for, to do her justice, she was by no
means bad-tempered, and seldom lost her self-control--"am to give up my
deepest and most cherished hopes, because--no, I really can't say why!
Because I want to leave the beaten track, I suppose."

"You won't see things any other way," said Celia, "so it's no use
talking about it.  Perhaps it may be best for you to try the experiment,
though in a different way from me.  Anyway, don't let us quarrel about
it, whatever we do, dearest Winifred.  Of course your coming to live in
London would make it all infinitely nicer for me, if," and a troubled
expression crossed her face, "if it is really right for us both to leave
home."

"There is Louise at home.  She asks nothing better than to jog-trot
along for ever in the same monotonous way.  She is an anachronism.  She
would have been perfectly happy a hundred years ago, or even longer ago
than that, when it never occurred to any one that a woman _could_ want
anything more exciting than her spinning-wheel and her tapestry-frame."

"Or her napery press and pot-pourri jars," added Celia, with a smile.
"Well, after all, there is to me a wonderful charm about those days;
there must have been a great deal of tenderness and delicacy about a
lady's life, which get rubbed off nowadays.  And there is a good deal of
sense in what Louise says.  Monotony is not the worst evil.  Why, lots
of married women have monotonous lives."

"If they have, it has been of their own choice," said Winifred.  "What I
complain of is the being condemned to narrowness and dullness if you
don't marry.  Short of marriage, a girl is allowed no other possibility
of outlet."

"But," protested Celia, "though that may be the case for some, or many
even, when there _are_ duties that you are born into, surely it is
different?  And even beyond that--is it not possible that what you call
dull, narrow lives, filled with stupid little odds and ends of
usefulness, that don't seem usefulness at all, may be the very
discipline needed by some--may be _meant_ for them?"

"Oh," said Winifred impatiently, "if you are going off to the very
highest grounds of all, I suppose the being an old maid in an attic may
be the best discipline for old maids in attics, but it is the _system_
of narrowing down women's lives that is wrong.  And if in their girlhood
some of the old maids had rebelled, and insisted on taking their stand
as men do, things would have been better by now.  There must be
individual resistance.  Think what Hertha Norreys's life would have been
if she had simply accepted things!"

"Ah, but it was different for her.  She had a great talent, and she
needed to work," said Celia.  "In a case like hers there could be no
doubt.  I really don't pity girls who _need_ to work so much as others
in some ways.  Not the rich--they can always, if they wish, find ways of
being useful: the very conditions of their lives bring opportunities.
But girls whose lives are very uninteresting, and yet not poor exactly,
I pity _them_--girls who even can scarcely afford to get books to read."

"They should throw nonsensical dignity to the winds, and work," said
Winifred.

"Yes, I think so too," said Celia.

She had been thinking a great deal lately--more really and thoroughly
and dispassionately than ever before in her life.  She was coming to
realise that, even to questions of apparently purely personal interest,
there may be--there is--more than one side.  And the starting-point of
all these meditations had been the half-unconscious remarks of Eric
Balderson the day he sat beside her at dinner and endeavoured to make
amends for Mr Fancourt's neglect.

The mention of Miss Norreys made Winifred determine to remain inactive
no longer.

"I must write to her," she decided.  "I must beg her to let me see her
once before I leave.  We shall certainly not stay more than a week
longer,"--their original three weeks had already expired--"and I must
have some plan for the future before I go home, otherwise I shall really
feel that the golden opportunity of this visit has been wasted.  I must
arrange something about where to stay when I come up again, to go into
things more definitely.  There is no chance now of Lady Campion's asking
me, unluckily."

For Sir Hugh Campion had had a return of bronchitis, and was ordered
abroad for the winter, his wife, of course, accompanying him.  This had
happened so suddenly that Lady Campion and Hertha had not met since the
afternoon of Winifred's introduction to the latter.  No opportunity,
therefore, had arisen of rectifying the mistaken impression Lady Campion
had unintentionally conveyed to her friend of Miss Maryon's position and
circumstances.

And all these days the remembrance of the eager, bright-eyed girl, who
had so abruptly appealed to her for advice and assistance, had clung to
Hertha with almost annoying pertinacity.  Winifred--though she did not
think of her by that name, never having heard it--would be expecting to
hear from her, she felt sure.  Yet what could she say?  She herself had
heard nothing more from Mr Montague; there was no use in making
appointments, or inviting the girl to come to see her, when she had
absolutely nothing to tell her.  And an appointment, or a "told-off"
afternoon, in Hertha's busy life, meant a great deal more than some
people would find it easy to believe.

But, as often happens, the very first post after Winifred had despatched
her own note to Miss Norreys, brought a letter to herself from Hertha--a
letter that filled her with excitement and sanguine anticipations.  It
ran:

  "Dear Miss Maryon--I have not forgotten your wish and my promise that
  we should meet again.  But I have waited a few days in hopes of having
  something to tell you of which might make it more worth your while to
  come to see me.  And to my great pleasure these hopes are to some
  extent fulfilled.  By a lucky chance, just after you had spoken to me,
  I came across the very person the most able to help in such a case.
  Through his kindness, I have a proposal to make to you.  I will tell
  you all particulars if you will call here to-morrow, Friday, at
  half-past four in the afternoon, when I shall be disengaged for a
  short time.  The whole thing seems really a piece of good luck, for,
  as I told you, I have neither experience of, nor influence in, any
  line of life but my own.--Yours very truly,--

  "Hertha Benedict Norreys."

Winifred's eyes gleamed.  But she kept her delight to herself, merely
dashing off a word of rapturous gratitude to her new friend, and eager
acceptance of her invitation.  She said nothing to either her sister or
Mrs Balderson beyond announcing the fact that "to-morrow afternoon" she
had an engagement which would prevent her going out with them.

Mrs Balderson was annoyed.  She felt, with justice, that, having given
herself so much trouble for her young guests, and to a great extent
disorganised her usual arrangements in their behalf, she should at least
have been consulted as to any independent engagements they wished to
make.

"I do not understand Winifred," she said to her son.  "Her manners, at
least her ways, are certainly rather like those of an advanced or
`emancipated' young woman of the day.  Yet surely it is impossible that
she can have got hold of any of those ideas in that quiet, sheltered,
almost old-fashioned country life of theirs.  And her mother is such a
perfect model of good breeding."

Eric shrugged his shoulders.

"_Quien sabe_," he said.  "Ideas are in the air, I suppose.  You never
can tell where they will crop up.  Why, even Celia has her theories--
only she is very different from her sister, both in character and
temperament.  But I wouldn't worry about Winifred, my dear mother.  You
have been more than good to them both, and they know it--at any rate,
Celia does--and they will be leaving very soon."

"Yes, I shall be sorry for Celia to go.  She is very sweet.  But I could
not take the responsibility of Winifred for long.  As I said, I do not
understand her.  Don't be afraid, however, of my making any fuss.  I
would not on any account spoil the last few days of their visit by
beginning to find fault."

So Winifred set off, uninterfered with, to call on Miss Norreys, while
Celia accompanied Mrs Balderson to the large annual meeting of a
charitable society, in which the kind-hearted and liberal woman was much
interested.

Celia was interested too.  She had the happy power of throwing herself
very thoroughly into the surroundings of the moment, and her mind in the
last two or three weeks had begun to open in several new directions.

But all through the speeches and reports which followed each other in
rapid succession, and which she would have liked to listen to with an
un-preoccupied mind, there kept rising the half-uneasy thought: "I
wonder where Winifred has gone, and why she did not tell me all about
it.  Can it be on account of what I said the other day?  I hope she
won't do anything rash."

For some things, Celia felt she would not be sorry to be home
again--"with mother and Louise"--yet the sense of disappointment that
she had made no way towards the realisation of her own ardent wish was
keen to her.  And Winifred did not seem to sympathise in this as she
used to do.

"She called me selfish," thought Celia, "because I said that perhaps--
perhaps it might be different for her and me.  I wonder why we don't
seem quite as much at one as when we were at home."

CHAPTER SIX.

AN OPENING.

Miss Norreys had a tiny home of her own, at some considerable distance
from the Balderson mansion, which was about as far west as it could be
to be yet in a thoroughly good position.  The house in question was tiny
in some ways, but it scarcely gave one that impression, for it contained
one very large room, originally, in all probability, intended for a
studio, which Hertha had converted into a music-room, a small so-called
drawing-room or boudoir leading into it, being her own private sanctum.

She lived alone now, save for an old servant, who had never left her--
who had solved the problem of out-staying the proverbial twenty-one
years without degenerating from the "faithful friend" of the middle
seven into the "unendurable tyrant" of the last term.  But Miss Norreys
had not been long alone.  Only three short years ago, the mother, the
adored mother, whose later life had been rendered peaceful and happy by
the daughter's brave energy, the young brother, whose education and
start in the world was all his sister's doing, had both been with her.
Now the former was at rest in the unknown country, which yet, as life
goes on, and we think of the sweet souls who have preceded us there,
loses the dread sense of strangeness--seems almost to grow more familiar
than this side of the river.  And the other, Hertha's dearly-loved
Jasper, was away in India, the right place for him as a poor man, and
where he was already rewarding her for her devotion by his
unexceptionable and promising life.

"If only it were not so far away," she would say to herself sometimes,
as many another woman in England says to herself every day.  And then
she would let her thoughts revert to the time when they were all three
together, to the struggles which, viewed in the tender light of the
past, seemed to have been nothing but happiness, to the delight, doubled
by being shared, with which she had realised the fact of her first
success.

"How proud we were when we took this house!" she said to herself.  "How
hot Jasper made himself with hanging up all the curtains and things in
the studio!  How could I ever have murmured at _anything_ then!"

It was not often she allowed herself to indulge in these reminiscences.
She was full of real sentiment, but she had a wholesome dread of
anything approaching sentimentalism, of which, living alone as she did,
she knew she must beware.  Only sometimes, in the enforced pauses of her
busy life, she would allow herself the "treat," as she called it, of
going back to the past for a while, though there were other pages of her
girl-life which, for the sake of her own peace of mind, she kept
resolutely under lock and key.

She was sitting idle for once--her thoughts busied with the bright and
peaceful memories of the two so dear to her--on the day that she was
expecting Miss Maryon to call.  It was not often that she could afford
to spare an afternoon, and her doing so now was out of the purest and
most disinterested kindness to the girl who had appealed to her so
unexpectedly.  And when Hertha made up her mind to a thing she did it
thoroughly.

"To judge by her talk at Helena Campion's, that day," she said to
herself, "she will not be content with half an hour or so.  I had better
arrange to be free for the rest of the afternoon.  Besides, of course,
there really will be a good deal to discuss, for I am sure she is quite
extraordinarily inexperienced, despite her funny little assumptions of
wisdom."

Almost on the stroke of the appointed hour, the bell rang.

"Come," thought Miss Norreys, as she heard Winifred's clear, decided
tones, inquiring for herself, "she is punctual, and so much the better.
So many of these would-be independent and self-reliant young women
prejudice others almost from the first by their airy disregard of every
one else's convenience."

No--to a certain extent Winifred was really practical and reliable.  She
was grateful, too, to Hertha, and so anxious to stand well with her that
the last twenty minutes had been spent in walking up and down the street
till within a minute or so of the appointed hour.

She came in, looking eager and yet a little shy.  Her bright,
short-sighted eyes glanced with evident interest round the pretty little
room, opening at one end, "a deux battants," into the large studio,
which was but dimly lighted, then returned to rest with unmistakable
admiration upon her young hostess.

"Oh, how delightful, how charming it all is!" she exclaimed,
impulsively.  "Oh, Miss Norreys, thank you so much, so very much, for
letting me come to see you."

"I am pleased to see you.  I shall be very glad if I can be of any use
to you," Hertha replied.  It was not in her essentially generous nature
to repress the girl, whose enthusiasm was plainly sincere.  "Will you
take your cloak off?  My rooms are not cold.  We shall have tea
directly.  In the meantime, before we begin to talk, would you like to
see my little domain?  I am very proud of my music-room."

She led the way into the larger room, turning up the light as she
entered it.  It was very tastefully arranged--some few good pictures,
one or two pretty cabinets, and a respectable number of well-bound books
filling glass-doored cases at one end, all relics of more prosperous
times, giving a certain dignity to the whole.  There were two pianos,
and a harp stood in one corner.

Winifred stood entranced.

"It is quite charming," she said; "just the sort of nest one would long
to have."

Hertha was amused at the expression.  She considered her big room much
more than a "nest."

"My young friend does not seem to realise how rare such quarters are in
London," she thought.  "I suppose she is used to a bare, but perhaps not
very small, country vicarage."

"Yes, I am very lucky indeed," she replied.  "A room like this is a
great `find' in London."

"Is it really?" said Winifred, peering up at the ceiling.  "Oh dear, it
is _just_ what I should like."

Miss Norreys repressed the desire to tell her that, as things were with
her, she might as well wish for Aladdin's palace at once.

"She will learn by experience," she said to herself.

"And the whole thing--your life, yourself," Winifred went on--"it is
like the realisation of a dream to me.  Your splendid independence and
freedom.  Just think of the contrast between you and an ordinary girl
living at home in slavery, or at least in a sort of prolonged childhood,
with no personal standing, no liberty to follow her own intuitions."

A shadow crossed Hertha's beautiful forehead.

"I have not always lived alone like this," she said.  "Not, indeed, for
very long.  This house is endeared to me by having spent several years
in it with my two,"--her voice faltered a little--"my mother and my
brother.  I have never wished for what you call `independence.'  I was
too happy while I had one or two who cared to direct me.  I loved being
treated like a child."

"You must have been _most_ fortunately placed," said Winifred.

"I was," replied Hertha.  "My parents were just _perfect_.  It was
circumstances and,"--she hesitated, for she was touching on uncertain
ground--"a good deal, perhaps, the fact of my having a voice, a talent,
which led me to leave the beaten path.  No desire to throw off the dear
home ties.  I have often wondered what I should have done with my voice
had I not _needed_ to utilise it; how far it would have been right to
give up time to cultivating it; how far, so to say, the possession of a
voice means `a vocation.'  That sounds like a poor attempt at a pun,"
she ended off with a smile.

But Winifred did not notice her little piece of fun.

"You would have done just what you have done," she burst out.  "You
would never have been content in the beaten track--in the narrow,
hedged-in life, which is what most women lead."

"I'm afraid I should have been very content," said Hertha.  "I am not at
all sure that I am not by nature very lazy.  The energy of many--I think
I might say of most women now-a-days--appals me.  I don't agree with you
that the `narrow, hedged-in lives' are the lot of the `most,' not in
London, anyhow."

"Well, no, perhaps not in London," Winifred agreed.  "That is why I want
to come here."

"And, oh dear!" said Miss Norreys with again a little smile that seemed
more of the nature of a sigh, "you don't know how I long sometimes for
that sort of life.  Fancy, with parents and sisters and an old-fashioned
home in the country--the sort of place that has not changed much for
hundreds of years, where you can distil your own lavender-water and make
great jars full of pot-pourri, where there is a lady's walk and a ghost,
and where you know every saint's face in the windows at church--oh, what
a lovely life it might be!  If my lot had fallen in such lines, I hope I
should have had the energy to cultivate my voice and to use it to give
pleasure to others, to poor folk above all; but oh, how joyfully I
should have hurried home from my enforced visits to London!  I used to
dream of such a life," she added.  "Now it is different.  I am alone.
No place could be much `home' to me."

A curious expression flickered over Winifred's face.

"How--how strange!" she said, vaguely.  "I did not think you were like
that, Miss Norreys.  I suppose it is poetry," she went on.  "I suppose
you are poetical in a way I don't understand.  Have you ever seen the
sort of place you describe?  If you had such a home, it would pretty
certainly not have the charm you imagine."

"Oh yes, it would," said Hertha.  "It _would_ have had, I mean.  I am
not high-flown.  There must be such a beautiful content in feeling there
you are, in a centre where God has put you--where you can be of use to
many, `hedged-in' to clear and distinct duties and responsibilities.  I
suppose I needed the other side or it would not have come to me.  I
might have been lazy."

She took a certain satisfaction in repeating this, for, though she
really meant all she said, there was something about Winifred's half
dogmatic, half matter-of-fact insistance on her own views and opinions
that provoked Hertha to a kind of contradiction--almost to wish to shock
her!

Just then the entrance of tea caused a momentary diversion.  There was
nothing of the Bohemian about Hertha.  The little table was set out with
scrupulous though simple care.  There was a touch of genuine
"old-fashionedness," very distinct from the modern affectations and
imitations of picturesque quaintness, about her, which added to her
charm by its unexpectedness.  But Winifred Maryon, for reasons which
will explain themselves, was not specially struck by it.  She accepted
all she saw, in her inexperience, as a matter of course.

"Have I ever seen such a house as I have been talking about?"  Miss
Norreys went on, as she poured out the tea into two _really_ old
willow-pattern cups, adding sugar and cream from a small silver bowl and
jug, worn thin with many years of daily use.  "No, not _exactly_.  There
was a place which we once had reason to think would have been ours,
which could have been made perfectly beautiful--but it never came into
our hands, and now it is pulled down and the land built over.  As things
are, I do not regret it.  Will you have another cup of tea, Miss Maryon?
Yes; that's right.  And now we must get to business, and talk about
you, not me."

But Winifred's enthusiasm for her new friend was so great that even the
absorbing interest of her own affairs paled before it.

"I love so to hear about yourself and what you think and feel," she
said.  "I cannot believe we really differ about anything.  You have
beautified your life so, unconsciously, that you can scarcely realise
the dullness and monotony of some women's lives."

"Oh yes, indeed I do," replied Miss Norreys.

"If I did not, do you think you would now be sitting here with me?  I
could never pretend sympathy I did not feel.  Lady Campion told me a
little, very little, about you, but, of course, I understand you far
better from yourself.  I sympathise with all my heart in your wish to do
something--to strike out a career for yourself."

"Oh yes," said Winifred, breathlessly.

"No one could sympathise in it more heartily than I," Hertha went on.
"For years, you know, I worked hard for my mother and brother, and--
though I don't need you to tell me about it--I am sure that some similar
motive inspires you, as well as the wish to feel yourself _some one,
something_, which an energetic woman, placed as you are, must feel."

The colour rose a little in Winifred's face.  Hertha, with instinctive
delicacy, glanced away.  She knew that direct owning to poverty was
painful to some people.

"Ye-es," said Miss Maryon, at last.  "It is--there are--more than one
motive.  I want to help my sister, too, the one you saw.  I am
positively certain she has great talent for painting if she had a chance
of cultivating it.

"Indeed?" said Hertha, "that simplifies _her_ line of action.  What she
has to do is to test herself.  Then you want to help her to get good
teaching, and, I suppose, to make a home for her in London?  Yes, she is
too young and too beautiful to attempt anything of the kind without some
one to take care of her.  And--can you both be spared at home?"

"We have another sister at home, and, though my father is in delicate
health, my mother is well and active.  We have thought about it for a
long time--Celia and I."

"Poor souls!  Two fewer to provide for, no doubt, is a consideration,"
thought Hertha.

"Does Mrs Balderson know about it?  Is she likely to help you in any
way?" she asked aloud.  "I do not know her personally, but I have heard
she is truly kind."

"She has been very kind in having us here.  But she would not sympathise
in our plans.  She is--old-fashioned, I suppose.  She thinks girls
should stay quietly at home."

"Ah, indeed," said Hertha, her mind rapidly picturing to itself what, in
such a case, the "staying quietly at home" must mean: the poor,
unbeautiful surroundings, the colourless lives, the pain and almost
degradation of the terrible "genteel poverty."

"But she _is_ very kind," repeated Winifred, her conscience smiting her;
"she asked us out of kindness.  She would like us to marry," with a
little smile.  "But, of course, I never shall.  She likes Celia the
best, I think."

Again Hertha's imagination jumped to hasty conclusions.  "I see it all,"
she thought.  "She wants to show the pretty one to advantage, to give
her a chance, as people say."

"And is there any prospect of Celia's marrying?" she asked.

Winifred shook her head.

"Oh no!" she replied, with a touch of something like indignation, which
Miss Norreys could not understand.  "Celia would never change so--she
would not desert me."

"But, my dear Miss Maryon, it might be a very good thing, if and always
supposing, of course, that it was some one she cared for," said Hertha.

"Placed as--"

"There is no use discussing remote contingencies," interrupted Winifred,
and Miss Norreys, imagining that her pride in her sister made it bitter
to realise that the possibility was remote, beautiful though Celia was,
said no more.

"Well, then, to be practical," she replied, "what you have told me makes
me feel that the proposal I have to lay before you may suit you even
better than I had expected.  For you cannot have Celia with you, or--or
afford good teaching for her until you have made a beginning yourself,
and got a home ready."

"I must certainly have somewhere to bring her to," said Winifred,
evasively, "and somewhere for myself too," with a smile.  "I should like
to get things a little in order, as it were, so far settled, for, you
see, I am old enough to decide for myself, before I tell my people at
home about it.  It would make my mother so much less anxious if I could
tell her it _was_ settled."

"But," exclaimed Hertha, rather taken aback, "your people do know what
you are intending?  You are not acting against their wishes?"

"Oh no--that is to say, they do know, thoroughly," said Winifred, with
evident candour.  "As for their _wishes_--why, no, mother does not
_wish_ us to leave home.  Mothers never do--do they?  She would like us
all to stay near her always, I suppose.  But she _understands_, and--she
is very kind."

"Kind" struck Hertha as a somewhat curious word to use of a mother in
such a case.

"She should be very proud of you both," she said quickly, while her
mind's eye pictured the overworked parson's wife reluctant to let her
girls go forth to make their way, even though the relief and
satisfaction of seeing them in the path of success could not but be
great.  "If you get on well, it cannot but be a comfort to her, I should
think."

"She knows Celia has great talent, and she does think it should be
cultivated," replied Winifred, and again something in her tone slightly
perplexed Miss Norreys.  "I don't think she feels the same about me,
for, you see, I have no very special line.  But there are quantities of
_men_ who have no very special line, and yet do well, and are of use in
their generation.  So why not women?"

And she looked up inquiringly at Hertha.

"Why not?  There is no reason against it when the motives are sound and
good, as in your case I think it must be," Miss Norreys replied, half
hoping that this would lead to further confidence.  But Winifred did not
speak, so she went on: "The chance I have to tell you of really _is_ a
chance, though it may not sound very splendid.  Through an old friend of
mine, Mr Montague, you can have the offer of a post in the Reasonable
Help Society, provided, of course, you can pass a certain examination.
It is a very well-managed society: they try to kill two birds with one
stone by engaging to do the work--charitable work, of course--girls like
yourself, who--who feel they should do something for themselves, to be
independent, and in many cases, with the hope of eventually helping
their friends.

"It is right they should be paid," said Miss Maryon, quickly.  "I have
thought a good deal about that.  I don't believe in unpaid work."

"I should be very sorry to make such a sweeping assertion," said Hertha,
with a smile.  "However, in this case, the question is not raised.  You
_will_ be paid--fifty pounds a year to begin, and the prospect of an
increase, if all goes well.  But remember," as she caught sight of a
bright gleam of satisfaction lighting up Winifred's face, "fifty pounds
are not a fortune.  You are very inexperienced.  I daresay it seems a
great deal to you, but it won't go very far."

"I am not so inexperienced as you think, dear Miss Norreys," said
Winifred, quietly.  "I shall be able to manage, and to have Celia with
me before long.  It is not the money, but the feeling that it is a
_beginning_, something really to do, and that I shall take the greatest
interest in.  There is nothing I have more at heart than the problem of
how to help without pauperising our lower classes I may be of more use
to the Reasonable Help Society than would be thought likely," she
concluded, with a funny little touch of self-assertion.

"I hope so, I am sure--and with all my heart I hope the Reasonable Help
Society will be of use to you.  Then you decide on accepting it?--that
is to say, on offering yourself as a candidate for the post?"

"Oh dear, yes.  Most certainly I do," said Winifred.  "And I thank you a
thousand times."

"It was much more Mr Montague's doing than mine," said Hertha.  "And,
indeed, the whole thing was a chance--a lucky one, I trust."

"And can you tell me when I must call at the office, or must I write, or
what?" asked Winifred.

"Yes," Miss Norreys replied.  "Mr Montague sent full particulars.  You
must call any morning, but the sooner the better, at this address;" and
she held out a paper.

"I will go to-morrow," said Winifred.

"And if you say that you have no home in London, the secretary will give
you a list of lodgings where some of their employees live.  Nothing very
grand, of course, plain, but not uncomfortable, with thoroughly
respectable people."

"Oh that will be all right," said Winifred.  "I will find something to
begin with, I daresay, and if I don't like it, I can easily move."

Her tone made Hertha rather uneasy again.

"But all moves are expensive," she said.  "Try to settle down if
possible."

"Ah, well, yes, if I can get rooms for Celia too."

"_Rooms_!" thought Hertha.  "What does she expect?  But she must buy
experience, I suppose."  So after detailing to her some more of the
information received from Mr Montague, she let her go, without
volunteering further advice.

And Winifred, feeling that she had taken the first plunge into
independence and "a career," bade her new friend good-bye for the
present, with many times repeated expressions of gratitude.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

AT WHITE TURRETS.

A clear, mild, late-autumn morning in the country--clear, though the
sunshine, what there is of it, is thin and pallid; mild, yet with a
certain slow chill in the air which is not inspiriting; over and through
and behind all, the indescribable autumn feeling, the subdued
consciousness of warmth and brightness passed, as distinct as is age
from youth, from the equally indescribable hopefulness of even the least
genial spring-time.

Yet there is no need to remind any one of the charm of such a day at
such a season.  Perhaps there is none, amidst the many fascinations of
our ever-the-same yet ever-varying journey through space, more powerful,
more irresistible, than the fascination of the fall of the year.  As a
rule, it is the young who love autumn best: they can afford to enjoy its
subdued vitality as a contrast to their own overflowing life.  The old,
or the growing old, on the contrary, forget sometimes their own failing
powers in the delightful exhilaration of reviving nature around them, in
the songs of the birds and the blossoming of the buds, in the new life
which, to many, one would hope, tells of deeper truths than lie on the
surface.

A girl was standing by a window--an open window, so mild was the
morning--overlooking a gravelled terrace walk.  She was fairly tall,
brown haired, and gentle eyed.  Not as lovely as her sister Celia;
scarcely, perhaps, as handsome, strictly speaking, as Winifred, the
eldest of the three, yet with an undeniable charm of her own--a very
gracious presence.  For this was Louise, the second of the Maryon
daughters.

And all about her seemed harmonious.  The simple yet stately room, with
the ancient white wainscoting, so rare in an English country-house, the
perfect, though old-fashioned, appointments of the breakfast-table
behind her: above all, perhaps, the scene from the window--the broad
terrace, with the miniature ramparts, and the stiff, quaint, flower-beds
beneath; and the park beyond, fading into dark masses of trees in the
distance.

But Louise Maryon was not looking out; her eyes were fixed on a letter
in her hand.  And as the door opened quietly she looked up with
eagerness.

"They are coming, mamma!" she exclaimed joyfully.  "They are really
coming to-night.  Winifred's mysterious business is settled at last,
Celia says.  Isn't it delightful that we shall have them really back
to-day?  But,"--as a glance showed her that her mother, too, held a
letter in her hand, and that her face scarcely reflected the pleasure
Louise herself was feeling--"have you heard, too?  Is your letter from
Winifred?"

"Yes, dear," Mrs Maryon replied, with a little sigh.  "It is from
Winifred.  Your father was awake early, so the bag was brought
up-stairs--you found yours on the table?  I sent it down.  Yes, mine is
from Winifred.  Of course I am delighted they are really coming, but,
Louise, I am afraid the experiment of this visit to London has done no
good.  Your sister is evidently as determined as ever."

Louise's face fell a little, more, perhaps, out of sympathy with her
mother's disappointment than from any keen sense of it herself.  She had
not expected otherwise.

"_Celia_ seems to me to be in a most reasonable frame of mind," she
said.  "Nothing could be sweeter and nicer than all she says."

"Celia is different," said the mother.  "There is sense and reason in
her wish to cultivate the talent she believes she has, or at least to
find out how much she has.  She would never have been unreasonable if
Winifred had not put it into her head;" and Mrs Maryon sighed again.

She was more like her eldest daughter in appearance--the slight, tall
figures and fairer complexions of the younger girls were from their
father's side.  Yet, in character, Winifred more resembled Mr Maryon,
though the long chastening of delicate health--since a terrible accident
some years before--had so mellowed and refined an originally self-willed
and almost despotic nature, that papa's "gentleness" and well-nigh
womanly consideration for others were household words in the family.
The mother, full of intelligence and good sense, was nevertheless
constitutionally timid and even shy.  So, between Mr Maryon's fear of
his own natural imperiousness, and his wife's almost morbid want of
self-assertion, the clever, precocious child had developed into the
self-willed, self-opinionated, though always candid and high-principled
girl.

In the case of the other sisters, no bad results appeared to have
followed their rather exceptional up-bringing.  Louise was essentially
well balanced and unselfish; Celia too talented to be self-engrossed.
She lived in a world where self is quickly lost sight of, though her
great capacity for affection kept her from losing touch with the real
people and the real life around her.

Louise, as she took her place at the breakfast-table, tried to think of
what she could say to cheer her mother.

"I suppose Winifred must judge for herself, mamma," she said.  "You have
always said so, and, after all, even if she is away from home for a few
months, she may settle down all the better afterwards."

"I doubt it," said Mrs Maryon.  "Once she has tasted the sweets of
independence, and a more exciting life, I doubt if she will ever `settle
down,' as you say, unless she married, and of that--at least of _the_
marriage we hoped for--I suppose there is no chance now."

"I am very sorry for Lennox," said Louise, simply.  "But for his sake,
her being away for a while may be better.  I think he is accepting the
thing--but still her being away _would_ make it easier.  And then he
need not leave off coming about us as usual.  We should miss him, and it
would be hard upon him, for he is rather lonely."

"It has been hard upon him already.  Yes, if I could think Winifred
would have enough of it in a while, as you say, Louise!  But she seems
already to have got one foot into that half-Bohemian society she has
always been longing for.  I cannot think how she has managed it from so
solid a house as the Baldersons'!  Her letter is full of some singer--a
Miss Norreys--whom she has taken a perfect `furore' for, and who, she
says, has been most kind in helping her.  Really, as if the child were a
poor little governess!  And to think of all the responsibilities
awaiting her here--of all that must be hers some day!  No, I cannot see
how Winifred can blind herself to the duties so distinctly hers.  And
she will fall more and more out of it all.  She will know nothing about
the property or its management."

"But, mamma dear, we may hope that papa will live a great many years.
He is no worse than ten years ago.  And Winifred may fall in love and
marry some day.  It would do her all the good in the world," said
Louise.

"Some actor or singer, perhaps," said her mother.  "I should be thankful
she has no taste for the stage, and no special musical talent, for there
is no knowing what she might not have wished to do in such a case."

"The Baldersons are very musical.  I suppose that is how Winifred has
met Miss Norreys.  Celia speaks of her too.  She says she is really
quite charming, and that Winifred can get nothing but good from her.
But what it is that she is `helping' Winifred about, Celia does not
say."

"I wish we could see her--this Miss Norreys, I mean," said Mrs Maryon.
"She seems to be acquiring so much influence over Winifred."

"I have heard her name, I am sure," said Louise.  "Well, anyway, mother
dear, we shall know all about it in a few hours.  So try not to worry in
the meantime.  Shall I go up to papa now?  Will he be ready for me?"

For to a great extent Louise acted as her father's secretary, and the
post was no sinecure.

"Mr Peckerton is coming this afternoon," said Mrs Maryon, "and that
always tires your father.  Make him do as little as possible beforehand.
Perhaps you had better run up to him now, and talk the day over.  I
shall be busy too--the vicar is coming about the new schoolmistress."

"And there are all the Christmas presents for the children to go over,"
said Louise.  "I am thankful Celia is coming back."

The journey from London was not a very long one.  Late in the season as
it was, the sun had not yet set when Winifred and Celia found themselves
steaming into their own station, where a carriage and a pencilled note
from Louise awaited them.

"I have been longing to go to meet you, but find I cannot manage it, as
Mr Peckerton is here and papa needs me.  So delightful to know you are
coming home."

"Dear me!" said Winifred, when she and Celia were comfortably settled in
the carriage, and bowling away quickly on the smooth high-road to White
Turrets--"dear me, what a `Little Peddlington' life it will seem after
London!  Poor Louise, as full of her accounts and village matters and
old women's flannel petticoats as ever, I suppose!"

Celia did not reply.  Winifred's tone jarred upon her.  She was gazing
out of the window at the reddening sky, just where the sun was setting.
It was a lovely evening, and her whole feelings were touched and
quickened by the returning home.  A moment or two later they drove in at
their own lodge, and then a turn in the avenue--a grand old avenue,
bordered by trees which had lived through more than one or two human
generations--brought them, while still at some distance, within view of
the house itself.

It could scarcely have been seen to greater advantage than standing out
as it did against the autumn sky, with the sunset glow illuminating the
clouds, banked up, blue-grey and cold looking near the horizon; though
overhead the pearly, neutral-tinted expanse, already shadowing into
darker tones, still told of the mildness and calm of the fast-waning
day.

"Look, Winifred, look," cried the younger girl, "did you ever see the
house more picturesque?  It has that wonderful old-world look--the
`fairy-story look,' I used to call it when I was little.  It is as pure
white as if it had just sprung up by magic, and yet it seems as if it
might have been standing there for thousands of years--as if the White
Cat had just ridden off from the door on a hunting-party."

"Or as if the Sleeping Beauty were sleeping there still, waiting for the
perfect prince, who never comes except in your fairy tales, Celia," said
Winifred, with a touch of contempt in her tone.  But the fancy did not
displease her sister.  She only laughed softly.

"Well, _we_ don't waste much thought on him," she said.  "Dear old White
Turrets!  I do love it.  It doesn't need a prince, Winifred.  You know
it has always prospered best in the hands of a woman."

Winifred's face clouded.

"I wish you would forget that old nonsense," she said.  "There are women
and women--no one will understand that.  It may suit some women to drone
along and never leave their own village, but it wouldn't suit _me_, and
that is all that I am concerned about."

Celia sighed, but her sigh was not a very profound one.  She was feeling
too happy for that.

"If I could only get up and down to London for painting lessons every
day by magic," she said, "I should never want to leave home at all--
never."

"Nonsense, Celia," said Winifred.  "You would never do anything worth
doing if you tied yourself to the out-of-the-world sort of life we have
here.  You need to imbibe the spirit of the day.  You need friction, a
hundred inspiring and inspiriting influences, even if you _are_ a
genius."

"Winifred," said the younger girl reproachfully, "how can you speak so?
Heaven knows I have never thought myself a genius.  Still--I daresay
there is something in what you say.  Certainly I need to test myself
with others, if that is what you mean by friction.  But oh! here we
are--and there is dear old Louise, looking just as she did the day we
left, only a good deal happier."

"Poor dear Louise," repeated Winifred.  "Yes, she is the modern
incarnation of one of Miss Austen's heroines.  But it _is_ nice to see
her again."

And the greetings between the three sisters could not have been more
affectionate and loving than they were.

It was not till much later that evening that Louise got Celia to herself
for a good talk.  At dinner, with both the father and mother present,
the conversation had been bright and full of interest, Winifred
describing, with her ready flow of language, what she and her sister had
seen and done and been struck by in London, and Celia contributing her
quota.  Questions about the Baldersons, too, were asked and answered,
and a casual observer would have imagined the family "understanding" to
have been perfect.

But below it all, the five themselves were conscious of a certain
constraint: something was smouldering beneath the surface, and Mrs
Maryon's face, when in repose, showed lines of fresh anxiety and
troubled anticipation.

"I won't keep you up to-night, my dear mother," said Winifred, as
bed-time approached--Mr Maryon, feeling the effects of the afternoon's
business with Mr Peckerton, having already been wheeled away in his
invalid-chair.  "You look tired, and I want to write a letter in my own
room for the first post in the morning.  But to-morrow we must have a
regular good talk, and you shall hear everything there is to tell."

"Celia," said Louise, when the two younger sisters were by themselves in
Celia's room, "I mustn't keep you up long, for you look rather tired
too.  But do tell me--what has Winifred to say?  What has she been
doing, or what is she going to do?  Of course you could not tell much in
your letters--we settled that before you left--and when Lennox saw you,
you had only just arrived there.  But I am so anxious to know
everything, for several reasons."

"Was Lennox in very low spirits when he came back?" asked Celia in the
first place, instead of answering Louise.  "That's _one_ thing settled.
It's as certain as anything can be that he need never _dream_ of
Winifred.  I have come not to wish it.  She is too prejudiced to do him
justice."

"I think so too," said Louise.  "It is only for papa's and mamma's sake
I regret it now.  No, he was not low-spirited.  He has made up his mind
to it, I think.  And,"--she hesitated--"he even laughs a little at
Winifred sometimes."

Celia's colour rose.

"That is very presumptuous of him," she said, but she checked herself.
"Of course he can't understand her, so perhaps it is a good thing if he
takes that line.  She has quite decided, Louise.  It is all settled.
She is going to London in January, for good."

Louise drew a deep breath.

"I cannot believe it," she said.  "Leaving all she might do here, when
every day I see more and more how valuable her strong brain and clear
judgment would be.  For papa, though not worse, is not _better_, Celia.
He is so quickly exhausted.  I do my best, but I am _not_ the clever one
of the family.  I can't understand it.  Going out to seek for work when
it is at her very feet, crying to be done."

"It is not work Winifred wants; it is a career," said Celia,
laconically.

"But she has no special gift--no--no `vocation' to anything in
particular," said Louise.

"She thinks it is her vocation to show that women should be as free as
men," said Celia.  "She is full of organised benevolent work just now,
and she wants to prove that women can do it as well as--no, far better
than men.  But I have tacitly promised her to let her tell all
particulars herself, so I had better not say any more."

"Only one thing--this Miss--Miss something Norreys, that Winifred has
mentioned so enthusiastically in her letters--has she influenced her?"
asked Louise.

"She is the best friend Winifred could have," Celia replied.  "She is
both beautiful and talented and good.  Yes, and wise too.  But--I have
not seen her much.  I doubt if she really understands the position."

There was a little silence.  Then Louise spoke again.

"Celia," she said, with a touch of hesitation, "_you_ have changed a
little--or a great deal?  You don't look at things so entirely from
Winifred's point of view, do you?"

"No," said Celia, frankly, "I don't.  I have changed.  I hope, perhaps,
I have grown wiser, that I have learned to see things outside ourselves
more than I did.  Winifred would tell you it was all the other way," she
added, with a smile.  "_She_ thinks I have grown narrow and
conventional."

"But you haven't changed about yourself--about your wish to see what
talent you have--to test yourself, as you say?" asked Louise, eagerly.
"I should not like that."

"No, I feel just the same.  I feel that I _must_ try--that is to say,
unless some very clear overmastering question of duty interferes.  I
know I have some talent, and, even if it is nothing remarkable, I think
I should cultivate it, and if,"--here the girl's voice trembled a
little--"if it _were_ to be remarkable--well, all the more reason for
developing it."

"Yes.  You are right.  I know you are," said Louise.  "I am so glad.
But then it is about Winifred you have changed?"

"Not exactly--or rather, it is about Winifred, as a type of so many
girls nowadays.  I cannot go as far as she does, and yet you see the
position is very invidious.  It makes _me_ seem selfish and presumptuous
and--almost conceited," and Celia's face clouded over.  "A very little
thing began the change in me," she went on.  "An almost chance remark of
Eric Balderson's.  Then I tried to think it out, and I wondered at
myself for having agreed with Winifred as I did.  For her case is a
peculiarly strong one the _other_ way, I now see.  Her life is before
her.  It is not like that of some women who have reason to feel
hedged-in and stunted, even though I am beginning to think that very
often it is their own fault.  I am afraid a good deal comes from love of
excitement, though, _of course_, there is the other side of it too.  But
it would take hours to tell you all I have been thinking."

"And I have kept you up too long already, dear," said Louise.  "Only--
Celia, I must tell you one thing--the White Weeper has been seen again."

Celia started, and grew white herself.

"Oh, Louise," she said, "I wish you hadn't told me to-night.  You don't
mind, I know, but--"

"Celia, dearest, I'm so sorry," said Louise, penitently.  "I never knew
you minded it either.  I was, in a way, glad of it.  I fancied it might
have some effect on Winifred, even though she only mocks at it.  It _is_
curious, for it is a good while since it has been seen.  And even if it
is only some peculiar shadow, some atmospheric effect, as people try to
make out, still--its being seen just now might make Winifred think."

Celia shook her head.

"She would not allow it, even if it did," she said.  "It's no good
telling her about it.  She only gets very cross.  When,"--and again she
trembled a little--"when was it seen, and by whom, and where?"

"Twice," said Louise, "just as usual.  In the yew-tree avenue.  Barbara
saw it the first time, and then one of the gardeners--the new one, quite
a young man.  It is always new-comers who see it.  And none of the
people about know of it, except Barbara and Horton, and one or two of
the very old ones, who _never_ speak of it.  Luckily the young man told
Horton of it first, and Horton bound him over not to speak of it.  He
told him he would be laughed at, and so he would."

"How long ago?" asked Celia.

"Last week.  She, or it, was crying quietly, Barbara said.  Not
violently.  So Barbara took it as just a gentle warning--not any very
dreadful thing.  She is quite satisfied that it was for Winifred."

"I wish Winifred could see it for herself," said Celia, with a little
not unnatural irritation.  She was feeling both tired and frightened.
"Louise, you will leave the door wide open between our rooms.  I can't
understand your not being frightened."

"Well, anyway, dear, you know it _never_ comes into the house," said
Louise, reassuringly.

"It never has, that we know of," said Celia, "but still, if it were much
provoked or defied.  No, no, Louise, don't tell Winifred about it.  I
should be afraid what she might say or do, for she is never frightened
of anything."

Louise looked greatly distressed.

"Dear Celia," she said, "I wish you wouldn't take it that way.  _I_ feel
quite differently about it.  I look upon the White Weeper as a kind of
protector--a living spirit who wants to keep harm from us."

"Do you?" said Celia, rather grimly.  "Well, then, I'm afraid I'm like
the boy who, when he was told he need not mind the dark, as his guardian
angel was always beside him, replied that that was just what he was
`afeared on.'  I don't know if I've a bad conscience--compared with
_yours_, I daresay I have--but I know that I devoutly trust I shall
never be favoured with the sight of our family ghost.  Do you mean to
say, Louise, that you would have courage to speak to her?"

Louise hesitated.

"I don't know," she said, "I hope I would.  Yes, I think I would if it
were to be for good to any of those I love."

"I do believe you would.  _You_ are an angel;" and she drew Louise's
wavy brown head down to her, as the elder girl was turning to leave her,
and kissed her tenderly.

The door was left open--wide open--that night between their rooms, but
the sisters' slumbers were undisturbed.  Louise was too happy to know
that Celia was beside her again to think of anything else, even if she
had been given to ghostly fears, which she certainly was not.

And Celia was happy too, though tired--happy to be at home again, and to
feel that Louise and she understood each other so thoroughly.

The next morning brought about the "long talk" between Winifred and her
mother.  It was not so very long after all, for the same ground had been
gone over so often that there was not much new to say.  And when Mrs
Maryon became convinced that the visit to London had only intensified
her daughter's determination--had, indeed, practically resulted in
Winifred's taking upon herself engagements which it would have been
scarcely honourable to break--she had the wisdom to accept the position,
and not to add bitterness to the whole by further and useless
discussion.

But though the daughter went singing up-stairs to her own quarters,
congratulating herself that things had passed off more easily than she
had expected, the mother's face looked sadly pained and anxious when
Louise ventured to join her, after making sure that the interview with
her elder sister was over.

"May I come in, mamma?" she said.  "Tell me--Oh dear, you are looking
very troubled!"

"Yes, dear, I am feeling so," Mrs Maryon replied.  "Winifred has really
carried out her intentions.  She has--fancy, Louise--she has engaged
herself as some sort of sub-secretary or clerk to one of these new
philanthropic societies.  The Reasonable Help Society, I think she calls
it.  I daresay it is a very good thing--no doubt it is--and besides
helping the poor, I daresay it provides employment for many penniless
girls of a better class.  But Winifred! with her position and
responsibilities, and the home duties she _could_ do so well, if she
would--Louise, it is almost incredible."

"It is better than becoming a woman doctor or an hospital nurse,
surely," said Louise.

"I don't know.  She has no taste for either.  But if she had become an
hospital nurse it might have brought her to her senses, and at least she
would have acquired some useful knowledge."

"So she may, as things are," replied Louise, who, whatever her own
feelings, tried determinedly to look on the bright side of things for
her mother's sake.  "And really, vexing as it is, her pertinacity is
rather fine--worthy of a better cause.  How clever of her to have got
this thing! for I am sure it is difficult, unless the society is glad to
find a girl who gives her services for nothing."

"Oh dear, no.  It is not even that," said Mrs Maryon.  "She is to have
fifty pounds a year!  She does not approve of the _principle_ of unpaid
labour, she says.  She got the offer of this post through this new
friend of hers--Miss Norreys.  I think Mrs Balderson should have been
more careful whom she introduced to the girls.  Miss Norreys must be a
very advanced `women's rights' sort of a person."

"Celia says not.  She says she is perfectly charming and perfectly
womanly," said Louise.

"Then--she cannot have understood all about Winifred.  I wish I could
see her.  I shall certainly not allow Celia to join Winifred in London
next spring, without knowing more of this young woman, who seems to have
done all the mischief."

"Oh no, mamma.  It was done before Winifred ever saw her.  You know we
_hoped_--though not very much--that London might have changed Winifred's
ideas.  If it has to be, Miss Norreys may be a very good friend."

"I should like to see her," Mrs Maryon repeated.  And then she added,
with a sigh: "Winifred has accepted this post for January.  She will not
be much longer at home."

CHAPTER EIGHT.

AN INVITATION AND A JOURNEY.

Hertha Norreys stood staring at a letter--or letters rather--which she
held in her hand, with an air of perplexity and surprise.

"I can't make it out," she said to herself.  "It seems so odd and
inconsistent.  And--I have not done so very much for her after all.
They write as if I were her dearest friend, and in a sense responsible
for her!  I like her.  There is a great deal of good in her, but the
only real service I have done her since she came to London was getting
Mr Montague to beg her in again, that time she was given notice of
dismissal for defiance of the society's rules."

A smile came over Miss Norreys's face at the recollection of the
circumstances, and with the letters still in her hand, she sat down at
her neat breakfast-table.  And when she had poured out her coffee and
begun to eat, she glanced through them again.  They had both come
together, one from Winifred enclosing the other, which was from Mrs
Maryon, simply inscribed to Miss Norreys, but without any address.

This was Winifred's:

  "Dearest friend," and the words again drew forth a smile from the
  reader--

  "I have just received the enclosed from my mother.  It was left open
  for me to read the contents.  I hope you will not mind their asking
  you in this unceremonious way, though I confess I think they should
  have left the invitation to _me_.  I am afraid you would find it
  dreadfully dull down there.  I am not at all sure if I shall get down
  myself for Easter, as I scarcely see how I am to be spared here.  If I
  go, it will be principally for poor little Celia's sake; though _now_
  it would, of course, be for yours too, should you possibly care to go.
  It certainly is very pretty in our part of the country in the spring.
  You will let me know what you decide!--Ever yours devotedly,--

  "Winifred R.V.  Maryon."

The enclosure was a slightly stiff and yet cordial invitation--an
invitation which gave one the feeling that the writer had not the
slightest doubt of its being at once and eagerly accepted--to Miss
Norreys, to spend Easter week at White Turrets.

"You would give us pleasure by doing so," wrote Mrs Maryon, "and we
should be glad to have an opportunity of thanking you for your kindness
to my daughter, and of making the acquaintance of one to whom in her
present life she looks for advice and direction.  And there are several
things I should be glad to talk over with you.  We expect Winifred at
the time I name, and you and she could travel together.  I think there
are special return tickets issued about Easter, and I hope a little
country air would do you good."

Hertha read and re-read.  Was there, or was there not, a slight touch of
"patronisingness" in the letter?  The idea rather amused her.

"It is almost impossible," she said to herself.  "`Poor and proud'
explains it, I suppose.  Winifred was delighted to get the fifty pounds
salary.  I wish they had not asked me, for _any_ visitor causes expense
when people are so poor, and unaccustomed to that sort of thing.  No
doubt they think me very poor too--poorer than I am now, I am glad to
say; the railway fare information is evidently given with that idea."

Then she poured out a second cup of coffee, and proceeded with her
cogitations.

"I have several invitations for Easter, but with out being cynical or
suspicious I know that some, at least, of them are more for my voice
than me.  And my voice had much better stay at home or go to sleep.  And
it would be a rest of its kind to be with a simple country family like
that--no dressing to speak of--I need not take a maid.  It must be a
pretty quaint place, too, I fancy.  I wonder if `White Turrets' is the
name of a village, or what?  It doesn't seem likely that their house
would have so important a name, though there are old farmhouses in some
countries, scarcely more than cottages, with very grand names.  I
remember,"--she glanced at the letter again.  "It must be their house or
the village, for I see the railway station and post-town are both
different.  Dear me--the Maryons are rather extravagant as to
note-paper!  If one didn't know it was impossible, this might have come
from some big place!"

Then her thoughts reverted to her own plans.

"I should like to see that pretty younger sister again," she thought.
"And, after all, it will not increase any real or imaginary
responsibility about Winifred if I come to a clear understanding with
her mother.  Not that I would shirk responsibility if it were a duty,
but in this case it would be a mockery.  She is not a girl to be either
led or advised, and the reason that I am still her dearest friend is
that I have--except on that one occasion--left her to buy her own
experience.  She needs to do so."

The "one occasion" to which Hertha's thoughts referred had been that of
a crisis in Winifred's relations with the society for which she worked--
a crisis which, at the cost of considerable mortification, had left her
a wiser woman.  For it was only the finish up of a series of annoyances
which had begun almost from the first day of her engagement, the cause
of which may be summed up very shortly--Miss Maryon's absolute ignorance
of the meaning of the word obedience.

She was quite sure she knew the best way to manage the work better than
those who had been at it for years; she was brimful of eagerness to
distinguish herself, and of a _kind_ of enthusiasm; she was energetic
and hard-working, but she was entirely without deference.  And
underlying all her talk about the dignity of labour, the
contemptibleness of an ordinary woman's home-life, was a strong, though,
unexpressed belief that she was doing the society no small honour in
working for it, and that, by some instinct which she did not seek to
define, the society should be aware of the fact.

The result of all this can be easily imagined.  Though valuable as a
steady and zealous worker, she was entirely inexperienced, and want of
compliance with the rules was not to be endured.

"We can get scores of girls better fitted for the post at any moment,"
said the much-worried secretary in reply to Mr Montague's entreaties
that they would give his protegee another trial.  And in reality it was
far more owing to the skilful pleadings, made in all good faith, of
Hertha's friend, as to the importance of the salary to a girl so placed,
the disappointment her dismissal would cause to her friends as well as
to herself, than from any conviction of Miss Maryon's special abilities,
that the secretary at last gave in.

He knew Mr Montague well, and his post had given him exceptional
opportunities for the cultivation of discernment.

"Are you _sure_," he said towards the close of the interview, looking up
with a keen glance from under his bushy eyebrows, "are you _sure_ this
girl is really so dependent on her work?  There is no story about her
that we have not been told, is there?  It's no case of a self-willed
young woman running away from home--an uncongenial stepmother, or any
nonsense exaggerated into importance?  She is not a girl to give in,
even if in the wrong."

Mr Montague started.

"What makes you fancy such a thing?" he asked.

The secretary considered.

"I can scarcely say--an impression, perhaps.  Still there are trifling
circumstances--she is very careless about money, thinks nothing of
hansoms, for instance.  And you know one of her great offences has been
giving charity without permission, and, naturally, most injudiciously--"
He gave an impatient exclamation.  "Enough to bring our whole society
into disrepute," he said, "contravening its very _raison-d'etre_."

Mr Montague felt uncomfortable, and yet he had no real grounds for
misgiving.

"I can only repeat the reason of any interest I feel in her," he said,
"and that is that she is a friend of Miss Norreys--the last woman in the
world to aid or abet any silly girl in the sort of conduct you suggest."

The secretary's brow cleared.

"True," he said, "I had forgotten."

Mr Montague called that very day to relate his success to Miss Norreys,
but she was not at home.  Then he contented himself with a note, merely
stating that Winifred was to have another chance, feeling that any
further discussion about her would be more satisfactory in speaking than
in writing.  He tried to see Hertha again, but again failed, and then a
summons to an invalid sister at Cairo took him out of England for
several weeks, without his meeting Miss Norreys at all.

Mrs Maryon's invitation was accepted, simply, and with no effusive
expressions of gratitude, though with all the kindly acknowledgment that
it seemed to Hertha to call for.

"I have been undecided where to go at Easter," wrote Miss Norreys, "but,
among several invitations, none seems to promise me the quiet I really
feel I need so surely as your very thoughtful one.  It will be pleasant,
too, to travel down with your daughter, for I have not seen her for some
time, she, as well as I, being so busy.  Indeed, I feel that you greatly
overrate any little service I may have had it in my power to render her.
My _sympathy_, as I think she knows, she can always count upon."

Mrs Maryon read this with a feeling of some perplexity.  She could not
make up her mind what she _should_ feel about and towards this Miss
Hertha Norreys.  She handed the letter to Louise.

"I cannot quite decide if we shall like her or not," she said.  "What is
there in her way of writing that is not quite--I don't know what to call
it--not `deferential,' that is too strong, for I suppose she is really a
perfect gentlewoman; but almost as if she thought we were `out of
everything,' as if rest and quiet were all she could possibly expect
here?"

"Well, to a certain extent they are," said Louise with a smile.  "Very
likely Winifred has impressed upon her the extreme monotony and dullness
of our life.  But I suppose what you feel is the tone of the emancipated
young woman of the day, mother--though from Celia's description of her I
fancied Miss Norreys _above_ that.  However, we shall soon see her for
ourselves, and I do agree with you that it is a very good thing she is
coming.  You will be able to judge for yourself about her--especially on
Celia's account."

"Of course, I hope she will enjoy it," said Mrs Maryon.  "I don't like
the idea of bringing her down here merely as a satisfaction to myself.
Lennox has promised to spend Easter with us, hasn't he; and that friend
of his, Captain Hillyer?"

"Yes," said Louise, "I'm sure we can count upon them.  I wish Eric
Balderson could have come, but he is going abroad for three weeks with
his mother.  It would have been a little return for their great kindness
to Winifred and Celia."

"He knows he can come whenever he likes," replied her mother.  "Yes,
they were very kind; but sometimes, Louise, I wonder if that visit to
London was not a mistake.  It only seemed to clench matters."

"No," said Louise, "nothing would have kept back Winifred, mother.  Do
try to believe that."

Easter, though it fell early that year, was wonderfully bright and mild.
The morning which saw Miss Norreys and Winifred off to the country was,
as to weather, a real red-letter day, and Hertha's spirits, as she drove
to the station where she and her "devoted friend" were to meet, rose
higher and higher.

Not that she was anticipating any special enjoyments in her visit.  More
than once she had asked herself if she were not acting foolishly in
bestowing a whole week of her rare holidays upon perfect strangers--and
strangers whom she had no particularly strong reasons for expecting to
find sympathetic and congenial.

"I really don't know why I accepted," she thought.

But this morning she felt a sort of reward--if reward she deserved, as
she said to herself--in the beautiful promises of spring delights that
met her even in the dingy streets through which a hansom rapidly carried
her.

"What will it not be in the country?" was almost her first greeting to
Winifred, when that young lady appeared, more punctually than was her
habit, in honour of her expected guest.  "If this weather lasts it will
be perfectly--_heavenly_.  Primroses and gorse always picture to me the
streets of gold far more exquisitely than the thought of the hard, cold
metal."

And her eyes sparkled, and her beautiful expressive face flushed with
the quick instinctive response to nature which was one of her
characteristics.

Winifred looked at her in some surprise.  This phase of Miss Norreys's
character was new to her, but as it _was_ Miss Norreys and no one else,
the girl's instinct was to admire and not criticise.

"You make me afraid to say what I have been wishing all the morning,"
she said with a little smile.

"Indeed, and what is that?" inquired Hertha.

"Oh," said Winifred, "it just struck me, seeing this nice weather, how
delightful, how much more delightful, it would have been to have a
week's holiday in London with you.  How many places we could have gone
to see; what long charming mornings we could have spent, reading and
talking, at the British Museum, for instance!  Whereas--oh dear, I can
scarcely hope to have you much to myself down at White Turrets."

"But it is the _country_ that makes all the difference in the world,"
said Hertha.  "Even if I had not fixed to go, I don't think anything
would have kept me in London to-day.  Everything, every leaf, every
bird's twitter, every breath of air, seems to be calling us out of the
dust and glare of the weary streets."

"I suppose it's all a question of novelty," said Winifred.  "You see
spring in the country is such an old experience to me.  There's nothing
new in it."

"Nothing new!" repeated Hertha, with a touch of scorn.  "You don't
suppose _I_ have always lived in a town, do you?  But as for `nothing
new' in the spring--why it is _always_ new.  Ever-returning youth is its
very essence.  You cannot know anything of the true feeling of spring to
speak so."

"Perhaps not," said Winifred, and for her the tone was very humble.  "I
am not at all poetical: I have told you so."

This softened Hertha, to whose nature the position of antagonism was
never congenial.

"And I, perhaps, am foolishly enthusiastic in some ways," she said.  "I
feel so exuberant this morning."

"I am so glad," said Winifred fervently.

Then it proved to be time to take their tickets.

"You travel th--," Miss Norreys was beginning, when Winifred interrupted
her.

"I am _quite_ pleased to go second," she said eagerly.  "I--I thought
you would like it better, and I arranged for it."

"Poor girl!" thought Hertha.  "No doubt she has been saving in something
else, to make up for the extra expense, which, doubtless, is for my
sake.  She has some very nice instincts about her, but I wish she could
believe I don't mind going third.  Still it might hurt her to urge the
point."

They found a comfortable compartment, not unpleasantly crowded, which at
that season was rather exceptional good luck, and, thanks partly to the
presence of strangers, partly to Winifred's respect for her friend's
remark, that she found few things more tiring than much talking in the
railway, the journey was for the most part performed in silence.

As they approached its end, they found themselves at last alone, and
Hertha, who had been enjoying with quiet though intense appreciation the
varying view from her window of fields and trees in their first
exquisite tenderness of green, of primroses on the banks, and homesteads
in whose nestling orchards the fruit-trees were already in blossom,
turned to Winifred with a smile of glad pleasure.

"_Is_ the country remarkably pretty and picturesque about here?" she
asked, "or is it all the charm of the contrast to my London eyes?  It
seems to me I have never loved a spring day really before."

"I am so glad," said Winifred, her own face reflecting the ready
sympathy which, poetical or not, her devotion to Hertha never failed in.
"I am so very glad.  It makes me hope that, after all, you will not
find a week at home too dull and dreary.  You see, we can be perfectly
independent: you and I can stroll about the woods talking all day long
if we like."

"But you will want to see as much as you can of your mother and sisters,
considering you are only with them for a week," said Hertha.  "And I
shall like to get to know your pretty Celia a little better.  Don't
trouble about me, Miss Maryon, I beg you.  I shall be perfectly content.
I only hope I shall give no trouble, and that none of you will--will
make the very least difference with my being there."

Winifred looked slightly perplexed.

"Any difference!" she repeated, "I don't see what difference your being
with us _could_ make, except the pleasure of having you.  You see, in a
country-house there is always a good deal of coming and going--there are
not the `told-off' hours and days as in London.  But, by-the-by," she
added suddenly, "I did not see your maid at the station.  Have you not
brought her?"

"N-no," said Miss Norreys, "I said to Mrs Maryon, when I wrote, that I
could do without her, I thought."

"Oh, of course it will be all right," said Winifred, quickly, at once
thinking of the expense for her friend.  "Nothing will be easier than
for--But here we are," she broke off, as at that moment the train
slackened, and she turned to gather together the odds and ends lying
about the carriage.  "Just put them near the door.  Dawson will see to
them," she went on.  Then she added, with a little rising colour, "Don't
you think--_would_ you mind calling me `Winifred'? before my own people,
you know.  I would so like it."

"I will try," said Hertha, smiling.  "I may forget sometimes, but as you
wish it, I will try."

"Thank you," replied Winifred.  "Oh, there is Louise.  Poor dear old
Louise!  She loves coming to meet arrivals.  She is not very
`interesting,' you know--just a girl of the old type, but as good as
gold.  You need not be more with her than you like, if she bores you."

"I am not afraid of that," said Hertha; "very few people bore me.  But
you have scarcely ever mentioned her to me.  Which is she?" as she ran
her eye along the platform, where they were just drawing up, and seeing
no one quite answering to her mental picture of the probably dowdy,
certainly commonplace, ungifted "home" sister.

"Not that--"

How glad she was afterwards that she had never completed the sentence!
The person she was on the point of pointing out was a remarkably plain,
indeed, shabby, little young woman, barely answering to the word "lady,"
even in its most conventional sense.  No, no, that _could_ not be a
sister of Winifred's, still less of beautiful Celia's.

"Oh, what pretty ponies!" she went on, hastily, as she caught sight of a
charming low carriage, just visible through the station gates, "and what
a sweet-looking girl driving them.  How her hair glistens in the
sunshine!"

"Yes," said Winifred, calmly, "that's Louise.  Oh, Dawson--yes, take all
these little things and bring them up with the luggage.  Don't trouble
about anything, dear Miss Norreys--they will be all right," as an
unexceptionably correct young groom proceeded to load himself with their
smaller goods and chattels.

CHAPTER NINE.

THE WHITE WEEPER.

Hertha felt stupefied: but she had the presence of mind to say nothing
more, and to wait for the further development of this extraordinary
mystification.  Winifred, evidently in happy security that their luggage
was in good hands, led the way to the pony carriage, where a joyful--

"Dear Winifred--Miss Norreys--I am so glad to see you," followed by
excuses at not daring to leave her place, "as the ponies are sometimes
just a _little_ fidgety with the trains, you know," left no shadow of
doubt as to the identity of the girl with the bright brown hair.  "There
is comfortable room for three, as Winifred never minds sitting at the
back," Louise went on; and Winifred, after kissing her sister, endorsed
this statement by declaring she would rather sit anywhere than have to
drive.

"Do you not like driving?" said Miss Norreys, feeling that she must say
something, though a curious sensation of indignation against Winifred
for the sort of trick she seemed to have played her was fast taking form
and growing in her heart.

Winifred shook her head.  "I am too short-sighted, for one thing," she
said, "and then the only thing that I enjoy in driving is reading, and
of course you can't read if you've got the reins."

"Read!" repeated Miss Norreys, with a slight and not altogether
approving smile.  "Certainly not.  But reading," and she turned to
Louise.

"Your sister soars above me," she said.  "I can imagine no volume ever
printed that one could glance at for an instant with such an open book
of beauty before us as this;" and her eyes sparkled with that look of
exquisite and intense enjoyment which, with some, we feel is almost
"akin to tears."  "I don't think I _ever_ felt the marvel and the magic
of spring more than to-day."

Louise glanced at her, and by the sweetness of the glance, and the
kindness of the whole--not remarkably pretty, but thoroughly lovable and
womanly face, Hertha felt that she ran no risk of being misunderstood.

"Yes," the girl replied, "a morning like this makes one echo the `very
good,' with all one's heart, as far as Nature is concerned."

Then a little sigh made itself heard.

"Winifred," she said, "you will be very sorry--papa is not well.  He had
one of his bad attacks yesterday.  He is better, but of course very
weak, as usual."

"He must have been doing something imprudent," said Winifred, with a
touch of asperity which, with many people, is the expression of real
anxiety.  "He has been so well lately."

"It has been leading up to it, I fear," said Louise.  "There has been a
great deal of extra work, and I am afraid more of it has fallen on him
than should have been the case, though I have done my best--I am not so
clever or clear-headed as Winifred," she added, with a smile, to Miss
Norreys, "and in a large prop--"

An exclamation from her companion interrupted her.

"What a _beautiful_ old house!  A perfect Sleeping Beauty's palace,"
cried Miss Norreys.  "Do tell me whose it is.  It must be a show place."

It never occurred to her that the great white house, seen to peculiar
advantage from their present point of view, as it rose among the trees,
its many latticed windows glistening in the sunshine--a sort of fairy
dignity brooding over all--could be the Maryons' home.  For though she
felt that she had been, it seemed to her, inexcusably misled by Winifred
as to her family's social position and means, she could not all at once
have realised how "very pleasant" were the material places in which
their lines were laid.

Again Louise smiled, but this time with a surprised and almost
reproachful glance of interrogation at her sister.

"Has not Winifred told you about our dear old home?" she said.  "We
think there is nothing like it in the world.  Winifred, have you never
described it to Miss Norreys?"

"We have always had so many other things to talk of," said Winifred,
indifferently.  "Besides, I am not good at description."

Hertha felt too provoked to look at her.

"You are right," she said warmly to Louise, "I am sure there cannot be
another place like it.  There is something dreamy about it, too, even in
this brilliant sunshine."

"You feel that?" said the girl eagerly.  "I am so glad.  Yes, there is a
very peculiar charm about it.  I think it must be that it is so little
changed from what it must have been hundreds of years ago.  It is so
easy in one's fancy to re-people it with those who used to live in it
and love it as we do now.  Celia makes up all sorts of stories, based on
the real history and legends of the place.  Sometimes," with a little
laugh, "she really frightens herself, for we _have_ a ghost.  We call
her the--"

"Louise," said Winifred, "I just won't have you tell Miss Norreys that
idiotic old story.  I wish all ghost stories and nonsense of the kind
were forbidden by Act of Parliament."

"We should be in many ways the losers if it were so," said Hertha,
quietly.  She could not understand Winifred, for there was evident
earnestness under her half-laughing tone.

"What a strange, inconsistent girl she is!" thought the elder woman.
"She looks and seems honesty itself, it is _the_ thing that attracted me
to her; and yet _how_ she has deceived, or at least misled me, and
through me, Mr Montague and others.  I feel hot when I think of it!
Still she does not feel ashamed, and she must have known I should be
undeceived as soon as I came here.  And now this about ghosts?  Is it
possible she is really afraid of that sort of thing, and that it makes
her dislike her home?  She certainly does not look as if she had ever
had a fright."

Her silence during these cogitations had reacted on her companions, and
for a few minutes neither spoke.  Then Winifred turned abruptly to
Louise.

"Who is with you?" she said, "or who is coming?  Lennox, of course, and
any friends of his?"

"Yes," Louise replied with the slightest possible increase of colour in
her face.  "Lennox and Captain Hillyer.  We shall be quite a cheerful
Easter party, if only papa gets better quickly."

"Dear me," thought Miss Norreys, who was not above all feminine
weaknesses, "I do feel _very_ angry with you, Winifred Maryon.  I shall
be all wrong about my clothes even: I shall have to telegraph for
evening dresses."

They were entering the drive by now.  It was in keeping with all the
rest.  Long and straight, with thickly growing trees at each side, which
gave an additional touch of mystery to the approach to the house.  And
though straight--so that the building standing somewhat high on its
terraced summit, was conspicuous, the white flights of steps, gleaming
like the walls themselves in the sunshine--the road dipped considerably,
though gradually, here and there, causing all but the turrets, from
which the house evidently took its name, momentarily to disappear.

Hertha, for the time, forgot all else in her true sense of pleasure and
interest.  And no words she could have chosen, had she been the most
calculating of mortals, would have made such a pleasing impression in
the still dubious Mrs Maryon as those with which her new guest replied
to her words of cordial but slightly constrained greeting.

"I have never been so enchanted by anything as by the first sight of
your exquisite old house.  I feel for once in real fairy-land."

And graceful Celia, in her pale-grey dress, with a flush on her cheeks
and shy welcome in her lovely eyes, might, indeed, have been the
Sleeping Beauty just awakened.

That "first impression" grew instead of fading, for it was well rooted.
Both Mrs Maryon and her guest, so different in all else, so entirely
unlike each other in the circumstances of their lives--the one so
sheltered and protected, so curiously ignorant of life save in her own
experience of it; the other, so early thrown upon herself, clung to by
others at an age when most are still clinging and dependent; yet neither
of the two either narrowed or hardened--these two, thanks to their
genuine womanliness and unselfish single-mindedness, made friends, and
such a friendship lasts.

By some tacit agreement the "talk," which on Mrs Maryon's part had been
one underlying motive of the invitation, was during the first few days
evaded.  They did talk, but not so much about Winifred as of themselves,
their personal feelings, and almost at once Mrs Maryon knew that she
had utterly misjudged this girl, or woman, as Hertha preferred to call
herself.  Though it had arisen through no fault of her own, Winifred's
mother was acutely conscious of the prejudice she had harboured against
Miss Norreys, and it now seemed to her as if she could not do enough to
make amends for the mistaken opinion she was yet far too delicate-minded
to avow to its object; and Hertha, on her side, bided her time for the
explanation which she knew was unavoidable.  She was feeling her way,
anxious not to blame Winifred unduly, difficult as she found it to
understand the girl, or to sympathise with the line she had taken up.

But the long _tete-a-tetes_ with her friend which Miss Maryon had looked
forward to did not come to pass.  Instead, Hertha seemed never tired of
talking to her hostess, relating to her as they grew to know each other
better, tender recollections of her own mother and bygone days, which
she seldom now allowed herself to dwell upon.

And Winifred, one of whose good qualities was a remarkable absence of
jealousy, consoled herself by reflecting that Hertha was probably
actuated by real regard for herself.

"She sees that it will make everything easier for mamma to like and
trust her, and thus to get rid of all these old prejudices against women
with a career," she thought.

Altogether the days passed pleasantly.  Hertha allowed herself, for the
time, to live in the present.  Her interest in both Celia and Louise
deepened; of Celia's unusual talent she became convinced, and she
determined to do anything in her power to help the young girl to
cultivate it.  Mr Maryon recovered sufficiently to join the family
party in the later hours of the day, when his cheerfulness made one
almost forget his chronic invalidism.

"I like your cousin Lennox so much," said Hertha one day to Celia; "I
had no idea from the little I had heard of him that he was so--well,
interesting, as well as sterling."

"I am so glad you like him," said Celia, her face lighting up.  "Yes, he
is _very_ nice, though not, perhaps, exactly clever."

"He is not stupid," said Hertha.

"Oh, no; not stupid.  He's just the sort of man that would have got on
splendidly if he had had a clever wife.  It is such a pity," and she
sighed a little.  "I daresay you have noticed--he is so devoted to
Winifred, and she doesn't care for him in the least."

"To Winifred!" said Miss Norreys.  "No, I certainly should not have
thought so.  Are you sure--it is not one of Winifred's freaks to think
so?" she was going to add, but stopped in time.

"Oh, _quite_ sure," said Celia, with the slightest possible inflection
of annoyance.  "Winifred is not at all the sort of girl to flirt, or
anything like that.  And I think it is only natural that he should be
devoted to her.  She is so clever, and so--unlike the common run, and
Lennox has looked up to her all his life.  We should all have been so
glad, for then she could have settled down at home, or close to home,
for good.  Len's little place is only two miles away.  And it would have
kept White Turrets in the family.  He is our second-cousin, you know."

"These arrangements seldom come to pass, however," said Miss Norreys,
philosophically.  "Had that anything to do with Winifred's dislike to
staying at home, do you think?"

"Oh dear, no," said Celia.  "She did not think it a matter of much
importance.  She has always wanted to take a line of her own; she has
always felt herself cramped by ordinary life.  And she wants so to be of
real use."

The two were walking up and down the terrace.  For a moment or two
Hertha did not speak.  Then she said quietly:

"Perhaps I should not discuss the matter with you, dear Celia.  You are
so much younger than I.  But, before I go, I want to have a long talk
with your mother.  I must tell you that I was completely mistaken about
you all.  I had no idea whatever that Winifred had such a home, such
plain home duties and responsibilities, as I strongly suspect she has.
I--I thought you were very poor, and that she had to earn money to help
you all."

Celia grew crimson, and almost gasped for breath.  "Miss Norreys!" she
exclaimed.  Then she added eagerly, "Winifred did not mean to mislead
you--she is not like that."

"N-no," said Hertha.  "I was very indignant at first, but now I don't
think she meant anything, except at all costs to get her own way.  Of
course there was no calculated deceit about it, otherwise she would have
found some means of preventing my coming here.  But she has placed me
myself in a very disagreeable position, as I must make her see.  And she
must face the consequences.  But I should like to know--you have plenty
of sense--do _you_ think she is doing right?"

Celia was sorely pressed.  Her loyalty to Winifred rose up in arms.  But
she was taken at a disadvantage: she had always believed that Miss
Norreys had warmly aided and abetted Winifred in her search for a
career.

"I--I am so surprised," she said at last.  "I suppose it is best for me
to tell you the truth.  Yes, at the bottom of my heart I now think--I
did not always, but I do now--that she could find plenty to do, and
plenty opportunities of being useful to others, here at home.
Especially as--you know all that, I suppose?  You know that all the
property, and it is large, will be _hers_.  She is in the position of an
eldest son."

More and more astonished, Miss Norreys felt at a loss for words.

"No, I had no idea of that," she said.  "That puts her duty beyond all
question.  I cannot understand her.  I feel almost inclined to say I
have no patience with her."

In her excitement she walked on rapidly.  They had just, for the second
or third time in their stroll, reached the end of the long front
terrace, where some steps led down to a straight but more shaded walk,
running parallel with one side of the house.  Hertha was beginning to go
down the steps, when Celia laid her hand on her arm.  Turning in some
surprise, Miss Norreys saw that she was paler than usual.

"Not down there, please," she said.  "I do dislike that walk: it is so
gloomy, and--to tell you the truth, that is the path leading up from the
old bowling-green, that they say is haunted."  Hertha could scarcely
help laughing.  Here, in the broad daylight, it seemed so absurd to be
afraid of such things.

"I should, all the same, like to explore it," she said.  "Now I come to
think of it, I don't think I have been down there at all.  But of course
we won't go that way if you would rather not;" and she good-naturedly
turned back.

"I don't generally mind so much," said Celia, looking rather ashamed.
"But--she, or it, really has been seen lately--they call her `The White
Weeper'," and she instinctively lowered her voice a little.  "I mind it
just now, because, you see, it seems so mixed up with Winifred."

Miss Norreys looked puzzled.  "Mixed up with Winifred?" she repeated,
"how do you mean?  What is the story of the White Weeper?"

So Celia related, as she had done to Eric Balderson, the old legend;
entering into it in somewhat fuller detail than to that semi-sceptical
person.  For, as she went on, she saw that Hertha was not at all
inclined to laugh at it; on the contrary, she looked as interested and
impressed as could be desired.

"It is strange," she said, when Celia stopped.  "A curious tradition to
have been handed down through so many generations.  And I cannot see but
that we should sometimes take these things as warnings or guides to a
certain extent.  Then the reason of Winifred's annoyance, whenever it is
mentioned, is that the White Weeper would evidently not approve of _her_
present line?"

"Yes," said Celia.  "And--it does seem distinct.  She," and the girl
gave a half-frightened look over her shoulder in the direction of the
shady walk, "she has been seen lately, two or three times.  And the
people who have seen her were in more than one instance strangers here--
and even those who have heard about the ghost don't know the _reason_ of
her coming.  They only think it portends some trouble.  But I do think
it strange that she should have begun to come so much more since
Winifred has been so determined on leaving home."

"You don't disapprove altogether, at least you _did_ not, of her ideas?"
said Hertha.

Celia looked unhappy.

"I told you, dear Miss Norreys, that I have changed.  I did sympathise
more than I do now, and then I feel as if I were disloyal to her.  I
would rather not say more than that."

Hertha did not press her.

"You don't think Winifred is at all afraid of the White Weeper?" she
said, with a little smile.

"She always mocks at it, but she gets angry too," said Celia.

"Ah, that shows a latent misgiving somewhere.  I am rather glad of it,"
Miss Norreys replied.

Then, feeling that she had perhaps said as much as was wise to the girl,
who was, after all, the youngest member of the family, she changed the
subject.

But that evening she had a long and exhaustive talk with Mrs Maryon,
which ended by Winifred's mother feeling that she could never be
thankful enough for the chance which had brought them the friendship of
the woman she had so misjudged.

"And you prefer to put it all before Winifred yourself, then, my dear
Miss Norreys?" said Mrs Maryon at the close of their conversation.

"I think so.  I have strong grounds of my own.  For, you see, though I
do absolve her from any intention of deceiving me, the result to me is
the same as if she had deliberately done so.  In fact, it is almost
worse--it makes me seem such a foolish person!  I shall tell her that
the whole _must_ be explained to Mr Montague, and, as regards the
society, it must be left in his hands.  And she will not have the excuse
of putting it upon Celia now.  I may tell her what we have planned for
_her_, may I not?"

"Certainly, most certainly," said Mrs Maryon.  "There is one comfort,"
she went on.  "If Winifred _does_ give in, she will do so heartily.
There is nothing small about her--no jealousies or resentfulness.  If
she stays at home or sets to work to do her duty here, she will be
thorough about it."

"Then let us devoutly trust she will," said Miss Norreys.  "I feel
rather hopeful.  I am not sure but that at the bottom of her heart she
is a little _desillusionnee_ about her career.  It has not all been
smooth sailing."

But at this Winifred's mother shook her head.

"_That_, I fear, in a nature like hers, would only rouse greater
determination--not to use the harsher word, obstinacy," she said.

But Hertha was sanguine and confident.  She felt her own ground sure,
and though personally willing enough to sink her own cause of complaint,
she intended to make use of it for the sake of others.

That was to be a day--an evening rather--of explanations.  The young
people were amusing themselves in the billiard-room after dinner, and
Miss Norreys, feeling a little tired, and having no special liking for
billiards, was sitting quietly in the drawing-room, thinking over the
family complications in which she found herself so unexpectedly
involved, when the sound of some one entering the room made her look up.
Somewhat to her astonishment, she saw that the new-comer was Lennox
Maryon.  Still more surprised did she feel when he came forward and drew
a chair close to her own.

"Am I intruding?" he said; "you look nearly as startled as if I were the
famous White Weeper herself."  His tone was bantering, but underneath
Hertha perceived a touch of nervousness.

"I fancied you were absorbed in your game," she said.  "No, I did not
fancy you were the White Weeper, though I confess I have been thinking
about her.  But she never comes inside the house?"

"She has never done so up to now," said Lennox, "but Heaven knows what
desperate steps she may not be driven to take if things go on as they
are doing at present."

His tone was so peculiar that Miss Norreys glanced at him questioningly.

"I hope devoutly she will wait till I have gone, then," she said, half
laughingly.  "I have no wish at all to make her acquaintance.  Are you
joking, Mr Maryon, or are you at all, just a little, in earnest?"

"Yes and no," he replied.  "I am half joking out of the excess of my
earnestness.  Miss Norreys, I have something to tell you--a confession
to make.  Do you know, sometimes I have fancied you guessed, that I am
very seriously, very thoroughly, in love, for the first time in my
life?"

"With?" asked Hertha.

"My cousin Louise," he said, quietly, though his sunburnt face deepened
a little in colour.

Hertha nodded her head.

"Yes," she said, "I thought so.  And--what about Winifred, Mr Maryon?"

"I know the difference now," he replied.  "That was a case of thinking I
was what every one wished me to be.  Now--oh, _what_ a difference!"

"You should be very grateful to Winifred," said Hertha, drily.

"I am," he said, naively, "_most_ grateful.  But,"--and here his honest
eyes grew troubled--"it is far from plain sailing.  As things are,
Louise won't hear of it, and she is a girl of her word.  It all depends
upon Winifred.  Miss Norreys, she is infatuated."

A full explanation followed.  Lennox was clear-headed and entirely
candid, and before the conversation was at an end, Hertha saw and
understood things more thoroughly than even after her talk with Mrs
Maryon.

"I will do what I can," she said, "but I feel less confident than I did,
somehow.  I almost think I could brave a visit from the ghostly guardian
of the family, if I thought her influence would carry the day."

"Hush, my dear Miss Norreys," said Lennox.

"I admire your devotion, but I tremble.  _Supposing_ she--it--took you
at your word."

And again Hertha felt uncertain if he were joking or in earnest.

But before she could say more, Celia appeared in the doorway.

"You lazy people!" she said, "everybody's asking for you.  We are going
to have a dance in the hall before we go to bed."

CHAPTER TEN.

DREAMS AND NO DREAMS.

Miss Norreys's mind, though a remarkably well-balanced one, was yet far
from phlegmatic or unimpressionable.  So far, indeed, from such did she
know her inner self to be, that she had learned by experience to beware
of her own natural impulsiveness, to have profound belief in "second
thoughts."

But she was full of quick sympathy, and ever ready to feel keen interest
in her surroundings.  It is scarcely to be wondered at, therefore, that
on the night following the day we have been describing, she went up to
her own room greatly engrossed by all she had heard, anxiously eager to
prove herself a friend worthy of the name to the various members of the
Maryon family who had appealed to her for assistance or advice.  It was
a beautiful night.  Before Hertha got into bed she drew back the
curtains of one of the two windows--her room was a corner one--as was
her custom.  For she loved the early morning light, and it never
disturbed her slumbers before her usual hour for waking.

A flood of moonlight lay on the terrace beneath.  The night was
perfectly, peculiarly still, and not a leaf seemed to flutter.  There
was something curiously dream-like about the whole scene--for the room
in which Hertha stood, and on which she threw a glance as she turned
again, was, like most of those in the old house, quaint and picturesque
in its very simplicity.  White-panelled and wainscoted, with little
wreaths of carved flowers above the lintel of the door and over the two
old mirrors sunk in the walls; the bed in a sort of alcove; the ancient
fireplace, surmounted by a very high and narrow carved and moulded
mantel-piece, of the same dull, _matt_, white-painted wood, which was
the chief characteristic of the house, the whole effect was like nothing
that Miss Norreys remembered ever to have seen.

"It is very un-English, very un-nineteenth-century, very unlike all the
attempted reproductions of the past we have so many of," thought.
Hertha.  "It is so exactly what it may have been, and probably was,
three or four hundred years ago.  One can realise how the family life
has gone on unbrokenly, with all the changing actors in it, generation
after generation."

And again she glanced out.  For the first time it struck her that this
window overlooked the lower terrace walk which Celia preferred to avoid.
With a sudden increase of interest, Hertha pushed up the sash, and
leaned out.  Yes, that was the very place, the walk bare and open at the
end near the house, growing dim and shady as it was lost to view in the
shrubberies farther on.

"If it were worth the trouble," thought Hertha, "I should like to put on
a cloak and go right along to the end and back.  I don't think I should
be afraid; the moonlight is so bright, and everything is so still.  No
flopping branches or sighing wind to make one fanciful.  Yes, I _think_
I should venture.  And how proud I should be to tell them of it in the
morning."

But even as she gazed, a slight misgiving seized her.  _Was_ the night
so perfectly still, or was the wind suddenly getting up?  Something
_was_ moving at the far end of the walk--the "White Weeper's" walk.
What?  The branch of a tree probably; there were aspens down there,
Hertha remembered, and a mere nothing would set _them_ quivering.

A slight shiver ran through her--it was growing chilly.  With a
half-contemptuous smile at herself, she drew down the window, and in a
very few moments was safely ensconced in bed, though somewhat shivery
still.

"I hope I haven't caught cold through my own folly," was her last waking
thought.

For, notwithstanding her preoccupied mind and a certain amount of
excitement, of which she was conscious, Hertha fell asleep quickly, and
any one seeing her would have said that her slumbers were sound and
untroubled.

But, in point of fact, she was dreaming vividly--all the events of the
last few days seemed to be re-enacted before her, with the addition of
various fantastic accompaniments such as dreamers know well.  Friends
and acquaintances she had not thought of for years suddenly appeared as
familiar guests among the members of the family at White Turrets.  Her
own grandmother, whom as a child Hertha had been very fond of, seemed to
be there as an ancient chatelaine of the place, pointing out to her,
among the visitors, historical personages whom no living being could
have known outside a book.

"We are expecting the King--Louis XVI--of course, and Queen Marie
Antoinette, this evening.  They have long wished to visit White Turrets,
and now," her grandmother was explaining to her, when, with a sudden
start, Hertha awoke.

She was not sorry, for though the dream had been of curiously
fascinating and fantastic interest, she had been conscious--and the
consciousness remained with her even after she was awake--of a strange
indescribable fear, that dream fear which, I fancy, at some time or
other, every one must have experienced: a fear as of fate, all-pervading
and irresistible, of perfectly unspeakable _strangeness_, as if we had
got on to another plane of existence altogether, where nothing was as we
had ever known it, where we feel ourselves alone in an isolation such as
real life has never, even faintly, figured to us.  Through all the
familiar scenery of her dream--through the sound of her grandmother's
voice, and the perfect knowledge that she was here, at White Turrets,
among the friends she seemed now to know so well--through the laughter
and the smiles she knew to be around her, was this terrible ghastly
consciousness of _fear_.  And it did not at once disappear when she
awoke.  It seemed still to be clinging to her, haunting the air round
about her.  Never had Hertha suffered in the same way to such an extent.

"What can be the matter with me?" she said to herself.  "I feel poisoned
with fear.  Dear me, if this sort of thing is the kind of sensation one
has in a haunted room, Heaven preserve me from such an experience!  But
_can_ there be any thing uncanny in this room?  I have never felt it
before.  Oh no, it must all be fancy and nonsense.  My nerves are upset,
I suppose.  I have been taking my friends' troubles too much to heart."

But she could not get to sleep again.  Indeed, she felt almost afraid of
doing so for fear of a repetition of her dream terrors.  They grew
fainter after a while, but she became increasingly wakeful.  And at last
she got out of bed, and throwing her dressing-gown round her, she went
towards the window, of which the blind was drawn up.

It was the same window where she had sat looking out on the moonlight
late the night before.  Why did she go back there?  Afterwards she could
not tell.  It seemed as if some invisible power had drawn her thither,
and for the moment she had forgotten the slight shiver she had felt at
believing she saw something moving in the shrubbery.  But no sooner was
she seated again at her old post than the remembrance returned to her;
she would have liked to move away, but a sort of fascination, partly
curiosity, partly a feeling she could not describe, retained her.

The moonlight was much less brilliant now.  There seemed a slight haze,
scarcely amounting to clouds, over the sky.  But the night--for dawn was
still some way off--was very calm, and there was no wind at all.

"There is literally _nothing_ moving," thought Hertha.  "The stillness
almost frightens me.  How quite absurdly fanciful I am becoming!" and,
as if in a kind of anticipation of something, she knew not what, she
held her breath in an intensity of listening.  Then came over her the
feeling of being no longer under her own control.  She could not have
moved had she wished to do so.  But she did not wish it.  With this new
sensation her fears had all disappeared.

It came--the something she was watching for.  Far off, at the extreme
end of the walk already described, a faint flutter, between light and
shadow--a _movement_--grew perceptible.  A presence of some kind was
there.  It came on and on, slowly but steadily, and the moon came out
again more clearly, its rays reflected on the vaguely defined figure, of
which the most Hertha could for some moments have said was that it
moved, and that it was white.

She sat as if turned to stone, yet _she_ was no longer afraid.  Not even
when, by degrees, she became aware that the form was undoubtedly that of
a woman--a woman, young, graceful, but in dire distress, for as it
advanced, with its slow, cadenced step, till within a few yards of the
terrace just below her, she saw it lift its pallid arms in their shadowy
white drapery, as if in piteous appeal, then wringing its hands, for one
fleeting moment its face was raised to her as if her presence were known
and realised, and she saw that it was that of a beautiful woman,
weeping, weeping sorely, as if her very heart would break, for woe she
was powerless to avert.

And a whisper ran through Hertha's overwrought brain: "It is she--the
White Weeper--she is appealing to _me_."

But there was no sound, only the intense gaze of the exquisite though
death-like and mournful face--and while she felt those eyes upon her,
Hertha could have felt nothing beside.

Then they withdrew.  Something made her at last able to close her own,
and she half fell back on her chair.  And when she looked again there
was nothing--nothing whatever but the trees and the garden in the
moonlight, utterly still, as if in an enchanted sleep.

And Hertha went back to bed, and fell almost at once into sound and
perfectly dreamless slumber.

She woke at her usual hour, to sunshine and the sound of the birds'
joyous carolling this time.  She lay still, thinking deeply, as she went
over in her mind the strange experiences of the night.  The
question--"Was it all a dream?"--never for one moment occurred to her.
Neither then nor at any future time did any doubt of the objective
reality of what she had seen shake the intensity of the impression that
had been made upon her.

Yet the _fear_ was all gone--in fact, ever since she had thrown off the
nightmare-like oppression of her fantastic dream, it had been no longer
there.  She felt no reluctance to stay on at White Turrets, no repulsion
to the room, no shrinking even from the long terrace walk, up and down
which had paced those ghostly steps--the pitiful, shadowy form of the
White Weeper.  But still there was much for Hertha to consider.  Why had
the weird family guardian appeared to _her_?

"She may be there every night--always, for aught I know," thought Miss
Norreys, "but why were _my_ eyes opened to perceive her?  Why did she
appeal to me, as I feel convinced she did?  Why not to self-willed
Winifred, the cause of all the trouble and anxiety?  Possibly she could
not: perhaps Winifred is so constituted that no spirit could make its
presence known to her.  It must be that, I suppose.  But what can I do?
Winifred must know by this time that I do not sympathise with her mania
for `a career,' and that she has involved me in her folly in a far from
pleasant way.  However, I suppose I must speak to her more plainly and
strongly than I have done--that is the only response I can make to you,
poor troubled spirit!"

And before she began to dress she stood for a moment at the window,
gazing along the path, now gleaming and brilliant in the clear morning
sunshine, and while she did so, a sudden idea struck her.  She would
tell, in the first place at least, _no one_, except Winifred, of what
she had seen.

"It shall be a confidence between her and me," she decided, "and as such
it may impress her the more--far more than if I told them all, and she
heard every one cross-questioning me about it."  And no sooner had she
thus resolved than she was conscious of a curious sensation of
satisfaction, as if for the first time she had fully grasped the nature
of the commission entrusted to her to perform.

She did not look quite like herself that morning when she went
down-stairs.  Her beautiful eyes were less clear and open; she seemed
tired and slightly preoccupied, though she did her best to hide any
signs of disturbance.

But Mrs Maryon and her two younger daughters were keen sighted, much
more so than Winifred, and Hertha was assailed with affectionate
inquiries as to whether she had a headache, or had she not slept well,
etc, which she parried as best she could.

There were two or three letters for her--one, a large, rather thick one,
in Mr Montague's handwriting, she looked at irresolutely, then put it
into her pocket unopened.

"It must be in reply to the long letter I sent him two days after I got
here," she said to herself.  "I am glad he is back in England, but I
think I would rather _not_ know what he says till after I have spoken to
Winifred."

A special and uninterrupted talk with one member of a fairly large
party, even if that party be a family one, is not always easy to achieve
unobserved, though in a country-house it would seem a simple enough
matter.  But of late Winifred had rather avoided than sought Miss
Norreys's society.  Some idea of the possible causes of complaint Hertha
might believe herself to have against her for the conduct which Winifred
was beginning to realise as not being, in appearance at least, candid,
made the girl less at ease than heretofore in her friend's society.  She
did not as yet allow this to herself: she would not own, even in
thought, that she had been to blame.  She "put it all down" to this
visit of Miss Norreys to White Turrets, where, though on one side the
favourable impression her friend had made on Mrs Maryon and the others
was gratifying to Winifred, on the other it was somewhat irritating.

"I must wait till we are back in London again," she said to herself.
"Of course she _must_ be civil and pleasant to them all, and they
certainly have been very kind and nice.  But she is more impressionable
than I thought her.  Seeing things here as she has done, I am afraid she
will never sympathise thoroughly in the monotony and dullness of this
narrow home-life.  Still, after all, it can't be helped.  I must do
without sympathy, I suppose.  But--I do wish it had never come into
mother's head to invite Hertha down here."

She was standing by herself in front of one of the windows of a long
corridor, on to which opened several of the principal rooms on the first
floor, when these reflections crossed her mind.  This window overlooked
the entrance to the walk so carefully eschewed by Celia--though not so
much of it could be seen as from Miss Norreys's room, situated in an
angle of the house.

The association of the White Weeper's reputed preference for this walk
was always an irritation to Winifred, as was, in fact, everything real
or imaginary which had to do with the old story.

She gave herself a little shake when she took in whither her gaze was
absently directed.

"Ridiculous nonsense!" she half murmured, as she turned to go, and why
she should have started violently, as at that moment a hand was laid
upon her shoulder, she could not have told.  It was not the sign of a
guilty conscience, for, in all good faith, Winifred as yet had barely
taken in that she had been at all to blame.  "Misunderstood," "narrowly
judged," she had told herself she had been, and she allowed that to
others her conduct might have _seemed_ disingenuous.  But she was
essentially honest, and it is sometimes as difficult for naturally
candid persons to take in that they have put themselves into a crooked
position, as for a crafty and calculating character to believe in
straightforwardness in itself or others.

Still she started.  And she was assuredly not nervous.

It was Hertha's face she looked up into as she turned: Hertha's eyes,
searching--and what more?  Was it reproach or anxiety, or a mingling of
both, that Winifred read in their clear depths?  And in spite of herself
the girl looked away, while her colour deepened a little.

"Did I startle you?" said Miss Norreys.  "I am sorry, but--I wanted to
speak to you quietly.  I have been looking for you."

"I am only too ready and delighted to have a chance of you," said
Winifred, trying to carry the war into the enemy's country.  "But you
know I scarcely see you; mamma and the others monopolise you so."

There was a touch of truth in the reproach, but Hertha did not feel
guilty.  She had avoided _tete-a-tete_ conversation with Winifred out of
consideration for the girl herself as much as for others.

"It is true that I have not sought for opportunities of being alone with
you," she said.  "I am now quite ready to explain why, though I think
you must have some idea of what I felt."  Winifred did not at once
reply.  She was again staring out of the window, and again a feeling of
irritation came over her.  Did _every_ side of the house look out on
that detestable lower terrace?

"I am quite ready for as long a talk as you like," she said.  "I daresay
you have felt a little shaken in me, but--I think I can make you
understand me."

And she looked up in Hertha's face so frankly, that again--and she was
glad of it--the conviction of Winifred's honesty of intention and
absence of cunning or calculation returned to Miss Norreys almost as at
first.

"Shall we go out for our talk?"  Hertha said.  "It is a lovely fresh
morning, and I have just a little--headache of a kind.  At least, I did
not sleep well."

"No, I remember: you did not look like yourself when you came down to
breakfast," said Winifred, with sudden compunction.  "And I am keeping
you standing about.  Are you sure it won't tire you?  After all, we
shall have plenty of time for talking in the future, I hope."

Hertha shook her head.

"I don't want to put it off," she said.  "Indeed, I cannot.  If there
were no other reason, you know how seldom I have a free half-day even at
home.  And there are other reasons.  Can you get your hat?  The air will
do me good.  I will wait for you by the sun-dial," and she moved away as
she spoke.

"I will be with you in two minutes," said Winifred.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

A VICTORY.

The sun-dial stood on the grass in front of, though at some little
distance from, the principal entrance.  For at White Turrets the ground
immediately round the house was too much intersected by terraces, and on
too many levels, to have any great unbroken expanse of lawn.  And there,
as she had said, Hertha was standing when, a few minutes later, Winifred
joined her.

Even Miss Maryon's short-sighted eyes were struck by her friend's
general look and bearing, Hertha was leaning against the old stone, in a
tired attitude.  She was pale, too, and as Winifred drew near she gave a
slight shiver.

"Are you cold?" said the girl anxiously.  "If you are, we can go indoors
again at once."

"No, thank you, I am not really cold," Miss Norreys replied; "it is only
the creeping-together feeling one has after a bad night.  When I did
fall asleep, I slept, I think, _too_ heavily.  I daresay it is a sort of
nervousness.  The air and moving about will do me good."

She turned as she spoke, and followed by Winifred, walked quickly
towards the side of the house.

"It is nicest on the terraces," she said; "we can walk up and down, and
talk quite undisturbed, and always find a seat if we want one."

"Ye-es," said Winifred, lagging a little.  "But would you mind coming
round to the other side? it is so much more cheerful and sunny."

She was unusually deferential and subdued.  "No," said Hertha, with a
touch of obstinacy, "I like the shady side best; I am not cold now.
That walk with the aspens at the farther end is charming.  And the
others don't like it--it is the haunted walk, isn't it?  So I may as
well enjoy it while with you, who don't mind nonsense of that kind."

"But I do mind it, though in a different way," said Winifred; "it
irritates me more than I can express.  I really can hardly tell you how
I detest any allusion to that old story."

"Really?" said Hertha, airily.  "I think you should be above such
feelings.  It is inconsistent with your--well--your attitude to things
in general.  Here we are--let us show our defiance of such old wives'
tales by marching boldly up and down in the White Weeper's own
hunting-ground while we have our talk out."

Winifred laughed a little, but constrainedly.  Matter-of-fact as she
was, she did not quite understand her friend this morning.

"Of course, I don't _really_ mind," she said, "if you truly like this
side best.  And now will you tell me exactly what you have been vexed
with me for, and in what way you have come to think less well of me than
you used to do?"

Hertha felt somewhat surprised.  After all, Winifred was not so dense as
appeared.  And "to be quite fair on her," thought Miss Norreys, "she
_might_ have resented my changing to her without giving her my reasons
and a chance of justifying herself to some extent."

This reflection came at a good moment.  It softened her tone to
Winifred.

"Yes," she said, "I will be entirely frank with you, and put before you
the whole story of our acquaintance, and what I did to help you, from my
point of view, which is likely, I much fear, to be that of others; and I
certainly will not exaggerate things.  For,"--and here a generous
impulse made her add warmly--"I _do_ trust you, Winifred.  I trust your
good intentions and your honesty of purpose, though I believe you
deceive yourself; and self-deception is terribly insidious."

She paused a moment, but the girl did not speak.  Hertha glanced round
her as if to gather strength and breath for what she had to say.  How
fair and charming a prospect it was!  There was something almost
_unreal_ in the vivid clearness of the spring beauty all about--
unreconcilable with the troubles and anxieties which yet one knew must
be there behind it all.

But as Hertha's gaze wandered farther, over to where, on the other side
of some rising ground, the old church spire rose up into the blue, and
the lazily curling smoke of the surrounding homesteads told of the human
lives and interests close at hand, different thoughts arose in her mind.
What infatuation was over the girl, or woman, beside her?  Who could
desire a more distinct field of usefulness than Winifred Maryon was
deliberately rejecting?  The awful problems relating to the poor of our
overcrowded great cities must not be shirked by such as are wise enough
to grasp them, but how thankful should be those whose duties in smaller
spheres are clear and defined, lying among more normal conditions and
along less conflicting paths!

She turned to her companion abruptly.

"Winifred, my dear child--my dear friend, if you don't like to be called
a child--I _wish_ I understood you; that is at the root of it all.  I
_cannot_ get at your motives, your way of looking at things."

Winifred looked up--a frown, not of annoyance but of perplexity, lining
her usually unruffled forehead; her blue eyes fixed on Hertha's face
with a touch of appeal which was almost piteous.

"Tell me," she said, "tell me everything; I do want to know."

And Miss Norreys did as she asked.  She went back to the beginning of
their acquaintance, and told her all, as it had affected her herself, as
it had taken shape and colour, from her point of view.  She spoke as
simply as she could, and tried her best to be practical and
matter-of-fact.  For talking to Winifred was not like talking to Celia,
who, young as she was, could take in the sense of a sentence before it
was half expressed, who felt the _spirit_ underlying and surrounding
even the "commonest" commonplaces of life.

Winifred did not interrupt her.  Now and then her colour rose a little;
once or twice, as Hertha was not sorry to see, she winced, and seemed on
the point of bursting out with some exclamation.  And then, when Miss
Norreys had come to the end of the first part of her story and stopped,
the girl looked up.

"Yes," she said, "I see how it must have looked to you, and I see, as I
certainly did not before, that I was _not_ perfectly ingenuous.  To a
certain extent I deceived you; at least, I allowed circumstances to
deceive you and others, and I was glad of it, because it suited my
purpose.  But remember I did not start with any intention of deceiving
you, and I thought I had a right to take advantage of the mistake when
it arose; because, from _my_ point of view, if my work was worth paying
for, I had a right to the payment, don't you see?" and she looked up
anxiously.

"Perhaps so, but you had no right to the _position_, which alone made
your earning payment possible.  At least, you have no right to obtain it
without explaining your circumstances," said Hertha.

Winifred was silent.

"And," Hertha went on, though sorry for the mortification she felt that
her words must cause, "to tell the truth, I don't think your work has
been exactly worth paying for till now.  Everything requires an
apprenticeship; part of the idea of this society is to give girls who
need to earn their livelihood a chance of fitting themselves to do so,
by giving them the necessary apprenticeship gratis, and, more than that,
by paying them from the first."

Winifred grew crimson.

"I never thought of that," she said.  "I am perfectly ready, indeed I
would much rather pay back what they have given me up to this.  For I
believe my work _is_, or will be from now, worth paying for."

"Very likely," said Hertha, but then she went on to lay the situation in
two aspects before Winifred--her own clear home duties, so peculiar and
unmistakable; and the wrong of taking advantage of the society to the
prejudice of some other girl in real need of it.

The first of these Winifred began by disposing of glibly enough.  The
work of home was better done by Louise than by herself--better, well,
not literally better--she knew she had a clearer head for figures, and a
more ready grasp of things than her sister.  But she was not nearly so
patient and sweet tempered as Louise, she decided complacently: "Oh no,
not nearly.  I should try papa awfully."

Hertha stared at her.

"And you would make your own shortcomings an excuse for neglecting
duties?" she exclaimed.  "What sophistry!  What a vicious circle you are
involving yourself in!  Patience and self-control can be acquired.  You
speak as if your besetting sins belonged to you, like the colour of your
eyes or the shape of your nose."

Winifred did not reply.

"And my second point--that of taking what is not meant for you?"  Hertha
went on.

"That," said Winifred, "is, I think, for the society to decide.  Of
course I am now quite ready to tell anything about my circumstances."

In her turn Hertha was silent.  She agreed with Winifred that the
society should decide, and she felt considerably inclined to believe
that the society _had_ decided.  For Mr Montague's thick letter, though
unopened, was in her pocket.

But the conversation was by no means at an end.

"Winifred," said Miss Norreys again, "I have a great deal more to say to
you--to tell you.  But it would be such a satisfaction to me, and what
matters infinitely more, to yourself afterwards, always--if you could
now, without any further reason, try to see where your real duties lie."

"I _will_ try," said Winifred, "but," and at last the tears rose in her
eyes, "I did so long for a wider, a fuller life."

"You cannot have found the petty detail and often wearisome round of
work at ---Street very widening or inspiriting surely."

"No, but I thought that would come.  I was beginning to feel that
something _depended_ on me, that I had a post--a place.  And I like the
feeling of `London,'" she added naively.

Hertha smiled.

"Yes," she said, "I know that, and you may still have it.  I think you
should be more in London than you have been."

"There is Celia, too," exclaimed Winifred.

"I am not forgetting her.  But about yourself--you have put it in words.
It is _the sense of responsibility_ about home duties that has been
wanting, and has made them unattractive and irksome.  That will come, if
you set your shoulder to the wheel.  You will soon see that, as I do
believe is the case, you will be able to do the work better than it has
ever been done, and new developments and possibilities would open out.
Why, with the experience you have acquired, you might work into the
society's hands down here--you might have a convalescent home, or a
children's holiday home."

Winifred's melancholy face brightened a little.

"I will think about it all," she repeated, "and I will write anything
you like to the society, or--but I hate troubling you--would not the
best thing be for you to write to Mr Montague?  And now, have you told
me everything?"

"No," said Hertha.  They were now approaching the end where the aspens
stood.  Hitherto in their pacing up and down they had not gone so far,
but this time Miss Norreys had purposely prolonged their walk a little.
"No," she said, stopping short and looking round her with a strange kind
of curiosity, "I have something more to tell you--where does this path
go to, or end, Winifred?" she broke off suddenly.

"Oh, I don't know exactly.  We never come this way," the girl replied
impatiently.  "It goes along among the aspens, and then gets into a
tangle.  And some way further on there's a brook that runs into a pond.
It's a wilderness sort of a place, and I hate it."

Hertha looked at her.

"Winifred," she said, "you have a sort of belief in the White Weeper
story, otherwise you wouldn't be so cross about it."

"I have not, I have not indeed," said Winifred earnestly.  "But I don't
deny that the association is painful.  It is said to have been down here
near the pond that the unfortunate woman spent her last night at home
before her husband drove her by his cruelty to take refuge in the
convent at Cruxfield, where she died.  And there is always a creepy,
shivery feeling about here; the rest of the place is so open and
bright."

She could not repress a slight shudder as she spoke.

"Do come away," she added.

"Not just for a moment.  I want to tell you something here--on the very
spot, from where--no, I will begin at the beginning," said Miss Norreys.

And in a few minutes Winifred was in possession of the whole details of
Hertha's night's experience.

She grew very pale, but listened without a word or gesture of
interruption, till the end.  Then she burst out:

"Oh, surely, surely," she exclaimed, "it was a dream.  It must have
been."

But Hertha shook her head.

"No," she said, "it was no dream--nothing in the least resembling what
we are accustomed to call dreams.  A vision it may have been.  Perhaps
all ghostly visitations are visions.  But I was awake when I saw it.  I
remember her face perfectly.  If I were an artist I could paint it."

"And it has impressed you very much?" said Winifred.

"Naturally."

"And you have told no one but me?--thank you for that.  It was good of
you, for--of course they would associate it with _me_, with my being
here."

"They could scarcely do otherwise," said Hertha, drily.

"It is strange," said Winifred, as if thinking aloud.  "Why, if such
things are, why did she not appear to _me_?"

"Perhaps she cannot.  Perhaps you are one who could not be made
conscious of such a presence," said Hertha.  "Perhaps--" But here she
stopped, though with a little smile.

"Go on, do," said Winifred.

"I was only going to say--don't think me irreverent, but you are not
easily `convinced against your will,' Winifred.  The verse about `Moses
and the prophets' came into my mind.  I am not sure that you would give
more heed to a ghost than to those who have already spoken."

"Not as much," said Winifred.  "But what, then, has been the use of the
poor White Weeper's troubling herself and you about me?"

"To strengthen _my_ hands, perhaps--in my prophetic capacity, to
increase my conviction."

"And what is that?"

"A very strong one--that harm will come of your persistence.  Increased
trouble and sorrow to others it will certainly cause.  Listen,
Winifred."

And then she fired her last shot, by revealing to the girl Lennox
Maryon's confidence of the previous evening.

Winifred was not pale now.  Her cheeks burned, her face grew crimson to
the very roots of her hair.

"_Louise_!" she repeated, "_Louise_!"

Hertha felt rather provoked.

"Yes," she said, "_Louise_.  Your cousin is heart and soul devoted to
her, and what wonder?  She is charming and good, and often I almost
think her beautiful.  You have always underestimated her."

"Then," said Winifred, without directly replying, "I suppose he never
_really_ cared for me."

"I am inclined to think he never did," said Hertha.  "But surely you
should be very glad if it be so?  You never cared for him."

"No," said Winifred, "never.  But,"--and a curious expression came into
her face--"I suppose it is very contemptible, but it may be a sort of
horrid mortification.  I don't know how I feel about it.  And yet--oh
yes, I do love Louise, and I know she is an angel of goodness, and I'm
very fond of Len, in his way.  I love them all, but--I'm beginning to
see it so plainly.  None of them love me.  I am out of it all--why was I
the eldest?  Why can't I go away and make my own way as I planned?"

They were near a bench.  Winifred flung herself upon it and burst into
uncontrollable girlish sobs.  She seemed to Hertha to have grown ten
years younger, and never had Miss Norreys' heart gone out to her so much
as now.

For a minute or two she let her cry undisturbed, then she said very
gently:

"My dear child, I think I understand you and the whole story.  You have
not sought their love in the past as you might have done, but you have
it.  You do not know how much they all love you.  And--you are _very_
fortunate--see how duty and affection are pointing the same way in your
case.  You have it now in your power to win love and gratitude such as
fall to the lot of few, by simply doing right."

"If it is right and done for that reason, I don't deserve gratitude,"
said Winifred, dejectedly.

"_They_ will think so, anyway.  And it will be a sacrifice of your own
wishes to those of others.  That should and will bring gratitude."

Winifred sighed deeply.

"I will do it then," she said, "and once I say a thing, I don't go back
from it.  I will give it up.  But please leave me alone about it for
to-day.  I will keep out of the way till I am all right again."

They were not far from the house by this time.

"I will run in by one of the side doors, and get to my own room,"
Winifred went on.  "Will you forgive my leaving you here--and--and I
want to thank you, but I don't quite know how I feel."

"Never mind about me.  It is all right as far as I am concerned.  I am
very thankful," said Hertha.

Winifred was turning away when another thought struck her.

"About Celia," she said.  "I did--unselfishly, I think--I did want to
help her," and the choke in her voice touched Hertha again.

"I know you did, and rightly, and you may take comfort in the thought
that it will, after all, have been through you that Celia is to have the
opportunities she needs.  She is to come to me, to live with me for a
time, till, as she expresses it, she can `test' herself.  That is to
say, dear Winifred, she can _now_ do so.  Had you held out, she would
never have consented to leave home."

Through Winifred's flushed and tear-stained face her blue eyes looked up
at Hertha with perplexity.

"I don't think I yet quite understand your point of view," she said.
"Tell me, is it because you think Celia has special gifts, or that I
have special calls, that you advise us so differently?"

"Both," Miss Norreys replied.

"But supposing I had had her gifts as well as my calls, what then?"

Hertha hesitated.

"I cannot really say," she replied.  "It would have been more difficult
to decide.  At least, it _seems_ as if it would have been so.  But
imaginary positions are not what we have to deal with.  And when there
are what appear to be almost equally balanced claims upon us, as
_sometimes_, though not often, occurs, well, perhaps in such a case it
does not matter so very much, in the highest sense of all, _which_ path
we take if we do it heartily and conscientiously.  You would not have
been left in doubt long, I feel sure, if such had been your case."

"And it is _not_, so we need not trouble about it," said Winifred,
practically.  "But one thing more, as we have come upon this.  Do you
think all girls who are not literally forced to earn their bread should
stay at home and lead the old routine humdrum lives--I mean, of course,
those who have no great or special gifts?  Have you no sympathy with all
the feeling of the day about women?"

"The very greatest and deepest," said Hertha.  "But it is an immense
subject, and cannot be treated in wholesale fashion.  Individual lives
differ so tremendously.  All I can say about it roughly is that love of
excitement and change and novelty should not be mistaken for real,
deliberate desire to make the best and the most of the powers we have.
And it should never be forgotten that `home' is the place we are born
into--in a very special sense woman's own kingdom.  Outside interests
should radiate from and revolve round home--that is the ideal.  When
home _has_ to be given up, it should be done regretfully, as a sad
necessity, whereas the wish to escape from it is, I fear, in many cases
nowadays, the great motive."

"But girls are not alone to blame for that," said Winifred.  "Think what
some parents are: tyrannical and selfish, scarcely allowing a daughter
to have a mind or a soul of her own."

"I know that some are like that," said Hertha.

"If a girl does not marry, she is treated as if she had no right to have
a self at all!  But, where parents are reasonable, I doubt if any
home-life _need_ be narrow and stifling, and all the rest of it.
Monotony is not necessarily an evil.  There is immense monotony in all
good work, at least in the qualifying one's self for it.  I think what
makes home-life so trying and unsatisfying to so many unmarried women is
the want of the sense of responsibility, the not feeling that it really
matters, except for themselves, whether they are idle and frivolous or
not.  It is that sense of responsibility which makes even a dull,
commonplace, _married_ life attractive.  The wife feels herself
_somebody_, a centre."

"Yes, I am sure it must be," said Winifred.  "But how is it all to be
set right?  There are so many girls who can't marry nowadays, they say."

"Well, they must bear it.  Cheerful acceptance of evils, irremediable
for _us_, though in the long run they may be set right again, is, after
all, a _very_ big part of our life's work, is it not?  And as to actual,
practical work, `usefulness' in the noblest sense, I have great faith in
its coming to those who take at once whatever comes in their way.  It is
like capital.  Money makes money, we are told.  Well, I believe that
doing work brings work to do.  But I did not mean to preach like this."

"I am glad of it.  I will think about it," said Winifred, gently.

Then she turned away towards the house, walking slowly, however, for she
felt weak and faint from the violent weeping so rare to her.  And the
sun had been beating on her head more than she realised.  Like many
English people, Winifred did not know the danger of the spring sun--
altogether she felt strangely unlike herself.

And Hertha did not keep her in sight, for she herself moved towards the
front in search of a shady spot, where she might read Mr Montague's
letter undisturbed.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.

Miss Norreys found the sheltered corner she was in search of, and then
she read her letter.  It was a very long one, full of interest to her
for reasons besides those affecting Winifred.  And more than an hour had
passed before, at last recalling herself to the present, she rose from
her seat to return to the house.

"How perfectly beautiful it is!" she thought.  "This place is almost too
sunshiny, so far as I have seen it.  I should like to know it in winter,
or in cloudy weather; I wonder if the `White cat's palace' feeling could
still remain, or if it would seem more commonplace and homely."

"Homely," in the sweetest sense of the word, it always was, however.  As
Hertha went slowly in, crossing the white-panelled entrance hall, and
down one or two of the long passages, on a rather roundabout route to
her quarters--for she now knew the house well, and felt a fascination in
strolling about it--she passed one or two open doors, revealing glimpses
of "interiors" which carried her in fancy back by a century or two.
There was the still-room as it might have been in the days of the
great-great-grandmothers of the present inhabitants; the white-shelved
"napery" room with its snowy piles, which one knew by instinct must be
lavender-scented; even the girls' own sitting-room, which she passed on
one of the first-floor landings, in spite of the very nineteenth-century
piano and easel and wealth of books and book-cases, might, at the first
rapid glance, have been the legendary tabby-lady's own boudoir, with its
lattice-paned windows and polished floor.

"It is like no other place in the world," said Hertha to herself for the
twentieth time.  "I only wish I could give to poor Winifred some of the
quite indescribable charm it has for me.  I suppose it is just that she
has grown up in it; but yet Celia, and even Louise, feel it almost as I
do.  Well, Winifred may awake in many ways yet.  She will probably love
her home better when there is no stifled consciousness of self-reproach
mixed up with it.  How glad I am she gave in before she--or I--knew the
contents of Mr Montague's letter.  I must answer it at once, by the
bye."

She was standing in the corridor out of which her own room opened,
leaning idly against the balusters here surrounding a sort of gallery
overlooking the inner hall below, admiring the charming effects of the
morning sunshine creeping in at the capriciously placed windows of this
part of the house, lighting up the brasses of the great "dog fireplace,"
and flecking the well-worn crimson carpet of the shallow-stepped
staircase--a perfect picture of somewhat slumbrous peacefulness.  All at
once, through the morning quiet and stillness, re-echoing up and down
from no direction that she could at once define, came a piercing
scream--a scream so utterly at variance with everything around, that the
startling terror of it was doubled in intensity.

Hertha looked about her, horror-stricken.  Then realising that the sound
had entirely died away, she began to collect herself a little, to hope
that it was some trick or folly among the servants, and she was hurrying
to the stairs, when again broke out the cry; this time, however,
accompanied by wild confused words and the sound of hurrying footsteps.
They were hurrying towards her, and in another moment Miss Norreys
recognised the voice as Celia's.

"Oh, come, come quickly," she was calling.  "She is dead!  I am sure she
is dead!"

"Celia," said Hertha, as the girl came flying along wildly, "what _is_
the matter?"

For all answer Celia caught her by the arm and dragged her backwards
again--across the hall, for by this time Hertha had got to the foot of
the staircase--down a side passage to a door leading out to the grounds.
And there, just below the few steps leading from the terrace, for even
here there were terraces to descend from as in the front, lay the cause
of Celia's agonised screams.

It was Winifred, white and unconscious, very, very white, with the
half-closed, unseeing eyes, that make the dearest and best known face
look strange and dreadful.

"Is she dead?" gasped Celia, who was almost as white as her sister.

Hertha had stooped down beside poor Winifred, bending very closely over
her.

"Dead!" she repeated, looking up, "of course not.  My dear Celia, you
must have more self-control."

The rather cold, seemingly unsympathising words brought the young girl
more quickly to herself than anything else could have done, which was
Hertha's intention, though, in truth, at the first moment she had been
nearly as terrified as Celia.

"Of course not.  She has only fainted.  Run and fetch Mrs Grimthorp--
and water--and then, perhaps, Louise.  Yes, Louise, tell her quietly so
as not to startle her too."

Somewhat hurt, but inexpressibly relieved, Celia rushed off.  And in a
few minutes the crowd of anxious faces and ready hands was only too
great.  Miss Norreys dismissed them all, while she and the housekeeper
set to work to bring Winifred round again.  After a while they
succeeded: she shivered and opened her eyes, smiled faintly at Hertha,
mentioning something about her head, then seemed to relapse into
semi-consciousness again.

"It is more than a common faint," said Hertha, regretfully.  "I fear it
may have been something of a sunstroke.  Poor child, I hope I was not
too hard upon her," she added to herself.

Winifred had to be carried into the house, to a bedroom, for there were
several such at White Turrets, on the ground floor; the doctor sent for,
and worst of all, her father and mother told of the catastrophe, a shock
which Hertha and Louise would gladly have spared them had it been
possible.  And for a few hours there was some serious anxiety.  But it
gradually dispersed.  Hertha's idea had been correct: it was a mild case
of sunstroke, aggravated, no doubt, by the unusual agitation and emotion
that Winifred had gone through that same morning.

By the third day she was much better, though not yet well enough to
leave her room.  And this was the day on which she was to have returned
to London with her friend.

"It is rather too bad--don't you think so?" she said to Hertha, "that
when I _had_ given in I should be tied by the leg like this,
literally,"--for in her fall one ankle had been sprained.  "It seems to
take away all the--the credit of it, as it were," she went on, with a
rueful smile.

"No, dear, it does not.  They all know--your parents and your sisters,
and," with a glance round to make sure that no one could hear, "your
cousin.  They all know what you had resolved, and as soon as you are
well enough to talk more you will see what they feel about it," Hertha
replied.

A gleam of bright pleasure crossed Winifred's pale face.

"Still," she said, "does it not a little destroy your faith in our
guardian ghost, as you choose to consider her?  If I had been standing
out about it, determined not to give in, she might have tried something
of the kind, but as I had given in--"

Her tone puzzled Miss Norreys.

"You don't mean to say that the White Weeper had anything to do with
your fainting-fit--your fall?" she said.

"N-no," replied Winifred.  "But if she is really so concerned about us
all, about me in particular, she might have prevented it somehow, don't
you think?"

Her tone of matter-of-fact discussion of the subject was almost amusing.
Winifred would always be Winifred!

"As things have turned out, I scarcely see that the catastrophe affects
you or the whole question very much one way or the other," said Miss
Norreys, "except that--Winifred, it must show you how mistaken you have
been in thinking you are not deeply cared for and loved."

"Yes," said Winifred, flushing a little, "it may have been to show me
that."  Then, after a little pause: "Practically, it only affects me in
this way, that I had made up my mind to go back to London with you to do
my work for a week or two--for nothing, of course," and here she grew
still more flushed, "till they replace me.  And I wanted to collect my
things and to say good-bye to two or three people--the people where I
lodged, amongst them.  I have been so interested in them--in the two
poor daughters; the father and mother are dreadful people, very often
intoxicated," she added calmly.

"My dear Winifred!  And the society recommended such a place for a young
girl to live at?" exclaimed Hertha, aghast.

"Oh dear no, I found it out for myself.  And I am not a young girl.  I
was able to be of great use to them.  But for me there would have been
an execution in the house ever so long ago."

And then some allusion in Mr Montague's letter--which, in her newborn
anxiety to spare Winifred further mortification, Hertha had determined
she should never see, recurred to Miss Norreys's mind.  "It appears she
has even set the society's rules at defiance with regard to her
lodgings."  She understood the sentence now.

"I can do any commissions that need to be done for you.  I have arranged
now to stay till the day after to-morrow, and you will be able to tell
me all by then," she said quietly, thinking in her own mind that it was
probably very well that Winifred was not to return to her self-chosen
quarters at all.  "The White Weeper must have been very wise not to have
prevented the accident, even supposing she could have done so," she
thought to herself, while half laughing at her own fancifulness.  But
the idea suggested a question.

"What did make you fall, I wonder?" she said.  "Do you think you fainted
first, or that the shock of the fall made you faint?"

"I don't know," said Winifred.  "It was very strange.  I was dizzy--that
was the sunstroke, I suppose.  But I might have had a slight sunstroke
without either falling or fainting.  I have never fainted before, so I
don't know anything about it.  But it was very strange.  I felt dizzy,
as I said, and I was going up the terrace steps--it was _the_ terrace,
you know, that runs on to the aspens--when all at once I became icy
cold, not cold in myself, but as if something outside me, something
coming to me, had made me cold.  It was so startling, so extraordinary,
that the shock seemed to paralyse me--I felt myself going, and then I
must have fallen.  The next thing I remember is your face looking at
me."

"It is strange," said Hertha, "but I do not know much about fainting
either."

"You see," said Winifred, naively, "I don't think in all my life before
I had ever cried so violently, or--or felt so--so unlike myself."

"No," agreed Hertha.  And in her own mind she said that there are
certainly "more things" close about us than we dream of.  Who could say
if the awakening of Winifred's finer and more perceptive nature might
not have begun?

Two days later, Miss Norreys found herself in the train on her return
journey to London.  She was alone this time--she could scarcely believe
that barely ten days had passed since the exquisite spring morning when
she and Winifred travelled down together to the home Hertha had pictured
to herself as so modest, if not humble, an abode.  And even now she
could not repress a smile at the thought of her own astonishment at the
first sight of White Turrets, and her indignation against Winifred.

How much seemed to have happened in those few days!  It had been to
Hertha like the reading of a very interesting book, in which, for the
time, her own life and thoughts had been merged.

"And not even the ghost story wanting, which is to be found in every
orthodox novel nowadays," she thought.  "But I am not at the end of my
story of real life yet.  I have to prepare for pretty Celia coming to me
next month, and to settle up Winifred's small affairs.  I am sorry for
her accident, poor child, but very glad she is not coming up to London
just now.  It would have been almost impossible to conceal from her the
real state of the case."

For Mr Montague's letter--the letter which Hertha had refrained from
reading before her talk with Winifred--had contained matter which would
have been sorely mortifying to the heiress of White Turrets.  The
society among whose workers she had for a short time been enrolled had
decided on dismissing her, feeling naturally indignant at the deception
which its heads considered had been put upon them.  Mr Montague was, of
course, exonerated from all intentional collusion, but his position in
the matter was unpleasant, and but for his firm and steady regard for
Hertha, he might have visited on her some of his annoyance.

"Nor could I have resented it if he had done so," thought Miss Norreys.

But Mr Montague had behaved well and unselfishly.  All he could do he
had done, and that had been to obtain a promise that if Miss Maryon at
once sent in her resignation it would be accepted in lieu of a
dismissal.

"They are by no means sorry to be free of her," he wrote, "for though a
clever girl in several ways, her self-will and defiance of authority
were impossible to stand, coupled as they were with complete
inexperience and reluctance to ask or take advice."  And then followed
the remark already quoted about Winifred's change of quarters.

Hertha sighed.

"I do feel terribly sorry to have involved Mr Montague so
uncomfortably," she said.  "Even now I feel as if I could shake Winifred
with pleasure."

She took the letter out of her bag to read it again.  She did not own to
herself that in the postscript--for there was a postscript--lay its
greatest interest.  Yet her eyes dwelt on the two or three lines as if
they would read in them more, far more, than was there.

"I think I must tell you," wrote her old friend, "that at last, after
all these years, I have heard from Austin.  He writes cheerfully, and
hopes to be able to return home for good next autumn.  He is not
married."

But Hertha folded the page and replaced the letter resolutely in the
envelope.

"No," she said to herself, "I must not think of him at all.  After all
these years, as Mr Montague says, it would be worse than folly, utter
madness, to risk reopening the old wounds."

And Hertha knew how to use a mental lock and key.

Still, all through the weeks and months that followed--through the
fatigue and not infrequent trials and annoyances of her own almost
overwhelmingly busy life--through her newly awakened, interest in, and
friendship for, the family at White Turrets--through _everything_, there
ran, like the rippling of an all but inaudible brook in the summer time,
a little acknowledged refrain of gladness, of hope.  And the words,
which were set to this fairy music were always the same.  "Austin is
coming home for good next autumn.  He is not married."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Celia, pretty Celia, as Hertha called her to herself, joined Miss
Norreys before long, as arranged.  Long afterwards--_always_ afterwards,
perhaps I should say--Hertha came to see what a happy thing for her at
this juncture had been the advent into her own daily life of this fresh,
enthusiastic, yet thoughtful young nature.  They suited each other
admirably.  Celia was so entirely in earnest, so forgetful of self in
her work, so grateful for the advantages she owed in considerable
measure to her friend, that she seemed never in the way.  She had, of
course, many difficulties to contend with, for even genius cannot walk
along a royal road for many steps together; then come the rough bits,
the flat, dull, monotonous stretches, when one seems to be making no
way, and worst, yet best of all, perhaps, the ever-increasing
consciousness of falling short of one's ever ascending ideal.

But by degrees the great fact came to be incontestable--the genius was
there.

And Winifred, for her part, kept her promise man--or womanfully.  She
had not boasted in saying she was not one to do things by halves.  She
set her shoulder to the wheel of the duties she had never before taken
any real interest in.  There came up to Celia now and then lists of
appallingly clever books on eminently practical subjects, all directly
or indirectly connected with the management, on the best possible lines,
of a large estate.

And when Celia returned to London again, after a happy Christmastide at
White Turrets the following winter, her report was most encouraging.

"I cannot tell you how well Winifred is getting on," she said, "and how
excellently she does everything.  And with her as his more than right
hand, papa seems a different being.  She really _is_ very clever."

"I am sure of it," Miss Norreys replied warmly.

"And the queer thing is, that though she has never been so useful in her
life, she is so much less self-confident," said Celia.  "She is, oh, so
_much_ softer and more sympathising!"

"I think that is natural.  She is no longer at war with herself, and
unconsciously on the defensive," replied the elder woman.

"But is it not delightful to you to think that it is really all _your_
doing, dear Hertha?" asked Celia.

Hertha smiled.

"I do not feel that it was," she said.  "At least, my hands were
strengthened very strangely.  I--Celia," she broke off abruptly, "I want
to ask you something.  Has the White Weeper been heard of or seen of
late?"

"No, I believe not once," said Celia in surprise.

Hertha bent her head in sign of satisfaction.

"I thought so," she said.  "Celia," she went on, "I think I will tell
you now what I have never told any one but Winifred."

And she related the story of her strange experience that moonlight night
at White Turrets.

Celia listened breathlessly, her face growing a shade paler.

"How extraordinary, _how_ strange!" she exclaimed.  "And you think
Winifred was really influenced by it?"

"At least she did not mock at it--not in the very slightest," said
Hertha.  "And--there was something more, that day she fainted, you
remember?"

"Yes," said Celia.

"Did she never tell you what she had felt?"  And Hertha repeated what
Winifred had told her.

Celia shook her head.

"No, she never told me.  She knows I have always been so frightened
about it.  But--I scarcely see why she came, or tried to come, to
Winifred herself, when the point _was_ gained and she had given in?"

"Ah--I must tell you the rest, and this I think impressed your sister
most of all.  A day or two after I returned to London, after that Easter
time--I went, at her request, to collect her things and pay some money
_she_ thought due to the people she had lodged with.  What do you think
I found?  A deserted house--in the possession of the police.  There had
been a fire the night but one before, caused, no doubt, by the people
themselves, for they were a very undesirable lot.  They had all escaped,
however, as they lived below; but the upper rooms, the very rooms
Winifred had had, were literally gutted--in a state of black, charred
desolation.  We cannot say, of course, but when I explained my errand,
the policeman said the lady should be thankful that she had been
prevented returning.  `Ten to one if she could have been got out alive,'
he said."

"Oh, Hertha!" exclaimed Celia, horror-struck.  "And you told Winifred?"

"Yes, though not immediately.  She was still ill when it happened.  But
I think it impressed her exceedingly.  Still, as she has not told you
about it, it may be as well never to mention it."

"I will never do so," said Celia.  "But I think I shall never feel
_afraid_ of the White Weeper again."

Then she went on to tell her friend about Louise and Lennox in their own
house, their marriage having taken place the preceding autumn.

"They are as happy as the good people in a fairy tale," she said.

When Celia went home the next time--a little more than a year after she
had joined Miss Norreys, she took with her an astonishing piece of news.
Hertha, Winifred's typical, self-dependent woman, _Hertha_, was going
to be married!

"It is an old story," said Celia, calmly.  "An old story, ending very
beautifully, _I_ think.  I cannot tell you much, for I do not know the
whole.  But they were separated for years, through nobody's fault
exactly, and neither has ever cared for any one else," she added simply.

"All the same," said Winifred, "I am just a _little_ disappointed in
her."

Celia's own plans were not materially affected by this unexpected event,
as, having by this time gathered experience, she was able to go on with
her studies without actually sharing her friend's home.  Before long,
those studies led her further afield for a time.  But this sketch, or
rough outline, rather--not worthy of the name of a story--of some girls'
experiences, must come to an end without chronicling the successes of
the young painter, of whom great things are prophesied.

There _are_ those, too, who predict that Celia Maryon is about to try
the experiment of reconciling the claims and duties of married life with
those of a special vocation.  And if it be possible to succeed in so
doing, assuredly no woman could have a wiser, less exacting, and more
sympathising husband than the one whom rumour has selected for her--Eric
Balderson.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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