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

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Career of Claudia" ***

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



The Career of Claudia
By Frances Peard
Published by Richard Bentley and Son, London.
This edition dated 1897.

The Career of Claudia, by Frances Peard.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
THE CAREER OF CLAUDIA, BY FRANCES PEARD.

CHAPTER ONE.

She was, it must be owned, rather surprised that no one had come to meet
her at the station.  Certainly she had assured them in her last letter
that it was unnecessary, and that she could manage very well by herself;
but, in spite of assurances, she had hardly expected to be taken at her
word, and when the train stopped, looked questioningly up and down the
platform for the faces of her cousins.  No one, however, whom she had
ever seen before, presented herself, and Claudia found that she was
thrust upon her own resources.  They were fully equal to the strain, the
arrival offered no difficulty and required no assistance; it was merely
that she had pictured its causing some thrill of excitement in her new
home, since it is not every day that a young cousin, so much in advance
of the world, as she could not help believing herself to be, comes to
live with three elderly, and, therefore, from sheer necessity of
circumstance, commonplace sisters.  Put into words the thought smacks of
conceit, but nothing would have shocked Claudia more than to have seen
it in words: it was not even sufficiently formed to deserve to be called
a thought, and was, rather, a vague impression, a shadowy groundwork for
the surprise.

Still, it existed sufficiently to impel her to look out of the window of
the fly, after having assured herself that her bicycle was safe, and to
wonder whether, even yet, some unpunctual feminine figure might not be
seen hurrying along the street, all excuses and welcome.  She looked
also critically at the rows of houses on either side, such as are common
enough in every country town, and at the grey towers of the cathedral
rising beyond the roofs.  Roads branched away, she passed a church,
defiant in the ugliness of some sixty years ago, the rows of houses
changed to lower walls with tall trees feathering over them, and at last
the fly turned at an iron gate, and drove towards a white house, with a
door set squarely on the western side, and a blaze of colour about it
which Claudia dismissed with contempt as "bedding-out stuff."  It was
likely, she felt, that the door would be hospitably open, and an
expectant flutter of draperies prove that she was eagerly watched for;
when nothing of the sort was visible, Claudia philosophically withdrew
her head, convinced that urgent engagements stood in the way of her
cousins' welcome, and, although still surprised, she was not in the
least affronted.

The few moments which remained she spent in a flying wonder as to what
her future life would be like, if wonder is not too strong a word, for
to herself she had pictured it as clearly as she ever pictured anything,
being a young woman who held that definite outlines savoured of
Philistinism, and that in order to receive impressions truthfully, the
mind should be in the condition of blotting-paper.  She wished to begin
her new life in this recipient state, and she piqued herself upon her
powers of adaptation, which, to say the truth, had not as yet been much
exercised.  Possibly it was to prove their strength that she had chosen
to run counter to the prognostications of the world--her world--and when
her mother died, and a dozen relations opened their doors to receive
her, at the end of a year which she spent at a college, preferred to
write to the three sisters who had made no sign, and ask them to admit
her into their home--for the present.  She was careful to make that
reservation.

Claudia took this step from choice, not from disgust, feeling nothing
but kindliness in the opening of the dozen doors, to her and her
fortune.  She flattered herself that she was a cynic, but her nature was
really frankly unsuspicious, and, finding no difficulty in believing
that her society might add a pleasantness to life, it did not surprise
her that her relations should wish to enjoy it.  But something--it is
difficult to say what--drew her imagination to fasten upon the prosaic
aspect of the three cousins, living in a remote county, near a quiet
cathedral city.  She had reasons for the step which she considered
sufficient, but perhaps it was the very prose of the situation which
chiefly attracted her, for she loved poetry so passionately that she
would be certain to do prosaic things.

The fly stopped, and the bell was rung, without a head appearing at
either window, and though the maid who opened the door looked agreeably
expectant, it appeared that neither of the Miss Cartwrights was at home.
Miss Philippa, however, had left a message that if she were not in she
hoped to be back very shortly, and Miss Hamilton must have tea without
waiting.

Claudia accordingly went through the hall into the drawing-room,
smiling, but a little disappointed that the house in which she found
herself was not more like what she had expected, a home in which she
might have worked a beneficent revolution.  There was a good-sized, if
rather dark, hall, hung with fine prints, and the drawing-room was
almost too bright and cheerful.  Flowers, books, and china, she might
have expected, but there was grouping on which her eye fell with some
surprise.  She reflected with a sigh for which she might have found it
difficult to account, that fashion now penetrated everywhere.  Then she
sat down in an extremely easy-chair, took off her hat, took up a book,
and waited.

Seen thus, Claudia's beauty was more striking than when the hat hid a
small dark head, and to some extent shadowed eyes which were at once
sweet and eager.  Her nose was rather piquante than classical, and her
cheek had a charming dimpled roundness.  Her figure was both small and
slight, and her clothes fitted admirably.  Altogether, when Philippa
Cartwright came hurriedly in, her eyes fell upon a pretty picture of a
young girl lying in a deep chair, her dark hair flung into strong relief
by the red silk cushion in which it was buried, and on which slanted the
rays of an afternoon sun.

"My dear Claudia," she exclaimed, "how inhospitable you must think us!
And why didn't you have your tea?  I told Jane to insist upon it.  Anne
and Emily are in the town with Harry Hilton, and I intended to have been
at home long ago.  I might have known better.  But you shall have tea at
once.  Here it comes, and plenty of scones, I hope.  Sugar?"

"Please.  But let me pour it out," said the girl, pleasantly.  "I dare
say you are much more tired than I am."

Miss Philippa laughed.

"I?  Oh, I am never tired," she said.  "I haven't the time.  Let me see,
Claudia, I quite forget if you know our country?"

"Not at all.  And I thought it lovely as I came along, though one
couldn't say much for the farming."  Her voice changed, and she said
more shyly, "It is very good of you to have me in this way."

"Well, it is simply an experiment on either side," returned her cousin,
giving her a comprehensive look.  "We don't in the least know whether
you will be able to do with us, and of course it will take you a little
time to discover, so that no one is to feel at all bound in the matter.
That is my one stipulation.  And we have agreed that from the very
beginning--unless you dislike it--you are not to be treated as a
visitor, but as if you lived here, and had all the independence of home.
I began, you see, by coming back too late to receive you," added Miss
Philippa, with twinkling eyes.  "Otherwise it doesn't seem to me as if
you could judge fairly whether you like the position or not.  What do
you think about it?"

Claudia was looking straight at her and evidently considering.

"Yes," she said, with a little nod, "I agree with you.  There is a good
deal I have to explain, but that can wait.  Yes.  That will leave us
freedom on both sides, for I warn you, you are very likely to disapprove
of me.  I hardly liked to use the word experiment, but I should have had
to get at it somehow.  You see, my sympathies are very much with what I
suppose you call the new woman."

"When you're my age, my dear," said Philippa, bluntly, "you will have
discovered that there's nothing new under the sun.  However, you can be
as new as you like here, and you will charm Emily--so long as you don't
consider it a part of your mission to call for brandies and sodas.  She
is a blue-ribboner, and so is Jane, the parlourmaid."

Claudia detected ridicule, and flushed.

"I think teetotalers are extraordinarily ill-balanced, though I respect
them," she returned stiffly.

"Yes, please respect them," said Philippa, with a laugh.  "Now, will you
come to your room?"

Claudia got up and went to the window.

She turned with easier excitement.

"A river!  Is that really a river?  Oh, delightful!"

"Yes, we can provide you with that, and it is a very tidy river for
fish, I believe--at least Harry Hilton says so," said her cousin,
following her.  "He will be able to tell you more about it."

"Oh, I don't care about fishing," the girl said hastily.  "I was
thinking of its capabilities, and how splendidly one can utilise them."

"Its capabilities?" repeated Philippa, puzzled.  "Well, whatever they
are, your window commands them, for we have given you the south room on
account of the view, otherwise there is a larger one to the west.  But
come and see for yourself, for if you prefer the other, it is quite easy
to change.  Jane will help you to unpack."

"No, thank you,"--Claudia spoke firmly--"I like to do everything for
myself."

"Well, you know best, only don't crowd your experiments.  Here is your
room," went on Miss Cartwright, opening a door at the end of a passage;
"your room, that is, unless you like the other better.  I hope they have
brought up all your things.  Dinner is at seven, because Emily has a
meeting to-night.  You will have to accommodate yourself to meetings.
By the way, Harry Hilton is staying with us, and he says he once met you
at the Grants'."

"I dare say," returned Claudia, indifferently.  "I don't remember."

"Well, he is a cousin on the other side of the house, one of the Hiltons
of Thornbury, you know--or perhaps you don't know--and is here a good
deal--on and off.  Now I will leave you in peace."

She was gone, and Claudia, barely glancing at her pretty room, sat down
on the window-seat, and stared enthusiastically at the strip of silver
light which marked the course of the river.

It gave a charm and variety which would otherwise have been wanting, for
though the country round was fertile and smiling, it had neither breadth
nor distinctive features.  At one point, indeed, there was a tantalising
peep of vanishing blue hills, but the foliage of the elms was heavy, and
the trees themselves stiff with the cutting which deprived them of their
lower branches.  After a long silent gaze, Claudia broke out into an
exclamation--

"Oh, how one could improve it!" she cried, leaning forward, and eagerly
tracing lines and curves in the air with a sweeping finger.  "What
opportunities they have thrown away!  To raise the ground there by a
long beautiful slope of grass, to plant out those hideous chimneys, and
cut, cut, cut!  They will--they must--let me do it, and then one could
get the most splendid effects of light out of the water.  Emily and her
meetings and her blue ribbons may be an infliction, but I could bear
almost anything for the sake of having a river to study."

She jumped up eagerly, unlocked a bag, and took out a book full of blank
pages, in which she was presently alternately writing and drawing, not
pausing so much as to look at the garden below when she heard voices
beneath her window.

Meanwhile Philippa Cartwright ran downstairs to a small morning-room
where she wrote notes with vigour until her sister, Anne, the eldest of
the three, a woman rather heavily built, and with a kindly sympathetic
face, looked in upon her.

"Is Claudia come?"

"Yes--and--unfortunately--I--was--not--home--in time," said Philippa,
speaking more slowly as she wrote more hastily.  "There!"  She folded
and flattened the note, addressed it, and began another.  "Where's
Harry?"

"Matthews has got hold of him about the vines.  Can't I help you?"

"Bless you, my dear Anne, haven't you yet learned to keep in your own
sphere?  Notes belong to mine.  By the way, talking of spheres, I think
you may as well enlarge yours and take in Claudia."

"Why?  Isn't she nice?"

"Very!  Charming!  And I don't deserve that speech when I am presenting
her to you just because I think she will be such an effective charge.
See if she doesn't distinguish our house!"

Anne shook her head gravely.  "You don't like her."

"I do, I do, I do!  Don't you know me well enough to see that I am at
this moment dying of jealousy?  It is such a splendid thing to be young,
as one only finds out too late.  Her dark eyes are so pretty, and her
figure is so pretty, and her frock fits so well!  One oughtn't to have
such contrasts forced upon one if one is expected to keep amiable.  Why,
up to to-day, I had fancied that because Emily had so few grey hairs,
she was quite a young thing!  It is all very well to pretend to be
philosophical.  I say straight out that I hate growing old."

"Is that all you have against Claudia?" asked Anne, smiling.

"Oh, it's enough!  It means that you will lose your heart to her, and so
will Harry."

"Harry?"

"Yes.  I am not sure he did not do so a little the first time that he
met her.  Well--he must take his chance.  You and his mother are always
fussing about his marrying, and here's his opportunity.  I don't know
that even you can wish for anything better.  An extremely good-looking
girl, and a pretty fortune."  Philippa began to laugh.

"What is it?"

"Only something she told me.  Never mind.  She will tell you all without
loss of time."

"Well, as to Harry, I give my consent--if you do; for, in spite of
jeers, you will be quite as particular as I.  I wonder whether there is
really any chance of his taking a fancy?" questioned the elder sister,
with a touch of wistfulness behind her words to which Philippa at once
became responsive.

"He is a very good fellow, bless him!" she declared heartily, "a very
good fellow indeed, even if he has a few more faults than you and Minnie
will admit, and I must see a great deal more of Miss Claudia before I
give my consent--which has so much to do with the matter!" she added,
falling back on her usual manner.

"Harry thinks a great deal of your judgment."

"That's an appreciation apt to be tucked on one side in the great
affairs of life.  Still, I'm very much obliged to Harry for the
compliment, and it will certainly make me careful to avoid rash
counsels."

Claudia came down to dinner in excellent time.  Her black dress was well
cut, and set off the small dark head, and the eager eyes; if she were at
all shy, she did not show it, and she kissed her cousins and shook hands
with Mr Hilton without a trace of the new manners for which Philippa
was amusedly watching.

"I remember you now," she said to Harry; "at least I think it was you
who told me about a fox-terrier?"

"I have her here," said Harry, flushing with pleasure.

He was a young man with, as she decided at once, an excellent face,
although both in face and figure there was a wasteful inclination to
breadth.  The eyes were grey and honest, however, and would have
redeemed worse faults.  He laughed readily and happily, and Claudia
reflected further that if he were never likely to set the Thames on
fire, he was certain to be a popular man in his own neighbourhood.  He
did not interest her, but inwardly she gave him a half-contemptuous
credit for a dozen safe and good qualities, which she reflected were
probably allowed to run idly to seed.  Claudia was in the first ferment
of life, in which she required that every one's work should be spread
before them, parcelled out as distinctly as any allotment ground.

Yet her cousin Emily, the youngest of the three sisters, whose views ran
in the same direction if in a different groove, roused in her an
immediate antagonism.  Emily was the useful woman of the town; secretary
to two or three societies, warden, committee woman, what not!  To her
turned the thoughts of all the clergy when a new work had to be started,
or an old one revived.  She knew exactly how many pounds of butter and
pots of jam were necessary for a parish tea; she slaved at
school-treats, and did the work of two curates in her district.
Claudia, whose schemes swept to the regeneration of mankind, and a
general equalisation of things in the world, was partly contemptuous of,
and partly irritated by Emily's absorption in what she regarded as
miserable make-shifts, unworthy of the consideration of any one who had
passed a course in political economy, and whose papers had been
favourably annotated by the examiner.

She spent her evening in garnering observations, telling herself that
she was naturally curious about her new surroundings; what, however,
continued to surprise her most, was that she herself appeared to excite
less interest.  Her cousins, Anne especially, accepted her with kindly
goodwill, but when Philippa had said that from the first she was to be
treated as one of the family, it was evident that she was not using a
figure of speech.  No one was in the least overwhelmed by her arrival,
nor did it cause any divergence in the currents of interest which flowed
strongly.  Claudia listened, wondering whether under any circumstances
of life could she be carried along by such currents; she hoped that
would never be expected of her, but meanwhile could not doubt that
expectations of some sort existed, and began to have an unacknowledged
desire to say something which should astonish her hostesses.  She had no
such wish as to Harry Hilton, perhaps instinctively aware that she could
impress him by simpler means, and she talked chiefly to him, suiting her
remarks to his capacity, while listening as attentively as she could to
the remarks which dropped from the others.

"Well, Emily," Philippa was saying, "I warn you that if you're going to
trust to Mr Helmore's eloquence, your meeting will be a dismal failure.
He's a stick.  You had better get some one sent down from
head-quarters, even if it does increase the expenses."

"I really must try to avoid that," said her sister, nervously; "and I
assure you I haven't come to the end of my resources yet."

"You're a wonderful woman."

"Here's Harry," put in Anne.  "Harry has done nothing for a long while."

"They know my jests by heart.  No, no: here is Miss Hamilton."

"To make a speech?" asked Claudia, smiling.

She was careful to express no surprise, for, so far as she knew, there
was no possible reason why she should not make a speech.  But Harry was
evidently of another opinion.

"Good gracious, no!" he protested.  "Only to help in the entertainment."

"Don't ask her," interrupted Philippa.  "She's a Radical."

"Of course," said Claudia, calmly; "and a Socialist.  I don't see how
one can be anything else--that is to say, any one who takes the least
interest in his fellow-creatures."

She was a little disappointed at the effect upon her listeners.  Harry,
it is true, became rather redder, and Emily uttered a protesting "Oh!"
but Philippa and Anne showed no signs of having received a shock.

They were smiling.  It was Harry who hastened to say--

"Oh, you'll be converted.  You've come to the right house."

"I don't think I ever converted any one in my life except old Pentecost,
who you all vow is half-witted," said Philippa, shaking her head.  "In
these days no one is converted.  He or she grows up with an idea, and
takes in the newspaper which supports it.  But I am rather glad about
Claudia, and I think she shall make a speech after all."

"Just as you like," said Claudia, easily.

"Do you speak yourself?"

"Oh no; I have never been young enough."

"Debating clubs do that for one, at any rate," went on the girl,
unheeding.  "They take away all fear of one's own voice.  But I haven't
gone in for them much, because, of course, that sort of thing is not
required in my profession."

This time she was more successful in moving her audience.  Emily said
eagerly--"Your profession?  Oh, Claudia, this is very interesting!  What
is it?"

"I am a landscape gardener.  Didn't you know that I had been studying at
the college?"

"Yes, but we thought--well, we did not realise that you were actually
working there."  She assured them that this had been the case, keenly
enjoying their surprise.  Philippa, however, asked at once--

"Well, but the result, the outcome?  Shall you practice?"

"Certainly."

"And take pay?"

"If I did not, I should have no right to enter the market at all.  I go
into the ranks, to be treated exactly like the others."

"Only what is play to you is living to them," remarked Philippa.  "You
can never place yourself on the same footing.  However, as Emily says,
this is interesting.  Had you a particular fondness for gardening?"
Claudia could not say that she had.  "But one had to choose something.
I could not have been idle.  I did think of shop-dressing."

"Shop-dressing?"

"Yes; a girl I know has taken to that.  She starts very early every
morning in order to arrange the things in certain shop-windows.  It is
pleasant work enough, and she gets three hundred a year.  But it is
rather a bore having to go out at such an unearthly hour, and on the
whole I thought landscape gardening preferable."

"But what is it?  How do you do it?" asked Anne, leaning forward and
smiling.  She was the softest of the sisters, large and fair.

"I lay out gardens for people," said Claudia.  She scented ridicule, and
was determined to speak simply.

"Gardens?  Gardens on a great scale, I suppose?" put in Philippa.  "A
landscape means something vast."

"Oh, not necessarily.  Of course one might have to rearrange a park; but
your garden, for instance, is a delightful size.  And now you know why
your river enchanted me.  I always wanted to try my hand upon a river."

"Did I not tell you she was a Radical?" asked Philippa, addressing the
others.  "Imagine our good, respectable, steady-going river turned out
of his centuries-old groove!  No, Claudia, we are not going to deliver
him up to your tender mercies, and could not if we would.  A river--a
real river--is a more important personage than you conceive; not to be
trifled with even so much as the government of a country."

"That is what I say," returned Claudia, smiling.  "England is so full of
absurd restrictions that, do what you will, you run your head against
them."

"You will have to try the colonies," said Anne.

"Or a thousand miles or so of prairies."

Claudia coloured.  She had an uncomfortable conviction that her cousin
Philippa was mocking.

"It is opportunity I want--not size," she said with dignity, and as she
spoke she looked at Harry, who had been listening to the conversation in
amazement--mute, except for an occasional muttered "By Jove!"  But to
her look he answered at once.

"Of course," he said boldly.  "There must be dozens of people who want
their places set to rights.  Would Thornbury do to begin with?  If you
would come to Thornbury, you could have a free hand, and lots of flowers
to do anything with."

Claudia turned her face towards him with a sigh.

"I am not a florist, and I know nothing whatever about flowers, because
they don't in the least enter into my scheme.  But as to grouping and
re-arranging trees, if I can be of any use I shall be happy to do all I
can."

"The Thornbury trees!" murmured Philippa.

"And transplanting is so easily managed now," the girl went on, "that
really I can't conceive why people are not more enterprising in trying
new effects.  If you think of it, how should the planting at haphazard
which went on everywhere, produce the best combinations?  Whereas, bring
art to bear, and the whole falls into a beautiful unity."

He agreed enthusiastically.

"Exactly.  I never thought of it before, but now you speak of it, it
does seem extraordinary that we should leave so much to chance, I
believe ours may be very much improved."

Philippa, with an amused twinkle in her eyes, inquired whether Claudia
had found an opportunity of trying her powers.

"At the college, of course.  But I am hoping for larger work," said
Claudia, eagerly.  "It is like everything else, one has to begin in a
small way, and get known by degrees."

And, as she spoke, vague shadows floated before Harry Hilton's eyes.  He
saw a girl's light figure flitting along the grassy rides at Thornbury,
transformations, golden sunshine everywhere.  The evening was touched to
him with a strange strong delight which marked it out from all the other
evenings he had ever known.

Claudia herself awoke to enthusiasm and plans.  From her window she saw
food for both in a stretch of fair wooded country lying in a morning
haze, with the silver arrow of the river flashing through the green.
Her thoughts immediately busied themselves with planting, thinning, and
grouping, and Harry Hilton's cheerful whistle to his dog under her
window only suggested a hope that he would carry out his proposal of
getting her a free hand at Thornbury.  She resolved to talk to her
cousins that day, and explain fully how she was desirous of making their
house her head-quarters, holding herself absolutely at liberty to go and
come as her calling required.  She expected argument and disapproval,
since it was unlikely that three sisters living on the outskirts of a
provincial town, should have sufficiently caught the spirit of the age,
and the new development of woman, not to detect strong objections in any
career which offered independence to a girl of her age.  But against
argument she felt herself duly fortified, even thirsted for it as a
young soldier might thirst for the first brush of battle.  She was the
least little bit in the world therefore disappointed that her
announcement of the evening before had not shocked them into stiffer
protest, but she told herself that they had not been alone, and that the
struggle would be in private.

"You see, Philippa," she found herself saying with eagerness, when after
several vain attempts to capture her cousin, she had run her to the
earth in the small morning-room which was called the den, "I should be
simply wretched if I had nothing to do, and in these days everything is
over-stocked.  I dare say you feel that it would be more useful to
undertake something in the philanthropic line, but I haven't the least
inclination for that sort of thing--I should hate to go about collecting
rents from poor creatures who can't pay, and oughtn't to be made to; or
dragging girls into clubs.  I couldn't, indeed!"

"My dear," said Philippa, "please don't set me up as an imaginary
nine-pin in order to knock me down flat.  I assure you you will discover
I haven't nearly so many opinions as you have, for as I grow older, I
find a privilege of age consists in putting away pre-conceived notions,
and possessing one's self of a receptive mind."

Claudia glanced quickly at her.

"Most people," murmured the girl, "rather object."

"We shan't try you in that way.  So long as we ourselves are not
improved upon by force, nobody here will interfere with your improving
other people.  And really I thought Harry's a handsome offer last
night."

"Oh," said Claudia, carelessly, "it didn't come from conviction.  He
thought I was a girl and not bad-looking, and that I didn't mean actual
business."

Miss Cartwright smiled behind a newspaper; but Claudia's tone was quite
frank and free from self-consciousness.

"He's not very brilliant, is he?" she went on.  "You like him, I can
see, and I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but of course his must be a
terribly deteriorating sort of life.  Imagine a man caring to knock
about with no particular object!  I don't myself understand how any man
could stand such an existence, or woman either.  Of course that is now
getting to be recognised, only we unfortunate women, having been in the
groove for centuries, find it hard to emancipate ourselves; while men
have had all the advantages of action and movement, so that, luckily for
them, a dilly-dallying life strikes lookers-on as a failure, and public
opinion forces them into some sort of exertion.  That's the secret of
their success, and it is horribly unfair upon women, but it's going to
be different now!" she exclaimed with enthusiasm.

Philippa groaned.

"If that means we are to have more than ever to do, what will become of
us?"

"Oh, this will be work worth the doing!" cried Claudia.

"I see.  Well, my dear, do it.  As I said before, no one here will say
you nay, provided their own liberties are guaranteed to them.  Do you
begin at once, or is this to be an off day?"

"I am going on the bicycle to try a new brake, and then I may draw out
some plans in the garden."

"You will find a comfortable seat under the great beech."

And there, some hour later, Philippa, having finished her accounts and
written letters, beheld Claudia established, surrounded by fluttering
papers and pencil sketches, which Harry Hilton carefully guarded from
the wind.  Miss Cartwright, to tell the truth, was not best pleased at
the sight.  She bit her lip, and rubbed her left ear.

"Now, is she good enough for him, or is she going to make ducks and
drakes of the honestest heart in the county?  Which, I wonder?  And what
an old fool I am to suppose that anything I can do will affect either of
them!  No, my dear Harry, you must manage for yourself, and if Miss
Claudia despises you, you will have to put up with it.  She is a great
deal too narrow-minded at present to fall in love, and, bless her, with
all that fine sweeping scorn of grooves, how little she understands what
a broad outlook means!  Well, well, it's natural enough, and I am sure
the rising generation is delightfully in earnest in views and reforms;
only, when it sets to work to reform one's self, human nature is
disposed to be nasty.  You will be a wiser woman, Philippa Cartwright,
if you step on one side, and accept the position.  Is that you, Anne?
You have come just in time to assist in an act of abdication."

"Who is ironic to abdicate?"

"I.  From to-day I take a back seat."

"Claudia again, I suppose?" said her sister, with a laugh.  "My dear
Philippa, you will not stay there long.  Now, _I_ am deeply interested
in Claudia."

"Oh, so am I, and so is Harry.  Look under the big beech and see for
yourself."  Anne looked, and was silent.

"Well?"

"Well,"--slowly--"I suppose the old story is too strong for the new
woman."

"Of course it is--mercifully," retorted Philippa with impatience, "and,
if it comes to that, I say nothing; but my impression is that the new
woman by no means shuts out love of admiration, though she calls it by
another name, and I don't want Harry to be its victim."

"Oh, she will get over that sort of thing.  She is very young."

"There is just one tiresome point in your character, Anne.  You can
never hear a person found fault with but you must stand up for him or
her.  Consequence.  Sinners like myself can't rest till we have proved
our case.  Claudia has come here with the intention of setting us all to
rights, and educating us up to her standard; and if you don't call that
conceited--I do."

"I dare say we were all conceited at her age."

"No, I wasn't; nor were you.  We should have been put into our proper
places quickly enough.  However, you have sent my good resolutions to
flight with your exasperating charity, for when you arrived I was
thinking most piously about our cousin, and had made my mind up to see
Harry make a fool of himself, yet say nothing.  Now I am all prickles
again."

Anne laughed and said no more.

CHAPTER TWO.

Claudia, sitting under the great beech with Harry Hilton, was becoming
interested in her listener, because he showed what she called a
recipient mind, meaning that he attended to all she said, and was ready
and eager to admit the good effects which were to result to woman from
her taking up landscape gardening.  How was she to know that his
thoughts meanwhile fastened themselves upon the dimple in her cheek, the
waving tendrils of her hair, the whiteness of her throat?  He would have
agreed to almost anything uttered in her young clear voice, for the mere
pleasure of hearing her speak, and his own happy and genial nature
accepted the charm frankly.  She was good, he was sure, and her schemes,
whatever they were--and it cannot be said that he quite understood their
aim--must be good too.  She wanted her fellow-creatures to be raised,
and she had her own ideas as to how the rise was to be effected--he
thought her adorable for the wish, and more adorable for telling him
about it.

"People will believe me mad," she said.  "I am quite used to that.  No
one is prepared for a woman who has money enough to let her sit still
and fold her hands, choosing to plunge into a regular money-making
occupation.  Half my friends suppose it to be just a fad, and I can't
tell you how many letters I get asking me to stay, and assuring me that
nobody will object to my amusing myself in their gardens.  Amusing
myself!  Why, I make it a strictly professional matter.  If I do
anything--even here, for my cousins--it must be for payment.  I couldn't
oppose the laws of political economy."

"No, no," said Harry, doing his best to struggle after her, "of course
not.  I think it a capital idea.  When a woman has no actual home of her
own, naturally she wants occupation."

But this was not right, and Claudia frowned.

"She always wants, or ought to have, her occupations.  Do you imagine
that if I married, for instance, I should be content to merge all my
interests in ordering dinner, or talking about servants?"

He looked at her puzzled.

"I should continue to work," said Claudia, calmly.

"But," burst from honest Harry, "you don't mean--?  No man who could
work would stand his wife having to grind!"

"Why not?" she demanded.  "If the woman has learnt her business, why on
earth shouldn't she grind, as you call it, as well as her husband?"

"Why?  Well, simply, he would be a cad if he allowed it, unless it was
absolutely necessary."

Claudia sat up straight, and turned her bright face upon him.

"Ah, these are the behind-hand ideas which we have to live down.  Don't
you understand that we hold there ought not to be the social differences
which have hitherto existed?  We maintain that idleness is a sin, and
that we ought all to be working men and women.  Of course while
different degrees of culture and education handicap some of us, the work
cannot be alike, but by decrees that will right itself--By degrees?  I
believe it is coming by leaps and bounds.  I suppose, now," she added,
"you think there is a difference between me and--say a charwoman?"

"By Jove, yes!" blurted out Harry, with a laugh.

"Well, I expect if we could project ourselves fifty years or so, you
wouldn't find much.  That difference is something we have to be ashamed
of, and to rectify.  We must give the people our opportunities and the
chance of reaching a higher level.  I dare say that horrifies you?"

"Oh, not at all," he said, struggling between admiration and a sense of
the ludicrous.  "I am only a little puzzled."

"Yes?" she said graciously; for to puzzle her hearers and then enlighten
them, was a fascinating process.  "Yes?"

"I was wondering who would do the washing?"

"They, of course.  They, just the same, only with higher standards of
perfection and better methods.  It will have reached the dignity of a
fine art by that time."

All his admiration could not keep back an explosive laugh.

"You mustn't be angry," he said, "I think it's splendid--as you put it."

"Oh, I'm not angry," returned Claudia, frankly.  "One can't expect to
make people look at things from one's own point of view in a minute.
You've all of you a thousand prejudices to get rid of to begin with.
The great point is if you wish to learn."

"If that's all, I want to--awfully."

"Really?"

"I should think so!"

"Well, then, I don't mind telling you."  She was looking gravely at him,
her chin resting on her hand.

"That's tremendously good of you."

"Yours is a good face," she went on calmly, with her eyes still upon
him; "not clever, you know, but honest and straight.  I should think you
always tried to do what was right, and that you might be trusted.  I'm
ready to be friends, if you are."  And as she spoke, she stretched out a
small white hand with a frank gesture.

Harry Hilton flushed like a girl to the roots of his hair, as he took
it.

"You're--you're too good, Miss Hamilton," he stammered.

"Why?" said Claudia, opening her eyes and smiling.  "Don't you think
it's nice to have friends?  I had so many at the college, and I really
miss them here.  I can't stand writing and that sort of thing--I haven't
the time.  So that if you like it."

"Like it!"

"People are so stupid," she went on; "they always talk as if men and
women couldn't be friends without fancying themselves in love, or some
such nonsense.  Several of us agreed that we would make our own lines,
and not give way to foolish conventionalities.  Why should we not show
the world that it is mistaken?"

"Yes," he said more doubtfully.  But Claudia was filled with the
enthusiasm of her own convictions, and the hesitation of his
acquiescence was lost upon her.

"Of course we can, and we will.  You and I, for instance, will be good
comrades, ready to help each other on either side.  If I think you wrong
in any matter I shall tell you, and you must do the same by me.  Then
there are certain things I will never have."

"What are they?" said Harry, hastily.

"If you pay compliments or flatter, the compact's off.  I can't stand
either one or the other."

"Mayn't I say if I admire anything very much?"

"Certainly not.  Is that how you talk to other men?  You must try to
think that I am another man, and talk as you would then."

"Oh!" groaned Harry.  He murmured that it was all new to him.  The
sudden limit which she put to this delightful offer of friendship was
disconcerting, but he reflected that, after all, and for a time,
friendship was a step in the right direction.  There was no doubt that
Claudia meant what she said, even if she spoke with extraordinary
simplicity.  Now, as she began to gather her fluttering leaves together,
he said eagerly, "You're not going?"

"You are," said the girl, with a smile.  "We've talked enough."

"We haven't said a word about Thornbury.  You'll come to Thornbury,
won't you?"

"Is that where you live?  Yes, if I can do anything there.  My
engagements have not yet begun, and Thornbury may as well start them as
any other place."  She spoke in a business-like tone, and took out a
note-book.  "Let me see; how much time will you want, and when?"

"As soon as possible, and for as long as possible."

"That won't do," she said, laying down her book, and speaking coldly.
"This is strictly business."

"I'll get my mother to write," said Harry, hurriedly.

Claudia opened her eyes.

"Why trouble her?  Surely I can arrange it with you?"

"Well, you see--" he began, and stopped.

"Did you speak?"

"I want to thank you.  I think it most awfully kind.  Still, I believe
my mother would like to write.  She's--"

"Yes?"

"We're all of us rather old-fashioned people, you see."

"Oh yes, I see.  I think you might even say--very," said Claudia, gaily.
"Well, settle it any way you like.  I only warned you because I dare
say I shall soon be having plenty of applications and getting my time
filled up.  And you had better tell her that my terms are ten pounds for
one week, or fifteen for a fortnight.  It is always well," she added,
"to have things square beforehand.  Now I must get to work."

Left to himself, Harry Hilton's face broadened into a smile.  He lit a
cigarette, stuck his hands into his pockets and sauntered towards the
river to see whether any fish were rising.  His head was full of
Claudia's face, and the flashings and cloudings which swept across it,
giving it a charm even more irresistible than mere beauty.  He felt a
great desire to stand well with her.  "If I can get her to Thornbury,
and let her go ahead with some of the young trees, she'll be pleased.
The mater will ask her, fast enough, if she knows I want it; and I'll
get Philippa to tackle--her, and see that she writes a civil answer.  I
want her to make a good impression.  I wonder if I'm falling in love?
Well, hang it all! if I am, it's not unpleasant.  _I_ don't mind.  I
hope it won't spoil my fishing.  `Ten pounds for a week, and fifteen for
a fortnight'!  Oh, I say, I can't tell the mater that, I really can't!"

He was laughing again, for he was not yet so much in love as to fail to
see the comic side of Claudia's announcements.  His nature was simple
and broadly lined, but furnished with good common sense which would
prevent his ever making a fool of himself, or being made a fool of by
others.  Claudia, at this period of her life, admired complexity and
unfathomable sayings, and it would have mortified her beyond expression
to have realised with what ease Harry pushed aside her small
eccentricities as absolutely matters of no moment.  They did not affect
the attraction he felt a whit more than an unbecoming fashion would have
detracted from his admiration for a beautiful face.  Then how frank she
was, how free from petty ways and shams!  He looked at the hand in which
her white hand had rested, and his smile became very grave and tender.
He stood so long, indeed, that Vic, the fox-terrier, came back and
jumped on him inquiringly.  Harry patted her, laughed happily again, and
set himself to consider the best method of getting an invitation to
Thornbury couched in such terms as should satisfy Claudia's views as to
the exigencies of political economy.  He made up his mind to go home
himself the next morning, and he had a hope that Claudia would express a
little regret at his leaving--a hope which was not realised.  All that
fell from her was a casual remark at dinner.

"Let me know as soon as you can if you want any time kept for Thornbury,
for I shall be writing to the college in a day or two."

"And what does the college do?" asked Philippa.

"It acts as a medium.  Naturally, people apply to the Principal to
recommend a capable person."

"And she would recommend you?"

"Why not?  She knows how much or how little I am good for.  If she did
not think I was up to the work, another would be put in."

"I see."

"But you don't require us to write to the Principal?" said Harry,
anxiously.

"You would be wiser if you did," retorted Claudia.  "But we do not
require it, for we are all at liberty to make our own arrangements."

"And yet remain a sort of society?  I think it is very interesting,"
said Emily.  "I always maintain we don't co-operate enough."

"It depends upon what you co-operate for," the girl answered coolly, for
she thought Emily's schemes, where they were not mischievous,
inadequate, and was resolved to avoid being drawn into their meshes.
For Anne she felt that universal attraction which a large power of
sympathy creates, and, though she now and then winced under Philippa's
trenchant sentences, she enjoyed their humour and blunt directness; but
for Emily's best intentions she had no other word than--inadequate,
which expressed a good deal of contempt.

As for Harry Hilton, she liked him cordially, but her offer of
friendship was made perhaps more with a view to his benefit than her own
pleasure.  A man with so limited a horizon that he was content to live
without a profession or hope of a career, was a man to be profoundly
pitied, and stirred, if possible, to a nobler ambition.  If she had
realised that he seriously admired her, the idea would only have caused
irritation, as that with which she might have regarded any tiresome
person who wished to place an obstacle in her way.  This impatient anger
is not unusual with young girls for whom the world is just unfolding.
They are eagerly expectant, time looks infinite, sentiment ridiculous,
the lover comes before their hearts are ready, he is in their way, and
they call him silly.  They will accept him as a comrade, a companion;
but the feeling which they are always credited with wishing to inspire
is, in many a case, so irksome that they cannot forgive the man who
offers it, and he never recovers the ground which that first repulsion
lost.

CHAPTER THREE.

Harry departed, and Claudia expressed her compassion to Philippa.
Philippa grew hot in his defence.

"Of course you like him," said the girl.  "I think he is a capital
fellow, and that's the pity of it.  Yes, yes, I know.  He and you are
convinced that he will do very well by-and-by to reign at Thornbury,
where they will touch their hats and curtsy to him, and he will send
down soup when they are ill.  That's his line exactly, and it may exist
in England a few years longer, but it's on its last legs."

"Aren't you getting rather mixed?" asked Philippa.  "The soup, or the
line, or what?"

Claudia laughed.

"You know what I mean.  The old order.  It had its good points, I'm
quite ready to admit, but it is over, it must be put away, and a new
situation faced.  The People, with a capital letter."

"Aren't we the People, with a capital letter?" murmured Miss Cartwright.

"Yes, if you join the movement.  Otherwise you're only--I beg your
pardon, Philippa, but I know you would hate humbug--only a fly on the
wheel.  You'd be swept along anyway, but you wouldn't help."

"I'm not sure I shouldn't have the best of it, though, except for the
dust," Philippa said meditatively.  "And poor Harry!  I think you are
ungrateful to him when he is boldly facing the new situation on your
behalf.  Think of his mother's face!"

"Ah!" said Claudia, smiling.  "Yes, think!"

"Then won't you admit him as one of the People?"

"When he puts his shoulder to the wheel."

"I believe, if he's wise, he'll come and sit by my side.  I'm growing
more and more to prefer the fly."

"It's natural for you," said the girl.  "It is we younger ones who are
responsible for the forward movement."

Philippa winced.

"Yes, my dear, I know, and God forbid that I should forget it!" she
said, with a touch of wistfulness in her voice.  "Only it may surprise
you by-and-by to find how quickly you grow old in the eyes of the
younger.  Sometimes think of that, and don't be in too great a hurry to
push the old workers out of the ranks."

Claudia looked uncomfortable.

"I--I didn't mean anything of that sort."

"And I don't mean to be pushed," said Miss Cartwright, recovering
herself with a laugh.  "I flatter myself that we elders have some
staying power.  Take Harry, however, by all means, if you can get him to
push.  I dare say it will be good for him."

"That," returned the girl, "is what I think.  Of course, in a sort of
way, it is easy enough to get workers--men, I mean," she added, with a
fine disdain, "one has but to lift one's little finger.  But what is the
use of them?  They just take it as a new variety of flirting, and
haven't an idea beyond.  It simply means that so long as it amuses them
they will go on, and as soon as they are tired, drop it.  Oh, I know!"

"She is weary with the wisdom of the ages," Philippa said afterwards to
Anne.  "If you had heard that `Oh, I know!' and the depth of experience
it conveyed!  The world is topsy-turvy, frivolity will soon become a
virtue of the aged, all the merrymakings and junketings will be reserved
for the end of life, we shall be the last left to pipe and dance, while
youth regards us scornfully.  Claudia depresses me.  A hundred wrinkles
have grown in my face during the past week.  I am ashamed of my poor
innocent jestings.  If I smile, I look furtively at her to see if she
disapproves.  What mission has been mine?  Have I ever coursed cookery
through lectures, or passed the mildest of exams?  I did think I knew
something about housekeeping, but Claudia has proved that I work on a
wrong basis, and even in that I have to write myself a miserable
failure."

"Yet there is a delightful charm about her," her sister said,
disregarding this outbreak.  "She is wonderfully attractive and bright."

"Bless her, yes!  She'll do well enough; she'll find her limitations
quite honestly, if not at once."

"And will she go to Thornbury?"

"She's in the mood to go anywhere, only desirous of new worlds to
conquer; and she hopes to induce Harry to support the cause, without
being idiotic, like other men.  She is quite frank with her
experiences."

Both sisters laughed.

Meanwhile Claudia easily made herself at home, came and went as she
liked, and refused to be bound by the slenderest of social fetters.  The
kindly placid circle of a cathedral town, desirous--from respect to the
Miss Cartwrights--to exercise hospitable duties towards a young girl who
had but just fluttered into it, and might be supposed to require
encouragement and support, was absolutely paralysed by the abruptness of
Claudia's renunciation of such benefits.  The Dean's wife went so far as
to ask her to dine, which, considering the plethora of young ladies, and
the difficulty of providing each lady with a dignitary, or even a
curate, was an attention scarcely short of the heroic.  It was the more
startling when a note arrived, written in an upright manly hand, and
announcing that owing to professional duties, Miss Hamilton would be
unable to accept any invitation.

"Professional!" repeated Mrs Dean, staring at the note.

"Is she a lady doctor?" hazarded her eldest daughter.

"She has not that appearance," said the Dean, with decision.

"But, my dear, she must be something odd.  And then to state it in such
a barefaced way!  A young creature not older than Rosa!  Well, we have
done all that could have been expected, and I can only say I am truly
thankful she is not coming."

For all this, Claudia came and went contentedly, and if she had heard
the speeches would have enjoyed them, as in some degree emphasising her
position.  Philippa laughed, and Anne smoothed over where smoothing was
necessary, but Emily was ruffled, because before her young cousin's
appearance she had been considered to lead the van of progress, and she
was afraid that Claudia's Radical theories might be confounded with her
own.  Besides, Claudia's scorn of leagues and friendly societies and
blue ribbons was apt to be scathing; she talked socialism, and combined
it with an innocent despotism contradictory enough to belong only to
original woman.

Mrs Hilton's letter of invitation came enclosed in one to Philippa.

"My dear Philippa (it said):--

"Harry tells me you have a young cousin staying with you, who is very
fond of what they call landscape gardening, and he seems to think it
would amuse her to come to Thornbury.  I am sure we shall be delighted
to have her here, for it must be dreadfully sad for her to be alone in
the world, poor thing! and if she likes flowers we have plenty, though
there they are, all in their beds, and I don't know what old Thomas will
say if anybody digs them up!  However, Harry can always manage.  We are
going to have a few friends next week, because it makes it more lively
for Harry.  Captain Fenwick on leave, and Ruth Baynes, and perhaps Helen
Arbuthnot will come, so that your little cousin would not find it so
dull."

Philippa read this to Anne with great amusement.

"What would our little cousin say if she saw?"

"Minnie has written."

"Not in these terms.  Harry would dictate the letter to his mother."

"Harry may dictate, but he will never get Minnie to understand that
Claudia is to be paid."

"Oh, well, it will be so amusing to see her awake to the fact, that,
upon my word, if it weren't that Emily's feelings would be so dreadfully
hurt if I deserted her meeting, I should be tempted to take Claudia--I
beg her pardon, travel under Claudia's wing--myself."

"That, my dear," said Anne, laughing, "you couldn't do.  Claudia will go
on her bicycle, and send her luggage."

Anne was right.

"I don't so much care about bicycling for the pleasure of the thing,"
Claudia remarked.  "But I much prefer it to your cross-country journeys.
It is but twenty miles as the crow flies."

"You will lose your way," said Emily.

"With a map and a compass?  How could I?"

She made all her arrangements with exactitude, and Emily, who had
prognosticated trouble for Philippa, had to own herself mistaken when
Claudia wrote all the necessary notes and directions, sent off her
luggage in excellent time, and came down in a very neat and well-cut
dress.

"You are a woman of business.  You don't leave your friends much to do
for you," said Anne, with her kind smile.

"We have learned that much," returned Claudia, pleased.  "What a
nuisance those poor clinging blushing women must have been, fainting
away on a man's shoulder whenever an emergency arrived!"

"Stop, stop!" put in Philippa.  "I won't have the heroines of my youth
abused.  Each generation offers a spectacle for the next to mock at.
Don't expect to escape yourself, Claudia."

"Well, they shan't accuse us of helplessness," said the girl, serenely.
"Can I do anything for you in the town?  No?  Then, good-bye."

She settled herself on her bicycle, and rode quietly away.  Emily looked
vexed.

"She might have taken the other road.  Now she will meet them all coming
out of the Cathedral."

"Which she will enjoy," said Anne, with a smile.  "Come, Emily, own that
she looks charming.  You are a woman of adventure yourself."

Claudia enjoyed her twenty miles exceedingly.  She met and scandalised
the Dean's wife, and made a much more charitable impression upon the
Dean himself, who looked after her with a sigh of envy, and a glance at
his own gaitered legs.  She noted both expressions, laughed, and then
her mind flung itself forward with the eagerness with which it always
seized upon the future.  She pictured Thornbury, its opportunities, its
deficiencies, and its altered aspect when she, Claudia, once more took
the road back to Elmslie.  The people she might meet were not nearly so
interesting.  The road, however, was neither good nor level, and often
she was obliged to confine her attention to its roughnesses.  Her real
sense of beauty, too, was charmed by the tremulous gladness of the day,
soft sunshine veiled in sudden glooms, which yet never became
threatening; a hedge-growth rich in ever-varying depths of green;
shadows from bordering elms wavering gently on the road, and here and
there a gate, a break in the hedge, a twist in the road, opening out
some blue distance, not mellow, indeed, with the glory of southern
sunshine, but tender as only an English distance can be, and sweet as
its remembrance.  Claudia was young, vigorous, exultant.  When the road
climbed so steeply that she was obliged to get off and push her bicycle,
it only made a pleasant change for her young strong arms.  Every now and
then she consulted her map, or, sitting on a stile, glanced at the
ripening corn, watched the busy rooks, and ate, with an excellent
appetite, the sandwiches supplied by Anne.  It was on one of these
halts, on the ridge of a hill steeper and stonier than she had yet
encountered, that another rider passed her, a man who looked at her
keenly.  He was thin, sun-browned, and clean-shaven.  She criticised his
dress and style of riding, without being able to find faults; she
noticed, too, that his bicycle had the latest improvements, such as she
would hardly have expected to find in these remote regions.  Then she
glanced at her map.  Thornbury was near--the Thornbury which in the glow
of exercise she had almost forgotten--and she guessed that he was on his
way there.  This interested her merely because she looked forward to
asking him some questions about his bicycle, which, she owned with a
sigh, was better than her own.

Harry, with half a dozen dogs, was waiting for her at the lodge.

"I knew it must be you whom Fenwick described," he said joyously.
"Down, Rob!  How splendidly you must have come to be here in this time!
I couldn't have done it."

"Of course you couldn't, with that thing of yours," Claudia said
disdainfully.  "It's abominably clumsy.  Captain Fenwick--if that's his
name--has a beauty."

"He's a clever fellow; he always has the best thing going," Harry
returned with a laugh.  "But how jolly it is to have got you here!
How's everybody?"

"I don't believe there's much chance since you were there last week.  Is
there ever any change at Elmslie?"

"Oh, isn't there!" he exclaimed, still radiant, and thinking of a change
which had meant a good deal in his life.  "But, come along; my mother's
expecting you, and you'll be glad of tea.  The cart has brought your
things up from the station all right."

Claudia's welcome was warm.  Only Mrs Hilton and Miss Baynes were in
the drawing-room.  Mrs Hilton, a large fair woman, whose mouth, habit
and love of her son had kept in a smiling curve, but whose eyes were
faded and weary, showered hospitalities upon the girl.

"My poor husband is a sad invalid, my dear, almost confined to his
chair, and sadly crippled, but I hope that at dinner, perhaps--" She
broke off vaguely, and Claudia was not long in discovering that Mrs
Hilton's sentences generally remained unfinished.  So, probably, did her
thoughts, but, as Philippa once said, her kindnesses never.  "And how
are our dear cousins?  It was so good of them to spare you.  I am only
afraid, my dear, of your finding us--Well, at any rate, here is Ruth,
who is always pleasant."

And she smiled at Miss Baynes, who was handing Claudia her tea.

"Thank you very much," said Claudia's young clear voice; "but you must
not think at all of me, because I shall be so busy all the time I am
here with the work you are kind enough to entrust to me.  And then I
have my bicycle, which makes me quite independent."

Mrs Hilton gazed at her, struggling with novel ideas.

"The work, my clear?" she said vaguely.  "But you mustn't talk of it as
work.  Harry said you were so clever in suggesting things, and, I am
sure, if you can amuse yourself with our garden--but--"

Claudia was sitting up, frowning.

"Did not Mr Hilton explain that my profession was landscape gardening?"
she said with dignity.

Harry, who had foreseen the scene, and whose mouth was twitching, broke
in cheerfully--

"Yes, mother, you know all about it.  It's a splendid thing for
Thornbury to get Miss Hamilton here.  But we mustn't forget that she's
bicycled all the way from Elmslie, and when she has had her tea, I dare
say Ruth would take her to her room."

The mere suspicion of any one being tired brought out all Mrs Hilton's
tenderness.

"Of course, I ought to have remembered," she said, with compunction;
"but I have such a poor head, my dear, that I leave most things to
Harry.  Indeed, you must go to your room.  But did you really come alone
on a bicycle?  And Anne was not afraid to let you!  Well, to-morrow you
must tell me all about it."

Ruth Baynes, who carried off Claudia, was tall and slight, with a small
aquiline nose and a good-tempered expression.  It did not take lone to
discover that she had two brothers whom she adored, and various nephews
an I nieces, almost equally near her heart.  Whatever Claudia said or
did was capped by something they had said or done--generally better.
She left her at last to peace and a bath, and no one could look fresher
or less jaded than Claudia when the dinner-gong sounded.

Mr Hilton took her in to dinner--a thin querulous man, bent with
rheumatism, and walking by the help of a stick.  To her surprise, she
found that he was a scholar, deeply read and fastidious, as even she
could see, in his choice of expressions.  The only subject, except that
of books, which appeared to interest him, was his health, which excited
a constant irritability.  It was impossible for her to touch upon her
own hobby, because he waved it away at once.

"I know nothing about the place, and I care less," he said.  "Harry is
sufficiently fond of it to take that trouble off my shoulders, and I
leave it all to him.  Virtually he is master.  If ever you should have
the misfortune to be racked with rheumatism and lumbago, my dear young
lady, you would find yourself quite unable to take an active part in
life.  So I shut myself into my library, and trouble nobody with my
miseries."

Claudia thought of Mrs Hilton's tired eyes, and wondered whether they
did not tell a different tale.  She found the conversation languishing,
and was glad when Captain Fenwick came to the rescue, talking of some
classical translation just offered to the world.  She glanced at him
inattentively, and looked again.  If he were Harry Hilton's friend,
here, she allowed, was a stronger personality, evident at once, for
Harry was fair and sturdy, while this man was wiry, tall, and dark,
carrying in his brown features marks of a more adventurous, perhaps
impetuous, life.  As she looked, his eyes fastened themselves upon hers
with a penetration which she, for an instant, resented.  The next moment
her indifference returned, and she answered some remark of Miss Baynes',
made across the table, with the eagerness which easily awoke in her
face, and gave it a constantly varying charm.

Harry was not a man of strategy, but he manoeuvred that night to prevent
his mother from having anything but general conversation with her guest.
The evening was rainy.  Mr Hilton did not appear after dinner, and
Ruth Baynes told Claudia they often did not see him for days.

"He is only happy in his library," she added, "and sometimes he cannot
even get there.  Everything falls on Harry."

"`Everything' can't be very much, I expect," said Claudia.  "He must
want occupation."

"Oh, do you think so?"  Miss Baynes opened her eyes.  "My brother always
says that the county business alone is enough for any man."

"Perhaps, as to quantity."  Her emphasis pointed the remark, but her
companion only assented cheerfully, and proceeded to break fresh ground.

"Are you musical?" she asked.

"No.  I found there was no time in which to take up music thoroughly, so
I dropped it.  What do you do?"

"Play--sing--fiddle.  I love it better than anything in the world."

Claudia's face warmed.

"Oh," she said, sitting up and speaking energetically, "then of course
you really go in for it.  Do you teach?"

"Teach?  No," returned the bewildered Ruth.  "Why should I?"

"To be of use--to spread your knowledge, to make it something more than
a mere amusement.  Otherwise of what good is it?"

"Good?  I don't know.  I think people like it," said Ruth, vaguely.

"Oh!"

Claudia's "Oh!" implied a great deal as Mrs Hilton hurried towards
them.

"Dear Ruth, a little music, please."  And as Miss Baynes took glad
possession of the piano, Mrs Hilton murmured on to Claudia, "Ruth is so
kind, always ready to play and sing, and Harry likes it so much!  Do you
play, my dear?"

"No," Claudia said calmly.  "At one time I thought of going in for it,
but I hadn't talent enough to make it anything but a grind, with all
those Dresden courses to pass."

"Must you have gone to Dresden?  I don't think that dear Ruth was ever
out of England."

"But I should only have studied it in order to teach."

"My dear!" said kind Mrs Hilton, distressed.  "I am sure that is very
sad, at your age and all!  Harry did say something, only--I had no idea!
I hope, at any rate, you will take a nice holiday here, and--oh, you
are much too young, dear, dear, dear!"

"Please don't be sorry," said Claudia, touched yet triumphant.  "I have
no particular need to work, but we feel that we should cast in our lot
with those who have, and that no one has any right to stand idle.  That
is our position, you know."

"And if I had been a returned convict, I should scarcely have frightened
her more," reflected the girl gleefully that night in a last sleepy
retrospect which she cast on the evening.  For a moment longer her
thoughts lingered upon Captain Fenwick's dominant look, then she
dismissed him with a yawn.

CHAPTER FOUR.

She awoke early and sprang up at once, fresh as the morning itself, and
when she went to the window all her ambitions rushed to the front.  What
were people compared with those green masses in which she read promise
of fame?  An old place, with magnificent growth of timber, lay before
her bathed in the serenity of a young day.  From the lower ground a thin
white mist was drifting with filmy nothingness, but the softly swelling
uplands lay in beautifully rounded outlines against a clear sky, touched
by a delicate sunshine, and here and there broken by depths of cool
shade.  Claudia looked, and drew a long breath of delight, then dressed
rapidly, and was out in the park before any of the windows in the front
of the house were unsealed.  She glanced rapidly round her.  A French
garden, still in shadow, lay on the side of the house, but elsewhere
only grass and trees, splendid trees, met her view.  So far as she could
see, chestnuts and limes predominated, although contrasts were not
wanting in fir and cedar.  One with the other they grew in stately
order, evidently cared for, so far that there was scarcely any crowding,
and the big limbs had full play and sweep.  Claudia's first impression
of entire satisfaction had, by the time she had plunged into some of the
leafy intricacies, given way to more complicated criticism.  She walked
briskly, so as to acquaint herself with the lie of the ground, and
pulling out a note-book and pencil as she walked, fell to jotting down
possible improvements, chiefly with a view to obtaining distant effects.
Time passed rapidly in this congenial occupation, until she heard
voices close at hand, and looking up, saw Harry Hilton, a keeper, and
many dogs.  Harry at once made for her, and Claudia closed her book with
an ungrateful sigh, considering that it was he who had obtained for her
this splendid opportunity for renown.

"This is most surprising!" he called out joyously.

"Why?" asked Claudia as crossly.

"I thought I had heard you protest against early rising?"

"At Elmslie.  I dare say.  What was there to do at Elmslie?  Every
square inch was occupied by somebody."

He laughed.  "So it is, when one comes to think of it.  I'm a lazy chap,
and I suppose I don't mind."

"I suppose you don't.  I can't conceive how you can bury yourself here
and there, and not do anything bigger in the world," said Claudia,
looking at him meditatively.  Her tone only expressed wonder, but his
face fell.

"Don't you like it, then?" he said, in a disappointed tone.

"Oh!" she exclaimed with a change to enthusiasm, "do you mean this
place?  It is simply delightful.  It holds the greatest possibilities,
and I am longing to begin.  It is far, far more beautiful than I
expected; but of course it may be made more beautiful still."

He nodded.  He was looking at her, at the eager light in her eyes, at
her smiling lips, at the dimple so absurdly attractive.  This, he was
sure, was what Thornbury wanted.  She went on--

"May I really cut freely?  Your father will not object?"

He winced.  Claudia did not ask whether he cared, yet to no one at
Thornbury was every stick and stone of the old place so dear as to
himself.  His father buried himself in his books and his infirmities,
and his mother saw everything through the medium of her son's eyes.  But
there was not a tree, nor a patch of shadow on the grass, nor tangle of
underwood, nor green sweep of bracken, nor haunt of squirrel, which
Harry did not know and love.

"He won't object," he said hesitatingly.  "But--when you think you must
cut, you won't mind, will you, telling me beforehand?"

"Oh no," she said, "not in the least.  I know people have fancies and
prejudices, and I should not like to hurt them, of course.  Now will you
please go away?"

"Go away!  Why?  Have I offended you?"

"Offended me?  Why should you think so?" said Claudia, opening her eyes
in frank wonder.  "But you forget that I am here professionally, and
have my work to do."

"You're not going to work all day!" he exclaimed in dismay.

"I hope so.  Please don't misunderstand.  I'm not here on the same
footing as your other guests--as Miss Baynes, for instance.  I have only
come for a purpose."

"What on earth has that to do with it?"

"Everything.  You really must try to see what I mean."

"I can't," he muttered.

"Oh yes, you can.  Suppose, for instance, that I were an artist come
down to paint your mother's portrait.  Then you'd expect me to stick to
my work, wouldn't you?"  Claudia spoke sadly and temperately, as one
might to a thick-headed child.

"No artist would paint all day," he persisted obstinately.

"Nor am I going to work all day.  I suppose I shall eat and drink and
sleep--"

"And amuse yourself."

"Yes, and amuse myself, when there is nothing better to do.  But even
while he was doing all this, the painter would have an eye to business;
he would be studying your mother's expression, and little ways, and
characteristic movements."

"Oh, well, if that's what you'd like, I can take you all over the place,
and show you everything," said Harry with renewed cheerfulness.  "Nobody
knows it better than I do.  There are some old oaks behind the house."

"Thanks," said Claudia, crushingly; "but I prefer to work out ideas by
myself.  Do you know you have wasted a great deal of my time this
morning?"  She looked at her wrist as she spoke.  "There is only half an
hour to breakfast, and I must do the best I can with that."

He made another effort.

"You'll lose your way."

She escaped with a laugh.

"If I do, I give you leave to come and hunt for me."

Harry stood looking after her, mingled feelings in his heart.  Each time
that he saw her he seemed to like her better, and this morning her fresh
charm, the light in her eyes, and the general harmony which existed
between her youth and that of the day, the sky, and the woods, affected
him strongly.  He found it, too, very pleasant to see the woman he was
beginning to love better than any one else in the world, in the place
which was so dear to him, and her admiration for his old home gave him
keen satisfaction.

But there were damping reflections.  He had enough shrewd common sense
to be aware, not only that Claudia flung no glance in the direction
where he would have had her look, but that her friendliness was, to say
the least, pitying.  He had heard her inveigh--with the vigour she was
apt to put into her lightest words--against the drones who have no
purpose in the world, and something in her manner had made him fully
understand that she looked on him as a drone.  He felt this hard,
although he did not resent it, for he was not the man to talk about
himself, and she could not be expected to realise how incapable his
father was of managing the estate.  But he was afraid it would always
weigh with her, and the thought caused him great pain.  He saw no way of
altering her opinion, unless it came to her spontaneously, and in the
light of a discovery of her own, for no one could know Claudia, even for
a week--and he remembered with surprise that he had not actually known
her much longer--without perceiving that she preferred her own judgments
to those of other people.

It need not be thought, however, that, because Harry saw difficulties
ahead, he took them to be insuperable, or even particularly alarming.
Young, sturdy, healthy, he was the last man in the world to become the
prey of morbid fancies.  He could not forget that moment in which her
hand had lain in his.  He had her at Thornbury, which was present joy;
she was pleased with the place, and though he had no high opinion of his
own attractions, he was quite ready to hope that the place might count
for something, and told himself--it must be owned with a pang--not to be
such a fool as to begrudge her a free hand among the trees.  Then, his
reflections having mounted his spirits high, he whistled cheerily to the
dogs, stuck his hands into his pockets, and walked towards the house,
heroically resisting all temptations to waylay Claudia.

She arrived rather late.

"Here you are, my dear," said Mrs Hilton, kindly.  "How have you slept?
Are you rested?  Watkins said you would not let her do anything for
you."

"Thank you," said Claudia, pleasantly.  "I always manage for myself."
Her morning's round had put her into the best of humours, and she was
fresh and smiling, but before breakfast was half over, longing to escape
to the work which no one appeared disposed to regard gravely.  Captain
Fenwick, who was last of all, and dropped into the empty chair by her
side, made no attempt to conceal his amusement.

"You have been round the place already!  Wonderful energy!  And when are
you really going to begin?  Mayn't we all come and help?"

"Do you think you could?"

"I am sure I should be a very valuable adviser."

"About as much so as I should be if I attempted to drill your men.  I
suppose that is the sort of thing you do?" said the girl, so quietly
that he looked at her.

"I am afraid that is a neat way of hinting that I should mind my own
business."

Her eyes began to dance.

"Perhaps."

"You cover me with confusion.  But, indeed, you are mistaken.  I am
quite willing to learn."

"Only I did not come here to give lessons.  So don't you think we had
both better keep to what we know?"

He was piqued.  He was accustomed to find himself popular, which, put
into other words, meant courted, by women.  From Claudia's manner it was
plain that the honour of becoming his instructress did not appeal to
her.  If she had not really been very pretty he would have turned away;
as it was, he said in a tone of mock humility--

"What cruelty!  Do you refuse even to throw me a few crumbs?"

"Oh dear no!  Do they ever do any one any good?  However, if they please
you, and you find them about--May I ask for the mustard?"

Mrs Hilton's voice was heard, addressing Claudia.

"Harry tells me you will like to have your morning to yourself, and I
dare say you have letters to write, haven't you, my dear?  Anne will be
wanting to hear how you got on yesterday.  But after luncheon you must
come for a drive, and later perhaps a little tennis?  Or golf?  Harry
says that is what every one plays now, and I believe there are some
links--isn't that the name? or something."

"Thank you," said Claudia.  "I only care about cricket."

"Ah!" said Mrs Hilton, vaguely--"to look on at matches?"

"Oh no!  To play.  It seems to me the one game worth anything.  But,
then, I never tried football."

She glanced at her hostess, delighted to see her startled face.  But
Harry, who was on the watch, broke in cheerfully.

"Cricket?  Oh, of course.  Heaps of girls play nowadays."  (He did not
add that his opinion of their play was low.) "I'm afraid there's nothing
good to offer you, but Hurst is sending over an eleven to-morrow to play
Thornbury."

"Thank you," said Claudia again, and more coldly.

"And we shall all be expected to look on, I suppose?" remarked Miss
Baynes.  "We do at Walter's.  He and his boys are such first-rate
cricketers, they are always in demand."

She looked round enthusiastically, but no one appeared struck with the
statement.

"Other people's relations are even one degree less interesting than
other people's ailments," murmured Captain Fenwick, so that only Claudia
heard.  He went on, "Well, you've had your choice of amusements."

"I didn't come here to be amused."

"And you have scorned them all, pointedly."

"I!"  Her face dimpled.

"Don't you ever try to gloss over your feelings?  You make me afraid to
offer a suggestion."

"Why?" said Claudia, looking at him with disconcerting frankness.  "As
it happens, there is something you shall do for me."  He smiled.  "I
want to look at the brake of your bicycle, it seemed to act better than
mine."

"When?  This morning?"

"Certainly not.  It must be in play-time."  She turned, for Mrs Hilton
was speaking again.

"Will half-past three suit you, my dear?  Ruth, I know,"--nodding at
Miss Baynes--"will see that Mr Hilton has all he wants, and Harry--
Harry, won't it be a good plan for us to call at the station for Helen?
Yes, I thought so; we will do that, and come home in good time for tea."

Miss Baynes asked whether Miss Arbuthnot was expected.

"Oh, didn't I tell you?  So like me!  Yes, she is coming for a week or
two--for as long as she likes to stay," she added hospitably.  "Helen
almost belongs to the house, so that she will be able to help Harry."

"To help Harry?" repeated Claudia in an undertone.

"To amuse you," chuckled Fenwick.  "Oh!"  There was profound scorn in
the "Oh!"

"It's a little the case of _toujours perdrix_, isn't it?" he went on.
"But Harry's the best fellow in the world."

"You, too!"  She thought impatiently of Elmslie.  "Do let us take his
virtues for granted by way of a change, and tell me about Miss
Arbuthnot.  Who is she?  And what is she like?"  A new girl was a far
more interesting subject to her than any mere man; the girls at the
college, and the lines they took or might be expected to take, had been
fertile objects of speculation for their fellow-students.

"She," said Fenwick, slowly, "is a daughter of Lord Ambleton.  What is
she like?"  He hesitated.  "How am I to answer?"

Claudia opened her eyes.

"Why?  Is she so inscrutable?"

"Inscrutable?  Yes, perhaps.  But just then I was reflecting on the
difficulties of describing a woman to a woman without setting her
against her."

"Why?" asked the girl again, coolly.  "I suppose you mean that women are
jealous?"

"I shouldn't venture on such plain speaking."

"I wish you would," she said impatiently.  "I hate people to be afraid
to come round a corner without peeping first.  As for being jealous, I
don't agree.  I think women are more ready to admire women than men
men."

"Of course if you think so."

"Please don't pay silly compliments.  Disagree as much as you like, and
then the thing may be argued out."

"Never!"

"What do you mean?"

"Everything in the world has been argued, and nothing ever has been, or
will be, argued out."

Claudia paused.  "But that would strike at the root of all conviction,"
she said doubtfully.

"Oh, by no means.  Yours--excuse me--is a feminine leap at conclusions.
Do you really suppose that half the convictions in the world are capable
of being proved by argument?"

"Then," she said, "I don't see how they can be convictions."

"Well, experimentalise upon your own.  If you are fair I suspect you'll
find more than half are backed up by nothing better than a little
prejudice and a little--No, I won't say the other thing."

"Do," said Claudia, flushing.  No one had ever spoken to her so plainly
before, yet after what she had said, she could not have the satisfaction
of showing her displeasure.

She added quickly, "Though you know nothing of me."

"I've only a conviction.  Are you going?"

"Yes, indeed; I've wasted time enough."

"Even workers must eat!" returned Fenwick, maliciously, as he rose.

CHAPTER FIVE.

Miss Arbuthnot, when she appeared, awoke no remembrances of the college.
She was a woman of past thirty, large, massive, and sleepy-looking.
Claudia saw the meeting between her and Captain Fenwick, and was struck
by the idea that they rather disliked each other.  No two persons,
indeed, could have presented a greater contrast.

After the first morning, Fenwick exerted himself to give a personal
touch to the conversations he held with Claudia, and it surprised him to
find how much he cared to speak to her, since, as he reflected, it was
very like running your head against a stone wall.  Until now he had
always avoided women with opinions and prejudices; it is true that he
had not hitherto met them accompanied by a dimple, or eyes which grew
brilliant in their eager enthusiasm, but the real attraction lay in the
girl's absolute indifference.  He was so accustomed to impress that,
when he failed, he was like a hypnotist fighting against a strong will,
there was something which had to be overcome.  That Claudia should come
and go without casting a glance in his direction, that no gleam of
pleasure lit her face when he chose the seat next to hers, was an
affront to his vanity.  Almost unconsciously he began to study her more
attentively, and to mark her likes and dislikes.  As she announced them
with careless freedom, this was not difficult, but it was less easy to
please her, even when he had found them out.

Harry Hilton arrived at the same rueful conclusion by another road.

Heroic were the sacrifices he made in order that Claudia's plans might
sweep freely in whatever direction she chose to extend them.  There were
two limes which she condemned--not, as she owned, without regret--and
after the order had been given for their downfall, Harry rode away
immediately after breakfast, and did not return until dinner-time.  He
told himself that he was an idiotic fool, but, do what he would, all day
the broad shadow of the great branches haunted him, and he heard in
fancy every stroke of the axe.  Claudia, who was unusually well
satisfied with her day's work, greeted him eagerly.

"You don't know what a splendid opening we've got.  I am longing for you
to see and acknowledge it."

"They are down?" said poor Harry, trying to speak cheerily.

"Yes, quite."  Then she laughed.  "I wasn't going to wait, when you
might have changed your mind, for you did not altogether agree with me,
you know.  But I was certain it would be the greatest improvement
imaginable, and, even if it was a sacrifice,"--she was still
smiling--"art is made up of sacrifice, isn't it?"

"Is it?" he said humbly.

"Why do I talk to him like that, when he hasn't a glimmer of
understanding about art or anything beyond the commonplace, poor
fellow?" reflected Claudia.  Aloud she said, "When you see it to-morrow
morning, you will be glad that I was firm."

And then she nodded and went away.

In an armchair close by, Miss Arbuthnot was sitting.  She looked lazily
up.

"Harry," she said, "you might take me in to dinner for once instead of
your father.  All my wits have gone out into the suburbs this evening,
and as you never had any, you won't miss them."

"All right," he agreed, rather dejectedly.  "There's the gong."

He hoped to sit next Claudia, but Fenwick was too quick for him.

"Never mind," said Miss Arbuthnot, "or if you do mind, bear it.  Life,
like art, is made up of sacrifices, and for once you might put up with
me, particularly as I, too, should prefer you to be somebody else."

"Who?"  He stared.

"Oh, you expect too much.  Do you suppose it is the vicar?  I am not
going to talk about myself; when I do I like to have my wits at home,
and, as I told you, they are out visiting.  You are a much more simple
subject, and as we are old friends, almost as old as you and the lime
trees, I should like to know why you are allowing that little girl to
ride you rough-shod?"

He did not answer, and she asked, with a touch of anxiety--

"Now, Harry, you're not pretending to be affronted with me?"

"Affronted?  No."

"But you've tumbled into love?"

"Is there anything surprising in that?" he said in rather an injured
tone.

She took no notice of the question beyond remarking, with a sigh--

"No, I don't in the least believe in heredity."

"What are you up to now?" he inquired resignedly.

"If there were anything in it, don't tell me that, after centuries of
falling in love, and out of it, man would not have developed some sort
of understanding how to do it."

"That's evolution," said Harry.

"Imagine your knowing!  Well, whatever it is, does nothing tell you what
is labour lost?"

He looked at her.  "You mean I've no chance?"

"You put things so baldly!  Can't you see for yourself that nobody has
any chance--yet?  Your Claudia is launched on a career; it mayn't be a
big one, but for concentration and determination, or any other
five-syllabled things, commend me to a young woman on a career.  She
hasn't a thought to fling on anything else."

"It won't last," he said stubbornly.

"That's the first gleam of intelligence you've shown.  No, it won't
last, because there are tendencies, eternal tendencies, in us, which
decline to be ignored, and one day she will have to face them.  But not
yet."

"Fenwick gets on with her a lot better than I do," remarked Harry, with
apparent inconsequence.

There was a pause.

"He has more experience," she said lightly.

"Ah, you don't like him, you don't do him justice.  He's an awfully
clever fellow, quite different from the Johnnies she'd generally meet.
It's natural she should prefer him."  He spoke dejectedly, and she
laughed.

"I've never set you up on a pinnacle for admiration, have I?  It _is_
quite natural, only it isn't the case.  He may be occupied with her,"
she added a little bitterly, "but at present she's taken up with
herself."

Harry fired.

"Oh, you women!  Now, I call it an awfully plucky thing to break away
and strike out a line for herself."

"Oh, so do I," said Helen, with a sigh of unexpected meekness.  "It's
like bicycling--a splendid prerogative of youth.  All that I'm trying to
impress upon you is that while it lasts, it's absorbing.  And much
gratitude I get!"

"Oh, I'm grateful.  Only--"

"What?"

"You're clever, and you laugh at everything, until it's a bit hard to
find out what you mean.  I wonder why you say all this?"

"For old acquaintance sake," she said quickly and kindly.  "When things
become serious I'm not such a bad sort."

"And you'll really be on my side?"

"Of course I will.  Let me see the _menu_, and don't cheer up so
preposterously.  What I want you to realise is that nothing, no one, can
be of any use just now.  I don't expect you to believe me, and you'll
probably rush in and blunder the whole affair; I only warn you that if
you're wise you'll give your young woman time to trip along cheerfully
on her career, and to find out for herself that it isn't all she
expected.  And I'm afraid, I'm very much afraid, this may cost you more
lime trees."

"I don't care a hang what it costs!"

"You mustn't use bad words, or I shall have your mother down on me."

His spirits rose.

"You haven't told me what you think I'd better do."

"Where's the use, when you'll do the contrary?  My endeavour will be to
introduce a little common sense on your side, and a little romance on
hers.  Be thankful for one thing."

"What?"

"That she's not a market-gardener.  Market-gardening excludes romance.
I defy you to make any running over a lot of cabbages.  Now, trees, dewy
lawns, grass rides--upon my word, they should have possibilities.  Don't
get cross.  I'm quite serious."  Something interrupted, but before
dinner was ended, Harry, who had apparently been storing observations,
said in a low voice--

"I say, do you expect me to look on and see Fenwick make all the
running?"

There was another momentary hesitation on Miss Arbuthnot's part before
she said with a groan--

"Oh, the density of the male mind!  Won't you understand that all Miss
Hamilton's aspirations are bound up in that pocket-book to which I see
her refer when she has got rid of you all?  On the day the pocket-book
disappears, I shall hope for you.  Meanwhile, minister to her career;
that is the best you can do, and all you can do.  And it is so funny,
that you ought to be extremely obliged to me for treating it seriously."

He looked at her and laughed, and showed his trust in her discernment by
avoiding Claudia for some days almost too pointedly.  He rode away each
morning and did not come back for hours, buried himself in the study
with his father, or took Fenwick off to the next town.  Mrs Hilton
became uneasy for the amusement of her guests, and it was in vain that
her son assured her they preferred being left to their own devices.
Helen was tired after a London rush.

"I am not talking about Helen," she said almost fretfully.  "She is very
well able to look after herself.  And Ruth can make herself at home
anywhere.  But there is little Miss Hamilton."

"Take my word for it, mother, she likes to go her own way."

"My dear, you can't know about a young girl, and I am so afraid she
thinks we may consider her to be in a sort of derogatory position here.
I do wish you would let me explain to her, poor thing, that we are
delighted to have her, and that she can do just as she likes if it's any
amusement to her.  I was afraid you might be vexed about the trees, but
if you and your father are satisfied, it is all quite right."

Harry laughed.

"Oh, she doesn't in the least suppose she's doing anything derogatory.
Things are changed in these days, mother, and Miss Hamilton wants you to
understand that her being here is a simple matter of business."  Mrs
Hilton lifted her hands helplessly.

"My dear Harry, it can't be!  Of course if the poor girl is so sadly
poor--"

"She isn't."

"--Or if she has taken it into her head to amuse herself."

"Don't let her hear you!"

"One would do everything one possibly could.  But you can't expect me to
have a pretty young creature like that here, and not try to make it
pleasant for her, and we all know what girls like, and how pleased they
are with attention, poor things!  I really think, Harry, she ought not
to be left so much alone."

He dug his hands into his hair, and laughed again--not quite naturally.

"Well, we'll see."

But though he said little, his heart was leaping.  Women were women all
the world over, and why should not his mother be as right as Helen
Arbuthnot?  Might he not in these last days have been playing the fool,
and losing ground?  It suddenly struck him--and he flushed at the
thought--that he had been wanting in pluck, hanging back, and letting
Captain Fenwick amuse himself--for he knew him well enough to be
convinced that he meant nothing more.  He jumped up, and went to a
window which overlooked the small French garden.  Beyond it the ground
swept softly upwards towards a belt of fine trees, and beneath them
Claudia was standing bare-headed, her hands clasped behind her.  Harry
looked, hesitated, turned away, and turned again.  It was too much.
Helen Arbuthnot and her counsels of prudence were flung on one side, he
put his hand on the window-sill and vaulted out, enthusiastically
followed by Vic and Venom, the terriers.

Claudia had been working for an hour with profound satisfaction to
herself.  Perhaps she had never been so happy in her life as in these
last days at Thornbury.  The sense of importance, the freedom from
control, the range of ever-extending possibilities, were delightful, but
beyond and above these causes for satisfaction there was the joy of
youth, and a freshness which is its pleasant attribute, and puts it into
delightful harmony with open-air nature.  For the present it was as Miss
Arbuthnot had divined; she needed nothing else, and would resent an
unwelcome intrusion of disturbing elements.  It was no less true that at
some near time, and possibly at an unexpected moment, this tranquillity
might be shattered, but by whom and when was as yet a problem.  Was it
by Harry, who now came towards her, walking as quickly as if he had just
successfully accomplished the aim of a day's search?  She put up her
hand.

"Two hundred feet by thirty," she remarked meditatively.

"How are you getting on?  Don't you want something?  Mayn't I come and
help?"  He put the questions breathlessly.

"Please don't interrupt.  At last I do think I have got the proportions
right."

"But I shan't interfere with them?"

"You do rather."  She glanced at him with a laugh of which she
immediately had the grace to feel ashamed.  Harry's proportions might
not be the best in the world, but she liked him very much indeed, and
owed him kindliness.  "You may stay if you won't interrupt."

"I won't."

"Then, look here," she said.  "I'm going to sacrifice all these low
shrubs, straighten that curve, cut down two or three unimportant trees,
and--do you know what will come of it?"

"Not in the least," he said with his eyes on her.

"Guess."

"I can't."

She reflected impatiently that he was really dreadfully dense.

"You will see the Marldon hills."

"Really?"  What did he care for all the hills in the country?

"Yes, really," she exclaimed triumphantly.  "I thought it might be so,
and I have proved it.  Why, it will be the most beautiful view in the
whole neighbourhood, and I don't think any one could have believed it
possible."

Her eyes sparkled enthusiastically, her hat lay on the ground before
her, and the wind tossed her dark hair.  Harry looked at her,
worshipping, with a sudden contempt for Miss Arbuthnot.  What did his
heart tell him?  What was earth and air crying out?  What were the birds
singing?  Love--love--love--and he--he only--must remain dumb, dull,
cowardly.  His voice shook with the effort he made to keep back the
universal cry.

"Aren't you tired?  St--stop for a little while," he stammered.

If she had been thinking of him, or even if her mind had been taken up
less with her own interests, she could not have failed to notice
something hoarse and strained in his voice, but she heard nothing.

"Not exactly tired," she said lightly; "but perhaps--well, I do feel
that I have done a good morning's work, and I am glad, because when this
is finished, I must be going on."

"Going on!  What for?" he exclaimed so abruptly that this time she
looked at him in surprise.  But she did not see, and laughed.

"Why, to work, of course.  Thornbury is a fascinating old place."

"You like it?" he interrupted eagerly.

"Of course I do."  She felt she owed him a tribute.  "I can't tell you
how much I have enjoyed what I have done here, but--one comes to an end.
You don't want me to cut down all your trees, do you?"

With that his head whirled.

"Sit down," he said, pointing to a fallen trunk on which she had already
experimented, and Claudia, still unsuspecting, seated herself, pushing
back her hair with both hands--a trick she had.

"I suppose I am rather tired, after all, and certainly hot," she
allowed, drawing a deep breath; "but what delightful work it is!"

"You've really enjoyed it?"

"Of course I have, and you have let me alone, which people can't
understand is what one wants.  I am going next to a place called
Huntingdon Hall.  Friends of Captain Fenwick have got it, and he says it
requires putting to rights terribly, and they haven't an idea how to set
about it.  I have heard from Lady Wilmot and have sent her my terms.  I
expect it will be quite straight sailing.  Captain Fenwick says so."

He scarcely heard.  Love, love, love--everything was singing it
tumultuously.

"Claudia!" he cried.

CHAPTER SIX.

The tone in which Harry cried "Claudia!" pierced through even her
unconsciousness.  She looked at him, startled.  He was breathing
heavily, altogether unlike himself.

"I must speak," he said.  "Haven't you guessed how I love you?"

"You?" she exclaimed in unmistakable amazement.  "What can you be
thinking of?" and something in her manner brought back his self-control.

"There's nothing so wonderful about it, is there?" he said slowly.  "I
suppose it began from the first moment I saw you, and it has gone on.
Can't you give me a little hope?  I know you're a lot too good for me--"

"Oh, don't say any more, don't!"

She tried to rise, but he laid his hand on her arm.

"I want you to listen--this once.  I suppose I've taken you by surprise.
I didn't mean to do that.  I thought you must have seen all along."

"I never saw!" interrupted Claudia indignantly.  "I'm very angry with
you."

"If you don't care for me now," he went on, unheeding, "don't you think
you might some day?  You like the old place--"

"The place!"  She pushed away his hand, and her eyes were flaming.  "Did
you suppose I should want to marry a place?  Oh, what nonsense this all
is!  If I could make you understand how much I dislike anything of the
sort!"

He laughed ruefully.

"I think I understand.  I was a fool--as usual."

"Don't say `as usual'!" exclaimed the girl, still frowning.  "I hate to
hear you always running yourself down, and I hate to hear you trying to
talk sentiment.  We are excellent friends.  Do be satisfied with that,
and be nice, as you were before."

She waited, but he was silent.

"Well, then, if you won't," she said, lifting her eyebrows, "I'd better
go back to the cousins."

"No," he said hurriedly, "don't go.  I shan't torment you."

Claudia glanced doubtfully at him.  In spite of her displeasure, the
situation struck her as more comical than serious, and though she wished
he had not been silly, she did not for a moment realise that she was
causing him more than a passing disappointment.  Besides, the view which
remained to be opened, the improvements which had so entirely filled her
imagination, and fired her ambition, were really of far more importance
than this ridiculous situation, and if she were to go away before she
could carry them out--what a collapse, what a feminine collapse!  People
would guess, she supposed, because people were so foolish, and so
determined to make out that a girl's head could contain no ideas beyond
those idiotic ones which she had just been invited to share; and they
would all triumph, and say of course that was always the aim and end of
a woman's efforts.  Yet something within her persistently urged her to
go, so that she felt cross, and naturally vented the crossness upon
Harry.

"I do so wish you would not have talked nonsense!" she exclaimed at
last.  "I did want to stay until I had finished what I have thought out,
and it would have been the most wonderful improvement to the place!  If
I could just arrange it, and show you where to plant a few copper
beeches--"

Harry's laughter came readily, and it came now.

"You mustn't think of leaving.  If any one has to go, it will be I."

"And if you go," said Claudia discontentedly, "no one else knows a thing
about the trees.  Well, I will stay on till Wednesday, if you promise to
talk sense, and forget these absurd ideas of yours.  They come because
you have so little to do.  Why on earth don't you get away, and find
some real manly occupation?"

He hesitated.

"My father's very infirm.  I left the army because he wanted me."

"I should think you might do something."  She had gathered her things
together, and was walking towards the house.  There may have been an
unacknowledged effort to keep the conversation at arm's length from
herself, or it may have been vexation with her companion which raised a
keen desire to rebuke him for his shortcomings.  Curtain it is that her
tone was scornful.

"Perhaps," he answered.

"For a man or woman to be without occupation is so uninteresting, to say
the least of it," continued his mentor, "that I would rather break
stones on the road."

He was silent, hardly hearing.  He was looking at the round softness of
her cheek, and wondering whether many men felt as miserable as he.
Swiftly before his eyes rose a vision of Claudia wandering about the
park at Huntingdon with Captain Fenwick by her side, and he straightened
himself with something so like a groan that he glanced hurriedly at the
girl, fearing to have annoyed her.  But she was looking straight before
her, relieved to see Helen Arbuthnot strolling towards them from the
grass ride.

"At least ten people are crying out for you," was her greeting to Harry.
"Your mother, and your mother's maid, and the mother of the footman,
and a sick bailiff.  These are the most importunate, but there are five
others dancing round.  He must go," she went on to Claudia, "but if you
really have an idle moment to spare, you might bestow it on me.  I
collect other people's."

Claudia did not much care for Miss Arbuthnot, whom, with some reason,
she suspected of ridiculing her, but at this minute she would have
joyfully jumped at any means of escape.

"Was that why you came to Thornbury?" she asked bluntly.

"Was it?  I don't know; and I never answer questions, because they
recall acrostics.  Come back to the grass ride."  The grass ride
remained unchanged.  A broad strip of turf, and on either side tall
slender trees springing from a wavy undergrowth of bracken; a ride shady
through the hottest summer, yet with the sun filtering down sufficiently
to fling broken lights on the close cool grass.  Miss Arbuthnot stood
still as they reached it, and looked in either direction.  "It is an
enchanting spot," she said.

"Ye-e-s," agreed Claudia doubtfully.

"But it might be tremendously improved."

"I dare say.  I hate improvements, whether in people or places.  They
destroy sentiment."

Up jumped Claudia on her stilts.  "I can't understand any one not
wishing for the best."

"No?  That's your youth.  It's the same sort of rage which sets people
scraping ruins, when such charming weeds vanish!  Half the attraction of
everything consists in its little defects."

Miss Arbuthnot spoke with extreme laziness, quite indifferent to the
impression she produced; and the girl, who hated to be reminded of her
youth, and felt as if her own efforts were belittled, was provoked.

"If the world thought as you do," she said gravely, "there would be no
advancement, no gain."

"And how enjoyable!" sighed Miss Arbuthnot.  "Are you going to cut down
many more of poor Harry's favourite trees?"

Claudia coloured.

"I have only cut what was necessary," she said with still greater
dignity.

"From your point of view--yes.  But from his?"

"Does he object?"

"He?  Oh no, he knows better."

"I don't think you understand," said Claudia impatiently.  "I came here
to try to make the place more beautiful--"

"It does well enough," murmured Miss Arbuthnot, with a glance at the
deep fern beside them.

"You don't suppose I had the trees cut down except where it would be an
improvement?  And of course Mr Hilton is glad to--have those
improvements."  She felt her speech feeble, and it made her angry.

"Of course.  I am afraid what is good for one is often disagreeable,
but, as you say, a supporting sense of virtue remains.  Harry is such a
capital fellow that he deserves all he can get."

It should be noted that Miss Arbuthnot, accustomed to be regarded, had
no idea that Harry had broken loose, and run his stubborn head against a
wall, or she would not have chosen such a moment for sinking; his
praises.  Claudia was too young, or too ignorant of love, to feel kindly
towards a man for falling in love with her, and was only annoyed at what
she considered a commonplace episode in what she intended to be anything
but a commonplace career.  As yet she had no conception of the true
proportion of things, and dismissing love and such trifles as mere
hindrances, her companion's words irritated her the more against Harry.

"Oh, he will get all he deserves, no doubt," she observed airily.  "That
kind of character doesn't want much."  Then she had the grace to blush,
and to go on hurriedly, "He will be always quite contented to vegetate
at Thornbury, stroll about with his gun, and make an ideal magistrate--
or what people consider ideal, which does just as well."

Miss Arbuthnot stopped to whisk away a wasp.

"Do you find fault with your picture?"

"Well, it doesn't seem very interesting, that's all."

"I like discussing other people's characters," said Miss Arbuthnot
lazily; "I find it much simpler than meditating upon one's own.  So you
think Harry commonplace?  Why?"

"Why?  How can it be otherwise?  He has no ambition, no aims beyond
Thornbury, no work.  A man who doesn't work is a wretched being."

"Has he told you he doesn't work?"

"One can see for one's self, I suppose?"  Claudia said, with a fine
scorn; and Helen shot a glance at her as if she had wakened up.

"Oh no, you can't.  When you are older you will learn that you can never
trust your eyes.  Go and ask the bailiff, and the keeper, and the
gardeners."

"_That_ kind of work!"

"Well, we can't all be landscape gardeners.  If we were, I suppose the
estate would have to be kept going, or there wouldn't be much good in
beautifying it?"

"Agents," retorted Claudia.

"Perhaps.  But some people have an old-fashioned prejudice that when a
father and mother are old and infirm, there are things which even an
agent can't do.  Harry _is_ old-fashioned.  I have often told him he
ought to be more up-to-date."

There was a silence.  Then Claudia remarked in a slightly altered
voice--

"He has never said anything to make one suppose living here was any
sacrifice."

"Or that he felt the loss of his trees.  Yet, I assure you, he has more
than once ridden miles to avoid the crash of doom."  Another pause.

"I had really better go away at once," Claudia exclaimed impatiently.
"Why did they ask me to come?  It was his suggestion--not mine.  And it
is ridiculous.  The place is ever so much improved by a little
thinning."

"Oh, I dare say.  I'm not defending Harry, only when people can never be
induced to blow their own trumpets, I feel irresistibly impelled to
produce a blast.  Let us talk about some one else.  Captain Fenwick, for
instance.  Neither of us need blow for him."

"He's amusing," remarked Claudia indifferently.

"There's a tribute!" said Miss Arbuthnot, looking at her between
half-closed eyelids.

"And he rides a bicycle better than any one I know."

"So that you are less hard on him than on poor idle Harry?"

"Hard?  I don't know.  He idles too, but--"

"More impressively."

"He has been useful in getting me a commission to work at Huntingdon.
He says it's in dreadful order, for Sir Peter has only just succeeded,
and of course the worse it is, the better for me."

This time the silence lasted longer.  Then Miss Arbuthnot spoke without
turning her head--

"He goes there too, I suppose?"

"Oh yes!  He thought,"--she laughed--"that I might feel lost among
strangers.  One has to get over that sort of thing when one takes up a
profession.  But he meant it very well, and perhaps if he is there, they
will be less shy of me.  That's what generally happens, because people
can't forget their old tradition that a woman mustn't be professional.
With a man it's taken as a matter of course."

"And a man takes it as a matter of course," put in Helen.  She was tired
of her companion's girlish egotism, and administered her thrust sharply.
"But she won't see," she reflected.

Claudia did see, and coloured.

"I dare say I am tiresome," she said frankly.  "At the college they
declared that no one rode their hobbies to death as I did.  Only,"--she
drew a deep breath--"these are wonderful times, aren't they?  And how
can one take one's part in the movement without enthusiasm?"

"And pray, where are you moving?" asked Miss Arbuthnot.  Then she
changed her tone.  "Was there ever such a heavenly day?  I'm glad you've
spared the grass ride.  There's nothing like it at Huntingdon, whatever
Captain Fenwick may say.  When do you go?"

"On Wednesday."

"Does he take you?"

"I suppose we shall bicycle there together.  I shan't object, because he
is a very clever rider, and can show one all sorts of useful dodges."

"Oh, he is very clever!" agreed Miss Arbuthnot.  She added quickly, with
a touch of scorn--"and insatiable."

Claudia did not catch the oddly chosen word, and certainly would not
have understood it.

"Well, here he is rather refreshing," she allowed, "because he has been
about the world, and can talk; but, after all, men always strike me as
uninteresting.  Don't you think one more often meets with original
women?"

"At the college, of course."

"Oh, at the college they were delightful."

"If," Miss Arbuthnot said idly, "you want a definition of advancing
years, I should say it was made up of modifications.  I've had my
theories too, though you mightn't believe it, but I find the hard edges
almost gone, and my opinions grown hazy.  One still, however, remains--
that the inevitable will be down on you.  Who is the man in the
distance?"

"How tiresome!"  Claudia exclaimed.  "It is Captain Fenwick, and we
shall not be able to talk any more.  Perhaps he has not seen us, and we
can escape."

"Oh, he has seen us.  Bring your philosophy to bear, for, after all, you
find him more endurable than the others--him or his bicycle, which is
it?"  As Captain Fenwick came swiftly up, and swung himself off, she
added, "That is one point I particularly dislike in the thing.  It is
always taking you unawares.  There is no time to prepare, or to call up
one's blandest expression.  However, here is Miss Hamilton who has just
been singing its praises--yours, I mean."

"It's very good," said Claudia, eyeing it critically, "I wish I hadn't
been in a hurry for mine."

"Yours is well enough.  You can have one or two things altered.  Look
here--" he was beginning, when Miss Arbuthnot broke in.

"For pity's sake, spare me a digression on wheels and pistons, or
whatever they may be.  You can discuss them at your ease on your way to
Huntingdon."

He glanced at Claudia.  Miss Arbuthnot glanced too.

"So we can," said the girl cheerfully.  "I expect you can put me up to
all sorts of things."

"Dear me," murmured Miss Arbuthnot, "the world has changed indeed since
my day!"

"Your day?"

"It must have been a hundred years ago, for it would have held up many
hands in horror at a young man and a young woman arriving by themselves
at a country house."

"Yes, it is improving," said Claudia, with scorn, "it doesn't think
silly things as it did."  The day before this would have been very well,
but to-day conscience gave a little tweak at her elbow, recalling her
scene with Harry, and she became suddenly silent.  Helen noticed the
change, and Claudia saw that she noticed.  Something made her turn
quickly to Fenwick.

"I must go," she said.  "If you're meaning to stay here, I wish you'd
let me take your bicycle to the house.  I want to look it over."  Miss
Arbuthnot stood watching her from under the green boughs.  Then she
glanced at Fenwick.  "She's not going to fall in love with you," she
remarked.

"Aren't you a little--in advance of the situation?"

"Not in advance of your thoughts.  What attracts you?  But I know."

"You're bewildering," he observed rather savagely.  "Not content with
furnishing me with imaginary fancies, you provide an explanation of
them."

She went on as if he had not spoken.

"She thinks no more of you than of a dozen others she has met in her
small life."

"You're encouraging."

"Oh," said Helen sleepily, "do you want encouragement?"

He saw his slip, and looked more angry, but suddenly laughed.

"She's naive enough to be amusing in these days.  Enthusiastic, and all
that, and believing so intolerably in her career.  No woman has a right
to a career."

"Beyond that of losing her heart to Arthur Fenwick."

"--Until she's over thirty, at all events.  It's got to be pointed out
to her."

"And you are engaged in the object-lesson?  One after your own mind,
isn't it?"  She spoke in a bitter tone as they strolled along the soft
turf.  A startled young partridge fluttered across the ride in front of
them.  Fenwick seemed to have quite recovered his temper, for he laughed
lightly.

"What makes you so awfully down on me to-day?"

"I suppose," she said, with a slight shrug of her shoulders, "that I was
remembering."

"If you remember fairly--"

She interrupted him.  "What woman does?  Don't let us talk of what is
over.  Forget, forget, forget--that is the real lesson of life, and one
which you, at any rate, learn easily."

He had crown irritable again.

"It depends upon what you choose to call forgetting," he said sharply.
"Forgetting is like everything else, each person looks at it from his
own standpoint."

"And makes it a horrid nuisance for others.  Come, wasn't that in your
mind?"  She laughed again.

"You credit--discredit--me with thoughts I don't own to," he retorted.
"Why am I to be held responsible for the past?  If we felt we had made a
mistake, was it only I who found it out?"

"On the contrary, it was I."

"Then why blame me?"

"Because I am a woman, I suppose," she said, and a close listener might
have detected that her voice trembled.  "But I can assure you, I never
really blame you.  As you say, it was I, and--I was wise."

"Oh, of course!" he said, with a touch of pique.

"Still," she persisted, "mistakes some times cost more than they are
worth, and it is not safe to repeat them."

To this he made no answer.

"So that you might, at any rate, leave that child alone."

He shot out indignantly--"You always speak as if I were to blame!"

"Forgive me," she said.  "Of course it is unjust."  She suddenly added,
"What nonsense we have talked!  It is disappointing, when one really
meant to be useful.  I shall go back to the house and try some other
way--perhaps copy out a recipe for beef-tea for Mrs Hilton."

"Since when have you indulged in such high aspirations?"  His tone was
still moody.

"Oh, they awake, even in me, at times," she returned lightly.  "Don't
come with me."

He lifted his hat stiffly, and Helen stood with a smile and watched him
out of sight.  Then she sat down on a mound of grass, and cried as if
her heart would break.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

Claudia was ungratefully anxious to leave Thornbury.  She had been happy
there, but the young expect to be happy, and the last days had made her
uncomfortable.  Harry said no word, and tried hard to be as he had been
when hope still lived in his heart, but Claudia was annoyed when she saw
him looking grave, or when his mother remarked she did not know what
could be the matter with Harry.

"Perhaps he has toothache," said Ruth Baynes, lifting her eyebrows
sympathetically.  "My brother Walter gets dreadfully low when he has
toothache.  And it was much worse when he had mumps."

"Mumps!  Oh, my dear, I hope poor Harry has not caught anything of that
sort!  They are in the village, and the gardener's little girl certainly
had a swollen face.  Still--Harry has not complained, has he?"

"Not to me," said Claudia, with a laugh.

Perhaps in spite of the longing to keep her near him, Harry himself was
not sorry when the last day came.  The old kindly companionship, even if
disdainful on her part, had been sweet, and now that, too, was gone.
Claudia scolded him no more, laughed at him no more, and he felt as if
she had stepped far away.  He blamed himself for the change, but it took
the heart out of him.  And the gallant effort he made to prevent those
who loved him from knowing that he suffered, seemed at times more than
he could successfully keep up.

Still, when the last moment came, and they all stood at the door to see
Claudia and Captain Fenwick ride away together out of his life, Harry
went through the worst sensation he had ever experienced.  He did his
best to hide it, laughed at his mothers misgivings, assuring her that
nowadays it was the most common proceeding in the world, and that he
meant to take Helen Arbuthnot home in the same fashion; and, instead of
retiring to solitude, went straight off to the stable to doctor a lame
horse.  There were plenty of prosaic and unromantic details to be
attended to, of which he shirked not one; the buying pigs, and deciding
what should be done with an unprofitable cow, had to be talked over and
arranged without impatience.  After this he walked off to see the
keeper's old mother, who was very irritable with constant pain, and
dearly loved to grumble against all her family to Master Harry.  And no
one knew how big an ache he carried in his kindly heart.

But meanwhile?

Well, meanwhile it was summer-time, and under a blue sky veiled here and
there with white clouds, through lanes in which honeysuckle still ran
riot, Claudia and her companion raced swiftly along, or dawdled up the
many hills.  He was a little surprised at her vigorous enjoyment of all
about them, and, so contagious is happiness, found himself, too, making
merry over the veriest trifles.  Wonder broke out at last.

"You have turned me into a boy again.  What magic do you use?"

"It is not I," said Claudia merrily.  "It is the air and the sky and the
trees and the great simple things which we think nothing about.  Why
must you be a boy to feel the enchantment of them all?"

"Do you advise me, then, to go and live in a hut?"

"Oh, I don't advise.  There's a splendid butterfly."

She named it correctly.

"One of the girls at the college collected butterflies.  I don't do it
myself because I like them too much.  Look! here is a splendid bit of
road for a spin.  Let us race to that gate, though I shan't have a
chance."

She dashed off, and contrived so cleverly to prevent his passing, that
only at the last minute could Fenwick succeed in slipping round her.

"Only just!" she cried, waving her hand.  "Oh, that was glorious!  I
wish we had timed ourselves."

They raced again, teased each other, laughed, and behaved like two
children on a holiday.  As they went down the Huntingdon drive, Claudia
gave a sigh of satisfaction.

"I've enjoyed it so much, every bit of it, haven't you?"

At another time he might have answered with some compliment, but the
frank appeal confused him.  He was unprepared for such simple delight,
in which he could not but feel he had no more special share than twenty
other things about them.  Claudia had looked upon him as a playfellow--
nothing else.

Nor could his vanity flatter him that she leaned upon him in this entry
into a world of strangers.  Quite unabashed, thoroughly direct, and
changed and professional to her fingers' ends, Fenwick, with annoyance
for which he could scarcely account, saw amusement growing in his cousin
Lady Wilmot's dancing eyes.  When they were left alone, it broke out.

"Oh, Arthur, Arthur, now I understand!"

"You understand nothing at all," he said roughly.  There was an
occasional roughness in his manner, which cynics said was what women
liked.  Lady Wilmot only smiled.

"Do tell her not to be quite so solemn about it all," she said.  "She is
so exceedingly determined we shan't for one moment forget what she is
here for, that she is for ever flaunting her calling in one's face.  But
she's quite a nice little thing."

"Yes," he repeated in the same tone, "quite a nice little things--
whatever that may mean."

"Don't be rude.  You might allow for my surprise, when I had made up my
mind to a middle-aged being with spectacles and an umbrella, at being
confronted with this young little person.  I'm very glad--at least I
shall be if you can persuade her to unbend, and if Peter doesn't make
love to her."

"As if Peter had ever eyes for any one but yourself!"

But if Lady Wilmot was astonished, Fenwick himself had odd sensations.
Beginning his acquaintance with the girl with a certain amount of pique
at an indifference to which he was unaccustomed, and a determination to
drag her out of it, he had taken a great deal more trouble than was
usual with him, and yet had failed.  He knew women well enough to own
that he had failed utterly, and as his vanity could never endure defeat,
the consciousness made him more keen to carry out his purpose.  Then
came this summer afternoon in which he had seen Claudia in a new light,
when something of harmony in the girl's nature with the fresh cool
simplicity of a country world, touched him as nothing had touched him
for years, and carried him back to his boyish days.  For the first time
he felt a sharp stab of annoyance when he found that she was up again on
her heroic hobby-horse, and that Lady Wilmot's eyes were brimming over
with amusement.

"Good heavens!" he said to himself savagely, "I must speak to her,
prevent her from making such a fool of herself.  When she's out of this
preposterous nonsense she's charming, but where are her eyes, where's
her sense of the ridiculous?"

Nor did he ask himself why Claudia's folly should disturb him.

He stopped her the next morning in a corridor which served for a
picture-gallery.  She had on a white dress, and, with her hands clasped
behind her, was standing looking at the portrait of a young girl.

"Who is it by?" she asked.  "I don't know about pictures, but this
strikes me as very good."

"Romney, I believe," he said; and then abruptly, "Look here, you and I
are old friends."

"Old friends!"  Claudia repeated, opening her eyes.

"Older than anybody here, at any rate.  And I suppose you'll own that
I've knocked about the world more than you?  What on earth makes you
cram all these people about your business here?"

"I think you are rather rude," she said, flushing.  "If you were in my
position, you would understand."

"Your position!  We're most of us in some sort of position, but we don't
go talking about it all day long.  It's just as if you were ashamed of
it."

"Now I am sure you are rude," Claudia cried, still redder.  "Ashamed,
indeed!  But I don't choose to appear as if I were merely a guest.  That
is not fair upon my employers.  I am a professional, a working woman; I
am not going to be paid for just driving about and amusing myself like
other girls, and unless I make it quite clear, they will insist upon
thinking that is what I expect."

"Of course," he said, still roughly, "I know well enough what you have
in your head, but you needn't be always cramming it down people's
throats.  State the fact, if you insist upon it, and then leave it
alone."

Claudia felt this to be very disagreeable indeed.  She said slowly--

"Have you done?"

"Naturally you're offended," he went on, with a sudden softening of his
voice.  "But if you think it fairly over, I believe I may get you to own
that it can't have been very pleasant for me to speak?"

Her face cleared, and she looked frankly at him.

"I suppose it was not," she allowed.  "Did you do it on my account, or
because you disliked any one you had to do with being laughed at?"  But
before he had recovered from this rebuke, she added with a certain
sweetness which was noticeable in her at times, "Still, you must not
think that I am angry.  I suppose I was for a moment, but it was foolish
of me, because you were right, quite right, to say out what was in your
mind.  And I dare say, too, that you are right in what you think.  I
suppose it seems so much more important to me than to them all--not on
my own account, but because we feel we are making a beginning--that I
have let myself talk too much about it."

"So that you forgive me?" he said, quite humbly for him.

She laughed.

"I forgive you.  I dare say that by-and-by I shall have reached the
height of being even grateful.  But now you must let me go, because if I
am not to talk I must work all the harder."

"You can always talk to me," he said eagerly.

"Oh no," she said, escaping, with a shake of her head.  "I must break
myself of a bad habit."

If Claudia had been mortified by his plain speaking, there was no doubt
that she took the lesson to heart.  There was no more of that somewhat
masterful enthusiasm with which she had up to this time indulged her
hearers.  She became, instead, extremely reticent, and not an allusion
to the college or to professional duties passed her lips.  Fenwick was
half pleased, half vexed, because this was not the Claudia he knew.  He
found himself thinking of her with persistence which amazed him.  He
could not flatter himself that she was angry with him, but would have
welcomed her anger as proof that in some way or another he affected her.
Why did he not?  He raged at the thought of caring that he should, but
he could not deny her indifference.

The days went by; Claudia still kept her word.  She went quietly about
the work she had in hand, but would not talk of it--even to Fenwick.
This annoyed him, and one evening he threw himself into a chair by her
side, and told her so.

"Women always go into extremes," he grumbled, when he had made his
complaint.

Claudia looked at him and laughed.

"I never knew any one so difficult to please," she said.  "I thought I
was carrying out my lessons."

"So you are," he replied impatiently, "but you needn't practise your
lessons upon everybody.  I ought to be an exception."

"Why?"

"Because I am not a stranger like these other people."

"Oh," said Claudia, laughing still more unfeelingly; "I never knew any
one make quite so much out of a fortnight before!  Wasn't it a fortnight
that you had known me?"

"I believe I have known you always," he returned hardily.  "Days--
weeks--what have they to do with the matter?"

"Is that a compliment?"

"Uncompromising truth.  Don't you see that it gives me the power of
understanding you?"

This is an appeal which rarely fails with women, and Fenwick knew how to
accentuate it by fixing his dark eyes upon the girl, and flinging an
intensity of will into his gaze.  She merely lifted her eyebrows.

"I dare say.  I don't think any one ever found me mysterious."

He was angrily aware that she spoke truly.  There were few complexities
in her character to baffle any one, but there was for him a baffling
directness and simplicity against which his efforts beat themselves in
vain.  She met them with an indifference which perpetually incited him
to break it down.

Lady Wilmot was a little disappointed that Claudia did not carry out the
promise of her first hours, for she was a small lady who liked nothing
so well as amusement, and had foreseen a rich supply.  With the other
two or three who were staying there the girl was popular in her own way,
which, however, kept her apart except at meals and in the evening.  In
truth, although she had taken Fenwick's hint both lightly and
good-humouredly, it gave her the sort of shock one gets by running full
tilt against a wall.  She had been anxious to impress those about her
with the gravity of woman's work, to see that they put it on a level
with man's, to shake off the faintest accusation of frivolity; and, to
accomplish this end she was prepared to be pointed at and scorned.  With
such lofty aspirations nothing could be well more humiliating than to
find herself considered a bore.  Here lay the point of Fenwick's moral,
it was from this he wanted to save her.  "A bore, a bore, a bore!"  She
scourged herself with the taunt, and vowed there should be no more of
it, for to the young, ridicule is intolerable.

But the resolution made her feel curiously lonely.  The girls at the
college, mostly reformers, all enthusiasts, largely impressed with the
part they had to play, and occasionally in more open revolt, incited and
encouraged each other over their work, which seemed to them of supreme
importance.  When Claudia came out of this atmosphere it still clung
about her, so that she babbled of it gravely, as she had babbled to her
companions.  Now she was sure she had been a bore, and the thought
stung.  It made her, also, silent and reserved, although this was so
unlike her nature that she only got at it by sheer force of will.
Fenwick had certainly offered himself as sympathetic, but she was shrewd
enough to reflect, "What he warned me against, he feels himself.  He is
ready to talk because I am a girl and not bad-looking, but only on that
account, not because he really cares."  And then thought flew to Harry
Hilton, not with the wish that she had given him a different answer, but
with absolute certainty that he would never have considered her a bore.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

Huntingdon Hall was a comfortable house, with rooms which Lady Wilmot
had already transformed.  The grounds, however, were not to compare with
those of Thornbury, for they had passed through a long season of
neglect, and the trees were tall and lank, requiring both thinning and
autumn planting.  Claudia's labours would not bear fruit for years.  She
said this to Sir Peter one day when she had sent to ask him to come and
decide for himself whether a certain important change should be carried
out.  She liked Sir Peter.  He was a big clumsy man, rather shy, with
twinkling eyes which, when he smiled, screwed themselves into
innumerable wrinkles, and a slight hesitation--not amounting to a
stammer--in his speech.  He invariably gave his decisions clearly.

"We are very much obliged to you, Miss Hamilton," he said finally; "but
my wife told me to tell you that you must take an off-day now and then,
and she wants you to go to Barton Towers to-day."  As Claudia hesitated
he went on, "I warn you she will accept no denial, and really it is a
place which you ought to see."

A week ago she would have taken refuge behind her occupation, and
afterwards she wished she had done so, at whatever cost; but her new
dread of making it and herself ridiculous stopped the words which rose
to her lips, and she was just agreeing when Lady Wilmot with her two
pugs rustled round the corner.

"Ah! here you are, Peter," she called out.  "I wish you wouldn't let
that boy, Charlie Carter, have your gun.  Do go and take it away from
him before he kills anybody."  He went obediently, and she turned
smilingly to Claudia.  "Miss Hamilton, has Peter told you?  I am not
going to have any more unsociable excuses."

"I should like to come, please," said Claudia at once.

"I knew I should get you!"  Lady Wilmot exclaimed triumphantly.  "Come
with me to the hothouses, and let the men go to their dinner.  Do you
mind going to Barton on your bicycle?  I'd give anything to ride mine,
but Peter says I can't because of old Lady Bodmin.  It's such a nuisance
having to sit up in the victoria with her."  And then Lady Wilmot, who
was noted for making imprudent speeches, made a very imprudent one
indeed.  "I'm so glad you will come.  We see nothing of you, and I am
tired of trying to console Arthur Fenwick."

"Captain Fenwick?  I don't understand," said Claudia coldly.

Lady Wilmot laughed.  "Don't you?" she said gaily.  "Well, I can't help
being amused, because generally it's the other way, and now any one can
see that he's devoted, and you treat the poor fellow quite cruelly."

"Oh, you are very much mistaken!" cried the girl, frowning.  "You ought
not--I beg your pardon, but really people ought not to imagine such
foolish things.  Captain Fenwick is absolutely nothing to me, nor I to
him."

"Now you are certainly blind.  And do you mean to say you haven't
thought of him--seriously, I mean?"

"I?  Never!" returned Claudia proudly.  "Nor he of me."

"Oh, there you are wrong," said Lady Wilmot, with amusement.  She was
going on, when Claudia interrupted her with a ring of indignation in her
tone which took the other woman by surprise.

"Please don't say any more; I hate it!  I should hate it if it were
true, and it isn't.  I can't tell you how much I dislike such things
being said!"

She stopped.  Lady Wilmot looked at her with interest.  All emotion is
impressive, and Claudia was very much moved in quite an unexpected way.
She stood facing her hostess, her girlish features stirred and changed
by an expression which had never before touched them.

"I beg your pardon," said Lady Wilmot quickly.  "I spoke carelessly, as
one does sometimes--much too often, if I'm to believe Peter.  Don't
think of it again.  It was only nonsense."

"Yes," said Claudia, drawing a deep breath, "it was nonsense.  Of course
I shan't think of it again."

Lady Wilmot hurried after her husband, and caught him in the library.

"Peter, Peter," she said in an injured tone, "I thought new women didn't
mind what was said to them, and I thought Miss Hamilton was a new woman,
and I said the least little bit in the world to her about Arthur, and
found myself in quite the wrong box.  She fired up, and told me to hold
my tongue, or as good as told me.  Imagine a girl who is so exceedingly
independent, and bent upon taking care of herself, minding a little
chaff!  I supposed she would mind nothing."

"Did Arthur ask you to say anything?"

"Don't be annoying.  It was a small voyage of discovery on my own
account, because I really think he likes her--seriously, I mean, and I
wanted to find out."  She went on impressively, "I don't think she cares
herself one little bit."

"Then there's an end of it."

"How tiresome you are, Peter!" she said petulantly.  "I'll never believe
she can stand up against him if he takes the trouble to make love to
her.  Anyway, I think it very hard she should fly out at me when my
intentions were so good."

"Well, I hope your good intentions won't do any harm."

"How can they?  She'd never thought of him.  You're rather priggish this
morning, Peter, but I may as well tell you that I mean some of them to
go on their bicycles--Arthur, and Charlie Carter at all events.  I shall
give her the chance.  If she likes it better, she can drive."

The same question was in Claudia's mind.  She felt hunted, disdainful,
indignant, all at once.  First Harry and then Captain Fenwick thrust
down her unwilling throat.  It was persecution!  She, who would have
none of them, who was thinking of much more important business, who had
meant to live her own life, and, so far as in her lay, to be mistress of
her fate, bitterly resented an interruption which seemed to place her at
once on a level with all the other pleasure-loving idle girls of the
day, whose heads were full of offers and settlements.  She!  Claudia
raised her chin, and looked like an angry nymph.  If Fenwick had passed
that way he would have met with scant civility.  She thought Lady Wilmot
impertinent, she wished she had not come to the place, and then
suddenly, to her added annoyance, found her eyes brimming with hot
tears, which put the final touch to her humiliation.  She dashed them
away with scornful fierceness.  "So,"--she rated herself--"so it has
come to this, that if a stupid thing happens, you cry about it!  Oh, do
pluck up a little spirit and resolve not to think twice about such
folly!  Most likely it is all her invention, or else he has just been
amusing himself in the way men do, and pretending--pretending!--to her
that he cares.  You should expect to meet such men, Claudia.  And what
ought you to do?  Certainly not trouble yourself about them.  Turn
yourself into a stone wall.  I suppose you have sense enough left to go
on just as usual?  But I wish, I do wish she hadn't said it!  It makes
everything disagreeable and stupid.  It shan't, though!  What's the use
of having a will of one's own if one can't use it?  If he wants to
speak, let him, and there's an end of it; and if he has the better sense
to hold his tongue, I shall know she was wrong.  And if, as I suppose,
we are to go on our bicycles to this tiresome place to-day, I'm not
going to blush prettily and draw back; I shall do exactly as I should
have done if she hadn't come out and spoilt my morning.  The most
annoying part of it all is that I have quite forgotten what I meant to
do with those hollies.  I know that I had some capital notion, and it
has gone.  Oh, _how_ tiresome men are!"

Claudia sat wrathfully down, pulled out her pocket-book, rested her chin
on her hands, and forced her mind to stern consideration of her plans.
In some degree this brought back her calm, so that when she appeared at
luncheon, and ways and means for reaching Barton Towers were discussed,
she did not allow a shadow of hesitation to appear in her manner.  Lady
Bodmin clung to the victoria, and Lady Wilmot made a little face of
dismay.  Claudia said calmly that of course she could bicycle, and
inwardly hoped that Captain Fenwick would not be of the party.  But this
was far from his intention.

"I thought you hated calls?" said Lady Wilmot mischievously.

"One has to suffer sometimes."

Lady Wilmot laid down her fork.

"You might stay at home."

"I should never hear the last of it."

"Well, then," she said, looking meditatively at Claudia, "you three are
provided for."

"Three?" said Fenwick quickly.

"Yes, Charlie--Charlie Carter.  You always try to forget him."

"He ought to be forgotten.  He's not in the least wanted.  Good heavens!
a boy who plays practical jokes!"

"That is why I want you to look after him," said Lady Wilmot in a firm
voice.  "Besides, he must go.  Lady Bodmin agrees with me."

Fenwick flung an aggrieved glance at Claudia, but she was gazing out of
the window.  In her heart she was saying joyfully--

"He may play practical jokes as much as he likes, and I shall take care
he is not forgotten.  If worse comes to worst I'll fetch him myself."

But this sense of relief was so derogatory to the standard of the
professional young woman which she had set up, that she was torn by
different feelings, extremely pleased when Charlie Carter arrived,
dripping, from a practical investigation of the Black Pond, yet so
ashamed of clinging to such a fossilised an institution as a chaperon,
that she took herself to task for not agreeing to Captain Fenwick's
strongly expressed desire to start and leave the boy to follow.  When
she refused he hinted at a chancre in herself.

"When we came here, you didn't mind trusting yourself to me."

"Mind!" she exclaimed indignantly.  "Do you suppose I mind, when if you
weren't going I should go by myself?"

He bit his lip, but pressed his point.

"Then come along," he said, "and leave that wretched boy to follow.  He
has to get food and dry clothes, and will be an hour at least."

"There's no hurry," said Claudia coolly.  "If you want to overtake the
others--go.  We'll come after."

"You are cruel," he said in a low voice.  To this she made no reply,
determined to ignore such speeches, but she could not help perceiving
that her insistence annoyed him very much, or that he had scarcely
recovered himself when they set off.  The day was full of the rich
strong beauty of late summer, freshened by recent rain which had washed
the dusty hedges green again; the clouds were no longer grey and
uniform, but broken into great precipitous masses, dazzlingly white in
part, and here and there fading softly into blue.  Their way at first
ran along a road high on a hill, and commanding exquisite views of the
country round.  But Claudia, in spite of self-scolding, could not call
back the fresh and delightful enjoyment of that other day when they had
come to Huntingdon.  She was on the watch, at times on the defensive,
despising herself that it should be so, but heartily wishing that the
ride was over.  Nor could she utilise Charlie Carter as much as she
would have liked, for he was one of a large family, with a profound
contempt for all girls except his own sisters, and a yet more profound
admiration for Captain Fenwick.  He was therefore gruff, and
disregardful of Claudia, sidling out of her way, and ready to please his
hero by acting as scout and rushing along side lanes in search of short
cuts.  At such times Claudia made desperate attempts to push on, but
there is a limit to this means of escape even on a bicycle, and when
hills came, she was obliged to walk up them.  Perhaps Fenwick noted the
disturbance, and perhaps he preferred it to her former indifference, for
now and then a smile crossed his face which it would have enraged her to
see.  He asked her suddenly whether she liked Huntingdon better than
Thornbury.  This was safe ground, and she breathed freely.

"I have a bigger opening there," she said.  "Thornbury was already
beautiful, and Huntingdon has to be made so.  It's very interesting."

"You have said so little about it lately that I had fears."

"Women go into extremes, you know," returned Claudia, dimpling, and
quoting his own words.

"Yes, but you are not like other women.  You have independence and
originality."  As Claudia struggled breathlessly against the hill, he
added in a vexed tone, "Why on earth must you be in such a hurry?"

"You were in a hurry yourself just now."  But she was obliged to get
off, and all she could do was to walk with the bicycle between them.

"That was to start, not to arrive.  Did you really suppose I cared to
find myself at Barton Towers?"

"I don't know.  I know I do.  I expect to pick up a great many hints,
after what Sir Peter said about the place."

"All in good time," he said crossly.  "What I want to say, if you will
only give me the chance to speak--Good gracious! what is it now?"

"Isn't there something wrong with the wheel?"

"Nothing at all.  What do you suppose I'm going to say, that you won't
listen?"

Claudia called all her dignity to her aid, and turned an offended face
upon him.

"Pray go on.  I am quite ready to listen."

"Well, it's only this.  I think it hard that you should shut me out of
your hopes and ambitions so determinedly as you have been doing lately.
I had flattered myself that you, above all women, were fair enough not
to visit on an unfortunate man's head his awkward carrying out of a good
intention."

"Oh," she cried rashly, "did you suppose--"

And then she yet more rashly stopped, for it was a hundred times worse
to let him guess at the real reason for her coldness.

"If not?" he said, perceiving his advantage, and pushing it.

Claudia took refuge in petulancy.

"Why on earth must one explain why one does this, or doesn't do that?
What do you complain of?  That I haven't talked over my ideas with you?
Very well, I will talk now.  I suppose you have happened to notice a big
group of firs, the only fine thing about the place?"  And she flourished
the note-book Miss Arbuthnot found so obnoxious.  "There!  As no one can
see them unless they go to look, I suggest making a clean sweep of those
worthless trees in front, then--"

He put up his hand.

"Spare me; I don't want detail."

"Very well," said Claudia triumphantly.  "Then you mustn't complain."

"You have run off the track.  All that has nothing to do with my
complaint.  I am anxious, very anxious, to be told what--if you were
really not offended at my plain speaking--has altered you towards me."
His voice changed, there crept into it a thrill which made Claudia
miserably conscious of what might be at hand.  She frowned and stared
straight before her.  "You don't know," he was saying, "how I have
looked forward to a chance like this, when I might have you to myself,
and now I can hardly get a glance.  And yet you are not offended?  Then
why are you so different from what you were ten days ago?"

"How can one always be exactly the same?" she asked coldly.  "Besides,
you are exaggerating; I don't feel any change."

"Oh yes, you do.  Something has brought it about.  Some confounded
tongues have been tattling."

"Tattling!" repeated Claudia, frowning harder.

"Yes, old cats like Lady Bodmin, who can't see a man and woman
talking--"

"I know!  Isn't it idiotic?" said the girl frankly, turning a relieved
face upon him.

If she had not looked, perhaps he would not have spoken.  In spite of
his manoeuvring for a quiet and uninterrupted time with Claudia, he had
no intention of saying anything serious--at least so soon.  But, like
many another man, he lost his balance when he least expected it, and,
curiously enough, as with Harry Hilton, it was her name which broke from
his lips.

"Claudia!"

To her unutterable relief, Charlie Carter shot out of a lane, not ten
feet ahead of them.

"I say, that ways no good," he shouted.  "I've been ever so far.  You've
got to go down this hill, and you'd better look out, for there's a nasty
sharp turn at the bottom."  Claudia neither heard him nor would she have
heeded.  Anything at such a moment would have seemed better to her than
being forced to listen to the words she felt were imminent.  She got
quickly on her bicycle, and called out joyfully--

"Oh, I am so tired of pushing!  Who will race me down the hill?"

"Stop!" cried Fenwick peremptorily.

But nothing would have stopped her then.  Escape, escape from what she
most dreaded to hear lay before her.  She was confident in her own
powers, and, with a gay wave of the hand, down the steep rough road she
went flying at a speed which she found dangerously intoxicating.
Charlie Carter, giving an answering whoop of wild delight, rushed after,
and Fenwick, inwardly anathematising the folly of his companions, spun
past the boy, and closely followed Claudia's track, shouting to her to
be careful, and each moment expecting to see her overturned by some of
the many stones or ruts.  In spite, however, of her excitement, she
guided herself cleverly, and only called laughingly back without
checking her pace.  All might have gone well had it not been for the
sharp turn at the foot of the hill.  What made this perilous, and what
neither Fenwick nor Claudia knew, was that another lane emerged at the
same point.  The old high-road which the three had taken was but little
used for carriages, or such a danger would never have been tolerated.
Fenwick realised it before the others, owing to his catching sight over
the hedge of the top of a carter's hat.  But the cart was jogging down
its own hill into the road, and though he pressed his bell, and shouted
at the top of his voice, the man did not hear, nor, indeed, so close was
Claudia, did it seem possible to avert a collision.  By a really
prodigious effort, Fenwick shot in between them, pushing her bicycle so
violently that it fell on one side, although clear of the cart.  He
himself was not so fortunate, for the near horse knocked him over, and
before the startled driver could pull up, one of the heavy wheels had
gone over him.

CHAPTER NINE.

For the first minutes Claudia could realise nothing but confusion, and a
dreadful sense of terror; for the shock to herself had been so great as
to set her head whirling, and prevent her instant understanding of what
had happened.  She slowly gathered herself up, while the driver, who was
not quite sober, jumped off, swore loudly, and ran to his horses' heads.
In his excitement he would have jerked them back, so that the wheel
would again have passed over Fenwick, if Charlie Carter had not caught
his arm.

"Stop, you fool!" he said.  "Can't you see what you're doing?"

The driver swore another great oath, and rubbed his arm across his wet
forehead.

"'Twern't no fault o' mine," he protested.  "Why didn't you look ahead?"

"Shut up!" said Charlie tersely, "and hold these brutes of yours quiet
while I get him out."

Claudia, white as a ghost, came to his side.

"I can help," she said.

"Can you?" said the boy, looking distrustfully at her.  "You won't
faint, or anything?"

"No."

"It's all got awfully mixed up, you see.  However, here goes! we can't
leave him there.  I say, I'll hand all I can out to you first before we
move him."

He was under the cart as he spoke, disentangling the wheels very
handily, for the smash had been so complete that they were knotted and
twisted in an extraordinary manner.  Flies were making the horses
fidgety, and a great cart-wheel was very close.  At last, as part of the
machinery was drawn from under Fenwick, there came a groan.

"Oh, take care!" cried Claudia.

"All right!" said the boy, more cheerily, for all this time he had been
working with a deadly fear in his heart.  "I think it must be his leg
that's hurt."  He emerged the next moment, and stood looking from
Claudia to Fenwick, and back again.

"Well?" she said, drawing a long breath.  He nodded in the direction of
the driver, who stood stupidly staring.

"That ass of a fellow could lift him if he had the sense, but if any
bones are broken he might make bad worse.  I say, do you think you're
strong enough to pull, or could you get under and keep his leg quiet
while I draw him out?"

"Give me the man's whip.  I know how to make a splint."

She was under the cart the next moment, and between them they managed
the business by tearing their handkerchiefs into strips.  The next thing
was to draw him out as smoothly and easily as they could, but it seemed
endless, Fenwick groaning heavily, and when the operation was over,
Claudia, who prided herself upon her nerve, was disgusted to find
herself shaking in every limb.  The cart lumbered off, the man, who was
really not to blame, but who was sufficiently muddled to be doubtful on
the point, glad to escape, and Claudia and Charlie were left staring at
each other.

"You can stop here with him, can't you?" said the boy.  "I must go and
fetch a doctor or a carriage or something.  That fellow would have been
all day about it."

"Of course I can stop.  You'd better go to the Hall, and send a man for
the doctor.  Make them be quick."

He flung a doubtful look at her, but there was no help for it, and great
need for haste.  He got on his bicycle and rode away, and Claudia was
left with the unconscious Fenwick, and her own reflections.

They were sufficiently miserable.  Her foolhardiness, or, at any rate,
her attempt to escape from an embarrassing situation, had undoubtedly
caused the accident, while, to make matters worse, she, who ought to
have been the sufferer, had been saved by Fenwick, perhaps at the
expense of his own life or limb, for she could not but see that he was
seriously hurt.  To Claudia, apt to pride herself upon her independence,
and power of going her own way, this alone would have been humiliating
enough; add to it that the man loved her, for the ring of the one word
"Claudia!" which was still in her ears, told her so much beyond a doubt.

And here she was, helpless.  Before Charlie Carter had been gone ten
minutes, she had jumped up and run a little way along the road, feeling
as if hours had passed, and help must be near.  Then, blaming herself
for leaving Fenwick, who might revive to find himself alone, she hurried
back to his side, and tried to smooth the jacket which they had folded
under his head, wishing meanwhile that she could have gone for help
herself, for she was certain she would have been quicker.

As it happened, matters had turned out extraordinarily well, for
Charlie, on his way to the Hall, met a young surgeon well known to the
Wilmots, who at once drove on to the scene of the accident, while the
boy fetched a carriage; so that Claudia had not the length of time to
wait that she imagined for herself.  Moreover, the young man arrived
having been told all particulars, and requiring no such explanations
from her as she might have found it difficult to give.  Indeed, when he
glanced at her he saw that she was in no condition to be asked
questions, and applied himself to the patient, who was beginning to
recover consciousness.  But when he got up he looked serious.

"Is he very much hurt?" asked Claudia, trembling.

"I hope not.  I can hardly tell as yet," he answered evasively.  "His
leg is broken, and you have done all that was possible.  Now will you
allow me to offer you a little advice?  You have also had a fall, I
understand?"

"Oh, not to hurt."  She pulled her hair impatiently over a bruise on her
temple.

"You can do no more good here,"--Claudia was grateful for the
"more"--"and the carriage will very soon arrive from the Hall.  If you
wouldn't object to my man driving you and your bicycle back, you can see
that all is ready for us there."

"Must I go?" said poor Claudia piteously.  But she added at once, "Yes,
yes, I see."  The suggestion of overlooking the old housekeeper's
preparations was a pious fraud, for there was nothing to be done except
to answer a hundred questions, and to drink a certain decoction on which
Mrs Graham prided herself, and which in more self-contained moments she
would certainly have rejected.  This gone through, walking up and down
her own room, where she had been banished, she could no longer defend
herself against a returning rush of remorse.

"Why, why was I such a fool!  As if I could not have let him speak and
have done with it, instead of plunging off in that idiotic fashion!  And
then, if only he had left me alone!  I should not in the least have
minded a broken leg myself, or even worse."  She dropped her hands, and
stood at the window looking gravely out, for Claudia was at the age when
living has not become so strong a habit, and death is not so much shrunk
from.  "But to see him lying there, and to know that it was all one's
own fault--I don't think there could be a more horrid situation.  And
then it was very plucky, the most plucky thing he could have done, and
just when I had been so nasty to him!  Oh, Claudia, Claudia, a fine
muddle you have made of it!  As if you couldn't have kept your head,
told him quietly you didn't care for him, and not behaved so altogether
idiotically, and landed yourself in such a hateful position!  I wish,"--
she paused--"yes, I do wish that Anne was here, for there isn't a soul
to whom to turn.  Even Harry Hilton.  If Harry had done it--he wouldn't
have been quick enough, but if he had, it wouldn't have mattered half so
much, because he would have taken it as a matter of course, and never
thought about it afterwards.  But now,"--another pause--"I wonder if he
does like me very much?  Miss Arbuthnot saw, I suppose, when I didn't,
and she implied that he was spoilt--I don't know, I think she might be
jealous, and he must have cared a good deal to dash in like that.  Oh,
why, why was I such a fool as to put myself under such an obligation to
any man!  Perhaps it's not so bad, perhaps--Oh, there are the wheels.
Now I shall know something, and anything, anything must be better than
this dreadful uncertainty!"

But the uncertainty continued.  The leg was set, the patient had
recovered consciousness, and had immediately asked for Claudia.  But the
doctor was still in the house, and had sent for a nurse.  More, Claudia
could not make out.  She had come down, looking very white, and was
giving Charlie Carter tea, and a great deal of tea-cake, after which he
proposed, as he expressed it, to joggle over towards Barton Towers,
expecting to meet and explain matters to Lady Wilmot.  He had become
more confidential towards Claudia, but also more contemptuous.

"I say, how could you be such a duffer?" he demanded.  "Didn't you hear
me call out to you to look out for that turn?"

"No, I didn't," she said meekly.  "I wasn't attending."

"Then you ought to attend, or you'll always be coming to grief.  There's
where Carry gets a pull over you."

"Who's Carry?"

"She's my sister, don't you know?  The eldest of the lot.  You and she
go along much of a muchness, only she doesn't lose her head."

"Oh!" murmured Claudia, too conscious that she deserved the reproach to
defend herself.

"I never saw any one get such a cropper before," he went on, "and it's
an awful pity about that wheel of his.  It's utterly and entirely done
for."

She plucked up spirit.

"I wish to goodness he had left me alone!"

"Me couldn't, of course, because you're a girl.  I'm not sure that girls
ought to ride at all," said Charlie, helping himself to more tea-cake.
"Otherwise, I bet he'd have got out of the way fast enough.  I never
knew any one cut in as sharply as he did.  I couldn't have done it
myself."

"You!  Of course you couldn't, a boy like you!"  She was stung to
retort.  "I wish you'd finish your tea and go.  They'll all be wondering
what has become of us."

"I'll go.  But I never saw such a beastly tea as old Fuller has brought
in," he remarked, mournfully regarding the empty dish.

"Charlie!"

"Well?"

"You go and ask Mrs Graham how Captain Fenwick is going on, and I'll
order in a second tea-cake."

"You won't dare."

"Won't I?"

"Oh, I shan't go up again."

"You must.  You must take the last, the very last news to Barton Towers.
Sometimes five minutes makes a difference."

"What rot!  However, all right.  I'll ring for old Fuller, if you're
sure you can tackle him."

Claudia was glad to get rid of the boy who seemed so certain that she
and she only was to blame, that he served to accentuate her own
self-reproach.  Still, for the first time in her life, solitude was
insupportable, and her thoughts turned longingly again and again to the
kindly cousins at Elmslie.  Should she telegraph and go back to them the
next day, throwing up her work?  The idea came weighted with longing,
but she rejected it as cowardly; for in spite of the pain and perplexity
of her position, she hated to give up what she had begun, conscience
telling her that it was unfair to her employers.  She flushed and paled
too, as she reflected that it would be heartless to leave Huntingdon
while Captain Fenwick lay there in a condition for which she might be
held responsible, considering that it had been brought about by her own
folly.  Hateful reflection, which yet served to keep her mind fixed upon
the sufferer.  Never in her life had she passed such miserable hours.
Never had her career seemed so unsatisfying.

Nor was it much better when the others appeared.  True it was that no
one blurted out Charlie's exceedingly downright reproaches, but she had
an immediate conviction that he had related the story in such a manner
that all the blame rested upon her, while she was so handicapped that it
was impossible to excuse herself by explaining the circumstances of the
case.  She held her head high and looked defiant when, after largely
commiserating Captain Fenwick, Lady Bodmin, who had always considered
Claudia unduly forward, remarked that she had been given to understand
that only the most skilful of cyclists should venture into such stony
roads.  Claudia, who felt herself skilful, could not say so; but Lady
Wilmot dashed to her rescue.

"It was all the fault of that corner.  It is most dreadfully dangerous,
and I am always telling Peter that he must make a fuss about it.  Think
of Marjory,"--Marjory was the baby--"killing herself there some day!"

"Happily Miss Hamilton has not killed herself," said Lady Bodmin
sweetly, with a long drag on the last word.

Claudia was accustomed to pride herself upon indifference to these
pin-pricks, for they had been exercised upon her before.  To-day,
however, they were stabs, deadly stabs; she shivered as they came, and
imagined them even when they did not exist.  Her head ached from its
severe bruise, and she had sprained her wrist, but not a word of
complaint would she utter.  Nor could she fail to see that, although
both Lady Wilmot, and Sir Peter when he came back, were as kind and
comforting as possible, and tried to make light of the disaster, they
were uneasily anxious.  Some words which she caught made her think that
they were discussing sending for Mrs Leslie, Fenwick's married sister,
and although Lady Wilmot evidently opposed the project, whatever it was,
Claudia's heart stood still at what it might not portend.  The evening
passed in a strange disjointed fashion.  Generally they all played
billiards, to-night only Sir Peter and Charlie went off.  Once Claudia
stepped out on the terrace, thankful to find herself alone, with the
great night about her.  The sweep of the park lying in broad outline
under a full moon, took a mysterious beauty which was wanting by day,
and was inexpressibly soothing.  She stood still for a little while and
drank it in, then her eye fell upon a corner of the house from which
through the open window a light darted out.  As she looked, a dark
shadow crossed it, and she remembered that it was the window of
Fenwick's room.  All her unrest returned.  She walked down until she was
underneath it, and stopped, vividly picturing the suffering which he was
enduring, and she had caused.  As she stood, another window was thrown
open, and she heard voices.  Evidently the doctor and some one else, the
nurse or Lady Wilmot, had gone into the adjoining room, and in the still
night the doctor's low words fell distinctly on her ears.

"I must not conceal from you," he said, "that his condition is very
grave."

CHAPTER TEN.

A writer has said, and with truth, that while a woman expects her
friends to belong, as it were, to her whole life, and to adapt
themselves to its many sides, a man, instead of desiring such universal
sympathy, keeps his friends each on his own ground, and would be
disgusted if either attempted to poach on the other.  He may have thus a
club friend, and a sporting friend, an antipodean and a corresponding
friend, and such and such only they remain, while the sporting friend
has never written him a letter in his life, and the antipodean would
scarcely find a word to say if they met in Pall Mall.  And this
differing view of friendship makes difficulties between man and woman.

Harry Hilton and Arthur Fenwick had been school friends, and there had
remained, for as men they had little in common, and professed to find as
little.  Still the tie, such as it was, would last always, and Harry was
a good deal shocked to hear of the accident, quite irrespectively of its
bearing upon Claudia.  He went over to Huntingdon Hall the next day, and
Claudia, who forced herself to do her work, but broke off at intervals
to hear the last report, met him near the house.  She was so glad to see
him that she forgot the past, and greeted him with her old ease.  But he
was shocked at her appearance.

"Oh, that's nothing!" she said, trying to speak lightly.  "We are all
having a bad time, and as I was the wretched cause, of course, in some
ways, mine is the worst.  What have you heard?"

"Only the fact that Fenwick was thrown under a cart.  Why should you
take the blame?"

"Because it was my folly.  I would race down a hill, the cart cut across
at the bottom, and I should have been under it if he had not pushed me
on one side.  He couldn't get out of the way himself."  She shuddered.

"Oh, well," said Harry, instinctively trying to comfort her, "it was an
accident which might have happened to any one.  I'm only thankful he did
push you."

"I'm not," she said, frowning with the pain of remembrance.

They walked on in silence.  "How is he?" said Harry suddenly.

Claudia's hands knotted themselves.

"Very ill."

"His leg is broken, isn't it?"

"Yes, but not badly.  They fear other injuries.  A second doctor comes
to-night, and Mrs Leslie--his sister."

Harry's hopefulness asserted itself against her dreary tone.

"It mayn't be as bad as they think.  I know Fenwick better than they,
and he's a tough fellow.  He'll come round, you'll see!"

A smile dawned on her face.  "Do you really think so, or are you only--
saying it?"

"Honour bright, I think so.  You see, as I said, I know him, and they
don't."  He added with more effort, "Don't worry so much over it."

She turned frankly towards him, and drew a deep breath.

"Perhaps you're right.  At any rate, I'm very glad you came, for there
was no one I could speak to, freely.  Sir Peter is in his study, and
Lady Wilmot makes too light of it, and as for Lady Bodmin, she's
hateful."

"Yes, then I'm very glad I came," said Harry manfully.

He was not clever, but he had that gift of helpfulness which makes the
man or woman who possesses it a tower of strength to their friends.
Everything looked brighter to Claudia, and she cast no reflection at
what it cost him to walk by her side and feel convinced that all her
thoughts were centred upon Fenwick.  He owned with a sigh that it could
hardly have been otherwise.

Lady Wilmot insisted upon his remaining to luncheon, and Sir Peter
welcomed him warmly.  A more hopeful spirit seemed to have sprung up
with his advent, yet the accounts of Fenwick remained alarming enough.

"We've sent for Gertrude Leslie.  Peter would have it, but it's a great
bore," said Lady Wilmot, making a face.  "She has all poor Arthur's
faults and none of his charm.  However!  She hates nursing, so perhaps
she won't stay."

"Oh, she won't stay when she sees he's better," Harry agreed.

"If he does get better," remarked Lady Bodmin, looking pointedly at
Claudia.

"Of course he will," said Harry, with decision.  "What I expect is that
he's having a touch of the fever he picked up in India, and that your
doctor doesn't know about it, and is puzzled.  How are your improvements
getting on here, Miss Hamilton?" he went on cheerily.  "My mother
insists upon every one going to look at that view of the Marldon hills
which you opened out for us, and my father is awfully pleased, because
he says his father used to talk about seeing them when he was a boy, and
he'd forgotten."

She flung him a grateful look.

"We're going to rival you, but not just yet," said Sir Peter.  "We've
got to take it on trust for some time.  What I admire in Miss Hamilton
is the determination she shows."

Claudia was wishing that she had stuck to her work, and taken no
holiday, but she owned with relief that Harry had made things brighter,
and flung a ray of hope upon the situation.  She liked him extremely,
and flattered herself that he had forgotten that stupid slip of his
which had vexed her so much, and obliged her to speak severely.  But the
past weeks had sufficiently shaken her sense of security to make her
glad that when Sir Peter suggested a walk to the Black Pond, that Harry
might see what she proposed doing, he came himself, and brought Charlie
Carter.

It was the spot she liked best at Huntingdon.  The fine firs which,
flinging their sullen shadows on the water, had given it its name, now
stood out, bold and black, and free from cramping surroundings.  Claudia
had cleared with an unsparing hand, and with good results.  Long grass
and rushes fringed the waters edge, the moor-fowl's haunt, and on a
still day the clear reflections doubled each green blade, while the
great stems of the firs sprang up clean and straight and strong as
columns.  A little boathouse stood, picturesquely shadowed, and Charlie
had got out the boat before any one saw what he was doing, and insisted
on pulling them round the Pond.  Harry took the other oar, Sir Peter
steered, and Claudia sat looking round her, as the others supposed, with
an eye to effects.  She did, indeed, honestly try to call them up.  But
her work had suddenly become, if not distasteful, at least a labour, so
that instead of the enthusiasm which used to possess her, as some
thought, unduly, it required whip and scourge to hold her to it at all.
And as they rowed along, through an opening in the trees, the house
stood out distinctly, and, with the house, Fenwick's open window.  Her
eye fell upon it, and remained.  She recollected how one day when she
was planning and arranging, she had seen him coming along, striding
through brake fern, and evidently in pursuit of her, and how she had
slipped behind a trunk and so baffled his search.  It was one of those
little remembrances which circumstances may arm with a sting.  What
would she not have given to have seen him coming now!  Tears, remorseful
tears, gathered in her eyes, and as she glanced hastily at her
companions she was sure that Harry Hilton had surprised them.  She, on
her part, had surprised the look which she dreaded, and when they
parted, her good-bye was wanting in the frank friendliness which had
marked her greeting.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

The second doctor came, and his opinion was, on the whole, less
unsatisfactory.  He allowed that there was reason for alarm, and that
some of the symptoms were perplexing, but with great care he thought it
possible that a day or two might bring improvement.  Mrs Leslie also
arrived, and took prompt command, although she was careful to let her
hosts understand that she had left home at great inconvenience to
herself.

"Such nonsense!" said Lady Wilmot to Claudia.  "The great inconvenience
means that she has been obliged to throw up one or two engagements.  I'm
sure her husband, poor man, must be grateful to us for giving him a
little time in which he may call his soul his own."

Claudia looked white and worried.  Her fears had returned upon her, and
she could not laugh lightly as Lady Wilmot seemed able to laugh, even
when things were at their worst.  Imagination often paints in stronger
colours than reality; she had not seen Fenwick, and pictured him more
suffering than was the case.  Besides, she had just heard that the
doctors could express no decided opinion for two or three days, a time
which to her restlessness seemed unendurable.  She looked blankly at
Lady Wilmot, not at first realising who she was talking about.

"Oh, Mrs Leslie," she said at last, forcing back her attention, "isn't
she like her brother?"

"Dreadfully.  But what in a man is a nice peremptory manner, is simply
odious in a woman.  I wondered you didn't rend her when she talked to
you in that way, and asked all those questions.  And I wished you hadn't
said that it was your fault."

"It was."

"It wasn't.  It was the County Council's, or whoever it is who ought to
see after our roads.  Arthur said so himself, and he wanted of all
things to know if you were hurt."

"He is very kind," said Claudia coldly.  She hated herself for minding
anything at a time when anxiety held them all, but from behind Lady
Wilmot's good-natured consolations it appeared to her that she detected
a smile of triumph peeping out.  "See what I told you!" it seemed to
say, "see what he has done, and deny now, if you dare, that he cares for
you!"  With that "Claudia!" ringing in her ears, how could she deny it,
even to herself?  If no other result came from the whirl of inward
questioning, it had no doubt the effect of fixing her thoughts very
closely upon Captain Fenwick.

Minutes--hours--crawled by.  Claudia lived upon the crumbs which were
flung to her, not daring to ask for them in larger quantities.  Charlie
Carter departed, and she missed him because, though casual in his
answers, he was sure to know what was going on in the house, and
sometimes imparted his knowledge.  Then she fell to working feverishly
again, keeping out of doors half the day.  But wherever she was, she
contrived with few and short intervals, to have the house in view, and
with the house, Fenwick's window.  Sometimes a white-aproned figure--the
nurse--would stand there, looking out, and once when she drew down the
blind to shut out the glare, Claudia went through a sudden and agonising
dread.  She stood staring, deaf to one of the workmen who had advanced
to inquire about a particular order, and watching the other windows to
see whether the too-significant sign were repeated in them.  It was on
this day that when she came down to dinner she found that Fenwick had
been for some hours making steady improvement, and that all were
hopeful.

From this time, indeed, he improved steadily, and Lady Wilmot announced
with some glee that he was only anxious to get rid of Mrs Leslie.

"They're too much alike.  They irritate each other."

"I would back Arthur's will against most people's," said Sir Peter
quietly.

"Oh yes, and generally she has to knock under, but now, now that he is
ill, she gets him at a disadvantage, and it is rather comic.  However,
she goes to-morrow, and then, as soon as he can be moved into my
boudoir, we must all set to work to make it pleasant for him."

And she flung a queer look at Claudia.

Claudia herself, in spite of the comparative lifting of the load, was
finding the decisions of life not quite so simple a matter as she had
imagined.  Fenwick was better, no doubt, but there was still talk which
made her uneasy.  And though she would gladly have gone off, her work
was unfinished, and there seemed less excuse for a hurried departure
than before.  The Wilmots might not unnaturally wonder why she went.
What could she say?  What excuse could she offer?  What excuse, at any
rate, which Lady Wilmot's sharp eyes would not see through?  She must
wait, hoping earnestly that she might find an opportunity for leaving
before she was called upon to take her turn in amusing the invalid's
convalescence.

Meanwhile, when she glanced at Fenwick's window, which was often, she
pictured a much more dismal interior than facts warranted.  If it had
not been that the monotony of illness must be always irksome to an
active man, Fenwick would have allowed that he was well off in a
pleasant room, with every luxury in papers, books, flowers, and a
cheerful selection of visitors to wile away the time.

"It's better, anyway, than grilling in India, with fever on you, the
temperature anything you like and a little more, and the punkah gone to
sleep," he admitted one day when Sir Peter had left his wife to the not
uncongenial task of raising her cousin's spirits, which happened to be
rather depressed.

"Thank you," she said politely.

"Well, isn't it?" he returned, glancing at her.

"I don't know.  But I prefer gratitude not altogether expressed in
negatives."

"You know what I mean," he said rather sulkily.  "How much longer am I
going to be tied by the leg?"

Lady Wilmot was a born matchmaker.  Her eyes began to sparkle.

"Never mind.  I'm certain she's thinking of you a great deal."

"That's nothing," he returned, in the same tone.  "It's her way to take
things violently.  But if I'm only a weight on her conscience, as soon
as I'm all right again, she'll fling me off."

His cousin buried her head cosily in a soft silk cushion.

"I wish you'd tell me seriously, Arthur, whether you really mean it?"

"Of course I do."

"You always say of course--each time."

"Well, this time I've broken my leg over it.  I couldn't do more, could
I?"

"No-o-o," replied Lady Wilmot doubtfully.

"I know the symptoms, as you infer, and I assure you I never had them so
strongly before."

"You used to tell _me_ that."

"They weren't to compare.  One lives and learns."

"You looked wretched enough," said Lady Wilmot, sitting up indignantly.
"I'm sure I never saw such a contrast as between you and Peter at the
wedding.  Every one noticed it."

"It didn't last.  Look at us now.  Peter--Peter is getting--well, let us
call it broad I say, hands up!  Don't pitch things at a man that's
down."

"I wonder your illness hasn't made you more truthful!  What will you say
next about Peter?"

"I don't want to talk of him at all.  He doesn't interest me."

"Shall I call the nurse?" inquired Lady Wilmot, rising with dignity.

"No, no; sit down, and tell me more about Claudia.  It's awful to think
how much time I'm wasting."

His cousin settled herself once more against the cushion, took up one of
the pugs, and smiled in token of forgiveness.

"I'm not so sure," she said doubtfully.

"Pity?"

"And remorse.  You see, Charlie Carter was for ever dinning into her
that it was all her fault."

"It wasn't, really," said Fenwick, hastily.  "I can't exactly explain."

"Oh, I can!  I've felt all along that she was trying to avoid a crisis.
You're so dreadfully impetuous."

"I like that!  If I had only chosen to be impetuous, as you call it,
Peter would have been nowhere."

"Perhaps, if you're expecting me to help you, you'll condescend to talk
sense."

"Oh, you'll help; you're dying to be at it."

She vouchsafed no reply.

"I'll tell you one thing you can do," he said eagerly.  "If you really
believe she's feeling a bit sentimental over my spill--"

Lady Wilmot was playing with her pug's ears.  She interrupted sweetly--

"I think she feels the injury to your bicycle very much."

"That's all the same thing.  Then, whatever happens, don't let her go
till I'm about again, or stretched on a sofa, or something effective.
Let her fuss about with the trees as much as she likes."

"She can fuss, of course.  But she has said a few words which make me
think she wants to be off, and I'm not sure whether--"

"Whether?"

"If she sticks on here, whether she mayn't find her remorse just a
little boring?"

"No, no, she mustn't; it will grow for being fed upon.  Look here, Flo,
don't make me out too well."

"I don't think you're very ill."

"I'm recovering gradually, only gradually.  The least disturbance may
throw me back."

"Oh!"

"And meanwhile I'll harry Spooner till he lets me be carried into your
sanctum.  What's the good of all their carrying dodges if they don't use
them?"

Lady Wilmot put down the pug, rose up, and glanced mischievously at her
cousin.

"Well, I hope you really mean it this time.  Remember Helen Arbuthnot."

"If you talk about remembering," began Fenwick boldly.  She was gone.

It must have been this conversation which made Lady Wilmot after
luncheon walk with Claudia towards the Black Pond, and become
enthusiastic in her praises of what had been done.

"We are so delighted!" she said.  "Of course Peter thinks about the
estate and all that kind of thing, but I think of Marjory.  It's such a
comfort to feel that by the time she grows up, she'll have a
decent-looking place of her own ready for her, and really my heart sank
when I brought her here after poor old Sir Ralph's death."

Claudia was pleased, but said quickly--

"I shall soon have finished."

"Oh no," said Lady Wilmot.  "I know Peter wants your advice about some
outlying things.  Why should you go?  You are your own mistress, aren't
you?"

With a pang quite new to her, she owned that she was.

"And I heard you say you had no other engagement.  Then what stands in
your way?  Don't say you find us horrid!" she added, with a gravity
which concealed a smile.  "Your going would be an awful disappointment
to poor Arthur."

"But he is much better?"

"Better--yes.  But I am afraid it must be a long business, and,"--she
hesitated--"don't you think he deserves a little reward?"  The girl
winced and grew pale.  As Fenwick said, she took things violently, she
was at an age when she unconsciously exaggerated her own importance in
the world, and it seemed to her as if all manner of tremendous issues
hung upon her answer.  Besides, up to now, since the accident Lady
Wilmot had not dropped such a hint.  Her heart beat too fast for her to
speak.  At last she turned a white face upon her companion.

"I don't know," she said vaguely.

Lady Wilmot drew her face towards her and kissed her.

"Stay!" she said lightly.

"Very well," returned Claudia, drawing a deep breath.

For in that moment she renounced all--freedom, ambition--something
within her whispering persistently that if she stayed it would be to
become Arthur Fenwick's wife.  Her thoughts were sufficiently in a whirl
for her not to know whether the conviction brought delight or terror,
but they had fastened themselves upon him so continuously of late, that
quite an unexpected feeling had sprung up in her heart, so that, if she
were not in love with himself, she was nearly so with the image she had
created.  Her very indifference became a wrong when she reflected that
it had caused him such suffering.

Lady Wilmot's sympathy was of a light-hearted nature, it was not
profound enough to enable her to plunge into depths, but Claudia's was a
sufficiently transparent countenance to betray that it cost her a
struggle to utter these two words, and if there was a struggle, it
probably had to do with more than the mere fact of going or staying.
She therefore hastened to encourage her.

"I am more than glad," she said smiling.  "To-morrow that odious Lady
Bodmin--as Peter isn't here I may abuse her--departs, and though the
Comyns are due, I am not quite sure that Mr Comyns and Arthur hit it
off very well; at any rate, I don't think Arthur cares much for either
of them.  So I particularly want him to have something pleasant to look
forward to."

Instinctively Claudia turned and faced her.  "Will he care?"

She spoke the words scarcely above her breath, and was hardly aware that
in a sudden craving for sympathy and counsel she had uttered them.

"Will he?"  Lady Wilmot laughed out.  "If you could have heard him
to-day when I told him you had talked of going!"

Claudia walked on silently.  The longing had changed to shrinking, and
she wished that Lady Wilmot would leave her, but instead of this she
ventured on another step.

"I assure you," she said, "that Arthur is a dear fellow."

"Oh, don't let us talk about him any more!" cried the girl with sudden
passion.  She felt tossed, dragged, buffeted, a very shuttlecock of
circumstance, impatient of the insistent tones in which that "Claudia!"
still rang in her ears.  Harry Hilton had also uttered her name, but it
had not stirred her in the same imperative way, it had not been
emphasised so disastrously, or burnt upon her memory.  She trembled as
she spoke, and Lady Wilmot looked at her with some bewilderment as to
the cause of her emotion.  She was not quite sure that it boded well.

"No, you are right, we won't talk about him any more," she agreed
soothingly.  "You have promised to stay, and that is all we wanted.  I
foresee that after all we shall have a good time, and I am so glad, for
Arthur has always been my favourite cousin, though he is sometimes
tiresome, and I have always tried to help him to what he wanted.  It
used to be jam out of the housekeeper's closet," she added, with a
laugh.

The girl would not laugh.  "She takes it all so seriously!"  Lady Wilmot
explained afterwards to her husband with light compunction.  "Dear me,
Peter, if I had thought so tremendously about such episodes, you'd have
married a wreck!  So far as I can remember, I used rather to enjoy
them."

This was not Claudia's condition.  Enjoyment!  It was misery; expectant,
frightened, yet entrancing misery, such as she had never pictured to
herself.  It had been altogether different with Harry Hilton; she had
scarcely thought of him except as a momentarily disturbing incident,
and, quite sure that his healthy young face would never pale a shade, no
idea of suffering had so much as crossed her mind.  She flung him a
restless thought now and then, comparing the two men, and certain that
all the intellectual advantages were heaped on Fenwick.  His natural
gifts were varied, and he knew extraordinarily well how to make them
appear at their best, helped to it by a dominating vanity, at once so
strong and sensitive, that it never landed him in ridiculous positions,
as may easily be the case with a coarser kind.  Claudia, for instance,
had never guessed its existence.  She thought of him as a shrewd keen
man, forgave him some shortness of temper, and liked the touch of
roughness he occasionally showed.  It had struck her that Miss Arbuthnot
cared for him, and that he was indifferent, so that his evident
attraction for herself flattered her.  These were trifles, the real tie
lay in his dash to her rescue and consequent suffering.  Nothing could
have smitten down her spirited independence so completely as the
knowledge that he lay helpless owing to what he had done for her; it was
the very thing to make her feel that any sacrifice must be made which
could compensate.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

Helen Arbuthnot was used to come and go as she liked at Thornbury, but
it was not very often that she returned within a week of taking leave.
She had done so now, making some slight excuse, which for hospitable
Mrs Hilton was unnecessary.  The talk often fell upon Fenwick's
accident, and she knew that Harry had been to Huntingdon.  Ruth Baynes
described how an accident, not certainly identical, but still an
accident, once befell her eldest nephew.  Helen listened in silence
until she had Harry alone.

"There's no actual danger, is there?" she asked indifferently.

"Sir Peter said there was.  At least the doctors were at fault."

She had followed him into the gun-room, where he was rubbing the stock
of a gun.

"Then I suppose you'll be going over again?"

"Not again.  Somebody will write."

She tapped the wooden arms of her chair impatiently.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "you're the most lukewarm of lovers!  I've no
patience with you!"

"Can't be helped," he exclaimed, polishing laboriously.

"It can.  Don't you see that it's nothing short of unfeeling to show no
anxiety when--when your Claudia has nearly brought herself and her
career to an end?"

"She's all right.  Besides, my Claudia, as you call her, isn't mine at
all, and doesn't mean to have anything to do with me."

"Only because you're so wrong-headed.  Didn't I advise you to keep
quiet?"

"Yes."

"And now I advise you to move.  And you do just the contrary."

He had his back turned to her.

"Didn't it really ever strike you," he said, "that Fenwick cared?"

After a moment's hesitation, she answered with a change of manner and a
laugh--

"Oh, how like a man!  When he takes a fancy he thinks every one else
must be possessed with it too!"

She ceased, however, to urge him, for good-tempered as he was, he could
stick to his point, and she saw that he was resolved not to go again to
Huntingdon.  He had made this determination partly because he could not
see Claudia without disturbance, and his healthy nature objected to the
stirring up of emotions which could lead to nothing; and partly because
in spite of Miss Arbuthnot's taunt he was persuaded that Fenwick liked
Claudia, and a love of fair play inclined him to keep out of the way at
a moment when his rival might be supposed to be at a disadvantage.  It
would not have changed his conduct had he known the truth, that, in his
disabled condition, Fenwick, passive, was making such way as he might
never have done had he been about as usual.

Only Miss Arbuthnot's pertinacity had led to the conversation.  She did
not renew it, and he was not the man to care to talk of his own
feelings.  At the end of a few days better news arrived from Huntingdon,
and Helen departed as suddenly as she had come.  Then it was that Harry
became more restless.  Thornbury had too many bitter-sweet
recollections, Huntingdon was too easily within reach, at Elmslie he
might hear something of Claudia, and at Elmslie he would meet with Anne
Cartwright's tender sympathy, never wanting in tact.  At Elmslie,
accordingly, he presented himself one day, unannounced, but certain of
welcome.

It was Philippa's shrewdness which first discovered that the times were
out of joint.

"Something has happened," she said to Anne, "and whatever it may be,
take my word that Claudia is at the bottom of it."

"Why?" said Anne, startled.  "He hasn't talked of her at all."

"And that's why," retorted Philippa.  "When he left he was on the way to
talk a great deal."

"Then do you suppose?"

"Yes, I suppose she has refused him, and that you will soon hear more
about it.  He is much too good for her, but I imagine you can't tell him
so?"

"Now you are unfair."

Philippa laughed, shrugged her shoulders, and went off, rattling her
keys.  Anne, after a momentary hesitation, left the house, and strolled
down to the river, where she found Harry smoking, with Vic stretched by
his side.  Looking at him with keener attention, she saw something in
his eyes which told her that her quicker sister's surmise, at least as
to his unhappiness, was right.  He jumped up, and she put her hand on
his arm.

"I'm too old for damp grass, but here's the bench which Claudia hated."
She added, very kindly, "What is it, Harry?"

He laughed queerly.

"Nothing out of the common.  I've had a spill, and the world is going
round a bit--that's all.  It'll steady itself by-and-by, no doubt.  You
can't do anything, Anne, and I'm sure I don't know why I tell you."

"Is it Claudia?" asked Anne unheeding.

He nodded.

"And?"  She paused.

"She didn't give me any hope, and I can't persuade myself that I've the
ghost of a chance.  Still--I suppose I should feel worse if there wasn't
one."  He broke off and laughed again.

"She is very young.  Oh, I shouldn't despair yet," urged Anne, born
consoler.

"Don't you think you've been hasty?"

He pulled Vic's soft ears.

"Perhaps.  I couldn't wait."

"Well, as I say, I wouldn't despair.  Give her time."

"She hasn't said anything herself?"  He was thirsting for a word.

"No.  Indeed, Philippa and I have been puzzled that we have heard
nothing from Claudia since she first went to the Wilmots'.  We don't
want her to feel bound to write, but generally she does.  I suppose this
explains it."

"You know about the accident?"

"Accident?  No," said Anne, with alarm.  "Oh, she's all right.  But
Fenwick, who was with her, got let in rather badly."  And he gave her a
brief account of the disaster.

"Oh, poor child!" cried Anne.  "How terrible for her!  That explains, of
course, particularly,"--she smiled--"because she knows we are
old-fashioned enough to be a little shy of bicycles.  Come, Harry, it
seems to me that you have despaired too soon.  Try again, later.  Her
head is filled with other ideas now, but give her time and she will come
round."

Irony is apt to follow on the heels of good advice.

"I don't know," said Harry slowly.  "I haven't quite told you all."

She waited.

"This other man, who got the chance--"

"Captain Fenwick?"

"She thinks me a stay-at-home duffer, as I am; while he--he's a clever
chap, and has been about, and can talk of the things she fancies, and--
well, it can't be helped!  Look here, Anne, Philippa must really speak
to Smith about that hay."

If it had been a relief to him to say so much, he was evidently
indisposed to say more, and, Anne not being one to force confidences,
they talked of indifferent matters, went to see the rick, strolled round
the kitchen garden, ate apricots, and were turning towards the house
when a maid came out, bringing a letter.

"Oddly enough, this is from Claudia," exclaimed Anne impulsively.

The next moment, as she glanced through it, she repented having spoken.

"What's wrong?" demanded Harry, watching her face.  As she hesitated, he
added quietly, "You had better tell me."

"It is from Claudia."

"So you said.  Well?"

There was a new peremptoriness in his tone which she recognised.

"She writes about what we talked of," she said, with difficulty, and
keeping her eyes fixed on the letter.  "She--she is engaged to this
Captain Fenwick.  You may read the letter, if you like," she added more
quickly, holding it out to him.  He did not take it, and there was a
moment's silence.

"Thank you," he said, and no more.  His voice was hoarse, and she longed
to comfort him, not knowing how, and casting about for words.

"This accident--"

He interrupted her.

"It's over and done with--we won't talk about it.  Can I do anything for
you in the town?"

Anne felt with a pang that it was not as in his old boyish troubles, and
that the best she could do was to stand aside, and take no notice.  She
went off with her letter to Philippa, who was not very sympathetic.

"I'm not sorry.  Harry will meet with somebody else, somebody, I do
hope, without a career.  Of course he feels it at first, but he'll get
over it, oh yes, Anne, I'm hardened enough to think so.  Give me the
letter.  What does she say?--um--um--um--`saved my life at the risk of
his own'--that's strong--`dreadfully hurt--getting better'--I don't see
what else she could do--`stay on here for another week or two before
going back to Elmslie.'  One thing is certain, Anne, we needn't have had
that new carpet for the bedroom."

"She doesn't say much," commented Anne.

"No, not much.  I wonder--"

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

If the wonder Philippa expressed related to Claudia's own feelings, she
need have had no misgivings.  In spite of hesitation, reluctance,
beforehand, in spite of the coldness which stiffened her on the first
day that she saw Fenwick in Lady Wilmot's den, she was becoming, daily,
shyly, yet radiantly happy.  Fenwick's treatment of her was subtly
admirable.  Her reserves, her pride, raised all his masterful instincts,
and perhaps the sudden check to his active physical life inclined him
the more to concentrate his energies upon conquering her love.  It gave
these energies a field.  More than once she would have revolted from the
touch of the new emotion; quivering and startled, she was inclined to
fly, and it needed just the treatment he knew how to apply, to soothe
her.  The first sight of him, stretched helpless, had struck at her
heart.  The readiness with which he tossed aside her stammering words of
regret made a direct appeal to her own generosity, and day by day the
bond tightened.  He knew--none better--how to play upon her ambitions
and interests, talked as if they would continue, planned what further
opportunities might be hers, let her suppose that here was perfect,
satisfying sympathy, until it seemed to her that a delightful confidence
had sprung up between them, such a confidence as even the college had
never afforded.  He waited for this, waited until, after some tentative
advance and shrinking, it stood strong, and the rest was curiously easy.
A few sentences instinct, as he knew how to make them, with all that
was both tender and dominant, finished his work; Claudia was his almost
before she realised that she had yielded, before Lady Wilmot, who was
flitting in and out, could frame a tidy excuse for leaving the two
alone.  And it was extremely simple.  Fenwick looked into her eyes, and
thought them charming; she, trying to meet his with her usual frank
directness, faltered, and could not face them.  Then he whispered three
words, and she made a mute sign, eloquent in its vagueness.  No collapse
could have been more complete, nothing could have been more unlike the
manner in which she resolved to go through such a scene when, like other
girls, she had rehearsed its possibilities.  Claudia had always supposed
that she should marry, and, when the moment came, intended to speak
decidedly, very decidedly, to her lover, and let him make his choice;
either take her with the understanding that she would stick to her
profession, and accept whatever ties it imposed, or not take her at all.
It is true that she almost invariably pictured him as yielding, but she
meant to be dignified and quite firm; reflecting with contempt that the
old ways of love-making were altogether unsuitable to the new girl, who
was made of different stuff.

And this was the result!

Nothing, as she had to own, could have been less impressive than the
figure she had cut; nothing more commonplace than the words spoken,
except that she had a saving conviction that no one had ever spoken them
with Fenwick's strength, and this made a difference.  Indeed, although
she was obliged to own that she had failed, the fact did not seem to
trouble her.  She looked in the glass, and smiled at her own dimpling
face, remembering what he had said; and recollecting further that she
had heard him remark that he liked a particular shade of yellow, sat
down and wrote to London for an evening frock of that colour.

As for the obnoxious pocket-book, it remained where it had been laid the
day before.

When she was alone, or with Fenwick, Claudia's happiness was like
herself, eager and brilliant, for all happiness takes its colouring from
the person it touches.  With others she was not altogether at her ease,
having an unacknowledged suspicion that Lady Wilmot was smiling in her
sleeve, as indeed she was, and broadly.

"Because it is so amusingly unexpected," she informed her husband.  "No
two persons could be more unsuited to each other."

Sir Peter twinkled.

"Is that recommendation likely to last?"

"She was so _very_ indifferent, so _very_ much swallowed up by her own
ideas," pursued his wife, unheeding; "and Arthur has a way of expecting
women to flutter round him, and be flattered when he speaks.  Oh, he's a
very good fellow, but that's his little weakness, and that's what makes
me laugh.  But I'm really extremely glad.  It's much better for him than
marrying a woman like--well, for instance, like Helen Arbuthnot, all
bitter herbs."

Sir Peter, who was well aware that his wife was not without her
jealousies, let this statement pass uncontradicted, but spoke a word or
two as to Claudia.

"I suppose she knows her own mind?  She hasn't been talked into it?"

"Talked!  When she was as easy to get at as a prickly pear.  What a dear
old donkey you are, Peter!  I would have given her all sorts of good
advice, and told her a hundred and fifty useful things, but I never had
the chance.  No.  It's very odd, but I can tell exactly what brought it
about, and it's only another instance of Arthur's extraordinary luck.
You know that day we went to Barton Towers?"

"Well?"

"Well, he said something which startled her, and, to stop it, away she
dashed down the hill, and then came the smash up."

"You call that luck, do you?"

"Certainly," said his wife, with dignity.  "What's a broken leg or two?"

"No one would mind it, of course."

"It will mend up all right, and it made Claudia listen to him.  I should
hope you would not have objected to breaking both legs on the day you
proposed to me."

He flicked the ash off his cigar.

"Nothing of the sort was necessary," he remarked.  "You were too happy."

Lady Wilmot sighed.

"How little you know!  I've never liked to tell you, but--you're sure
you won't mind?"

"Go on."

"As it happened, I tossed up."

"Tossed up?"

"You see, there was nothing else to do.  I couldn't make up my mind
between you and Lord Baliol, so I thought of this plan, and you happened
to be heads.  I shall tell Marjory about it when she grows up.  It's so
simple!"

"I dare say.  And suppose the wrong man comes up?"

"Oh, then she needn't pay," explained Lady Wilmot, escaping with a
laugh.  "A woman has always that in reserve."

It seemed, indeed, as if Fenwick's recovery became extraordinarily,
almost suspiciously, rapid.  After two or three days' rain the sun shone
bravely again, and he was carried out on the lawn.  He chose to have
Claudia at command, and as she was scrupulously conscientious in wishing
to finish her work, she used to be out at the earliest hour possible,
planning and arranging, and leaving directions for the woodmen to carry
out.  Fenwick, on discovering this, declared she looked fagged.

"I won't have you do it."

"But," she protested, half laughing, half vexed, "it has to be done."

"Not it!  I'll talk to Peter.  I'm your first consideration."

And she yielded.  Indeed by a sort of rebound from what Lady Wilmot had
called prickliness, she was now extraordinarily yielding, finding it
delightful to give up her will to his.  Lady Wilmot, who had expected
amusement from the situation and was disappointed, shook her head, and
even went so far as to warn the girl that there was not a man in the
world who could bear spoiling.  Claudia was indignant.  Fenwick drove
her in a low pony carriage for the first time that afternoon, and as
they went along the lanes she told him.

"Don't let Flo lecture you," he said quickly.  "I won't have her
interfering."

This fell in with her own desires and she agreed happily.  She drew a
long breath of content as she spoke.  All at that moment seemed perfect,
and, looking back, she wondered at nothing so much as her own
hesitation.  The day was bright and touched with keen exhilaration, the
road, cut through deep hedges, ran, richly shadowed, up and down hill,
and a fresh wind drove the clouds overhead.  They passed the
blacksmith's forge, and a dog flew barking after them, then they went
up, up, up, past white cottages, each standing in its garden, and
Fenwick let the reins lie loosely on the pony's back.  When they reached
the top they stopped.  Behind, and on one side, the woods of Huntingdon,
gaining dignity by distance, swept down the valley, while in front
spread a fair broken view of pasture land running into blue upland, and
darkened here and there by veiling cloud.  It was Claudia's moment of
absolute content, and Fenwick broke it.

"I spoke to Spooner to-day about getting away."

"What did he say?"

"He thinks it's all right, and that I can go soon."

"But--" She hesitated shyly.  Fenwick bent forward and untwisted a rein
without looking at her.  "Doesn't he think you ought to keep quiet a
little longer?"

"I dare say.  But one can't stick in one place for ever."  Then, as if
he realised that the words might convey a pang, he added quickly, "Of
course it's delightful, only I must get back to the camp, where another
fellow is howling at having to do my work."

"I see," said Claudia, in a low voice.  The pang had just touched her,
but she would not acknowledge it.  "And I have been here an
unconscionable time.  I shall go to Elmslie, and if the Wilmots want me
again about anything, I can run down later on."

"Oh, they won't want you," said Fenwick, dryly.  "Well, go to Elmslie
for a week or two if you think you must, and then come to Aldershot, and
stay with Gertrude."

"Will she have me?"

He smiled at her.

"Won't she?  I believe you'll enjoy the life there immensely."

She was quite happy and gay again.

"And by that time your leg will be well, and we shall be able to go all
over the country on our bicycles."

"I think not," he returned rather grimly.  "I don't care to see a woman
at that work near the camp."

"Oh," she cried impetuously, "I thought you were quite above that sort
of thing!"

"Did you?  I'm not, then."

His tone was the same, and she hesitated.  Then she said more slowly--

"You're not afraid for me, are you?  Of course, when I was so stupid the
other day, it was only because--because--"

"I'm not afraid," he said, touching up the pony.  "I think you manage it
very fairly well.  I don't care about it for you--that's all.  Except
quite in the country."

Her dismay was so evident that he turned and looked at her.

"My darling, do you really mind very much?  For my sake?"

"For your sake?--oh no," faltered Claudia.  "It isn't the bicycling,
but--I--I thought we should have done so much together, and--do you mean
that you have always disliked it?"

"I don't object to it in some places, or when it isn't carried to
extremes.  Besides, there are sure to be occasional opportunities."  He
had her hand in his, and she could but smile and submit, and resolve
that there should be no opposition where he felt so strongly.  Perhaps,
though he disclaimed it, the accident had left him nervous on her
account, and, by-and-by, when he had forgotten, his dislike would
subside.  But, to her dismay, she found that many things of which he had
hitherto spoken lightly, and, as she thought, approvingly, were not at
all to his taste under the altered condition of things.  She began to be
aware that he was binding her round with small restrictions, pushing her
into the very groove against which she had revolted, and, worse than
all, ridiculing the revolt itself.  He no longer restrained his mockery
of her enthusiasms, enthusiasms which she had fondly imagined he shared.
If she talked politics, Fenwick's face darkened at the opinions she
expressed, and he told her in so many words that he did not wish her to
allude to professional duties, or even to think about them any more.  It
is true that these demands were sweetened by the passionate vibrations
of the voice in which he told her that he loved her, and at such moments
all sacrifice for love seemed joy; but when she was alone her thoughts
were not so restful and satisfied as in the first days.  She even began
to long for a breathing space at Elmslie, when she would no longer be
swept away by his impetuous will, and could, as it were, stand, recover
her breath, and face the changed view in which life confronted her.

It came at last.  Fenwick intended to have taken her himself to Elmslie,
but was summoned to Aldershot a day sooner than he expected.  And
Claudia, Claudia who despised those girls who could not travel alone,
was obliged to put up with the guardianship of Lady Wilmot's maid, and
to go first class, with her beloved bicycle in the luggage-van.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

Claudia had her breathing space, and at first enjoyed it.  Her cousins
were kind without being curious; she could say as little or as much as
she liked about her engagement, and only Emily, Emily, whose remarks she
assured herself she did not mind, so much as hinted at the changed
circumstances of her career, for which, as she could not yet forget them
herself, she was grateful.  Nor, although she heard of Harry Hilton's
visit, and, putting two and two together, realised that it coincided
with her letter of announcement, could she accuse him of having said
anything to prejudice her in her cousins' eyes.  She would not have been
sorry to find fault with him, but she had to own that he had behaved
very well, and there was even a moment when the thought flashed upon her
that, in his hands, her liberties would not have been so circumscribed
as now appeared probable.  She drove it indignantly from her.  What was
Harry by the side of Arthur Fenwick?

On the other hand, Philippa maintained that Claudia was decidedly the
better for her engagement.  She said to Anne--

"She has gained broader views, and is not nearly so self-absorbed.  The
man must be a man of sense.  She does not force her plans for reforming
the world down one's throat with such vigour; indeed, I am almost
inclined to doubt whether she now altogether expects to reform the
world.  That is, indeed, a discovery!"

Anne, kind Anne, smiled and sighed, with thought of Harry.

"I do hope that she likes him."

"Could he have worked such a miracle if she did not?"

In Claudia's mind there was no doubt.  Away from Fenwick, his vigorous
personality impressed her the more, and she told herself that his love
was such a gift as would make a woman gladly give up all that clashed
with it.  There was something almost pathetic in her anxiety to put away
what she had learnt to see that he disliked, and, though her strong
young nature would always demand outlet for its energies, she hastily
accepted what little was common to other girls and other lives about
her.  Her beloved pocket-book was laid aside, or only looked at
surreptitiously, she wrote to the college, renouncing all wish for
engagements; she cut tickets for Emily, took her bicycle into retired
roads, never once tried to shock the Dean's wife, and controlled her
very hand-writing.  It was natural enough that after the first welcome
breathing space such a life of suppression should soon weary her, and
that she began to count the days before she might get her invitation to
Aldershot.

Once and once only was Harry specially alluded to.

"Mr Hilton has been ill again," Philippa announced, folding a letter.
"Poor Harry!"  Claudia imagined a reproach.

"Why should you call him poor Harry?" she said shortly.  "I never saw
any one quite so much his own master.  Nobody at Thornbury thinks of
contradicting him."

"Let Anne enlarge," said Philippa laughing.  "It's her topic."

"Life has been for him one long contradiction!"  Anne exclaimed, nothing
loth.  "I dare say he never told you how his whole mind was set upon
being a soldier, and how he got into the very regiment he wanted, and
then had to leave on account of his father's illness?"

"No," returned Claudia, slowly: "he never told me."

"Then, when Mr Hilton was better, he had a chance of going out to South
Africa, and it was the same thing over again, the scheme completely
knocked on the head.  No one could know Harry, with his love of sport
and roughing it, and suppose for a moment that his home life is what he
would choose.  But, as he never dreams of complaining, his giving up all
he cares for is taken as a matter of course."

Anne spoke with quite unusual vehemence, and Claudia reddened and did
not answer.  A month ago, she would have made light of such a tale, but
love had already taught her something of its divine power of
self-sacrifice, and it touched her.  At the same time, by one of the
contrarieties of a woman's nature, she felt indignant with Harry because
she had been the means of losing him another of life's blessings.  Why
had he been so stupid?  He had only to hold his tongue for them to have
remained excellent friends.  Then she fell to wondering whether, if the
same accident had threatened her when Harry was by her side, he would
have acted as Fenwick had acted, and was the more vexed to have to own
that he could have done nothing else.  She wanted, it will be seen, to
keep all the glory for her special hero, but the mental training she had
received, would not allow her to make her mind a present to her
emotions.

They left her, however, restless, and she regretfully decided that
Elmslie was dull, and looked impatiently for the invitation to
Aldershot.  It came quite as quickly as was possible, Fenwick took care
of that, and then she--she, Claudia!--had to wait for an escort, to
Philippa's private and unbounded amusement; for although Fenwick wished
her to have a maid, space was too limited in the hut to receive her, and
that concession to helpless young ladyhood, as Claudia scornfully called
it, had to be postponed until her return.  Finally she went off in the
companionship of two of the Dean's daughters, and Mrs Leslie's maid was
to meet her at the junction where they parted.  The bicycle was left
behind, and Emily commented--

"How odd!  I thought you took it everywhere."

Claudia was trying to forget this innocent speech as she whirled along
in the train by the side of the Dean's daughters, who, had she but known
it, were as much astonished at the reversal of the position as she could
be, but it rankled.  She had made larger concessions without feeling as
sore as she felt through the journey, and was only soothed by the glad
sight of Fenwick's tall figure on the junction platform, in place of the
maid she had expected.  The next moment she frowned.  He was not alone,
Mrs Leslie was with him, and she felt oddly shy.  She reflected,
further, that the Dean's daughters had done nothing to require so many
thanks.

"As if I were a helpless parcel!" she murmured rebelliously.

It was unfortunate, for it revived the spirit of antagonism which had
met Mrs Leslie at Huntingdon.  There, however, Claudia had seen but
little of her, here she was somebody to be taken in hand, advised,
checked, arranged for, informed that Arthur did not like this, that, or
the other, and treated in fact as a very average young woman of early
years, whose inexperience required superior counselling.

"Arthur's is a curious nature," said his sister on the morning after
Claudia's arrival.  The girl lifted her eyebrows.

"I think I understand him.  Few persons do," pursued Mrs Leslie,
reflectively, "and I always felt anxious that his wife should be a
person of experience.  You will require patience, for one thing, I warn
you."

"Perhaps he will require it, too," said Claudia, with a short laugh
which made Mrs Leslie look at her.

"I hope not," she said gravely.  "I don't think his stock is large.  I
advise you to be the one to yield."

Claudia found this and similar hints maddening, but when she carried her
indignation to Fenwick, he was disposed to take his sister's side.

"She has rather a peremptory manner," was the utmost he would allow.
"It's only manner.  She's had to pilot old Leslie along, and very well
she's done it."

"I dare say.  But I don't require piloting," said Claudia stiffly.

Fenwick smiled, and her colour rose.

"What do you mean?"

"By what?"

"By looking like that."

He rose and stretched his arms.

"My dear Claudia, you're in an aggressive humour to-day."

Her heart smote her.  "I believe I was cross," she said with difficulty.
"I thought that she--Gertrude--treated me as if I was a child."

"Learn philosophy," he said, with a yawn.  "What does it matter?"

It is very well to be told to study philosophy, but there are times when
the advice carries insult with it.  Claudia jumped up and stood at the
window.  From thence she shot a glance at him.  He was not looking at
her, but strolling about the room, taking up a book here and there.

"They've made themselves pretty snug here," he remarked at last.
"Gertrude thoroughly understands how to rig up a hut."

"I like the Marchmonts' better," said Claudia coldly.

"Do you?  Tastes differ, but it isn't really so good.  Thornton, now,
has dropped into comfortable quarters.  By the way, somebody said that
Miss Arbuthnot was due at the Thorntons' this week."

Claudia was cross, and, conscious of it, tried to swallow her
displeasure.

"We met her yesterday," she said, "and--didn't you hear?--somebody else
said that she was going to be married."

He turned sharply.

"Married?  Miss Arbuthnot?  Don't believe it."

She opened her eyes at his tone.

"Why?  Is there anything extraordinary in the fact?"

"Oh no," he said, recovering himself rather awkwardly from the momentary
excitement.  "It's the sort of thing which is always being said of her.
She's food for gossips.  And it never comes to anything."

"It will have to come soon, I suppose," remarked Claudia, with the scorn
of twenty-one for thirty-one.

He took no notice of this, but as Mrs Leslie came into the room, turned
sharply upon her.

"Gertrude, what's this about Helen Arbuthnot?"

"Helen!" reflected Claudia.

"Colonel Tomlinson said she was going to marry Lord Dartmoor's eldest
son."

"That stick!  Rot!"

Mrs Leslie looked at him with warning in her eye.

"Really, Arthur, I don't see why it shouldn't be true.  She is sure to
marry somebody."

"Somebody, perhaps.  It needn't be a fool."

He spoke savagely, and Claudia wondered why.  His sister made haste to
change the subject.

"Remember, Claudia, that there is the polo match this afternoon.  We
must go."

The girl flung an imploring glance at Fenwick.

"You?" she said inquiringly.

"I can't," he returned.  "I'm going to try a little bicycling of the
most feeble description to suit a cripple."

"Oh," she cried eagerly, "do let me come!  The Marchmonts said I could
always have one of their bicycles, and it would be delightful.  Please,
Arthur!"

She went close to him, and he played with the frill of her sleeve.

"Delightful, but not to be done.  I hate to see women bicycling about
these places."

"But," she urged, "you used to go with the Marchmonts.  They told me
so."

"He wasn't engaged to a Marchmont," said Mrs Leslie, arranging her
flowers.  "That makes all the difference."

"Why?" asked Claudia.  As no one answered her question she turned again
to Fenwick, "Won't you let me come, this once, this first time?  You
really may want help."

"I should say he had better look after himself--this time," said Mrs
Leslie pointedly, and Claudia crimsoned.

"I'm all right," said Fenwick, stretching himself again.  "Look here,
Claudia, go to the polo, like a good girl, and--if I can, I'll drop in
there later."

She said no more, and though she had a sense of defeat, it did not
prevent her from becoming absorbingly interested in the rush and energy
of the polo match.  The day was both bright and showery; every now and
then a sudden storm sent the carriages under the trees, then the sun
broke out again, and no one was much the worse.  As the afternoon wore
on, her attention began to flag, for she expected Fenwick.  He came
late.

"How have you managed?" she asked eagerly.

"Well enough.  I didn't go far."  More hesitatingly he added, "I turned
in at the Thorntons'."

"Then," remarked his sister, "you heard whether the report about Helen
Arbuthnot is true?"

"I heard nothing."

"I wonder she did not tell you."

"There was an excellent reason," he said curtly.  "They weren't at home.
What's Bateman racing for?--oh, a new stick.  I say, Lucas got that
goal cleverly!  I wonder what he'd take for his pony."

Claudia's eyes sparkled.  "I wish, oh, how I wish women could play
polo!"

"Good heavens!  I'm thankful they don't attempt it!"

She turned upon him with a laughing retort, but something in his face
checked her.  She said the next moment, "There is Miss Arbuthnot."

Fenwick looked without making a remark, and exerted himself for
Claudia's entertainment.  Before long, however, he left her, strolling
over to the carriage where Helen sat.  She gave him the slightest of
greetings, but, undismayed, he folded his arms on the side of the
carriage, and talked in a low voice.

"I have been to see you."

"How judicious of you to choose such an admirably safe hour for visits!"

"Is that all you have to say after what I've been going through?  Weeks
on a sick bed!"

She looked at him between half-shut eyes.

"Haven't I seen you since?  Oh, don't expect me to pity you.  I believe
your accident was simply an ingenious plant, to get what you had set
your mind upon.  By the way, let me offer my congratulations."

"Thank you.  You are very good.  Rumour says you will soon be requiring
the same."

"Yes?"

The word was distinctly interrogative.  Fenwick found himself pondering
what it carried with it.  Miss Arbuthnot's appearance was prosperous,
her tone--provokingly indifferent--stung him into retort.

"Does yes signify yes?"

"I have never yet been sure.  It so entirely depends on the speaker."

"Then," he returned boldly, "in your case I should say it meant the
opposite."

Miss Arbuthnot appeared to consider.

"You were never backward in assertion," she said.  "Tell me, has your
Claudia really given up her career and her pocket-book?"

"Do you suppose I should allow my wife to make a fool of herself?"

"Oh, forgive me!  I did not know you were married."

"You know, at any rate, what I mean."

"Perhaps.  By the way, I left your rival on a fair way to recovery."

"My rival?"

"Your friend, then--Harry Hilton.  He is an excellent fellow, and
honestly, I think he would have been more suitable to Claudia."

"Thank you," said Fenwick grimly.  "It seems she did not think so."

"No.  We women are so slow in learning our lessons that we are left with
no time in which to use them."

"You must have learnt yours, then, at an early age."

The two fencers looked at each other, and she bent her head slightly.

"Yes.  I have at least learned to take the goods the gods send."

"Meaning Mr Pelham, and a future twenty thousand a year?"  Fenwick shot
out sharply.

She raised her eyebrows.

"Possibly."

He suddenly drew back, and went to the other side of the carriage.
Claudia, in the pony-cart, had lost her interest in the match.  She made
only monosyllabic replies, but she was listening intently to Mrs
Leslie's remarks, more than one of which related to Miss Arbuthnot.
Finally she said--

"I wonder whether the report about her is true?  It would be curious if
she and Arthur married in the same year."

"Why curious?"

"Because at one time--Oh, well," she added with a laugh, "you can
cross-question Arthur."

Claudia made no answer; she seemed to be taken up with a wild gallop of
the ponies across the ground.

As they drove home they passed the Thornton carriage, and were stopped
by a sign from its mistress.

"Captain Fenwick has gone," she said, "and has half promised that you
will all dine with us after the inspection to-morrow.  Will you?"

Mrs Leslie hesitated and accepted.  Miss Arbuthnot, who had nodded to
Claudia, now leaned forward.

"The Thornbury trees," she said, "are beginning to recover from the
shocks you gave them, but Harry has to go and explain and apologise to
them.  I know he apologises."

The girl had not time to answer; the pony did not like stopping, and
whisked them away.

"Helen was looking very well," remarked Mrs Leslie.  "What was she
saying about the Thornbury trees?"

"I had to cut down a few,"--Claudia hesitated--was it possible she was
becoming reluctant to allude to what had been her pride?--"I went down
there, you know,"--she lifted her head, and out came the obnoxious
word--"professionally."

"Good gracious, what do you mean?"

"Has Arthur not told you that I was--that I am a landscape gardener?"
asked Claudia, with all the dignity she could call to her aid.

Mrs Leslie broke into a peal of laughter.

"My dear child, I beg your pardon, but you are so comic!  Arthur's wife
a landscape gardener!  How long have you played with this amazing
fancy?"

"It has not been play," said Claudia stiffening.  "I went through a
regular training, and have had two engagements."  And then she broke off
suddenly with a miserable wonder how the engagements, in which she had
felt such an honest pride, had come to her.  One was through Harry
Hilton, and the other through Fenwick.  Could it be possible!  She
murmured the Wilmots' name, and Mrs Leslie's next words completed her
humiliation.

"Oh, the Wilmots!" she said, still laughing.  "Flo will do anything for
Arthur."

"Do you mean--" began the girl hotly.

"Oh, of course they liked having you,"--Mrs Leslie felt that she had
gone rather far--"but I tell you honestly that I suspect it was more
because you were young and pretty, and perhaps because it amused them to
see you taking life so seriously, than on account of your--what am I to
call it--profession?"

"Call it what you like," said Claudia proudly, and staring in front of
her.  "We are not likely to agree in the view we take of it.  I have
been brought up to think that idleness is not the desirable element in a
woman's life which you all seem to consider it.  As for Arthur, if he is
ashamed of it for his wife, he has changed very much since he talked of
it a few weeks ago."

She made her little speech quietly and well, though her voice trembled
as she ended, because she could not but feel that he had changed.

"Settle that between you," said Mrs Leslie, in a light tone.  "It
doesn't seem to me at all his line."

When she could get hold of her brother, she attacked him.  "Arthur, why
didn't you give me a hint?  What extraordinary craze is this of
Claudia's?  Do you know that she calls herself a landscape gardener?"
He frowned.

"Has she gone back to that rubbish?  I thought it was at an end.
Though, mind you, there was something very engaging in the serious view
she took of her duties.  She hadn't a thought to fling in another
direction."

"Absurd!  And you encouraged it?"

"It was the only way of getting at her.  Besides, I knew if once I made
her care, I could stop it, and stopped it I have, unless you have rubbed
her the wrong way again.  How did you come upon it?"

"Helen Arbuthnot alluded to the Thornbury trees.  I can't think why
Helen has come here now," said Mrs Leslie impatiently.  "I wish she
were married and done with."  Fenwick made no answer.  Possibly he had
not heard.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

The march past was one of those brilliant spectacles with which the camp
delights its visitors.  Royalty was there--indeed, royalties had
gathered; the day was perfect, not over-hot, with fleecy clouds flinging
soft shadows on the downs.  There were the usual manoeuvres on the
Foxhills; there was the usual futile thirst for information as to what
was going to happen, and the usual ignorance; the usual anxious dread on
the part of husbands engaged lest their wives should get in the way, and
stop the advance of a regiment; the usual thrills of pointing interest
over distant puffs of smoke or gleaming metal; the usual captive
balloon, and not quite the usual amount of dust.  Claudia, eager and
ready, was more like her usual self than she had been since her arrival
at Aldershot, keenly interested, and rejoicing quite unduly when she
found that Fenwick's battery was on the conquering side.  Then came the
stirring march past, artillery waggons lumbering along, cheerful
regimental bands, a change, a skirl of pipes, and to the proud defiant
tones of "The Campbells are comin'," the Argyll Highlanders swung by in
splendid barbaric dress, like a company of giants.  Claudia's eyes were
bright, and she did not so much as hear her companion's criticisms.
Fenwick's battery passed early, and, leaving it, he came back to where
his sister and Claudia stood in the foremost row, for the girl had been
far too much carried away to consent to remain in the carriage.  He
looked approvingly at her sparkling and animated face.

"You should not have been in this place, though," he said to his sister.
"You'd have seen better on the other side of the Duke."

But Mrs Leslie demurred.

"Colonel Manson advised us to come here, and nothing could have been
nicer.  There, we should have had horses all round us."

"Well, they wouldn't have hurt you.  Come along now, and see the end of
it."

"Why should we?  Stay here, Claudia.  You won't get such a good view
higher up."  The girl thought the same, but went.  As soon, however, as
Fenwick reached the coveted spot, he began to discover its shortcomings,
and to complain of the dust and glare.  Claudia laughed.

"Let us go somewhere else," she said.  "I don't mind."

"Well, all the best is over, and there's no fun in sticking through it
to the end.  I want to speak to Lucas over there about his pony."

"Is that the polo man?"

"Yes."

"And are you going in for polo?"

"Not unlikely.  If I do, I shall do the thing thoroughly, and his is
about the only pony I fancy."

"I shouldn't think he'd care to part with it."

"So they say."

Something in his tone told her that in the difficulty lay the
attraction.  They walked across the broken ground to the spot where
young Lucas stood, and he laughed the suggestion to scorn.

"Sell Tommy!" he said.  "My dear fellow, not if I know it!"

"Well, if you should--"

"But I shan't.  I shall have to be stone broke first."

Fenwick went on unheeding--"Let me have the refusal."

"Oh, as to that, all right!  If worse comes to the worst and I've got to
run, I'll leave word that Tommy is yours.  Will that suit you?"

"Down to the ground."

Both men laughed, and as Claudia and Fenwick walked away, she said--

"I'm afraid you'll have to put up with another pony."

"Not I!" he returned.  "It's Tommy or none.  But I shall get him."

She glanced curiously at him.

"Do you always get what you want?"

"Pretty generally.  When I set my mind upon it."

"And," she went on slowly, "do you always care about it when you have
got it?"  But she did not wait for an answer.  "Look," she said, "all
the carriages are on the move, so it must be over.  I'm sorry, for it
has been delightful."

For a minute he made no reply.  Then he asked suddenly--

"Who's that man with the Thorntons?"

"Gertrude fancied it was very likely Mr Pelham."

"What an ass the fellow looks!"

To this she made no answer.  Fenwick was silent and abrupt; he took her
to Mrs Leslie, and then left her to ride back to Aldershot.

That evening was the Thorntons' dinner, and Claudia, who plumed herself
upon her own powers of independent decision, found herself swept away by
Mrs Leslie.

"What are you going to wear?" she asked.  "It had better be the green.
I'm sure Arthur would prefer the green."

And green she wore, although she scourged herself with hard words as she
dressed.

"It only remains to stick a white camellia in my hair, and go down,
blushing and simpering behind ringlets.  Whose business is it what I
wear?  Why do I give way?  Why can't I hold my own?  Oh, Claudia,
Claudia, is this the end of all your fine theories?"  And then the
anguish of a question broke from her, a question which she had been
prising down, dreading that if once it took form it might be
unanswerable--"Does he care?  Does he really care?  He did, when I did
not, and why was he so cruel as to force me into loving him, if he was
not certain of himself?  If I were only sure of him, should I mind one
bit all his sister's domineering ways?  Not I!  I could hold my own
against her, wear what I liked, say what I liked, do what I liked, in
spite of all the `in laws' in the world.  But now she has me at a
disadvantage, and knows it.  He is behind her, and when she says,
`Arthur prefers this, Arthur chooses that,' all the resistance goes out
of me and leaves me a limp coward.  I fancy that she must know best, and
that I had better do what she suggests, and I am not myself one bit.  I
have never been myself since I came here, I am just somebody else, and
worse, for I am just the sort of girl I so despised, the very feeble
creature I could not have imagined myself sinking into.  How we used to
laugh at them at the college!  How the girls would laugh if they could
see me now!  And I am afraid I shouldn't even mind their laughing.  I am
fallen too low to have any self-respect left, and I know that if I were
only sure in my own heart, I should give up all that I cared for--
everything--for him, just as he made me tell him I could; if only, only,
I were convinced that he felt the same now that he did.  And perhaps he
does.  Perhaps it is only that I don't quite understand.  Perhaps it is
all part of my turning into an idiotic girl.  Perhaps all men--nice
men--are the same.  Certainly, I should hate his taking too much notice,
being too effusive, too silly!  I dare say it is only a foolish fancy of
mine.  On with your green frock, stupid Claudia, and for pity's sake
look at things healthily, instead of taking to morbid fancies!"

She sighed as she finished, but no self-harangue could have been wiser,
and she resolutely set herself to carry it out; bore without flinching
Mrs Leslie's comments upon her dress, and tried to be quite content
with the young subaltern who fell to her lot at dinner, while to Fenwick
was given Miss Arbuthnot, and Mr Pelham took in Mrs Thornton and sat
by the side of Miss Arbuthnot.  Claudia even tried to convince herself
that the arrangement was one she would have chosen, because she was thus
able to look at the others.  She was curious to know whether the story
of Helen's engagement was true.

"She does not say much to him," she reflected, "but--as Arthur said--he
does look rather a non-entity.  And then she and Arthur have known each
other a long time, and he can be so pleasant, and able to talk of things
which I dare say that other man knows nothing about.  It is odd, though,
that when we were at Thornbury it never struck me that they were
particularly friends."  She stifled another sigh.  "I suppose I was
taken up with other things, and didn't notice.  Well, now I mustn't
stare at them so much, however interesting it is.  I must talk to this
poor boy next me, who is smiling, and quite pleased all about nothing."

"Your Claudia looks pretty to-night," Miss Arbuthnot was remarking.  She
put up her glasses as she spoke.

"My Claudia--as you call her--has a trick of looking pretty."

"She has, and I never denied it.  But she has upset my theories.  I
thought she would prove herself indifferent to you all for some time to
come.  Oh, don't smile!  A man may be vain--he can't help himself, I
suppose, but when his vanity peeps out it is insupportable."

"Have you impressed that upon the individual to your right?"

"Time enough," said Miss Arbuthnot coolly.  "Besides, you are mistaken.
He is not vain."

"Fortunate man to have secured you as his advocate!"

She was silent.

"What other excellent characteristics does he boast?"

"I did not know we were talking of him."

"Oh, I must talk.  I have been thinking of him ever since yesterday."

"And why yesterday?"

"Because it was then I heard what the world is saying."

"I should have thought you of all men would have hesitated to believe
what the world says."

"Is it wrong, then?" asked Fenwick eagerly.

She made a movement as of balancing her hands.

"It may or may not be.  You will see."

"You speak as if it were a matter of indifference," he said so bitterly
that she slowly turned her face towards him, and lifted her eyebrows.

"As it must be--to you," she replied coldly.

"Forgive me--that is impossible," he said, dropping his voice, and
staring before him.  The next moment Miss Arbuthnot was addressing a
remark to her other neighbour.

Fenwick marched up to Claudia directly the men reached the drawing-room.
The Thorntons lived in the permanent barracks, and the regimental band
was playing on the drilling ground.

"How are you getting on?  Bored?" he inquired.

She might have said no if she had been an older woman.  As it was, she
replied truthfully that she had been, and allowed her eyes to express
the pleasure she felt.

"Every one was out of place at dinner.  Mrs Thornton pitchforks people
about."  He spoke almost apologetically, and added quickly, "That's a
pretty frock you've got on, Claudia."

"Is it?"  She blest it.

"But," he went on, giving way to some inward irritation, "I agree with
you that it's an awful bore having to come out in this way among a lot
of people who can only talk rot.  As for that,"--he indicated Pelham
with a movement of his head--"I should be surprised to find that he
owned a single idea."

He spoke with unusual bitterness, and the girl looked at him, surprised.
Fenwick not infrequently showed temper, but it required more to excite
it than an occasional foolish young man, whom it was quite easy to
avoid.  Evidently, however, he was put out.  He found fault with the
band, with the airs they played, with the quarters, and, indeed,
impartially, with whatever topic presented itself.  Claudia, armed with
a new forbearance, exerted herself to charm away the mood, and partly
succeeded.  She was conscious that, as he had implied, she was looking
her best, and that when his eye fell upon her, it softened.  Yet, by a
curious contradiction, she was also conscious, and it gave her such a
sick conviction of impotence as she had never before experienced, that
he was not always attending to her, and, even worse than this, that she
was beating her brains for some subject with which to divert him.  She
knew but little of those everyday topics to which most of us fly as to
blessed houses of refuge.  She had really bound herself, as Philippa
quickly discovered, in narrowest fetters, flinging a strong personality
into one interest, of which being suddenly deprived, she became like a
dislodged hermit crab, unable to find another resting-place.  But she
knew this much, that two persons in full sympathy with each other, would
have no need to seek for common subjects of interest.  The love which
Fenwick's vanity had set himself to awake, was indeed alive, stirring
feelings partly of passionate joy, and partly sharp anguish; but she was
also aware of strange forces which seemed to draw her in directions
where she would not go, and of vague disturbances for which she could
not account.

It was a curious moment now for a swift flash of such discomfort to dart
through her, yet here it was, and for just that moment it blinded her to
her surroundings.  She looked up with a start to find Fenwick on his
feet, and Helen Arbuthnot standing before her.  Helen was holding out
her hand and smiling.

"As you would not come to me, I have come to you," she said.  "So I hear
you are no longer a lady of the woods, but have joined the ordinary ways
of us mortals."  Claudia coloured.  She was taken by surprise, and
thought Miss Arbuthnot showed bad taste in harping upon these topics.
Displeasure made her answer as she might not otherwise have done--

"I hope to be in woods again one day."

"Really?"

Somewhat to her surprise, Fenwick came to her assistance.

"As she has nothing of that sort here on which to expend her energies,
she is going to take up the moral improvement of the British soldier
instead.  I hear her asking very searching questions on the subject."

His tone was light but not sarcastic, and Claudia turned and smiled at
him.

"That's not fair," she said.  "I only asked questions because I know
absolutely nothing."

"I should ask questions too, if the answers weren't so unsatisfactory,"
said Miss Arbuthnot, taking the chair Fenwick had left.  "Don't you find
that people always know either too much or too little?  But of course at
this point it is for Captain Fenwick to answer any questions you may be
pleased to put."

The girl, who was shy of open allusions to her position, was annoyed by
Miss Arbuthnot's manner.  At Thornbury she had almost liked her, and to
Thornbury she returned, ignoring the last remark.

"Can you tell me anything about Mr Hilton?  I hope he is better?"

"I suppose so, but I don't know why you should hope it.  Life can't give
him much pleasure, and he manages to make it a burden for everybody
else, especially for Harry."

"Oh, Harry!  Harry's a lucky beggar," said Fenwick.  He had not sat
down, but stood with his hands behind him, holding the back of the chair
against which he leaned.

"You say so?  That's what comes of not grumbling.  I should like to see
you doing Harry's work for a day.  We should all hear of it," she added
sarcastically.

"Oh, praise him as much as you like,"--was there a slight emphasis on
the him?--"you are right, he deserves it.  Granting a few limitations,
Harry Hilton is a first-rate fellow."

He looked at Miss Arbuthnot smiling, she, too, smiled back.  Claudia, on
the contrary, frowned slightly, not from displeasure, but from a feeling
of being puzzled.

"Now that they are both engaged they seem on better terms than they were
before," she pondered.  "I wonder why it should be, I wonder what has
brought them together?"

For she knew they had not met.  The next moment she heard Miss Arbuthnot
being invited to drive on the Artillery coach.

"Thanks, no," she said indifferently.  "I've too much on hand just now."

"To go about with--him, I suppose," he said sharply.  "But you can bring
him--if you must."

"What a real gush of hospitality!" she returned in a mocking tone.
"Alas! even if I must, it is doubtful whether he would."

"Well--ask him."

"I think not."  She stood up as she spoke, massive and handsome.  "I
don't think it would be any use.  But I am going back now to talk to
him."

Claudia watched her cross the room, and caught Mr Pelham's beaming
look.

"Oh, it must be true, he looks so happy!" she cried impulsively.  "And,
Arthur, I think you are hard on him.  He has quite a good face."

She did not catch Fenwick's muttered ejaculation--"Confound him!"

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

Claudia's young and vigorous interests were attracted by all that was
connected with the camp, too much so, indeed, to please Fenwick.  She
ran out whenever a regiment passed, or when she heard distant sounds of
drill.

"You don't want to be shown the stables, do you?"

"Oh, I do, particularly."

He gave way, but with a discontent which took the pleasure out of it.
Another time he remarked to his sister--

"Can't you give Claudia a hint not to be so tremendously excited about
the band in church?  She talked of it to Dawson till he must suppose she
comes from the wilds."

Something in his tone made Mrs Leslie look at him in dismay.

"Arthur," she said impressively, "you are not getting tired of her, are
you?"

He turned angrily upon her.

"Tired!  Rubbish!"

She went on, disregarding.

"It would be simply disgraceful.  I should be ashamed to look any one in
the face.  First Helen Arbuthnot, and then this poor girl."

"Have you done?" he said savagely.  "No.  I mean to speak.  I must.  I
have thought at times, I own, that in spite of the break off between you
and Helen, you had a sneaking kindness for each other, but now you have
both split away in different directions, so that is quite at an end."

"She's not married yet, and I don't believe she can like that idiot,"
growled Fenwick.

"Arthur!"

"Well?"

"You're not--"

He interrupted her.

"What have I said?  Nothing about marrying her myself, have I?  Take my
advice, Gertrude, and don't meddle.  I've never stood meddling yet, and
I'm not going to now.  Mind you, this doesn't matter to you or to any
one else."

"It does matter," she persisted.  "With the girl in my house, I am
certainly responsible."

"I deny it.  If she's satisfied, what have you to say?"

"Oh," she said impatiently, "of course she's satisfied!  You know how to
talk, and it is easy enough to please a girl of that age."

"Very well, then.  By your own showing, you've nothing to say.  I'm
going to marry her, and that's the end of it."

Fenwick was not a pleasant person to have an argument with; almost
invariably it brought out in him a certain hard tenacity, which made
other men angry.  Perhaps Mrs Leslie was less sensitive to it than was
the rest of the world, but even she shrank from the shock of clashing
wills, which more than once had led to a bitter dispute between brother
and sister.  The conversation, however, had left her distinctly
uncomfortable, and she reflected long whether she should give Claudia a
hint.  Yet it was difficult to know how much or how little she should
say, and it seemed better that if nothing were really amiss, the girl
should not have her suspicions raised.  Only--for she was really a
conscientious woman, and Claudia was a fatherless girl--she resolved
that if things became worse, she would take her part determinedly
against Arthur or any one else.  And this not so much from liking as
from an innate feeling for justice.

Unfortunately, her hidden fear did not act very wisely.  It made her
watchful and almost irritable with Claudia.  She could not say in so
many words, "Don't do this, don't say that, your fate is trembling in
the balance," but she contrived to convey it in her actions, growing so
evidently anxious over the most trifling movements or expressions, that
the girl, in spite of indignant self-protests, became nervously
inflicted by her companion's distrust, and developed a new
self-consciousness.  She grew restless too.

"I do wish you would not give yourself so much trouble over my
amusement," she said one day to Mrs Leslie.  "For instance, please
don't imagine that it is necessary for me to go to the club-house every
afternoon."

"One must go somewhere," said her hostess vaguely.  She could not
explain that she had offered the pony-cart to Fenwick for him to drive
Claudia into the country, and he had refused it.

"I don't see that," said the girl, with a laugh.  She added after a
pause, "What I really should like would be to bicycle over some of the
country round.  But Arthur won't hear of it."

"Don't tease him about it, pray don't," said Mrs Leslie, with over--
expressed anxiety.

Claudia looked at her.

"Why?" she asked, and such interrogations were becoming more and more
difficult to answer.  Mrs Leslie was hesitating over it when the young
subaltern, Claudia's neighbour at the Thorntons' dinner-party, looked
in.

"You'll forgive my coming at this unearthly hour, won't you?" he said.
"Fact is, Major Leslie asked me to tell you that you and Miss Hamilton
had better come out.  Orders are given that the Scots Greys are not to
be allowed to get back to barracks, and he thinks you might like to see
the fun.  Can you get along by yourselves?  I must be off."

Mrs Leslie jumped up with a sense of relief, but she was an imprudent
woman, and her imprudence broke out.

"Why couldn't Arthur have let us know?" she said in a vexed voice.
"There, I have let the children go off, and Frank will be so
disappointed!"

"Perhaps Arthur didn't know himself."

"He must have found out by this time.  However, be quick, Claudia.  We
can't wait for the cart; we'll walk."

Claudia did what she was often doing at this time, hastily packed
misgivings out of sight, and they started.  Rain had fallen in the
night; great pools of water stood waiting to be sucked up by the yellow
soil, and massive banks of clouds moved sullenly to the east.  Out from
behind them the sun had flashed, and was shining steadily, transforming
all he touched, and bringing, as he does in our northern lands, no
languor, but an added energy.  Now and then a body of troops marched
briskly along up the road, passed the cavalry barracks, and turned to
their right.

"Where are the Greys, I wonder?" said Mrs Leslie impatiently.  "I hate
to be left in this way, knowing nothing of what is doing."

Claudia had no answer ready, and they went on.  Presently her companion
broke out again--

"I always vow I will not come and see these things from the outside."

"How can one see them otherwise?" asked Claudia, in good faith.

"Oh, you must know what I mean.  I call it outside when you toil along
roads as we are toiling, and have no one to tell you where to go."

"As to that, I suppose they're all trying to cut off the Greys."

"Ah, you're not married," said Mrs Leslie gloomily.  Presently she
stopped.  "I don't see the good of going on."

"Oh yes!"

"Most likely we are all wrong."

"One can't tell--nobody here ever knows what's going to happen next.
Suppose we walk across to that clump?"

"Well--" began her companion, turning reluctantly.  The next moment she
exclaimed, "Here comes the Thorntons' carriage; we can ask them."

Instinctively Claudia longed to break away, but, instead of doing so,
stood still and tried to look indifferent.  Mrs Thornton was driving
Miss Arbuthnot, and, before there was time for inquiry, called out--

"You're going the wrong way.  You should make for that mound."  She
flourished her whip.

"Who told you so?"

"Captain Fenwick.  He looked in to say that would be the best place."

"Really?"

"_So_ sorry we can't give you a lift!"

"Oh," said Mrs Leslie mendaciously, "we prefer walking.  So I do," she
added as the carriage rolled away--"so I do, to going with her.  She
irritates me.  She's always in the right.  But I think it was simply
abominable of Arthur."

"What does it matter?" said Claudia, with a fine display of
indifference.

"It matters a great deal, because, of course, if I had known it was
going to be so far, I should have brought the carriage."

"Well, don't let us toil to that mound.  Let us go to the place we
intended before.  It is such a pretty day!"

"I dare say it is, but we didn't come out to see the country."

To her surprise, however, by dint of a little more pressure, Claudia
carried her point, with the result that they saw nothing.  But this she
did not seem to mind, for she talked and laughed vigorously, in spite of
many "I told you so's" from Mrs Leslie.

"You are the oddest girl!" exclaimed that lady at last.

"Why?"

"Because you don't appear to care to stand on your rights.  Now, I think
that Arthur has behaved shamefully."

It is certain that she would not have spoken so imprudently if she had
conceived it possible that a young girl of Claudia's inexperience could
seriously resent her lover's conduct; she only considered it desirable
to point out to her that she might be too easy with him, and that it
would be better for her were she to assert herself.  And the girl's own
anxiety to hide her wounds added to Mrs Leslie's failure to understand
her.  She showed no disturbance.

"Aren't you hard on him?  He may have been close to their quarters," she
suggested, "and just turned in."

"I dare say!  He would not have found it so convenient if Helen
Arbuthnot hadn't been then."  Mrs Leslie liked to justify her
statements.

"No?" said Claudia indifferently.  It would have taken a close observer
to note a certain slight rigidity in the way she carried her head.

"No.  My dear Claudia, it's all very well to be magnanimous, but if you
expect peace in your married life, you had better make up your mind to
the fact that Arthur--though a good fellow in the main--is a bit of a
flirt."

Claudia did not turn her head.

"I dare say," she said coolly, so coolly that Mrs Leslie prepared to
strengthen her warning.

"And I advise you to show him you don't like it--beforehand."

"Thank you."

Mrs Leslie could not have quite explained the character of this "thank
you," but she preferred to consider that it breathed gratitude; and the
morning having in other ways proved such a dismal failure, accepted this
as partial compensation, feeling that now she had done her best to open
Claudia's eyes, and that, whatever happened, she could not be blamed for
having uttered no warning.

She had been altogether tired and annoyed by her long vain tramp, and
was not in the mood to spare her brother.  Claudia, too, had been so
provokingly quiescent that it was only to be supposed she did not see,
and Arthur's wife would require to have all her senses about her.

She therefore carried home both a grievance and a sense of fulfilled
duty; which, together, make a person pretty nearly intolerable.

But, though Claudia kept her proud silence, and could even say "thank
you" to her counsellor, it must not be supposed that she was patient at
heart.  It was not this or that trifling circumstance; they were not the
events of the morning, taken by themselves, which affected her; it was
that, gradually, little by little, the conviction forced itself upon her
that Fenwick no longer loved her, nay, possibly, that he was loving
another woman.  Why it should be so, she struggled to fathom, and
failed.  Why, when both were free, he should have preferred her to Helen
Arbuthnot, who could tell?  Only that it was so, she could now scarcely
doubt.  And with a yearning which seized and shook her with the violence
of its desire, the motherless girl longed unutterably for some one to
whom she could turn, some one who could give her the aid for which she
was groping.  What ought she to do?  How do it?  How, given if her love
were smitten, maimed, down-trodden, should her womanly pride keep its
dignity, and shield her from the pitying scorn with which she knew the
world regarded a jilted woman?  One day, although it was understood that
she did not go out by herself, she slipped away, and, finding a church
open, went in, and in its quiet silence, poured forth a torrent of tears
and prayers, which brought relief.

Her fears, like much else characteristic of Claudia in those days, were
young, crude, and ill-balanced.  Later on, she would have known that the
world casts a few sentences, a few jibes, and has forgotten, before the
sufferer has time to realise that the thing is known.  Everything whirls
past; we and our petty concerns, whisked to the surface one moment, are
swept under the next.  But, as with other things, it takes years to
teach our inexperience the lesson.

There was another difficulty.  Think as she might, plan as she might,
Claudia could not see before her the words or the moment she wanted for
letting Fenwick know that he was free.  There were times when she
thought of rushing back to Elmslie, but to do this until the explanation
had been made, was, she fancied, impossible.  She had come for a three
weeks' stay, and of this only a fortnight--was it credible? only a
fortnight!--had passed.  Then the college--for a moment she reflected
hopefully on the college, and some proffered engagement.  But, alas!
again.  Engagements did not pour in every day, and she flushed furiously
as she realised that her own, which she had proudly regarded as an
offering on the shrine of emancipated woman, were more probably due only
to the efforts of two men who liked her.  Humiliating conviction!
Besides, at Fenwick's instigation, she had obediently written a request
to the principal to withdraw her name from the lists of those seeking
employment.

Look as she would, she could not clearly see the road by which she might
escape; yet each day seemed to make her position more unbearable.

And Mrs Leslie, Mrs Leslie added tenfold to her difficulties, and this
with the best intentions in the world.  Claudia's wounded love flung
itself for support on her woman's pride; like her race she could endure
magnificently, if only she were allowed, unquestioned, to hide the
anguish of the wound.  But Mrs Leslie saw too much, pointed out what
the girl would fain have passed over in silence, grumbled, protested,
excused.  She was personally affronted with her brother, and used
Claudia as a weapon of retaliation.  She did not approve of Helen
Arbuthnot, she considered that Arthur was behaving scandalously, and she
felt a large degree of responsibility for the girl under her care; so
that it was constantly--"Well, certainly, Arthur, you have been most
attentive to Claudia to-day!" or, "If I were Claudia, I should not thank
you much for looking in upon me at the end of the afternoon;" or,
"Claudia and I seem left very much to our own devices!"  And these
reproaches, uttered before Claudia herself, had the effect of paralysing
the girl, and of taking from her what seemed her own just cause of
complaint.

There were dangerous moments, too, when Fenwick, smitten with remorse or
swayed by caprice--who can say?--regained his old ascendancy; when she
could almost believe that all was as it had been, moments when he was
charming, tender; moments, alas! too fleeting, but sweet enough to make
her own with a pang that if only they lasted, she must still be his.
For the sake of their delicious glamour, a weaker nature might have
readily consented to keep its eyes blinded, and to believe that all
would yet be well.  But Claudia was not weak.  Her training, whatever
else it had done or left undone, had exercised her intellect, and given
her powers of self-control which came to her rescue now.  She saw
clearly that when Fenwick was charming, it was because he had made up
his mind to charm; that it was not due to spontaneous love, but to
intentional love-making, and that such intervals were succeeded by
evident indifference.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

Miss Arbuthnot was everywhere, and Mr Pelham shadowed her.  Opinions
were freely bandied as to the existence or non-existence of an
engagement, the majority inclining to the belief that one existed.
Fenwick, on the other hand, was seldom seen near her, Mrs Leslie began
to recover her equanimity, and perhaps only Claudia was aware that when
he was in the same room with Helen his eyes followed her, or that he was
more than usually silent and self-occupied.  She was invariably well
dressed, in a manner which set off her large figure; people turned to
look at her as she passed, and she seemed to fling into insignificance
such slim beauties as Claudia.  Whether from chance or intention, the
two seldom said much to each other, but it happened that one grey
afternoon at the club-house, they found themselves near each other
watching a game of bicycle polo.

Miss Arbuthnot deliberately walked up to Claudia.

"Detesting games!  I am bored to death," she said, "and so--I imagine--
are you.  Don't you think we should suffer less if we escaped beyond the
sounds of croquet and lawn-tennis, and everything except the clack of
our own voices?"

Claudia hesitated, and Helen added--

"You had better come.  I assure you there are times when I can be
intelligent, and Captain Fenwick will not be here just yet."

The girl walked quickly on as if she had been stung.

"What has that to do with it?" she said recklessly.

Miss Arbuthnot was engaged in disentangling a bramble which had caught
in her dress.  When she looked up she said coolly--

"A good deal to me.  You know--or do you not know?--that I have always
liked him."

Amazement struck Claudia almost speechless.  She stammered with her
sudden rush of anger.

"You tell me--you can tell me--"

"The truth.  Isn't that always desirable?  Besides, after all, have I
said anything that should affront you?  That I liked him.  That was my
remark."

There was a pause.

"It implied that he liked you," said Claudia, more calmly, though still
choking.

"Oh, not at all.  Does the one thing invariably imply the other?"

It might have been that there was--it seemed so to Claudia--a touch of
mockery in the question.

"If not--" she began hastily, and stopped.

"If not, you think I was a fool?  Well--perhaps.  We were engaged, at
any rate."

"Oh!" cried the girl, stopping short.  This was more than she had
dreamed of.

"You did not know it?  But I imagine you are prepared to hear of such
episodes?"  Is any woman prepared?  Claudia bit her lip to keep back the
answer she would have liked to fling at her tormentor, and Miss
Arbuthnot went on--

"It did not last very long.  To adopt the stock phrase proper to these
humiliating occasions, we discovered that we had made a mistake.
Probably you wonder why I am going back to that not-too-agreeable time.
I will tell you--"

"Don't!" cried Claudia, quite suddenly.  She hardly knew what she said,
conscious only of a sharp thrill of pain, and a sickening dread of worse
to come.  Miss Arbuthnot glanced quickly at her, and went on as if she
had not spoken.

"It is because I am certain you are falling into the same mistake."

She turned away as she spoke, and stood resting her arms upon a railing.
Behind her she heard the girl breathing heavily.  Then it seemed as if
Claudia made an effort to speak, for her voice was strangely hoarse and
low.

"This is unendurable!" she said.

"Oh no," returned Helen, "not by any means unendurable.  The unendurable
is when you have made the mistake permanent.  If you could bring
yourself to admit it to me--and you might, since I have gone through the
same humiliation myself--you would own that you are uneasy, shaken,
unhappy.  I don't know what plan you adopt with him, perhaps you
reproach him--I found it irresistible--perhaps you take refuge in
silence.  Take my word for it, there is no remedy in either.  Love has
flown, and you will never whistle him back.  Be thankful he did not stay
longer.  Hug the wound, if you will, but go."

Perhaps, in the sick bewilderment of the moment, the sensation uppermost
in Claudia's mind was vexation at the manner in which Miss Arbuthnot
reviewed the position.  She spoke with a cool confidence always
impressive, and she seemed to be able to express herself
dispassionately, as if she were no more than a critic, looking on from
the outside.  It was true that she had taken extreme care to place
herself on the same level with Claudia, but the girl was too angry and
excited to accept this fellowship.  It was, indeed, made impossible to
her by the unacknowledged conviction that the dominion Miss Arbuthnot
once possessed, she had, in some inexplicable manner, regained.  She
stood pale, furious, yet trying hard to prevent excitement from showing
itself in voice or manner.

"Why do you say this to me?"

"Ah, why?" returned the other, lapsing into her usual careless tone.
"To tell you the truth, you have me there.  I did not intend to speak.
I thought you might find out for yourself, but--who can account for
impulses?  Perhaps I imagined it might shorten the business.  I see that
so far I have failed, and you are only angry."

"Angry!"  Claudia flung back her head impetuously.  "That isn't the
word."

"Well, I won't use a stronger," said Miss Arbuthnot, with an amused
smile.  "I dare say I should have felt the same myself.  Yet, look at
the matter philosophically.  You only hate me for speaking, because your
heart tells you I am right."

"Oh, for more than that!" broke in the girl wildly.

"For more than that?"  The older woman turned and glanced curiously at
her.  She went on slowly.  "You think, perhaps, then, that I am the
cause of your unhappiness?"

"Yes, I do.  I think that you are treacherous, treacherous!" cried
Claudia, stung beyond control.  "You failed to keep his love yourself,
yet could not endure to see it given to me.  You set yourself to take it
again--"

Her voice failed--choked.  It was Miss Arbuthnot's turn to grow a little
pale, and she stood for a moment staring out at a bit of near common,
across which soldiers were marching, light now and then flashing on
their accoutrements.

"But--if I have proved to you that it is worthless?" she said slowly at
last.

"Ah!" exclaimed Claudia scornfully, "do _you_ think it worthless?"

Then Helen Arbuthnot did a strange thing.  She turned and looked into
Claudia's eyes, her own unflinching, and she spoke as people speak in a
great crisis of their life.

"Before Heaven, I do," she said, "and that although I once cared for it
more than for anything else in the world.  Now have I set myself low
enough?"

Something in her words, but more in the manner of their utterance, had
indeed shaken and curiously affected Claudia.  They might have been
spoken by one who cared enough for her to venture much on her behalf.
And yet they came from the lips of Miss Arbuthnot, the woman whom she
had just accused of acting towards her in the most heartless manner in
which woman can act towards woman, and who at this moment, she believed,
was holding her love up to scorn.  For a moment she was shaken, but she
recovered herself.

"You own you want it yourself!" she cried relentlessly.

The other still gazed at her for a moment, and then her mood changed.
The fire died out of her eyes, her look relaxed; she laughed, though not
mirthfully.

"Ah, well," she said, "I have already made you a present of the
situation, so far as I am concerned.  Doesn't that mollify you?"

"So far as you are concerned!"  Claudia repeated with scorn.  "Oh, you
are very much concerned!  The situation, as far as I can read it, is
that you are trying to persuade me to take myself out of the way, in
order that you may feel still more perfectly free."

Miss Arbuthnot looked at her once more.

"Do you not see," she said slowly and cruelly, "that you are not in the
way?  It is what he cannot have which has the attraction for Arthur
Fenwick."

Was it so?  The girl breathed hard, and put the question a second time.

"Then why do you speak?"  She had forgotten Helen's words.

"Ah, why?  That's what I have asked myself half a dozen times in as many
minutes.  Answer it as you like.  Perhaps I love meddling."

She turned as she spoke, and began to walk towards the club-house.
Claudia, hot, bewildered, angry, marched by her side, unwilling either
to go with her or to remain behind.  She felt bruised and beaten, yet,
after all, the pain came from an unacknowledged source.  Were they not
her own convictions which had taken shape from the mouth of another?

Before they reached the garden, Fenwick met them.  His first glad look,
his first glad word, were for Helen.

"At last I have escaped!"

It was little enough, but there are times when a little does as well as
a great deal.  He recollected himself, it is true, and turned sharply to
Claudia, but she could have sworn that the exclamation neither belonged
to her, nor was caused by her presence.  It was to Helen he had escaped.
She tried to speak quietly, though her tongue felt stiffened.

"I see Gertrude on the croquet ground, and she must be wondering what
has become of me."

If she was abrupt, she could not help it, yet, as she went, she was
bitterly conscious that a short fortnight ago, Fenwick would have been
almost tiresomely scrupulous that she did not cross the ground alone.
And still, with her wretchedness, there was something of the joy of
restored freedom.  The shackles which she had worn gladly when she
believed they belonged to excess of love, galled again, as soon as the
love was wanting; so that when Mrs Leslie, vexed with her brother,
vented her vexation on Claudia by whispering--

"Where is Arthur?  My dear Claudia, you really ought not to walk about
all over the place by yourself; he will be so annoyed!" the girl's
answer was a repetition of his words.  She drew a long breath.

"At last I have escaped!"

Fenwick, meanwhile, was in the midst of an interesting conversation.
Both he and Miss Arbuthnot followed Claudia with their eyes.  Then Helen
turned hers upon him.

"Well?" she said.

He thrust his hands into his pockets.

"She can take care of herself for once.  And--I never see you."

"I should have said we met fairly often."

"I don't call it seeing to find you engulfed in a crowd."

She lifted her eyebrows.  "Since when have you been so desirous for a
conversation _a deux_?"

Fenwick looked at her hardily.  The look did not seem to agree with his
words.

"You might have a little pity!"

"I have a great deal.  I have just been expressing it to your Claudia."

He frowned.

"To Claudia?  And pity for me?"

"Oh no!" said Miss Arbuthnot in her softest voice.  "For her."

This time there was a short silence.  Fenwick walked away a few yards,
and came back to where Miss Arbuthnot still stood waiting.

"You are right," he said in an altered tone; "you are right.  From
beginning to end it has been a miserable mistake."

She expressed no surprise, the two appearing to understand each other.
She only inquired--

"And what do you intend to do?"

"I must go on with it.  We must marry," he returned moodily.

"Certainly," said Miss Arbuthnot briskly, "certainly.  No other course
is open to you."  He looked at her again.

"And yet you haven't a word of pity to throw!"

"Why should I?  You are marrying the girl you chose, a nice girl, too,
who had no thought of you until you insisted upon her falling in love.
And now that you have got her there, you are discontented.  Pity!  Yes,
I pity her with all my heart!"

He still kept his eyes on her.

"You won't be any better off yourself," he said with significance.

She turned and faced him.

"What do you mean?" she asked coldly.

"That fellow--that Pelham--can you tell me honestly that you care for
him?"

"You have no possible right to put such a question," she said haughtily.
"Be sure of one thing.  I do not marry the man I do not care for.  Here
we are at the polo again, and here is Mrs Menzies."

Fenwick had his dismissal, and swung away in a rage, angry with Helen,
angry with Claudia, most angry with himself.  He rated fate for opening
his eyes when it was too late, and allowing him then, and not till then,
to find out the insane folly of his conduct in letting slip the one
woman for whom he was now certain that he cared.  Glancing at the
rapidly thinning group of brightly dressed people, he muttered an
exclamation as he caught a glimpse of his sister's figure, and, with the
intention of avoiding a meeting, went out of the place, and struck from
the Farnborough road, with its oddly isolated groups of firs, across the
common.

By this time the sun was low, and, catching the fir stems, turned them
to ruddy gold.  A few wild clouds, threatening storm, barred the western
sky, but the threat was splendid in colour and contrast, and, while
bringing out the rich tints of the near common, had the effect of only
adding to the serene beauty of the blue distance.  Here and there a
patch of white tents dotted a slope; smoke curled upwards from the camp
fires; and an occasional sharp sound or call struck the silence.
Fenwick neither saw nor heard.  He walked, staring at the ground, caring
nothing where he went, and only bent upon avoiding his kind.

What devil was there in him, he asked himself impatiently, which was for
ever dragging him into positions from which, when his eyes were open, he
recoiled?  In this question which he flung, it is possible that he
caught a fleeting glimpse of the inordinate vanity which was the real
cause of his disasters, but vanity is too subtle an imp not to have a
hundred disguises ready for such a moment.  Fenwick freely cursed an
impetuous nature, idleness, imprudence, and left the actual mover
unscathed and grinning.  He had tired of Helen Arbuthnot for the very
reason that he was secure of her preference; and when he accepted his
dismissal and moved away, it was with the absolute confidence that if
ever he liked to step back, he would find her waiting.  And now
apparently--by her own act, which was quite a different affair from
his--she was placing herself beyond his reach; while he, like a raw
fool, had bound himself to a girl who had ceased to be attractive from
the moment in which he knew he had gained her heart.

He did not put it so crudely, nor had he any thought of drawing back
from his engagement.  Fenwick was an honourable man, and he fully
intended not only to marry Claudia, but to make her happy.  As to his
power to do this, he was curiously free from misgivings.  On his own
future life he bestowed a groan, but she loved him, and that would be
enough for her.  He even went so far as to glance at some of her crude
latter-day ideas, and to decide that he would allow her a certain amount
of freedom to exercise them; under careful control, of course, and,
above all, in ways that should bring no ridicule upon him.  Such an
outlet for her enthusiasms would occupy and prevent her finding out
that--that--well, that he no longer felt for her all that he had
imagined.  How he had imagined it still puzzled him, for he had no
impulse towards solving the enigma in the only way in which it could
have been solved--the confession that her cool indifference had piqued
him into trying to stir it into warmth.  So accustomed was he to flutter
the hearts of the women who crossed his path, that to find a country
girl treating him with profound carelessness, was not to be endured.  It
was very natural that Harry Hilton's clumsy attentions should fail to
touch her--he liked her the better for being their object, and for
rejecting them--but to be placed in the same category himself was
another matter.  Then, to win her cost him something.  He had to let
him-self go.  For a time he felt the ardour of chase, the longing to
gain; some, at least, of the many sensations which help to make up love;
enough, indeed, as he bitterly owned, to deceive himself.

And now, now he had won Claudia, and lost Helen.

He walked far, so that when he turned all the fires of sunset had dulled
in the west, and the firs stood black against a saffron sky.  The camp
was alive and busy, though the more active work of the day was over.
Fenwick came back as he went.  He told himself bitterly that this was no
more than he expected.  It was no question of future conduct which he
had taken out into the solitudes to solve, but a burden which he was
girding himself to bear.  He had thought of himself from beginning to
end, and of Claudia only as one towards whom he had a duty.  For him to
fulfil this was enough for her.

But he could not see her that night.  When he reached his quarters he
sent a note to the hut saying that he was dining at mess, and would not
be able to look in.  He made another resolution, which appeared to him
an admirable example of sacrifice, for there was a party to which Miss
Arbuthnot was bidden and not the Leslies: he had intended to find
himself there, and now resigned it.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

The result of Fenwick's meditation might have been foreseen; he felt
himself the injured person, and went resignedly to the hut on the
following day, prepared to act with magnanimity.  Claudia met him as
simply as usual, showing no trace of displeasure.  A close observer
might, it is true, have noticed that she was both pale and heavy-eyed,
but, except under the influence of a dominant personal interest, Fenwick
was not a close observer, and he merely registered a mental note that
her young beauty was of too variable a nature to be counted upon.  His
sister, however, quickly became aware that he was himself disturbed, and
she took an opportunity of calling Claudia into the next room.

"Something has gone wrong with Arthur, I can see.  I know his face so
well!  Do be careful what you say," she added anxiously.

"Has anything gone wrong?" asked the girl, with a curious little laugh.
"Well, don't be afraid.  Perhaps I can set it right."

Mrs Leslie shook her head.  She had no confidence in Claudia's powers,
and she dreaded beyond words, another eight days' wonder over her
brother's love affairs.  Major Leslie was waiting for her in the garden,
and when she went out she was so full of her fears that she confided
them, with signs towards the window.

"I am dreadfully afraid there is something in the wind.  Arthur looks
like a thundercloud."

"Pleasant for her!" said little Major Leslie, whistling.

"That's the worst of it.  She might manage, but unfortunately she has no
tact whatever, and Arthur will require the most delicate handling from
his wife.  Lawrence, this gardener is absolutely no good."

"I don't see anything amiss."

"Then look at that border."

The two wrangled, and strolled away together.  Claudia, after a
momentary hesitation, a momentary locking of her small fingers, went
back to the pretty cool room, and sat down on the window-seat.  Through
the trees came glints of bright colour, as soldiers passed up and down
the road, and now and then a cheery note of bugle or pipes rose shrill
above other sounds.  Fenwick walked restlessly about the room.

"I suppose you'll be at the polo this afternoon," he remarked, stopping
to straighten a picture, "as you're so awfully keen on that sort of
thing, aren't you?"

"I suppose I am," she said slowly.  "But I am not going to the polo.  It
was about this afternoon that I wanted to say something."

"All right.  Here I am!" he said, flinging himself into a low chair by
her side.  But there was something ungracious in the movement, and his
face darkened.  He thought she intended to reproach him.  Claudia spoke
again, still slowly, for her voice was not altogether under control, and
she dreaded above all things a breakdown.

"I am just sending a telegram to Elmslie--to my cousins--to ask them to
expect me to-day."

"Oh!" said Fenwick, sitting up.  "And may I ask what has brought about
this sudden change?"

His dry angry voice acted upon Claudia as a spur.  Her eyes brightened
as she faced him.

"Need you ask?"  Then her voice softened again.  "Arthur," she said,
"many words are not necessary, are they?  It has all been hasty,
mistaken, foolish, but it has not lasted very long.  Now let us both--
forget."

"Do you mean," he asked sharply, "that you wish to break off our
engagement?"

"Yes," she answered, groping for words so carefully that she
hesitated--"yes, that is what I mean.  I did foolishly to agree to it,
and that will always be the first thing I shall remember.  Why you
wished it I don't know,"--she drew a long breath--"happily it is not yet
too late, and it has just got to be as though it had never been."

"I should still like to know what is my offence.  That I left you to go
back alone yesterday?  I should have supposed that would have pleased
you."

"I think you are ungenerous," said the girl, with a flash.  "Do you take
me for a stone?  I am not reproaching you.  Oh," she broke out more
wildly, "can't you let it be over and done with without words?"

"No," said Fenwick savagely.  "I suppose this is all woman's confounded
jealousy."

He was really angry, and conflicting with a sense of relief came
indignation that she could let him go.

"Have it as you like," Claudia answered proudly; "I have said enough.
It has been a mistake, a mistake made by us both; but fortunately there
is still time to draw back.  Some day perhaps you will see that I could
not have acted otherwise."  She flung out her hands.  "There!  It is
over.  Will you ring the bell that I may send this?"

Her manner still stung him, and he was not generous enough to own to
himself how entirely he had forced it upon her.

"You have taken the law into your own hands with a vengeance," he said
bitterly, as he crossed the room.  "Apparently I am expected to accept
sentence without so much as being told the manner of my offending.
Gloriously feminine, upon my word!  Warren, take this to the telegraph
office."  He held it another moment in his hand and turned to her.  "You
wish it to go?"

She bent her head, finding words impossible; and when the man had left
the room, Fenwick hung back and stood staring at her.

"Well," he said imperiously, "I am waiting for an explanation."

She shook her head.

"Don't expect me to be satisfied with signs.  I must have chapter and
verse."

It was Claudia's turn to be impatient.  She sprang to her feet, her eyes
passionately reproachful, her voice firm--

"But I will not say more!  Words--words are absolutely vain, and yet you
want them: you want my thoughts and feelings put into shape for you to
handle them.  Don't you see, can't you see, that your very lack of power
to do this for yourself shows what a gulf has opened between us?  If you
loved me,"--her voice faltered and recovered itself--"if you loved me,
you would understand without words--" She was going to call to witness
her own power of entering into his feelings, but checked herself in
time, for no tenderness in his manner had gained the right to wring
admissions from her which she instinctively knew would be but food for
his vanity.  That night, tossing sleepless, she had sworn that she would
not let him learn how she had suffered, and to make sure of this kept
her face turned from him, fancying that he might read it there.  But she
raised her hand as she spoke, and when she broke off it dropped heavily
by her side.

"No, I don't pretend to be clever enough to understand you," he said
sharply.  "You judge me harshly, you draw unwarrantable deductions, and
refuse either to hear me speak or to speak yourself.  How are we ever to
hope to set matters right?"  He stopped.  The mere unexpected discovery
that she could give him up, immeasurably raised her value, and yet at
the same moment the thought of Helen Arbuthnot rushed into his brain.
"I suppose," he went on more quietly, "you are vexed with something I
have done or left undone?"

"Is that it?" she asked faintly, with the same consciousness of tension
in her speech--a tension which was growing well-nigh intolerable.
"Perhaps--I don't know--no, I think it is something much deeper.
Whatever it is, I cannot change, but there need be no unkindness between
us."

"Oh," he said scornfully, "you have the stock phrases at your fingers'
ends!"  And then his better angel moved him to compunction.  "Claudia,
forgive me!"

It was the old intonation, the old tender tune which could yet shake her
like a leaf.

"Don't say that," she stammered hastily; "if--if it will make you
happier, be sure I shall not ever think hardly of you.  It has been what
I said--a mistake--that is all.  And there is one thing more," she went
on in a stronger voice.  "In these matters, I don't know, but I suppose
the world always thinks that some one is to blame.  I am that one,
remember.  It is I who have done it.  Only, would you mind saying this
to your sister yourself, and telling her that I must--I must go away
to-day?"

He had turned from her, and was leaning against the mantelpiece, his
head buried in his arms.  Claudia stood and looked at him for one
yearning moment, her face troubled, her eyes full of tears.

Before he had time to answer she was gone.

Fenwick neither spoke nor stirred.  For a moment he was shaken by a
strange rush of feeling, pricked by an involuntary shame, conscious of
something higher and better than himself.  But the moment did not last.
Other thoughts crowded thickly, and leapt into prominence.  The habit of
constantly appealing to his own personality, and measuring all things by
their relation to it, the invariable dwarfing question which strangled
nobler impulses, and could only ask, "How will this affect me?" rose up
strong and strangling as ever.  They made him hesitate, when generosity
would have rushed the words, lest in their utterance he might say more
than he would--later--find convenient.  Self had through these
instruments dominated his nature, checked his expansion, left him cold
and self-conscious, made the nobler side of him hate himself.  While
Claudia spoke, something within him urged quick response, words which
should at least answer more adequately to the sweetness of her farewell,
more bravely own his fault.  But he had crushed the whisper, from a base
dread of saying too much, and with the opportunity gone, the poorer part
of him began to dominate again.  She had voluntarily given him up, and
an irritable vanity, fastening upon this offence, swelled and fumed
around it until all other issues were blotted from view.  More than once
in these latter days, he had been conscious of a wish that he could live
over again those days at Huntingdon, but this was an altogether
different matter from supposing that Claudia might also desire to
reconsider them.  He left his position, and, crossing to the window,
stood staring blackly out of it, foreseeing many awkwardnesses, but
without a thought for poor Claudia, who had flung herself face downwards
upon her bed upstairs, and was sobbing passionately.  Whatever pressure
was put upon the wind bag of his vanity only forced it out on another
side.  He was standing, immovable, in the same place when his sister
came in.

"Oh, Arthur!" she exclaimed, stopping in the doorway.

He did not look round.

"Well, why `Oh, Arthur!'?"

"Something has happened.  I was certain something was going to happen.
I wish I had not gone out.  You and Claudia have quarrelled."

"Certainly not."  He laughed shortly.

"If you like, we have agreed to differ."  He broke off, and added with
the same abruptness, "You've got to know, and you may as well know at
once that it's all over--amicably, and probably for the best.  Claudia
goes back to Elmslie to-day, and the only thing for you and Lawrence to
do is to hold your tongues."

"That's very easy for you to say, but you must be aware that I shall
have to give some sort of explanation," said Mrs Leslie, with a sense
of affront underlying her real dismay.

"No, I am not aware.  To whom?" said Fenwick, facing round fiercely.
"If the fools want to talk, let them!"

"Of course they will talk."

"As I say--let them!"

Mrs Leslie drew herself up.

"You might be more civil, Arthur, considering you have brought it on
yourself.  Pray do you suppose the situation will be agreeable for us?"

"Hang it all!" he burst out.  "Say what you like, then!  The plain truth
is, as any one might see, that we're unsuited, and it's come home to her
at last.  There it lies in a nutshell, and you may make what you can of
it."

"I saw it long ago."

"I'll wager you did!"

"And," went on his sister coldly, "I can't wonder at the poor child
discovering it too.  You forced it upon her pretty clearly, you and
Helen Arbuthnot."

Fenwick, not displeased at this conjunction of names, moderated his
tone.

"There was nothing for her to fuss about, only a woman's jealousy warps
her common sense.  You'll see that some one goes with her?"

But this provision for her comfort Claudia resolutely declined.  It had
been only to please her lover that she had consented to be guarded by an
escort on her journey to Aldershot, and now that she had no lover to
please she would certainly go back in the manner she preferred; she was
not in the mood to forego one of her privileges, and Mrs Leslie argued
with her in vain.  Free from personal vanity, she had much of the
egotism of youth.  She belonged to an age which was to reanimate the
world, and to a cluster of girls who felt themselves instinct with
corporate force, and whose ignorance had this in it that was noble, that
it at least stretched out eager helping hands, with passionate impulses
for good.  This strong hopeful faith, this assurance that they had to
show the world how different a thing a woman's life might become from
what it had been in the ages past when shrinking dependence was her
distinguishing characteristic, had been cruelly wounded in Claudia as
much by her own acts as by the verdict of others.  If she had not
suffered from obloquy, she had been dangerously near to being laughed
out of court, and she had yielded ignominiously to almost the first
touch of so-called love.  Sore and shamed, she doubted ever getting back
to her starting-point.  Her career had been cruelly shorn of its
dignity, and she felt, not only miserable, but commonplace.

At any rate she could--she would take care of herself in the train.

Once there, she could think more consecutively, if more sadly.  In the
forlornness and humiliation of her experience, as unlike what she had
pictured for herself as it was possible for experience to be, her
remembrances turned gratefully to Elmslie; nay, even lingered with a
certain tenderness round the Thornbury home.  From there, at any rate,
no wounding had come, although it seemed to her, looking back, that she
had been singularly aggressive and unaccommodating.  Mrs Hilton's
amazement had been modulated by her fine instincts of courtesy, and
Harry--Harry, if he had been foolish, at least believed in her.

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

Anne was in the drawing-room when Claudia reached Elmslie, Anne
unquestioning and kindly.  Claudia felt herself made welcome, and was
conscious of a quiet atmosphere, grateful after the jar and turmoil of
the past days.  She was glad to rest in an easy-chair, to drink tea from
the little old silver teapot which was the pride of Anne's heart, and to
hear that Philippa and Emily had gone off to a garden-party.

"Harry Hilton has been here," said Anne, occupying herself with cutting
cake, "but he has gone."

Claudia breathed relief.  She had dreaded to find Harry established.
The telegram announcing her unexpected return must have given an inkling
of what had happened, and she could not have endured the sight of his
face, with possibly a reawakened hope beaming in it.  Now she could more
freely tell her story.

"Anne," she said, in a voice not quite steady, "I want to explain why I
have come back."

"If you like," Anne replied gently.  "But you know this is to be home,
without any need for explanations."

"I know.  And I don't think explain was quite the word to use, for I
can't explain yet, even to myself.  Only it is all over between Captain
Fenwick and me."  As Anne did not speak, she went on hurriedly, "You
don't mind my not saying more, do you?"

"No, I don't mind," said Anne, with that warm inflexion of the voice
which is like a caress.  "I am only wondering whether it is quite right
to leave you to fight your own battles single-handed.  Can nothing be
done?"

Claudia sprang up and went to the window.

"Please," she said, with her back to her cousin, "I don't want
sympathy."

"Or help?"

"Or help."

"Then you shall go your own way in peace," Anne said, smiling.

"And one thing more."  Claudia came back to the table.  "Whatever it is,
you must understand that it is my own, absolutely my own doing."

"I understand.  For," said Anne afterwards to Philippa, "when people are
miserable, the best one can do for them is to let them be miserable in
their own fashion."

"Is she miserable, or only sore?"

"Only sore!" repeated Anne.  "As if to be sore and shamed were not
misery enough for a nature like Claudia's!  But I believe she really
loved the man, and has been hard hit, poor child!"

"Well, it will do her no harm," Philippa announced.  "What a pity it is
that nothing of the sort ever happened to Emily!"

"Philippa!"

"To be sure Emily has never taken her independence fiercely, has never,
indeed, taken it at all, but she has always sighed for it.  If once the
thing had advanced towards her, Emily would have screamed and run away,
while Claudia has been so entranced with its charms that she has been
ready to take shadow for substance.  Harry, now, Harry's good stout
sense would have allowed her a long tether, but no doubt Captain Fenwick
jerked the rope too sharply."

Claudia's departure made no stir at Aldershot, because it was supposed
that her visit had come naturally to an end; and if there were any who
had gleams of suspicion as to the real cause, Fenwick was not a man to
offer himself readily for questioning, and Mrs Leslie took the
opportunity of going away for a week or two.

"Of course he and Helen Arbuthnot will make it up again, and then there
will be a pretty talk!" she said irritably to her husband.  "Well, I am
sick of Arthur's love affairs.  I wash my hands of them for the future."

"Helen Arbuthnot?  But isn't she engaged to young Pelham?"

"Oh, what of that!" cried Mrs Leslie, with a fine scorn.

Two or three days passed, however, and nothing had occurred to justify
her words.  On the fourth, Fenwick and Miss Arbuthnot met at a dinner
given at a commanding officer's quarters.  They did not exchange a word
until the end of the evening, when the guests strolled out into the
garden.

Pelham was not there, and if Fenwick had watched for an opportunity, he
took it, as usual, boldly.  He walked straight to Miss Arbuthnot.

"I must speak to you," he said.  "Alone."  She shrugged her shoulders,
but made no objection.  The night was hot, she wore a white dress, and
round her throat had wrapped a scarf of a soft gauze, with silver
threads running through it.  In the moonlight these shimmered and
flashed, and set off the rich brown of her hair.  The regimental band
was playing, otherwise it was strangely quiet for the neighbourhood of a
camp.  Presently they reached the limit of the turf, and Helen stopped.

"Well," she asked abruptly, "what have you to say?"

"How can I say anything when you speak in such a tone?" he demanded.
"There is a seat under that tree beyond."

She walked on.

"Are you aware that we are affording much food for remarks?" she said
presently.  He took no notice of her question.

"I had to speak to you," he began; "I want to be the first to tell you
what has happened."

"It was scarcely necessary," she returned coldly.  "After hearing that
Miss Hamilton had departed, I could draw in the details myself.  For
that matter, I could have drawn them beforehand."

"No doubt you could, considering how much you had to do with them," he
said, with a laugh so self-assured that Miss Arbuthnot bit her lip.

"I?"

"Yes.  She was jealous of you, and I can hardly blame her."

"Oh, I don't blame her at all."

"Blame?  No.  Why, I bless her.  She opened my eyes.  A little longer,
and it might have been too late."

"Oh no.  That misfortune," said Miss Arbuthnot scornfully, "could never
happen to you.  A means of deliverance always offers itself in good
time.  And did she--Claudia, I mean--enjoy her mission?"

She had stung him at last, for he moved fretfully.

"You might understand that--that it was all painful, and I don't want to
talk about it.  The point is--" he used Claudia's words--"that it is
over and done with."

"Well, go on," she said, opening and shutting her fan.  "I understand
that I am to keep my intelligence fixed on the fact that it is over and
done with, and that Claudia's feelings belong to a side issue with which
one has nothing to do.  Go on."

This time he turned angrily upon her.  "You speak as if I had done the
girl an injury.  Granted that I was a fool--a double-distilled fool--
would it have been for her happiness to have persisted in the folly?"

"No," said Miss Arbuthnot, in a low voice; "it would not."

"Then you own I was right?"

"Oh, don't make me your judge!" she cried impatiently.  "Right?  I see
no right from beginning to end.  But what of that?  What have I to do
with it?"

He answered coolly, "Everything."

She hesitated for a moment.  Perhaps she was calling back her
self-possession, which had been startled.  At any rate, when she spoke
again, it was more quietly.

"This is interesting.  May I hear more?"

"I mean you to.  I said that Claudia was jealous of you.  That was
because she discovered my secret.  Helen, it has been madness, from
beginning to end--our break-off, our fancying we had ceased to care, our
taking up with others.  Don't let us play any longer.  My step is taken,
take yours, and let us be married next month."

"You mean," she said slowly, "I am to throw over--"

"Oh, that fellow!" he exclaimed.  "You're not engaged to him, you know
very well, not seriously, and if you were, you care for me fifty times
as well.  Deny it if you can!"

"Oh!" she said, with a gasp, "you think so?"

"Think?  I'm as certain as that I'm here."

His sense of mastery made him almost indifferent to pleading.  Each
sentence breathed triumph.  Miss Arbuthnot caught her breath, and turned
her face towards him.

He went on--

"People may--will--talk.  Let them.  Their hateful chatter will not
affect us.  Helen--dearest--"

She broke in, and put up her hand.

"No, no, stop, please!  We have not got so far as `dearest.'  Suppose we
see where we are.  Up to this point you have only assured me of my own
feelings.  What of your own?"

"You know them, you must know them."

"Excuse me, no.  When last we discussed them I gathered that they were
somewhat topsy-turvy, and you agreed with me that there had been a
mistake.  Now it seems there has been another, and you must own that it
becomes perplexing."

He made an impatient gesture.

"Don't play with me, Helen, for I can't bear it.  You're the only woman
I ever cared for.  There!  Isn't that enough?"

With a movement so sudden as to startle him, she sprang to her feet,
standing with her head thrown back, and the moonlight whitening her
face.

"No," she exclaimed passionately, "it is not!  Do you know that all your
life, and all your love--such as it is!--has hinged only upon what _you_
feel, what _you_ want?  You have measured everything, balanced
everything, chosen everything by that and that alone.  But what of us?
I sometimes wonder whether you ever cast one thought at the poor puppets
you set up, and whose hearts you demand.  You want the flattery of their
love; you have it and tire of it.  Enough!  Toss it on one side, it is
over and done with--"

He interrupted her with real amazement.  "You can say this--Helen, you?
Over!  Why am I here to-night?"

"Oh," she said with scorn, "because I have slipped out of your hold, and
have suddenly become valuable.  While you believed you had only to raise
your finger to bring me back--at Thornbury, for instance--I was nothing,
nothing!  But now, now that unexpectedly the power seemed slipping from
you, you could not endure the loss.  It was the same with that girl.
Your vanity, your worst self, was piqued by her indifference, her
reluctance; you set yourself to win her, and when you had succeeded, she
began to weary you.  That was why I warned her.  You believe, and she
believes, that it was jealousy, but you are wrong--both of you.  It was
pity, profoundest pity, and a wish to spare her something of--what I had
felt myself."

Against her will her voice trembled over these last words, and Fenwick
caught the change.

"Say what hard things you like," he cried triumphantly, "you love me
still!"

Her voice, still not quite under control, sounded curiously dull.

"No," she said.  "You are mistaken.  I do not."

"Deny it," he broke in, with a short laugh, "deny it as you please, it
is true.  Come, Helen, you have had your say; I don't know why you have
turned yourself into her advocate, but I'm ready to admit I haven't
treated Claudia well.  In spite of your hard hitting, can't you see that
it was you who drove me to distraction?  Suppose it had been too late."

"It is," she said quietly.

"You're not engaged!"

"I have been engaged a week."

"To that man?"

"To Mr Pelham."

He was silent, and she heard his hard breathing.  When he spoke his
voice was hoarse.

"Well, you can't marry him."

"Why not?"

"Why?"  He laughed gratingly.  "Women are inexplicable, but isn't there
still some sort of necessity to pretend that a little more than money is
wanted for a husband?"

"You are right," said Miss Arbuthnot slowly.  "Fortunately for me I need
not pretend.  I am going to marry Mr Pelham because--I love him."

There was a silence which lasted for what seemed to her an interminable
time.  Fenwick broke it with an effort.

"We had better go back," he said.  They walked across the moonlit grass,
white flowers stood out starlike in the beds, and the band was playing
very softly an air out of _Hansel and Grethel_.  Suddenly he exclaimed,
"You might have spared me this!"

"How?"

"You might have let me know I had no chance."

"Why did you take it for granted that you had?"  Miss Arbuthnot retorted
coldly.

"Oh, why?"  He flung the question back at her, and strode moodily on.
But at the door he turned once more.  "Do you really intend to marry
him?"

"The wedding-day is fixed."

"Absurd!" he cried roughly.

CHAPTER TWENTY.

As age creeps on, there are other deaths than those we mourn openly.
Sometimes hope dies, or faith, or love--and from the infinite blackness
of such loss, may God in His mercy keep us!--sometimes it is ambition,
or friendship, which is worse.  But all death is sad, except, as perhaps
we shall find, our own, for that should mean recovering again some good
things which we have lost.

Claudia went through several phases at this time.  It was not
extraordinary; most men and women do after a crisis, particularly a
crisis which has in it anything humiliating.  She fancied that her old
occupation would give her interest, and forced herself into working
furiously at certain plans.  When they failed, or seemed to fail, she
lost heart, and believed herself incapable.  By way of expiation, she
sat humbly at Emily's feet, printing hundreds of leaflets in the palest
and most uninviting inks, and dutifully attended Anne when she paid
visits in the Close, and, far from flaunting nineteenth-century aims in
the eyes of her listeners, tried to fling herself into the pettiest of
local interests.

"If she goes on like this, by-and-by she will elope with the Dean, or do
something equally sinful," announced Philippa one day as she snipped
withered flowers in the garden.

"I know," said Anne uneasily.  "But I don't know what to suggest.  And I
fancied she would be better for finding out for herself."

"Get her to go bicycling again."

"I suppose," Anne hesitated and sighed--"I suppose it would not do to
have Harry?  He is dying to come."

"No, indeed.  You prudent people are always the most reckless.  We are
all boring her to death just now, and Harry would be only another
element of boredom.  No; the bicycle."

It was not easy, because the bicycle had unavoidable associations, and
also made part of a certain untold scheme of renunciation.  But
restlessness, together with an inevitable reaction from the life into
which she was squeezing herself, came to Anne's help.  The burdens we
choose for ourselves often gall and fret, while those which God lays on
us are moulded to our use by the great Master's hand.  The girl was
growing sore and impatient over her self-imposed tasks, and Philippa was
right.  For now she went off by herself, and fought hard battles under
fresh windy skies, often through rain and storm, and came back with wet
cheeks and uncurled hair, but with the old glow and brightness awakening
in her eyes.

"I told you so!" cried Philippa, not in the least above that feminine
weakness.  "And I have another idea.  She wants a playfellow, and Harry
shall send her a dog."

"A dog!" exclaimed Emily in dismay.  "But you would never have one here
on account of Belisarius."  Belisarius was the cat, and he ruled
Philippa with a rod of iron.

"I think I could persuade Belisarius," she said, with a sigh.  "He puts
up with Vic, and I could make him understand that the dog was not ours."

Claudia, sounded, expressed pleasure.  Nothing was said as to Harry's
part in the affair until a very perfectly bred fox-terrier arrived one
day from Thornbury, and then she admired him too much to have qualms as
to his acceptance.  It is true that she said hastily to Anne, "My taking
this doesn't mean anything?"  And Anne could truthfully assure her that
she was not the first person to receive a dog from Thornbury; but
without this assurance, she did justice to a certain generosity in Harry
Hilton's character, which would prevent his trying to place her under an
obligation.

The dog was a greater success than the bicycle, partly from his merits,
partly from an aptitude for getting into trouble; not from
disagreeableness--for he had a delightful temper, but from a cheerful
joy in fighting for fighting's sake, which kept Claudia constantly on
the alert.  There was an awful battle on the first day between him and
Belisarius, which laid a foundation of mutual respect, though it nearly
killed Philippa; and a sponge and hot water were invariably ready for
Claudia, when she returned from a long bicycle ride.  One day she
surprised Anne by saying--

"I think I will go to Thornbury to-morrow, before the days get too
short."

"Do," said Anne.  "You won't find Harry there."

"No.  I heard you telling Emily that he was away.  I should like to see
Mrs Hilton and the trees."

She carried out her intention, which was perhaps meant as much to give
Fox pleasure as for any other reason.  The morning was fresh, the sky
whitening for rain.  When she reached Thornbury, Mrs Hilton's delight
and distress expressed themselves with many a "so."

"My dear, it is so good of you to come!  And all that way!  Why, you
must be tired to death, poor thing!  And it is so annoying that Harry
should be away!  His father was a little better, and he had been waiting
for an opportunity to run up to London, so he went, and will not be back
till to-morrow.  I am so sorry!"

"I knew that he was away.  I came to see you, and I thought you would
give me some luncheon."

"Indeed I will.  So good of you to think of such a thing, and on your
bicycle, too!  I have just had a letter from Helen Arbuthnot; you
remember her, don't you?"  Claudia's face was turned in another
direction.  "Yes," she answered.

"Well, she has quite taken my breath away, telling me she is going to be
married, poor thing! and I hadn't the least idea of it.  People are so
sudden in these days, in and out of an engagement before one has time to
look round,"--and then Mrs Hilton began to flounder--"my dear--you must
forgive me--I never meant--oh dear!  I wonder whether Mr Hilton has had
his paper?"  The moment had come, and Claudia, although she had paled,
was scarcely conscious of her companion's distress.  She was nerving
herself for the expected tidings.

"Who does she say she is going to marry?" she asked, in a voice which to
her own ears sounded strange and unreal.

Mrs Hilton joyfully ran to this outlet.

"I think it was a Mr Pelham--somebody, I know, that I had never heard
of--but it is in the Morning Post, so we can easily see.  Huish,"--to
the butler--"we want yesterday's paper."

The news sent Claudia's blood coursing.  She found herself constantly
wondering how it had come to pass, and what--for something there surely
must have been--had passed between Fenwick and Helen.  It almost amazed
her that it did not work a revulsion in her own feelings, as it seemed
to show that, at least as to one point, she had jumped to a wrong
conclusion.  But she tried to keep before her eyes that on the principal
point there could be no such mistake--he did not love her, he did not
love her; in their last interview he had not even pretended love.  And
though a passionate heart cried out that it might re-awaken, pitiless
sense told her that the dead do not come to life again--here.

Such thoughts touched her, passed, returned, like a broken reflection on
the water, while Mrs Hilton's kindly talk gurgled on, exacting little
attention.  If Claudia failed in an answer, she set it down to the
physical weariness of her ride, and yet, as she said afterwards, she had
never liked her so much, or found her so gentle.

"You know, my dear, she rather kept me on tenter-hooks when she was here
before, for, to my old-fashioned notions, she was just a little
surprising, and I never quite knew what she was going to do next; but
yesterday she was as nice as possible, and seemed so glad to be here
again, poor thing!  And she remembered all about Huish's rheumatism,
which I thought wonderful in such a young girl.  We walked all over the
place, and she did not say a word about cutting down more trees, so I
hope she has got over that funny little craze.  I asked her when she
would come and stay here again, and she thanked me so nicely!  She said
she would like it some day, but not just yet, and of course, poor thing!
it is very natural she should want a little quiet time after that sad
business.  I really could not have believed it of that pleasant Captain
Fenwick!"

All this was spoken to Harry, who had but just returned from London, and
who sat listening, his face in shade, and his arms on his knees.  He
was, as usual in cricket time, furiously burnt, and his laugh rang as
cheerily as ever, though, his mother sometimes fancied, not so often.
Now he neither laughed nor answered her, and she grew uncomfortable.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have said that?  Perhaps you would rather not have
any one asked here just now?  My dear boy, it is easy enough to put it
off a little.  On no account would I do anything you disliked."

He laughed now.  An odd little laugh.

"_I_ shouldn't dislike it."  After a momentary hesitation, he said, "I
think you ought to know that nothing on earth would make me so happy as
her coming of her own free will to stay.  But she won't."

To say that Mrs Hilton was astonished is to use an inadequate word.  It
is no less certain that she was dismayed, for no woman on earth appeared
to her worthy to be her son's wife, and her "Oh, Harry!" carried in it
unusual protest.  He went on quickly--

"When she was here before I asked her to marry me, and she refused--"

"Refused!"

"--I don't know whether I shall ask her again.  That depends.  If I
don't, one thing I know, I shall never marry another woman."

"Refused you!  What could she be thinking of!"

His mother's indignation brought his old laugh.  He got up, and
straightened himself.

"Well, I'm afraid it was that she didn't care for your son.  Perhaps she
never will.  But she came over here to-day, and I don't mean to give up
while there's the ghost of a chance."

"A chance!  My dear Harry, ridiculous!" cried his mother, impatiently.
"But you take away my breath!  I never thought of such a thing.  I am
not sure she's good enough, I am not, indeed!  She is a pretty creature,
of course, and one knows all about her, which is always a comfort, but
she has such very peculiar notions.  This going about on bicycles
cutting trees.  My dear, I couldn't bear that for your wife."

"She will never do anything of which you and my father need be ashamed,"
he said shortly.

"But her ideas--"

"As for her ideas, time enough to talk about them if ever she consents
to be my wife.  I should not interfere with them."

Mrs Hilton stood up, let all her knitting fall in a tangle on the
floor, and laid a trembling hand on her son's arm.

"Harry!"

"Yes, mother."

"You mustn't be angry.  You know that your happiness is our first, our
very first thought."

"I know," he said briefly.  But he put his hand on hers.

"You have been such a son to us--my dear,"--she broke down a
little--"may God bless you, and give you a good wife!"

Is not any man the better for such a benediction?  Whether the desire of
his heart be granted or not, I think the strength of a mother's
unselfish love carries it straight to the throne of God, and brings back
a blessing, rich and plentiful.

Harry had learnt wisdom, and did not rush off impetuously to Elmslie, as
he felt inclined.  He stayed away, indeed, so long that Philippa began
to grumble, and Claudia to feel guiltily that she was depriving her
cousins of their favourite visitor.  She had made an unsuccessful effort
to get work through the principal of the college, but either her late
experiences had shaken their faith in her; or the authorities preferred
giving orders to those who needed them more; or Claudia's first
brilliant successes had been due to circumstances not so absolutely
dependent upon her merits as she flattered herself.  At any rate no
orders came, and with winter at hand it did not seem likely that they
would arrive.  It was annoying, but one thing was evident to them all--
Claudia's heart was not broken.  The want of interest, the evident
strain of her first return, were, little by little but no less surely,
wearing off.  It could hardly have been otherwise, since, after all, she
had been more dominated than attracted by Fenwick's strong personality,
and once having snapped its bonds, her own character reasserted itself.
There was, it is true, a danger lest the reaction of this self-assertion
should be too complete, and leave her hardened.  Perhaps it was the
nature of her surroundings which saved her from the peril.  For there
was a fresh and wholesome vigour about Philippa Cartwright, an honest
dutifulness in Emily, a true and delicate sympathy in Anne, which she
could not but recognise, now that her eyes had opened to a broader view,
and she was brave enough to own to her mistakes.  The result was that
her heart began to cling to Elmslie, while she was still occupied with
plans for the future.  At last--

"I think I will go abroad for three or four months," she announced to
Anne one wet autumn day, as they trudged back from the town.  "It would
do me a lot of good to study some of the old Italian gardens.  There's
one in particular near Viterbo, laid out by Vignola.  Will you come?"

"Ah, I can't," Anne returned, shaking her head and smiling.  "I have
reached the point in life in which I know the world would collapse if I
left Elmslie for more than a week.  Ask Philippa.  She's the adventurous
one."

"Well.  Fox wouldn't like it, though."

"We'll send him back to Thornbury."

"And you could have Harry Hilton," mused Claudia.  She gave an impatient
shake.  "How silly it all has been, and how many lives have been made
uncomfortable!  I suppose if I went away he would be here as much as he
used to be?"

"Perhaps he will come by-and-by even if you stayed."

"No; and if he did, he would be looking or saying something which I
should hate.  Unless you can make him understand that I shall never
marry."

Anne was silent, and employed herself in closing her umbrella.  The rain
had ceased, but there was a wintry wind, and yellow leaves lay rotting
in the road.  As they came towards the gate, they saw a man's figure
emerging, and Fox was off like a shot.

"Harry!" cried Anne, and with such delight that Claudia stifled her own
displeasure.  She was displeased, because she expected a renewal of all
that she disliked, but as the days went on, she was obliged to admit
that Harry behaved admirably.  That she was first with him--always--she
could not fail to see, but neither word nor look forced the knowledge to
her embarrassment.  By degrees she unstiffened, and fell back on their
old friendliness.  Nor did he stay long.  Perhaps to have done so and
yet have made no sign, might have been beyond his powers, but, be that
as it may, Claudia accepted his unexpected silence as proof of a
stronger character than she had credited him with.  Nor, now that she
did not obstinately close her eyes, could she fail to see how in trouble
or difficulty of whatever kind, it was to Harry that the trouble was
taken with absolute confidence in his helpfulness.  On the whole, Anne
hoped he had rather made ground than lost it.

Philippa and Claudia went abroad that winter, travelling in sun-baked
out-of-the-way places in Italy, perhaps even more to Philippa's delight
than Claudia's.  Philippa wrote to her sister that the girl showed no
sign of wishing to shock people, "but she seems resolved to pick up her
work again when she returns to England, and is studying eagerly.  The
note-book, however, seldom steps into prominence, and I have never heard
the word `career.'  I remark that she is careful to check all interests
that show signs of undue development."

In the course of the early spring, news of Mr Hilton's death came to
the travellers, and then Philippa, who had hitherto avoided talk of
Harry, allowed herself to launch forth into an account of what he had
given up for his father's sake.

"And the poor man so irritable!  I dare say it was caused by illness,
but really he made every one's life a burden.  Harry's patience was not
to be told."

Claudia expressed no opinion, but she listened.  Further, she sent a
message to Mrs Hilton and her son, and, that being over, appeared to
forget them.  She and Philippa left Rome in April, and travelled so as
to reach London by the middle of May, going for two or three days to a
hotel in South Kensington.  There, on the morning after their return,
Harry Hilton walked in.

This time the girl showed no displeasure; it seemed to Philippa that she
looked at him with an air of reflection.  Philippa herself hailed him
with delight.

"I am so tired of taking care of myself!" she announced one morning,
"and as Claudia allows me no conveyance more luxurious than a 'bus--in
which she flatters herself she is paying homage to Socialism--I am
thankful to have a man to find the right one."

Claudia laughed gaily.

"There's a mission for you!"

He did not seem to object.  He went everywhere with them, and Philippa,
reading in his face that he meant again to put his fate to the touch
before long, grew nervous herself, uncertain whether to utter a warning
or not.  She dropped the idea, but it touched her to the quick when she
pictured a second rebuff.

Their last morning they spent in the Park, where the rhododendrons were
breaking into flower.  Philippa met with an old friend, and Harry
suggested to Claudia that they should stroll on and look at the
Serpentine.  She assented without hesitation, yet, as they silently
walked, side by side, something in the silence set her heart fluttering,
and, to her amazement, she became conscious of a painful want of breath.
She would have given a good deal to have spoken, to have gone back, but
she dared not trust herself, for the strange excitement, for which she
could not account, was depriving her of her self-possession.  Just
before, she had been calm, talking to Harry with the ease of an old
friend, and now something--she knew not what--had raised an unexpected
tumult, and swept the rudder out of her hand.  There was a din in her
ears, and suddenly she heard his voice, hoarse and changed--

"Only give me one crumb of hope to live upon.  Claudia, can't you love
me?"

Could this be love?  "Oh, impossible!" she cried, almost angrily.

"Why impossible?" he asked, persistently fighting for an answer.

"I told you at Thornbury--"

"But now--now--" He pressed her impetuously.

"I can't!  You mustn't ask me."

"I must, I must!"  Something was creeping into his voice which she had
never heard there before, something at which her heart fluttered, her
voice failed.

"You forget what has passed."

"Passed!  What is that to me?  Claudia!"

"I must live my own life--I should shock your mother--your belongings."

He caught her hands in his, and his honest eyes looked into hers,
heedless of passers-by.

"Mine!" he cried joyfully.  "Mine at last!"

So--while there is no resurrection for a dead love--love, fresh and
living, often steals into our hearts from unexpected hiding-places, and
makes them his own.  And, so long as this can be, our old world, weary
and suffering, blossoms again into rosy youth, and tastes the joy which
is eternal.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Career of Claudia" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home