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´╗┐Title: Imogen - Only Eighteen
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Imogen - Only Eighteen" ***

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Only Eighteen
By Mrs Molesworth
Illustrations by Herbert A. Bone
Published by W and R Chambers, Ltd, London and Edinburgh.

Imogen, by Mrs Molesworth.





"Grey Fells Hall" was, I believe, the real name of the old house--the
name by which it was described in the ancient deeds and documents, some
of them _so_ ancient as to be perfectly illegible, of which more than
one chestful still existed in the squire's safe, built into the wall of
his business room.  But "The Fells" it had been called from time
immemorial, and would no doubt continue to be thus known.  It was a
cheerful, comfortable, and not unpicturesque old place, with nothing
grim about it except the dark, rugged rocks at one side, from which it
took its name, whose very grimness, however, but enhanced the calm
beauty of the pleasant slope of pasture land to the south.

On this side, too, it was well wooded, and by trees of a respectable
size, notwithstanding the northern latitude and the not very distant
sea.  But it is no story of a lonely, dreary, half-deserted grange I
have to tell.  The Fells was deserted but during three months of the
orthodox London season; for the rest of the year it was full, sometimes
to overflowing.  For the Helmont family who inhabited, it were a legion
in themselves, and seldom content without congenial society in the
persons of the innumerable visitors whose list every summer seemed to
lengthen.  "The boys" had their friends, a host to start with, for "the
boys" began with Captain Helmont in a cavalry regiment, and ended with
Cecil at Eton.  And the girls were all grown up; two married, three
still at home intent on finding as much fun and amusement in life as
wealth, health, and good looks could unite in achieving.  To assist them
in this untiring pursuit, the companionship of kindred spirits was of
course eminently desirable.

Papa and Mamma Helmont had their cronies too, though scarcely as many as
their children.  So one way and another The Fells was rarely free from
visitors.  "A family party" was almost unknown, and not desired.  The
young Helmonts were all more or less spoilt; nature and circumstances
had done their part as well as the father and mother.  The Squire was
very rich and very liberal; he liked to see people about him happy, and
saw no reason why he should not do so.  Trouble of any kind had come
near the family but slightly; perhaps their organisations were not of
the most sensitive order to begin with, still they passed muster as
good-natured and kindly, and to a certain extent this was true.  If the
other side of the medal revealed a touch of coarseness, of
inconsiderateness for others, verging upon undisguised selfishness, it
was scarcely perhaps surprising; prosperity, in some directions, is by
no means the unalloyed blessing one might esteem it, to judge by the
universal envy it arouses.

But the Helmonts are not, after all, the most prominent characters in my
story.  They serve as a background merely--a substantial and not
unpleasing one on the whole, with their handsome persons, their genial
ways; best of all, perhaps, their rough-and-ready honesty.

I have said that they were hospitable--to a fault.  Curiously enough,
however, the first words we hear from them would almost seem to
contradict this.

It is Alicia, the eldest daughter at home, the second in actual order of
seniority in the family, who is speaking.

"You needn't exaggerate so about it, Florence.  It is tiresome and
provoking, just when we had got our set so nicely arranged.  Still,
after all, a girl of that age--almost a child."

"That's the very point," said Florence, impatiently.  "I wonder you
don't see it, Alicia.  If she were older and had seen anything--an
ordinary sort of a girl--one might leave her to look after herself.  But
when mother puts it to us in that way, appealing to us to be kind to the
child for her sake, for old association's sake, what can one say?  I
call it ridiculous, I do really.  I didn't think mother was so

"It is a great bore, certainly," Miss Helmont agreed.  "But I wouldn't
worry myself about it, Florence.  Take it easy as I do."

Florence gave a little laugh.  It was not an ill-natured laugh, though
there was a touch of contempt in it.  For Alicia's "taking things
easily" was proverbial in the family, and was probably as much to be
traced to a certain amount of constitutional indolence, as to the
imperturbable good temper which it must be allowed she possessed.
Florence's laugh in no way disconcerted her.

"Or," she continued, with for once a little sparkle of mischief in her
rather sleepy brown eyes, "give her over to Trixie's tender mercies.
Trixie and Mabella Forsyth can take her in hand."

Florence turned upon her sister almost fiercely.  She was the least
placid, though decidedly the cleverest of the Helmont daughters.

"Alicia!" she exclaimed, "you can't think that you are making things
easier for me by talking like that.  I have _some_ little sense of what
is due to a guest, especially after the way mother has put it.  Trixie
indeed!  Why, I mean to do my best to keep the girl out of Trixie's and
Mabella's notice altogether.  I pity her if she is what I expect, if she
should come in their way.  They are particularly wild just now, too."

"Mother should have waited till Mabella was gone," said Alicia, calmly.

"Of course she should.  But she couldn't, by the bye.  Mrs
What's-her-name--Wentworth--this Mrs Wentworth wrote offering a visit
before Christmas, when they are going abroad somewhere.  Oh, it really
is too bad--"

The sisters were together in a sitting-room, appropriated to themselves,
and in which they firmly believed that an immense amount of important
business was transacted.  It was a pretty little room, not specially
tidy it must be confessed; but with the comfortable, prosperous air
peculiar to everything to do with the Helmont family.

"Yes," Florence repeated, "it is too bad."

She pushed her chair back impatiently from the table at which she had
been writing; as she did so, the door opened.  Her brother Oliver and
another man came in.

"What's the matter?  Florence, you look, for you, decidedly--how shall I
express it?--not cross, `discomposed' shall we say?  Scold her, Rex; she
has an immense respect for you, like every one else.  Impress upon her
that there is nothing and nobody in this weary world worth putting one's
self out about."

The person addressed--a man ten years at least the senior of Oliver
Helmont, who was the brother next in age to Florence--smiled slightly.

"What is the matter, Florence?" he repeated in turn, as he took up his
station on the hearthrug; for it was November, and chilly.

"Ask Alicia," said Florence.  "She's patienter than I.  I'm too cross to

Major Winchester looked towards Miss Helmont.

"It's nothing to make such a fuss about," she said.  "It's only
Florrie's way."

"It's not the _family_ way, it must be allowed," remarked Oliver,

Major Winchester glanced at him quickly, not to say sharply.

"No," he said drily, "it is not.--Well, Alicia?"

"It's only that some stupid people are coming to stay here next week--a
mother and daughter, and we have too many women already, for one thing.
And the girl is almost a child, only just out, and the mother's not much
better, I fancy.  They have been living in some out-of-the-way place, I
forget where, for some years, since the father's death, and he was an
old friend of mother's, and his parents were very good to her long ago,
when her parents died.  So she wants to be kind to this girl, and she's
rather put her upon Florence and me, and--I don't see that it's anything
to fuss about, but--"

"As you have never fussed about anything since you were born, Alicia, it
isn't to be expected you will begin now," said Florence.

"No, Rex, it's on my shoulders altogether, and I do say it's too bad.
It's seven years ago since I was eighteen, I've forgotten all about it.
I don't understand girls of that age, and I have my hands full of other
things, too.  And--"

"Make her over to Trixie," said Oliver.

"Trixie's only a year older."

Florence glanced at him with contempt.  This second time of the
suggestion as to Trixie being made, she did not condescend to notice it
in words.

"Don't interrupt your sister, Noll," said Major Winchester.--"Well,

"Well?" she repeated.  "`Ill,' I say.  What more do you want, Rex?
Haven't I told you enough?"

"Who are these unfortunate people?" he asked after a moments pause.
"What is their name?"

"Wentworth," said Alicia.  Florence didn't seem inclined to speak.
"Mrs and Miss Wentworth.  The mother herself can't be very old, I
fancy, and the daughter, as we said, is only seventeen or eighteen."

"Poor little soul!" said Major Winchester.

Florence faced round upon him.

"Now Rex," she said, "if you call that comforting me, and--"

"I never said I was going to comfort you," he said.  "I never had the
very slightest intention of doing anything of the kind, I can assure
you.  You don't need comforting, and if you think you do, it only proves
the more that you don't."

"What do I need, then?" she asked more submissively than she would have
spoken to many.  "Scolding?"

"Something like it," he began.  But here he was interrupted.  Both
Alicia and Oliver turned to leave the room.

"Rather you than I, Florrie," said her brother.

"I've had my lecture from him this morning, and I don't want any more."

"And I must go to have a dress tried on, I'm sorry to say," said Alicia.
"Besides which," she added confidentially to Oliver when the door was
safely closed behind them, "Rex is a very fine fellow, we all know, but
his sermonisings are rather too much of a good thing now and then.  And
if it's Florrie he's at, there's never any saying when he'll leave off,
for you see she answers him back, and argues, and all the rest of it.
How she can be troubled to do it, I cannot conceive!"

"She's not cast in _quite_ the same mould as the rest of us, I'm
afraid," said Oliver.

"For that reason I suppose Rex thinks her the most promising to try his
hand on."

"He might be satisfied with Eva," said Miss Helmont.  "He can twist and
turn and mould her as it suits him.  Why can't he let other people

"He's looking out for new worlds to conquer, I suppose," said Oliver.
"Eva's turned out; complete, perfect, hall-marked."

"Well, he might leave poor Florrie alone," said Alicia.

"My dear child, you are unreasonable.  As far as I remember, you and she
poured out your woes and grievances to him, and he was bound to answer."

"He might have sympathised with her and let her grumble," said Miss
Helmont.  "However, perhaps it will distract her attention.  Poor
Florrie," with a gentle little sigh, "it's a pity she takes things to
heart so."

"There's a lot of vicarious work of that kind to do hereabouts for any
one who's obliging enough to do it," said Oliver.  "But I agree with
you, Florrie's had plenty; she needn't go about hunting up worries for
herself.  After all, I daresay the little schoolgirl will be very good
fun," and he went off whistling.

It was true.  Florrie was not a Helmont out and out.  She had had some
troubles too.  Of the whole family she was the only one who had been
misguided enough to fall in love with a--or the--wrong person.  And she
had done it thoroughly when she was about it.  He was a very
unmistakably wrong person, judged even by the not exaggeratedly severe
standard of the family of The Fells.  He was a charming, unprincipled
ne'er-do-weel, who had run through two, if not three fortunes, and in a
moment of depression had amused himself by falling in love with Florence
Helmont, or allowing her to do so with him.  They had been childish
friends, and the touch of something big and generous in the girl's
nature, a something shared by all the Helmonts, but which in her almost
intensified into devotion, had made her always "stand up for Dick."
Foolish, reckless, even she allowed that he was; but selfish, heartless,
unprincipled, no, she could not see it, and never would.  So it was hard
necessity and not conviction that forced her to give in and promise her
father to have nothing more to say to him.

"He'd be starving, and you with him, within a couple of years," said Mr
Helmont.  "For stupid as he is in many ways, he'd manage to get hold of
your money somehow, tie it up as I might, and I would never get at the
truth of things till it was too late; you would be hiding it and
excusing him.  Ah, yes!  I know it all," and the Squire shook his head
sagely, as if he had been the father of half a dozen black sheep, at
least; whereas, all the Helmont boys had turned out respectably, if not

So Florence gave in, but it changed her: it was still changing her.
There was a chance yet, if she fell under wise influence, of its
changing her "for good," in the literal sense of the words.  But she was
sore and resentful, impatient of sympathy even; it would take _very_
wise and tactful and loving influence to bring the sweet out of the

Her second-cousin Rex, like the rest of her family and some few
outsiders, knew the story and had pitied her sincerely.  He had hoped
about her, too; hoped that trouble was to soften and deepen the softer
and deeper side of Florence's character.  But there was the other side,
too--the pleasure-loving, rough-and-ready, selfish Helmont nature.
Major Winchester sighed a little, inaudibly, as he looked down at the
girl and caught sight of the hardening lines on her handsome, determined

"If she could have been alone with Eva, just at that time," he thought
to himself.

"Florence," he said at last, after a little pause.  They two were alone
in the room.

"Well? say on; pray don't apologise."

"I think you are really rather absurd about this little girl, Miss
Wentworth; is that her name?  It is the smallest of troubles, surely, to
have to look after her for a day or two.  Are you not making a peg of
her to hang other worries on?"

"Well, yes, perhaps so," said Florence, honestly.  She would bear a good
deal from Rex.  "Perhaps I am.  But that is just what I _do_ complain
of.  I'm tired, Rex, and cross, and they all know it.  They needn't put
anything fresh on me just now."

"Who are _they_?  It is only my aunt's doing, as far as I understand, is
it not?" he said.

"Of course mamma is responsible for the people's coming.  But it's just
as much the others' fault that it's all to fall on me.  Alicia is too
indolent for anything, and Trixie--you know, Rex, Trixie is going too
far.  She really forgets she's a lady sometimes.  That's why mamma has
to appeal to me in any difficulty of the kind."

"Well, my dear child, you should be proud to feel it is so."

Florence's face softened a little.

"I might be," she said, "if I felt myself the least worthy of her
confidence.  I don't mean that I won't do what she asks; but look at the
way I am doing it.  I have wasted a couple of hours and any amount of
temper this very morning over the thing.  No, Rex, it's too late for me
to learn to be unselfish and self-sacrificing, and all these fine
things.  I'm not Eva."

"No, but you're Florence, which is much more to the purpose.  And, if
you care about my affection and interest in you--you have both, Florrie
dear, and in no scant measure."

Florence's head was turned away; for a moment she did not speak.  Was it
possible that a tear fell on her lap?  Rex almost fancied it, and it
touched him still more.

"May not this very opportunity of self-denial, and having to take some
trouble for another person, for perhaps small, if any, thanks--may it
not perhaps be just the very best thing that could come in your way just
now, dear?" he said, very gently.  No one could have detected a shadow
of "preachiness" in the words; besides there was that about the man, his
perfect manliness, his simple dignity, that made such an association of
ideas in connection with him impossible.

Florence looted up.  There _were_ tears in her eyes, but she was
smiling, too.

"Perhaps," she said.  "How you do put things, Rex!  Well, if I do try to
be good about it, will you promise to praise me a little--just a little,
quite privately you know, for encouragement; beginners need
encouragement, and I've never tried to be unselfish in my life.  At
least--oh I _could_ have been, Rex!"

"You could have been devotion itself, Florrie, I know," he said.  "But
devotion to a bad cause?  However," seeing that she shrank from the
allusion, "we need not touch upon that.  I'll do what _I_ can to help
you in this little matter, I promise you."

"At least you can help me to keep the girl out of Trixie's way--Trixie
and that horrid Mabella Forsyth.  There is no saying what they mightn't
do if she's an innocent, inexperienced sort of creature, as she can't
but be.  And very pretty, too--extraordinarily pretty, by her mother's
account; that won't make ugly Mab like her any better either."

"I thought she--Miss Forsyth--prided herself on being plain, and was
sincerely indifferent about looks," said Major Winchester, rather

Florence laughed scornfully.

"My dear Rex," she said.  "So you believe _that_!  You are not more than
a child yourself in some ways.  I shall have to protect you as well as
Miss Imogen."

"Imogen!  What a pretty name!" he said.

"I don't like it; high-flown and romantic, I call it," said Florence as
she left the room.



November outside--a less attractive November than even up in the north
among the Fells.  For there, at least, though chilly and raw, it was
clear and _clean_.  Here, in a London lodging, very unexceptionable as
to respectability and practical cleanliness, but not much above the
average of London lodgings as regards attractiveness, it--whatever "it"
means, the day, the weather, the general atmosphere--was assuredly not
the former, and did not _look_ the latter.  For it was a morning of
incipient fog; a state of things even less endurable--like an ailment
before it has thoroughly declared itself--than full-fledged fog at its
worst.  Naturally so, for mature fog cannot last more than a day or two
after all, whereas indefinite fog may be indefinite as to duration as
well as quality.  And besides this, thorough fog has its compensations;
you draw down the blinds and light the lamps, and leave off pretending
it is a normal day; you feel a certain thrill of not unpleasing
excitement; "it is surely _the_ worst that has yet been known"--what may
not be _going_ to happen next; the end of the world, or a German

Hoarse cries from the streets, rendered still more unearthly by the
false sound of distance that comes with the thickened air, garbled tales
of adventure filtering up through the basement from the baker's boy,
who, through incredible perils, has somehow made his way to the area
gate; the children's shouts of gleeful excitement at escaping lessons,
seeing that the daily governess "can't possibly be coming now, mamma;"
all and everything adds to the general queerness and vague expectancy,
in itself a not unexhilarating sensation.

But things were only at the dull unromantic stage of fog this morning at
Number 33 Bouverie Terrace, where two ladies were seated at breakfast.
It was not a bad little breakfast in its way.  There were temptingly
fried bacon and London muffins, and the coffee looked and scented good.
But the room was foggy, and the silver was electroplate of the
regulation lodging-house kind, and there was nothing extraordinarily
cheering in the surroundings in general, nothing to call up or explain
the beaming pleasure, the indescribable sunshininess, pervading the
whole person of the younger of the two companions; brightness and
pleasure reflected scarce undiminished on the older face of her mother
as she sat behind the breakfast tray.

"It is just too beautiful, too lovely, mamsey dear.  And oh, how clever
it was of you to think of it!  We might have been years and years
without ever coming across these old friends, mightn't we?" she

"We might never have come across them; probably we never should, if I
had left it to chance," said Mrs Wentworth, with a little tone of
complacency.  "But that I would scarcely have thought it right to do,
considering the old friendship and the kindness Mrs Helmont when a girl
received from my people.  Not that I can remember it clearly, of course;
she is ever so much older than I,"--and here the complacency became a
little more evident.  "Why, her eldest daughter, Mrs Poland, can't be
much under thirty-five."

"_Almost_ as old as you, mamsey," said Imogen.

"For you know you're not forty yet, and I don't think I'm _ever_ going
to allow you to be forty."

"You silly child," said her mother, smiling.  "Why, you may be married
before we know where we are, and it would not do at all to be a
grandmother--fancy me a grandmother!--and not forty.  I should have to
pretend I was."

"Wait till the time comes," said Imogen, sagely.  "I'm not at all sure
that I ever _shall_ marry.  I should be so terribly afraid of finding
out he had a bad temper, or was horribly extravagant, or--or--"

"You absurd child, who ever put such ideas into your mind?" said her
mother, looking at her with fond pride.

"Oh, I don't know," Imogen replied, with a little coquettish toss of her
head; "I _think_ a lot of things, and then you know, in books mamsey,
too often men who seem very nice are really dreadful tyrants or
something horrid after they're married."

"Well, darling, there shall be choice care taken as to whom we give
_you_ to," said her mother.  "I daresay it won't be the first comer, nor
the second, nor third whom I shall think worthy of my Imogen."

"I wonder when he will come," thought the girl to herself, but she did
not express the thought.  She only smiled and blushed a little at her
mother's words.

"Tell me more about the Helmonts, mamsey," she said.  "You have been
there once, didn't you say?"

"Yes, but only for a day or two, not long before your dear father and I
went out to India," said Mrs Wentworth with a little sigh.  "I don't
remember it very distinctly--it was a great big house, an ideal
country-house for a large merry party.  Of course, a good many of the
young people were not grown up then--there was a baby if I remember
rightly.  Oh yes, the youngest daughter Beatrix, so she must be only a
year or so older than you, darling.  How very odd that Mrs Helmont and
I have children so nearly of an age, when _she_ might really be my
mother!" and Mrs Wentworth gave the little self-complacent laugh she
often indulged in when her comparative youth, or youthful appearance,
was alluded to.

"How delightful!" exclaimed Imogen, ignoring entirely, though with no
intention of disrespect, her mothers last sentence.  "How delightful
that there should be one daughter, anyway, of my age.  There are lots
older, I suppose?"

"Two, if not three, married, and three at home," Mrs Helmont said.  "In
her letter this morning you see she speaks of Florence as hoping to do
all she can to make your visit pleasant.  Florence--can that be the
youngest daughter?  I have such a remembrance of the baby being Beatrix,
because I thought it such a pretty name; and when you were born I wanted
to call you by it, but your dear father would have Imogen.  I've always
thought it rather an eccentric name, but some people like it.  I always
forget who Imogen was exactly, and it looks so foolish.  I must read up
about it, or her, again."

"Oh, bother, never mind about my name, mamsey.  Go on about the
Helmonts.  I daresay Florence is the youngest.  You often muddle about
people's names, you know, mamsey dear.  And there are lots of sons, too,
I suppose?"

"Oh dear, yes; but remember, dear, I don't _think_ I want you to fall in
love with any of them.  They won't be particularly well off, except the
eldest one, and he, of course, not till his father's death."

"How horrid!" said Imogen.  "I can't bear counting on people's fathers
and mothers dying.  But I don't care about being rich a bit, mamsey.
You have such funny ideas sometimes.  We're not rich, and we're very
happy--now especially that I've left school, and we're not obliged to
live all the year round at that stupid old Eastbourne, but can go
visits--lovely, delightful visits!  And oh, mamsey, _do_ you think
you'll let Thorn Bush and take a dear little house in London, anyway for
a year or two?"

"We must see.  I think very likely the Helmonts will be able to give me
some practical advice, as they are so cordial and friendly.  Nothing
could be kinder than her letter, and you see she says a fortnight _at
least_, Imogen; though she adds that the house is full already, and will
be overflowing by next week."

"How lovely!" said Imogen again.  She was at a loss for adjectives this
morning.  "Just fancy, mother, how the girls at Miss Cotton's will envy
me.  I must write to one or two of them from `The Fells' to tell them of
my adventures."

"Ye-es, perhaps," said her mother.  "But you are not obliged to keep up
those schoolgirl friendships _too_ closely, darling.  You may find
yourself in such a different sphere before long, and then it becomes
just a little embarrassing sometimes."

"Not with Dora Barry," said Imogen.  "I don't care _awfully_ for any one
else, but I have perfectly _promised_ Dora that she is to be my
bridesmaid--" She stopped suddenly, blushing as she did so.

"Ah, Imogen," said her mother, "I have caught you.  I thought you were
never going to marry!  But seriously, dear, you should be a little
careful now; even Dora, though she is a nice girl, she is not--not
exactly in the same position.  I should have much _preferred_ your never
going to school at all, you know; only everybody said it would have been
so very lonely for you;" and Mrs Wentworth sighed--a simple and
unaffected sigh.

"Of course it was good for me to go to school," said Imogen.  "I was as
happy as possible there.  And, mother, I'm _not_ going to give up all my
friends there, whatever you say," she maintained stoutly, with the
slight want of deference in her tone which sometimes bordered rather
nearly on disrespect in her way of speaking to her mother.  "Above all,
not Dora; she's every bit as much a lady as I am, every bit, even though
her father's only a country doctor."

She glanced up with a touch of half-saucy defiance in her merry eyes.

"_How_ pretty she looks!" thought Mrs Wentworth; and in her
gratification she forgot to feel any annoyance at Imogen's persistency.

Then a good deal of talk and consultation on the absorbing and
inexhaustible subject of "clothes" ensued--talk which demonstrated the
absolute necessity of an immediate shopping expedition.  Indeed, in
shopping expeditions, and instructions endless, minute, and
contradictory to the somewhat tried, but patient Colman, promoted _pro
tem_, from the post of house-and-parlour-maid to that of the Wentworth
ladies' personal attendant, passed the next few days, till the eventful
Thursday which was to see the little party _en route_ for Grey Fells

Other visitors were expected to arrive there that day--visitors more
welcome and more congenial--yet on the Wentworths an unusual amount of
anticipatory attention had been bestowed, attention which, had they
known of it, they would certainly not have coveted.  Not that it was all
unfriendly; Mrs Helmont, and the Squire himself, so far as he ever
interfered in the details of such matters, were anxious that the
strangers, rather specially thrown on their hospitality, should be happy
and at home under their roof.  But the precautions they took to this end
were not of the most judicious.

"It is Trixie I am uneasy about," said Mrs Helmont to her husband.
"She, and indeed the others too--though Alicia never worries, and
Florence, I must say, is good about it--are annoyed at having any
`outsiders,' as they call the Wentworths.  I almost think, Ronald, you
had better say a word to Trixie yourself.  It comes with better effect
from you, as you seldom do find fault with her."

"Certainly, my dear, certainly," said Mr Helmont, whose strongest
instincts, as I have said, were those of hospitality.  "Nothing would
vex me more than for any guests of ours not to receive proper

"It is rather _too much_ attention I dread for them, for the girl at
least, at Trixie's hands," said Mrs Helmont, rather mysteriously.  But
the Squire was a little deaf, and did not catch the words.

"I will speak to Beatrix this very morning," he repeated reassuringly.
And speak, unfortunately, he did.  He had better have left it alone.
Trixie had had the bit between her teeth for too long to be pulled up
all at once, even by the most skilful hands.  And the Squire had no
thought of skill or tact; his only notion of "speaking" was to come down
upon the girl with heavy, rather clumsy authority.  It was with flashing
eyes and compressed lips that Beatrix Helmont left her father's
so-called study that day, as she flew to confide her grievances to her
second and not _better_ self, Mab Forsyth.

"I'll pay them out; see if I won't," she muttered.  "It's Rex who's at
the bottom of it, I could swear.  He and his saintly Eva."

"Let us put our heads together, Mab," she wound up, when the whole had
been related.  "You and I should be a match for the rest of them.
Florence has gone over to the enemy, it appears, but I can manage her;
she's not in such a very Christian frame of spirit.  It's Rex I'm
furious at; he's been setting dad against me."

"But the worst of it is, we shall be spotted at once if we plan
anything," said Mab.  "You're so stupid, Trixie, flying into a temper
and showing your colours."

"Don't talk nonsense.  Did _I_ show any colours?  Had I any to show?
Till this very moment did I care one farthing what became of the little
fool of a girl?  Even now it's not to spite her--it's that prig of a
Rex.  Didn't you hear him yesterday, Mab; his stilted, preachy tone: `Is
that exactly a young lady's place, Beatrix?' when I was doing nothing at
all?  I hate him, and so would you if--"

"I do," said Miss Forsyth, calmly; "but if what?"

"If you knew how he speaks of us behind our backs," said Beatrix,
mysteriously.  "I've promised not to tell; but Jim let out something the
other day that he'd heard in the smoking-room."

"I wonder what it was," said Mab.  "You might as well tell me.  You're
so absurd about promises like that; they're never meant to be kept
between friends like us.  However, it doesn't matter.  I hate Major
Winchester about as much as I _can_ hate, and that's pretty bad."

"And I'm not going to tell you; there are some things we should never
agree about, you see," said Trixie.  "But what was I going to say.  Oh!
about showing my colours; no, indeed, I hid them pretty completely.  I
opened my eyes and stared at papa, and asked him what _could_ make him
think so poorly of me; it really distressed me.  I knew I had high
spirits, but that was a Helmont peculiarity, and would probably cure
with time; but as for disregarding the duties of hospitality, etc, etc,
when had I ever done so?  I didn't know I could have spoken so well, and
I looked so innocent--poor old dad, it ended in making him feel rather
foolish, I do believe.  But he said some nasty things--things I shan't
forget in a hurry;" and the girl clenched her hands.

"Don't be theatrical," said Mab, scornfully.  "Keep to the point.  Tell
me about this girl, and why you're so excited about her."

"I'm not excited about her, I tell you.  She's a fool.  I would probably
never have noticed her if they had let me alone; it's Rex I'm boiling

"Ah yes, I see, and there I sympathise," said Mabella.  "And I have a
good fund of dislike to silly little bread-and-butter misses at all
times which may come in handy.  So the plot thickens, Trixie; it's quite
exciting, upon my word.  We must be cautious and watchful; first get to
know our materials thoroughly.  They are arriving to-day, you say, about
the usual time?"

"Yes, the four o'clock train; that gets them here for tea in the
drawing-room.  There are several people coming.  The young Girards,
newly married, you know; but no nonsense about them, and up to any fun.
They were both engaged to other people, you remember, and threw them
over in the neatest way.  And Gerty Custance and her brother, etc, etc."

"When is Gerty going to retire; she must be nine-and-twenty?" said Miss
Forsyth.  But Trixie took no notice beyond an interjected "She's
Alicia's friend, not mine," and went on with her list.  "So that you
see, among so many, it will not be difficult to feel our way.  The girl
will be frightened out of her wits, and ready to cling to the first that
offers.  She's never been anywhere, and thinks herself a peerless
beauty; and they're not rich, or clever, or anything.  _Fancy_ mamma
asking such sticks of people!"

"And does Major Rex know anything of them?  Why is he taking them up in
this way?" asked Miss Forsyth.

"For no reason in the world except spite--spite at me, and
priggishness," said Trixie.

Mabella smiled.  Her smile was not a pleasant one, and did not, as some
smiles do, lighten up or soften her undeniably plain face.

"Spite at _you_, Trixie," she said.  "Excuse me; you like
straightforward speaking, you always say.  I scarcely think Major
Winchester would give himself the trouble of going out of his way to
spite _you_; he doesn't think you worth it."

"Thank you," said Beatrix.

"It's more likely priggishness, as you say, or contradiction," pursued
Miss Forsyth.  "I wouldn't even flatter him by calling it quixotry.
It's all conceit and love of meddling and thinking himself a saint.  Oh,
I do detest him, cordially!"

"After all, he's my cousin," said Trixie; "you might as well be civil
when you speak of him, and if you know so much about his motives, why do
you ask me what they are?"

Her tone was snappish, but her friend did not seem to notice what she
said.  Her eyes--Mabella had rather good dark eyes, they were her one
"feature"--were fixed on vacancy, but her lips moved, though no words
were audible.  Suddenly she moved to Beatrix.

"I have it!" she exclaimed; "or I'm beginning to have it.  No!  I'm not
going to tell you yet.  I must know my ground and my puppets better
first.  But something I must say to you, my dear; you're too clumsy for
anything; you'll be overdoing your part, I'm certain.  Now, oblige me by
telling me how you are intending to receive Miss Wentworth and her
adoring mamma."

"Oh, of course, very nicely," said Beatrix, opening her eyes.  "I shall
be particular how I speak, and I shall try to seem--well, rather more of
an _ingenue_ than _you_ consider me.  And I'll trouble _you_, to keep
out of my way, if you please, Mab, and not come out with any of your
agreeable, ladylike, little remarks or reminiscences."

Miss Forsyth looked at her calmly.

"I always knew you were a goose," she said, "but I never thought you
quite _such_ a goose.  Don't you see that if you take up that _role_,
your people--Florence for certain, and even the others; one wouldn't
need to be very sharp in such a case--would see there was mischief
brewing, _especially_ if you kept _me_ at a distance, and the whole
thing would collapse."

"I don't know, in the first place, what `the whole thing' is," said
Trixie, sulkily.  "But if I'm not to do as I propose, what am I to do?
Remember, I _must_ behave decently, or father will be down on me in hot
earnest.  There's a limit to his patience, especially if he began to
think I had been humbugging him this morning."

"Of course you must behave decently, and more than decently," said
Mabella.  "You must look rather _snubbed_, if you can manage it; and if
I tease you a little, you must bear it in a good-girl sort of way, as if
you were turning over a new leaf, and it was too bad of me to make it
harder for you.  Oh, I could do it to perfection!  I only wish I could
be you and myself too."

"But I don't see that that style of thing will attract Miss
What's-her-name to me," objected Trixie.

"Oh, you can come round her if you try.  Confide in her that you've been
very self-willed, and wild, and rackety, but that you see the error of
your ways, and would like to make a friend of her.  I'll give you a
helping hand when I can.  I'll hint that Florence is rather down on
you--that you're not a bad sort after all.  You can take them all in if
you like.  Major Winchester will be quite hoodwinked--it will be

Trixie's face cleared.

"I must say you're not a bad ally, Mab, when you give your mind to it,"
she said.  "But I wish I knew what it is you're planning."

"Wait a bit," said Miss Forsyth.  "It's first-rate--I can tell you that



It is sometimes almost worse to arrive too soon than too late.  In the
latter case you have at least the certainty of being expected, and even
if people are cross and irritated at having been kept waiting, still
your place is there for you; there is no question about it.  Above all,
if the case be that of arriving on a first visit, I for one should
prefer the risk of the disagreeables attending a tardy appearance to the
far from improbable humiliations consequent upon turning up prematurely.
Not to speak of the positive inconveniences of no carriage at the
station, or no room for you in the one that may have come to fetch some
other guest by the previous train to your orthodox one, there is the
blank look on your hostess's face--"more for luncheon" it seems to say;
and the extraordinarily uncomfortable announcement that your room is not
_quite ready_--will be so directly, but "the So-and-so's only left this
morning, and the house has been so full;" and a sense of outraged and
scurrying housemaids when it is suggested that you should just "leave
your wraps in the dressing-room till after luncheon."  The visit must
develop into something extraordinarily agreeable which succeeds in
entirely living down the annoying contrariety of such a debut.

It was unfortunate, most unfortunate, that the Wentworths' visit to Grey
Fells Hall should have been inaugurated in this uncomfortable way.  They
were not expected at Cobbolds, the small station five miles off, but the
nearest, nevertheless, till four in the afternoon, whereas it was barely
twelve o'clock when they found themselves, their boxes and their
bewildered attendant stranded on the platform in a drizzling rain and
biting north-country wind, absolutely at a loss what to do and whither
to betake themselves.  How had they managed it? you may well ask, for
the journey from London to Cloughshire is a matter of some six or seven
hours even by express train, and the travellers had not started in the
middle of the night.  This was what had happened.  In an evil moment
some mischievous imp had suggested to Mrs Wentworth the expediency of
"breaking the journey" seven-eighths of the way, or thereabouts, at a
country town where a cousin of hers was the wife of the vicar.

"They will be so delighted to see us," she said to Imogen, when Imogen,
not unnaturally, demurred.

"But I don't want to see them; not the very least bit in the world,
mamma," she said.  "It will be such a nuisance to undo our things for
one night when they're all nicely packed, and my new frocks will be _so_
crushed--two days instead of one.  And very likely we'll get into the
wrong train or something, the next morning, just when Mrs Helmont has
told us exactly what time to leave London, and all about it."

But in Mrs Wentworth, for all her gentleness--and it was genuine, not
superficial--there was a curious touch of obstinacy; obstinacy in this
instance grounded on a strong motive which her daughter did not suspect.
The truth was she was dying to show off Imogen--Imogen in the freshness
of her beauty and her new clothes--to the old school-friend, whose small
means and large family prevented from often enjoying such sights.  And
Mrs Wentworth pleased herself by taking credit for the pleasure she
believed she was unselfish in giving; "it will brighten up poor dear
Henrietta to hear of all we are doing, as well as to see Imogen," she
thought; not reflecting that the advent of a party of three in an
already overcrowded parsonage would entail considerable trouble and,
indeed, expense to their entertainers.

_She_ enjoyed it however, whether "Henrietta" and her husband did or
not.  And Imogen made herself very happy with the children, especially
the big boys; though she disappointed her mother by not in the least
posing as a "come-out" fashionable young woman, and gave Colman an hour
or two's unnecessary stitching by tearing the skirt of her pretty new
travelling dress.

So far, however, no great harm was done.  That was reserved for the next
morning, when, on consulting the time-table at the early breakfast for
his guests' benefit, worthy Mr Stainer made the appalling discovery
that the train by which they were expected at Cobbolds did not stop at
Maxton, their present quarters!

What was to be done?

"No matter--stay till the next.  It gets to--stay, let us see--yes, it
gets there at six.  Plenty of time to dress for dinner.  I suppose these
smart friends of yours don't dine at soonest till half-past seven," said
the vicar.

"Oh, not till eight, _certainly_," said Mrs Wentworth with a faint
touch of reproach.  "But I don't know--the evenings are drawing in so,
and it is so cold.  No, I think we had better go by the _earlier_ train
you mentioned, reaching Cobbolds at--when did you say?"

"Somewhere between eleven and twelve," Mr Stainer replied.  "Well, as
you like," for a glance from behind the tea-urn had warned him not to
press the guests to stay over another luncheon; "of course you know
best.  But you will have to hurry.  Shall I telegraph them?"

"You are very kind--yes please, at once.  It is some miles from the
post-office I fancy, but that won't signify; I can settle about the
porterage when I get there," said Mrs Wentworth airily, though not
without some internal tremors.  "Mrs Helmont will be all the more
pleased to have us sooner than she expects."  Blissful ignorance!  The
Fells was a good seven miles from the telegraph office, and there was a
standing order that unless telegrams were doubly dubbed "immediate,"
they were to be confided to the groom who rode over to fetch the
afternoon letters--an arrangement known of course to the _habitues_
among the Helmont guests, as belonging to which Mrs Wentworth gave
herself out.

Thus and thus did it come to pass that, as already described, a forlorn
group of three shivering women was to be seen on the uncovered platform
of the little wayside station that dreary, drizzling November morning.

"There _must_ be a carriage for us," said Mrs Wentworth; "there has
been heaps of time for the telegram to reach them.  You may be sure they
would send a man on horseback with it."

"All the same there just _isn't_ a carriage nor the ghost of one.  I
told you how it would be, mamma," said Imogen, unsympathisingly.

Mrs Wentworth felt too guilty to resent the reproach.  Suddenly came
the sound of wheels.  "There now!" she exclaimed, "I believe it's
coming.  Can you see," she went on anxiously, peering out from the very
inefficient shed-like roof, which was the only shelter at that side of
the station; "can you see," to the station-master, or porter, or
station-master and porter mixed together, who was the only visible
functionary, and whose good offices and opinion she had already sought,
"if that is the carriage for us?"

"It's from The Fells, sure enough, but it's naught but a dogcart," he
replied, disappearing as he spoke to reconnoitre the dogcart and inquire
its errand.

"A dogcart!" ejaculated Mrs Wentworth aghast.  Imogen could scarcely
help laughing at her horrified expression.

"Well, mamma," she was beginning, "you know you--" But she was
interrupted.  The station-master returned, followed by a tall, a very
tall man--a gentleman; of that there was no doubt, notwithstanding the
coarseness and muddiness of his huge ulster and his generally
bespattered appearance.  Who could he be?  Mrs Wentworth jumped to one
of her hasty conclusions; he must be the agent or bailiff.  She was
profoundly ignorant of English country life, and was not without a
strain of the Anglo-Indian arrogance so quickly caught by the
small-minded of our country-folk in the great Eastern Empire--yes, that
was it.  They had doubtless sent him on quickly to say that the
brougham, or omnibus, was on its way.

"Are you," she was commencing; but the new-comer had begun to speak
before he heard her.

"I'm very sorry," he said, lifting his rough cap as he spoke, "I'm
afraid there's some mistake--that is, if I am speaking to Mrs

"Yes, of course I am Mrs Wentworth.  Is the carriage not coming?  I
thought they--Mrs Helmont, I mean--had sent you to say it was coming.
I telegraphed quite early this morning from Maxton.  It's really too--"

"Mamma," whispered Imogen.  Her young eyes had detected a slight, though
not unkindly, smile stealing over the stranger's face at her mother's
tone.  "Mamma, I--"

"No," he replied, interrupting again, though so gently, that one could
scarcely have applied to the action so harsh a word.  "No, I was not
sent, indeed I could not even have volunteered the office, for I happen
to know no telegram had reached the Fells this morning.  I came out on
my own account to have a battle with a young horse."  He glanced in the
direction of his dogcart and groom.  "It's all right now, he is
thoroughly mastered; and, as far as _safety_ is concerned, you would
both be quite safe if you would let me drive you to the Fells.  Upon my
word, I think it would be the best thing to do."  Imogen all but clapped
her hands.

"Oh yes, it would be delightful," she said.

"How good of you!  Do say you will, mamma."  Mrs Wentworth looked both
frightened and undecided.

"Are you sure it would be safe?" she said.  "And, may I ask who you
are?" she added with some hesitation, for that she had been on the verge
of some rather tremendous mistake was beginning to be clear to her, "and
it is so raining."

The stranger glanced upwards.

"Not quite so heavily now," he said.  "I think we shall have a fine
afternoon.  And, after all, shall you not be better off under
mackintoshes and umbrellas for half an hour or so, and then safe and
warm in the house up there, than shivering down here in that wretched
little waiting-room for two or three hours?"

"But, if they knew, would they not send down to fetch us at once?" said
Mrs Wentworth feebly.

Major Winchester considered.

"Not _within_ two hours," he said.  "The stable arrangements at my
uncle's are, to say the least, complicated.  I _think_ the wagonette
that was to fetch you was bringing some `parting guest' to the station
to go on by the two o'clock train and then wait for you, so you see--"

"Of course," cried Imogen.  "Mamsey, you _must_; only--there's the
luggage, and--your groom?"

"He can come up on the wagonette, and see that the luggage comes too.
The more important question," he went on, smiling again, "is your maid.
But Smith can look after her: he's a very decent fellow, and I daresay
he knows the station-master's wife."

"Oh, Colman will be all right," said Imogen.  "She's not at all
stuck-up, and very good-natured."  Colman had very discreetly retired a
few paces.  "Mamma, you must see it's by far the best thing to do, as
Mr--" She stopped short.

"Of course, I have not introduced myself; my name is Winchester," said
their new friend.  "I call Mr Helmont my uncle, or rather, I should
say, _Mrs_ Helmont is my aunt _a la mode de Bretagne_."

Mrs Wentworth's face cleared.

"I must have heard of you," she said.  "You are really very kind, and,

Imogen had run off; in an instant she reappeared.

"The back seat of your dogcart, or whatever it is--it's larger than a
dogcart, isn't it?"--she said, "is a very good size, larger than usual.
You would be quite comfortable in it, mamma, and then," she went on,
turning confidingly to Major Rex, "she wouldn't _see_ the horse whatever
he did.  Then you'd be all right, wouldn't you, dear?  You know we
should be really safe."

And so it was arranged.  Imogen's first care, it must be owned, was for
her mother; to Mrs Wentworth were appropriated the best of the wraps
and rugs and mackintoshes disinterred from their own travelling gear, or
extricated from some mysterious inner receptacle of the "trap," by the
obliging Smith.  And as the rain was evidently clearing, the prospects
in every sense grew brighter, as Imogen stepped back a pace or two to
contemplate admiringly the result of their joint efforts in the person
of Mrs Wentworth, so swathed and packed that really, as her daughter
said, she "couldn't get wet if she tried, and _certainly_ couldn't fall

"And what about yourself, Miss Wentworth?" said Major Winchester kindly,
as he seconded Smith in his efforts to tuck up the young lady, if not so
completely as her mother, yet sufficiently to keep her dry.  "Have you
no objection to watching Paddy's antics?" for a dance or two and a
playful plunge showed that the "old man" was not as yet entirely
exorcised from the young horse.  But he was well under control.  No
sooner had they started than it became evident that Paddy knew who held
the reins.  They went fast but steadily; notwithstanding the cold, and
the rain, and the mist--now slowly rising on all sides, for the
freshening breeze to chase it away--the sensation was exhilarating and

"I," replied the girl, after a moment's silence, given to watching Paddy
gradually settling to work like a child after a feint of resistance; "I!
no, of course I'm not frightened--It's delightful," and her glowing
cheeks and sparkling eyes showed that she meant what she said.  She did
look exceedingly pretty just then.

"What a charming child!" thought Rex.  "Quite as plucky as even bold
Trixie herself, and so simple and unspoilt and refined.  I only hope
that two or three weeks hence, if they stay as long, I may be able to
say as much of her."  He glanced at her involuntarily, with a certain
look of anxiety in his kind eyes.

"I'm all right, thank you," said Imogen, detecting the glance.  "I'm not
getting a bit wet."

"It wasn't--" he began, then stammered, and broke off, for he felt
himself colouring a little.  Imogen's face expressed some surprise.  "It
would almost be better for those girls to be uncivil and unkind to her,
to the verge of endurance, than for them to `take her up,' and make her
like themselves," had been the parent thought of the misgiving in his
face.  He turned round to Mrs Wentworth.  "I do hope you are not _too_
uncomfortable?" he said.  "That back seat, as Miss Wentworth discovered,
is a degree better than is often the case, but still it must be rather

"No, truly; I am very fairly comfortable," she replied, "and I almost
think you are right, and that the rain is going off."

Mrs Wentworth had a sweet voice, suggesting the possession of a sweet
temper.  Major Winchester began to like her better than he had done
hitherto.  "I should not think her the wisest of women, but a good
creature all the same, though the daughter strikes me as having the more
character of the two.  Poor souls, I do trust they will never have cause
to repent their expedition to The Fells.  I will do what I can to make
their visit pleasant," he said to himself, with short-sighted chivalry.

And he outdid himself in little kindlinesses of talk and manner during
the remainder of the drive, pointing out any objects of interest which
they passed, amusing them with little descriptions of the guests and the
family at The Fells, into which he endeavoured, so far as loyalty to his
hosts permitted, to infuse some slight touches of warning.

"Yes, Beatrix Helmont, my youngest cousin, is the baby--at least, the
youngest sister--and as is often the case, I suppose, very fairly
spoilt.  I don't fancy you will take to her as much as to Florence, Miss
Wentworth.  There is a great deal of good in Florence, though she
requires knowing."

"But she is twenty-three or twenty-four--ever so old, isn't she?" said
Imogen, in a disappointed tone.

"Ye-es, quite that; but still, that is not very old, is it?" and he
looked round to Mrs Wentworth to have his opinion endorsed.

Mrs Wentworth, however, had not caught his last remarks.

"Are we close to The Fells now?" she asked, eagerly.  "I fancy I
remember this part of the way.  Don't we come to the lodge at a turn up
that hilly road?"

"Yes," Major Winchester replied.  "What a good memory you have!  We are
regularly on the Fells now.  Take care your wraps don't blow off."

They were just turning as he spoke.  The road came right out on the
moorland, and the wind met them straight in the face--the two in the
front, that is to say--Mrs Wentworth was protected.

"Oh, how splendid!" said Imogen.  "What delicious air!  And what a great
stretch of country, and those grim rocks.  Are those what you call the
Fells, Mr--are you Mr--Winchester?"

"Major," Rex corrected, smiling.  "Yes, Grey Fells Hall is just in front
of those rocks, but on the other side.  You will see in a minute.  The
gardens and lawn are over there."

"Oh, I think it's delightful!  Mamma, you didn't tell me it was half so
nice," the girl exclaimed.

And as they passed through the lodge gates and up the long and rather
steep drive, her face grew increasingly radiant.

"What a dear old house!  I should love to explore it from top to
bottom," she said.  "I do hope the girls won't be out.  I am longing so
to see them.  Of course, they can't be looking out for us, as we have
come so much too early."



Major Winchester did not reply.  He appeared engrossed with Paddy, for
as Imogen uttered the last words, they had driven to the front of the
house, and he was preparing to draw up.

"I don't quite know how best to manage," he said, after a moment or two,
glancing round him doubtfully.  "Paddy has been very good, so far; but
he will probably begin now to be fidgety, and to long for his stable.
So I must not get down to ring.  Can--?"

"Oh yes," said the girl, starting up as she spoke, and very nearly
precipitating herself to the ground, "I'll jump down in an instant."

"Get down, please, but don't talk of jumping.  There now, very
cautiously.  It needs an apprenticeship to get out and in of vehicles
like this.  Yes, that is the bell, the chain at your right;" and a
ponderous resounding clang told that Miss Wentworth's vigorous pull had
taken effect.  Imogen looked round half alarmed.

"What a noise!" she said.

It was not too quickly responded to, nevertheless, and when a footman at
last made his appearance, he raised his eyebrows with an expression of
surprised inquiry, which would not have conduced to the two ladies'
equanimity had they been alone and unprotected by Major Winchester's

"Quick, Thomas," he said, with a touch of imperiousness.  "Call some
one, or catch hold of his head yourself.  Don't you see the horse won't
stand, and the lady has to get down?"

Thomas bestirred himself to the extent of hallooing to an assistant
gardener, who happened to be passing; then, when Paddy's impatience was
perforce calmed, he himself condescended to approach the back of the
cart in a gingerly fashion.  But Major Winchester was before him.

"I will help Mrs Wentworth down," he said.

"Go at once and tell your mistress, or--or Miss Florence--no, unluckily,
she's out--Miss Helmont, if you can find her, that Mrs and Miss
Wentworth have arrived by an earlier train.  And tell Brewer to speak to
me before he goes to the station; there's some luggage to come up."

Most of The Fells domestics liked "the Major," as he was dubbed in the
servants' hall; but Thomas, lazy and conceited, was an exception.  He
disappeared, however, as he was told, but not without some inaudible

"Queerish ladies," he said to himself, "arriving before lunch and no
luggage, nor maid, nor nothing.  The luggage won't be much to show when
it do come, I'll take my--" But here he was interrupted, and by no less
a person than Trixie.  Thomas's face cleared: he wasn't going to scour
the country in search of Mrs Helmont, nor Miss neither.  Here was _one_
of the ladies; it did not in the least signify that Miss Beatrix was a
byword for never doing anything she was asked to do, or being of any use
to any one.  She would serve _his_ purpose, which was to get back to his
morning paper and glass of beer "comfortable" in the pantry without

"If you please, ma'am," he began, "the Major's at the hall door with two
ladies, arrived unexpected, and I was to tell you."

To his delight and rather to his surprise, instead of telling him to
hunt up her sisters, Trixie stopped short with evident interest.

"Two ladies?" she inquired.  "Did you hear their name?  And did Major
Winchester tell you to find _me_?"

Thomas was obliged to equivocate.

"Not--not exactly yourself persinly, ma'am, but one of the ladies."

"All right, I'll go at once," and Beatrix, enchanted at the first act in
the drama opening so auspiciously, rushed off.

"Of course it's the girl and her mother, I'm sure of it, just because
Rex evidently _didn't_ mean me," she said to herself.  "Mab shan't be
able to say I'm stupid; I won't tell her how it happened, and she'll be
all the more impressed by my cleverness when she sees me hand and glove
with the little fool at the very first go."  She looked very handsome
and attractive as, moderating her rate of progress, she approached the
front hall.  It was a large square room, with corners screened off,
containing couches and tables invitingly grouped.  There were two
fireplaces, in which for many months in the year great logs were always
to be seen in glowing cheeriness.  There was the usual display of
antlered heads and stuffed glassy-eyed reynards and other trophies of
the kind.  To Imogen, new to English country life on this scale, it was
entrancing, and as Beatrix in her trim sailor-blue serge, with wavy dark
hair and the brilliant Helmont complexion and eyes, appeared at the
curtained doorway, an unusual gentleness, almost appeal, in her
expression and bearing, the poor little stranger's heart went out to her
with a great leap.  Considerably to his surprise, much more considerably
to his disgust, when Rex Winchester turned round from his instructions
to Brewer on the hall steps, the two girls were, so to say, already in
each other's arms--literally speaking, they were just concluding their
greeting with a kiss, while Mrs Wentworth stood by in smiling approval.

"Yes," she said.  "I was sure I was right, and you are baby Beatrix;
just--let me see--two years and a few weeks older than Imogen."

"How interesting!" said Trixie sweetly.  "We must be _great_ friends,
must we not?"

"Yes, _indeed_," said Imogen.  "I'm so glad to have seen you first, as
you are so much the nearest me in--"

"Is Alicia not in, Trixie?" interrupted Major Winchester.  "I sent for

His tone was dry, to say the least.  Beatrix turned away for half a
second: he did not see the flash of rage and malice in her eyes--she had
calmed it down before she replied in the same soft, almost timid tones.

"I don't know, I'm sure.  Florence is out.  I daresay Alicia's resting:
she generally is at this time of day."

"And every other," thought her cousin.

"What mischief in Heaven's name is the girl up to now?" he went on to
himself.  Then half shocked at his suspiciousness he glanced at her
sharply: she had not anticipated this and her eyes fell.  "I knew it
could not be sincere," he thought, with a curious mixture of regret and

"I knew Florence was out," he said aloud.

"But before hunting up mamma or Alicia, had I not better take our guests
to the morning-room?" said Beatrix prettily.

And Rex could not oppose so natural a suggestion.

Mrs Helmont was not in the morning-room.  Truth to tell, she had
dedicated the hours before luncheon to-day to some necessary household
discussions with her upper servants.

"The Meldons will have gone, and the Wentworths not coming till nice and
late in the afternoon," she had said to herself with satisfaction; "all
the other people can be left to themselves--not like strangers."

So that, in spite of her really friendly feelings to the mother and
daughter--her own peculiar guests indeed--it can easily be understood
that the announcement of their premature arrival was not a joyful one in
her ears.

"_Come_!" she repeated to the maid who had disinterred her and the old
housekeeper in the linen-room, where she was really enjoying herself,
"you don't say so.  At _this_ time of day! it is too provoking.  My cap
is all on one side, I'm certain, and we were just getting into the new
pillow-cases, Baxter.  The girls will be so put out too.  And Florence
gone for me to Culvey!  Alicia is sure to be asleep.  I _must_ go--it
will all have to stand over, Baxter; you must put everything back
again," and with a very natural sigh the poor lady prepared to descend
to the morning-room.

She was hospitable and kind, but of a slightly less easy-going nature
than her husband and family in general: in reality she was less selfish.
But she did not show to advantage as the _chatelaine_ of The Fells,
when she entered the morning-room, feeling and looking worried and

"So glad to see you, so sorry I was not down-stairs!" she said in a
somewhat constrained tone, as Mrs Wentworth pressed forward effusively.
And the cheek which received the visitor's kiss was quickly turned
away.  "Your daughter? ah, yes, of course.  I remember.  You have a son
too?  No?  Oh, I am confusing you with Mrs--Why, Trixie, you here!" in a
tone of extremest surprise.  "Wonders will never cease!  _Can_ she be
going to turn over a new leaf?" she asked herself mentally.  Anyway, it
was a convenience for the time being to have one daughter at hand;
"perhaps what her father said to her this morning is going to have some
effect," she went on to herself, feeling by no means disposed in the
present emergency to quarrel with the goods the gods sent her, even
though they were but Beatrix.

"I was just thinking that, perhaps, Mrs Wentworth and Miss--No?"  In
response to a smiling gesture of deprecation from her new friend, "am I
really to call you Imogen; that _is_ sweet of you."  This was going a
little too far.  An undisguised frown on her cousin's face startled
Trixie a little.  "I was thinking," she repeated in a more natural tone,
"that, perhaps, they would like to see their rooms."

"Very decidedly so, I should say," replied Major Winchester sharply.

Beatrix turned to her mother.

"Which rooms, mamma?" she said in a low tone.  But Imogen overheard it.
"Fancy," she thought, with a little thrill of disappointment, "fancy her
not knowing.  Why, if they had been coming to stay with us, I would have
been running about to get flowers for their toilet-tables, and all sorts
of things like that.  But, I suppose, it is different when people have
so many visitors."

The momentary feeling, however, was visible, as were most of the girl's
feelings to quick observation at least, on her transparent countenance.
As she raised her sweet eyes, she caught Major Winchester's fixed on her
with a curious expression.  She felt herself flush a little.

"I do believe he knows what I am thinking," she said to herself, with a
strange mingling of pleasure and annoyance, "and I have not known him
two hours!"

But the sound of Mrs Helmont's voice recalled her to practical matters.

"The brown room and the little pink room beside it; you know, Trixie, in
the corner by the west staircase.  Only--I am really so vexed--I am
afraid your room is not quite ready, Mrs Wentworth, you see--"

"Mrs Wentworth," repeated the owner of the name reproachfully, "am I
not to be `Lucy' to you, dear Mrs Helmont?"

At another time the good lady would probably have been touched and would
have responded kindly, but just now she was thoroughly put out.

"It is twenty years, if not more, since we met, and then only for a
couple of days.  I really had not the least idea what your name was; but
the question is your room.--Trixie!" glancing round despairingly.

Mrs Wentworth put a brave effort on herself; she was determined that
Imogen should not suspect she was feeling mortified.

"What does it matter about my room?" she said, laughingly.  "I can't
allow you to treat me as _quite_ a stranger, even though you had
forgotten my name.  Can't I take off my wraps in--" "In Beatrix's room,"
she was going to have said, but she was interrupted.

"In mine," said a new-comer.  "It is Mrs and Miss Wentworth, is it not?
I heard of some arrival, and knowing Florence was out, and you busy,
dear Mrs Helmont, mayn't I be of a little _use for once_?" and Miss
Forsyth--for she it was--drew near her hostess with an air of half-timid
deprecation.  Mrs Helmont felt completely bewildered.  She had little
presence of mind at any time, and this extraordinary metamorphosis was
too much for her.  Major Winchester, be it observed, had before this
taken his departure.

"I--I am sure I have never refused to let you be of use, Mabella," said
the elder lady, rather stiffly.

Miss Forsyth drew still nearer, and whispered a word or two in her ear.
Mrs Helmont's face softened.

"Now, Mrs Wentworth, do come with me," said the young woman.  "My room
is next to Trixie's, where I know she is dying to take your daughter.  I
can lend you anything--slippers, brushes, combs--even a tea-gown if your
dress is damp, and if you would so far condescend?"

Mrs Wentworth looked at her.  Miss Forsyth was undeniably plain, almost
coarse-looking.  Her features were large, her complexion swarthy; the
only redeeming point, as not infrequently is the case with otherwise
ugly people, was her eyes.  They were large and dark, and therefore
supposed to be beautiful.

"She has nice eyes," thought Mrs Wentworth, "and she seems very
amiable.  For such a plain girl to be amiable she must be _very_
amiable, I should say.--And thank you very much, Miss--" And she

"Forsyth," said Mrs Helmont.  "Miss Forsyth is a very frequent visitor
with us," she went on, her conscience smiting her a little for making
over these innocent lambs to the wolf Mabella, whom, truth to tell, she
herself was not a little afraid of.  But Baxter would not have got all
the linen put away yet: there would be time for her to resume and
complete the interesting review of her possessions before luncheon if
she went at once.

"If you will be so kind, Mabella," she went on.--"You, dear Mrs
Wentworth, will, I know, excuse me.  I really am very busy this

"Of course, of course," cried Imogen's mother, delighted to have won the
gratifying adjective.  "We shall be perfectly happy.--Thank you so much,
Miss Forsyth," and she turned to follow Mabella, Beatrix and the other
victim having already disappeared.  Trixie managed to hang back on the
stairs, however, and to exchange an aside with her double.

"I like you," she said, "preaching to me about not overdoing it, and
there you are, humbugging away to such an extent.  Any fool could see
you were up to mischief."

"I know what I'm about, thank you," said Miss Forsyth.  "If you manage
your part of it as well, you'll have no reason to turn upon me.  Your
mother is incapable of more than one idea at a time, and just now her
only thought is to hand over these people to somebody or anybody till
luncheon time."

And long before luncheon time one part of Mabella's task was
accomplished.  She had won thoroughly and completely Mrs Wentworth's
confidence, and this with so little difficulty that she almost despised
herself as well as her unconscious victim for the ease of the

"She is charming," said poor Mrs Wentworth, when at last she found
herself alone with her daughter, "quite charming, so kind and unselfish.
I really must say I should have felt just a little, a very little
strange and uncomfortable arriving so early, and poor dear Mrs Helmont
so busy and the elder girls out, if it hadn't been for Miss Forsyth.  It
shows how unwise it is to judge by appearances; at first, I confess, I
did not at all feel as if I should take to her."

"_I_ never shall take to her," said Imogen, bluntly; "I can't bear her.
She has a sort of patronising way that I think is perfectly horrid.
Still, I'm glad if she made you more comfortable.  I felt _horribly_
uncomfortable, and I don't think Mrs Helmont is `poor dear' at all: she
really didn't seem the very least glad to see us--hardly as if she knew
whom we were.  I felt inclined to beg you to go back to London again."

"My darling!" exclaimed Mrs Wentworth in horror.

They were in Imogen's room--which was at last ready--doing their best,
though without their luggage, to make themselves presentable for

"Yes," said Imogen.  "I did, indeed.  And I felt very cross with you
too, mamsey, for it really was all with you insisting on coming so long
before they expected us: it _was_ a stupid thing to do.  Trixie allowed
that it was, though she's as nice as can be.  _She_ made me feel at home
almost at once, I must say."

"I am so glad," said Mrs Wentworth, fervently.

"All the same."  Imogen went on thoughtfully, "I think I understand what
Major Winchester meant."  Was it fancy, or did a faint, the very
faintest pink flush steal over her face at the mere mention of his name?

"How do you mean, darling?" asked her mother.  "You seem to have made
great friends with this Major Winchester already."

"Nonsense, mamsey!" said Imogen, not too respectfully, it must be
allowed; "he was very kind to us, and of course it was natural for him
to tell me a little about the girls, when he saw I was so anxious to
know.  He likes Florence much the best; but in spite of what he said, I
am not sure that _I_ shall.  There is a great deal of good in Trixie, I
am sure.  She has been telling me about herself: she has been spoilt and
selfish, she says, and rather wild.  And though she didn't say so, I
fancy Miss Forsyth has not had a good influence on her.  That's why I
don't like her."

"My dear, you must not jump to conclusions so quickly," remonstrated
Mrs Wentworth.

"I'm not jumping more quickly than you, mamma," Imogen replied.  "You
have made up your mind that Miss Forsyth is all that is delightful; _I_
only say I don't think so.  I did not at first think I should like
Trixie particularly, except that she really met us very kindly.  But she
seemed to me to have something rather hard about her; only now I
understand it."  Imogen paused for a moment, as if thinking out
something to herself, and that not with perfect satisfaction--"at least
I think I do.  They don't understand _her_; she wants to be nice and
good, I'm sure, but nobody believes her.  Major Winchester is dreadfully
down upon her, she says; he can't bear girls who are at all loud, you
know, or fast.  And poor Trixie has no friend to help her at all.  She
says she does so hope we shall be friends, mamsey."

"Yes, dearest, I am sure she will learn nothing but good from you," said
Mrs Wentworth, well pleased.  "It is very evident that he appreciates
Imogen already," she added, to herself with a little thrill of maternal
pride.  "But, darling, we must be quick.  I do hope the luncheon bell
hasn't gone without us hearing it, and I'm half afraid I don't remember
the way to the dining-room."

"We needn't go straight there," said Imogen.  "Trixie said we should
find some of them in the morning-room.  You look quite right, mamsey;
you do really.  But oh dear!  I do wish we hadn't arrived before our
luggage and Colman, my boots do clump so.  Trixie offered to lend me a
pair of shoes, but I could see hers would be too big, so I said I didn't
mind keeping on my boots."

"Your feet are so tiny; just the least little atom longer than mine,"
said her mother, with an amusing mixture of admiration and
self-complacency.  "And mine were always spoken of as _quite_
extraordinary.  Your dear father used to wonder how I could walk upon

"Well, in India that didn't matter much, as nobody ever does walk--not
what _I_ call walking," Imogen remarked.

And thus chattering, with the real though unavowed motive of keeping up
their courage and keeping down their shyness, the mother and daughter
slowly descended the great wide shallow-stepped staircase which led to
the hall.



They heard voices in the direction of the morning-room, so thither they
turned their steps.  The morning-room opened at one side into the large
dining-room, on the other into the library.  The doors of communication
between all these were now open, and bright fires were burning in each.
To Imogen, at the first glance, it seemed as if the rooms were filled
with people, for the moving about and laughing and talking that were
going on had a confusing effect upon her; she had scarcely time to do
more than glance round her bewilderedly when the luncheon gong sounded,
and universal making for the door ensued.

"Stay behind with me, and then we can sit together," said some one
beside her, and turning round, Imogen saw Beatrix at her elbow.  But at
the same moment, another voice reached her.

"Excuse me, Trixie," it said; "you are forgetting that Miss Wentworth
has not yet made acquaintance with your sisters.  It is hardly my
business to introduce you and your guest," he added, with a smile to the
girl beside him.

"But still--under the circumstances--"

"Yes," said Imogen, smiling herself, "under the circumstance of its
being very doubtful if we should have got here at all without you, I
think certainly you may be--"

"Master of the ceremonies," said Florence, half interrupting her as she
hesitated.  Imogen looked at her.  She was as tall as Beatrix, scarcely
as handsome perhaps, but with an expression in her eyes which would have
attracted Imogen much more than Trixie's bold defiance, had it not been
for the prejudice already skilfully sown against her elder sister by
that astute young woman.

"She _is_ discontented and rather cross-looking," thought Imogen.  "I am
sure it is true, as Trixie said, that she has a disagreeable temper;"
and the gentleness of Florence's voice and manner--gentleness which, to
please her cousin, she endeavoured to make specially kindly--the little
stranger dubbed as "patronising," while the real sadness underlying it
she attributed to the chronic unamiability Beatrix had done more than
hint at.  Still, it was not in Imogen's nature to be altogether
unresponsive.  She replied becomingly to Florence's few words of
welcome, and went on into the dining-room beside her.  But there was a
complete absence of the girlish _camaraderie_ which lighted up her face
as she threw back a laughing word or two to Trixie following with Rex
behind them.

Major Winchester almost ground his teeth.

"Already!" he muttered.  "So you have made friends with Miss Wentworth,
I see," he said aloud, dryly.

A sharp and defiant reply was on Trixie's lips, but she prudently
recalled Miss Forsyth's advice.  Nor did she "overdo" her part either.

"I don't know what you call `making friends'," she said quietly, and not
without a certain dignity.  "You know me too well to suppose that a
child like that and I could have much in common; but after my father's
exceedingly severe warnings this morning, I was bound to be civil and
attentive, if I did not want to drive things too far."  There was a
touch, possibly sincere for the moment, of something like genuine regret
and reproach, as she added, rather bitterly: "I don't, of course, dream
of asking _you_ to believe I mean to turn over a new leaf.  It would be
quite against you very good people's principles to credit one with such

Rex started.  The words came home to his sensitive conscience.  Was it
not true that he had almost come to have no belief in Beatrix?
"Trixie!" he exclaimed impulsively, "if you--" But she had already
turned away.

She did not wish him to be kind to her; she resented his interference
too deeply and maliciously; she did not wish to be in the slightest
degree softened to him.  But he did not see the expression on her face,
or the mocking, spiteful smile on her lips, so he retained a certain
feeling of pity and self-reproach, as he thought to himself, with a
sigh: "If only Eva had been well and strong, her influence might have
done something, even with Trixie."

And this touch of self-accusation with regard to Beatrix was, though
unsuspected by the two conspirators, about the most fortunate thing that
could have happened to further Miss Forsyth's silence.  For it caused
Rex, by a mistaken sort of loyalty to the girl who, he fancied, had
appealed to his kindlier judgment, to measure his words about her, to be
chary of repeating the warnings he had already hinted to Imogen.  Not,
perhaps, that she would now have believed them; they might, however, not
improbably have made a barrier between herself and her first friend,
Major Winchester, and thus prevented the success of Mabella's plot.

In spite of Trixie's manoeuvres, Imogen found herself at luncheon beside
Florence.  Beatrix, however, was just opposite, so that any sort of
_rapprochement_ between the young girl and her neighbour was impossible.
Florence herself was not brave enough to dare the mocking glances of
her younger sister's eyes, and her well-meant attempts at conversation
fell flat, while her somewhat constrained manner only added to Imogen's

"She speaks to me as if I were about two years old," thought the girl.
"Of course she _is_ much, much older than I; but still, even Major
Winchester, who is nearly as old as mamsey, I daresay, speaks to me as
if I had some sense."

And happening at the moment to glance down the long table, she caught
his eye.  He was looking towards her, in search of her, with a certain
concern and anxiety which Imogen was at once conscious of.  She felt
herself blush a little, even as she responded to his inaudible inquiry
with the tiniest nod and smile of reassurance.

"I'm all right, thank you," they seemed to say.  And, "How kind he is!
How nice it is to feel that there is one person among all these
strangers who cares a little for me already!" she thought with a little
thrill, as she caught the smile on Rex's face in return.

Some one else saw the smile and the blush, and it needed but a glance in
the direction in which they had been bestowed for Trixie to interpret
them.  Florence, unfortunately, by this time despairing of making any
way with the girl beside her, had allowed her thoughts to wander far
from the present, and was paying but little attention to what passed,
till rousing herself suddenly she began an animated conversation with
the man on her other side, thus throwing Imogen altogether on the mercy
of her left-hand neighbour, Oliver Helmont.  He had not yet been
introduced to her, but a word to Trixie on the opposite side had the
desired effect, and in a minute or two Imogen began to feel considerably
more at home than she could have believed possible.

There was no harm in Oliver, as the saying goes.  He was a good-natured
rattle, more or less selfish, but honest and well-meaning, and not
without some faint capacity somewhere about him for a species of
hero-worship.  And though there were few to whom he would have owned it,
the hero down at the bottom of his heart was his cousin Reginald.  So
when, encouraged by his pleasant genial face and manner, Imogen confided
to him the history of the morning's misadventures, they soon found
themselves on common ground.

"Major Winchester was so kind," said the girl, after relating Rex's good
offices.  "We should have been there still, but for him."

Oliver's face beamed.

"Just like him," he said.  "He is awfully kind.  Fact is," here he
lowered his voice to a confidential whisper, "I don't think there's
another fellow like him, search the world over.  It isn't every one he
takes to though, so a good many people call him a prig and a saint, and
all that style of thing.  My sisters now, though they've known him all
their lives--naturally so, as he's our cousin--they don't get on with
him, except Florence; she's rather made an alliance with him lately, or
he with her, since she's been so down in the mouth, you know."

Imogen did not "know," but she scarcely felt as if she could ask for an

"That's his way--any one in trouble, or helpless, or that he can be any
good to, you see."

"Yes," said the girl, smiling, "I do see, for we were very helpless, and
he was of great good to us."

"No wonder," said Oliver, feeling as if he were putting things rather
awkwardly.  "In _this_ case his benevolence was certainly a pleasure."

"Thank you," said Imogen, laughing.

"But you see," he went on, "in a general way, Rex isn't at all a ladies'
man; he's rather standoff and severe, and he's got very, very particular
ideas.  I never dare stand up for him to my sisters.  Not that he needs
it, but they'd only make fun of me, you see.  Trixie pretty nearly hates
Rex, I do believe," he added, almost in a whisper, "and Alicia can't
stand him.  He's down upon them both in their different ways, you see."

"I have not spoken to Miss Helmont yet," said Imogen, "but Trixie has
been so kind to us.  I can't help thinking Major Winchester
misunderstands her a little."

Oliver drew his lips together _almost_ as if he were going to whistle.
Then he thought better of it, and turned the conversation from his
youngest sister.

"I suppose it's true what the parsons say," he remarked.  "People have
much kinder feelings to others if they've had troubles themselves.  Rex
has had lots; his mother died when he was quite a young fellow, and he
adored her; and then--"

"Has he no brothers and sisters--no one belonging to him?" asked the
girl, eagerly.

"He's got a brother, much younger--a very good fellow--and a sister.
But it's very sad about her, and the saddest of all is--" But here a
general move announced that luncheon was over, and Oliver's
communications only left Imogen with a vague notion that Major
Winchester was one of a thousand, and that there were some especially
sorrowful circumstances connected with his only sister.

This latent sympathy gave an additional gentleness and almost deference
to her manner, a still greater softness to her pretty eyes, when she
came upon Rex in the hall, where with Florence and Captain Helmont, the
eldest son of the house, and one or two others, he was discussing the
plans for the afternoon.

"It is clearing, there's no doubt," Major Winchester was saying.  "I've
had driving enough for my part, for to-day; suppose we go off for a

"Dear me!" said a mocking voice beside him.  "What condescension!  You
don't mean to say that _you_, Major Winchester, are offering to go for a
walk with any of _us_!"

The speaker was Mabella Forsyth.

"Yes, really, it is wonderful," said Alicia as she sauntered up to join
the group, which was gradually augmented by most of those present.
"What's coming over you, Rex?  Not that _I_ want to go for a walk; it's
far too sloppy and plashy, and I'm tired already.  Besides, some one
must stay with mother to receive the Girards and the Custances."

"I will come, Rex," said Florence, promptly though quietly.  "There is
nothing to do in the house: we can't begin settling our parts or
anything till Mr Girard is here, and Gerty for the dresses is
indispensable.--Perhaps Miss Wentworth would like to come too?" she
added kindly.  "We can lend you strong boots and a mackintosh if your
things haven't come.  And we must start at once--November afternoons in
these northern latitudes are not much to boast of.  Who else will come?
You, Noll?"

"Very much at your service," replied Oliver, who had found his pretty
neighbour to his taste.

Florence's eyes wandered round the group.

"No, thank you," said Miss Forsyth, pretending to think that they had
rested on her, "Trixie and I prefer to be independent in our strolls."

"I was not thinking of either of you," replied Florence, icily.
Mabella's swarthy face darkened; she was not quite proof against
Florence's contempt.  "Will you come, Mrs Wyngate?"  Florence
proceeded, "and your husband; and you, Fred?" turning to her eldest

"Wyngate and I are reserving ourselves for our great shoot to-morrow,"
said Captain Helmont.  "I think billiards will be more in our line, and
this horrid damp makes us old Indians rheumatic."

"But I will come," cried Mrs Wyngate, "though I am an older Indian than
either of you;" which was true, as she was some years her husband's
senior--a fact which she never affected to deny, and had married him as
a widow out in Madras.  She was good-natured and lively without being
fast, and Florence had selected her with a view to Rex's approval of her
society for Imogen, the guileless.

So they all dispersed, and before long the walking party found
themselves in front of the house scanning the sky and consulting as to
their destination; Miss Wentworth, anxious to believe herself perfectly
happy, though, as a matter of fact, Florence's stout boots were too big
for her, and her own waterproof, worn above her thick cloth jacket--for
it was _very_ cold--far from an ideal garment as to comfort, or, as she
sadly feared, as to appearance either.  Truth to tell, Imogen was not an
enthusiast about long walks.  She was quickly tired, and entirely
unaccustomed to real country life.  Then she was a little afraid of
Florence, and Mrs Wyngate was a complete stranger.

"If I could have gone alone with Major Winchester and, I suppose,
Oliver, I should have liked it much better," she said to herself.

"No," decided Rex, "it will not rain again for three or four hours
certainly.  Don't you agree with me, Noll?"

Oliver, who was nothing if not a weather prophet on his native heath,
did agree.

"So," continued Major Winchester in his decided, slightly autocratic
tones, "we shall run no risk in skirting the Great Fell, by the Torwood
road.  We can show Miss Wentworth the two caves, and if we are very
lucky we may catch a gleam of red sunset over the moor."

"Not much red sunset in this evening's programme, I take it," said
Oliver, as he attached himself to Imogen.  The path was narrow,
accommodating but two abreast in its moments of generosity, and
narrowing, every now and then, to scanty for one, considering the
fringes of drenched bracken and other rough verdure at each side.  Mrs
Wyngate naturally took the lead, as Imogen had hung back at the start--
Florence closely behind her.  Then came Rex, and a conversation _a
trois_ began, leaving the girl to Noll's good offices.

He was not brilliant, and the only subject on which he ever approached
eloquence being but a yard or two in front of him, could scarcely, under
the circumstances, be discussed.  Before long the young stranger began
to feel considerably bored.

"I wish Trixie had come with us," she said to Oliver.

Oliver stared.

"Do you, really?" he said.  "Well, no, I can't agree with you.  I'd
rather have Florence--no, she's talking, she can't hear, and no matter
if she does--ten times over.  If Trixie's in a good-humour she's sure to
be up to mischief, and when she's sulky she's worse."

"I think you're all very hard on her," said Imogen, rather sharply.

Oliver looked still further taken aback.  His admiration for his new
friend slightly diminished.  Could she have a bad temper?  Oliver had no
liking for bad-tempered girls.

"Well," he said, "to tell you the truth, I think it's rather the other
way.  Every one's been so uncommonly easy with her, that she's got to
think she can do as she pleases."

"That's very unfair," said Imogen, still sharply.  "People spoil their
children, and then when they find the poor things _are_ spoilt, they
turn round upon them and abuse them."

"There's something in that, perhaps," said Oliver, good-naturedly.  His
good-nature disarmed Miss Wentworth a little.

"I shouldn't have spoken that way," she said, after a pause.  "It wasn't
my place to say it."

"It's all right," Oliver replied.  "You needn't mind what you say to

But a little constraint had come between the two.  One or two subjects
were started which fell flat, and Imogen plodded on, hating the wet
stony path, wishing devoutly she had not come out, and tantalised by
overhearing the snatches of bright, interested conversation ahead of
her, feeling as if her companions had completely forgotten her
existence.  It was not so, however.  Then came a break in the path,
which widened to emerge on a stretch of moorland; and Major Winchester,
who had noticed the silence of the two youngest members of the party,
turned to look for Imogen.

"One can't be very sociable in our recent circumstances," he said
laughingly.  "It is better now.  Don't you admire this great bare spread
of country, Miss Wentworth?  I hope the air isn't too keen for you?"

Imogen shivered slightly, but still she brightened up.

"It _is_ rather cold," she replied; "but I like it.  If only it wasn't
so wet under foot."

"But you have strong boots on," said he encouragingly, "and out here in
the open it's never really wet for long.  We shall not have any more
walking as bad as the bit we've had.  We cross a corner of the moor to
those fells you see over there--the Tor Rocks they are called, where
there are some very respectable caves."

"In summer they are charming places for picnics," said Florence.  She
meant to be genial to the young stranger, and with Rex at hand it was
more easy to be so.

"Especially the smugglers' cave," said Oliver.

"Is there a real smugglers' cave?" said Mrs Wyngate, eagerly.  "How
nice!  Can we explore it like that place--Poole's Cavern, don't they
call it--in Derbyshire?"

"It's a very small thing in caves compared to that," said Oliver.  But
Mrs Wyngate went on to ask questions, and her cheery interest attracted
him.  Gradually the little party separated again into two sets, Rex and
Imogen in front, Oliver and Mrs Wyngate behind, followed by Florence,
who, seeing with a sigh of satisfaction that her cousin was himself
taking charge of his _protegee_, thought she might feel herself off duty
in the meantime.

How different everything became to Imogen!

The still cloudy sky seemed only pleasantly grey, the bare moorland
broke out into patches of contrasting colour; her boots grew into a
merry joke as she confided to Major Winchester that her feet felt as if
they could walk about inside them, and, when at his suggestion the
unnecessary waterproof was discarded and relegated to his arm, she felt
herself like a chrysalis emerging into a butterfly.

And her brightness reacted on her companion.  His grave, quiet face
lightened up with pleasure at the success of his endeavours, and
encouraged him to redouble them.  They cost him something, for he had to
the full as absorbing matter for his own reflections as Florence;
indeed, in some sense, more so, and he would have hailed with relief the
prospect of a solitary stroll this afternoon, or if that were
impossible, the companionship and distraction of intelligent and matured
minds.  Even Mrs Wyngate, who was well read and cultivated, and
Florence herself, who was not without thoughtfulness and originality,
would have been more congenial by far than this little schoolgirl, sweet
and ingenuous though she was.  But Major Winchester was never one to
shirk a task savouring of duty or kindliness on account of its cost.  He
racked his brains to amuse his young companion, recalling reminiscences
of his eventful and adventurous life, going back to his school-boy days
even, till Imogen's ringing laughter sounded back to the three in the

"Rex is excelling himself," said Florence, with a touch of sarcasm in
her tone.

"How very kind-hearted he is!" said Mrs Wyngate, simply and warmly.
"For a girl of that age is scarcely an interesting companion to a man of
his standing, at least, not to a man like _him_, entirely above flirting
or nonsense of that kind."

"Yes," Oliver agreed, "you're about right.  It's all his good-nature.
For though she's pretty, she's rather heavy--a bit spoilt too, I fancy."

"By her adoring mamma," added Florence.

"However, she's our guest, and we must look after her, heavy or not.
Don't you think Rex must be beginning to have had about enough of it by
this time?  We had better overtake them; we are close to the caves too."

Rex _was_ beginning to feel his self-imposed task a little wearisome by
this time, and he was not sorry when a shout from Oliver called to him
to stop.

"Oh, what a bother!" said Imogen.  "I did so want to hear the rest of
that story, Major Winchester.  Need we walk with them?"

"It would scarcely be civil to walk on," he said smiling.  "I will tell
you the rest another time, Miss Wentworth."

She looked almost brilliantly pretty, but a trifle resentful when the
others came up.  Florence, not unnaturally, felt slightly indignant, and
even Mrs Wyngate decided that the girl must be silly as well as spoilt.
For Imogen took no trouble to conceal her annoyance.

"Can she really be so foolish as to imagine Major Winchester finds her
society interesting?" thought the matron of the party, while Florence
mentally decided that Imogen's innocence and timidity were not of a kind
to "last."

"She will soon develop into a self-conceited little flirt," reflected
the elder girl; "all the more danger if she falls into bad hands.  I
foresee no sinecure if I am to look after her."  But she exerted herself
to be amusing and agreeable, and to keep the party together.  "Poor
Rex!" she thought, "I daresay it's almost as hard upon him to look
cheerful as it is upon me.  I mustn't be selfish, either."

The caves were not bad caves in their way, and child as she really was,
Imogen soon forgot her vexation in the fun of exploring their dark
recesses.  She ran on laughingly, declaring that she must go to "the
very end," and Rex, who knew every nook and cranny, contented himself
with a "Don't let her do anything foolish," to Oliver, who was doing the
honours to Mrs Wyngate, and then returned to the entrance, where it was
rather a refreshment to him to find Florence, and to walk up and down
with her, with the liberty of talking or not as they felt inclined.



"You're not cold, I hope, Florence," he said suddenly, waking up out of
a brown study.

"Oh no, it is never very cold just here; the rocks shelter us," she
said.  "Besides, I am well used to it, and well wrapped up.  I only hope
your _protegee_ won't catch cold," she added, somewhat uneasily.  "I
should get into a scrape both with her mother and my own."

"She's right enough," he replied, with the slightest possible accent of
impatience, which did not altogether displease his companion.

"There's really less risk of catching cold in caves in winter than in
summer, when it's hot outside."

Then he relapsed into silence.

After a minute or two Florence spoke again.

"Rex," she began, half timidly, "I didn't like to ask you before--
indeed, I've hardly seen you to-day, but, at breakfast, I saw when you
got your letters.  Was there anything new, anything worse?"

Major Winchester sighed.

"You're very quick, Florry dear," he said.  "Yes.  There wasn't anything
exactly _new_, but worse--yes, it was all worse.  That was partly why I
went out with Paddy.  I wanted to battle off my--misery."  He gave a
short laugh.  "No, that is a womanish word; my disappointment, let us
say.  And that was how I came to pick up the Wentworths, you see.  I had
to call at the station."

"But what is the disappointment--specially, I mean," Florence asked.

"Only that there is _no_ chance of her, of Eva's coming home," he said.
"The doctors won't hear of it.  She is to go straight to Algiers from
Ireland.  And last week, when I left her, there did seem a lightening in
the clouds.  They won't even allow her to pass through London on her

"And everything--what you told me about--it is all put off again

"More than indefinitely--most _definitely_, I fear," he said.  "Heaven
only knows."  But here he broke off.

"Oh, Rex, I _am_ so sorry for you," said his cousin impulsively.  "And
you are so unselfish.  When I compare myself with you, I do feel so
ashamed.  Just to think of your bothering yourself with that silly
little goose of a child."

"Poor little girl!" he said.  "Under good influence there is the making
of a nice woman in her, I think.  I'm sure Eva would have been good to
her.  Perhaps it's partly that," he went on simply.  "If ever I try to--
to do any little thing for others, it seems to bring her nearer me."

The tears rose to Florence's eyes--assuredly she was _not_ a
thorough-going Helmont.

"It is beautiful to feel like that," she said.

"I can't altogether pity you and Eva, Rex.  The sympathy between you is
so perfect; it would be worth living for to feel like that for an hour
of one's life."

Major Winchester smiled.

"Yes," he said, "I do feel it in that way sometimes.  And the best of it
is, that when you _do_ feel sympathy and union of that kind, you feel
that it is independent of circumstances--that it is, so to speak,
immortal.  Nothing that could happen could altogether shipwreck us."

Florence sighed deeply.

"I understand," she said; "or, at least, I understand that I don't
understand; and there is a certain satisfaction, almost exhilaration, in
realising that there are things, good and beautiful things, which one
can't understand."

Major Winchester smiled again, a kindly but somewhat rallying smile.

"Florence," he said, "you are getting on.  I'm not a clever man, and I'm
not a prophet.  All the same, I believe, some day you will say good-bye
to scepticism and cynicism, and all the rest of them."

"It will be thanks to you and Eva if ever I do," she said softly.  Then,
with her usual dislike to any approach to sentiment or emotion, she
hastened to change the subject.  "How is Angey?" she said.  "Mamma or
somebody spoke as if there had been news of her."

"I heard from, or of her, too, this morning," her cousin replied.  "Just
the old thing, waiting till her eyes are ready for the operation.  They
are trying to be hopeful.  Her husband is very unselfish, I must say;
nevertheless, I cannot understand what made her marry him.  My letter
was from Arthur.  He says--" But a sudden sound of voices just behind
where they were standing, or walking, made him stop.

"Who in the world?" he began; then added quickly, "We _are_ unlucky,
Florence.  Here are Trixie and her double, and that offensive boy,
Calthorp.  I wish we had not let them know we were coming this way, and
I wish I had not let Miss Wentworth go exploring.  They have all been in
there together."

He looked and felt really annoyed.  Florence cared less, but in her
softened mood she was inclined to sympathise with him, as the noisy
party emerged from the caves laughing and talking loudly.  Miss Forsyth
was the first to greet them.

"I can't congratulate you on the way you do your duty as a cicerone,
Florry," she said.  (Florence especially detested Miss Forsyth using her
pet name.) "We ran across Miss Wentworth all by herself in the cave.
She might have been lost and never heard of any more."

Major Winchester tamed to Imogen.  She was looking rather pale; truth to
tell, she was tired and very cold, and rather cross.

"What was Oliver about?" he said.  "He promised to look after you.  You
weren't really frightened, were you?" he added in a lower tone.

"No, not exactly.  But I don't think any one would like to be all alone
in a dark care where they've never been before," said Imogen, childishly
but resentfully.  "Mr Oliver Helmont and Mrs Wyngate went another way.
I don't know where."

"It was all right, I assure you," said Oliver, who was just behind.
"Mrs Wyngate wanted to see the large stalactites, and when we turned
round, Miss Wentworth had disappeared.--It was you, I think, who went
another way, not we," he added good-naturedly.

And so it was, for Imogen, annoyed at finding that Major Winchester was
not following, and that she was to be left to the semi-guardianship of
Oliver, had turned, with the intention of retracing her steps to the
outer world; and not till she had proceeded some little distance did she
discover that she was diving farther into the dim, almost black recesses
of the cavern.  Then she got frightened, and welcomed effusively the
apparition of Trixie and her satellites.

"I don't see how you can say it was all right," said Imogen coldly.
"People _have_ been lost in caves, as Miss Forsyth says."

"Not in Tor Cave," said Oliver.  "It's not really deep a bit.  I'll show
you a plan of it when we get home.  You couldn't have helped coming out
again in a minute or two."

"But I can quite understand your having been frightened, and I only hope
you have not caught cold," said Rex with real concern in his voice.  "I
should say the best thing to be done under the circumstances is to walk
home as briskly as possible.  A cup of hot tea will be an excellent
preventive of harm, as soon as we get in."

"_We_ shall not be satisfied with walking, thank you," said Trixie.
"We've got the dogs Gunner and Plunger with us, tied to a gate over
there," and she nodded her head in a direction behind where they stood,
"and we mean to have a good race with them.--Won't you come with us,

Then she got frightened, and welcomed effusively the apparition of
Trixie and her satellites.

"Oh do," said Mabella, insinuatingly.  "I'll take one hand and Mr
Calthorp the other, as Trixie will have enough to do with the beasts.
So you shan't come to grief even when we go at full-speed down Grey
Bray.--Noll, won't you come?"

"Many thanks, no," said Oliver, dryly.  Something in his tone made
Imogen hesitate in the acceptance of the invitation she had been on the
point of.  She glanced half longingly towards Beatrix; but before she
had time to speak, before Florence had time to break in with what,
though well-meant, would probably have been an entirely ineffectual
remonstrance, Major Winchester took the matter in his own hands.

"Miss Wentworth has had fatigue enough," he said.  "I know what your
`good races' are, Trixie.  Besides which, I promised Mrs Wentworth to
bring her daughter safely home."

"Looks like it," murmured Trixie, who had drawn near him, "when you left
her all to herself in the cave."  No one but Rex himself heard the
words, and he went on, without apparently taking any notice of the
impertinence, "And I mean to do so."

Imogen's face flushed with mingled feelings, but she did not speak.

"You will stay with us--with Florence and me," said Major Winchester,
turning to her, and speaking very gently.  The pink on the girl's fair
face grew into crimson.

"Very well," she said, not too generously, though with an undertone of
submission which pleased Rex, who at heart, it must be confessed, was a
bit of a martinet.

The group divided.  Miss Forsyth, Beatrix, and their attendant turning
off to the right in the direction of a low wall of loose stones which
they proceeded to clamber over.

"You might have cleared it, surely, Mr Calthorp," said Trixie,

"I'll do it now: what'll you bet?" said the young man.  He proceeded to
execute his boast, thereby, as the girl had foreseen, giving her and her
friend a few moments to themselves.

"What a donkey he is, to be sure!" said Mabella.  "What do you want to
say, Trix?"

"Only this--didn't I do it splendidly?  Nothing pulls the strings for
Rex like contradiction.  He will be devoted to her all the rest of the
afternoon, and she will imagine it's all the result of her fascinations.
Really, it's the best joke I've had for ever so long."

"Provided Florry doesn't step in and spoil it all," said Mab.

"Florry!" ejaculated Beatrix.  "She's more than half stupefied still.
She sees nothing but what is forced upon her.  It's really extraordinary
how hard she's been hit.  I couldn't have half believed it of one of
_us_."  She ended with a light laugh.

"Nor could I," said her companion.  "To do you justice, there's
uncommonly little heart among you."

"Now don't be rude," said Beatrix.  "What do _you_ know?  Don't you
begin setting up to be as good as Florry, my dear, or--"

They were on the verge of one of the quarrels which frequently relieved
the monotony of their friendship.  But Mabella thought better of it.
Her spite had found an ample field in which to disport itself for the
present, and she felt it wise to concentrate her forces.

"Don't be silly!" she said calmly.  "Here comes that boy--bravo, Mr
Calthorp!  Now listen, Trix, let's get in before them, and you be sure
to back up any remark I may make.  I think I may have a chance of
insinuating something already.  But leave it to me--you're too clumsy--
for remember I shall not say one word that could be brought up against
us, should it go great lengths, and _you_ would."

"And if it does go great lengths, what will happen?" inquired Beatrix,
slightly aghast.

"A nice mess for Major Rex; that's all _I_ care about," answered
Mabella.  "Goodness, how those dogs are pulling.  They'd have strangled
themselves or torn the gate-post down if we'd kept them waiting much
longer.  Thank you, Mr Calthorp, I think we had better leave them to
Trixie.  They know her more intimately than they do us.  Discretion is
sometimes the better part of valour."  And she stood by coolly, while
Beatrix struggled to loosen Gunner and Plunger, nearly knocking Mr
Calthorp down in their first rush of freedom.

"You would have been safer beside me after all," said Trixie
contemptuously to her two "discreet" companions.

The other party, meanwhile, were wending their way home in a more
decorous manner.

Oliver, somewhat disillusioned by Imogen's unfair reproach, had
re-attached himself to Mrs Wyngate.  Florence, satisfied that Rex had
undertaken for the time the "personal conduct" of his self-imposed
_protegee_, walked on silently between the two couples, apparently one
of the group, in reality thinking her own thoughts, though feeling a
degree less entirely sad and hopeless than usual, thanks to the glimmer
of reflected light she had been conscious of in her conversation with
her cousin.

And Major Winchester, too, felt a little cheered.  He began to have
hopes of Florence, and he realised, though by no means for the first
time, that his own sorrows were not without their brighter side.  Then
he was touched, even gratified, by Imogen's confidence in him, and he
felt that she deserved some return.  So he devoted himself to her anew,
and this time their talk called for less effort on his part--they seemed
to grow rather more on a level, as half unconsciously the conversation
became of a somewhat personal kind.

"I'm sure Mrs Wentworth will say I did right in preventing your going
over to the enemy in that traitorous fashion; don't you think so?"
Major Winchester began.  He spoke in a light half-rallying tone, for at
first Imogen preserved her dignified silence, and he felt uncertain as
to how the ground lay.

The girl gave her head the very slightest possible toss, as she replied:

"Mamma trusts me to look after myself.  Indeed, she asks my advice more
often than I do hers.  Mamma hasn't a very decided character, and I'm
afraid I have."

Rex was silent.

"Are you shocked?" said Imogen with a touch of apology, or at least
timidity.  And she glanced up at him from under her long eyelashes, like
a naughty but repentant child.

"`Shocked?' no.  That tone about one's elders is too common nowadays to
shock," he said quietly.  "But I own it would disappoint me in you if I
thought you really meant it.  It was your tenderness to your mother
that--that first"--"made me feel an interest in you," he was going to
have said, but the words struck him as priggish and patronising.  Imogen
blushed, but he did not see her blush, and he went on speaking:

"It reminded me a little of my own sister," he said.  "She was my elder
sister, and my mother was an invalid for many years.  One of my clearest
remembrances since early boyhood is of Angey's unfailing care and
tenderness about our mother."

He seemed to be "thinking back," as I have heard a child express it.
Imogen, glancing up again, caught the look in his face and respected it.

"You say `was.'  But your _sister_ is not dead?" she hazarded after a

"Oh no," he replied, recollecting himself with a little start, "she is
living.  But I am in great anxiety about her just now.  She is soon to
undergo a very serious--very, very serious operation on her eyes.  And
we shall not know for months if it is successful.  I am very foolish, I
daresay, but I can scarcely bear to speak of it.  I had a letter this
morning--my poor Angey."

"I am _so_ sorry," said Imogen softly.  "What is her name?" she added.
"I should like to think of her by it.  Is it Angela?"

"Not quite.  It is even more fantastic.  It is Evangeline.  Eva some
people call her, but her home name has always been Angey.  Evangeline is
too much of a good thing in the way of names."

"It is very pretty.  And `Eva' is very pretty," said Imogen, simply.

Major Winchester smiled.

"Yes, `Eva' is very nice," he said.  "Of course, it is the diminutive of
other names as well as my sister's."  Then he seemed to wish to change
the subject.  "Don't think me impertinent, Miss Wentworth, apropos of
what you were saying about having a `decided character.'  Young
people--_very_ young people especially," and here he gave a slightly
deprecating smile--"often make a mistake between impulsiveness and
self-will _and_ decision of character, much in the same way that
obstinacy and firmness are often confused."

"I am not so _very_ young, Major Winchester," Imogen returned, much more
irate, evidently, at the reflection on her youth than at the other
suggestion.  "I am eighteen _past_, and I don't think I am particularly
self-willed; at least, I don't mean to be.  Mamma and I _generally_ wish
the same things.  And when you live with a person who can't make up
their mind, and you have to decide, that isn't being impulsive."

"No, certainly not," he agreed.

"Besides," she went on, "sometimes I have to give in very much against
my own will.  As about coming here," and she related the history of the
"breaking the journey," which had led to such uncomfortable results.

Rex listened with considerable amusement.

"But after all," he said, "it's an ill wind, you know.  But for the
little episode in question, I might never have had the pleasure of
getting to know you so well."

"No," said Imogen, with the sort of bluntness of manner which was,
somehow, one of her charms, "that's true."  Then there fell a little

"Major Winchester," said Imogen after a moment or two.

"Miss Wentworth?" he replied.

"You mustn't mind my saying so," she began, "but do you know I can't
help thinking you are all a little hard upon Trixie."

His face darkened at once.

"How so?" he said.

Imogen hesitated.

"It's very difficult to answer when you're asked like that," she said,
pouting a little.  But her companion seemed to have lost his
playfulness.  He did not speak.

"I mean--I mean," she went on, "that because she's spoilt, perhaps, and
rather noisy, and--and what you call loud or fast sometimes, you all,
you and her sister, and even her brother,"--with a glance round to make
sure that Florence was not within earshot--"seem to think there's no
good in her."

"Heaven forbid!"  Major Winchester ejaculated; "Heaven forbid that I
should say such a thing of anybody!"

"Well, well, you know what I mean," Imogen went on; "you don't think
there's _much_, anyway.  Now she was really very kind to me when we
arrived, much kinder than anybody; except you, of course," she added

Rex's tone softened.

"I am far from saying there is no good in Trixie," he repeated.  "If we
could get her away from other influences, if she could really be made to
_feel_, if--if--But it's no use discussing her.  And, excuse me, my dear
child,"--he was scarcely aware that he used the expression--"but can you
judge in so very short a time as to whether we are hard on her or not?"

"N-no," said Imogen, consideringly.  "Only sometimes one seems to see
thing's at first better than afterwards."

"Or one fancies so," he remarked.  "But don't begin thinking Trixie a
martyr.  She is nothing of the kind, I assure you.  I am glad--if she
has been really kind to you, I should be glad.  Still, I cannot help
hoping that you will make more of a friend of Florence."

Imogen made a little _moue_.

"I will if I can," she said, adding: "It's Miss Forsyth you think the
bad influence, I can see.  I'm afraid you don't think there's much good
in _her_."

"No," said Major Winchester, gravely; "I'm afraid I do not."

"_I_ don't like her," continued the girl, "but mamma does.  Miss
Forsyth's so nice to her.  You'd better warn mamma.  Major Winchester,"
she added, rather flippantly.

"You know perfectly well I could not do anything so impertinent," he
said, with a touch of asperity.  Imogen reddened.  "Forgive me," he went
on, "I do not mean to speak harshly.  But one thing--do promise me, Miss
Wentworth, that if you are in any real trouble or dilemma here--anything
in which your mother, as a stranger herself, might not be able to help
you--you will not be afraid of applying to me."

"Yes," said Imogen, "I promise you."

They were close to the house by this tune.  As they entered the hall
they came upon the two who had preceded them, warming themselves at the
fire.  Major Winchester stalked across and disappeared through a doorway
without speaking.  He had gone to look after some hot tea for Imogen,
for she was blue with cold.

"What's the matter now?" said Miss Forsyth.

"Have _you_ offended his majesty, Miss Wentworth?"

"I don't know what you mean," said Imogen.

"How silly you are, Mab!" said Trixie.

"Don't you see, Imogen, she--like the rest of us--is so flabbergasted
that she doesn't know how to take it?"

"Well, no wonder," Mabella replied, lightly.

"Did any one _ever_ before see Major Winchester devote himself like that
to anything in the shape of a young lady?  How _have_ you done it, Miss

"I don't know what you mean," said Imogen again.  She turned to go
up-stairs as she spoke, and she spoke coolly.  All the same the shot had
taken effect.



Some guests had left The Fells that afternoon, but others had arrived.
There were further goings and comings during the next few days, but more
of the latter than the former.  The Helmonts were in their glory, but to
Imogen and her mother, fresh from their uneventful monotonous life _a
deux_, the effect was almost as confusing as that of a kaleidoscope too
rapidly turned.  It became a relief when the party settled down as it
were, for a little, into the chosen guests especially selected for the
private theatricals which had been for some time under discussion, and
at which the "assistance" of the Wentworths had _not_ been desired.

But Imogen was undoubtedly pretty; every one, even Miss Forsyth, allowed
it.  And her face was a novelty.  She proved to have more spirit, or
"go," as Trixie called it, in her, than had seemed probable; on the
whole, she bid fair to be a very creditable success.  Her inexperience
and shyness were amusing, not tiresome.  Her mother watched her with
enchantment, ready and eager to swallow any amount of even the most
thinly disguised flattery on Imogen's account from the astute Mabella.

"She is really turning everybody's head.  I never saw anything like it,"
said the young lady in question over and over again, whenever she got a
chance of Mrs Wentworth to herself.  "Noll is grateful for a glance;
and Fred"--Fred was Captain Helmont--"who is considered a tremendous
critic, admires her out and out, only, of course, his admiration is due
elsewhere."  He was shortly to be married to a girl not at that time one
of the party at The Fells.  "I don't know what Lady Lucy would say to it
if she were here."

Mrs Wentworth smiled.  Captain Helmont had been one of her dreams for
Imogen before they came.

"Lady Lucy is very pretty herself, some one said," she remarked

"Not a patch on Imogen, if I may call her so," Miss Forsyth continued.
"But _the_ marvel," and here she dropped her voice discreetly, "is Major
Winchester!  A man who never knows if a woman has a nose on her face or
not--who stalks about the world like the great Mogul.  Of course, we all
admire him and respect him--oh, immensely!--but we look upon him as a
being quite apart.  And there he is--perfectly devoted--taking the
greatest interest in these theatricals, which as a rule he would have
thought beneath contempt, and all, I am sure, for your daughter's sake.
Trixie and I can't get over it."

Mrs Wentworth's smile was positively beaming.

"My dear Miss Forsyth, you are too kind, too partial," she said.  "I
quite appreciate all you say, but--I must not have Imogen spoilt.  She
is so young.  Major Winchester, for instance--I am sure he considers her
a perfect child."

"But she is not--not in _some_ ways," Mabella went on, insidiously.
"She has been so well brought up,"--and here she sighed deeply--"so well
educated.  I heard Rex saying to some one that he could see she had
excellent abilities.  It will be such a good thing for my poor Trixie if
a girl like that takes to her--her influence would be everything.  Much
better than mine," here she sighed again.  "I can do my friends no good,
I can only love them.  _I_ was not well brought up--far from it, as I
daresay you can see for yourself."

"Poor dear!" said Mrs Wentworth, too ingenuous herself to doubt
another, and too candid to express any civil disagreement.  She gently
stroked Mabella's hand, while the ready tears rose to her eyes.  "You
had no mother, perhaps?"

"Yes, my mother is still living, but--she never understood me," said
Miss Forsyth, vaguely.  And Mrs Wentworth, suspecting some painful
family history behind the words, forbore to question further.  She would
have been not a little amazed had she heard the true side of the story.
A father and mother, simple-minded and devoted to their daughter, erring
only in their too great unselfishness, to be repaid by contempt and
scorn, when, by dint of a certain unscrupulous cleverness, Mabella made
her way into a higher social sphere.  She and Trixie had met
accidentally, and the elder girl at once laid herself out to obtain an
ascendency over the spoilt Helmont "baby," in which she succeeded only
too well.

"No," Mabella repeated.  "I was never understood, and--I was not
naturally patient and docile, I fear; and now, though I see it all, I am
too old to change, I suppose."

"Too old!" repeated Imogen's mother.  "Nonsense, dear Miss Forsyth.  You
can't be more than seven or eight and twenty?"

"I am three-and-twenty," said the girl, which was true.  She was
furious, but she hid it.  "Will you take me in hand, dear Mrs
Wentworth," she went on, "if you don't think me too old!  You can't be
many years older yourself," she added, sweetly.

"I shall be thirty-eight next month," Imogen's mother replied.  "That is
dreadfully old, is it not?"

"I shall count you my elder sister then, and you must tell me when you
see me doing anything you don't like, and dear Imogen will look after
Trixie.  Shall that be a compact?  Who knows how much good you may not
do me in a fortnight!  Even Major Winchester himself would not give me
up as incorrigible, if he heard of it."

And under Mabella's direction, hints, though less broad, were not
wanting on Trixie's part to Imogen herself.  They were seed for which
circumstances, including her own inexperience and vanity, her mother's
blind devotion and Rex Winchester's well-intended kindness, were
steadily preparing a congenial soil.

Everybody knows the atmosphere of excitement, general fuss, anxiety, and
eager anticipation which seizes upon a house--a country-house
especially--where "private theatricals" are in question.  And to those
fortunate people who have never themselves had personal experience of
it, it has been too often described to need more than an allusion.  It
is a grand test--almost as good as a sea voyage--of temper and
unselfishness.  So far, perhaps, we may consider it salutary.  But no
doubt such a state of things has its undesirable side.  To the
inexperienced, especially, it brings with it a curious sense of
unreality, a throwing off of one's actual self and responsibilities
which call for peculiar good-sense and self-control.

"I don't feel as if I knew who I was," said Imogen, looking up at Major
Winchester somewhat wistfully one day, about ten days after her arrival
at The Fells, when a long rehearsal had tried everybody's patience and
good-humour to the utmost.  "I don't think I am the least good at
acting, and yet I feel as if I weren't myself.  I seem more than half
`Valesca.'  Yet I shall _never_ be able to do it the way Mr Villars
tells me."

"He is rather inexorable, certainly," Rex agreed; "but then he wouldn't
be fit to be stage-manager if he were not.  I think you will do very
well, quite well enough."

He did not add the truth--that though she was quite without dramatic
power of the mildest kind, she _looked_ the part so charmingly that no
one would be inclined to be critical.

"That is faint praise," said Imogen with one of her little pouts.  "Of
course I know it is a most unimportant character; still I would like to
manage it decently well.  How capitally Trixie and Miss Forsyth act,
Major Winchester!"

He glanced at her sharply.

"Then I hope no one I care for will ever act capitally," he said.

Imogen reddened.

"You are very severe on them," she said.  "I don't mind what you think
of Miss Forsyth, for I don't like her; but I am, sometimes, at least"--
and here, for some unexplained reason, she grew still redder--"very fond
of Trixie.  She is very kind to me generally;" for candour compelled her
to qualify the statement.  Trixie not being so case-hardened in
diplomacy as her ally, was not always able to keep her temper or to hide
her growing jealousy of Imogen's universally acknowledged beauty.  "And
I think she would like to be more--more like what your sister must have
been.  I think you can scarcely judge of Trixie, Major Winchester.  She
shows to disadvantage to you because she is so frightened of you."

Rex laughed; he could not help it.

"My dear child, you really must not be so desperately confiding," he
said.  "Trixie is frightened of no one--man or woman."

But Imogen's advocacy touched him and increased his favourable opinion
of her character.  An opinion to a great extent deserved, for below some
superficial selfishness and vanity, there was in her real sweetness and
generosity--material, in wise hands, for much good.  The generosity in
this instance was conspicuous, for Rex had himself been witness to some
far from amiable conduct on Beatrix's part towards the young guest.

"How is it," he went on, "that you seem to see so little of Florence?"

"I don't know," Imogen replied.  "I have tried to make friends with her,
because I knew you wished it," she added naively.  "But I'm afraid she
does not care for me.  And she is always so busy.  I think she does a
great deal to help her mother."

"Yes, Florrie's a good girl," said he approvingly.  "I wish you could
know her better."

It was as Imogen said.  Florence did not care for her.  Yet, when taxed
by her cousin with her disregard of his _protegee_, it was difficult to
prove her to blame.

"I really did what I could," she assured him.  "But she threw herself
into Trixie's arms from the very first, and unless I actually speak
against my own sister, I cannot help it."

"No `speaking against' any one would have the desired effect with Miss
Wentworth; rather the other way," said Major Winchester.  "There is a
strong strain of chivalry in her composition."

"What a high opinion you seem to have of her!" said Florence, half
pettishly.  "To me she is just a pretty, shallow child--with something
ingenuous and sweet about her--yes, that I must allow.  But really, I
know little more of her than on the day she came.  I have had to give up
taking any part in the theatricals, you know, Rex, and it is the one
thing I could have thrown myself into, and--forgotten myself a little.
But Alicia took it into her head to act, and mother would have been left
all to herself really.  Besides which I _couldn't_ have kept my temper
with Trixie and that Mab of hers," she concluded, honestly.

"I am sorry you had to give it up.  But I am sure you did it for the
best.  It makes me still more anxious about that child, however," said
Rex.  "And I am afraid her mother is--well, very silly."

"You will have to look after her doubly," said Florence.  "She couldn't
have a better guardian.  It may distract your thoughts a little--poor
Rex.  What is your last news, by the bye?"

"No better, except that she has stood the journey so far pretty well,"
he replied.

The same question was asked him again that afternoon in the interval of
one of the daily or twice-a-day rehearsals.  Imogen, blushing as she did
so, asked gently what news he had.

"No better, thank you," he said half absently, "except that the crossing
has been accomplished pretty successfully."

"The crossing?"  Imogen repeated.  "Then is she--is your sister to
undergo the operation abroad?  Or is it over?"

Rex recollected himself.

"Oh no," he said quickly.  "I was confusing--no, no--Angey, my sister,
is pretty well in herself.  Nothing can be done about her eyes for some
time yet."  He gave a half sigh and hesitated.  "I was thinking of--"

But Imogen would not let him finish.

"I am so sorry," she said, "for speaking of it.  It was very thoughtless
of me, for I know it must be very painful to you."

She really felt guilty, for only the day before Mrs Wentworth had told
her that Miss Forsyth had warned her never to allude to Major
Winchester's anxieties; he "could not bear them spoken of to him."

"All the kinder of him," Imogen had said to herself with a little thrill
of pride, "to have confided in me about them," though she had not
expressed this to her mother.

There were times when Imogen's confidence in Beatrix received a shake.
Trixie was too unused to self-control of any kind to keep it up for
long, even in a bad cause.  And Miss Wentworth's acting often gave
opportunity for ridicule, it must be allowed.  Then Mr Villars was
severe and enthusiastic, and Imogen's perfect fitness in _appearance_
for the part assigned to her made him doubly provoked at her absolute
incapacity to carry out his directions.  More than once the close of a
rehearsal found the poor girl all but in tears, and the sympathy she met
with was often but scant.

"You do look so absurd when Mr Villars scolds you," said Trixie, one
day after one of these scenes.  "If you talk in that brokenhearted voice
I shall not be able to keep from laughing, I warn you, on the grand
night itself."

"You are very unkind," said Imogen, flashing out.  "I never wanted to
act, and I never said I could.  I have a good mind to--" But here her
voice failed her.  She turned away abruptly and left the room.

"She has gone to complain to her mother.  You are a fool, Trixie," said
Miss Forsyth, elegantly.

"Not a bit of it.  Her mother would put a stop to it, and Miss Imogen
doesn't in her heart wish that, by any means," said Trixie.

"What a pity Rex isn't here; it would be a part of the play for him to
go to comfort her."

"_Hush_!" said Mabella hastily, as Florence at that moment came in.

"What is the matter with that child?"  Florence asked sternly.  "I was
writing in the library just now, and she came rushing in.  She pretended
she was looking for a book when she saw me, but I am almost sure she was

"She is such an idiot--" began Trixie, but a warning glance from Mab
stopped her.

"Do you wish Florence to take her up and spoil all?" she said

"I mean," Beatrix went on, "she takes things up so.  I couldn't help
laughing at the way Mr Villars scolded her."

"You don't want to frighten her out of it now at the last?" said
Florence.  "It would be very awkward, and might get you into hot water,
I warn you."

She had an additional motive for not desiring such a catastrophe.  No
one, she knew, failing Miss Wentworth, could take the "Valesca" but
herself, and this, Florence was by no means inclined to do.  It was the
part which faintly shadowed her own story--the devotion of a girl to an
unworthy object.  So with these words of remonstrance to Trixie,
Florence went her way.

Her way was to seek for Rex, and enlist his help.  She found him writing
in her brother's smoking-room.

"Rex," she said abruptly, "I'm afraid you are not looking after your
Miss Wentworth after all.  She's in a sea of troubles about her acting,
and I cannot meddle.  For one thing I can't and won't take `Valesca,' if
she throws it up," and she crimsoned as she said it.

"Nobody could propose such a thing," he said.

"_Wouldn't_ they?  I would rather not risk it.  But you know something
about acting; quite as much as Mr Villars, I believe, only you are not
so exaggerated and affected; couldn't you coach Miss Wentworth a little?
You see I don't hide that my motives in seeking you are half, or more
than half, selfish ones."

"They are very natural," he replied kindly.  "And, of course, though I
am interested in this little girl--she is very sweet--I can't but be far
_more_ interested in you, dear Florrie, and I believe you are more
unselfish than you allow."

Florence looked and felt pleased.  A little praise from Rex went a long
way with her.

"Then you'll see what you can do," she said, persuasively.  "You would
find her in the library at the present moment; better catch her
red-handed, or red-eyed rather, and then she cannot deny her troubles."

Poor Major Winchester!  He had been promising himself a peaceful
half-hour to finish his letter to Eva; but after all it was too late for
to-day's post.  "It wouldn't really go any sooner," he reflected, "so I
suppose I may as well."

Still, it was not without an effort that he went off to the library on
his benevolent quest.

Yes; Imogen was there, busily reading or making believe to do so, in a
corner.  The Fells library was a large and imposing room, filled with
books, the most valuable of which seldom left their shelves except to be
dusted.  But everything about the house was well kept and well managed.
Not being of a literary turn himself, nor possessing children with
strongly developed intellectual tastes, was no reason, said the Squire,
why there should not be a good library.  And he had engaged the services
of a properly qualified person to look after it, so that the volumes
were clean and well arranged, and from time to time added to.

This, however, was not one of the librarian's days, so Imogen had it all
to herself.  A gallery ran all round, to which there were two means of
access--a stair at one end of the room itself, and a door from an upper
passage in the house; for originally the library had been a ballroom,
with a musicians' balcony, since discarded.  Rex glanced round once or
twice before he discovered Miss Wentworth, half-hidden in a big leather
arm-chair by the fire.  He smiled as he saw her.

"She is not so very upset after all," he thought.  "Ten to one she is
very happy over a novel, and won't thank me for disturbing her."

But it was not so.  Imogen _was_ both angry and unhappy, and she was
only pretending to read.  She glanced up quickly at the sound of Major
Winchester's approaching footsteps, and a gleam of pleasure came over
her face, to be, however, almost instantly replaced by a flush of shame
and mortification as she became conscious of her swollen eyes and
tear-stained face.

"What are you studying?" said Rex, as he sat down beside her.  "Oh,
_Great Expectations_.  Why, you must have read that long ago!"

"No, I haven't," said Imogen, "but I don't think I care for it."

"Not just now, I daresay," he said kindly, "for you are vexed and upset,
I know."

"How do you know?" she asked, some laggard tears rising slowly as she

"Never mind.  I was told I should find you here, and so I have.  I know
what it's about too," for Major Winchester was great at going to the
point.  "It isn't a _very_ big trouble after all, but then at

"I'm eighteen--eighteen _past_," interrupted Imogen, so indignantly that
the tears hid themselves in a fright, which her friend was not sorry to
see.  He smiled.

"Well--even at eighteen.  I was once eighteen myself," (Imogen could not
help smiling a little); "and I can understand that, as you have to do
this thing, you would rather do it well than badly.  I can understand,
too, that Trixie is probably not the most delicate and tactful person to
have to do with in the circumstances."

"I _hate_ being laughed at," said Imogen frankly.

"Naturally.  Villars is really not a bad fellow, but he thinks he's
bound to keep his hobby always at full-speed.  Now--have you got your

"Yes," she replied, extracting some rather dilapidated-looking pages
from her pocket, "here it is.  This is the worst bit," she went on, "the
little dialogue with Hubert.  `Oh, to think how I trusted you,' it



"`Oh, to think how I trusted you,'" repeated Major Winchester, "hum,
hum," and he read on a few sentences to himself consideringly.

"Yes," said Imogen, "and `Hubert', you know, is Mr Calthorp.  Just
fancy!  If only I were going to do it with you now, Major Winchester,

She stopped short.  The sound of a door softly shutting startled her.
"What was that?" she said.

"Oh, nothing; some unfortunate actor seeking the solitude of the library
to study his part in," said Rex.

He went on reading for a minute or two.  Neither he nor Imogen heard a
door overhead open, even more softly than the other one had closed.

"Fancy," Imogen repeated, "_Mr Calthorp_, Major Winchester.  Now, if
you were it, I am sure I could do it better."

"For _your_ sake I wish I were, though the character is scarcely one
which recommends itself to me," he said.  "But now, look here, my dear
child;" and he leant forward towards her a little, while he pointed out
a passage on the page; "when you come to--" And he proceeded to
emphasise a line or two.

The door above closed very, very gently, and two ladies slipped quietly
back into the up-stairs passage from which it opened.  They were Mrs
Wentworth and Miss Forsyth.  Imogen's mother was smiling with a slightly
self-conscious, slightly alarmed expression; Mabella was whispering

"There now," she said; "I am so glad you have seen for yourself.  Wasn't
I clever?"  Mrs Wentworth spoke half nervously.

"I hope you don't think any one else has seen them?" she said.  "I am so
afraid of any gossip.  You see, I have scarcely realised that Imogen is
more than a child--a mere child.  I am afraid I am not a very efficient
chaperon as yet."

"Oh, it's all right.  Major Winchester is discretion itself.  I only
wanted to give you ocular demonstration of his devotion.  It is not to
be wondered at; she did look irresistible when she glanced up at him
just now, did she not?  But you know he is usually _so_ unimpressionable
and high and mighty.  Only be _sure_ you never tell anybody that I made
you peep.  You promise, don't you, dear Mrs Wentworth?  I always feel
as if you were a girl like myself, you know.  I cannot take in that you
are really the mother of a grown-up daughter."

Mrs Wentworth beamed.

"Of course I will never betray you," she said.  "But she is so very
young.  I do feel so at a loss."

"There is nothing to feel at a loss about," said Mabella quickly.  It
would not have suited her at all for Mrs Wentworth to take others into
her confidence.  "Imogen is quite charming.  You must just make up your
mind that every man she comes across will be at her feet; she will have
any number to choose from, and she can afford to be _difficile_."

"Are you not too partial, dear Miss--?"

"You naughty woman," said the girl, playfully laying her fingers on Mrs
Wentworth's lips, "what was it you promised?  Miss Forsyth indeed!"

"Well then, dear Mabella, if you really wish it," said Imogen's mother;
"are you not too partial?"

"You are so incredulous; other mothers would not be nearly so difficult
to convince," said Mab.  "That's why I wanted you to see his high
mightiness's devotion with your own eyes; not that it's of any
consequence in itself.  Imogen will do far better than that; it's only
to convince you of her fascination."

Mrs Wentworth gave a gentle little sigh.

"I suppose I must not hope to keep her very long," she said, "hard as it
will be to part with her.  But if it is for her happiness, that is all I
think about.  I would not ask or expect any extraordinarily brilliant
marriage for her.  I should be quite content to give her to some really
good man, whom I could trust her to."

"Oh yes, of course, of course," said Miss Forsyth, with an undertone of
slightly contemptuous incredulity, which Mrs Wentworth was too simple
to perceive.  "All the same, you must not be _too_ unworldly--too easily
pleased, you know.  It is not every day one sees a girl like Imogen,
_so_ well brought up too."

"Dear Mabella, you _are_ too partial," Mrs Wentworth repeated.

"It is true that when I take to any one I can see no fault in them,"
said Miss Forsyth.  "I think I may say of myself that I am a very
thorough-going friend--_and_," she added to herself, "a very
thorough-going enemy."

Half an hour or so later Imogen was up-stairs.

"Mamma," she said, as she glanced in at her mother, "I'm going out for a
few minutes' blow before luncheon.  I won't be long."

"No, don't be late, darling," her mother replied; "the Squire does like
people to be punctual.  It's one of the few things he _is_ strict about.
But come in for half a second, my pet.  I have not seen you all the
morning.  How bright and well you are looking!"

Imogen stooped to kiss her mother.

"Don't keep me, mamsey dear," she said, "Major Winchester is waiting for
me.  I only ran up for my hat and jacket.  You wouldn't have said I was
looking bright and well if you had seen me half an hour or so ago.  I
was in the depths of despair about my part.  Indeed, I was almost making
up my mind to throw it all up."

"And are you in better spirits now, dearest?  I am sure they would all
be dreadfully disappointed if you gave it up.  You will certainly be the
central figure in it, by what I hear."

"Oh, mamsey dear, you mustn't believe such nonsense," said Imogen.  "I
truly can't act a bit, and--I'm not at all sure but that some people
would be glad if I give it up.  However, I think it will go a little
better now.  Major Winchester has been so kind, so painstaking and
patient with me about it--he has been coaching me for ever so long down
in the library."

"Indeed, dear.  I am very glad you have got him to help you.  He has
really been your good fairy here ever since we came."

"Yes, truly he has," said Imogen.  "And he _is_ so nice.  I had no idea
he was such a hero, mamma.  You should hear the stories Trixie was
telling me of the wonderfully brave things he has done.  And Trixie, you
know, is by no means one of his admirers in a general way.  But I
mustn't keep him waiting.  Good-bye, mamsey darling," and off she flew,
a perfect picture of sunny brightness.

"Dear child!" thought her mother.  "_She_ seems as happy as possible.
It is really wonderful--such a child as she is to have made a conquest
of a man like him.  He _does_ seem rather old for her, but yet--if _she_
is content; and of course it is not a connection one could in any way
ever feel _ashamed_ of.  Still, I hope he will not think of
precipitating matters: it would be almost more honourable if he were to
wait till she has seen a little more of the world.  If I could manage to
give her a London season next year; but I hardly see how I can.  Mrs
Helmont has her hands quite full with her own daughters, and she says
their London house is too small for visitors.  I wonder if there is any
one else I could look up; or if we let our Eastbourne house, and could
take a little one temporarily in London, as Imogen wishes."

Whereupon her mind set off on an interesting journey of practical
details, ways, and means.

"The nicest of all," she decided, reverting to the original subject of
her meditations, "would be if Major Winchester were to speak to _me_ in
the first place.  If there were an understanding between him and me, it
would all be so much easier; perhaps he will speak to me.  Of course, I
_may_ have to allow an engagement almost at once.  Dear, dear! how
astonished everybody will be; it is not often nowadays that a girl so
young--But really I must get my letters written and not waste time."

The said letters contained more than one hint of coming events, for Mrs
Wentworth found it impossible altogether to repress her sense of
maternal exultation.

And several times during the next few days her heart beat faster, and
she was conscious of a flutter of pleasurable expectation, when Rex
happened to approach her or seemed to be seeking her society.

"I must give him all the opportunities I can," she reflected.  But she
was not clever enough to do so with the real adroitness and apparent
nonchalance such tactics require.  Miss Forsyth saw through the little
manoeuvres, and enjoyed them with strange, almost impish acuteness,
though her pleasure could not be shared, as she had too small faith in
Trixie's powers of discretion to draw her attention to them.

But Major Winchester himself, though the least suspicious or
self-conscious of human beings, was uncomfortably aware of a certain
change in Mrs Wentworth's manner.

"What can it be?" he asked himself.  "She is a nice woman, though not a
very wise one.  Surely she is not a silly old coquette at bottom.  I
should be very sorry to think so, for that child's sake."

But the very suggestion of such a misgiving tinged his manner in turn
with a faint constraint, which gave colour to Mrs Wentworth's

The very evening before that of the grand representation a little scene
of this kind occurred.  The full-dress rehearsal, for the benefit of the
upper servants and some of the out-of-doors retainers and neighbouring
small tenants on the estate, had just taken place; and while the actors
were changing their dresses Major Winchester, who had good-naturedly
volunteered to be prompter, strolled into the drawing-room in search of
Florence.  She was not there; but Imogen's mother was standing by the
fire.  He was moving away, when Mrs Wentworth recalled him.

"No; Florence is not here," she said, in answer to a word or two that he
had let fall; "but she will be back directly.  She went to say something
or other about the lights, I think.  She was speaking to Mr Villars
about them."

"Ah, yes, that is all right then; it was that I wanted her for.  They
must be changed."  And out of a sort of reluctance to seem abrupt or
discourteous, he lingered for a moment.

"Do stay a little and talk about the acting.  It seemed to me _so_
successful.  You are all so busy I never see any of you.  Of course, I
don't pretend to be anything of a judge; but it really is very good now,
is it not?"

She spoke simply, and Major Winchester, who was really interested in the
play, sat down and replied with his ordinary natural and simple

"Yes, things have improved wonderfully these last few days," he said.
"I think it often is so in these cases.  Amateurs warm to the work, and
a sense of desperation makes even the weaker members forget _themselves_
at the last, which, after all, is half the battle."

He smiled as he spoke, for there flitted across his mind's eye several
amusing episodes in the recent struggles after dramatic art.

"Your daughter," he went on, "has really improved surprisingly.  I own I
was rather nervous about her till quite at the end.  But it went so very
fairly to-night that I think we need have no misgivings.  Besides, after
all, there is no terribly critical audience to fear; every one will, I
hope, _wish_ to be pleased."

Mrs Wentworth's expression took a touch of offence at Major
Winchester's tone about Imogen.

"I heard several people saying that `Valesca' was the gem of it all,"
she said, and Rex, glancing at her, detected his mistake.  "She really
is too silly," he reflected; "she cannot imagine that child, pretty as
she is, to be a Mrs Siddons in embryo."  But his quick kind-heartedness
made him add aloud: "I can well believe that, as far as _appearance_
goes, that opinion will be pretty general.  The dress, too, is
remarkably becoming to Im--to Miss Wentworth.  Still, dramatic power,
even in a small degree, is a distinct _gift_, like talent for music,
sculpture, or any art.  It cannot be acquired, though it may be

He was already rather beyond his hearer's range, though his words were
intended as an explanation.  But they had the effect of smoothing down
her ruffled plumage--or rather, perhaps, his manner did so.

"Of course, he does not want me to imagine for an instant that he
_could_ say anything derogatory to Imogen," she reflected.  "And after
all, unless he felt quite a peculiar interest in her, he would not speak
so frankly," and her tone was quite itself again as she replied.

"I am sure Imogen should be, and is, most grateful to _you_, Major
Winchester.  She has said ever so many times that she never could have
managed it but for your help.  _I_ think she acted beautifully
to-night,"--and the simplicity with which she said this pleased
Rex--"but then I am not nearly clever enough to be a judge."

"I myself did really think it very--extremely pretty," he said.  "And it
has been a great pleasure to me to help her, I need scarcely assure

"You have been our good angel ever since our first arrival here," said
Mrs Wentworth.  "Dear Imogen was saying so only yesterday.  Altogether,
when I remember our distress that wet morning at the station, and your
appearing just at the right moment--it was quite romantic."  She
hesitated a little.  "Now is his time," she thought.  But Major
Winchester did not seem on the alert, and he again detected the slight
tendency to "gush" in her tone, which had before this disappointed him
in Imogen's mother.  "I am always so, I fear, really, foolishly anxious
about my darling child," she went on.  "My only one, and--alone as we

"But after all, it ended all right, did it not?" he said.  "Miss
Wentworth did not take the least cold, nor did you yourself, I think."

"Oh no," she replied, "none whatever.  I was not only thinking of cold
and such things.  I--of course, I am _always_ anxious about her.  And
this visit here--a sort of `coming out' it really was--and among
comparative strangers--"

"Still, after all, it has turned out all right," he repeated, still with
that vague instinct of annoyance.  "At least," he went on, as his own
misgivings and anxiety concerning Imogen's friendship with Beatrix
occurred to his mind--"at least, I hope so.  I--I have done what I
could," but here he hesitated.  It scarcely came within the lines of
loyalty to his hosts to discuss them with an outsider, and an outsider
concerning whose discretion his doubts were grave.

"I am sure of that.  Oh yes, indeed," said Mrs Wentworth, with a
recurrence of gush in her tone.  "As Miss Forsyth was saying only
yesterday, Imogen is really a most--"

"Excuse me," said Rex, much more stiffly than he had yet spoken, "one
thing I must ask of you, Mrs Wentworth, and that is not to repeat to me
any of Miss Forsyth's remarks on _any_ subject whatsoever.  As regards
Miss Wentworth, so far as you are good enough to allow me to advise, I
was going to say I wish she had made, I wish still she could make, more
of a friend of Florence.  Believe me, I am not influenced by prejudice
or anything of that sort in saying so.  For the future, too--"

Unconsciously to himself the stiffness had melted away again as he
spoke.  Mrs Wentworth's perceptions were not of the quickest; still she
could not but hear the contempt in his voice when he spoke of Mabella.
Against this, however, she was, so to say, forearmed by Miss Forsyth's
own plausible regrets that Major Winchester, a man for whom _she_ had
the profoundest respect, should dislike her so.

"It may have been partly my own fault," she had said, with a sigh.  "I
know I have been wild and foolish; but some one has made mischief too, I
feel sure."

So Mab's new friend did not resent his rather imperious request as she
might otherwise have done, and the vague, uncompleted sentence at the
end of his speech--"for the future,"--aroused in her all sorts of
pleasant surmises.

"You are so kind, so very kind, dear Major Winchester, to take so much
interest in my Imogen," she murmured.  "Yes, I wish she knew more of
Florence, as I see you think highly of her.  Of course she is a good
deal older--"

"Florence cannot be older than that other girl," said Rex, rather
gruffly.  "And _her_ age does not seem to be any objection to her as a

"Imogen is not a particular friend of Mabella's," said Mrs Wentworth,
quietly.  "In fact she--I think she has rather taken a dislike to the
poor girl.  _I_ like her, I confess, very much.  I am sorry for her; she
seems to me much misunderstood; and of course, if a little friendly,
elder-sisterly sympathy can do her any good, or be any help to her--"

Major Winchester could not help smiling.  Mrs Wentworth's simplicity
was sublime.

"My dear lady," he said, "you are years--centuries younger than Miss
Forsyth.  I cannot agree with you about her, I am sorry to say; but that
does not signify.  I am only uncommonly glad to hear that Miss Wentworth
is rather of my way of thinking than yours in this matter."

He rose as he spoke, but Mrs Wentworth was reluctant to let him go.
"How stupid men are!" she thought to herself.  "When could he have a
better opportunity of taking me into his confidence?"

"Thank you so much, Major Winchester," she said.  "You may indeed trust
me.  I shall consider all you have said as quite, _quite_ between

Rex almost started.  He looked and felt bewildered.  He had had no
intention whatever of establishing any private understanding with the
amiable lady; it was about the very last thing he desired.

"I must go," he said.  "Florence will be looking for me elsewhere.  It
really doesn't matter in the least if you repeat anything I have said.
Do not feel any constraint about it, I beg of you."

But Mrs Wentworth chose to take it her own way.

"I see where Imogen has learnt her dislike to Mabella," she thought to
herself.  "Ah, well--it really does not signify.  But how oddly Major
Winchester expresses himself sometimes."

The theatricals were pronounced a great success.  Nothing of any
consequence went wrong, and the audience, composed of all the society to
be got together within a reasonable radius of The Fells, professed
itself delighted.  This was the festive and sociable season in the north
country, of course; several of the large neighbouring houses were nearly
as full of guests as Grey Fells Hall itself, and their respective hosts
were most ready to be grateful for this entertainment on a large scale.
So the unfavourable criticisms, if there were any, were not made in
public, and congratulations and compliments were the order of the day.

"It wasn't half so dreadful, after all, as I expected," said Imogen,
throwing herself down on a couch standing in a passage just outside the
temporary green-room.  "Now it is over, I almost feel as if I should
like to do it again."

She was speaking to Major Winchester.  He could not help laughing at her
exceedingly untechnical way of expressing herself.

"I am afraid there is nothing of the `born actress' in you, Miss
Wentworth," he said.  "`Do it again,' oh dear!"

"Well, `act it,' `play it'--what should I say?" she replied childishly.
"Oh dear, I am so hot.  And we are going to dance; did you know?"

"For your sake I am glad to hear it, if you are fond of dancing," he

"I have only danced at school with the other girls," Imogen replied
dubiously.  "But even that was very nice.  Only this dress is so heavy.
And it's fixed that we are to keep our dresses on for the rest of the

"It is heavy, and hot, too, I daresay.  But _il faut souffrir pour etre
belle_, you know," he added lightly, "and it certainly is very pretty
and becoming."

He touched, as he spoke, some of the richly-coloured draperies of the
fantastic costume.  Imogen flushed with pleasure.

"Do you really think so?" she said.  "I am so pleased.  Do you know,
Major Winchester," she added, half shyly, "I believe that is the very
first compliment you have ever paid me!"  Rex looked at her kindly.  She
was very sweet, very lovely just then.

"What a dear child she is!" he thought to himself.  For the best of men
are but men, and he was keenly sensitive to beauty.  He stroked the
little hand that lay on the couch beside him, and Imogen's colour
deepened still more.

"And after all," he said, "I fear my compliment, such as it was, was
more for `Valesca' than for Imogen."

"Never mind," said she, her voice trembling a little, "Imogen thought it
very nice."

"Imogen is very sweet and--" he replied, but suddenly started up,
exclaiming, with a complete change of voice:

"Robin, my boy!  Where have you dropped from?  I had no idea you were in
the neighbourhood."



Imogen looked up, not without a feeling of irritation at the
interruption, to see whom Major Winchester was thus greeting.  The
new-comer was a tall, good-looking young fellow, of four or five and
twenty at the most, with pleasant eyes, and a likeness--rather strong at
first, but fading even as she looked at him--to some one she knew.

"Whom is he like?" thought the girl.  Then as her glance fell on Major
Winchester she could not help smiling at her own dullness.  Of course,
it was Rex himself the younger man resembled!  But as they stood
together talking, she lost it; when she came to know Robin Winchester's
face better, she found it was much more a resemblance of expression than
of feature or colouring.

"I didn't expect to be here to-night, or I would have written," she
heard the stranger reply.  "I'm staying at Wood Cross for three days'
shooting.  We drove over, a large party.  But I say, Rex, have you heard
from Angey the last day or two?  I had a letter from Arthur that rather
startled me."

"No; I have heard nothing for a week or more," said Rex, hastily, his
face clouding over with anxiety.  "Is it--is it anything new?"

"No, no; you would have heard, of course, if it had been anything
exactly critical.  Perhaps I should not have told you of it.  Arthur
says he would write to you if it got worse.  I have his letter in my
pocket.  Here it is.  You can read it afterwards;" and he held out an
envelope.  "Your not having heard is a good sign, you see.  I've made a
muddle of it, and frightened you for nothing.  Angey didn't want you
told, if it could be helped.  She--she said you had enough on your mind
already, just now."

The last few words were spoken in a lower tone, so low that Imogen
scarcely caught them, and they were accompanied by a glance in her
direction which made the colour rise to her cheeks.  There was a sort of
questioning in the glance as well as undisguised, but entirely
respectful, admiration.  She got up from her seat and touched Major
Winchester very slightly on the arm.  He turned at once with a quick
gesture of apology.  But before he had time to speak, she forestalled

"I think I will go into the drawing-room.  Mother, or some of them, are
sure to be there," she said, gently.

"Forgive me," he said, quickly.  "Wait one moment.  You must not go
alone.  The dancing is beginning.  Robin--Miss Wentworth, may I
introduce my brother, Mr Robert Winchester?  My _little_ brother," with
a smile, though the anxiety was still visible in his face.  "And, Robin,
will you take care of Miss Wentworth for a few minutes while I read
this?  Then you will find me here again; and--I hope I shall still have
my dance with you--_Valesca_?" he said, and the smile was brighter now.

Imogen brightened up too.

"If--if you are not disinclined for it," she replied.

"No, no; it will do me good."

"Don't you think, Miss Wentworth," said Robert Winchester, as he offered
Imogen his arm and they walked away, "that I can best take care of you
by replacing Rex as your partner.  You were dancing with, him, were you

"I don't think we had settled anything about it," Imogen answered,
simply.  "But I should like to dance very much.  Only first--I could not
help overhearing a little--I am so sorry.  Is it about your sister, Mrs

"Yes," and Robin glanced at her.  "He has told you, I see.  Poor Rex!
he's lucky to have your sympathy.  He--I wish a few less troubles would
fall to his share.  I wish I could see him really happy at last."  And
again he glanced at her, half inquiringly.

"He told me," she said, hesitating a little, out of a sort of shyness,
"he told me of his anxiety about Mrs Bertrand; but that must be an
anxiety to you, too, Mr Winchester."

"Yes, of course.  I'm awfully fond of Angey--we both are.  But Rex has
so much upon him just now, so many different things.  Of course, it's
not _all_ anxiety; there's the bright side, the hopeful side to it too.
I don't know that I've any right to talk to you like this though, Miss
Wentworth, but somehow I feel as if I'd known you before.  I hope you
don't mind."

"Oh no," said Imogen, wondering a little at his manner, nevertheless,
and conscious of looking slightly awkward--why, she scarcely knew.
"It's--it's very kind of you.  I do trust Mrs Bertrand will be all
right again soon.  I am so sorry for Major Winchester.  He--he has been
so kind to me."

"I am so delighted to see you understand--appreciate him," said the
young fellow boyishly, and Imogen felt herself growing red as he looked
at her.  She was half pleased, half puzzled by his manner.  "_I_ think
him--well, perfection--the most splendid fellow going," he went on,
laughing a little at his own enthusiasm.  "But all the same everybody
doesn't take to him.  Some people think him so cold and stand-off."

"He has never--never from the first seemed so to me," she replied,
impulsively.  "I couldn't tell you what a difference his being here
and--and his goodness has made to me.  I feel as if I could tell him
anything--he understands so;" then she stopped, feeling ashamed of her
little outburst, and very conscious of her glowing cheeks.  "I hope he
won't think me gushing, or anything like that," she thought.  "I
couldn't bear his talking of me that way to Major Winchester; I know
_he_ hates gushing."

For she felt that Robin was looking at her with an expression she was at
a loss to understand.  There was admiration in it undoubtedly--
admiration as respectful as it was genuine; but there was something of
questioning, of slight misgiving in the eyes that now and then looked so
like his brother's.

"You are right," he said quietly; "there's no one like him."

They were in the dancing-room by this time.  Imogen began to feel
nervous in another sense.

"I hope you don't dance very well, Mr Winchester," she began.  "_No_--I
don't mean that, for it would make it worse.  I mean I hope you are not
very--difficult to please.  For I have had very little practice.  Oh
yes," as she noticed the surprised expression on her companion's
face--"I can dance; of course I have learnt, but I haven't danced
_properly_--among other people, you know--at balls."

"I'm sure we'll get on all right," he replied; "you look as if you would
dance well.  Don't be nervous."

He proved a true prophet; after a moment or two's slight hesitation,
Imogen found herself quite at home.

"Oh," she said, when at last they stopped, "I had no idea it could be so
nice; ever so much easier, too, than dancing when it's a dancing-lesson,
you know."

Mr Winchester could scarcely help laughing, but he was pleased too.

"You really dance beautifully," he said.  "So if your only experience
has been dancing-lessons, as you say, you have certainly profited by
them.  But you should dance with Rex."

"Does he dance so well?" asked the girl, with interest.

"Splendidly: his worst enemy can't deny _that_," answered Robin with

"Who is his worst enemy?  I shouldn't have thought he had any," said
Imogen, half thoughtlessly, but with a spice of curiosity too.

Robin glanced round the room, but suddenly checked himself.

"No," he said, "I won't make mischief.  Never mind, Miss Wentworth; it's
a shame to spoil a jolly good dance by talking of disagreeable things.
Shall we have another turn?"

His spirits seemed to rise as the dance went on, and so did Imogen's.
Truth to tell, she had never enjoyed herself so much in her life.

Robin was really much nearer her in every way than his elder brother.
For kind as Major Winchester was to her, Imogen was conscious of a
certain strain in talking to him, and her pleasure in his society was
largely composed of gratified vanity at the attentions of a man of his
age and position; vanity only too cleverly and steadily fed by the two
conspirators--directly by Beatrix, with her irresistible appearance of
candour and _bonhommie_; more astutely by Miss Forsyth's remarks to Mrs
Wentworth all of which sooner or later were sure to find their way to
the girl herself.

The first dance had become the second, before the two happy young people
separated.  Just as the latter was coming to a close, Imogen caught
sight of Major Winchester dancing with Florence.  Her face clouded.

"Why," she said, "I thought your brother was reading his letters.  He
promised _me_ his first dance."

"Never mind," said Robin.  "It's a pleasure to see those two dancing
together; they're worth watching, I assure you.  And how could Rex dance
with you, when you were already dancing?"

"He should have come and asked me.  I only danced with you to--to--
because he was busy," said Imogen, bluntly, and with evident pique.

"Thank you, Miss Wentworth," Robin replied.  He could not help laughing
a little.  "It will be all right after this dance, I have no doubt," he
went on.  But he looked at her as he spoke with the same expression of
inquiry, almost concern, in his eyes, which she had before been
conscious of without understanding it.

He was not offended, however; his tone was as hearty, his whole bearing
as kindly as before.

"He is _very_ nice," thought Imogen, "and--I don't think he's quite as
clever and grand as his brother;" and in the reflection there was a
certain unacknowledged sensation of relief.  But the sight of Florence
and Major Winchester, who just then came in view, brought the cloud back
to her face.

"Don't they dance splendidly?" said Robin.  "You see they've been used
to each other's paces for so long--ever since Florry grew up."

"Yea, that is a good while ago," said Imogen, with a faint touch of

"She is a year older than I, and I am twenty-four," Mr Winchester
replied, simply.  "I am fourteen years younger than my brother.  Why, he
is _almost_ old enough to be your father."

"Nonsense!" said the girl, sharply.  "I am eighteen--eighteen past; that
only makes--"

She stopped and looked confused.

"Twenty years," said Robin, calmly.  "Practically a generation.  Still,
as Wordsworth says--what is it he says about `a pair of friends?'  One
was--I forget how old or how young, but Matthew was seventy-two, I'm

"I don't know," Imogen replied.  "I don't know Wordsworth well, except
`We are Seven,' and I can't bear it.  I had to learn it when _I_ was
seven, and I always thought her such a stupid little girl.  After all,"
she went on, "twenty years don't seem so much.  When Major Winchester is
seventy-two I shall be fifty-two, and I'm _sure_ once a woman is
fifty-two she might as well be a hundred."

"Perhaps you won't think so when the time comes," said Robin.  "Shall we
take one other turn, Miss Wentworth?  We shall not have time for more."

The music stopped before they had got well round the room.  Then Imogen,
espying her mother in a corner not far from where Florence and her
partner were standing, made Mr Winchester pilot her thither.  But she
did not volunteer to introduce him, though he lingered in the
neighbourhood for a moment or two.

"The mother is a sweet-looking woman," he thought.  For he had noticed
the adoring smile with which the girl was greeted.  "But she never can
have been as charming as the girl.  _She_ has much more character, I
should say, than her mother.  But she is very, very young.  I wonder
if--I hope;" then his thoughts became less defined, as he went off in
another direction to claim the dance which Alicia, his eldest cousin,
had promised.  Still they had brought a somewhat anxious expression to
his usually unclouded face, and more than once during his waltz with
her, Miss Helmont reproached him with being nearly as solemn and
"absent" as Rex himself.

And there was some reason for her remarks.  Robin's misgivings
intensified, as the first turn round the room brought into full view his
late partner, glancing up in his brother's face with what looked to him
like not-to-be-concealed delight, as Major Winchester appeared to claim
the dance he had been somewhat tardy of remembering.

"She has forgiven him already," thought the younger man.  "_I_ never saw
that look in her face all the time she was dancing with me," and he gave
a little sigh.  "Rex should be--"

"Robin, what _is_ the matter?  Are you in love?  You are sighing `like a
furnace,' or an old man with asthma?" said Alicia.  And the young man
had to smile and excuse himself.

His interpretation of Imogen's face was not quite correct, but it would
have required much deeper discernment than his--than Imogen's own
indeed--to eliminate the elements of gratified vanity and girlish
triumph from the nobler feelings with which they were intermingled.

Major Winchester almost never danced, Trixie had taken care to tell her,
"except with one of us, or some very great friend.  He says he is too
old and grave.  But, indeed, he scarcely ever speaks to girls at all; of
course every one sees _you_ are quite an exception, Imogen."

The evening was pronounced on all hands to have gone off excellently.

"You have really enjoyed it thoroughly, my darling, have you not?" said
Mrs Wentworth, fondly, when she looked in to Imogen's room to bid her
good-night--or good-morning, rather, for midnight was well past.

"Yes, mamsey, very much indeed," was the reply, "only I'm dreadfully
sleepy.  I think I enjoyed the first part the most, before I got at all
tired, you know, and Mr Winchester just suits me for dancing."

"_Mr_ Winchester?" her mother repeated, inquiringly.

"Yes; didn't you see?  A tall man, though not as tall as his brother,
but just a _little_ like him, only much younger.  He came over with the
Penmores--I think that's the name.  He's staying there for shooting.
Didn't you know?  He's so nice looking."

Mrs Wentworth looked slightly discomfited.

"Oh yes," she said, "I think I did see you dancing with a young man whom
I did not know--a mere boy."

"No," Imogen replied, rather hotly, "he's not a mere boy; he's
twenty-four or twenty-five; and he's _very_ nice."

"But it was Major Winchester you were dancing with at the end?"

"Yes, he's rather too tall for me, and he _is_ very old, mamsey," and
Imogen glanced up with a curious, somewhat perplexed expression.

"Old!" repeated Mrs Wentworth with a little laugh.  "What ridiculous
ideas girls have!  I was just thinking you and he looked so--no, I
mustn't say what I thought when I saw you dancing together."

"Mother!" exclaimed Imogen, and her cheeks grew scarlet.

"And what was that I heard him whispering as he said good-night just
now?"  Mrs Wentworth went on.  "Something about `forgive' or

"Oh, nothing," said the girl, "only that he hadn't come for the first
dance he had asked me for.  He danced it with Florence."

"Poor Florence!" said Imogen's mother, patronisingly.  "She does not get
too much attention.  You should try to be kind to her, dear."

"I!"  Imogen exclaimed.  "Nonsense, mamsey: She would not care for that
sort of thing at all.  I am only too flattered when she notices _me_.  I
don't take to her much, but of course I admire her.  Indeed, I'm rather
frightened of her.  _Me_ be kind to Florence!  Oh, mamsey, Florence
could have any amount of attention if she cared for it."

"My dear little modest darling," said Mrs Wentworth.  "Well, some day
my pet will have to learn to take more upon her, I daresay.  In the
meantime no one loves her the less for her humility."

"It isn't humility; it's common-sense," said the girl.  "But, oh, I'm so

"Off with you, then.  There's no beauty-sleep for you to-night; but you
must not think of getting up early.  I know more than one person who
would not be pleased to see you pale and wearied-looking."

Mrs Wentworth's dreams that night were roseate-hued.  She had been well
primed in the course of the evening by Mabella Forsyth with her clever
hints and suggestions, so clever that when told over in simple language
they sounded but natural and ingenuous little kindly compliments.

Imogen slept the sleep of her eighteen years, untroubled by dreams, for
she was really tired, but with a pleasant undercurrent of gratification
and vague anticipation which her mother's words had greatly tended to

And while the little conversation I have repeated was taking place
between Mrs Wentworth and her daughter, another was passing between the
two brothers.  Down-stairs in the smoking-room--for it had been arranged
that he was to stay the night at The Fells--Robin Winchester was
sitting, more silent than his wont, while his cousins and their friends
kept up a rather noisy chatter, unrestrained by the awe-inspiring
presence of Major Rex.

"It's hardly worth while to go to bed," said Robin at last.  His brother
got up and went over to him.

"Oh yes, it is: you can have four or five hours' sleep; nobody will be
very early here.  What have you been about, Robin?  You seem done up."

Robin started slightly.

"I'm all right.  Perhaps I was thinking about Angey," he said.  "There
may be a letter for you in the morning, Rex.  That was one reason I was
glad to stay.  That girl--Miss Wentworth--was so sympathising about it."

"Yes," said Major Winchester.  "She has a kind little heart.  She's a
nice child; a great deal of good in her.  And isn't she pretty?  Last
night she looked really charming.  But, Robin, about Angey.  I almost
think I should go."

This point was discussed for a moment or two.  Then Robin again managed
to bring in Imogen's name.  Rex answered carelessly; he was thinking of
something else.  "Miss Wentworth, did you say?  Oh yes, that was her
mother.  Then, Robin, if _you_ hear anything,"--and so on about
arrangements and plans in connection with Mrs Bertrand.

It was no use.  Robin could not manage to bring the talk round deftly,
as he had hoped.  He must plunge in boldly.

"Rex," he said abruptly, though in a low voice.  He glanced round; they
were practically alone, for the room was large and the Helmonts and
their friends were still making a good deal of noise at the other end.
"Rex, does Miss Wentworth know, about you?"

"Know about me!"  Major Winchester repeated.  "How do you mean?"

"About your--about you and Eva?"

Rex looked a little surprised, but in no way startled or even

"I don't know, I'm sure," he said.  "Yes, I daresay she does.  Everybody
who knows either of _us_ knows it.  But she's too young to understand
that kind of thing.  I don't think I have ever talked about it to her.
It would have seemed so--I don't know how, exactly--so incongruous.  And
I have not felt inclined to talk about Eva lately--you can understand."

"No, of course not," Robin agreed.  "But I think Miss Wentworth is more
of a woman than you imagine, Rex.  She was very sympathising about

"Yes.  Well, I may tell her about Eva some day, if you think it would
please her to have her sympathy sought.  I am going to warn her
to-morrow again about Trixie, now this acting is over.  But she is such
a child, I like to see her enjoying herself; knowledge of troubles comes
soon enough.  Well, good-night, Robin.  I am rather sleepy, I confess.
So glad you came over, old fellow."

But Robin, though he shook hands and half moved to go, still lingered.

"What is it, Robin?  You've nothing on your mind, have you, my dear
boy?" asked the elder brother, half anxiously.  "You're not quite like
yourself, somehow."

"I'm afraid of annoying you, Rex, that's the fact of the matter," said
Mr Winchester, and his colour deepened a little.  "But I can't help
telling you.  I think Miss Wentworth _should_ know, and I feel sure she
doesn't.  She's--"

And he hesitated, then repeated his former phrase, "she's more of a
woman than you think, Rex."

It was now Major Winchester's turn to hesitate: he did so from his utter
and complete astonishment.

"My dear good boy," he exclaimed at last, "you are too absurd.  That
little childish creature!  Why, she looks upon me as a sort of father.
She does, I can assure you."

And he laughed, sincerely and without constraint.

But Robin did not give in.  On the contrary, his grave face grew graver.

"I might have known you would take it so," he said, half provoked and
half admiringly.  "I wish, Rex, you were just a little more--conceited;
I don't know what word to use.  But I can quite believe it might have
been as you say--all quite simple and natural, with a genuine
innocent-minded girl such as she is, had you known her elsewhere; but
here--There can be nothing simple and refined where Trixie and that
odious Forsyth girl are.  And Miss Wentworth rather stands up for

"I know she does, out of a kind of misplaced chivalry," said Rex,
speaking more seriously now.  "I am afraid, though I have done what I
could, that Trixie has got some influence over her.  But I don't see how
she can make mischief in this case."

Robin shook his head.

"I wouldn't answer for her," he said.  "Well, anyway, Rex, it can do no
_harm_ for you to talk to Miss Wentworth a little about Eva.  Dear Eva,"
he added, with a sigh.  "How I wish--"

"Don't," said Rex, almost sharply.  "I--I can scarcely bear the sound of
her name sometimes.  I daresay that has made me avoid alluding to her in
my talks with little Imogen.  For I told her about poor Angey.  But I
will see about it; though, remember, I do not in the _very_ least agree
with your reason for thinking it advisable.  Of all things I hate that
style of thing, imagining one's self an attractive young fellow like
you, Robin, when one's hair is growing grey."

He turned it off lightly.  Still, his brother's words had their effect.

"I had no idea little Robin was so worldly-wise; no, that's not the
word," Major Winchester said to himself when his companion had gone.
"He means it for the best, but it _must_ be nonsense.  Still, the mother
is silly enough for anything.  I must think it over."



Imogen slept late the next morning, later than she had ever done in her
life; for she was new to gay doings, and when at last she opened her
eyes, it was but to close them again with a sleepy smile as she
gradually recalled the scenes of the night before.

"How nice it was!  I wonder if all girls enjoy their first real grown-up
party as much," she thought.  "I wonder if Major Winchester will manage
the skating."  (For a hard frost had set in somewhat prematurely.) "What
fun it would be, only I'm afraid I shall tumble about dreadfully.  I
wonder," as another recollection suddenly returned to her mind, "what he
meant when he said he wanted to have a little talk with me to-day--to
tell me something; it must be something particular, for he whispered
`Remember about our talk to-morrow,' last thing.  Mother noticed it, but
I wasn't going to tell her all he said; she is so--so fanciful!"

The colour deepened on the girl's cheeks, alone though she was, as she
reached this point in her cogitations.  _Was_ it all "fancy" of her
mother's?  Could it be that Major Winchester really _was_?--and remarks
of Trixie's as to the astonishingness of his "making such friends" with
a girl of her age, "he who never scarcely speaks to a girl," returned to
her memory in full force.  Imogen's heart beat faster with a sensation
of mingled gratification and vague fear.  Was "it," the great "it" of
her girl life, really coming to her already?  Did all girls feel as she
did when such things drew near?  It was not what she had expected,
somehow: she liked him, liked and respected and trusted him thoroughly,
but he seemed so old in comparison with her.  And--oh, after all,
perhaps it was all nonsense--mamsey was silly about her; all mothers
fancy their daughters something wonderful--very likely there was nothing
in it; and with a sigh, half of relief, half of disappointment, Imogen
threw herself back on her pillows.  Would she be glad or sorry if it
_were_ all nonsense? she asked herself.  And it was not easy to answer.

Her meditations were interrupted by a tap, the gentlest of taps, at the
door, and in reply to her "Come in," Mrs Wentworth appeared.  She was
all dressed and ready to go down-stairs.  Imogen started up.

"Oh, mamsey," she exclaimed, "I am so ashamed of myself!  I had no idea
it was so late.  Why hasn't Colman wakened me?"

"I would not let her," her mother replied, kissing her tenderly as she
spoke.  "She said you were sleeping so sweetly an hour ago.  I tapped
very softly, not to wake you in case you were still asleep."

"But I must jump up now and be as quick as possible," said Imogen.

"There is really no hurry," Mrs Wentworth replied.  "Indeed, Colman and
I were wondering if you would not like your breakfast brought up.  I am
sure it will be a most irregular meal this morning."

"Breakfast in bed, and I quite well!  Oh dear, no," said Imogen,
laughing.  "I will be ready in twenty minutes, at most."

"But first," said Mrs Wentworth, "here are two letters for you; at
least, a letter and a note," and she held them out.  Imogen seized the

"From Dora," she said.  "How nice!  Now, when I answer it, I shall have
all about last night to tell her.  And a note."  She took it and
examined it doubtfully.  "I don't know the writing--at least, I'm not
sure.  I fancy I've seen it before--oh yes; I believe it's Major
Winchester's.  What can he have to write to me about, when he's just
going to see me at breakfast?"

"I don't know about that," said Mrs Wentworth, who was dying of
curiosity, mingled, it must be allowed, with a worthier feeling.  "I
have heard some news already this morning.  Major Winchester has been
called away.  He and his brother breakfasted early, and started off to
catch the ten o'clock express."

Imogen's face fell.

"Oh dear, how dreadfully vexing!" she exclaimed.  "Just when we had
planned such a nice day.  I'm afraid there must be something wrong; bad
news about his sister, probably.  And this note will be to explain about

She looked up questioningly in her mother's face, toying idly with the
letter in her fingers as she did so.

"Very likely; it is pretty sure to be so," said Mrs Wentworth.  "But
why in the world don't you open it, my dear, and then you would see?"
There was a touch of impatience in her tone; but she controlled herself
and turned away, as Imogen began to tear the envelope, feeling that the
girl might prefer to read it unobserved.  But scarcely a moment seemed
to have passed before she heard herself called back to Imogen's bedside.
She started as she caught the sound of her child's voice.  It seemed
choked and gasping, and Imogen herself was lying back, almost as white
as the pillow.

"My darling," Mrs Wentworth exclaimed, "what is the matter?  Are you

"No, no.  Read that.  Oh, mamma!" said the girl, incoherently, and she
thrust the sheet of paper into her mother's hand.  These were the words
on which fell Mrs Wentworth's bewildered gaze:

  My Dearest,--

  I am just off--and Robin, too--summoned to poor Angey by this
  morning's letters.  The operation is to take place at once.  God grant
  it may be successful.  You will feel for us, I know.  Though I have
  scarcely a moment, I could not go without one word to you to explain
  my movements, though I hope to be back at The Fells in a day or two.
  I have so much to tell you, and to lay before you all that I have been
  thinking of, and I had planned for an uninterrupted hour or two
  to-day.  I know you will not have misunderstood my recent silence, and
  when we meet, a few minutes will be better than pages of writing.
  Ever yours,--


  _P.S._--Say nothing of this at present to _any one_.

Imogen's mother read and re-read.  Gradually her bewilderment gave place
to delight--though delight strongly mixed with astonishment.  She looked
up at last.  A little colour had by this time returned to the girl's

"Mamsey," she said, anxiously, "what does it mean?"

"Darling," Mrs Wentworth replied, "it is rather for you to tell me; I
had no idea, my pet, that things had gone _so_ far."

But though her tone was playful, it failed to raise any smile on
Imogen's face.

"I don't know how you mean.  _I_ had no idea that--" But here she
stopped short.

Imogen was really truthful, and the remembrance of her morning's
cogitations just then returned inconveniently to her mind.  Mrs
Wentworth smiled.

"I see," she said; "you do well to stop short, my pet.  Well, well, poor
old mothers must expect to be treated with reserve at such times, I

Imogen raised herself on her elbow.

"Mamma," she said, very gravely, "I am telling you the literal truth
when I say that I did not in the least expect anything like this.
Nothing that Major Winchester has said or done has led me to think
that--that it was anything more than that he just liked me, and, in
time, possibly--when I was older--"

"You have been too unconscious, too simple and ingenuous to see it, my
sweet.  Thank God we have had to do with a good and honourable man, who
has not taken advantage of your innocence," said Mrs Wentworth with a
burst of real feeling.  "But others have seen it, if you have not."

"Have they?" said Imogen, opening her eyes.  Then some of Trixie's
remarks recurred to her, and she blushed a little.  "Do you mean,
mamsey," she went on, "that this," and she touched the letter, "is what
one would call a proposal?  It isn't like what they are in books."

"It is almost _more_ than a proposal," her mother replied.  "It is as if
he was quite sure of you--as if you quite understood each other.  Have
you not given him more encouragement than you quite realise, my pet?"

Imogen reflected.

"He did say something last night about hoping for a good talk to-day--
something he wanted to say to me," she said, hesitatingly.

"Ah, I thought so; he has in a sense taken the definite understanding
for granted, as it were," said Mrs Wentworth.  "And you know, dearie,
he is much older than you--about my own age, in fact," with a touch of
her little bridling of self-satisfaction, "and you must let him, as it
were, do things in his own way."

"Yes, I know he is much older than I.  You do not need to remind me of
that," said Imogen, in a melancholy tone.  And a vision passed before
her of the ideal husband--rather, perhaps, the lover--she had pictured
in her girlish dreams, eager, devoted, ardent; it was not the staid,
almost paternal Major Winchester!

Mrs Wentworth's face clouded.  "But, my darling," she said, "you don't

"Oh, I don't know what I mean.  I am not good enough or clever enough
for him; but I daresay it will be all right.  I will tell him so; and he
is very kind and patient.  He will teach me, I daresay, and--I know it
will be a comfort to you to--to feel--and--" Here a smile for the first
time broke through her troubled expression: "Just fancy, mamsey, how
astonished every one will be!  It _will_ be fun to write to Dora; and,
mamsey, I must have her for one of my bridesmaids."

"We shall see, dearie; we shall see.  Yes, indeed, every one _will_ be
astonished," and visions of the delightful letters of _faire-part_ of
the exciting news to her special cronies that would fall to her own
share floated before Mrs Wentworth's dazzled eyes.  "Not but that
Imogen might have made a more _brilliant_ marriage," she imagined
herself saying; "but Major Winchester is a man one can so thoroughly
_trust_, and--" Here her daughter's voice interrupted her.  She was
pointing to the postscript and looking rather dismayed.

"Mamma," she said, "did you notice this?  I don't think I did; at least,
I was so startled I don't know if I noticed it or not.  But I shouldn't
have told _even you_."

"Oh, nonsense, darling!  He could not have meant to exclude _me_," said
Mrs Wentworth.  "However--"

"You will be very, _very_ careful, won't you, mamsey?" urged, the girl,
who was not without experience of her mother's impulsiveness.

"_Of course_, dear, in any case; about such a thing you don't think I
need warning?" said Mrs Wentworth, in a slightly aggrieved tone.

"But--that Miss Forsyth," said Imogen; "she is so wheedling, and you
know you _are_ rather easily taken in, mamsey, dear."

The adjective and the caressing tone--for Imogen was not given to gush--
smoothed down Mrs Wentworth's ruffled feathers.

"I'll be _very_ careful, dearest," she said; and then, at last, she tore
herself away, Imogen promising to follow her down-stairs with the utmost
possible speed.

It was with a sense of delightful, though almost bewildering, elation
that Mrs Wentworth entered the dining-room, where various members of
the party staying in the house were lounging over the irregular
breakfast.  No member of the family was present except Alicia, who half
rose to greet her in her usual good-natured, apathetic way.

"Am I not praiseworthy, Mrs Wentworth, for being down so early?" she

"Is no one else down?" asked the new-comer, somewhat surprised; for the
Helmont energy extended to early rising.  "I mean to say, none of

"Oh dear, yes.  Father and mother are off on their usual behests, and
Florence was down at nine to give our worthy cousin his breakfast.
Major Winchester was obliged to go up to town this morning."

"I know--at least I heard so," Mrs Wentworth could not resist saying.

"Really!" said Alicia with a glance of surprise.  And as Miss Forsyth at
that moment came in--"Did _you_ know, Mab, that Rex and Robin went off
first thing this morning?  Oh yes, by the bye, I believe you and Trixie
didn't go to bed at all, did you?"

"It was much jollier sitting up in our armchairs over the fire," said
Mabella, carelessly.  She did not look the least tired or fagged.

"Give me a cup of coffee, won't you, Alicia?  It's such a time since I
had breakfast, I feel ready to begin again.--And how is the fair Imogen,
Mrs Wentworth?  You yourself look brilliant," she added.

Mrs Wentworth smiled graciously.

"Thank you," she said; "Imogen is very well, very well indeed.  She will
be down directly.  She would have been down already, but she had--we had
some rather important letters this morning."

Miss Forsyth drew her chair a little closer to her dear Mrs

"Nothing wrong, I trust?" she said in a low voice.  "No, you could not
look as you do if it were.  Really, dear, there are times, and this is
one of them, when, I _cannot_ take in that you are Imogen's mother--you
do look so ridiculously young.  If there is anything--any business
matter--I can be of use about, you _will_ tell me, won't you?"

"You are so kind, dear Mabella," murmured Mrs Wentworth vaguely.

"Let us take our work and go and sit in the large conservatory after
breakfast, and have a good cosy talk," the girl went on.  "Imogen is
sure to be--oh no, I forgot; Major Rex is off there will be no one
especially to claim her this morning."

Mrs Wentworth closed her lips in a peculiar way but did not reply.
Just then Trixie came in, like a whirlwind, as usual, but looking very

"Where's Imogen?" she exclaimed.  "We're going to skate--Noll and I and
one or two others--and she said she wanted to learn.  Is she still

"Oh no, she will be down directly, and--if it's not too cold, and--" she
hesitated, for her faith was small in Trixie.  "Would you like to go,
dear?" she went on to Imogen, as she made her appearance.

"I have just told Florence I would go," Imogen answered quietly.  "I met
her in the hall.  She said she had undertaken to look after me.  You
know I can't skate a bit, Trixie."

"Promised Major Winchester to take care of her, you see," whispered
Mabella to Mrs Wentworth, with a smile.  And for the life of her, Mrs
Wentworth could not repress a certain self-consciousness in her "Perhaps
so," in reply.

How sardonic were Mabella's inward chuckles of satisfaction!

"It is too good to be true almost, Trixie," she told her semi-confidante
that morning.  "Revenged!  I should think so, indeed--never was anything
so neat in this world."

But beyond this, not one word would she say.

And in spite of Imogen's warnings and expressed misgivings, ere the day
was many hours older, Miss Forsyth was pretty fairly in possession of
all she wanted to know.

"She is so sympathising, and interested in Imogen," thought Mrs
Wentworth, "and I cannot tell what is absolutely untrue."

But when after events had caused her to qualify Miss Forsyth's character
with very different adjectives, she found it impossible to recall any
words of that astute young woman's which, when repeated, could be fairly
said to endorse or strengthen her own belief as to Major Winchester's
attitude towards Imogen.  On the contrary, little phrases literally
expressive of doubt or perplexity, though contradicted even while
uttered by her tone and smile, returned to her memory.

"Of course, _I_ cannot give an opinion, whatever I may _think_."

"No, Major Winchester cannot be called a flirt, and every one speaks of
him as a most honourable man; but _I_ am not in his confidence, and one
can only judge by what one sees."

"I have been _told_ of some attachment or engagement of old standing,
but then one knows how such things often end,"--and so on, all providing
a more or less safe shelter for Mabella should she ever be brought to
book for her treachery.

And the next two or three days passed like a confused dream to Imogen
herself.  There were times when she felt girlishly exultant and elated;
times when she was half inclined to entreat her mother to keep to their
programme (for the original term of their visit expired two days after
the theatricals) and leave The Fells before Major Winchester's return;
times when she longed to see him and test her own feelings; times when
she dreaded meeting him again more than she could express.  But with the
obstinacy which I have before alluded to, on one point Mrs Wentworth
was immovable.  Leave The Fells before his return she absolutely would
not.  In vain Imogen pleaded that if he "really meant it," he could
follow them, and that it would be both more dignified and "much more
comfortable," to meet again elsewhere.

"It would be the most distinct refusal you could give him under the
circumstances," Mrs Wentworth maintained.  "And a man of his age and
position must be allowed to take his own way to some extent, even if it
be a little eccentric;" adding, in her own mind, "And just _supposing_
he wrote that odd letter impulsively, not being really quite sure of his
own mind," (which was, to do her justice, Mrs Wentworth's only
misgiving), "if he came back and found us gone, and Florence, who I
_know_, does not like us, got hold of him and talked him round, where
would we be?  We might never hear of or see him again--quite as
honourable men as he have backed out of things of the kind before now--
and Imogen's whole career might be spoilt, for of course he would not
suppose she had shown me the letter, considering the postscript, and
knowing what a punctilious darling she is."

But these reflections she kept to herself--the effect of revealing them
to Imogen would, she felt instinctively, have been disastrous, for the
slight strain of coarseness, undeniable in the mother's nature, despite
her real gentleness and unselfishness, would have found no response in
the perfect delicacy of the high-minded though undisciplined daughter.

A hint or two to the effect that another week at The Fells would be a
convenience as well as a pleasure was cordially responded to by the
Wentworths' hostess.  Truth to tell, the seed fell on ground already
carefully prepared by Mabella, through Trixie, bribed by the promise of
a speedy _denouement_ of their cherished scheme of revenge.

"I am really pleased to see that Trixie has made such friends with
Imogen Wentworth," said honest Mrs Helmont to her husband.  "She is a
thoroughly sweet, refined girl.  And even Mab seems quieter lately."

"Trixie was none the worse for her bit of plain-speaking, you see," said
the Squire with satisfaction.  "I think I know how to manage that sort
of thing when it is really called for, though I have no idea of nagging
at the children as some do.  I wish poor Florry could pick up her
spirits a bit."

"She misses Rex; he has such a good influence on her," said Mrs
Helmont, "though he has troubles enough of his own, poor fellow.  I
daresay she is anxious about his troubles too."

For Florence, of all the party, had perhaps the most perturbed aspect
just then.  She was both distressed and bewildered--vaguely conscious
that mischief was brewing, though unable to define how or where.  And
her anxiety was not lessened by the perception that Imogen was avoiding

"I wish Rex were back," she said to herself.  "And still more I wish he
had not left that child in my charge, as he said.  What can I do?  She
gives me no confidence, and she is always with Trixie, just as her silly
mother is with Mabella."

It was true, though the further truth that in those days it was not
Imogen seeking Beatrix, but Beatrix Imogen, Beatrix was clever enough to
conceal from her elder sister.

"Keep her always in view; for Heaven's sake don't let her get
confidential with any one else, or it will all be spoilt!" were Mab's
instructions to Trixie.

"She's not confidential with _me_; she's as dull as ditch-water.  I'm
getting sick of your secret plots and plans that come to nothing,"
grumbled Beatrix.

There came a morning, however, when Mabella altered her commands for the

"Trixie," she said, in a low voice, "_he_--your cousin--is returning
this afternoon.  His luggage is to be fetched, and he himself is going
to walk up from the station.  He comes by the 2:15 express.  No one is
to be told; but I trust to you to let it out to Imogen."

Beatrix faced round upon her.

"How do _you_ know, if no one is to be told?" she asked sharply.
Mabella smiled, a peculiar smile.

"I have ways and means," she said.  "He wrote it to Florence, and I was
sitting beside her at breakfast.  I knew he _would_ be writing to her
when he fixed his return."

Trixie flamed up; her patience had been over-taxed.

"You mean, despicable--I don't know what to call you," she said.  "I've
a great mind to throw it all up, and tell what you're capable of."

"As you please," returned Mabella, coolly.  "I'm getting rather sick of
it myself.  But remember, you can't tell on me without telling on
yourself.  It wouldn't, after all, matter so very much to me, only a
house the less to visit at; but it would be uncommonly unpleasant for
_you_.  Your father would _never_ forgive you for playing tricks on his
guests, and you couldn't pack up and go off comfortably enough, as I

Trixie looked blacker and blacker; there was truth in Mabella's words.

"I _haven't_ played tricks, if it comes to that," she said.  "I've only
connived, to a certain extent, at what you're doing; and what you're
after just now I don't understand in the least."

"Wait a bit and you'll see," said Miss Forsyth.  "We may as well have
_some_ fun for our pains.  Be sensible, Trixie.  After all, no one will
be any the worse for it in the end, and it will be very wholesome for
some people to be brought down a peg or two."

"What do you want me to do?" asked Trixie, sulkily.

"Find ways and means to confide to Imogen that Rex Winchester is coming
to-day, and that he will be walking up alone from the station at a
certain hour.  He wanted Florence to meet him, but she can't.  She had
promised to go to Catborough to luncheon.  You might insinuate that
Florence wants to keep him all to herself, which is true.  She never
tells any one anything.  I often wonder you and Alicia stand it.  Ten to
one Imogen will jump at the chance of meeting him unobserved.  She hates
her mother's silly meddling, I can see."

"And what will happen then?" demanded Trixie.

"Not much to hurt Imogen--I don't believe she really cares for him, it's
only gratified vanity--but I hope and believe Major Rex will have a more
thoroughly uncomfortable _quart d'heure_ than he has ever experienced,"
said Mabella, smacking her lips, so to say, in anticipation.  "And you
will be revenged, Trix, gloriously revenged on him, for his priggish
meddling.  And it will be all his own fault!  That's _the_ beauty of it;
he won't be able to blame any one else--not a shadow of suspicion will
fall on you or me, if only you are sensible."

"And," she added, to herself, in a lower tone, "_I_ shall be revenged.
What are Trixie's babyish wrongs compared to _mine_?"

Thus worked upon and primed, Beatrix, as usual, agreed to carry out Miss
Forsyth's very precise and exact instructions.  But Mabella's
dictatorial and scornful tyranny had overshot the mark.

"I know what she's after," thought Trixie.  "_She's_ to have all the
fun, to be in at the death; but _I'm_ not.  And then she'll make some
flimsy excuse afterwards!  I know you, Miss Mabella Forsyth, and I can
plot and plan too--ah, well, we shall see."

It was a bright, clear, slightly frosty day.  "The perfection of a day
for a quick, brisk walk," thought Imogen, as in ample time to meet a
passenger by the train in question, walking up from the station, she let
herself out by a side door which opened on an unobserved path joining
the long winding avenue at some distance from the house.  It had not
been without difficulty that she had escaped from her mother, or avoided
telling her of Major Winchester's return.  The girl's head and heart
were in a state of ferment, and to her overstrained nerves Mrs
Wentworth's fidgety excitement and anxiety was becoming almost
unendurable.  Added to this was a considerable element of perplexity and
sore indignation--by every post she had looked for another and more
coherent letter.

"After writing like _that_" she thought, and not unreasonably, "he had
no right to leave me all these days in this way."  And now, Trixie's
communications had still farther increased her mental distress by the
jealousy of Florence they had skilfully suggested.

"I believe he meant to consult her before he said anything more to me,"
thought Imogen, though the next moment her loyal trust in Rex's perfect
honour caused her to discard the notion with disgust at herself for
having entertained it.  "No, not after going so _far_," she reflected.
"Yet, but for Trixie, I could never have known he was coming.  Poor
Trixie! she is far truer after all, than Florence.  I wonder if a letter
can have miscarried," was her next idea, and one which so plausibly
explained things, that she could not help turning it over and over in
her mind.  It had already occurred to Mrs Wentworth, and she had not
failed to suggest it to Imogen.

"If we knew his address, I almost think you might write to him," she had
said.  But Imogen turned upon her sharply.

"If I did, it would only be to enclose his letter in an envelope and
send it back to him," she said.  "If--if it is possible that he wrote it
impulsively, and is regretting it, do you think I would move one little
finger to recall him?"

And on the whole Mrs Wentworth saw that it was best for her to keep
_her_ fingers, for the present anyway, out of the pie.

The road--the latter part of it at least--from Cobbolds to The Fells,
was straight and direct.  There was no possibility of missing any one on
his way to the house within a mile.  The first gates opened on to a sort
of continuation of the drive--less carefully kept than the part within
them, but still a private road.  And before emerging on to the highway
it led through a little fir-wood, where, as somewhat screened from the
observation of any curious passers-by--not that many such were probable,
for the men were shooting in a different direction that day, and a large
party had started to join them at luncheon--Imogen had determined to try
to meet Major Winchester.

She walked quietly, half unconsciously hoping by so doing to calm her
momentarily-increasing agitation.  The first time she emerged from among
the firs there was no one to be seen in the stretch, of open road before
her.  So she retraced her steps, and it was not till she had traversed
the little wood two or three times that she descried a tall, familiar
figure moving quickly towards her.  And in another moment, considerably
to her surprise, she saw that she was herself--as she supposed--
recognised.  For Major Winchester took off his cap and waved it towards

"How could he know I was coming?" she thought, with a thrill of
gratification nevertheless.  "A letter must have miscarried.  He _must_
have written to me as well as to Florence."



But the reassuring thrill lasted barely a moment.  Suddenly, as Imogen
walked on, feeling that every step was bringing the meeting nearer, a
terrible, agonising rush of shyness and shame overwhelmed her.  For the
first time she realised that she was going, unbidden, uninvited, to seek
an interview with this man whose position to herself was still so
undefined, whose conduct had been so inexplicable!  She, who had so
proudly declared to her mother that not one finger would she move to
influence him, were it the case that he had acted upon an impulse which
he had afterwards regretted!  It was all Trixie's doing, she said to
herself.  Not that Trixie had suggested her taking Florence's place, but
she had alluded to the thing so simply, as if it were the most natural
idea in the world to go to meet Rex on his way up.

"Florence would have given anything to go; she likes to get Rex to
herself for a good talk.  I wish he didn't hate _me_ so, for I'd like a
good talk with him myself.  I'm getting rather sick of his seeing
everything through Florrie's eyes."  And the chance had seemed so
opportune that Imogen had seized it--in her eagerness to get the meeting
over, to come to an explanation before her mother could complicate
things by any interference--without realising the difference between
_her_ position and Florence's.

She was well punished in these few seconds for her thoughtlessness.
Unmaidenly and bold were among the mildest epithets she applied to
herself, while her imagination sought in vain for some pretext or excuse
in which she could find shelter.  "But I can't pretend I came by
accident," she thought; "he knows me too well, even if I could be so

So it was in utter indecision as to how she meant to bear herself that
she at last met Major Winchester.

He was smiling; he looked well and cheerful.  And he was feeling as he
looked.  He was relieved from anxiety about his sister, and there was a
gleam of brightness in the clouds surrounding his engagement.  And even
though the smile was broken by a start, unperceived by Imogen, as he
came near enough to recognise her, it soon appeared again.

"I thought you were Florence, do you know?" were almost his first words.

They acted as a cold shower-bath on Imogen; nothing could have so helped
her to regain her self-possession.  She stiffened at once.

"I am very sorry I cannot turn myself into Florence," she said, though
the tears were, all the same, not far from her eyes.  "But I needn't
keep you; I am going on a little farther."

"I hope not," he said kindly; "as I am so lucky as to have met you,
can't you turn and walk a bit of the way back with me?"  ("It will be a
splendid opportunity for following Robin's advice and telling her all
about Eva," he suddenly thought.) "You know we were going to have a good
talk the day I was called away."  He walked on slowly as he spoke, and
Imogen could scarcely avoid accompanying him.  "By the bye," he added,
"you got my note that morning?"

Imogen's breath came fast and chokingly.

"Ye-es," she said, and he saw that she was growing very pale, "I--I got
it.  That was why--I wanted to see you first alone."  Poor child! even
as she uttered the words she felt what she was doing.  Where were all
her hoped-for evasions? she was no diplomatist indeed.

"Then you knew I was coming?" he exclaimed, thoughtlessly.  But, almost
in the same breath, his perfect though simple chivalry came to his aid.
"I am so glad you came," he went on, "if I can be of any use.  I have
been anxious about you; I had wanted to warn you even more definitely
about some of our friends at The Fells.  Florence promised to do what
she could, but you have not got to know her as I hoped.  By the bye, did
she tell you I was coming?  I asked her not; but still--if _she_ told

He was getting a little bewildered himself, now.  For, of course,
Florence would never have counselled or sanctioned the poor child
exposing herself to such gossip as might result from her present step.

"No," Imogen replied.  "Trixie told me, not Florence.  I suppose coming
to meet you was a dreadful thing to do, Major Winchester, but I didn't
think of that at the time.  I--"

She seemed unable to say another word.

Rex felt relieved.  He thought he had got at it all now.

"Don't take it to heart so," he said, encouragingly.  "It was a very
natural thing to do.  You know I asked you to trust me.  It is only--
people gossip so.  But I'll tell you what, we will walk up and down in
this wood for a little, while you tell me all your troubles, and I--if I
have time--will tell you some of mine: then I will hurry on, and you can
finish your walk and come home at leisure.  Not even Miss Mabella
Forsyth can make mischief out of that."  He laughed a little as he

Neither he nor Imogen heard a faint rustle a few yards off, on one side
where the brushwood was thick, and where there still stood the ruins of
a summer-house or hut, which the Helmont boys had constructed years and
years ago.  But there was no response to his laughing tone, and glancing
down he saw that the girl's very lips were pale.  He grew frightened
again; what _could_ be the matter?  That it had anything to do with
Robin's warnings--which, after all, had not impressed him deeply--never
occurred to him.

"My dear child--Imogen!" he said, impulsively, "what _has_ happened?
What _is_ the matter?  Do tell me, whatever it is," and he tried to take
her hand, but she tore it away.

"What do you mean?" she exclaimed half wildly.  "If there is anything
the matter, you must know it.  Why have you made me think--made
everybody, almost, think Oh, I don't know what I am saying, and I don't
know what to do.  You said the evening before you went away that you had
something to say to me, and then you wrote.  What was it, then, that you
were going to say to me?"

"I wanted to warn you again, more definitely, about being on your guard
in some ways, and I was sorry to see you and Beatrix Helmont so much
together," Major Winchester replied very quietly.  He was growing very
nervous himself; terrible misgivings that Robin's discernment had not
been at fault began to make themselves heard.  He felt that everything
depended on his own perfect self-possession and presence of mind, if
this girl, so strangely thrown on his mercy, was to be saved, spared
from what might cast a miserable shadow of mortification and loss of
self-respect over the rest of her young life.  So he allowed himself to
show no pity; no impulse of sympathy must tempt him to go a
hair's-breadth beyond what he felt intuitively was the safe limit.

"I must try to be matter-of-fact and commonplace," his instinct told
him, "so that afterwards, when she thinks over it coolly, she will be
able to believe I had imagined nothing else."

"I am afraid you have had annoyances and difficulties I would have saved
you from if I could.  But don't tell me anything you would rather not,"
he went on, hesitating a little, half because he really did not know
what to say, half to give her time.

But Imogen scarcely heard his words.  It was growing too much for her;
every sense seemed absorbed by an overmastering irritation and

"Are you purposely trying to mislead me?  Are you making fun of me?
Or," as a new idea, like a flash of lurid lightning, crossed her mind,
"has some one else been doing so?  Yet--you spoke of a note?  You sent
me a note?  See here--this is it--that is your writing, is it not?"

"Certainly," Major Winchester replied, trying his best to speak lightly,
though a strange vague fear was upon him.  "That is the little note I
left for you the morning I was called away."  And he looked down at her,
smiling as if amused.  "You don't mean to say my poor little note has
made any mischief?" he added.

"Read it," said Imogen, hoarsely.

He did so, drawing the letter calmly out of the envelope, the slight
smile still on his lips.  But if his unconcern had hitherto added to the
girl's irritation, she had her revenge now.  For the change which came
over Rex's face was almost appalling.  A sort of grey pallor seemed to
spread itself above and through the healthy ruddy bronze; he looked for
the moment an elderly man.

"What can I have done?" he exclaimed involuntarily.

And Imogen, watching him breathlessly, gave a shivering gasp.

"What is it?" she said.  "Is it some wicked trick?  Oh, if only I had
not told!"

The last word was almost inaudible; it was not till afterwards that
Major Winchester recalled it.  By a strong effort he had already
mastered himself and recovered his self-possession.  He looked almost as
usual, as he turned to Imogen.

"I cannot understand how I could be so terribly, so inexcusably
careless, Miss Wentworth," he said.  "I am not usually careless.  It is
only lucky for me--I should indeed be _very_ thankful," he went on
speaking with intentional, deliberate impressiveness, "that my
ridiculous mistake occurred between two people I can trust so perfectly
and who will be as ready to forgive me as yourself and--and--the person
this letter was intended for.  I was going to ask your permission to
tell you about her, if--"

But the last sentence was lost upon Imogen.  She was staring up at him
with the strangest expression in her eyes.  "Then this letter was not
meant for me at all?" she said.

An instant later, and she saw what she had done.  The burning crimson
rushed over her face like a scorching blast.  She glanced round her
desperately, as if in vain search of shelter.

But Rex's voice recalled her to herself.  In the intense strain, the
fatal yet so commonplace words almost made him laugh.  There was only
one thought which gave him any relief.  How young, how almost absurdly
childish she was!  So, though he had now no longer any self-deception in
the matter, though he could scarcely trust that in any sense Robin's
warning had been uncalled for, he began to hope that out of the very
inexperience which had caused the mischief might come in time the cure.
For a moment or two he did not look at her.  Then he said quietly--and
from the tone of his voice no one could have suspected the almost
passion of pity he was feeling--

"Of course I intended _a_ letter for you.  That is the envelope,
properly addressed, you see.  I--I blame myself more than I can ever

His words meant far more than met the ears, but this, in her confusion
of mind, Imogen did not take in.

"Then it wasn't a trick?" she said in an odd, dull voice.  "I think I
would rather it had been a trick."

"What put that into your mind?" he said, half sharply.  "Supposing it
had been a trick, what then?"

"I--I don't know.  I don't think, if it had been a trick, I could have
felt quite so--so degraded," she said.

The word was almost more than he could bear.  How he longed to comfort
her, as a brother might have done!

"Miss Wentworth--Imogen," he said, "do, for mercy's sake, spare _me_ a
little.  You cannot--you cannot possibly say or feel half so bitterly
and severely to me as I do to myself.  But if you cannot now, some day
you will forgive me, won't you?  It will all seem so different, you will
wonder you cared.  I can promise you it will be so, and I am nearly old
enough to be your father, you know; and, at worst, no one need ever know
except ourselves; for she, Eva," and he lightly touched the letter, "is
like myself to me.  She is absolutely sweet and trustworthy."

"Is her name Eva?" asked Imogen, in a dazed sort of way.

"Yes.  How is it you have never heard them mention her?  My cousins are
not generally so reticent," and again the idea struck him, _could_ there
have been malice at work in all this?

"She has been very ill: that was what I was going to ask leave to tell
you about."

"I think I heard Florence speak about her.  But I thought it was your
sister.  Her name is Evangeline, and some one said she was sometimes
called Eva, and they said it troubled you to have it mentioned; so, even
though you had told me about your sister, I scarcely liked to ask how
she was."

She put great control on herself to speak thus; but as she went on, Rex
was relieved to see that she was rewarded for the effort by her calmness
increasing.  He had been dreading tears.  Once let them begin, and he
scarcely knew what could be done.

"I see," he said; "but still, some day perhaps I may be able to tell you
our melancholy little romance.  We have been engaged five years, Miss
Wentworth!" with a smile that was sad enough.  "But who told you that
Eva was my sister?  Who warned you not to speak of her?" he added, with
another flash of the strange, on the surface unreasonable, suspicion he
had already felt more than once.

Imogen tried to collect her bewildered faculties.

"Trixie, I think," she said; "and--and--I am not sure, but I think Miss
Forsyth said something of the same to mamma."

The lines on Major Winchester's face hardened.

"They are both so likely to consider my feelings tenderly!" he said

"No," said Imogen, bluntly, not detecting the satire.  "I think they
both almost hate you."

The quiet, matter-of-fact tone in which she spoke startled him.  "Hate,"
uttered in cold blood, is an ugly word.  But a new misgiving was now
making its way to his mind, and for the moment, in his intense anxiety
to save Imogen further suffering, he put aside the question of the
present terrible complication being more than accident.

"Your mother?" he said, with quick inquiry.

"Do you mean--" He hesitated.  It was _so_ difficult to express what he
wanted to know.  "She--she has not seen this?" and again he touched the
fatal letter.

"Yes," said Imogen, simply.  "She was with me when I got it.  Indeed,
she gave it me," and as the remembrance of that morning--when she had
wakened so happily--came back to her, it was very, very hard work to
force down her tears; "and so, naturally, I showed it her, before I
noticed the postscript.  And she has thought--oh!"

"Never mind what she has thought," he said hastily.  "If only--you don't
think she has told any one else?"

"I don't know; not exactly.  She promised she wouldn't; but Miss Forsyth
is so cunning, and mamsey is so--so simple," said the girl.  Major
Winchester pulled himself together.  "Miss Wentworth," he said, "I must
stop farther mischief, at once: they must not and shall not torture you.
But will you trust me still?  I shall hurry on, and take measures to
put your mother on her guard."

"You--you won't tell any one--not Florence, about me--about this
morning?" said Imogen, piteously.

"No, no, of course not.  Come on quietly to the house in half an hour or
so, and I think I shall be able to manage it.  Now, my poor dear child--
don't be angry with me for calling you so this once--good-bye in the

"Good-bye," she said.  "If you don't mind, I wish you would count it
good-bye for always."

He glanced at her; she did not mean it, but in these few words was the
bitterest reproach she could have expressed.  Again the dull pallor
crept over his face for an instant.

"Perhaps you are right.  God bless you!" and he hurried away.

Imogen retraced her steps again to the outer margin of the wood.  Then
she turned, and walking slowly, found herself in twenty minutes or so at
the gates of the inner drive.  She looked at her watch mechanically: no,
she must not go in yet, it was too soon.  It was a winter day, but she
did not feel cold, only very, very tired.  She looked about for a seat.
There were several, she knew, in among the shrubberies, which were here
very thick.  She turned down a little path, bordering, though she did
not know it, a side entrance to the stables; there was a rustic seat
there, almost an arbour, for it was shaded by the trunks and branches of
a group of old elms.  There she sat down, and for the first time the
pent-up misery burst out.  She could keep it in no longer, but broke
into a passion of convulsive sobs.

She did not cry loudly.  She was too worn out and spent to do so, even
though for the first few moments her abandonment was so great that she
gave not a thought to the possibility of attracting attention.  But it
was a very still day; sounds carried clearly.  Beatrix, on the lookout
for a scene of some kind as she came hurrying down the drive, caught the
faint gasping sobs not many yards off, and stood, still to listen.

She had been forced to make one of the luncheon party in the coverts,
sorely against her will; for Mabella, on pretext of a headache, had
skilfully backed out of it, and Trixie more than suspected her motive.
Florence was not to be back from Catborough till too late, and Alicia
flatly refused to undertake the management of the party without one or
other of her sisters.  But Trixie succeeded in escaping in time to get
back to the house not very much later than the hour at which Rex was
expected.  She wasted some minutes, however, in looking for Mabella, and
hearing from a servant that Miss Forsyth had gone out some time before
by herself, her suspicions redoubled, and she set off, racing along in
her usual reckless harum-scarum fashion.  Major Winchester, so far as
she could discover, had not arrived (nor had the dogcart sent for his
luggage); the truth being that Rex, by good-fortune having met Florence
at the side entrance, was at that moment in close confabulation with her
in the library.

But the strange sounds which reached her made Trixie slacken her pace.
What could it be?  At first she was by no means sure that they were not
those of some animal in distress, in which case, to do her justice, the
wild girl would not have been without some feeling of pity.

"Can it be one of the dogs?" she thought, as she pushed aside the
thick-growing shrubs and made her way "cross country," as she would have
described it, in the direction of the gasping sounds.  But she was
quickly undeceived.  On the rough bench lay or crouched Imogen, her face
hidden, her whole figure shaken by sobs, now and then broken by low
moans, equally piteous to hear.  The Helmonts were not given to vehement
grief or vehement feeling of any kind, except when Beatrix, the only
really hot-tempered one, got into a passion, and the display of it was
almost like an unknown language to them.  In Trixie it seldom roused
anything but a sort of contempt.  But if this was her first sensation on
seeing Imogen's prostration of suffering, it was soon mingled with other
emotions.  Pity of a kind, and quickly succeeding to it remorse--of a
kind also--and speedily overmastering both, extreme and unreasoning

"Imogen," she called out, though not very loudly, and instantly
concealing herself again.

"Imogen, what is the matter?"

But there was no reply.  Trixie's terror increased.

"Can she be having some sort of a fit?" she said to herself; and as
there was a good deal of cowardice, moral and otherwise, mixed up with
the rough animal courage of the girl, no sooner had the idea struck her,
than she turned and fled, rushing off, heedless of aught else, in search
of some one or something, she scarce knew what.

At the turn of the path--the same path down which Imogen had wandered,
and which, it will be remembered, led into a side road to the stables--
Beatrix ran full tilt against a man, walking quickly towards the house.
It was the younger of her cousins, by good-luck; for, in her state of
excitement, she would scarcely have cared who it was--silly Percy
Calthorp, or Newnham, the stately butler, would have suited her equally

"Robin, oh, Robin!" she screamed, "do come!  I believe Imogen Wentworth
has gone out of her mind, or else she's dying in a fit."



For so young a man, Robin Winchester was possessed of a remarkable
amount of presence of mind.  Added to which, he was not, as will be
seen, wholly unprepared for a _denouement_, probably stormy, and very
certainly painful, of the complicated state of affairs as to which,
Cassandra-like, he had lifted up his voice.  At Trixie's appeal he
turned and walked rapidly back in the direction whence she had come,
without speaking; he had no idea of wasting his breath in words, and for
another reason.  So strongly was he imbued with the suspicion that the
girl beside him had been "at it again with one of her odious practical
jokes," that he doubted his own self-control should he once allow his
indignation to find words.  He had no cause to ask her for direction.
Two or three moments brought them to a spot whence the pitiful, and, it
must be allowed, almost alarming sounds were clearly audible.

"She is there," whispered Beatrix, "on the bench behind those trees."

"Go on first and show me," he said, sternly.

But to his amazement his guide rebelled.

"I won't," she said.  "I'll stay here.  She's given me such a fright
already, and I don't want her to see me.  You speak to her and I'll

Robin was not given to strong language, especially to a woman; he opened
his mouth and shut it again without speaking.  Then a second thought
struck him.  Perhaps it was better so, though no thanks to Trixie.  He
caught her by the arm and held her, not too gently.

"You'll give me your word of honour, Beatrix Helmont," he said, "that
you will stay here, on this spot, till I come back and say you may go?"

"Yes; if I must stay, I will.  But you are very rough and unkind, Robin.
Why are you angry with me?"

He gave her no answer, but hurried on to the bench.  Some instinct had
warned Imogen that she was no longer alone.  She had sat up, and was
trying to look about her composedly.  The effort only made her seem the
more piteous.  Robin's heart positively swelled as he looked at her,
recalling the last, the only time indeed he had ever seen her, and her
glad girlish beauty.

She did not start as he came near; she sat still as if stupefied.

"Miss Wentworth," he said most gently and respectfully, "I am afraid you
have had a start or a fright, or--or that you have had bad news.  Can I
do anything?"

She looked at him and smiled, the strangest smile he had ever seen, and
with a thrill of horror he remembered Trixie's words, "Gone out of her
mind."  But in a moment he was relieved of this worst of terrors.

"You are Mr Robin Winchester," she said.  "Yes, thank you.  I have had
bad news, and I am so dreadfully tired.  I want to go home--to go in, I
mean; but I am afraid of meeting any one, because, you see--though it is
very silly of me--I have been crying.  How can I get in without meeting
any one?"

"Do you know the way in by the fernery, and the little back-stair up
from what used to be the schoolroom?" he asked.

She shook her head.  Then he considered for a moment in silence.

"Miss Wentworth," he said, "Trixie is there, behind the trees.  It was
she that saw you and called me.  If you could agree to it, the very best
thing would be to let her take you in.  You need not speak to her, and
she will do what I tell her."

She gave a little shiver, but did not object.

"Very well," she said, "if she has seen me already.  You will make her
promise not to tell?  There is something else--you are very kind--could
you do it?"

"_Anything_," he said, fervently.

"My head is getting so bad, and I don't want to be ill _here_," she
said.  "I do so want to get away.  And mamma would want to know; there
would be so many explanations.  It has all got quite clear while I have
been crying.  Could you get a telegram sent for me, without _anybody_

"Certainly; at once," he replied.  "I have a pencil and paper."

She pressed her hand to her forehead.  Then she quietly dictated an
address and a message, which he wrote down without comment.

"You should have the reply this evening," he said.  Then, "Wait here one
moment," he added, and he retraced his steps to Trixie.

"You will do as I tell you, exactly," he said, "and without a word now
or ever to _any one_?  You hear me?"

"I'll do it," she said, sulkily, "because it suits me to.  All the same,
I'd like to know what business it is of yours?"

"It's this much my business, that if you break your promise I will tell
your father all I know; and if you want proof that I _do_ know, well I
have in my pocket a letter I got from Eva Lesley last night,
enclosing--_another letter_.  Eva wrote to me in preference to Rex, not
wanting to worry him, and--well, for other reasons."

Trixie had grown pale, but she stood her ground.  "_I_ never touched
anybody's letters," she said.  "And how can you say any one did?
People--accidents happen about letters sometimes."

"Yes, they do; but there is such a thing as circumstantial evidence; and
what is more, _I_, with my own hands, put the right note into the
envelope addressed to Miss Wentworth that morning, as Rex was so
hurried, and I laid it with the other one, stamped and directed to Miss
Lesley, on the hall table."

She grew paler and paler.

"_I_ didn't touch them," she repeated.

"We have only your own word for it," he said, scornfully; "and supposing
Mabella Forsyth says you did?  But I am wasting time upon you.  I have
warned you.  Take your own way."

"I won't tell anything about this morning.  I swear I won't," she said,
in terror.

Five minutes later saw Imogen safe in her own room, thither escorted by
Trixie, silent and panic-stricken.  And an hour or so later, when Mrs
Wentworth returned from a drive in the pony carriage, to which she had
been invited by Florence, she was met by Colman with the news that Miss
Imogen was in bed and asleep, her head was so bad.  It was only to be
hoped, added the maid, after the manner of her kind, that the young lady
had not got a bad chill, and was not going to have a regular illness.

Mrs Wentworth spent the rest of the afternoon in her own room, which
opened into Imogen's, watching for her to awake.  The anxiety almost
absorbed all other feelings.

"How can I tell her?" she kept saying to herself.  "And why, oh why did
Florence not tell me before?  And to think that _he_ is actually back,
and that she must meet him after, and I that have encouraged it.  There
is no one--no, not one creature--I can confide in.  For Florence meant
something when she begged me not to trust Miss Forsyth.  But--oh dear,
and how my darling Imogen warned me too!--but how could Major Winchester
have been so careless, if the letter he is so annoyed about really was
the one sent to Imogen; and _how_ am I to tell her, and she perhaps
sickening for brain fever or typhoid fever, or something?"  The poor
woman's brain was in a whirl, for Florence had not dared to do more than
warn her vaguely.  It was a relief when, about six o'clock, an
orange-coloured envelope was brought in by Colman.

"Can you both spend a week with me on your way home?" it said.  "Welcome
any day; the sooner the better."

It came from an old friend, Imogen's godmother, and as there had been
vague talk of the visit it was not altogether unexpected; not at least
too surprising that Mrs Hume should have telegraphed.

"Can I send an answer back?" asked Imogen's mother.

"Yes, ma'am.  I was to say the messenger is waiting.  There are
telegraph forms in the envelope case on the writing-table," was the
maid's reply.

And in another moment the answer was forthcoming--a warmly-worded
acceptance, announcing the Wentworths' arrival some time the following

This settled, Mrs Wentworth, who did not often act with such
promptitude and decision, relapsed into nervousness and depression.  She
established herself on a chair beside the door of communication with
Imogen's room, longing for and yet dreading her awaking.

For, strange as it may seem, the girl was really asleep, and soundly so.
It was her first experience of violent emotion, and, coming on the top
of the past days of tension and excitement, it had completely exhausted
her.  At first she had meant to lie still, and, if need were, feign
sleep till time sufficient for Mrs Hume's telegram should have elapsed,
but real slumber had come, saving her, not improbably, from the illness
that would not have been an abnormal result of all she had gone through.
But at last, half an hour or so before the dressing-gong sounded, she
awoke.  For a moment or two she was in a chaos of bewilderment; then by
degrees, as this cleared a little, she became conscious of one
overmastering impression; the latest and strongest on her brain before
she fell asleep.  They--she and her mother--must leave, must seek
shelter somewhere, anywhere, at once.  Then the remembrance of the
commission she had, in her desperation, entrusted to Robin Winchester

"Has it--has the?" she began to say, raising herself to look about her.
But her full senses revived before she said more.  The room was quite in
darkness, except for the faint red glow of the slumbering fire.  It
might have been the middle of the night; nay more, days might have
passed, for all she knew, since that terrible afternoon.

"Perhaps I have been very ill, and am only now beginning to get better,"
she thought.  But no, though her head was dizzy and ached a good deal,
she did not feel weak or exhausted.  Then she had on her usual dress,
the same dress she had worn all day.  With a sigh almost of regret
Imogen had to decide that nothing very remarkable had happened.  She was
still in the world of ordinary doings, and she must face what lay before

A dark figure, aroused by even the half-audible words she had begun to
utter, crossed the room to the bedside.

"Mamma?" said Imogen.

"Yes, darling.  I have been watching for you to awake.  Is your head
better, sweetest?"

"I think so," the girl, now fully on the alert, replied.  "What time is
it?  The middle of the night?"

"Oh no, dear, the dressing-gong has not sounded yet."

"Has it not?" in a tone of disappointment.

"I won't come down to dinner; you will tell them about my headache.  But
you must _go_ down, mamsey," with unconscious selfishness, "and--it
would not do to seem to make a fuss."

"No dear," very submissively.  "But first, Imogen, I have to tell you
what I have done.  I don't know _what_ you'll say.  I have had a
telegram from Mrs Hume, begging us so to go to her at once.  I fancy
she has some party she wants you for; and so, as it was so near our time
for leaving, and you not seeming very well, and--"

"You have said we would go?  Oh, I do hope you did," said Imogen, with
feverish eagerness.

"Oh, why didn't you wake me?--if only we could go to-night."

"Not to-night, dearest; that couldn't be; but to-morrow.  I have
telegraphed that we will be with her to-morrow."

"Oh, thank you!  I am _so_ glad," said Imogen.  Then after a moment's
pause, "Mamma," she went on, "you have heard something, and you see that
_I_ have.  It has all been a terrible mistake.  But do not ask me to
speak about it yet.  Afterwards, when we are away from here, I will tell
you all.  I cannot _yet_.  Only one thing, you must understand that
Major Winchester has not been to blame.  So, if you see him to-night,
you will be nice to him; promise me you will."

"I will do my best," said poor Mrs Wentworth.

"For every sake," Imogen went on.  She frowned as if thinking deeply.
"I am not sure yet that there has not been some trick in it.  Mamma, do
not say one word you can help to Miss Forsyth or Trixie, and try not to
let them think there is anything the matter."

"Yes," her mother agreed.  "I will tell Mrs Helmont of the telegram--
that it has hastened our going a little.  They won't be surprised; they
are so accustomed to comings and goings.  It really is most fortunate,
_most_ fortunate, that Mrs Hume should have thought of telegraphing.
Lucky coincidences _do_ happen sometimes, you see."

She was trying to speak cheerfully.  Trouble affecting Imogen brought
out the real unselfishness underlying the superficial frivolity.

"Yes, they do," said Imogen, smiling in spite of herself.

There was more truth in Mrs Wentworth's remark than Imogen was aware
of.  Coincidences do occur in real life more strangely, more
fortunately, sometimes, than even in fiction.  It had been specially
fortunate for all concerned that it was Robin and no one else whom
Beatrix ran up against in her fright, and Robin's being there at that
moment was only thanks to his having driven round by Wood Court, where
he had left some of his belongings, before his brother's hasty summons
to London.  Fortunate, too, had been Major Winchester's meeting with
Florence on her return from Catborough, so that the two were able to lay
their heads together as to warnings and explanations to Mrs Wentworth.
And the kindliness and sympathy Florence extended to the mother as well
as to the daughter met with its reward.  Never before had Florence been
able to feel to her so warmly as by the close of that--to some at least
of the party--terribly trying evening.

"There is real heroism in her," Florence could not help saying to Rex.
"No one would have suspected what she must be feeling, to see her so
cheerful and composed."

The climax had come when Mrs Wentworth was bidding Major Winchester
good-night; "and good-bye, probably," she added, "for we are leaving so
early in the morning.  But I must not forget to ask how Mrs Bertrand
is," she went on.  "Imogen called me back as I was coming down to dinner
to remind me to ask you."

"She is going on wonderfully well; there is every hope of a perfect
cure," he replied.  "Thank you and Miss Wentworth a thousand times.
Yes, I think it is good-bye, not on account of your early start, but I
am off before breakfast to-morrow for a shoot at Gorsage."

"I shall be here, however," Robin had put in softly, "if I can be of the
least use."

"It is far more than I deserve.  They are good, truly good women," said
Rex, in reply to Florence's remark.  And this, in her heart, his cousin
endorsed.  "Rex has been foolish--very foolish," she said to herself.
"But he has done his best to put things straight.  After all, poor
child, she will outlive it.  It seems to have left a mark on him,
however.  He looks ten years older than when he went away."

Some one else was remarking this with satisfaction.

"It has hit him in a tender point, I delighted to see," Miss Forsyth was
saying to herself.  "Major Reginald Winchester, the mirror of chivalry
and honour, to have flirted so egregiously with an inexperienced little
fool, as to have brought her to the brink of a brain fever and goodness
knows what not: it would be a nice story to tell, if I _could_ tell it,
which, alas!  I fear I can't.  But, after all, it is not the publishing
it I care about; it is the delight of knowing I have scored one
_against_ him."

He caught her eye fixed upon him with something almost diabolical in its
malice, and his strange suspicions redoubled.  Then came his talk with

"Why did Eva not write to me direct--telegraph--anything?" he said at
first, with a touch of impatience, when he had heard what his brother
had to tell.

"_Telegraphing_ would have done no good.  Then she wanted to save you
annoyance, to spare your ever hearing of the--mistake--at all, if
possible," was the reasonable reply.  "Don't you see, if the Miss
Wentworth whose note _she_ received had been an elderly spinster, no
harm would have been done; at least so Eva thought, though I am not sure
that I agree with her," with a touch of grim humour.

"I have told her about Imogen," said Rex.  "Not by her surname.  Eva
specially says she had never heard of a Miss Wentworth.  That postscript
was so extraordinarily unlucky too," he added reflectively.

"Angey particularly wanted no one to know the exact date of the

"And the confusion between the names--Evangeline and Eveleen," Robin
went on.

"Upon my word, I never knew anything like it.  It is as if malicious
imps had been told off to play into that--into Miss Forsyth's hands.  If
_she_--if Miss Wentworth gets ill, and anything happens to her, I, for
one, shall feel as if she had been murdered."

Rex could bear no more.

"Robin," he exclaimed, "do you want to send _me_ out of my mind?  In
your--only natural, I allow"--and he threw a quick and searching glance
at his brother--"feeling for her, you seem to think _I_ have no feeling
at all.  Keep to the point.  What motive had that woman in doing as she
did? and how can she be shown up and punished?"

"Spite," answered Robin.  "Spite, at _her_, Imogen, or _you_; that is my
answer to the first question.  And--"

"She has no special motive for malevolence at me," interrupted Rex, "and
her jealousy of Imogen can scarcely be so deep-seated.  Beatrix hates
me, in her mad, reckless way, for getting her a scolding, as she would
express it; but even she, wild as she is--"

"Would have hesitated to open two envelopes, read their contents, and
fasten them up again, after changing the letters," said Robin.  "Well,
yes, it is to be hoped so; at least, I can't help hoping so, considering
she's our cousin."

"And you are certain, entirely _certain_, that the letters were rightly
put in at first?" repeated his brother.

"Absolutely, entirely certain that the one I shut into the envelope
addressed to Miss Wentworth was _for_ Miss Wentworth.  Yes, as certain
as that I'm sitting on this chair.  And I am also absolutely certain
that as I was crossing the outer hall to look if the dogcart had come, I
saw Miss Forsyth come down-stairs and stop at the table where notes and
letters for the post always lie, and stand there looking at the letters.
There was no one about; everybody was late that morning except
ourselves, and Florence, and that woman.  But that is all I can vouch
for, though Trixie's terror made me surer than ever."

"Do you think she knew?"

Robin shook his head.

"I can't say.  Perhaps not all the details; but she tacitly owned to a
plot of some kind."

"If I can frighten Miss Forsyth into silence, that is the best we can
hope for, I suppose," said Rex.

"The best one _should_ hope for, I should say," Robin replied.  "Of
course one yearns to expose that woman, but the real concern is to
shield Miss Wentworth.  Miss Forsyth has put herself beneath contempt.
I care nothing about her, provided we can stop her making a good story
of it and--and getting Imogen laughed at; and you, too, for that

"Don't take _me_ into consideration," said his brother.

"Not for Eva's sake?" suggested Robin, gently.

"Eva would only feel as I do," said Major Winchester.  "Her whole
sympathies will be with Miss Wentworth."

"She _is_ an angel, I know," said Robin.  "Well, keep cool about it,
Rex, and be prepared for Miss Forsyth if you see your chance."

Major Winchester had not to wait for it, nor did it come in any way such
as could have been predicted.  He was off the next morning, almost as
soon as it was light, and did not return till about three in the
afternoon.  As he came up the drive, tired and depressed, with every
step the painful scenes of the day before seemed to be re-enacted.  He
could not forgive himself, even though it was difficult to define
precisely where and how he had been to blame.  But he found no
difficulty in defining and concentrating his overwhelming indignation.
Instead of at all softening it, the last few hours had increased it
tenfold.  And now that, to a certain extent, Imogen was beyond the reach
of Miss Forsyth's malevolence, Rex almost felt as if silence were
becoming impossible to him.

"She _must_ be exposed," he muttered to himself, "so that every
honourable door may be closed to her.  At all costs I cannot see that
she should be allowed to get off scot-free."

So thinking, he did not at once notice steps coming quickly behind him,
nor till he heard his own name pronounced, in a mocking tone, did he
realise that some one was overtaking him.

"It is you, Major Winchester, is it?  This is your first appearance here
to-day.  You were off betimes this morning; early starts seem to be the
order of the day with you."

The effrontery of this greeting--for the voice was Mabella's--almost
took away Rex's presence of mind and power of speech.  He soon recovered
them, however, and turning sharply, faced her.

"Yes, Miss Forsyth," he said, quickly, "it is I.  If you have anything
to say to me, say it; if not, be so good as to walk on.  Unfortunately,
there are not two roads to the house from here."

She laughed; there was not a trace of nervousness in her laugh.

"You are no diplomatist, Major Winchester.  Here you are showing your
colours to the enemy at once, before you have really any to show."

"I have not the slightest objection to your knowing what I was thinking
about," he said.  "I am only considering whether I shall expose you, or
whether, for the sake of others, I must leave you to the punishment
which is sure to come sooner or later, even if I have no hand in
bringing it upon you."

"Goody-goody talk runs off me like water off a duck's back, I warn you,"
she said.  "Keep to common-sense, if you please.  I shall not pretend I
don't know what you mean; I do perfectly, and I intend to treat you with
entire candour.  What I would ask you is this: _how_ can you `expose
me'--to use your courteous phrase--without proof, reliable and certain,
that I am guilty?  Such proof you know you have not got.  All you can
say is that your brother saw me standing at the table whereon lay the
two letters in question.  Is it _likely_ that people would believe that
I, a lady born and bred, would have done such an unheard-of thing as to
open them, read them, and change their envelopes?  And when the
circumstances are explained further, of your agitation and hurry that
morning, _do_ you think you would gain much by your attempt at showing
me up?"  He was silent for a moment.  Then, "Yes," he said, "I believe
my story would be accepted.  There is not only this last distinct act;
there is the whole string of misleading remarks and suggestions on your
part, and,"--he hesitated to name her--"Trixie's, which show the plot
into which, Heaven knows why, you inveigled that misguided girl as a

"Ah, Trixie," she said.  "I will revert to her in a moment, though, _en
passant_, I may tell you there was not much `inveigling' required on my
part.  Your cousin Beatrix _hates_ you, Major Winchester, with a very
pretty hatred;" and she laughed gently, delighted to see that he started
a little.  If "hate" was not a pleasant word on Imogen's childish lips,
it did not gain when pronounced by Mabella.

"Yes," she went on, "she hates you, though not as--But that will keep.
But what I am going to say will indeed surprise you.  I am going to
treat you with unheard-of generosity--to furnish you myself with the
necessary weapons.  Here they are.  You are perfectly correct in your
surmises.  I _did_ open the envelopes and change their contents, not out
of mischief, but from a far deeper motive; and I did, and have done, and
meant to do all I possibly could to mislead that silly woman and her
daughter into believing you were in love with the girl, and on the point
of proposing to her; in which scheme I persuaded Trixie to join me, even
as far as I remember, before they came.  There, now, what do you say to

"Why do you tell it me?" he asked.  "If it is with any idea that your
confession may force me to be silent, I--"

"Nonsense," she said.  "It is not a confession; that word is associated
with penitence and coming for forgiveness.  _I_ am not penitent.  I
glory in what I have done.  I triumph in it.  And you will be silent.
You cannot tell the story without making that girl a laughing-stock,
even if people believed you--which I doubt--for you would scarcely like
to say you were publishing what you call my `confession.'  And nothing,
no word or sentence I have said to Mrs Wentworth, but could be
naturally and innocently explained, and every one can see what a fool
she is.  And still more, you cannot tell the story without incriminating
Trixie.  Indeed, the moment I find you telling it, _I_ shall tell her
part of it.  That would be very nice; your own cousin, the daughter, of
the relatives you owe so much kindness to.  For you know the Squire
would be capable of turning her out-of-doors for such dishonourable
breach of hospitality to guests."

It was all quite true.

"Why have you told me, then?" he asked.

"Because I wanted to come to an understanding; to show you that you had
better decide not to tell I shall not tell, for the story is nothing to
me.  I am leaving Grey Fells at once, and I don't think I care to
return.  I am sick of Trixie's atrocious temper, and I have got what I
stayed for."

"What was that?" he added.  There was a curious fascination about the
girl, with her entire absence of principle and absolute indifference to
his opinion.

"My revenge," she said quietly.  "Not as much as I could have wished.  I
should not be easily satisfied; but it is better than nothing.  I have
made you suffer.  I have lowered you in your own estimation.  I have
touched you in a tender part, for you _know_ that Imogen Wentworth's
sunny girlhood is gone--gone for ever; she will never be the same again,
and all through _you_?"

He winced, and she saw it.

"And why, may I ask, mystery of mysteries, have you condescended to this
flattering interest in me?  When and how did I incur the honour of
offending you?"

His sarcasm made her for the first time lose a little of her
self-control.  Her black eyes positively glared as she went a step or
two nearer him.

"The day you warned Harry Curzon against marrying me," she replied.  "Do
you remember?  You are good at that sort of dirty work; insolent
meddling is rather a _speciality_ of yours.  Still, I think you cannot
have forgotten this particular case."

Rex grew visibly paler.  Yes, he remembered.  But without waiting for
his reply, Mabella turned and fled swiftly up the avenue to the house.
And she left The Fells the next day.

It had been several years ago--five or six.  Harry Curzon was a
subaltern in his own regiment--handsome, attractive, weak, and easily
influenced; and Rex _had_ warned him against the, even then, fast and
noisy and unscrupulous girl.  He had thought it his duty, and he thought
it might save Harry.  It had not done so.  The young man had gone from
bad to worse, and the watching his downward career had been one of the
saddest pages in Rex Winchester's life.  But as he glanced up the
darkening road after Mabella's retreating figure, a strange pity
thrilled him.

"They say no one is _all_ bad," he thought to himself.  "I suppose it is
possible she really loved that poor, foolish fellow."



Late autumn again.  A year, a year fully since Imogen and her mother
left The Fells that bright, chilly November morning.  Since then their
life had been a wandering and unsettled one.  Mrs Wentworth's dreams of
a modest season in London had not been realised, for Imogen had shrunk
from anything and everything of the kind.  So, having disposed of their
house at Eastbourne, they had travelled about aimlessly enough, the one
guiding influence the girl's fancy for the time being.  For Mrs
Wentworth had entirely, as the French say, "effaced herself" for her
child.  And in this there was a strong element of not altogether
undeserved self-reproach, as well as of adoring maternal devotion.

Of course it had not been wisely done, but she was not a "wise" person.
And the very unwisdom of her devotion should have touched a nature
essentially generous as was Imogen's.  It did so from time to time, but
not lastingly; only adding, therefore, to the poor girl's restlessness
and irritability, new and perplexing developments in her character.

They had been abroad for some months, and were now, when we meet them
again, hesitating as to their winter destination.  For once, there had
been a diversity of opinion; that is to say, for once, Mrs Wentworth
had expressed a wish, and Imogen had dissented from it.  That this had
not already occurred was no thanks to the latter, as with the spirit of
contradiction fast becoming chronic in the formerly sweet-tempered and
still gentle girl, it is much to be doubted if she would not have
opposed any distinct suggestion.  But hitherto every proposal had
emanated from herself.  That her mother had at last made one was due to
the influence of Mrs Hume, Imogen's sensible though not peculiarly
refined godmother, who had of necessity been taken to a certain extent
into the Wentworths' confidence.

"You are ruining her," Mrs Hume said, without beating about the bush;
"ruining her character, and laying up a store of future discontent and
misery for her.  Never marry! tut, tut, nonsense!  She's not twenty yet;
of course she'll marry.  And even if she never did?  Much better have a
settled, respectable ladylike home of your own than go wandering about
in this purposeless fashion, as if there were some mystery about you.
You have money enough to live very nicely: make your headquarters in
London, which you will like yourself, and where Imogen can find
something to do.  She is not too old to have some lessons and girls do
all sorts of things nowadays--cooking, ambulance classes, meddling and
muddling about among the poor.  It's all very wholesome for them, and
Imogen would get to like London."

But no; Imogen would not hear of it.  She was not going to like
anything.  She would take no interest in the idea of furnishing a pretty
little house and making some pleasant acquaintances; she had, or
imagined she had, a morbid terror of going into society, for fear her
tragic story should be known; she had taken up the _role_ of a being _a
part_--a Mariana, without Mariana's ghostly and illusive hope.  She had
nothing to watch or listen for; still, that made it no better: if she
could neither watch nor listen, she would at least do nothing else.  Far
ahead in the dim future, when "mamsey," somehow or other--she did not
define how, for she was too true-hearted to say "when mamsey dies"--
would no longer need her, she had sketched out for herself a shadowy

"I will become a Sister," she used to think, as if for such a life no
qualification were wanted but the having lost heart and interest in
everything else!--while a not unpleasing vision of herself in trailing
and sombre garments, pale face, and unearthly eyes, carrying solace and
sympathy by her very presence to the "haunts of wretchedness" of which
she knew naught but the name, or lost in devotion through long hours of
midnight vigil in some dimly-lighted chapel, rose before her eyes--all,
as Mrs Hume's rough common-sense had already in its way perceived,
centring round "self."  For of the real meaning of religion, apart from
sentiment and self-seeking, it is to be feared that the poor child as
yet knew not even the alphabet.

It was in this mood that she was pacing the sands one mild morning,
tempted out by the soft sunshine and unusual stillness of the air,
unusual at that season, even at the seaside winter resort where for the
time they were staying.  She had come out alone, for the discussion as
to their future plans had begun again at breakfast, ending in a nearer
approach to positive disagreement than had yet come to pass.  For Mrs
Wentworth's eyes were opening, and she was growing more rationally
anxious about Imogen every day.

"I can't think what has made mamma take up that craze about London," she
thought.  "I should detest it; at least,"--for, after all, London was an
unknown quantity to Imogen, and at twenty there is charm in that very
fact--"I am sure _I_ should, though I daresay other girls would like it.

At that moment she became aware that she had all but run against a Bath
chair, drawn up in a sheltered position below the rough cliff-like bank.

"I--I beg your pardon," she said hastily, fearing lest she had jarred
the chair and its invalid occupant.

"It does not matter the least," a sweet, bright, though feeble voice
replied; and looking up, Imogen saw, half lying, half sitting, a girl--
quite a young girl she seemed at first sight--whose exquisite complexion
and brilliantly beautiful eyes told their own sad tale, even without the
cough which quickly followed her few quick words.

"I am so sorry," Imogen could not avoid saying, imagining that she had
agitated the young lady.

"Oh no!" the stranger went on, when, after a moment or two, she had
recovered her breath and voice, "it was not you at all.  I made myself
cough by trying to reach my book, which had fallen down.  If you would
be so kind--oh! thank you _so_ much," as Imogen eagerly started forward
to pick it up.  "It is my own fault, for I sent my maid home, and I
never care to keep the chairman standing about.  I love to be alone when
I am pretty well, as I am this morning."

Imogen gazed at her with eyes full of wondering pity.  How could she be
so cheerful?  She had heard that consumptive patients never realise
their state: it must be so in this case.

"I must not disturb you," she said gently.

"It is a very nice mild day.  May I say that I hope the air here will do
you a great deal of good?" and she was moving on when the invalid
stopped her.

"Do stay and talk to me for a minute or two, if you don't mind," she
said.  "I have noticed you passing so often; now and then with--your
mother, I suppose?"

Imogen gave a sign of assent.

"But more often alone.  And I wondered--" But here she stopped rather
abruptly.  Imogen looked up; she was carrying a little folding-stool,
which she set down beside the stranger's chair.  "I am rather tired,"
she said with a sigh; "but please, what did you wonder?"  The young lady
smiled, but shook her head "No," she said, "I don't think I will tell
you: it might sound impertinent--from an utter stranger.  If--if
possibly I got to know you even a little, I think I _would_ say it."

"That is not likely to happen, I fear," Imogen answered.  "We are
leaving here on Monday.  Are you going to stay all the winter?"

For the first time a rush of sudden colour overspread the lovely face,
leaving it more delicately pale than before.  Imogen began to change her
mind about the girl's age.  Something in her tone and manner made her
feel as if the invalid were some years her senior; a slight, very slight
touch of gentle authority made itself felt, as if the speaker were not
accustomed to have her words or opinion lightly set aside.

"I do not know about the whole winter," she replied.  "But I feel sure--
quite sure--I shall never be able to go abroad, as my friends are still
hoping.  We are to have a grand consultation in a day or two: others of
my friends are coming on Saturday."

"But you could scarcely find a milder place in England than this," said
Imogen, a little puzzled by her manner.

"No: that is why I shall stay here, till--till I go still farther away,"
said the invalid gently.  "And yet it _cannot_ be really far away--not
from those we love," she added, as if speaking to herself, while her
beautiful eyes seemed to be gazing at unseen things.

Imogen did not speak; and when the stranger glanced at her again, she
was startled to see some large tears stealing down the girl's face.

"My dear child!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," said Imogen, "I am crying.  I think it is dreadful.  I think
nearly everything is dreadful in the world.  Why should you have to die,
so beautiful and so good--I can feel you are good; and why should I,
though I'm not good at all, be so very unhappy?"

Then, not a little ashamed of herself, she started up.

"I shall only do you harm if I talk to you," she said.  "Good-bye.  Oh!
don't you think perhaps you will get better after all?"

She held out her hand; the lady took it and held it.

"No," she said, "that cannot be.  And, believe me, there is nothing
dreadful in it all to me now.  The struggle is over both for me and, I
hope, even for those who love me most.  It is all right.  But thank you
for your sweet sympathy.  Do not mind about me, however.  You have said
of yourself what I hesitated to say.  I was wondering why you looked so
sad, and I see it is true that you are not happy.  Yet--" She glanced at
Imogen's pretty fur-trimmed winter dress, "you are not in mourning; you
have your mother, and health and youth, and--plenty of things both
useful and pleasant to do?"

"I don't do them," the girl replied bluntly.  "I suppose they are there,
if I cared to look for them.  But I have no heart or interest in
anything.  I was really ill last year--last winter--rather badly, and I
got into lazy ways, I suppose, and--and--oh, I'm just unhappy, and I
don't see why I should be, and why there should be so many things all
wrong and sad."

"If we _could_ see the `why' of such things, the wrongness and the
sadness would be gone," said the invalid.

Imogen looked perplexed.

"Ye-es," she said.  "Yes; if we saw it was a good `why,' of course it
would seem different."

"Then should we not _believe_ it is a good `why?'" and the young lady
smiled again.

"I suppose we _should_," Imogen allowed.

"There is one thing that all who know anything about human nature agree
upon," said the invalid, "and that is, that without suffering, without
having suffered, we should be very poor creatures indeed; we should
scarcely be at the beginning of better things."

"Yea, suffering like yours--high and good and noble sort of suffering,"
said Imogen.  "And suffering borne meekly and patiently and cheerfully--
that's quite different.  But when it's only selfish, and mostly your own
fault, and when you do nothing but kick at it and feel horrid--"

The invalid smiled again.

"If we were able at once to accept and bear patiently the suffering, we
should not need its discipline," she said.  "No, it _goes_ deeper and
wider than that.  Suffering is the door opening for us--opening on to
the higher road."

Imogen was silent.  She was impressed, but still perplexed.

"Mine--the--the trial or disappointment, or whatever it should be
called, that spoilt my life was not like that.  It seemed only
_lowering_--only degrading."

"Don't say that!" the invalid exclaimed eagerly.  "Nothing can degrade
us but our own wrong-doing, and the true lowering is that which lowers
us only to raise us higher in the end."

Imogen considered.

"I don't know that I quite understand you," she said.  "I am afraid you
are too clever for me.  I am not clever, and I have never thought much
about religious things; they seem so dull and difficult--at least nearly
always.  I know I am wrong _now_; I am useless and selfish and

"The last is sure, thank God for it, to follow on the two others," her
new friend interpolated.

Imogen glanced at her earnestly: the reverent expression struck her.
"But," she went on, "for the thing itself, the miserable mistake and
mortification, I don't think honestly that I was to blame, except that I
was silly and, I suppose, vain."

Her candour impressed the other favourably.  It is a proof of real
humility to own one's self _vain_.

"You must have been very young," she said almost more gently than she
had yet spoken.  "Supposing you begin at the _now_; try to put right
some of the wrong you _now_ are conscious of.  Do not think me officious
or presumptuous," she added.  Then almost in a whisper, "The dying are
privileged, you know."

"Oh, don't!"  Imogen exclaimed, raising her hand as if to ward off an
impending blow.  Then she answered by a question, "Shall you be here
to-morrow morning, about this time?"

"Yes, if it is fine, I think I may say certainly so."

"I am going to _think_," said the girl simply.  "And perhaps you will
let me talk to you a little more.  To-morrow is only Thursday, and we
don't go till Monday.  I do hope I have not tired you?" she added

"No, truly no.  You have interested me very much.  And if I can be of
even the tiniest bit of help to you, it would be delightful.  The
feeling one's self _so_ useless, so condemned to lie still, is almost
the worst part of it;" and again the colour rushed over her face.

"I think just to see you is use," Imogen replied.

Then she went home, and she _thought_.

And "to-morrow" was fine, and Imogen had not thought in vain, nor had
her new friend in any way forgotten her.

"I am going to tell you everything," said the girl.  "I don't like it at
all, even though you do not know my name, and perhaps we may never meet
again.  But I know I can trust you, and I want you to say plain, even
hard things to me, if _you_ think I need them."

Then followed the story--simple enough, after all, which we know.

The invalid listened intently.  Once or twice, when Imogen came to the
climax of the changed letters, alluding, though but slightly, to her
faint suspicion that all had not been mere accident in the little drama,
she started as a restrained exclamation of pity or of indignation,
perhaps of both, rose to her lips.  But when Imogen had finished, quite
finished, though she took her hand and held it, for some moments she did
not speak.  Then said the girl, waxing impatient, as was her way:

"Why don't you say something?  I told you I would not mind
plain-speaking or hard speaking.  Do you think me beneath contempt?"

"My dear," said the older woman, with a touch of reproach, as she
pressed the restless little hand, "I was _thinking_.  I won't attempt to
say what I feel for you; I might say too much.  Just be satisfied that I
_do_ feel for you intensely.  I think it was a cruel, a really cruel
trial; and if any one was an active agent in it--no, it is best not to
say what I could say of such wickedness.  The word is not too strong;
but let us put all that aside.  If so cruel a trial and mortification
were sent to you, it was for a good purpose.  That is a truism; but
truisms are useful sometimes.  Special suffering--and I do think it was
very special and unusual--is meant to show special possibilities for
good in those it comes to.  That should take away some of the bitterness
of the _mortification_, should it not, by helping you to rise above it?"

It was the second time in her little speech that she used the word, and
as she laid a slight emphasis on it, she looked at Imogen keenly.  It is
not a pleasant word to have applied to one's self, but the girl did not
resent it.  She only repeated it inquiringly.

"_Mortification_?" she said.  "Yes, of course I know there was a good
deal of that in it;" and her colour deepened.  "But, that couldn't have
been the worst of it.  I was--I had got to be very fond of _him_--of the
person it was all about."

"Naturally so," said the invalid.  "I don't see how you could have
helped it.  And he deserved it.  You need not feel ashamed of having
cared for a man such as--as you describe.  But--yes, I think the
mortification _was_ the worst of it, and the part that has left you so
sore and morbid.  I don't think--and remember you told me to speak
plainly--you can have been what is called `in love' with him.  You were
more in love with the idea of it all.  The sort of romance of it, and
the girlish pride in being so quickly chosen, and your mothers
gratification too."

"It is true," said Imogen, "that at the very first, when I thought it
was really going to be, I wasn't at all sure if I was glad or not.  I
was more frightened and worried than glad.  But mamma said girls often
feel as if they didn't know their own minds."

"Perhaps; but not exactly as you felt.  Then there is another thing.  I
think and believe you would be capable of a very true and unselfish
love.  Now, if yours for him had been like this, it would not have
spoilt your life hitherto as you tell me it has been spoilt.  You would
have been thankful to know the mistake had not caused _him_ suffering.
Oh, my child, that is the bitterest, to know that we have been the
cause, however innocently, of sorrow to those we love better than

Her words and manner almost overawed Imogen.  But after a little pause
she replied:

"No," she said, honestly, "I certainly did not care for him like that.
I was even almost glad to think he _had_ suffered a little.  For though,
of course, he was not the least atom in the world in love with me, _he_
was unselfish.  I know he was dreadfully sorry for me.  But, after all,
if it was more the mortification than--than any better feeling, how does
that help me?"

"Because it is so clearly _wrong_--even `lowering,' to use your own
word--and it should be and must be so possible for you to throw it off
and start afresh."

Imogen raised her head; there was something inspiriting in the last

"What should I do?" she asked gently, but eagerly too.

And an earnest consultation followed.

The next day was rainy.  Then came Saturday, fine and mild again--the
last but one of the Wentworths' stay at Tormouth.  Imogen stole down for
a few minutes to the sheltered nook where she had found her new friend.

Yes, she was there.

"I felt that I must see you--for a moment," said the girl, "though I
cannot stay, and I know you have friends coming to see you to-day.  But
I _had_ to thank you again, and I want to tell you that I have told my
mother I will do exactly what she wishes; so we are going to London on
Monday to look for a house, and poor mamsey is so pleased.  And I am
going to follow your advice about everything.  I am not going to be idle
and useless any more."

The tears were in the stranger's eyes by this time.

"Dear child," she said, "I am so glad."

"Would you like to know my name?" the girl went on simply.  "I thought
at first I could not bear to tell it you; but if that is foolish and
false pride, and if you would tell me yours?"

"No, dear," the invalid replied.  "Do not tell it to me.  And I will not
tell you mine.  I think it would a little spoil the charm of our
friendship, and there _might_ come times at which you would wish you had
not confided in me.  No, I shall _never_ forget you.  And you may feel
that your secret is as safe as it can be, for--"

"I know what you are going to say, but please don't.  You _may_ get
better for a while: do let me think so."

The dying girl shook her head, though she smiled--yes, her own sweet
smile.  And this was Imogen's last remembrance of her.  So when, some
few months later, in the daily list of deaths came the name of "Eveleen,
only surviving daughter of General Sir Jocelyn Lesley, etc, etc, aged
28," it called forth no remark from the girl whose eye it caught for a
moment, save that of "`Eveleen Lesley.'  What a pretty name!  And
Eveleen spelt the Irish way."

"Is it a marriage?" asked Mrs Wentworth across the table.

"No," Imogen replied, with a softened tone in her voice, "it's somebody
dead.  But not a very young girl."

Five years later, and The Fells again, in its normal condition of
hospitable cheeriness, and with, at the first glance, but few changes.
The Squire is a little greyer, perhaps--a little greyer and a little
stouter--and Mrs Helmont a trifle more grandmotherly in bearing and
appearance.  And the handsome figure and face of wild Trixie are
conspicuous by their absence; for she is married and away--far away with
her husband and his regiment in India, learning wisdom and other good
things, it is to be hoped, by experience.  In her stead there sits Lady
Lucy, the pretty and irreproachable, though decidedly uninteresting,
wife of Captain Helmont.  Alicia and Florence are both in their usual

It is breakfast-time, and newspapers are handed about.  From Oliver at
one corner there comes an exclamation:

"I say, did any of you know that Robin--Robin Winchester was going to be
married?  Not going to be, he _is_ married, and guess to whom--that's to
say, if you remember her."

"Who?" said Alicia, languidly.

"That pretty, spoilt little girl who stayed here once, ages ago, before
Trixie was married.  What was her name--Gwendolin?  No; Imogen

"Dear me, how very odd!" said Alicia, with more interest in her tone.
"They met here, then; no, they didn't--did they, Florence?"

"They did meet, but only just," said Florence; "still, I believe Robin
dates his falling in love with her from then."

Her father and mother turned to her.  "Then you knew about it; you might
have told us.  Indeed, for the matter of that, Master Robin might have
told us himself," said the Squire.

"He is only a second-cousin after all," said Florence, "and we never had
seen anything of him scarcely.  We never knew him like Rex--in the old
days.  And I believe he has been very little in England all these

"We have seen little enough of Rex for a long time," said Mrs Helmont.
"Poor Rex! why, he always called us uncle and aunt, you remember, my
dear.  I suppose he has never got over poor Eva's death.  But I think
the girl's mother might have let me know.  I always meant to ask them
here again--indeed I think I did once--but something came in the way.
Who told you about it, Florry?"

"I only heard it vaguely, some months ago, from Rex himself, as a thing
that would be some day, but not an announced engagement.  And this very
morning I have a letter from him.  It appears Mrs Wentworth is dead:
she had a very long and painful illness, and her daughter would not
leave her.  Rex speaks of Imogen very highly.  I think he seems quite
cheered by the marriage."

"We must ask them down: don't forget about it, my dear," said the
hospitable Squire.

"And perhaps we could persuade Rex to come too.  Ask them all for
Christmas: they'd feel at home and cheer us up a bit--make up for poor
Trixie, eh?"

The Christmas invitation was declined, though graciously.  For Imogen's
mourning was still recent, and her marriage had been of the quietest.
But the course of the following year did see the Winchesters--all three
of them--at Grey Fells.  And at last came to pass the friendship between
Florence and Imogen, which so long ago Major Winchester had wished for
and tried to compass.

"I like her exceedingly--thoroughly," said Robin's happy wife to--her

"But, surely, is she not much softer, less standoff and much, much more
sympathising than she used to be?"

"Yes; she has been through the fire, and come out of it very fine gold--
tried and purified," said Reginald.  "One could scarcely wish her in the
least other than she is now.  Dear Florence!  How pleased Eva would have
been!" he murmured.

"Robin," said Imogen, not many days after this, "do you know I cannot
help praying and hoping that perhaps in time.  No, I am afraid of vexing
you by saying it."

"Do you mean Rex and Florence?  Why should it vex me, my darling?  Hope
it--yes, indeed I do, with all my heart.  And what's more, I _think_ it.
It is what Eva would have rejoiced at more than anything.  She was so
unselfish.  How I wish you had known her, Imogen!"

But neither he nor his wife, nor anybody else, ever suspected that
Imogen _had_ known--and that she thanked God for it every day of her
life--the girl whom others loved, and remembered by the name of Eveleen


The End.

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