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Title: Dimbie and I—and Amelia
Author: Barnes-Grundy, Mabel
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: MARGUERITE]



  DIMBIE AND I
  --AND AMELIA


  BY

  MABEL BARNES-GRUNDY

  _Author of_ "_Hazel of Heatherland._"



  NEW YORK
  GROSSET & DUNLAP
  PUBLISHERS



  _Copyright_, 1906
  By THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY

  _Copyright_, 1907
  BY THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY

  Published, March, 1907



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

WHICH INTRODUCES DIMBIE


CHAPTER II

NANTY DISCOURSES ON THE WRITING OF BOOKS


CHAPTER III

ON AMELIA, FLUES, AND DRAIN-BAMBOOS


CHAPTER IV

DIMBIE'S BIRTHDAY


CHAPTER V

A LETTER FROM MISS FAIRBROTHER


CHAPTER VI

SORROW OVERTAKES ME


CHAPTER VII

DR. RENTON BREAKS SOME NEWS TO ME


CHAPTER VIII

DIMBIE COMFORTS ME


CHAPTER IX

AMELIA EXPRESSES HER OPINION OF ME


CHAPTER X

I DISCOVER THAT DR. RENTON IS IN LOVE


CHAPTER XI

MY FIRST CALLER


CHAPTER XII

NANTY CHEERS ME UP


CHAPTER XIII

UNDER THE APPLE TREE


CHAPTER XIV

MOTHER AND PETER ARRIVE ON A VISIT


CHAPTER XV

AMELIA GIVES ME NOTICE


CHAPTER XVI

FOREBODINGS


CHAPTER XVII

MY WORST FEARS ARE REALISED


CHAPTER XVIII

DIMBIE ROLLS A GREAT LOAD FROM MY HEART


CHAPTER XIX

WE INHERIT A FORTUNE


CHAPTER XX

PROFESSOR LEIGHRAIL PAYS US A CALL


CHAPTER XXI

JANE FAIRBROTHER'S IMPENDING VISIT


CHAPTER XXII

A LITERARY LADY HONOURS ME WITH A VISIT


CHAPTER XXIII

I SURPRISE DR. RENTON'S SECRET


CHAPTER XXIV

MUSINGS ON AUTUMN AND THE ARRIVAL OF JANE


CHAPTER XXV

AN ENGAGEMENT, AND I TELL JANE MY STORY


CHAPTER XXVI

DIMBIE TAKES PETER AND AMELIA IN HAND


CHAPTER XXVII

A DISCUSSION ABOUT A WEDDING GOWN


CHAPTER XXVIII

PREPARATIONS FOR A WEDDING


CHAPTER XXIX

JANE'S WEDDING


CHAPTER XXX

THE DEATH OF A LITTLE BLACK CHICKEN


AN AFTERWORD



ILLUSTRATIONS


Marguerite . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

Peter has spent his spare time building canoes

Professor Leighrail

This is how he began

Marguerite, I don't want to frighten you

Your will will always be mine, Marguerite



Dimbie and I--and Amelia



CHAPTER I

WHICH INTRODUCES DIMBIE


Outside, the world is bathed in sunshine, beautiful, warm, life-giving
spring sunshine.

Other worlds than mine may be shivering in a March wind, but my own
little corner is simply basking.

The chestnut in the frog-pond field at the bottom of the garden is
holding forth eager arms, crowned with little sticky, swelling buds, to
the white, warm light.  The snowdrops and crocuses have raised their
pretty faces for a caress, and a chaffinch perched in the apple tree
is, in its customary persistent fashion, endeavouring to outsing a
thrush who keeps informing his lady-love that she may be clever enough
to lay four speckled eggs, but her voice, well--without wishing to be
too personal--would bear about the same relation to his as the croak of
those silly frogs in the field would bear to the note of his esteemed
friend Mr. Nightingale, who was still wintering in the south.

Yes, there is sunshine out of doors and sunshine in my heart.  So much
sunshine, that in my exuberance I have only just refrained from
embracing Amelia, in spite of her down-at-heel, squeaky shoes, rakish
cap, and one-and-three-ha'penny pearl necklace.

You will surmise I have had a fortune left me by my great-uncle.  I
don't possess a great-uncle.  That I have been the recipient of a new
Paris hat.  Wrong.  That someone has said I am the prettiest girl in
the county.  Bosh!  That Peter has ceased to bully mother.  That will
happen when the millennium arrives.

Oh, foolish conjecturer!  You will never guess.  It is something far
more delightful than any of these things.  I will whisper it to you.
"Dimbie is coming home this evening."  You smile while I ecstatically
hug Jumbles.  "Dimbie's a dog?" you hazard.  "A white, pink-eyed,
objectionable Maltese terrier."  I chuckle at your being so very wrong.
You are not brilliant; in fact, you are stupid.

Dimbie's a husband.  _My_ husband.  And he's been away for three days
at the bedside of his sick Aunt Letitia, who lives in Yorkshire.  I
think it is most unreasonable for any aunt to live in Yorkshire and be
ill when we live in Surrey.  It is so far away.  Anyhow, Dimbie shall
never go away again to Aunt Letitia, sick or well, without taking me
with him.  For I find I cannot get on at all without him.  When I turn
a retrospective eye upon the years without Dimbie, it seems to me that
I did not know the meaning of the word happiness.

I was foolish enough to say this to Peter just before I was married,
and he sniffed in the objectionable way which mother and I have always
so specially disliked.  It sounds undutiful to speak of father thus,
but he does sniff.  And I might as well remark in passing that I am
very far from being attached to Peter, as I always call him behind his
back, being less like a father than anyone I have ever met.  I am sorry
that this should be so, but I didn't choose him for a parent.  Parents
have a say in their children's existence, but you can't select your own
progenitors.  Were this within your power, General Peter Macintosh and
I would only be on distant bowing terms at the moment, certainly not
parent and child.  And yet mother would be lonely without me, although
I have left her.  Poor, darling mother!  That is my one trouble, the
fly in the ointment; her loneliness, her defencelessness.

I do not mean that Peter kicks her with clogs, or throws lamps at her
head.  But he worries her, nags at her.

Now Dimbie never nags.  I think it was his utter unlikeness to Peter
that first attracted me.  Peter is small and narrow in his views;
Dimbie is large in every sense of the word.  Peter has green eyes;
Dimbie has blue.  Peter has a straight, chiselled nose--the Macintosh
nose he calls it: Dimbie has a dear crooked one--an accident at
football.  Peter has----  But I think I'll just keep to Dimbie's
"points" without referring to General Macintosh any further--well,
because Dimbie is incomparable.

I met him first in an oil-shop in Dorking.  I was ordering some varnish
for one of Peter's canoes.  Since Peter "retired," which, unfortunately
for mother and me, was many years ago--he having married late in
life--he has spent his spare time in a workshop at the bottom of the
garden building canoes which, up to the present, he has never succeeded
in getting to float.  But that is a mere detail.  No one has ever
expressed a wish to float in them, so what matters?  The point is that
this arduous work kept him shut up in his workshop for many hours away
from mother and me.  It was then we breathed and played and laughed,
and Miss Fairbrother, my governess, read us entrancing stories and
taught me how to slide down the staircase on a tea-tray and do other
delightful things, while mother kept a sharp look-out for the advance
of the enemy.

[Illustration: PETER HAS SPENT HIS SPARE TIME BUILDING CANOES]

Well, Dimbie and I got to know each other in this little oil-shop.  I,
or my muslin frock, became entangled in some wire-netting, which really
had no business to be anywhere but at an ironmonger's, and Dimbie
disentangled me, there being no one else present to perform this kindly
act, the shopman being up aloft searching for his best copal varnish.

We were not engaged till quite six weeks had elapsed after this,
because Peter would not sanction such a proceeding.  He said I must
behave as a general's daughter, and not as a tradesman's; and when I
pointed out that royalties frequently became engaged after seeing each
other about half a dozen times, and that publicly, he just shouted at
me.  For years mother and I have been trying to persuade Peter that we
are not soldiers, but he doesn't appear to believe us.  He only gave
his consent in the end to our engagement because he was tired and gouty
and wanted to be let alone.

Dimbie was like the importunate widow, and he importuned in season and
out of season, from break of day till set of sun.  He neglected his
business, took rooms in Dorking, would fly up to the city for a couple
of hours each day, and spent the rest of his time on our doorstep when
he wasn't allowed inside the house.  Peter tried threats, bribery,
shouting, drill language of the most fearful description; but Dimbie
stuck manfully to his guns, and at last Peter was bound to admit that
Dimbie must have come of some good fighting stock.  Dimbie admitted
most cheerfully that he had, that his great-great-grandfather had
stormed the heights of Abraham and Wolfe.  At which Peter laid down his
arms and briefly said, "Take her!"  And Dimbie did so at the very
earliest opportunity, which was during the Christmas holidays.  And so
I am his greatly-loving and much-loved wife.

Much loved I know I am by the very way he looks at me, strokes my hair,
whispers my name, stares angrily at Amelia when upon some pretext she
lingers in the room after bringing in coffee and won't leave us alone.

Ah, that being alone!  How delightful it is.  We have enjoyed that best
of all.  We had so few opportunities before we were married, Peter
appearing to think it was our duty to play whist each evening, with
most cheerful countenances; and were I, out of sheer desperation, to
trump his best card, he would scream with annoyance.

But I'm not getting on with Dimbie's points.  I think his dearest
friend, or even his wife or mother, would be over-stepping the strict
boundary-line of truth were they to describe him as handsome.  He's not
handsome.  For which Nanty, mother's old schoolfellow, says I should be
deeply grateful.  Handsome men, she tells me, have no time to admire
their own wives, so taken up are they with their own graces, which is a
pity for the wives.

In addition to the crooked nose I mentioned Dimbie has also a crooked
mouth, giving him the most humorous, comical, and at the same time the
most kindly expression.  I wouldn't have Dimbie's mouth straight for
the world.  It droops at the left corner.  He opines that he was born
that way, that it must be a family mouth, at which his mother is
extremely indignant.  She asserts that the mouths in her family at any
rate were quite perfect, and that this droop is the result of a horrid
pipe which was never out of the corner of his mouth, alight or dead,
throughout his college days.  Dimbie laughs at this, and says shall he
grow a moustache to cover up the defect, and I say No, he shan't.

The crook of his mouth and nose happen to be in opposite directions, so
even when he's depressed he looks quite happy and amused.

Nature, trying to balance things up a little, then gave him jolly,
blue, twinkling eyes, and crisp brown hair with little kinks in it.

He will be thirty-one on the second of next month.  His mother, whom I
have only once seen and that was at our wedding, doesn't approve of his
telling his age to any casual inquirer in his usual direct manner, for
it naturally gives her own age away.  Mrs. Westover, Nanty says,
imagines she would pass for under forty when the wind is in the west.

"Why west?" mother and I had cried together.

"A soft damp west wind will make a woman look ten years younger," said
Nanty sagely.  "It is a north wind which works such havoc with her
complexion."

Mother and I have learnt a great deal from Nanty one way or another,
and the funny part of it is that the information which doesn't matter
always seems to stick in my memory, while important things go, which
Dimbie says is the way of the world.

Dimbie is "on" the Stock Exchange.  Peter calls it a sink of iniquity
and its denizens liars and thieves.  One of the liars and thieves
married me on the strength of a good deal in Rio Tintos.  Rio Tintos
must be beautiful things to have been the means of giving us so much
happiness.  Dimbie says they are not, that they are just plain copper
mines in Spain.  Dimbie is mistaken.  Copper is one of the most
beautiful of metals with its red-gold, warm colour.  It is the most
romantic of metals.  A tin mine in Cornwall would never have done for
us what Rio Tintos have done, I feel convinced.  The dictionary says
copper was perhaps the first metal employed by man, which makes it
doubly interesting to me.  Each day I scan the financial column of the
paper to see if Rio Tintos are up or down.  Dimbie says he has no
interest in them now, and smiles at my eagerness, but it makes no
difference.  The words stand to me for happiness, and I shall search
for them always.



CHAPTER II

NANTY DISCOURSES ON THE WRITING OF BOOKS


When I casually mentioned to Nanty--yesterday afternoon over our
tea--that I had begun to write a book I was unprepared for her
opposition, which almost amounted to a command that I should do nothing
of the kind.  But then she misunderstood me from the very beginning,
which was only natural now I come to reflect upon it, added to which
she has a disconcerting habit of jumping to conclusions.

At the outset of our conversation her manner was depressed as she
looked into the fire.

"Ah, well," she said at length, "it can't be helped!  I suppose you
mean a first-person, diary, daily-round sort of book?"

I nodded, pleased at her acumen.

"It is the worst and most tiresome kind, but perhaps it will be best
for your poor husband."

"My poor husband!" I echoed.

"Yes."

"Will you kindly explain?"

"It will be difficult, but I'll try."

She settled herself in her chair more comfortably.

"It appears to me that women, dear Marguerite, write books from several
motives, the principal being that, unknown to herself, a woman will get
rid in this way of her own self-consciousness.  It is hard on the
public; it is a blessing in disguise to her friends."

"Nanty!"

"I don't say you are of that sort.  Why, I believe the child's eyes are
actually full of tears!" she added in consternation.

"Go on," I said.

"But you're going to be hurt."

I shook my head.

"Well, I will add at once that I should not expect to find in the pages
of your book as much self-consciousness as is customary in a young girl
of your years.  General Macintosh is not a person to encourage
illusions about oneself.  To live with him must be an education,
painful but liberal."

I smiled faintly.

"Some women write books because they are lonely.  An absorbing
occupation, even if badly performed, helps to pass the time, and they
yearn to see themselves in print.  In fact, all writers yearn to see
themselves in print--a most natural desire on their part, but one to be
discouraged in this age of over-publication.  Other women write because
they say they '_love_ it.'  I am not sure that this type isn't the
worst of the lot.  They imagine because they love it that they must
necessarily do it well.  Not at all, the deduction is a poor one.  I
love bridge, but rarely pull off a 'no trumper.'

"And a few, a _very_ few, write because they have really something to
say, something to tell.  Something new--no, not new, there is nothing
new under the sun, but a fresh way of telling an old story.  A burning
force, something stronger than themselves, which is another name for
genius, compels them to speak, to give their message, and the world is
the gainer.  Now why do you want to write?  Which of these four
impulses is yours?"

She rose and drew on her gloves.

"A burning force stronger than myself, which is another name for
genius."

She laughed.

"You're not offended with me?" she asked as I conducted her to the gate.

"Just a teeny bit, Nanty."

"Well, you mustn't be."

She took my two hands in both of hers.

"I couldn't dream of permitting you to sulk with me, little Marguerite.
I've known you since the days when you wore a pinafore and had to be
slapped for washing some snails in the best toilet ware in my spare
room before throwing them to the ducks--nasty child.  It seems hard to
discourage you, to talk to you thus, but whatever in the name of
fortune has put such a dreadful idea into your head?"

"Do you think it so dreadful?"

"Terribly dreadful!" she returned.  "I knew an authoress--I beg her
pardon, I mean an author--who after a small success with her first
book--nasty, miry sort of book it was too--left her husband, quite a
decent man as men go, with red hair and freckles (they lived in the
country), and went to London to see life as she called it, which meant
sitting on the top of a penny omnibus and eating rolls and butter at an
A.B.C.  She wore her hair _à la_ Sarah Bernhardt, and expected to have
an intrigue, which never came off, the lady being past forty and plain
at that.  When her second edition money--I think it got into a second
edition--was finished she was very glad and thankful to creep back to
her husband, who in a big, magnanimous way took her in, which I
wouldn't have done.  Then I knew another author--successful fifth
edition this was--whose head became so swelled that some cows in a
field--she was lying in a ditch composing--took it for a mangel-wurzel
one day and ate it."

"Do you expect me to laugh here?" I asked.

"Not at all," she reassured me.  "I only want to impress you before it
is too late.  I have one more case.  A poor girl wrote a book called
_Awakenings_, or some such title.  A reviewer on an ultra-superior,
provincial paper, the _Damchester Guardian_ I think it was, cut it to
pieces with the cleverness, cruelty and ruthlessness of extreme youth.
The critic must have been young, for only youth is really hard.  There
was not a good word for it; it was described as maudlin, sentimental
twaddle.  The girl--she was a fool of course, but we can't all be born
clever--committed suicide.  This was a bit of rare good luck for her
publisher, for he got an advertisement for nothing, and sold forty
thousand copies of the book in three months."

Nanty paused for breath.  John, the coachman, looked respectfully ahead
and pretended he didn't mind waiting; and I called her attention to our
bank of crocuses.

"Don't like crocuses," she said.

I laughed.

"Still obstinate?"

"No," I replied, "I gave up my book over my second cup of tea."

"Dear Marguerite," she said, kissing me.  "I am sure you will make your
husband very happy."

"I hope so."

"You're bound to, if you are as earnest as all that about it.  Your
face looks like--like--a toadstool!"

"Thank you," I laughed.

"I'm not going to say pretty things to you.  You get quite enough from
that silly Dimbie of yours.  But now tell me before I go, just to
satisfy my curiosity, what is your reason for wishing to write this
book?  I always thought you such a simple child."

I closed the carriage door and looked away.

She leaned forward and turned my face round.

"Why, she's actually blushing!" she ejaculated.

"Home," I said to John, wresting my face away.

"But it's not home," she contradicted, "and won't be home till you tell
me why you are blushing like a peony."

"Nanty," I cried, "you are too bad."

"Marguerite, why are you looking so guilty and ashamed?"

"I'm not," I said stoutly.

"You are."

"Why should I look ashamed?"

"That's what I want to get at.  I ask you the simplest question, upon
which your countenance becomes that of a criminal run to earth."

"Pictorial exaggeration," I said lightly.  "And, Nanty, I'm catching
cold.  Remember it is only March."

"Take this rug," she replied coolly.  "I shall not let you go till you
give me your reason for wishing to appear in print."

"But I don't," I said with heat.

"You said you did."

"Never.  You imagined that.  I simply said I was writing a book--a
daily-round sort of journal, as you described it.  I never referred to
publication."

Nanty turned up her veil and stared at me for some seconds.

"Well, well, well!" she said at length.  "I wonder you didn't say so
sooner."

"You never gave me an opportunity.  At my first words you were off at a
tangent, and then I became interested in your awful experiences."

She sat back and laughed.

"The impudence of the child drawing me like this.  If you don't want
your books published write fifty of them.  It will keep you well out of
mischief and do nobody any harm."

Then she fell into a brown study, and I prepared to tiptoe softly
through the gate, when she cried suddenly--

"Wait!  You have still not told me why you are doing this scribbling.
I should have thought you would have found plenty to do without
writing.  There is your house--your sewing----"

"You will laugh."

"I won't."

"Promise."

"I promise."

"Well," I began, "I----"

Nanty was looking at the sunset.

"I want to write, I must write," I went on more firmly, "because I am
so--happy.  It sounds silly, ridiculous, I know, and you won't
understand, but----"

I paused.  Nanty was still looking at the sunset.  "You see, I was
never very happy before I was married because of Peter--father, I mean.
You have visited us often, so you know.  You know how he worries poor
mother.  It was impossible to be happy.  But now it is all so
different, so wonderful, so tranquil, that I sometimes feel almost sick
with happiness.  It is too good to last, it cannot last.  I am
sometimes frightened.  And I cannot let Dimbie know how I feel.  Once
you told me not to let the man I loved be too sure of it.  The moment
in which a man knows he has gained your love he ceases to value it."

"Did I say that?"

"Yes, you said that to me the day I was married.  So what am I to do?
I can't tell Amelia; I can't write it to mother, for Peter would sneer.
I must have an outlet for my feelings, or they will overwhelm me.  When
I have sung and danced and rushed round the garden after Jumbles I can
fly to my book.  I can enter, 'Dimbie is a dear,' 'Dimbie is _my_
husband, and he will be home in half an hour.'  'One Tree Cottage is
the sweetest spot on earth, and I, Marguerite Westover, am the happiest
girl in the world.'  When the last half hour before his homecoming
hangs heavily I can enter all the events of the day.  It will pass the
time.  In the years to come, when I am an old, old woman, I can turn
back the pages and read again of my first wonderful year.  It will be a
book only for myself, only for my eyes.  That which Dimbie could not
understand I can put between its covers.  A man, I imagine, cannot
always understand the way a woman feels about things that touch her
deeply, like--well, like when Dimbie and I say our prayers together.
And the song of a bird, a thrush woke us the other morning.  It was
perched on a bough in a shaft of warm sunlight, and was pouring out its
little heart just as though it were breaking with happiness.  My eyes
were full of tears, and Dimbie saw them.  He said--well, he didn't
understand.  He thought I was sad, and I couldn't explain even to him
that my tears were of joy.  And Amelia--she looks at me so when six
o'clock comes and I cannot keep my feet still.  I brush up the hearth
and put Dimbie's slippers to warm, and cut the magazines, and place our
two chairs side by side, very close together, and put a daffodil in my
hair, and go to the window, and wander to the kitchen, and go to the
front door, and back to the kitchen to see how the meat is doing,
and----"

I broke off, for Nanty had held up her hands for me to cease, and when
she turned to me her eyes were full of tears.

"Write your book, Marguerite," she whispered.  "Write your book."  Then
she stooped and kissed me, and then she gave a laugh, but there was a
little sob in it.

I looked at her wonderingly.

"You say I told you to hide your love from the man you have married.  I
take the words back.  Better too much love than too little between
husband and wife, for theirs is a union dependent on much affection and
sacrifice if they would be happy.  And God forbid that sorrow,
disillusionment shall ever enter into your life.  God forbid that you
shall ever be lonely, stretch out a hand at night and find emptiness,
pour out your troubles and find a deaf ear turned to you, offer a
caress which is met with a curse."

Her voice was so low I could hardly catch the bitterness of her words.

"But can such things ever be?" I cried.

She laughed a little dry laugh.

"I have known of them.  It would seem that some marriages were not made
in heaven."

I thought of Peter and mother.  Had Nanty's marriage been unhappy too?
She had been alone ever since I could remember.  The mistress of a
handsome house, lovely garden...

Nanty broke in----

"And when you write your book, don't let it all be of Dimbie.  Some
women haven't got a Dimbie, and women are the principal readers of
women's books.  Enter as well all the little worries and cares which
are bound to crop up sooner or later, so that the contrast between your
life and the life of some lonely, unloved woman may not be too cruel.
She will laugh at Amelia's smashing the best china, enjoy your
misfortunes, cheer up when Dimbie is down with typhoid and not expected
to live."

"But you forget my book will only be for myself.  I don't know enough
to write one for other people.  Dimbie says I am very ignorant."

"Oh, of course!  And that after all is the best sort of book, the one
you write for yourself.  Some publisher will be saved endless care and
worry.  Your friends will be saved the necessity of turning down side
streets when they see you coming along--they have barely four-and-six
for one of the classics, or a book they really want, let alone yours."

I laughed.

"You are not polite."

"No, Marguerite; I love you, and I want to save you from your friends.
But perhaps some day when it is finished, when your year is over, when
you are too busy, like so many modern girls, to do anything but play
golf and bridge, or there may be another interest in your life, you
might let me have a look at it.  A manuscript written out of sheer
happiness might be interesting, though a trifle tiresome.  There has
been _The Sorrows of Werther_.  Why not _The Joys of Marguerite_?
Besides, your grammar and punctuation might require some correction."

"Nanty," I said, "you are making fun of me, and I'm very cold."

"Marguerite," she commanded, "give me another kiss, and then I'll go.
I have enjoyed my afternoon with the little bride."

"I hear the whistle of Dimbie's train."

"What an astonishing thing!" she remarked sarcastically.

"I mean, won't you stay and see him?"

"No, I won't.  I'm going home."

"John must have been interested in our conversation."

"John grows deafer each day," she said as she drove away.

I wandered down the lane to meet Dimbie, and presently he turned the
corner.



CHAPTER III

ON AMELIA, FLUES, AND DRAIN-BAMBOOS


"Put down your worries," said Nanty, so I must perforce enter Amelia
and the kitchen boiler.  The boiler won't yield hot water, and Amelia
says that isn't her fault, that she wasn't the plumber who put it
there, and she can't be expected to get a flue-brush into a hole the
size of a threepenny-bit.

When I said I thought she put it up the chimney she asked me what for.

"To clean the flue, of course," I retorted, a little irritably; and she
replied with fine scorn that flues didn't grow up chimneys, but at the
backs of fire-grates and other un-get-at-able places.

Ever since Amelia came to us her object appears to have been the
sounding the depths of my ignorance, with the idea of putting us in our
proper positions.  I don't mean that she wishes to be the mistress
exactly, and sit with Dimbie in the drawing-room while I peel potatoes
in the back kitchen; but she wishes me to understand that she knows I
am a silly sort of creature, and she will do the best she can for me,
seeing that she is one of the "old-fashioned sort" who still take a
kindly and benevolent interest in their master and mistress.

Not that Amelia is old-fashioned really, with flat caps and
elastic-sided cloth boots, such as mother's servants wear.  She is an
entirely modern product.  She knows how to do the cake-walk, and wears
two-strapped patent slippers, with high Louis heels which turn over at
a most dangerous angle, looking more like two leaning towers of Pisa
than decorous, respectable "general's" heels.  But she is old-fashioned
in the sense that she appears to have our interests most tremendously
at heart, is quite painfully economical, is forever scrubbing and
cleaning, and calls me "mum" instead of "madam" when she isn't calling
me "miss."

Just now she invited me to go and see how far she had got the brush up
the flue.  She was hurt because Dimbie had said _he_ should have to get
up early and see what he could do about the hot water.  In fact, she
had laughed derisively behind the roller-towel.  She thinks no more of
Dimbie's capabilities than of mine.

I went, and was much impressed by the length of the flue-brush and its
pliability.  Amelia had raked out the fire, and, with sleeves rolled
back, showed me what she could do with flues.  It was like being at a
conjuring entertainment.  The brush flashed about like lightning, got
into impossible places, curved, wriggled, and once I thought that
Amelia herself was about to disappear up the chimney.  I clutched at
her legs and brought her down.  Her face was glowing and black in
places.

"Now, mum," she panted, "if there's no hot water, is it my fault?  If
Amelia Cockles can't get no hot water, no livin' mortal can, includin'
the master hisself.  I'll show him to-night."

"Oh, don't, Amelia!  Don't do it again!  It's so difficult and
dangerous, you might get stuck," I pleaded.  "We'll have a new boiler."

"It's not the boiler," she pronounced; "it's where it's been put."

"Well, we'll have it moved.  Where would you like it?"

She was guarded in her answer.

"I'm not sure as you can move boilers about like furniture.  We must
think it over."

She drew the brush from the flue, and I now saw it in its entire length.

"Wherever did you get it from?"  I knew Dimbie and I hadn't bought it
when we furnished.

"From the ironmonger's, of course."

"Was it expensive?" I asked carelessly.  I wondered if it were a
present from Amelia to us.

"Sixpence ha'penny.  I sold some bottles and rubbish to the
donkey-stone man."

"All that for sixpence halfpenny?" I ejaculated, ignoring the
donkey-stone man, of whom I had never heard before.

Amelia eyed me a little pityingly.

"Would you care to see the drain-bamboo, mum?  _That cost fourpence._"

"The drain-bamboo?"

"The thing we push down the drains to keep 'em clean and save bad
smells."

"Yes, please."

Amelia produced it.  It was tied up in coils, and as she cut the string
it shot across the kitchen floor and narrowly escaped my ankles.  I
didn't like the drain-bamboo at all, it was a nasty, sinuous thing, and
I asked Amelia to remove it at once.

"Have you any further contrivances, I mean unusual ones, concealed
about the premises?" I inquired.

"Them are not unusual.  I can't think where you was brought up if you
haven't seen a flue-brush before, mum."

"I was born in Westmoreland first and then Dorking."

Amelia looked at me.

"I mean I was born in Westmoreland and then removed to Dorking."
Amelia flurries me so at times I hardly know what I am saying.  "I
never went into the kitchen much," I added apologetically.

"P'r'aps your ma helped the general?"

"Oh, no, we hadn't a general."

"No servant?" in great astonishment.

"We had a servant, but not a general."

"A help?"

"No, we'd four servants.  You see, my father suffers from gout, and he
requires a lot----"

"Cook, kitchen-maid, housemaid, parlour-maid?" interrupted Amelia,
ignoring my explanation.

"That was it."

Amelia put some coal on the fire, which she had relit, with a
considerable amount of noise.

"No wonder you're hignorant, mum."

Amelia never leaves an "h" out, but in moments of stress occasionally
puts one in.  On the whole she speaks well for a Cockney born, and
educated in the Mile End Road.  Of course all her "a's" are "i's," but
I find it difficult to transcribe them.  "I tell Dimbie I know I shall
pick up the vernacular as I am peculiarly imitative; and he says he
hopes I won't, as it is not pretty."

"Beggin' your pardon for sayin' such a thing, but it's evidently not
your fault, and p'r'aps you'll improve as time goes on.  You've time to
learn."

I tried to feel cheered at the hopes Amelia held out to me, and
prepared to leave the kitchen, feeling a little annoyed with mother for
neglecting my education so far as flue-brushes and drain-bamboos were
concerned.

"How old are you, mum?  You'll hexcuse me askin' you."

I hesitated.  Were Amelia to know that I was two years her senior would
she despise me more than ever?

"Never mind, mum.  No ladies likes to tell their ages.  In my last
place--Tompkinses'--the oldest daughter, Miss Julia, used to begin a
chatterin' to the canary for all she was worth when anybody so much as
mentions how old they was, and the way time was passin'.  New Year's
Eve was the worst, when the bells was tollin'.  I've known her wake
that poor canary up, when it had gone to bed, and say, 'Dicky, Dicky,
pretty Dick,' and it thought the incandescent light was the sun, and
had its bath straight away."

"Oh, I'm not so bad as that," I laughed, "I'm twenty-three!"

Amelia blacked her face more than ever in her surprise.

"Bless my soul!  Who'd have thought it?  In that white dress you wears
at night you looks like a bit of a thing who has just got out of
pinifores.  Twenty-three!  You're older than me, and never seed a
flue-brush before."

"Perhaps you have always been brought up with them?" I suggested.

"I could handle one at six, or my mother would have let me know what
for."

She swelled with pride at the retrospection of her infant capabilities.

"You were evidently most clever.  Perhaps you were born grown up.  Some
people are."

She considered this.

"I was always smart for my years."

"And I wasn't.  I think I must have developed slowly, Amelia.  When you
were cleaning flues I was nursing dolls.  Perhaps it was my parents'
fault.  I was the only child."

"And I'm the eldest of fourteen."

"Dear me!" I said.  "And are they all expert flue cleaners?"

"Eight of 'em is in heaven."

She sounded as sure of this point as the exasperating little cottage
girl.

"You'd better get on with your work; I'm interrupting you," I said, as
I walked to the door.

About every third day I make this remark to Amelia with the faint hope
of impressing upon her that _I_ am the mistress of the establishment.
Then I carefully close the kitchen door behind me, barricade myself in
the dining- or drawing-room, and sit down and think about her.  I am
sure Amelia has not the slightest idea of how her figure looms in my
mental horizon.  I don't want to think about her.  Dimbie or mother or
Nanty are much pleasanter subjects, but I can't help it; she is the
sort of person you _must_ think about.

Nanty found her for me.

She said, "You and Dimbie will require someone extremely capable.
Amelia Cockles exactly answers to this description."

Now what worries me is whether to sit down quietly and let Amelia
manage us and be happy, or whether to endeavour to uphold our dignity
and be uncomfortable.

Were I to put such a question to Dimbie he would say, "Let's be happy."
But this happiness is qualified when she gives us roly-poly pudding
more than once every ten days.  It is a pudding for which I have always
had a peculiar dislike.  I will order, I mean suggest, that we shall
have a thatched house pudding for dinner.  I mention my liking for
brown thatch, not straw-coloured thatch.  I sit with an expectant
appetite, and a roly-poly appears, white, flabby, and bursting at its
ends with raspberry jam.  Reproachfully I look at Amelia, but her
return gaze is as innocent and ingenuous as a little child's.  She
would have me believe that I never even so much as mentioned a thatched
house pudding.  Dimbie sends up his plate for a second helping.  While
Amelia goes for the cheese course I say, "Do you think you could like
roly-poly a little less, only a _little_ less?"  And Dimbie, passing up
his plate for a third helping, says he will try, but it will be
difficult, as Amelia makes such ripping ones, and of course she enters
the room at the moment and hears him.  She hears everything.  I think
she must fly between the kitchen and dining-room when she waits at
dinner, or have spring boots concealed beneath the hall table.

I happened to mention the roly-poly to Nanty, and she said, "Be
thankful she can make a pudding at all, or you might have to make it
yourself."  There was an assumption in her manner that I couldn't, and
I didn't argue the point.  It is useless arguing with Nanty.

There is another point in Amelia's disfavour to put against her
admitted capability--she squeaks.  Her shoes squeak and her corsets
creak, and her breathing is conducted in a series of gasps--long ones
when she sweeps a room, short ones when she hands the potatoes at
dinner.  She seems to want oiling at every point of vantage, like a
bicycle.  Sometimes I lie awake at night and discuss or try to discuss
with Dimbie the possibilities of stopping the squeaking.

"Tell her to wear cloth boots like your mother."

"Mother doesn't wear cloth boots," I contradict.

"I thought you said she did," he murmurs sleepily.

"No, our servants wear them."

"Well, tell Amelia to do the same."

"She won't."

"Then I give it up."

"Dimbie," I say coaxingly, "before you go quite, quite off, couldn't
you suggest a remedy for squeaking?  Oil would spoil the carpets."

"Fill 'em with corn," comes the amazing suggestion.

"You put corn in wet shoes, dear donkey," I shout, trying to clutch him
back from that beautiful land of oblivion to which all of us, happy or
unhappy, healthy or sick, young or old, are so glad to go, when like
little children we are just tired.  But he had gone.  Nothing short of
a thunderbolt would bring him back till the morrow.

And when that morrow came I suggested to Amelia that she should dip the
shoes into water.

"Why not boil 'em, mum, with a little washing powder?"

Her face was stolid, but there was a hint of irony in her voice.  With
dignity I walked from the kitchen, barricaded myself, and once again
sat down to think about her.  The squeaking was unendurable; the
creaking of the corsets was nearly as bad.  For these two things I
could not give her notice; besides, I should never dare to give anybody
notice.

A little later on I caught her in the hall in an old pair of wool-work
slippers embroidered with tea-roses which had belonged to Dimbie, but
which I had surreptitiously banished to the boxroom.  She was in the
midst of a cake-walk; her chest was stuck out like a pouter pigeon's,
and one tea-rose was poised high in the air.

"_Amelia!_" I shouted, scandalised, "what are you dreaming of?  Have
you taken leave of your senses?"

She brought the tea-rose to earth with a bang, and stood like a soldier
at attention.

"Beg pardon, mum.  Didn't know you was there, or I wouldn't have done
it.  But I was so happy at thinkin' how pleased you would be in seein'
me in these here shoes, as you have took such a dislike to the others."

"But I'm not pleased," I rejoined.  "I could not think of permit--of
approving of your wearing wool-work slippers for answering the
front-door bell."

"It never rings, mum."

"It will when callers begin to arrive; and when you receive your next
month's wages I shall be glad, Amelia, if you will buy a pair of cloth
flat-heeled boots or shoes.  Kid are expensive, but cloth is
beautifully cheap."

"You mentioned them before, mum.  P'r'aps you'll remember.  I never
have and never could wear black cloth shoes.  It would be like walkin'
about with a pair of funerals on your feet.  They'd depress a nigger
minstrel.  Anything else to meet you.  White tennis shoes?  They're
soft and don't squeak."

"No, Amelia," I said wearily, "white tennis shoes would be worse than
the wool-work.  We'll dismiss the subject.  It is said that a man can
get accustomed even to being hanged.  I may learn to like your shoes in
time, and even regard their noisiness as music."

And I went back to the drawing-room and closed the door.  The subject
was finished, and so Amelia continues to squeak.



CHAPTER IV

DIMBIE'S BIRTHDAY


I find, in accordance with Nanty's advice, that I kept Dimbie well out
of the last chapter; but he's bound to figure pretty largely in this,
for he's had a birthday.  A birthday cannot very well be touched upon
without referring to the person interested, and Dimbie was extremely
interested because of the omelet Amelia made him for breakfast.

On the morning previous I said to Amelia--

"To-morrow is the master's birthday.  Now what shall we give him for
breakfast?  It must be something very nice."

"Pigs' feet."

"Pigs' feet?" I ejaculated.

"Yes, mum.  Pigs' feet boiled till juicy and tender, and red cabbage."

"But it's for breakfast," I repeated.

"Yes, mum.  You mentioned that."

"But you can't eat pigs' feet for breakfast."

"Mr. Tompkins' brother-in-law, Mr. München, was dead nuts on it."

Her attitude was unshaken.

"But wasn't he German, Amelia?"

"P'r'aps he was," she admitted.

"Ah," I said triumphantly, "that makes all the difference."

"What about brawn or sausages, or black puddings or ham, mum?"

"You see they're all--pig," I said hesitatingly.

"Well, you're not Jews, mum.  Tompkinses had a friend who----"

"I want something novel," I cut in, leaving the friend till another
time.  "I want something we have not had before."

She thought a moment.  Then her countenance brightened.

"I know, mum, savoury duck."

"Don't be ridiculous," I commanded.  "We're wasting time."

"It isn't a duck really, mum.  P'r'aps you thought it was?"

"When you say a duck, I naturally think you mean a duck."

I was getting tired.

"But I don't.  It's made of the insides of animals mixed with onions.
You buy them at tripe-shops, and they're real good."

I felt myself turning sick.

"Amelia," I said, trying to be patient, "will you remember it's
breakfast we are discussing.  I've called your attention to the fact
several times.  I think it will have to end in an omelet--a nice, light
omelet.  Do you know how to make one?"

Now Amelia will never allow that she doesn't know everything in the
world, so her reply was guarded.

"It's made of eggs."

"Of course," I rejoined.

"And milk and butter----"

The milk might be right, but I wasn't so sure about the butter.

Amelia pounced on my hesitation.

"Why, I believe you don't know how to make one yourself, mum."

I was bound to confess that I didn't.

"My opportunities to cook have been few," I explained.  "The little I
know was learned at a cookery class."

Amelia sniffed derisively.

"And a lot you'd learn there, mum--hentries and hoary doves, I suppose?"

"Hoary doves!" I repeated wonderingly, and vaguely thinking of a very
ancient white-haired dove.

"Yes, them silly things rich folks begins their dinners with--anchovies
and holives."

"You mean _hors-d'oeuvres_?"  That I suppressed a smile should go to my
good account, I think.

"That's it, only my tongue won't twist round it like yours."

"And where have you met them?" I inquired with interest.

"At Tompkinses'!"

"And did they have them every night?"

"No, just at dinner parties."  She spoke in an airy, careless fashion.

"I see," I said, greatly impressed.

Amelia had been accustomed to _hors-d'oeuvres_ at dinner parties, and
yet she condescended to live with us.

I looked with unusual interest at her closely-curled fringe, her sharp,
eager features, and her shamrock brooch.  I listened to her squeaking;
it was the corsets this time.  Sometimes a bone cracks in them like the
report of a small pistol, and I think to myself, "Well, there is one
less to break." But the number never seems to diminish.  I fancy she
must have a horde of bones, a sort of nest-egg of bones, put by, and as
soon as one cracks it is promptly replaced by a sound one.
Occasionally one bores through her print bodice, and then she puts a
patch on the place, a new print patch, which rarely matches the rest of
her dress.  I counted four one day.  She will look like a patchwork
quilt soon, and I feel a little depressed at the prospect.

I roused myself with an effort to Dimbie's birthday and the breakfast.

Amelia had produced the cookery book, and was rapidly reading out loud
various recipes for every variety of omelet.

"Stop," I said, "I'm getting muddled."

It ended in our selecting a savoury parsley omelet.

"I hope it will be nice," I said anxiously.

"Of course it will be nice.  You leave it to me, mum.  I've got a hand
_that_ light the master will be wishin' he had a birthday every day of
his life."

The birthday morning dawned clear and beautiful.  My first thought was
of the omelet.  I rose softly, dressed quickly, and went out into the
garden with the hope of finding a few flowers to put at the side of
Dimbie's plate.  A fresh, springy scent met me everywhere--damp earth,
moist trees, sun-kissed, opening, baby leaves.  I inspected our apple
tree, which stands in the middle of the lawn, with close attention.  It
is the only tree we possess.  I looked for a promise of blossom.
"Perhaps ... yes, in a month's time," I said.  I wandered down the
garden to the fence which divides us from the frog-pond field.  A
garden set at the edge of a field is a most cunning device, especially
when the field contains well-grown trees (which hang over the fence,
dipping and swaying and holding converse of the friendliest description
with your own denizens of the garden) and a frog-pond into the bargain.
The croaking of frogs may not be musical, but it may be welcomed as one
of the surest notifications of the advent of spring.  Mr. Frog is
courting Miss Frog.  He says, "Listen to my voice," on which he emits a
harsh, rasping sound, somewhat resembling the note of the corncrake.
Miss Frog is probably very impressed.  So are Dimbie and I.

"So countrified," says Dimbie, drawing a long, deep breath of the
sweet, pure air.

"So far from the madding crowd," say I.  "Who ever hears a frog near
the big, noisy towns?"

By and by we shall see little black eggs, embedded in a gelatinous
substance, floating about the surface of the water.  Later on there
will be tadpoles, and then more frogs.

The beech tree, I think, is the most kindly disposed of all the
brethren to us dwellers of the garden.  A lime nods to the apple tree,
which is exactly in its line of vision, but the beech leans and leans
over the fence, craning its neck, holding out long, beautiful branches,
which so soon will be decorated with a delicate lace-work of the most
exquisitely tender of all the spring greens.  The beech is a long time
in unfolding her treasures--the sycamore and chestnut can give her many
days; but when she does consent to open out her leaves, what a wealth
of beauty!

On this morning I thought I could almost see them uncurling in the
sunshine, hear them laughing at their old friend the lime.  I could
have dallied with them, anxious to hear what they had to say, what sort
of a winter had been theirs, but Dimbie and breakfast must be waiting
for me.

I sped into the house, just in time to see Dimbie removing the dish
cover.  I paused in the doorway to witness his smile of pleasure at
finding an omelet--a savoury parsley omelet--before him, but no smile
came.  In its place was a blank look of inquiry.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"What's this?" he returned.

"An omelet."  I walked quickly to the table.

"Oh, is it?" he said quite politely.

We stood together and looked at the thing, was very small and thin, and
hard and spotty.

"I thought it was veal stuffing."  He was grave and still quite
courteous.

"It looks like a bit of old blanket," I observed.

"It doesn't look wholesome, do you think so?"

"I think it looks most unwholesome."  I put my hand on the bell.

"Wait," he said, "Amelia might be hurt: let's give it to Jumbles."

But Jumbles was a wise cat.  He smelt it, stood up his hair on end, and
walked away.  And so we burnt it.

When I ordered some bacon to be cooked Amelia asked me how we had
enjoyed the omelet.

"It was a little small," I said evasively.

"Just a little small," said Dimbie cheerfully.

"That must be the fault of the egg-powder, there was no eggs in the
house," she said as she bustled out of the room.

Dimbie peeped at me and I peeped at Dimbie, and we both broke into
suppressed laughter.

"I always said she was the most resourceful girl I had ever met."

"She is," I groaned; "and I thought it would be such a beautiful
surprise to you."

"It was, dearest," he assured me; "never was so surprised at anything
in my life."

I handed him my present and looked at him anxiously.  Would this too be
a disappointment?  He had talked of pipe-racks so frequently--of the
foolish construction of the ordinary rack, which, supporting the bowl
of the pipe at the top, naturally encourages the evil-tasting nicotine
to flow down the stem.  This I had had made specially for him of the
most beautiful fumed oak.  The bowls of his pipes could now rest
sensibly, the stems pointing skywards.  His pleasure was unfeigned.  He
left his breakfast to hang it up and kiss me.

"How clever you are, Marg," he said.  "How did you know?"

"You have sometimes mentioned it."

He laughed.

"I have derived a considerable amount of useful information from you
one way or another.  I may even become capable in the end."

"There's no knowing," he agreed.

Then we fell to making our plans for the day.  It was not often that
Dimbie took a holiday, we must make the most of it.  We would cycle to
some pine woods at Oxshott which we knew well and loved greatly.  We
would lunch there by the side of a little pool set in a hollow--Sleepy
Hollow we called it.  It would be warm there and sunny, for the trees
had withdrawn to the right and left, and it was open to the sun and
rain and wind of heaven.  When we had rested we would go to a dingle
where I knew primrose roots were to be found.  What corner and nook and
hidden by-way and bridle-path in our beautiful Surrey were unknown to
me?  I had flown to them from Peter.  I had spent long days in the
fields, on the commons, in the pine woods away from Peter.  My bicycle
was a friend in need.  Peter couldn't cycle.  Nothing short of a
motor-car could catch me on my bicycle.  Peter hadn't a motor-car.
Motor-cars, bicycles, and truant girls were an invention of the devil.
I would laugh in my sleeve, while Peter swore.

I am introducing Dimbie to a lot of my old haunts.  Two on their
travels are better than one.

Amelia packed our lunch and asked when we would be home.

"It is impossible to say," I told her.  "When one rides away into the
country or into a sunset or into a moonrise one may never return."

And Amelia stared as she does sometimes when I cannot keep the laughter
and happiness out of my voice.

"There's the steak," she said.

"Cook it when we come in," I called as I followed Dimbie through the
wooden gate--which is such a joy to me, as it might have been iron--and
down the lane.

How glorious it was as we spun along the smooth, red roads, and felt
the sun and wind on our faces, and breathed spring--for spring was
everywhere!

"Go on in front, Marg," commanded Dimbie.  "I want to look at the sun
on your hair.  It's like pure gold."

I humoured his fancy.

"I want to feel it," he called, "to stroke it, it looks quite hot.
Let's stop for a rest."

We dismounted, and sat down on a bank.

"You won't ruffle it?" I said.

"No," he replied, "I'll be awfully careful."

Then he stroked the back of my head the wrong way, the dear old way he
has always stroked it.

"I _do_ love you, sweetheart," he murmured, kissing the nape of my
neck.  "There never was a Marguerite like mine."

It is at such moments that the tears come unbidden, tears of intense
happiness.

Will Dimbie ever realise how much I love him?  My words are few.  I
remember what Nanty said, although she has now recalled her advice.  I
don't seem to be able to let Dimbie know what he is to me.  Human
language is not sufficient, speech is so bald.  Sometimes in the night,
when he is asleep, I press my lips to his kinky hair, but I'm always
afraid he will awake and find me out, and I whisper, "God, I thank Thee
for Dimbie."

A lark was singing rapturously above us far away out of sight, a thrush
was breathing forth liquid notes of silver, and a little golden gorse
bush was giving of its best and sweetest to the inmates of the grassy
lane.

What a beautiful thing is a lane in which the grass runs softly
riotous.  A street of pure gold, as it were transparent glass, was what
St. John saw in his vision.  To me such a street, hard and metallic,
would be a disappointment.  I want in my heaven cool, grassy lanes,
soothing and comforting to tired feet.

"What a birthday!" said Dimbie.  "I want always to stop at thirty-one,
and sit on a bank with you and look at your hair in the sun,
sweetheart."

"You'd get tired of it."

"Never," he vowed.  "What a lucky thing it was for me your getting
mixed up in that wire netting.  Girls are very helpless."

"But they manage somehow to get out of their difficulties," I laughed,
and we sat a little closer.  "Marguerite," he said suddenly, "would you
like a--child?"

I felt the colour rise to my cheeks as I shook my head.

He stooped and kissed me.

"I'm so glad," he whispered.  "I wouldn't either.  We don't want anyone
but each other, do we?"

"Perhaps--some day," I faltered.

"Well, perhaps _some_ day," he assented a little reluctantly.  "People
with children seem so beastly selfish to everybody _but_ the children.
They've no thought for anybody else, no interest.  You say to 'em, 'My
house was burnt down last night.'  They look a little vague and reply,
'How unfortunate.  Johnny has contracted measles.'  Really anxious to
impress them, you go on to tell them that your mother has just died
from heart failure, and they say, 'How distressing.  Mary has passed
her matric.'  You want to curse Mary, but you daren't.  They represent
all that is holy, all that is extraordinary (in their own eyes), all
that is happiness; they are parents.  You stand outside the door of the
holy of holies.  You know not the meaning of the words life, joy,
fatherhood, motherhood.  The sun and the moon only shine for them.  The
stars twinkle, and the flowers bloom, only for the children."

He paused and sighed deeply.  I laughed, and patted his hand.

"How do you know all this?"

"I have a married sister, remember.  When she went abroad with Gladys
and Maxwell I was unfeignedly relieved.  They were getting on my
nerves, father included."

"But this is the age of children, remember, the golden age.  Before
they were kept in the background, now----"

"They are never off the foreground," said Dimbie gloomily.  "They are
in the drawing-room monopolising the entire attention of the guests.
If the guests don't want 'em the mothers are pained.  You are a
heartless brute, selfish and self-centred.  It never seems to strike
them _they_ are the ones who are self-centred."

"But that is not the poor children's fault," I said.  "Children are
dears when they are properly trained."

"No, perhaps not.  The children _might_ be jolly, simple,
unself-conscious little beggars if they got the chance, but they don't.
As it is, most of 'em are detestable."

"But"--I began.

"Come on, Marg," he said, helping me up.  "You can't make out a good
case for the modern parents however hard you try.  Let us be getting
on."

We made straight for Sleepy Hollow and our pool when we arrived at the
woods, and set our cloth at the edge of its banks.  Such a quiet pool,
it might be fast asleep.  No insects hum o'er its unruffed surface.  No
birds twitter in the tall sedges which hug it on three sides.  No fish
rise, for what would be the use when there are no insects or flies.
Away in every direction the pine trees stretch, filling the air with
their clean, resinous odour.

We spread our mackintoshes in the very sunniest spot, and Dimbie threw
himself on his back, while I sat cross-legged in tailor fashion.

"Don't you want any lunch?" I asked presently.

"Rather," he returned, sitting up.  "What have you got--omelets?"

"That," I said, "is disagreeable of you.  Amelia's efforts were well
meant."

"Hope she won't have any more," he said, with his mouth full of pie.

"Amelia will never cease to surprise us as long as she lives with us.
She is a curious mixture of extreme cleverness and astonishing
simplicity.  And I believe her heart's in the right place, though it is
difficult to tell, so surrounded is it by bones and patches."

I fell to thinking of her, and forgot Dimbie and the lunch.  Amelia
will have much to answer for, for displacement of my thoughts.  Before
I only thought of Dimbie; now Amelia edges in, try as I will to keep
her out.  Why should my mind be taken up with a Cockney girl educated
in the Mile End Road?  I object.

Dimbie took me away from her.

"By Jove, isn't it stunning here!  The sun is as hot as in June.  I
want a series of birthdays in which to ride away with you farther and
farther till we reach the sea.  Then we can sit upon the sands and tell
glad stories of our love.  And you must always wear that blue serge
frock and let the sun wander through your hair as it is doing now."

"Are you quite sure there is nothing more you want?" I inquired.

"Yes, I want to kiss you--that little spot on your right cheek which is
pink and sunburnt."

"Well, you can't," I replied.  "If you move you will upset the claret
and glasses."

"Don't care," he said, and as he kissed me a man appeared from among
the pine trees.

"Oh!" we both ejaculated, shooting back our heads.

He stood and looked at us with an amused expression.

"Don't mind me," he said quite politely, seating himself on the stump
of a tree pretty close to us.

"But I am afraid we do," Dimbie said equally politely.

"I've seen that sort of thing dozens of times," he continued in a
detached sort of manner.

We sat and eyed him indignantly.

"In fact, I rather like it," he went on imperturbably.

"Oh, do you?"  Dimbie's sarcasm was sharp as a knife.

"Yes, I find it refreshing after my work.  I am a balloonist, and have
done considerable research work in aerial flight.  I built an aerodrome
once, a steam-driven flying machine.  It went about a quarter of a mile
and killed my mother on the way."

"Oh!" I said, shocked.  Dimbie was staring at the sky.

"Yes; sad, wasn't it?  But she was eighty-seven.  And I am sure, could
she have had the choice, she would have preferred a sudden, practically
painless death to a long, lingering illness."

"So did you build this aerodrome on purpose to finish her off?" I
inquired with interest.

Dimbie smothered a laugh, and the man looked at me thoughtfully, but
didn't seem offended.

"Well, no," he replied, "I can hardly say that.  I merely meant that it
was just a bit of luck for my mother.  I hope, by the way, I am not
disturbing you."

"Not very much," I answered, before Dimbie could speak.

"That's right.  I don't like being _de trop_, or in the way; get
yourself disliked."

There seemed to be nothing to say to this, and Dimbie and I peeped at
one another and endeavoured not to laugh.

[Illustration: PROFESSOR LEIGHRAIL]

The stranger looked at us thoughtfully, benevolently almost.  His face
was extremely thin and worn, his hands delicate, and his boots too
large for him.  There was a refinement about his whole personality
above the ordinary, and I liked him.

"Have some lunch?" Dimbie said, beginning to unbend.  "There isn't any
pie left, but there's lots of bread and cheese and some fruit."

"No, thank you.  I have some lunch in my pocket, so with your
permission I will eat it with you."

He produced an envelope, and taking out a brown lozenge began to suck
it.  When he had finished this he extracted a second, and then a third.
Then from his coat pocket he produced a tin cup, dipped it into a
stream which feeds the pool, drank, returned it to his pocket, and
leant back in a finished way.

"Is that all you are going to have?" I couldn't resist asking in
astonishment.

"Yes," he said.  "Being a balloonist, I am obliged to eat sparingly, so
take my meat in a concentrated form.  I'm one of the thinnest men in
Great Britain, and usually wear two coats to hide my lean appearance.
Would you like to feel my ribs?"

He asked this simple though somewhat unusual question in exactly the
same way as a man might ask you to see his Velasquez.

"No, thank you," we both said together.

"They're worth feeling," he said, a little disappointed.

We assured him of our belief in his veracity.

"A bit prudish, eh?"  He turned towards me.

"Not in the least," I replied indignantly; "but to be quite candid, I'm
not very interested in your ribs.  You see, we don't know you very well
yet," I added, to soften the blow.

"Where do you live?" he asked.

We told him in guarded language.

"Within two miles of Leith Hill.  Pretty country?"

We nodded.

"What's the name of your house?" was his next question.

"Have you taken a great fancy to us?" Dimbie inquired sweetly.

"Very," he said.  "Don't remember taking a greater fancy to anybody.
You seem so ridiculously happy and young."

Dimbie's and my face, I fear, wore the expression of happiness fleeting.

"I'm going now," he said rising.  "If you had favoured me with the name
of your house I might have dropped in on you some day from my balloon."

This sounded rather interesting.

"One Tree Cottage," we said together.

He laughed.

"Might have known it would be a cottage.  You both look so exactly like
a cottage--lattice windows, roses and honeysuckle thrown in.  Quite
common-place, if you only knew it."

"Good afternoon, sir," said Dimbie in an extinguishing voice.

The stranger smiled good-humouredly.

"Now you're going to get offended with me," said he, "and I am sorry.
But you take my word for it, there are scores of young couples in
lattice-windowed cottages--or would like to be in lattice-windowed
cottages--with honeysuckle and roses and a baby.  It's the craze now to
live in a cottage.  We avoided them as you would the plague in my young
days--insanitary, stuffy, no gas, no hot water, floors with hills in
them, walls with mould in them, skirtings with rats in them.  Yours is
like that, I expect."

We vouchsafed no reply.

"And your drains--I expect they're all wrong.  Most cottage drains are
abominable."

"We have a drain-bamboo," I said eagerly.  "Amelia uses it regularly."

"Amelia sounds a sensible young person.  I should like to see her and
the cottage.  I'm interested in young people.  I was young myself once,
though you mightn't think it."

"Perhaps it was some time ago," I observed.

"Yes, it's a long time."  His eyes became reminiscent.  "I jumped into
an old man the day my wife died, very old.  Then I took up ballooning.
I thought that might prove the surest method of ending myself--short of
suicide.  Don't like suicide--unpleasant and dramatic."  He still spoke
with cheerful detachment.

"And are you a professional balloonist--ascend from the Crystal Palace
and that sort of thing?" I asked.

He looked at me with amused surprise, I imagined, for an instant; in
fact, he laughed.

"Oh, no, I am not a professional.  I am engaged on various work.
Generally pretty busy.  Ballooning is my hobby.  If you've plenty to do
you can't be lonely."

"We shall be very glad to see you," I said, suddenly feeling very sorry
for this eccentric person.  A shadow had crept across his face as he
had spoken.  How dreadful to be lonely, I thought.  "Our village is
Pine Tree Valley.  We searched about till we found a place set among
the pines.  I love them so.  Perhaps you will dine with us one evening?"

"It is very kind of you," he said quickly, "but I never dine with
people.  They invariably eat fattening, indigestible things.  If I went
out to dinner I shouldn't have ribs like knife blades."  He spoke quite
proudly.  "But I should like to call and see the baby."

"There isn't a baby."  Dimbie's voice was irritable, and my cheeks were
scarlet.

"I'm sorry," he said.  "We hadn't one either."

"And did you mind?" I asked.

"Not a bit while Amabella was alive.  But when she died I was a great
deal alone, and the house seemed big and empty.  I think it is a
mistake not to have children."  He looked at me a trifle severely.

"We've only been married a little over three months," Dimbie explained
apologetically.

"Ah, well, that makes a difference, of course.  You've got plenty of
time.  Good-bye, and may I give you my card?"

He fished one out of the pocket which contained the tin mug.  It was a
little soiled and wet.

"It is unnecessary to give me one of yours," he said with a smile.  "I
don't want to know your name.  I shall just ask for Mr. and Mrs.
Smilingface, who live in a tiresome, typhoid-inviting, creeper-covered
cottage.  Good-bye," and before we could speak he had gone.

With interest we examined the card:--

  Mr. MONTGOMERY LEIGHRAIL,
  THE GREY HOUSE,
  ESHER.


Dimbie sat down and opened his blue eyes so wide that the crook in his
nose moved in sympathy.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Marg," he said solemnly, "do you know what you have done?"

"No," I replied; "hurry up and tell me."

"You have refused to feel the ribs of one of the greatest scientists of
the world.  That was Professor Leighrail."

"Well, he ought to have known better than to have asked me," I said,
refusing to be impressed.

At which Dimbie fell back and chuckled softly for some minutes.



CHAPTER V

A LETTER FROM MISS FAIRBROTHER


Beyond the fact that I have received a letter from Miss Fairbrother,
there seems to be nothing of any real importance to-day to enter in my
"daily-round."  I call my journal my "daily-round," though it isn't
anything of the kind, for I only scribble in it when I have nothing
else to do, and when I am waiting for Dimbie to come home.  I always
seem to be waiting for Dimbie to come home, and yet I don't always
write in my "daily-round"; I wait for moods.  Dimbie calls it my recipe
book.  He says it looks like one, with its ruled lines and mottled
brawn stiff covers.  He wants to read it, but this I won't permit.  I
say, "Dimbie, within those covers are the meanderings of a new wife, I
mean a newly-made wife.  It could be of no interest to you to read: 'I
have ordered two pounds of steak for dinner.  Amelia is unusually
squeaky to-day,' but they are of vital interest to me."  Journals can
only be of interest to the people who write them.  There are, of
course, exceptions, such as Pepys and Evelyn--I have not read either of
them, but they may have made notes of really important events.  I
don't, for I have none to note.  Besides, I never know the date.
Properly constructed journals have dates.  I only know the month we are
in.  I have an idea whether it is the beginning or the end, but if
anyone were to say to me, "What is the day of the month?" I should be
extremely flurried.  I always find, too, that people who ask you the
date know it much better themselves.  If you say it is the sixteenth
they flatly contradict you and say they are sure it is the seventeenth.
Peter was always like that.  He would sit down at the writing-table in
the library with a calendar hanging right in front of his nose, and
would suddenly pounce upon poor mother with, "What is the date?"
Mother, not knowing any more about dates than I, would gently refer him
to the calendar.  Peter would not be referred to calendars.  Mother
should know dates the same as other sensible people.  Then there would
be ructions.  Peter would show mother and me what could be done with an
ordinary pair of lungs.  I used to think what splendid bellows Peter's
lungs would make.  One day I ventured upon this to him, I asked him to
blow up the fire.  I shall never forget the result.  His facial
contortions and the noise he made were out of the common.

I am wondering if he makes those noises now.  Mother was always a
little gentler and more yielding to him than I, so perhaps the house is
quieter since I left.  I don't see them very much.  Not possessing a
carriage, and the journey by train being a little cross country, we do
not exchange many visits.  Peter won't allow mother to come alone, and
of course when he comes everything is spoilt.  He does not believe in
private confidential talks between women.  He says that most of it is
ill-natured gossip, and I have never heard mother say an unkind word of
anybody in her life.

I did not mean to write of Peter this morning.  My head was full of
Miss Fairbrother.

Such a delightful letter from her.  Dimbie was as much interested in it
as I.  She says--

"'I am thirty-five to-day.  Yes, I have reached half the allotted age
of man.  The Psalmist was a little mean and skimpy, I think, to limit
one's years to threescore and ten.  Probably he was old for his age,
having crowded a good deal into his life.  And all those wives and sons
of his were enough to make any man feel tired.'"

I looked up and laughed.

"Go on," said Dimbie.

"'Thirty-five will appear to twenty-three a great and mysterious
age--mysterious in the way that death is mysterious; a state at which
to arrive at some dim and future period--very dim, very far off when
you are but twenty-three.

"'And yet my years sit lightly upon me.  I can still run, though not so
swiftly as of old.  I can still laugh, though India is very hot and
very sad in some of its aspects.  I still wear cotton frocks--perhaps
the last foolishly; but what is one to do in an Indian climate, and
when one has to count up the pennies in readiness for the old age which
_must_ come?  Muslin I eschew as being too airy and girlish for one of
rounded proportions, but mercerised cotton is my salvation.  Praised be
the Lancashire cotton mills!  Do you happen to have met with mercerised
cotton?  It is deceitful, for it tries to cheat you into believing that
when you don it you straightway have a silken appearance.  It may
deceive _you_, but it certainly does not deceive the other women of the
station.  You read in their uplifted glance "six-three," which means
sixpence three farthings.  You don't care dreadfully, for are you not
cool and most suitably attired as a governess?

"'You ask me, dear Marguerite, what I am doing.  I am still existing in
a pink bungalow endeavouring to teach two poor, hot, sticky children.
Of course it is cool now, but the hot weather will return once more,
and then they are going home to that cool, green garden whose other
name is England, and my work will be finished.  This makes the fourth
batch of children who have left me during the years I have been here.
And now that garden is calling me, calling me with a voice not to be
resisted, and I too am "going home."

"'You, little old pupil, will be one of the first persons upon whom I
shall leave cards.  Marguerite married is a person of importance now.
Her two fair pigtails went "up" long ago, but she will always remain
the little old pupil to me.

"'Then, too, I badly want to see this wonderful husband of yours.  He
won't be nice to me.  A young husband, I think, is rarely devoted to
his wife's old friends.  But I shan't mind.  I shan't resent it.  I
shall understand.'"

I stopped again to laugh up at Dimbie, who was leaning over me.

"She seems a very sensible woman," he remarked.

"There never was anyone quite so sensible as Miss Fairbrother," I
returned.  "She could even manage Peter in a fashion, and mother was
devoted to her.  One of the very cleverest things mother ever did was
to find Miss Fairbrother."

"Please finish," said Dimbie, "or I shall miss my train."

"'Your charming present, for which many thanks, has already raised me
some inches in the eyes of the women out here.  For long they have been
trying to persuade me into wearing a hair-frame.  You will probably
know the thing I mean--a round, evil-looking, hairy bolster, over which
unpleasantness you comb your own hair, hoping to delude mankind into
the belief that you have come of parentage of Samsonian
characteristics.  Now this beautiful jewelled comb of yours adds
somewhat to my stature when, with an attempt--somewhat feeble, I
fear--at high coiffured hair, I swim, like Meredith's heroines, or try
to swim, into dinner.  They almost pardon my lack of a bolster when
their eyes rest upon such modishness.  A little less
spinster-governess, they think.  And I translate their thought and
smile.

"'Always your most affectionate,
   "'EGOIST.'"


"Egoist, indeed!" I said musingly, as I folded the letter and took a
photograph out of my desk--a photograph of a strong, smiling face, with
low, broad forehead, over which the hair was parted on one side, clear,
unflinching eyes, and large mobile mouth.

"Why don't you put her into a frame somewhere about the room?" asked
Dimbie.  "It is a fine face."

"Because I promised her she should never be on view.  She imagined she
was plain.  I think clever people are as sensitive about their looks as
stupid."

"Perhaps so," said Dimbie, with a fine disregard of all trains.  "Was
she very clever?"

I was pleased at his interest in my much-loved governess.

"I don't know," I replied.  "I am not clever enough to know.  But
whatever she said seemed to me intensely interesting.  Mother and even
Peter were inclined to hang on her words.  She was so witty, so gay;
she had such a sense of humour.  You see, she was only twenty-eight
when she left.  She came to us when she was twenty, just after taking a
most fearful degree.  Mother says Peter most strongly objected to this
degree; that he said women should only take things like measles and
scarlet fever, and be feminine, remembering their place in nature, and
not try to be clever; and that if only Miss Fairbrother would do her
hair properly and wear white-lace petticoats, she even might get
married--there was no telling.  And mother argued that she did not wish
Miss Fairbrother to be married till she had thoroughly grounded me and
prepared me for that high-class boarding school, Lynton House.

"And I recollect Peter snorted at this, and said that if Miss
Fairbrother could just manage to knock a little writing, reading, and
arithmetic into my head and teach me to sew and knit, he, for one,
would be satisfied.  And he forbade anyone--man or woman--to instruct
me in the art of painting flowers, afterwards to be framed and stuck on
his walls.  I cannot convey to you the scorn in his voice as he shouted
the words 'painting flowers.'"

"I think he was right there," said Dimbie.

"So do I," I laughed; "but Peter had forgotten that the painting of
still life was a product of a bygone age.  To imagine Miss Fairbrother
teaching me such an art would be to imagine her teaching me how to
embroider wool-work pictures.  Granny worked two fierce cats with
spreading, startled whiskers, in Berlin wool.  They adorn my old
nursery walls to this day.  Miss Fairbrother made up lovely, exciting
tales about them and their habits, and for some little time, till I
grew older, I was under the impression they left their frames at night
and sported on the tiles.  We called them Mr. Chamberlain and Mr.
Balfour."

"I must go," said Dimbie.  "The cats are most interesting, and so is
Miss Fairbrother, but I have our living to make.  What do you say to
asking her to visit us for a bit when she arrives?"

He spoke in a nonchalant way, and I looked up quickly.  He had said he
shouldn't have anyone to stay with us under twelve months.  His back
was turned to me, so I couldn't see his face.

"Do you want her?" I asked.

"_I_ want her?  Certainly not.  But you sound so keen on her,
and--_she_ sounds lonely."

"Dear Dimbie," I said, "you are a pet.  I appreciate your
unselfishness, but----"

"Well, write and ask her before I change my mind.  I dare say she'll
have the sense to clear off and leave us alone in the evenings."

"But shall you care dreadfully?" I queried.

He laughed.

"Well, not dreadfully.  No man hankers after a strange woman in the
house, especially when he's already got a dear one like you.  But I
want you to be happy, Marg."  His voice became very tender.  "I don't
want you to be lonely.  I want your days to be a perpetual delight."
He crossed the room and stroked the back of my head.

"And so they are," I replied, laying my cheek on his sleeve.  "One long
delight.  Sometimes I wonder why God has given _me_ so much happiness.
I don't deserve it any more than anyone else.  Peter, all my worries
are behind me; in front of me is joy.  I seem to have stepped on to a
little green island of content, set in the midst of a sun-kissed ocean.
The waves lap the shores lovingly; the breezes linger in our hair with
a caress.  You and I are alone, Dimbie."

And he laid his lips on mine for a moment, and then he left me.



CHAPTER VI

SORROW OVERTAKES ME


I take up my writing again, or rather my book is propped up in front of
me, and I wonder how long ago was that.  It tires my head to think.  My
dates are more confused than ever.  I know it is May, but what part of
May?  I look out of my window--the bed has been wheeled into the
window--and I see the chestnut is crowned with its white lights, and
the broom bush near the gate is a mass of golden blossom.  It is the
end of May; it must be nearly June, for they tell me the season is
late, that there has been much cold and rain.  I am almost glad to have
missed that.  I like my May to be smiling and gladsome, not frowning
and petulant.  But to-day she has put on her best bib and tucker, and
with the conceit of a frail human being I weave the pleasant fancy that
it is done in my honour.  "They are giving me a welcome, nurse," I say.
"The apple tree is rosy pink with pleasure at my greeting blown to it
through the window."

And nurse, putting on her bonnet and cloak to go out, tells me to hush
and not talk so much.

They have been telling me to hush for so long it seems; but now I am
tired of hushing, tired of being good.

I told Dr. Renton this yesterday, and he smiled and said it showed I
was getting better.  "Not getting, got," I returned.  "When may I get
up?"  And he said he would come and tell me on Wednesday; and this is
Monday, three o'clock in the afternoon, and I have forty-eight long
hours to get through before I know.

Nurse is just a trifle cross with my impatience.  She becomes irritable
when I talk about getting up.  She says how would I like to lie for
some months; and I reply not at all--that it would be quite impossible
for Dimbie to get along without my being ever at his elbow, and that it
would be still more impossible for me to remain in a recumbent position
when an upright one is possible.

I was glad of this "lying down" when I was in pain.  Pain!  There was a
time when I had not known the meaning of the word.  It had passed me
by, left me alone.  I had seen it on a few people's faces; then I
thought it was discontent, now I know it was pain.

How do people bear it--always? keep their reason?  Does God try them
till they are just at breaking-point, and then gently remove them? or
send them the blessing of unconsciousness?

They say I lay for hours away in a world of my own.  I did not flinch
when they touched me, moved me, laid me on my bed, left me in the hands
of the doctors.

And yet I would have stayed if I could--kept my brain unclouded to help
Dimbie when he picked me up, disentangled me (he always seems to be
disentangling me from something) from the wrecked bicycle, and laid me
away from that terrible wall.  I did so want to help him.  His white,
set face recalled me a moment from the haze of unconsciousness which
was settling upon me, and I whispered, "Dimbie, dear!" but I never
heard his answer.  The mist became an impenetrable fog, and I left him
alone with his difficulties.

I don't know now what I wanted to say.

He teazes me with lips that won't keep steady, and says I wished to
know if my hat were straight.

"Dear goose," I protest, "it was something to do with the black chicken
my wheel caught against in my headlong flight down the hill.  I tried
to dodge it--it was such a nice, wee black chicken, but it dodged too,
and--I couldn't help it."  And the tears tremble in my eyes--just from
weakness.  "I think I wanted you to go back up the hill and help it,
for we were both in a very sorry plight."

And Dimbie, to my surprise, turns away to the window and says we shall
have rain.  If it had rained every time Dimbie has predicted it during
my illness we should have been obliged to take refuge in an ark and
float about the surface of the waters.

I am very cheerful now.  I am getting better.  What joy, what hope
those words contain for those who have been sick and sorry.  I wiped
away the last tear this morning when mother went.  Peter's letters had
become so tiresome that I told her she had better go.  And as I threw a
kiss to the back of her pretty bonnet as she disappeared through the
gate the tear was for her and not for myself.

"I would like to cut Peter for life, and I would but for your sake,
poor dear little mother," I murmured savagely.  And nurse, who entered
the room at that moment, said, "You've moved."

"Yes," I replied, a little guiltily; "but as the pain has almost gone,
I thought it could not do any harm just to sit up for a moment and
watch mother go."

"You've sat up?" she cried in dismay.

"Yes."  I snuggled my head down on the pillow.  "I think I'll have a
little sleep now, nurse."

"I shall tell Dr. Renton and Mr. Westover."  Her voice was relentless.

"If you do I shall sit up again, and refuse to take my beef-tea," I
asseverated.  "Besides, it is sneaky to tell tales."

Her lips twitched as she poured some beef-tea into my feeder.

"If you sit up again I shall give up the case."

Her voice reminded me of the stone wall I had smashed against, and I
told her so; but she was not to be moved.

"Will you give me your faithful promise that you will not sit up again?
I am responsible to Dr. Renton and Mr. Rovell.  I have nursed Mr.
Rovell's cases for years, and I do not wish to lose his work."

She stood over me like an angel with a flaming sword.

"I promise, nursey, dear," I said meekly.  "But you won't take my
manuscript book from me?  I can write quite easily lying down.  You
see, it has stiff covers."

"You can keep that," she conceded.  "Are you doing French exercises?"

"No," I said gravely.  "At present I am writing what you might call
'patience exercises.'  When I am at work I forget how long it is before
Mr. Westover will be home.  I forget my back.  I forget General
Macintosh and my other worries.  I am so absorbed in keeping my
spelling and grammar in order that I have no time for other matters.
You see, if I were to di--go before my husband, he might wish to see
these exercises, and I should not like him to smile at my mistakes."

"You are not going before Mr. Westover," she said briskly.  "All my
patients think they are going to die.  I am not altogether sorry, as
they are so sorry for themselves that it keeps them absorbed and out of
mischief.  Were they not taken up in picturing their husbands flinging
themselves on to their graves in a frenzy of grief they might be
picking their bandages off."

I giggled and choked into my beef-tea.

"I hate beef-tea," I said when I had recovered.  "Besides, it is only a
stimulant, and not a food."

"How do you know that?" she asked.

"I saw it in mother's medical book."  I spoke carelessly.

"Where is it?" Her voice was sharp.

"Down the bed."

She dived gently but firmly under the clothes and removed the book
which I had had such trouble in purloining from mother by bribing
Amelia.

"Is there anything else you have read in it?"

"No," I said, "I've not had time.  I was just running through the index
when my eye caught the word beef-tea."

"What were you going to look for?"

"Spines," I returned promptly.  "As mine has gone a bit wrong I thought
I would like a little information about it."

"And I'm just glad I caught you in time," she said sternly.  "That is
why I like nursing men so much better than women.  Men are too scared
about themselves to go poking their noses into medical books, but women
are so curious about their own cases that there is no holding them in.
They look at their charts--I have seen them doing it in hospital when
the nurses' backs were turned.  They take their own temperatures, feel
their own pulses, and ask a thousand questions which no sensible nurse
would dream of answering."

"I have not asked silly questions," I argued.

"No, because up to now you have been far too poorly.  What is it you
want to know?"

"When I may get up," I said eagerly.

"Well, you won't find that in a medical book.  Did you expect to do so?"

"Oh, no.  I wanted to find out of what spines are made; the diseases to
which they are subject," I said rather lamely.

"Yours isn't a disease, but an accident.  Dr. Renton will tell you fast
enough when you may get up."  She put the book into a drawer.

"It seems so long to Wednesday."

"He is not coming till next week."

"Not till next week," I said blankly, "and this is only Monday.  He
said he would come on Wednesday."

"No, he didn't.  You assumed that he would."

"Well, I call it most neglectful."

"There is nothing to come for now," she said soothingly.  "It is a good
way from Dorking to Pine Tree Valley, and of course, as he said, there
is no good in running up a long bill."

"I don't believe he said that," I cried heatedly.

"Perhaps he didn't," she admitted; "but you mustn't excite yourself.  I
am going to lower the blinds.  You said you were sleepy."

"I never was so wide awake in all my life," I almost sobbed.  "I think
it is mean of Dr. Renton.  I did so want to get up this week and smell
the wallflowers before they were quite over.  I think they were late in
flowering for my sake.  I put them in and they waited for me, and now I
shall miss them."

"I will bring some in for you to smell."

"It won't be the same," I cried petulantly.  "You don't understand,
nurse.  To enjoy wallflowers to the full the sun must be shining upon
them, and you must stand a little away from the bed, and the west wind
must come along gently, bearing in its arms the scent--just a breath of
warm fragrance, and--well, that is the way to enjoy wallflowers,
and--oh, nurse, I do so want to bury my face in them."  I tailed off to
a wail.

She walked to the window and lowered the blind.

"If you carry on in this way you will never smell wallflowers again."
She was cross.  "I shall leave you now, and perhaps you'll be calmer
when I come back."

"Oh, nurse," I said penitently, "don't go.  I will be good.  And I want
you to read me _Peggy and Other Tales_.  You read it so beautifully."

_Peggy_ is a dear black book which belonged to mother when she was a
little girl.  It was my especial favourite when I was seven, and it has
been quite the most suitable form of literature for a weak, fractious
invalid with a hazy brain and wobbly emotions.

Nurse laughed as she picked up the book.

"Are you not tired of it?"

"No," I replied.  "_Peggy_ comforts me very much.  And when you have
finished her, you might read me something out of _Ecclesiastes_.  It is
not that I am feeling religious or think I am going to die, but the
language is so musical and grand: '_Or ever the silver cord be loosed,
or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern._'  It is the repetition of the word
'broken' I like.  Now had I been writing the verse I should have
searched about for another verb--smashed, cracked--and straightway the
beauty of the lines would have been spoiled.  But Solomon was so sure
of himself.  He knew the word 'broken' was just the right word even if
used three times and so he used it."

Nurse sat and looked at me with surprise chasing across her face.

"Dear me," she said, "I never notice things like that when I am
reading."

"What do _you_ notice?" I inquired.

"Oh, I don't think I notice anything.  I just want to hurry on to where
the man proposes."

"But men don't often propose in the Bible, with the exception of
Jacob," I said laughing.

"I didn't refer to the Bible.  I was thinking of books generally."

"You mean you never notice how a book is written.  You just want to get
on with the plot."

"That's it," she agreed.  "I hate descriptions.  They tire me to death,
especially as to how the characters feel inside about things.  Heroines
are the worst of all.  They commune with themselves for hours over the
merest trifles."

"Do you mean as to whether they will get a new dress, or engage a man
to put a new washer on the bathroom tap which drips?"

"Oh, no," she said, a little impatiently, "I can't explain; it is not
over things like that they worry themselves.  But you look tired.  You
are talking too much.  I will read you to sleep."

She spoke with finality, and picked up the book.

As she read aloud in a somewhat sonorous voice I lay and watched the
tree-tops.  "Next week," I thought, "I shall be out of doors once more.
I shall visit the frog-pond with Dimbie.  I shall wander through the
fields with him.  His arm will clasp mine, as I shall be weak, and we
shall sit and rest under a white hawthorn hedge.  The scent will be
heavy on the still evening air.  The fields of clover and wheat
will----"  And at this point I left _Peggy_ and nurse, and fell asleep.



CHAPTER VII

DR. RENTON BREAKS SOME NEWS TO ME


The week has passed at last--in the daytime on leaden feet, on wings of
gold in the evening when, as the clock has struck six, Dimbie and
happiness have entered my room hand in hand.

"Only four more days, dear one," Dimbie has said hopefully.

"Only three more days.  Nurse must begin to air your tea-gown."

"Only two more.  I am putting bamboo poles through the small wicker
chair.  You may not be able to walk at first, and nurse and I will
carry you.  I could manage you alone, you are only a feather in weight,
but I might hurt you--such a frail Marguerite my little wife looks."

"Is it the drain-bamboo you are using?" I ask demurely.  "For Amelia
might object."  And Dimbie laughs like a happy boy.

"Only one more day.  To-morrow you will meet me at the door.  Nurse
will help you there, and then she will go away, and--we shall be
alone."  His voice vibrates with happiness and my cheeks glow.

"Have you missed me, Dimbie?" I whisper.  "Have you enjoyed pouring out
your own tea and finding your slippers and working in the garden alone?"

And he smiles tenderly and says he hasn't missed me one little bit, and
can't I see it in his face?  And nurse who comes into the room says
"Ahem!"  Her throat often seems a little troublesome.

And now to-morrow has come.  Dr. Renton may walk in at any minute, and
I press my finger to my wrist to try to hush the beating.

Nurse has put me into my best blue silk jacket, and my hair has been
done--well, not in the very latest Parisian mode, but its two plaits
are tied with new blue ribbons.  She has propped me up so that I may
see the lane and know the exact moment in which Dr. Renton may drive
down it.

I persuaded her to go for her walk as soon as lunch was over.  I told
her Dr. Renton never came, as she herself knew, much before half-past
three, and that I felt unusually well.

And as soon as ever I heard the click of the gate and knew she had gone
I rang the tortoise--the bell which always lives on the other
pillow--for Amelia.

She appeared, very dirty.

"Why, you're not dressed," I said.

"Did you ring to tell me that, mum?  Because I knewed it."

Her attitude was not that of impertinence, but of inquiry.

"Oh, no," I replied quickly.  "I want you to bring me up one of the
volumes of the encyclopædia.  I don't know the number, but it will have
SPI on the back."

I spoke nervously, for I felt guilty.  I was about to embark upon an
act of deception.  Would Amelia detect me?  But, for a wonder, she left
the room without a comment.

In a minute she was back.

"There is no volume with SPI on it," she announced.  "There is one with
SIB and SZO on it, mum."

"That will do," I said eagerly.  "It will be in that."

She brought it with a running accompaniment of squeaks and gasps.

"Three at a time, mum."

"Three at a time!  What?" I inquired.

"Stairs, mum."

"Well, then," I said, "it is very foolish of you, Amelia.  Your
breathing resembles a gramophone when you wind it up.  I shan't require
anything further, thank you; but please get dressed.  I should like you
to be neat when Dr. Renton arrives, and he will probably have tea with
me.  I don't know how it is you are so late."

"I do, mum."

"Why?"

My question was answered by another.

"Have you any idea what I do after lunch, mum?  Do you think I am
skipping or playing marbles?"

"Oh, no," I said hastily, "I am sure you are not, Amelia."

"Well, then, I'll tell you what I do, so as you won't be wonderin' why
I'm not dressed by half-past two."  She spoke volubly.  "I washes up
the lunch things--nurse's now as well; she's too grand to so much as
put a kettle on.  Then I sweeps up the kitchen, sides up the hearth,
brushes the kettle, cleans the handle----"

"What do you do that for?" I asked with interest.

"For fun, of course."

"_Amelia!_" I said rebukingly.

"Beggin' your pardon, mum, but it seemed such a foolish
question--meanin' no offence to you.  I cleans the handle, which is
copper here--it was brass at Tompkinses'--to get the dirt and smoke
off.  You never got your hands black in lifting _my_ kettle, did you
now?"

"I don't think I have ever lifted it," I rejoined.

"Oh, well," she said in a superior way, "of course you can't know; but
people who knows anything at all about a house knows that generals'
kettles are mostly black.  Then I scrubs the table, dusts the kitchen,
feeds the canary, and waters the geranium, which is looking that
sickly-like I'm ashamed of the tradespeople seeing it.  The butcher
only says to me yesterday, 'I see you are a bit of a horticulturist,
miss.'"

She stopped, breathless.

"You certainly are very busy," I said.

"Busy isn't the word.  I'm like a fire-escape from morning till night."

I think she meant fire-engine, and I was not sorry when she departed,
for I was anxious to get to my encyclopædia.

I turned the pages rapidly--Sphygmograph, Spice Islands, Spider,
Spikenard, Spinach, Spinal Cord.  "Ah, here we are!" I said
delightedly.  In a moment my spirits drooped.  "See Physiology, vol.
xix. p. 34.  For diseases affecting the Spinal Cord, see Ataxy
(Locomotor), Paralysis, Pathology, and Surgery."

I gave a deep sigh.  I always have disliked the _Encyclopædia
Britannica_.  From the moment Dimbie introduced it to our happy home I
have had a feeling of unrest.  It appears to think you have nothing to
do with your time beyond playing "hunt the slipper" with it.  You wish
to look up a subject like dog.  With a certain amount of faith and hope
you approach your encyclopædia.  Dog refers you to Canine.  You check
your impatience.  Canine refers you to Faithfulness.  A bad word, if
you were a man, would then be used; but you are not a man, so you only
stamp your foot.  Faithfulness refers you to Gelert, and you hurt
yourself rather badly as you replace the volume.  You give up dog.  You
would prefer your pet dying before your very eyes to searching any more
heavy volumes.

When Dimbie first saw the _Encyclopædia Britannica_ advertised in the
Daily Mail he became very enthusiastic, and after talking about it for
some time commented upon my lack of interest in the subject.

"Why, Marg, they are giving it away!" he cried.

"Oh," I said, rousing myself, "that is quite a different thing.  I like
people who give books away.  When will they arrive?"

"When I said, 'Giving it away,'" Dimbie explained, hedging, "I meant
that the payments would be by such easy instalments that we couldn't
possibly miss them.  And a fumed oak bookcase will be thrown in free."

I became interested in the bookcase, and when it arrived I wasn't, for
it was black and varnishy and sticky, and very far removed from fumed
oak as I knew it.  I gave it to Amelia for her pans, and we ordered
another from the joiner, who charged us £4 for it, money down, as we
were strangers.

We don't find the payment of the instalment each month in the least
easy.  In fact, we almost go without fire and food to meet it.

I rang the tortoise sharply.  The encyclopædia should be made to
divulge that which I wished to know.  I would not be hoodwinked.

"Please bring me volumes PHY, LOC, PAR, PAT, and SUR," I said to
Amelia, who was buttoning her black bodice all wrong.  "And where's
your cap?"

"In my pocket, mum."  She produced it, fastening it on wrong end
foremost with two hair-pins which once might have been black.

"It is an unsuitable place to keep it," I pronounced.  "And where are
your cuffs?"

Amelia smiled.

"They've melted, mum.  I forgot they was india-rubber, and I put them
into the oven after washing them, and when I went for them they was
just drippin'."

I sighed deeply.

"Well, bring me the volumes.  Do you remember which I mentioned?"

"No, mum."

"I will write them down for you."

"Why not have the whole forty, mum?" she said, as she took the slip of
paper.

"Those five will be sufficient, thank you," I said coldly.

Her panting was naturally excessive as she laid the volumes on the bed.

"They are rather heavy for me to lift, Amelia," I said.  "Please open
PHY for me and turn over the leaves till you come to Physiology, and
then go and see about some tea.  I don't feel I can wait till four
o'clock to-day."

"Would you like some drippin' toast, mum?  I've got some lovely beef
drippin' from the last sirloin which master carved all wrong.  He cut
it just like ribs--I mean the under-cut--instead of across.  He'd have
catched it if he'd been Mrs. Tompkins' husband."

"But he isn't, you see."  My manner was extinguishing.

"You're a bit cross, mum?" she suggested.

"No, Amelia, I'm not, only tired--tired of waiting for Dr.
Renton--tired, sick to death of lying here.  Do you know how long I
have lain here?"

"Seven weeks come Wednesday," she replied promptly.

"No, Amelia.  You have miscalculated.  You have minimised the period of
time.  I have lain here," and I stretched my arms wide, "a thousand
days and nights, a million days and nights; and each day and night has
stretched away to eternity."

"Lawks, mum!"  Her corsets cracked.

"Lawks! doesn't express it, Amelia.  Go now and put on the kettle with
the clean copper handle.  No dripping toast, thank you.  I am sure
nurse would disapprove.  She has a tiresome habit of disapproving of
most things.  Besides, I don't feel like common fare.  I want something
to take me out of myself and to uplift me.  Something delicate, subtle,
ambrosial.  Do you know what ambrosial means?  No?  Ambrosia means food
for the gods.  I want food for the gods--iced rose leaves, a decoction
of potpourri to assuage my thirst.  Go, Amelia, and make speed to do my
bidding."

And Amelia, with bulging eyes, has gone.  I could hear her muttering to
the landing furniture, "Just a bit dotty in the head like Ned Wemp, the
village softy.  Poor thing, no wonder she's queer at times.  She _did_
bump her head."

And I am laughing weakly.  I feel, after all, unequal to tackling the
encyclopædia.  I feel faint with waiting and watching for Dr. Renton.
It is half-past three.  I heard nurse come in a few minutes ago.  I
hear Amelia rattling the tea-cups.  But the sound doesn't cheer me.
Somehow, why I cannot say, fear has gripped me at the heart.  And I
cannot laugh it away.  Why is Dr. Renton so long in coming?

  "'He cometh not,' she said;
  She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
  I would that I were dead!'"

      *      *      *      *      *

Dr. Renton has been here.  And I have sent nurse away so that I may
fight it out alone before Dimbie comes home.  I broke down a little
before Dr. Renton, but I mustn't cry before Dimbie.  I must always try
to remember that.  He has quite enough worries of his own.  I must
never cry before Dimbie.

Dr. Renton's words keep slowly repeating themselves in my brain: "To
lie for twelve months is hard, but--supposing it had been life-long
crippledom, that would be harder."

"Supposing it had been life-long crippledom!"

I must go on saying it over and over again till I feel patient, till I
feel grateful for only being asked to bear the lighter burden.  But,
oh, how long it seems!  How very long!  To think that I must lie quite
still.  And this was to have been my first year of happiness, the first
year in which I was free to roam at my will, free to stretch my wings
away from Peter's cramping influence.

It seems a little hard.

"But supposing it had been life-long crippledom!" I must learn to be
patient.

      *      *      *      *      *

I think I might have helped Dr. Renton, made it less difficult for him
to tell.  But I was selfish.  Instinctively I knew what was coming--his
rugged face was more rugged than usual--and yet I clasped my hands and
cried, "How long you have been.  When may I get up?  Oh, say to-day.  I
_do_ so want to go to the door to meet Dimbie.  I ache to go and meet
him.  I hear the latch of the garden gate, his footstep on the gravel;
then my spirit like a bird flies to meet his, and--Amelia meets him.
Speak, Dr. Renton.  Say it quickly.  Say I may get up."

And all the answer he made was to pick up one of the volumes of the
encyclopædia and walk to the window.

There was silence for a moment, and that silence told me all.

"But my pulse is steady, doctor, dear," I cried with a sob in my voice.
"My temperature is normal.  My eyes are clear.  My colour is good.  I
am _quite_ well again."

"I wish to God you were!" he said almost savagely.

"What is the matter with me?"  I spoke more quietly.  His evident
emotion frightened me into a momentary calmness.  I might as well know
the worst or best and get it over.  My heart beat thickly, and I closed
my eyes.  I had known Dr. Renton long enough to feel sure that whatever
he told me would be the truth.  And the truth was that I was to be on
my back for a whole year; to be lifted from my bed to a couch, and from
the couch back again to bed; that I might be wheeled from one room to
another on the ground floor, but must never walk.

Never walk!  As one in a dream I heard his words.  Dully and with
unseeing eyes I stared through the window.  By and by I should get used
to the idea, used to being still.  _What would Dimbie say_?

I turned to the doctor quickly.

"Does my husband know?"

"No," he replied.

"Why haven't you told him?"

"I wanted to make sure."

"And you are sure now?  There is no other way--treatment, massage?"  I
spoke breathlessly.

"There is no other way.  But a year will pass quickly.  You must be
brave."

"But I didn't want it to pass quickly," I cried bitterly.  "Don't you
understand this was to have been my year--my wonderful year?"

"There will be other years," he began gently.  "You are young,
Marguerite.  All your life is before you.  There will be next year----"

"But next year will not be the same as this.  Go, Doctor Renton; leave
me.  I am going to cry, and you will be angry.  You hate tears.  But I
must cry before Dimbie comes home, and the time is passing.  Unless I
cry I--I shall break in two."

The tears were raining down my face as I spoke, and Dr. Renton swore
lustily, as he has always done when upset.

"Good-bye," I said, smiling through my tears.  "Your language will
deprave Jumbles."

He held my hand between his.

"You know I am sorry.  I am a poor hand at expressing what I feel."

"I know," I replied.  "No girl ever had a kinder doctor."

"I shook you when you were a little girl with measles for running
barefoot about the passages."  He was patting my hand.

"Do you mean you want to shake me now?" I asked.

"Yes, if you cry any more," he said a little grimly, but the expression
in his eyes was very kind.

"I'll try not to," I whispered tremulously.

"That's a brave girl," he said.  "Good-bye, keep up your heart, and
we'll get you well."  And I lay and cried for half an hour.



CHAPTER VIII

DIMBIE COMFORTS ME


Dimbie went very white when I told him.  He walked to the window and
stared for some time at the gathering darkness.  I had chosen this
hour, knowing my face would be in shadow.  It is so much easier to
control one's voice than one's features.  Jumbles rubbed his face
against my shoulder.  I could hear Amelia singing, "Her golden hair is
hanging down her back."  She sounded cheerful and happy.  Nurse had
gone to the village to post a letter.  She would be back soon to
"settle" me for the night.  Why didn't Dimbie speak--say something?  I
wanted to be comforted as only Dimbie could comfort me.

A little sigh broke from me, and in a second his arms were round me and
I was held very closely.

"My poor little girl," he murmured.  "I _am_ sorry for her."

"Oh, Dimbie," I whispered, clinging to him, "can you bear with me if I
have a little grumble?  I meant to be so brave to you, to put on such a
bright face, not to let you hear _one_ word of repining; but I want to
let it all out, oh, so badly.  You only can understand how I feel,
because you know and love me best.  And after to-night I will try never
to speak of it again."

For answer he pillowed my head on his shoulder and kissed my eyes and
hair and lips.

"You see," I said, looking across the garden, which was shadowy and
mysterious, to the frog-pond field, "I don't think I should have felt
it quite so much if it had been next year.  We should have been an old
married couple by then, and have got used to everything--to all the
wonderfulness of being together alone, I mean without mother and Peter."

"I shall never get used to that," said Dimbie with emphasis.

"Yes, you will," and I assumed an old married woman's air.  "It seems
incredible now, when we have been husband and wife for only five
months.  How do you feel when you say, 'My wife'?"

"Thrill all over."

"So do I," I laughed, "when I say, 'My husband.'  I feel quite shy, and
imagine people must be laughing at me.  But--have you ever seen Peter
getting excited over those two words, 'My wife'?"

"Never," said Dimbie.  "But," indignantly, "you are not surely going to
compare me with Peter?"

"I am not going to compare you with anyone.  But just think of all the
couples you know who have been married, say--longer than two years."

"Shan't."

I laughed and kissed his ear.  Then I became grave.

"Now listen to my words of wisdom.  I am going to speak for some time,
tell you all my thoughts, and you mustn't interrupt.  You and I love
each other very much, and we are always going to love each other very
much--at least we hope so.  But this would have been our one wonderful
year.  This would have been the year when we should have walked upon
the heights very close to the sun and stars.  This would have been our
year of enchantment, when the weeds on the wayside would have blossomed
as the rose, and the twitter of every common sparrow would have been to
us as the liquid note of the nightingale.  This would have been the
year when we should have wandered down dewy lanes, and, looking into
each other's eyes, would have found a something there which would have
caused our hearts to swell and our pulses to beat.

"On June evenings we should have gathered little wild roses and plunged
our faces into fragrant meadow-sweet, and laughed at the croaking of
the frogs in the pond and had supper in the garden under the apple
tree, loth to leave the sweetness of a summer night.  In July we should
have sat in the bay or gathered moon daisies; and I, forgetting I was
Marguerite married, would have whispered, 'He loves me, he loves me
not;' and you, flinging down, your hat on to the grass, would have
knelt in front of me and behaved in a manner most foolish and yet most
delightful.  In August we should have had our first holiday together.
What scanning of maps and reading of guide-books!  Cromer, we would
settle--poppy land.  We would laze on the heather at Pretty Corner and
look at the blue sea.  Too many people we would remember, and fix on
the Austrian Tyrol.  Baedekers would be bought, trains looked up, only
to find that when we had paid Amelia's wages and the poor rate our bank
balance was very small.  And finally we should have found our way to
some old-world Cornish fishing village, where we should have bathed and
walked, and fished from an old boat.  In September we should have
cycled along beautiful autumn-scented lanes, dismounting at Oxshott,
and wading ankle-deep through the pine woods, would have silently
thanked Cod for the flaming beauty of the birches silhouetted against
the quiet sky.  In November we should have tidied up our garden and
planted our bulbs for the spring--crocuses and daffodils, especially
daffodils, for do we not love them best of all the spring flowers?  And
then Xmas would have come, with its merry-making and festivities, and
our beautiful year would have ended on a night when with clasped hands
and full hearts we should have listened to the tolling of the bell for
its passing--the dear, kind old year which had brought us such joy,
such complete contentment."

I finished with a break in my voice, and, forgetting all my brave
resolutions, two big tears dropped on to Dimbie's hand which held my
own.

"Poor little sweetheart!  My own dear wife," he said, "I am sorry for
you, so sorry I cannot express it.  But why shouldn't such a year as
you picture be ours when you are strong and well once more?  This first
year of our marriage shall be an indoor year.  You shall be
Marguerite-sit-by-the-fire, knitting and making fine embroidery, and
later on you shall be my Marguerite of the fresh air, of the sun and
the wind, and we will still have our wonderful year."

I shook my head.

"It could never be the same," I replied.  "I may sound sentimental,
Dimbie, but I am a woman and know.  Men are very ignorant about love,
only women know.  Men imagine that romance will last beyond the first
year as well as love, but women know better.  Besides, men don't care
about its lasting, it tires them, bores them; but women care, oh, so
much.  They can't help it, they are born that way.  Men are
tremendously keen on gaining the object of their affection, and when
they have got it they regard it calmly, affectionately, unemotionally.
It is a possession: they are glad for it to be there, and almost
annoyed when it is absent--not exactly because they miss the
possession's companionship, but it has no right to be anywhere but at
its own fireside.  Men go to golf, tennis, race meetings, fishing on
their Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.  They are quite surprised at the
possession being a little sorry and hurt at first at their not wanting
to go about with her as they did in that first wonderful year.  The
possession is unreasonable, exacting; she wants to tie her husband to
her apron strings.  She has no right to be lonely--there are the
children, and if there are no children she must make interests of her
own; or--she might even take to golf so long as she isn't extravagant
and ambitious, and expect to play with Haskells or her own husband.

"All these are platitudes, you will say; but there never were truer
platitudes.  Ah, if husbands would only realise and accept the fact
that woman is the other half of man, but diverse, how much happiness
there would be.  Diverse!  He loved her for her feminine attributes
before marriage--for her weaknesses if you like to call them such.  Why
doesn't he after?  A true, good woman doesn't want a great deal.  A
gentle word, a caress, a look of love and understanding from the man
she loves are far more to her than coronets.  A woman likes to be
wanted, and I don't think it is vanity.  Watch her smile if her husband
marks her out of a large crowd for a little attention.  The other women
there may be young and beautiful; she is little and old and faded, and
wears a shabby gown--but her husband _wants_ her.  Women are never
happier than when they are wanted.  And how quick they are, how
instantly they divine when an act of courtesy is performed for them
from duty only and not from affection.  I once heard a man curse when
his wife asked him to hold her umbrella on a wet night when she was
struggling with the train of her gown and her slippers.  They were
dining out, and couldn't afford cabs.  She was frail, and he was big
and strong.  She just caught at her breath.  Through the years she had
learnt wisdom, a greater wisdom than Solomon could ever teach.  She
realised that this man would stand by her in a tight place, and with
that she must be content.  It was unreasonable of her to hanker after
the little words of love and kindness which make life so sweet.  He was
faithful to her, he didn't drink or gamble or go to clubs.  He gave her
£25 a year for her clothes, and he 'kept' her.  What more could she
possibly want?  And if he swore at her, and told her she looked old,
and why couldn't she dress like other women, it was only his little
way, and didn't mean anything."

I paused.

"And so, and so that is why I am grieved at the loss of our first year."

Dimbie sat in silence for a moment, and when he moved and gently placed
my head on the pillow I was startled by the expression of his face.

"You speak from your experience of the manner in which your father has
treated your mother," he said at length slowly, "and that is a little
hard on other men.  Do you think I shall ever cease to want you,
Marguerite?"

"I don't know," I replied.

"Yes, you do."  His voice was stern.

"I cannot answer for the future."

"You have no faith in me?"

"You see, I shall be a helpless log, a useless invalid for twelve
months or even longer," I said.  "It will be a great strain on your
love."

He dropped my hand and made to go away.

"Don't go," I cried.

"Do you think my love would stand the test of your being an invalid for
even twenty years?"

I did not answer.

"Do you?" he said, dropping on to his knees and looking into my eyes.
"Do you, Marguerite, wife?"

"Yes," I whispered.

"Thank God for that!" he said.  "I was beginning to think--I was afraid
you did not understand me; that you were fearful at having given
yourself to me; that you did not love me, in fact, as I love you, for
where there is love there is no fear."  He laid his cheek to mine,
murmuring, "Marguerite!  Marguerite!" and so we sat till the darkness
fell and nurse came in.



CHAPTER IX

AMELIA EXPRESSES HER OPINION OF ME


And so I have settled down to my year of inactivity, of schooling my
temper, of a constant looking for and waiting for Dimbie, and of a
perpetual wrestling with Amelia.

When I told the last-named of my misfortune she just stood and stared
at me.  I thought she could not have understood, or surely there would
be a word of sympathy.  She was kind at heart I knew.

"Twelve whole months on my back," I repeated plaintively.

"And never have a bath, mum?"

"Don't be silly," I said irritably.  "Of course arrangements will be
made for my baths.  And all the rooms are to be rearranged.  The doctor
wishes me to be carried downstairs.  The dining-room is to be turned
into my bedroom, then I can be wheeled across to the drawing-room each
day; and the smoke-room will be used for meals.

"The smoke-room is full of bicycles and photographic rubbish," she said
argumentatively.

"Well, they can be moved.  Don't throw stumbling-blocks in the way of
every suggestion.  Are you not sorry for me?" I said.

"Very, mum," she assured me with warmth.  "I knows how you will take
on.  No one is never satisfied with anythink in this world.  Now here,
I would give my very heyes to be a grand lady reclinin' on a couch in a
beautiful tea-gown, readin' novels, and drinkin' egg and sherry twice a
day."

"You would get very tired of it," I sighed.

"Well, you'll have to have a settled hoccupation, mum--makin' wool mats
like the work'us people, though I must say as they don't like it.  My
uncle says they used to be quite peaceful and happy till them Brabazon
ladies came along and taught 'em how to make wool mats and rush
baskets.  They worried about the patterns of them mats till the old men
was drove fairly silly.  P'r'aps you could write poetry.  You has a bit
of a look sometimes of a person--I mean a lady who _could_ write
poetry.  There was a poet as visited Tompkinses'--a sickly-looking gent
with hair like a door-mat and a complexion like leeks which has been
boiled without soda.  Tompkinses was very proud of knowing him, and the
heldest Miss Tompkins used to wear her canary-coloured satin blouse
when he came to dinner.  When the wine was offered him he always said,
'No, thanks,' in a habstracted way, but when it went round the table
again, as wine does, he'd fill a tumbler, and frown at the ceiling, and
pretend he didn't know what he was doing."

"And do I look like a leek that has been boiled without soda?" I asked
faintly.

"Oh, no, mum," Amelia replied with comforting haste, "not quite so bad
yet.  You've looked more like a love-lies-bleeding just lately since
you had your accident--though the master seems satisfied.  Everybody's
tastes is different.  Love-lies-bleeding is not my fancy.  I like
something handsome and straight up like a sunflower or pee-ony.
Writin' poetry would help to pass the time, and you has some of the
tricks this poet had.  He'd stand and stare at the moon, when he was in
the garden with Miss Tompkins, and mutter to it like someone gone daft.
He fairly skeered me; and he'd take on at catchin' sight of a vi'let as
though he'd met a cockroach."

"Well?" I asked, trying to see the connection.

"Well, mum, I catched you carryin' on in just the same way in the
garden on master's birthday.  You was starin' up at the sky at a
lark--I was going to the ashpit--and I heard you say softly to
yourself, 'Bird, thou never wert.'  I couldn't help hearing you, and I
wondered whether you thought it was a kitten or a spider."

I laughed, though I didn't want to do so.  I was hideously depressed at
the thought of that glorious spring morning and now--but Amelia was so
very ridiculous.

I watched her dusting, which was vigorous and thorough, and wished she
would put Ruth, a picture above the mantelshelf, at a more decorous
angle.

"I have been thinking that you won't be able to manage the housework
alone without my assistance, Amelia," I observed, when she had finished
brandishing the duster about and had stopped squeaking.  "We shall have
to engage a charwoman to help you a couple of days a week.  We can't
afford another servant, I am sorry, but a charwoman will be very
helpful.  Then if I sent all the washing out I think you could manage.
Oh, and I will have a window cleaner," I added encouragingly.

I thought she would be pleased.  I imagined servants loved charwomen.
I know I should were I a servant--so nice to have someone to talk to,
and into whose willing car to pour tales about the mistress.  But
Amelia snorted so violently she made me jump.

"Charwoman!"  It would be difficult to convey the scorn in her voice.
"Charwoman helpful?"

"Aren't they?" I inquired.

Amelia flung herself towards the door.

"You'd never seen a flue-brush, mum, and now you asks if a charwoman is
helpful."

I remained silent, overwhelmed by my own ignorance.

Amelia fetched a piece of wet, soapy flannel, and applied it to some of
her own finger-marks on the white door.  I felt glad she was working
off her feelings in this way.

"What do they go out for?" I said at length.

"Just to rob the silly folks who engages 'em," she replied laconically.

"Are they all like that?"

"Everyone as I met.  It took me best part of a day to clean up after
her as came to Tompkinses'.  She swilled herself in beer and tea, had
meat three times a day, and hung tea and butter round her waist under
her skirt just like a bustle when she went away in the evening."

"But surely she was an exception?" I commented.

"No, mum, they're all like that, every one of 'em," she replied firmly.

"But how are you going to manage now I am laid up?"

She hesitated for a moment, perhaps out of consideration for my
feelings, but her own got the better of her.

"I shall manage all right," said she briskly.  "In fact, I shall get
along much better.  Your helping hindered me terribly, mum.  I hope as
I'm not hurtin' your feelin's.  You see," she added kindly, "you 'adn't
been used to work, not with four servants; and when you did anythink I
always had to be runnin' after you to wipe up the mess.  You said you'd
fill the lamps; well, you did when you wasn't putting the paraffin on
the table--there was that to scrub, and your gloves and scissors to put
away.  And the day as you said you'd make a puddin', well--the sultanas
was lying about like blackbeetles, mum, and flour all over the place
just like a snowstorm.  And it was, 'Amelia, put the pan on, please,'
and 'Amelia, take it off,' and 'Amelia, put some coal on the fire, the
puddin' water's stopped boilin',' and 'Amelia, the puddin's boiled
dry.'"

She stopped for breath, and I looked drearily through the window.

"Hope you're not offended, mum, but I wanted you to hunderstand as how
I could manage all right."

"I quite understand," I replied.  "No, I am not offended.  I am afraid
I am not of much use in the world, Amelia," and I sighed.

"But the master doesn't seem to want you any different, mum," she said
comfortingly.  "He sits and looks at you as though you had won a prize
at a show.  Mr. Tompkins used to stare at his black prize Minorca just
in the same hidentical way."

"His black Minorca?" I repeated vaguely.

"Yes, mum.  One of his hens as got a first prize, and was a rare layer."

"Oh!" I murmured.

"I must go now," she said, "and put the potatoes on for your lunch.
And don't you fret about the work, mum.  As soon as ever nurse has
gone, who makes a power of mess, I shall have plenty of time and to
spare, and can put a patch on my pink body."

"What, another?" I almost shouted.  "That will make the seventh."

She regarded me with uplifted brows.

"You don't want the bones of my stays to come through, mum?"

"Oh, no," I assured her quickly.  "But is it necessary to have quite so
many bones?  I have only about six altogether."

She looked me up and down with an eye devoid of any admiration.

"Of course, I don't wear corsets at all now," I hastened to explain.

"My figger has always been my strong point, mum, and I'm not goin' to
let myself go.  Of course, you're thin, mum, so it doesn't matter so
much.  But people who lets themselves go always has big waists, like
the statues in picture galleries.  I once went to a show in
Whitechapel, and I says to the girl who went along with me 'I'd be
downright ashamed if I couldn't show a smaller waist than that Venus.'
I expect yours will be pretty big when you gets about again," with
which comforting prediction she retired to the lower regions and left
me with this pleasing prospect and my own thoughts, which were not of
the most cheerful description.  It is hard to be told that one is of no
use in the world, and to be compared with a black prize Minorca,
however good a layer!



CHAPTER X

I DISCOVER THAT DR. RENTON IS IN LOVE


Nurse has gone, and I am not overwhelmed with grief.  I could quite see
that within another week the kitchen would have been turned into a
pugilistic ring, and she and Amelia would have settled their grievances
in a fight.

Amelia has said, with her nose in the air, "Seems to think I am just
here to wait on her, mum.  Nurses halways imagines they're duchesses,
and just took to nursin' out of pilanthropy."

And nurse has said kindly, "I don't want to worry you, Mrs. Westover,
but probably _that_ girl is here just as a temporary, or I shouldn't
speak; but really her impertinence is----"

"She is _quite_ permanent," I have hastened to assure her, at which she
too has stuck her nose in the air; and so they have gone about as
though the law of gravitation was reversed, and their noses permanently
drawn heavenwards.

I am downstairs in the drawing-room.  I found awaiting me an invalid
couch--an Ilkley--low and luxurious, with soft down cushions cased in
silk of a lovely golden hue--a couch contrived to ease the weariness of
tired people.  They have pushed it into the window, and from here I can
see all my friends of the garden--the apple tree best loved of all, for
is it not our very _own_ tree, growing on our domain?  One has a
peculiar affection for one's own possessions.  Not that I am anything
but grateful to the beech in the frog-pond field for casting its cool
shadow across the lawn; but it belongs to somebody else--perhaps some
farmer who hardly knows of its existence.

My descent from the upper regions was somewhat perilous.  We--Amelia,
nurse, and I--wanted to take Dimbie by surprise, so nurse said she
would superintend my removal.  As a matter of fact, she did nothing of
the kind, for Amelia superintended it.

First of all she made me put up my hair.  She said I could not "boss
the show" with it hanging down in two plaits.  I reflected that were I
to dress it as high as the Eiffel Tower I should not be able to boss
_her_, but I did not mention this.  Next she picked up _her_ end of the
chair and fairly ran with me down the stairs, nurse being bound to
follow.  I closed my eyes and held my breath, and when I opened them
again I found myself staring at two gorgeous yellow flags decorated
with portraits of the King and Queen.  They had certainly not been
there on the last occasion of my being in the drawing-room.  The King
wore a top-hat and carelessly held a cigar in his kid-gloved hand.  The
Queen, poor thing, was extremely _decolletée_, and wore mauve roses in
her hair.  The King, in morning dress, seemed out of place to me by the
side of such grandeur on the part of his spouse.

Amelia broke into my musings.

"Thought we would have a bit of decoration, like the Jubilee, mum, in
your honour, so I got them flags in the village."

She looked at me expectantly, and nurse sniffed.

The sniff annoyed me.

"It was extremely kind of you, Amelia," I said warmly.  "Thank you very
much."

"And the Hilkley, mum?  The master got that, and we smuggled it into
the house without your hearing anythink that was going on.  And he's
been wheeling it about hever since, trying to get the best persition,
where the sun wouldn't catch your eyes, and where you could see the
garden and the happle tree."

"I think it is lovely.  Please lift me on to it, nurse.  _You_ will
have to lift me to-morrow, Amelia," I said soothingly.

She watched the proceeding carefully, and with gentle hand arranged the
cushions.  The hand was rough and coarsened by hard work, but I felt
that it would ever be ready to do my service.

I told them to leave me, as I wanted to be alone.  I wanted to think.
Now that I was downstairs I wished to review my position.  The familiar
aspect of the room, the furniture--which Amelia had pushed against the
walls with an undesirable effort at neatness--conjured up a thousand
pleasant memories.  It had been on a snowy winter afternoon when Dimbie
and I had first come home.  How peaceful, how delicious the warm,
fire-lit room had seemed after the rush of hotel life!  We sat in the
gloaming talking, planning out our lives, what we would do, where we
would go; and now--ah! when should I cease to chafe at lying still?  I
thought of all the people who had had to lie so much--Mrs. Browning,
Stevenson, and they had seemed so patient over years of ill-health--and
my inactivity was but for one year, and yet I was not patient.

      *      *      *      *      *

Doctor Renton came into the room, bearing in his arms a great bunch of
roses.

"From your mother," he said; "she came round with them this morning.
She wanted to come with me."

"And why didn't she?"  I felt my eyes kindle.

"You know," he replied with a shrug.

"Peter is a beast!" I said.

He smiled.

"You are evidently better.  I am glad to find you downstairs.  How did
you manage the removal?"

I described it fully, and he laughed.

"That girl of yours is a brick.  I should keep her."

"She wouldn't go," I said.

"She will help you not to be lonely.  Have you made any friends here
yet?"

"No," I returned.  "I believe some people called when I was ill.  But I
don't want anybody."

"You only want your husband?"

I nodded.

"You seem uncommonly fond of one another."

"Of course," I said.

To my surprise he sighed and walked to the window.  I noticed his
figure was a little bent and his hair grey.  I had known Dr. Renton all
my life, but for the first time it came to me that he was lonely.

"Why have you never married?" I asked suddenly.  He surely wanted a
wife.

He started, and then smiled.

"All young married people want to know that of their friends," he said
evasively.

"I think you would have made an awfully nice husband, and--it seems
such a pity that you should be alone."

He picked up one of the roses which I had untied and held it to his
face.

"How do you mean, a pity?"

"Why, that you should be in that great big house at Dorking by yourself
when there are so many women in the world.  They seem to overflow.  I
don't know what is to be done with them all."

"So you want to marry me for the sake of reducing the number of
spinsters?"  He laughed.

"Well, not exactly," I replied.  "But I feel you have lost so much--you
and the woman you ought to have married."

"How do you know there was one?" he asked sharply.

I smiled.

"I guessed," I said.  "I am quite brilliant at times.  Where is she?"

"In India."

He stopped abruptly on the word, and from his attitude I realised he
would have given much to recall it.  I felt I had been impertinent.

"Forgive me----" I began.

"Not at all," he said.  "I don't mind.  It's rather a relief to speak
of it.  You--you are still in love, and will understand.  Once there
was a time when I looked forward to being married.  I looked forward
greatly.  I thought of it morning, noon, and night."

"Well?" I said gently.

"She went abroad."

"But why?  Didn't she return your love?"

"I--I don't know."

"You don't know?"  I raised my voice.

"No."

"Didn't you tell her?"

"You see, she went off so quickly.  She was in such a deuce of a hurry
to get abroad."

"What do you call a hurry?"

Dr. Renton shuffled.

"Perhaps you knew her for three months?"

"I knew her for two years."

"And you call two years a hurry?"  I endeavoured to keep the sarcasm
out of my voice.

"Of course, I didn't know if she cared anything about me."

"Did you expect her to propose to you?"

"Oh, no, certainly not."

"I see, you dangled about her for two years.  In fact, you almost
compromised her.  Then you were astonished at the poor woman running
away.  Year after year you played fast and loose with her----"

"I don't call two years year after year," he interrupted meekly.

"I do," I said severely.  "Dimbie was only six weeks."

He laughed.

"We are not all made of the same stuff as Dimbie."  He spoke so humbly,
so unlike his usual decided self, that I began to feel sorry for him.

"And do you think this woman will ever come back?"

"I wish to God she would," he said, with an intensity that startled me.

"Why, I do believe you still care for her," I said.

"Of course I do," he returned with asperity.  "I thought I mentioned
that."

"No, you didn't.  You simply said you had driven a woman to India.
Poor thing, my heart bleeds for her.  I expect her tears have made a
sort of railway cutting down her cheeks, and she will be prematurely
aged."

Dr. Renton grunted.

"If you still care for her, may I ask why you don't follow her, or
write to her?"

"That is what I have asked myself a thousand times a day," he cried,
walking up and down the room.  "For years I have been asking myself."

"Years!" I said in dismay.  "Is it years?"

He nodded.

"Then I am afraid you are too late."  I sighed.

"Of course I am.  I've been a fool.  Now it is too late."

"I'm very sorry."

He held out his hand.

"Good-bye."

"Can nothing be done?" I wondered.

"I'm afraid not, Marguerite."

"But you would be so happy married."

"Do you think all married people are happy?"

"No, according to Nanty few of them are.  But I think _you_ would have
been, and I am sure of your wife.  You are so strong and kind.  I
always think of you in the same way as I think of Miss Fairbrother."

"Oh!" he said, turning his face away.

"Yes, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary and thirsty land.  You
are both such comforting people.  Do you remember Miss Fairbrother, my
old governess?"

"Yes," he said, and he walked quickly to the door and went out.



CHAPTER XI

MY FIRST CALLER


Yesterday morning Dimbie said to me--

"Have any of those beastly women called yet?"

"What women?" I asked in surprise.

"Why, the women who live round here, of course.  I suppose there are
one or two knocking about?  I saw a lady with thick ankles and a
Wellington nose come out of the Old Grange."

"No, she's not been," I said laughing.  "We've only been here six
months, and we're poor.  If they came in a hurry it would look as
though they wanted to know us."

"And I'm jolly sure we don't want to know them."

Dimbie was heated.

"Of course we don't, dear; but they won't realise that."

"Still, it would be rather nice if somebody dropped in occasionally to
have a chat with you and discuss Amelia," he said.

"I don't want to discuss Amelia," I retorted.

"I wish Nanty would come a bit oftener."

"It is a long way for her to drive.  Why do you wish to cram the house
with women?" I said plaintively.  "I have quite enough to do with my
reading, mending, sewing, and writing without being inundated by a lot
of strange females."

His dear face brightened.

"So long as you don't feel lonely and the days long, that's all right."
He stroked my head the wrong way.

"I'm not a bit lonely," I said.  "No one could be lonely or dull who
had an Amelia; and now the weather is so warm and lovely I lie for
hours under the apple tree.  June herself is more than a companion.  I
think I am going to read; I cut the magazines, take out a new novel,
and then I lie with eyes half closed looking at the gifts June has
lavished with prodigal hand, listening to the whisperings of leaves and
grass and flowers."

"What a patient, plucky little girl," he whispered.

"Patient!" I cried, when he had gone, and the click of the gate told me
another long day had to be lived through alone.  "Patient!"

But how glad I am he doesn't know.

The little lazy insects seem so happy to be doing nothing.  They spread
their wings in the warm sun, and rub their little legs together from
sheer contentment at just being alive.  They regard with ill-concealed
scorn the aggressive busyness of the bees in the syringa bush, who,
like all working things, are kicking up a tremendous fuss about their
efforts.  "Laziness, doing nothing," the insects say, "breed peace and
contentment."  "But what about enforced laziness--lying still on a
couch?" I cry.

Oxshott Woods are calling me.  I want to lie on the warm, scented
pine-needles, with the sun filtering through the branches of the sad,
stately trees on to my face; I want my senses to be lulled into that
beatific repose which only Nature sounds can achieve.  One thinks that
woods--pine woods--on a calm day are still; but lie and listen
carefully, and one will marvel at the multitude of sounds, at the
little hoppings and twitterings, and scurryings and crawlings and
peckings.  You are far too lazy to turn your head, but you are
conscious that little bright eyes have you well in focus, that a
movement on your part will cause fear and confusion in the settlement,
so--you don't turn your head.  You like to know that they are there,
and presently you fall asleep, and who knows what they do then?

And I am to miss all this.  The woods may call, but I must lie still.
The wild-rose hedges may send messages to me on the soft south wind,
invitations to view their loveliness, but I must refuse them all.  I
must wait for another year.

Amelia is anxious to wheel me into the lane.  Dimbie is more anxious,
but I say "no."  Who that is injured is not sensitive?  I dread the
encountering of curious eyes, of eyes that even might be pitying.

I want to be left alone in the garden with the birds and insects.  They
don't allude to my misfortune, they don't pity me.  They always say the
right thing.

      *      *      *      *      *

As though in direct answer to Dimbie's inquiry, the woman with the
thick ankles from the Old Grange has called.

I must have fallen asleep, for I was dreaming most foolishly and
beautifully that Dimbie and I were in a meadow making daisy-chains,
when I was rudely brought back to my own drawing-room--Amelia had
wheeled me into the house as the sun had gone--by hearing her say, "A
lady to see you, mum."

A little irritably--for I didn't want to leave the daisy-chains--I
looked round for the lady, but she wasn't there.

"She's on the doorstep, mum.  Will you see her?"

"Of course," I said.  "You must never leave people on the doorstep; it
is very rude."

"What about old clothes women, mum?"

I ignored her question, which seemed to me unusually foolish, and asked
her what she meant by wearing the tea-rose slippers, which I had
expressly forbidden.

"Go and change them."  I commanded, "when you have announced the lady."

Her "announcing" was unusual.  "The lady, mum.  Sit down, please."  At
which she pushed a chair behind my visitor's legs with so much force
that she simply fell on to it.

"You must excuse my servant," I said apologetically when Amelia had
vanished.  "She is utterly untrained but invaluable."  I held out my
hand as I spoke, which the lady touched coldly.

"My name is Mrs. Cobbold, and I live at the Old Grange," she announced
with a trumpet note.

"Oh, of course, Amelia forgot to mention it," I said politely.

"She didn't know it."  She was aggrieved now.

"She could hardly mention it then," I said smiling, wishing to cheer
her up.  But this simple and natural comment appeared to have the
opposite effect, for her brow lowered, and the jet butterfly in her
bonnet quivered ominously.

"I have called because I heard you were a--an invalid, Mrs.
Westover--that you were confined to your couch."

Her deportment dared me to contradict her.

"It is very kind of you," I said pacifically.

"Not kindness, but duty."

"Which makes your effort all the more praise-worthy," I said gently.

She looked at me sharply--through her pince-nez which gripped her nose
very tightly--suspiciously almost, but she misunderstood me.  I had not
intended to be sarcastic.  I was really touched at the sacrifice she
was evidently making on my behalf.  I felt she was a district
visitor--probably the right hand of the vicar of the parish.  She must
need refreshment.  She wore the look of one whose tongue clove to the
roof of her mouth.

I rang the tortoise, and requested Amelia to bring tea.

"No tea for me, thank you," Mrs. Cobbold quickly interposed.

"I'm sorry," I said.  "Perhaps you won't object to my having a cup?"

"Certainly not, but I never take anything between meals."

She seemed quite proud about this.

"Really!" I murmured interestedly.  "But tea is a meal with me."

There was a pause.  I could hear Amelia singing, "Now we shan't be
long," which meant she was reaching out the best tea-things.  The best
tea-things appear to uplift her in a curious way.  Perhaps by using
them she feels we are gradually rising to the social status of the
Tompkinses, who had an "at home" day with netted d'oyleys, and tea
handed round by Amelia herself on a silver salver.

I wondered if Mrs. Cobbold could hear her singing.  I felt sure she
would strongly disapprove of any maid indulging in such vocal flights,
and in spite of myself I laughed.  Our eyes met: hers were green and
hard, and in their depths I discovered that she disapproved of the
mistress more than of the singing maid.

I smiled again--I couldn't help it; and then I racked my brain for
something interesting and polite to say.

Mrs. Cobbold forestalled me.

"When is it expected? if I may venture to ask you."

"In about ten minutes."

"Gracious goodness!" she ejaculated, springing heavily to her feet.

"Whatever's the matter?" I cried, nearly falling off the couch.

"I thought--I was led to understand that----" she stammered and broke
off.

"Well?" I said, gazing at her in unconcealed astonishment.

"That--that--you will pardon my mentioning it, but--I am a mother
myself.  And I was quite interested in hearing that the population of
Pine Tree Valley was about to be increased.  But I did not imagine it
would be so soon."

I lay and stared at her.  She had reseated herself, and again wore the
district visitor air.  Was she mad or--suddenly, in a flash, the drift
of her remarks became clear to me.  I strangled a laugh.

"The increase in the population of Pine Tree Valley has nothing to do
with me," I said, a little coldly.

She looked disappointed.

"I am suffering from an accident."

"Oh," she said grudgingly.

"I am afraid you are disappointed."

"The vicar's wife has misinformed me."

"Perhaps she has been gifted with a vivid imagination," I suggested.
"It is unfortunate, as it might get her into trouble."

Mrs. Cobbold looked or rather glared at me over the top of her glasses.
I was relieved when Amelia appeared with tea.  I even forgave her for
her tea-rose slippers, which in her excitement she had omitted to
change.  Casually I inspected the three-decker bread and butter and
cake-stand.  I felt sure that Amelia would have upheld the honour and
glory of the family by "doing" the thing nicely.  The first plate was
beyond reproach, nicely-cut bread and butter reposing on best netted
d'oyley.  Mrs. Cobbold's parlour-maid could have done no better.  But
the second plate made me pause.  What was it?  I rubbed my eyes.  Did I
see a lonely macaroon garnished by a ring of radishes--pointed red,
fibrous radishes, with long green tops--arranged with a mathematical
precision, or did I not?  I leaned forward for a closer
inspection--perhaps they were chocolate radishes or almond radishes.
My breath came quickly, and a jet butterfly smote me on the
forehead--Mrs. Cobbold had also leaned forward.  The butterfly hurt me.
_That_ I didn't mind.  What I _did_ object to was Mrs. Cobbold's
impertinent curiosity.  If we chose to garnish a macaroon with radishes
it was none of her business.

"Won't you change your mind and have some tea?" I said, recovering
myself.  "Macaroons and radishes are _so_ nice together--a German tea
delicacy."  I nibbled the end of one of the radishes as I spoke, and
found it so hot my eyes watered.

"No, thank you," she almost snorted.  "Are you German?"

"Oh, no," I replied, "I am quite English with just a few foreign
tastes."  I covertly dropped the radish down the side of the couch as I
spoke.

"Where were you born?"

"I was born in Dorking, I mean Westmoreland," I said wanderingly.  I
was debating as to what had come over Amelia.

"So you are north-country really?"  Her voice was patronising.

"Yes," I returned, "isn't it interesting?"

She again regarded me with suspicion.

"North-country people are becoming quite rare.  Perhaps you have
noticed it?  Everybody comes from the south."

She did not speak.

"And you," I inquired gently, "are you a native of Pine Tree Valley?"

"No," she replied shortly, "but I have lived here ever since I was a
girl."

"So long?" I said thoughtlessly.  And she rose and offered me her hand,
which felt like a non-committal Bath oliver.

"It has been so kind of you to come to see me," I said, shaking the
biscuit up and down.

She unbent a little.

"I will try to come again, but won't promise.  My days are so full.  Do
you know any of the people here?"

"No," I admitted.

"The Honourable Mrs. Parkin-Dervis not called?"

"No."

She looked perplexed and annoyed.

"But she told me she was coming.  She heard that you were confined to
the house."

"She's not been," I said.  "I am sorry.  I suppose she always leads the
way in the question of calling upon new people.  But you needn't feel
you have committed yourself.  You see, I shan't be able to return your
call, so please don't feel you must come again unless you want to."

"It's not that," she said; "but, you see, my days are so full."

"Of course they are," I agreed warmly.  "I shall quite understand, Mrs.
Cobbold.  I'm so sorry Amelia is not here to show you out, but were I
to ring the tortoise for ten minutes she wouldn't come.  She is
chopping wood--perhaps you hear her.  Amelia never takes the slightest
notice of anybody when she is chopping wood--they are Hudson's Dry Soap
boxes--the more one rings the louder she chops."

"If she were my maid," said Mrs. Cobbold, "I'd make her----"

"No, you wouldn't," I interrupted.  "You think you would, but you
wouldn't.  We thought the same when she first came to us, but now we
don't.  Good-bye."

Through an unfortunate accident the tortoise rang loudly as I spoke.  I
caught my sleeve in its tail, and it sounded as though I were cheering
Mrs. Cobbold's departure.  She left the house with a flounce and a
flourish.  We may meet again in another world, but I am certainly not
on Mrs. Cobbold's visiting list in this.

When I heard the garden gate bang I rang for Amelia.

"I am never at home to that lady," I said.

Amelia stared.

"Where will you be, mum?"

"I shall be here, of course.  Don't you understand, I shall not see
her."

"Am I to say that?"

"You're to say, 'Not at home.'"

"I can't say that if you are."  Her face was stolid.

"Amelia," I cried, "return to your soap boxes quickly, or I might fling
the tortoise at you."

"But----"

"_Go!_" I said, and with a loud crack of a bone she departed, filled
with amazement.



CHAPTER XII

NANTY CHEERS ME UP


A day has come when it is gusty and wet.

Last night the sun, which has been so kind to us of late, disappeared
red and angry, leaving behind it a sky of flaming glory.

I said to Dimbie that perhaps we had not been sufficiently grateful to
his majesty, that we had begun to take him for granted, and that we
should never make the sun feel cheap.

And so to-day the little forget-me-nots and velvety, sweet-faced
pansies have laid their heads on mother earth, driven there by squalls
of angry wind and rain, and the long branches of the beech tree in the
frog-pond field are waving and bending and shaking out their wealth of
still tender green leaves with fine abandon.

I am solicitous for the sweet-peas.  Dimbie has been late in putting in
the sticks for them to climb up, and their hold is slight and wavering.
Two long hedges of Eckfords and Tennants and Burpees, and that
loveliest of all sweet-peas, Countess Cadogan, flank the lawn on either
side.  In a few days they will all be out, and I shall lie in the midst
of a many-hued, blossoming sweetness.  So much have I to be thankful
for.  A cripple in town would stare at brick walls, yet to-day only
discontent sits at my side.

I am cold--rain in summer makes the inside of a creeper-covered cottage
very chilly.  The water drips from the leaves of the clematis--drips,
drips.  I want to be up and doing.  The rain on my cheek in the woods
and lanes would be gracious and sweet-scented.  The raindrops lying in
the heart of the honeysuckle would be as nectar for the gods.  But a
rainy world when one is a prisoner within four walls is truly
depressing, and there will be no Dimbie to-night.

Dimbie, dear, do you know how much I miss you?  The heart of your
Marguerite calls for you, calls for you.

You say you will be back soon, but you don't know.  Little old ladies
take a long time to die.  The flame flickers and flares up and flickers
and gutters, and is so long in going out.  What am I saying?  Dimbie,
forgive me, dear.  I don't want Aunt Letitia to die.  I am praying for
her to get better.  Ill or well, she needs you, or she would not have
sent for you, for her message was: "I know your wife wants you, but I
want you more; and it will only be for a few days, and then you may
return to her.  I would much like to have seen Marguerite, but----"

What does that "but" mean I wonder?  Does she know that the journey is
nearly over?  And Dimbie says that that journey has been one of great
loneliness, borne with a great patience and cheerfulness.  I think God
will create a separate heaven for very lonely women.  He will give them
little children and a love that passeth all understanding.  The love
that has been withheld from them in this world will be given to them a
thousandfold in the New Jerusalem.

I am always sorry for lonely women.

      *      *      *      *      *

Nanty came in breezy and fresh and wet, and my loneliness vanished.

"I have told John to put up in the village, and I can stay with you for
a couple of hours," she announced, removing her cloak.  "And you have
been crying."

I shook my head.

"Well, there are two tears at the back of your eyes ready to fall."

"Not now," I said.

"What's been the matter?"

"Dimbie's away."

"Dear me!" she said with comical gravity.  "Been away long?"

"He went this morning."

She laughed outright.

"What did you have for lunch?"

"Fish."

"What sort of fish?'

"A whiting."

She sniffed.

"A cold, thin whiting with its tail in its mouth, devoid of any taste
and depressing in its appearance?"

"That exactly describes it," I said laughingly.

"Did you eat it?"

"No, Amelia is going to make it into a fish pie for to-morrow's lunch."

"Amelia seems to be of an economical turn of mind."

"Painfully so," I agreed.

Nanty rose and rang the bell.

"Bring tea at once, please," she said when Amelia appeared, "and a
lightly-boiled egg for your mistress with some hot, buttered toast, and
light the fire."

Amelia's eyes bulged.

"We've been doing some summer cleaning, the fire'll make dirt."

"Light the fire at once, please, your mistress is cold, the dirt is of
no importance; her comfort should be considered before anything else."

"But it's summer----"

"Matches!" said Nanty sternly, and Amelia produced a box like lightning.

Nanty knelt down and removed the fire-screen.  Amelia stood and watched
her.

"That is not getting tea and toast," said Nanty, without looking round.

"I'm not dressed, mum----" began Amelia argumentatively.

"Tea and toast!" thundered Nanty, and Amelia fled.

"How brave you are," I said.

She laughed.

"I'm certainly not going to be bossed by a young person like Amelia
Cockles.  How does she suit you?"

"I've never thought of how she suits us, but I think we suit her,
although we are not grand like the Tompkinses."

"Who are the Tompkinses?" asked Nanty, settling herself comfortably in
an arm-chair.

"Don't you remember the people she lived with before she came to us?
They knew a poet, and gave dinner parties and had _entrées_ and
_hors-d'oeuvres_--hoary doves she calls them."

"But does she look after you well?"

"Yes," I said, "so long as I don't interfere with her cleaning.  She is
a great cleaner, that is her weakest point.  Economy is another; she is
too careful.  Because I told her we were not rich she seems to think we
must live on potato parings.  Then she wears squeaky, high-heeled
shoes, a pearl necklace, and puts on to her print bodies--as she calls
them--innumerable patches.  Against these bad qualities we must set her
honesty, early rising, and devotion to me.  She has taken me in hand
since the day she entered the house.  She thinks, deep down in her
heart, that I am one of the poorest creatures she has met.  She has
compared me on different occasions to a love-lies-bleeding and a black
prize Minorca hen.  Yet I know she would go through fire and water for
me.  She dresses me in the morning with a gentleness and patience
unsurpassed by any nurse, and the tenderness with which she lifts me
from the bed to the couch has caused me to marvel.  You ask me how she
suits us.  Now I come to think about it, I wouldn't be without Amelia
Cockles for the world."

She entered as I finished speaking, and placed the tea-tray in front of
me, eyeing Nanty with undisguised hostility.

Nanty returned the look with placidity.

"I s'pose you think I have been starving her?"

"No," said Nanty cheerfully, "I am sure you would do nothing of the
kind.  Your mistress has just been telling me how good you are to her."

Amelia's face softened.

"No one could help being good to a lady like her--she _is_ a lady," and
she flounced out of the room.

Nanty smiled.  "You cannot be very dull so long as that young person is
in the house."  She pushed my couch nearer the fire, broke the top off
my egg, and ordered me to begin to eat.

"It is lovely having you here," I said, "I was just beginning to be
dull.  What made you come this wet day?"

"Your husband wired for me."

"So you knew he was away?"

"Yes," she returned, "and I went straight away to see if I could
persuade Peter to let your mother come and stay with you during your
husband's absence."

"And----" I cried.

"Your father had just succeeded in getting a canoe to float on the
duck-pond--personally I think it was on the bottom, but I did not
suggest that--and in the flush of victory he said she could come the
day after to-morrow.  Ah, that's better," she finished as the blood
rushed into my cheeks.  "You looked as white as a ghost when I came in."

"You _are_ clever," I said.

"Yes," she agreed, "in some things."

A smile hovered round her mouth.

"I wonder if you had been Peter's wife----"

"God forbid!" she broke in.

I laughed.

"It will be delightful having mother."

"Do you find the days long?"

"When it's wet."

"Do you still find vent for your happiness in the pages of a manuscript
book?"

I nodded.

She looked at me with incredulous eyes.

"You still find your year--what was it you called it--wonderful?"

"I have Dimbie."

"And an aching back."

"That would be worse if I hadn't Dimbie."

"No man is worth such love from a woman."

"Mine is," I said indignantly.

"Well, don't flash out at me like that.  He must be an exception."

"Of course he is."

"And all women think the same when they are first married."

"Nanty, you are a pessimist."

"Optimists are tiresome and always boring."

"They add to the cheerfulness of the world."

"They depress me and always put me in a bad temper.  You say it is
horribly cold, and they remind you that frost keeps away disease.  You
say it is windy, and they reply that it is bracing.  You have lost your
pet dog, and they suggest that you might have lost your favourite
horse.  People who always say, 'Never mind, cheer up!' are aggravating
in the extreme.  I like people to weep when I weep and laugh when I
laugh.  I don't like my friends to make light of my troubles and
practically suggest that I am a coward."

She poked the fire with vigour.

"So you would like me much better if I were to howl about my accident."'

"Exactly, it would be much more natural and human."

"But what about Dimbie?"

"Oh, of course if you bring Dimbie into everything it will be
impossible for you to behave in a rational way."

I laughed gently, and Nanty frowned at the fire.

"If I were to howl Dimbie's year would be spoiled."

"I don't believe in wives being unselfish to their husbands; it spoils
them.  Men are quite selfish enough as it is."

"How down upon men you are, Nanty.  Have you not met any nice ones?" I
asked.

"Dimbie is not bad as men go.  But give him a few years; he will be as
disagreeable as the rest."

"I met a very nice man the other day," I said, refusing to be annoyed.
"It was just before my accident--a Professor Leighrail."

"Professor Leighrail!"  A great astonishment lay in Nanty's eyes.  "A
very thin man?"

"Yes, he invited us to look at his ribs.  His wife, Amabella, is dead."

"Amabella dead?" she repeated.

I nodded.

"He took up ballooning, as he thought it would be the quickest way of
ending himself."

Nanty started, and then poured herself out another cup of tea.

"Do you know him?"

"I knew him some years ago."

"He once asked you to be his wife."

Nanty dropped her spoon with a clatter.

"Did he tell you?"

"Of course not," I laughed, and hugged Jumbles who lay on the couch
beside me.  "I knew by your face, Nanty, dear.  Why didn't you accept
him?"

"Because I was a fool."  She spoke bitterly.  "I should have been happy
with that man.  As it was, he--grew fond of Amabella.  Didn't he?"  She
turned on me with a pounce.

"I--I think so," I stammered; "but I don't suppose he ever loved her as
much as he loved you.  I should fancy from her name she was a
bit--pussy-catty."

Nanty smiled a little grimly.

"Men like domestic, sit-by-the-hearth women.  I feel sure Amabella
mended his socks regularly and brushed his clothes."

"They wanted brushing the other day," I said reflectively, "and his
boots were miles too big for him--they were like canoes."  And I went
on to relate where we had met him, what he had had for his dinner, and
how he was coming to call upon us in his balloon.

"It is a dangerous game," said Nanty crossly as she rose to go.

"But he is lonely and unhappy," I protested.

"So are lots of people," she snapped.  "I have been lonely for twenty
years, and I get stouter every day."

"His ribs are like knife blades," I observed.

"He was always thin.  I have not seen him since I was a girl, but I
have followed his career.  I knew he would make a name for himself.  He
was always dabbling in some mess--ruined his mother's bed-quilts--and
wore badly-fitting clothes.  It's strange you should meet him," she
finished musingly.

"Would you like his address?" I asked quietly.

"No, I wouldn't, thanks, but--I shouldn't mind meeting him here some
day.  It would be pleasant to have a chat about old times."

"Rather dangerous, I should say."

"You always were an impertinent child," she said as she stooped to kiss
me.

The love affairs of my friends are multiplying, I thought, when she had
gone--Dr. Renton's and now Nanty's.



CHAPTER XIII

UNDER THE APPLE THEE


I am under the apple tree trying to be busy.  In front of me lies a
waif and stray garment--a flannel petticoat.  There is no house mending
to do--everything is new and holeless.  Dimbie had a trousseau as well
as I.  Occasionally he will wear a small hole in one of his socks, the
mending of which will take me half an hour, then my work is finished.
So I have taken to waif and stray garments and deep-sea fishermen's
knitting in self-defence.

Were I not engaged on this I should be making wool-work mats like the
old men in the workhouse--I can see it in the tail of Amelia's eye; so
I keep a garment well to the front, ready to pick up at the sound of
her first footstep, which, being squeaky, fortunately warns me of the
advance of the enemy.

Now but for Amelia I should be only too content to laze through the
summer--just staring at the sky and the soft, white, fleecy clouds
through the breaks in the foliage of the apple tree; for though I do
nothing I am tired, always tired.  Perhaps it is the warmth of the
summer, for the rain and cold are gone.  By and by I am going to be
very energetic, and do little things for Amelia, whether she considers
it helpful or otherwise.  I shall peel apples in the autumn when the
weather is cooler, and stone the plums for jam, and skin the mushrooms.
But now I want to be idle.  I just want to watch the bird and insect
life of the garden.

Much to my delight, a colony of ants has settled at the base of the
apple tree.  I get Amelia to wheel the couch close to their
head-quarters, and I lean over and gently drop little things in front
of the openings to their tunnels.  Sometimes a tiny bit of twig lies
across their front door, or a cherry-stone bars the cellar entrance;
and then what excitement and confusion reign, what a twinkling of a
myriad tiny legs!  Nine strong, able-bodied men are requisitioned to
tackle the cherry-stone.  I smile and chuckle as I picture one excited
ant--who is not eager to tell the news?--rushing off to inform the
others that he has discovered a thunderbolt lying at their cellar-door,
and they must marshal their forces for an attack.  And then what a
straining and pushing and levering there is!  First six men arrive;
they look like policemen.  Presently one rushes away and brings back
three more.  They then sort of take their bearings, trotting in and out
of the front door and eyeing with indignation the obstacle that lies in
their path.

"Hurrah!" I cry as they lever the cherry-stone the fraction of an inch;
and Amelia, appearing at the front door, says--

"I beg your pardon, mum."

Amelia certainly has a most tiresome habit of cropping up at the tense
moments of life.  Should I call, gently at first, "A-me-li-a," and then
louder, "A-ME-LI-A!" and then in stentorian tones, "A-ME-LI-A!" finally
degenerating into cat-calls and war-whoops, she wouldn't dream of
hearing me; but when I apostrophise the thrush which comes to sing in
the apple tree of an evening, or encourage the ants in their labours,
or laugh at the ridiculous wagtails bobbing up and down the lawn, she
appears suddenly and stands and stares at me.

Just now I said, "You shouldn't stare at me"; and when she replied,
"You're so pretty, mum," I felt hers was the gentleness of the dove and
the cunning of the serpent combined.

I had been trying to persuade her not to whiten the front-door step,
which is of cool grey stone.  She appears to regard it in the same
light as a kitchen-hearth bestowed by a bountiful Providence.  She
smears it with wet donkey-stone, and when dry it gleams and
scintillates in the hot sun with dazzling intensity.  Then she attacks
the scraper, which she polishes with a black-lead brush till it
resembles the kitchen kettle after "siding up."  You cannot prevent
Amelia from "siding up."  Every now and again she "sides up" me.  She
says my hair is untidy and approaches me with a brush.  She suggests
that the wearing of a pearl necklace round my throat, the collar of
which is cut low for comfort, would smarten me up.  She picks up my
slippers, which I have kicked on to the grass, and compels me to put
them on in case I have callers.

She constantly threatens me with these callers.  She dangles them in
front of me when I am idling with _The Vicar of Wakefield_, and offers
to bring me my best hat, as "that Liberty garden thing is shabby and
old-fashioned."  She thinks the vicar may call.  He has been laid up
for some weeks; but he is better, and it is his _bounded_ duty to call
to see a poor sick lady.

I gently bring her back to the discussion of the step, and after some
stubbornness on her part she asks if I would like it done like the
Tompkinses'.  Knowing that the Tompkinses are superior people,
indulging in "hoary doves" at their dinner, I say "Yes" without any
further parley, trusting to their good taste.

Mother is coming to-morrow, and I know just how she is feeling about
me.  She will be thinking if ever her daughter Marguerite wanted her it
will be now--now, when she is lonely and tired and without Dimbie.  Her
dear face will be brimful of joy at being wanted by anyone, and at the
prospect of getting away from Peter.  She would not own up to the last.
If ever there was a loyal, patient soul in this world it is mother.
She won't allow herself to believe that Peter is selfish and
domineering.  He is her husband, and with a wavering curve of her sweet
lips she pronounces him as just tiresome.

And, best of all, I know she will like being here without Dimbie.  She
likes him, she admires him, but she is secretly jealous of him.  I
believe I should be too if I had a daughter married.  When a child
gives herself into somebody else's keeping the mother is dethroned; the
child--always a child in the mother's eyes--takes her joys and sorrows
to her husband.  He bandages the little cut leg, figuratively speaking,
kisses the crushed fingers, wipes away the tears of sorrow.  The mother
has to take a back seat, and her heart is sore.  When Dimbie and I, in
the short days of our engagement, would try to slip away to another
room, to be by ourselves, I have seen mother close her eyes and heard
her give a little gasping sigh.  She would smile bravely when her eyes
caught mine, but I had heard the sigh, and though my heart ached at the
thought of leaving her alone with Peter, I was unable to keep the
happiness away from my own eyes and voice.  Poor little mother!  It is
hard, but it was ever thus.  You left your mother, and I in turn have
left you.  It is one of Nature's edicts--cruel it may seem, but not to
be resisted.  Were Dimbie to call, I should follow him to the end of
the world, I know.

But during the days mother is with me I mean to let her have it all her
own way.  I shall pretend that Dimbie is dethroned.  I shall not talk
of him; at least, I shall try with unusual strength not to speak of
him, beyond mentioning the bare fact that he is well and ministering to
the wants of Aunt Letitia.

And we shall also not talk of Peter more than we can possibly help.
Long ago we decided that Peter must be a tabooed subject between us.

"We might be led into saying things about your father which we ought
not to say," mother had implied without putting it into so many words,
and I had nodded.

"Besides, he might--he might have been so much worse."

I fear I looked doubtful about this point, for she added quickly, "He
doesn't steal."

"No," I admitted, "he is certainly not a thief."

"And he doesn't drink."

"No."

"And he doesn't gamble."

"No," I conceded somewhat grudgingly.

"And----" she hesitated.

"He doesn't go off with other men's wives, you want to say."

"That's it.  Your father is--is quite moral."

"It's a pity he is," I said laughing.  "If only he would run away with
someone you could get a divorce."

Dear mother looked terribly shocked, and glanced fearfully at the door.

"It's all right," I reassured her; "he's resting in the library,
overcome by your insubordination.  He's not used to it.  He lunged at
me with his stick because he detected me in a smile, but I dodged him."

I remember mother smiled faintly, and told me I ought not to dodge him.
This conversation took place after an unusually violent outburst on
Peter's part because he had lost his best gold collar stud, which he
accused mother of having taken.  And when she tremblingly said that she
had never in her life worn anything around her neck but a lace tucker,
which did not necessitate the wearing of a gold stud, he said lace
tuckers were foolish fripperies, and that she ought to wear a linen
collar the same as other sensible women.  And when mother protested
that her neck was not long enough, he replied snappily: "Then stretch
it till it is.  You are a woman without any resources."

I smile as I conjure up dear mother's expression of countenance when he
said this.  She usually, with unquestioning obedience to Biblical
commands, turned her other cheek to him for a smite, but on this
occasion she didn't do anything of the kind.  She simply turned her
back on him, drew herself up to her full height of five feet nothing,
and pranced out of the room.  I say pranced, because she did prance,
just like a thoroughbred horse chafing at the bearing rein.  Peter
watched this prancing with unconcealed astonishment; in fact, he put up
his monocle and stared at the closed door.  Now if mother had only
pranced a little oftener.  Peter might have been a much better behaved
person.  But mother is not of the stuff of which people like Amelia and
Napoleon are composed.  She is not a ruler, and she is not a fighter.
She cannot stand up for herself, and so Peter has taken advantage of
her sitting position--which sounds as though I were referring to a hen,
and not to mother at all.

I find on turning back the pages that I said mother was rarely disloyal
to Peter, that she pronounced his selfishness and bad temper as "just
tiresomeness."  Still, the worm _will_ turn sometimes, and on this
occasion she did turn.  To-morrow she will probably ignore him
altogether--glad to get away from an unpleasant subject.

I am full of delightful anticipations of the peaceful time she and I
will spend together under the apple tree.  At first she will lean
forward when I speak to her as though she had been deafened by a storm.
To live with Peter is to live in a succession of storms, and when
mother reaches the calmer spaces of the world she wears an almost dazed
expression.  I must speak very slowly and gently till she becomes
accustomed to being in a quiet haven.  We will chat in the mornings and
doze in the warm afternoons and discuss Amelia in the evenings.  I know
I shall be unable to resist discussing Amelia with mother.  She will be
so interested in her not wearing cloth boots.  She will be so surprised
at my having given in.  She gives in herself over every question in
life, great or small.  But she is quite surprised if other people do
the same, especially her own daughter.  She imagines I have inherited
some of Peter's characteristics, which Heaven forbid.  She thinks his
bullying is strength of character.  Ah, little mother, I am not strong,
if you only knew it.  I am as weak as water towards people I love.
You, Dimbie and Nanty could do anything with me.

Amelia has been to tell me that we are out of Shinio, and shall she run
to the village.  She didn't call it Shinio, but Shiny.  She has quite
an extraordinary affection for the evil-smelling stuff, and is always
"requiring" it.

"But you won't be cleaning anything this afternoon," I said.  "You are
dressed, and it must be nearly five o'clock."

"It's for the brasses to-morrow morning," she answered in a tired
voice, as though she were weary of explaining things to me.  "It's
kitchen-day, and I do my steels and brasses before breakfast."

"Oh, of course," I murmured hastily while looking for my purse, which I
can never find, and which she unearthed with lightning rapidity from
under the tortoise.

I handed her sixpence, but she didn't go.

"Anything further?" I asked pleasantly.

"No, mum; but I was just considerin' if we couldn't alter your
pocket--put it in front of your tea-gown, a sort of flap-pocket
right-hand side, like motorists and golfists and cyclists has."

"Put a flap-pocket on my right-hand side," I repeated.  "But I don't
motor or golf or cycle."

"No, mum, but it might help you not to lose your purse so frequently,
and save you and me a lot of trouble.  I expect you lies on your pocket
mostly?"

"I do nothing of the kind," I replied coldly, "for I haven't got one."

"There!" she said triumphantly, "I might have knowed it.  I'll fix you
one up in two shakes.  I'm a good hand at sewing.  Have you a bit of
white serge like your gown, mum?"

"No, I haven't; and I forbid your putting a pocket on me anywhere."

She looked surprised at my warmth.

"All right, mum; I won't if you don't wish it.  I only thought it would
save time.  You see, when the purse isn't lost the tortis is.  The
tortis is a beggar for gettin' away.  See now, it's slippin' down the
Hilkley at this minute."  She caught it by the tail and placed it on
the little table which always stands at the side of my couch.  "The
creature might be alive," she finished, shaking her fist at it.

"Don't be ridiculous, Amelia," I commanded, endeavouring not to laugh.
"I will try and not lose it so often, but things _do_ disappear."

"Yes, mum, they do," she responded gravely.  "If nothing was ever lost,
like hair-pins, the world wouldn't hold 'em."  With which oracular
remark she swept down the garden path to the gate, her two heels
leaning over at a more dangerous angle than usual.

I drew Dimbie's letter--he writes every day, sometimes twice--from
beneath the cushions, and read it over for--well, I won't say how many
times, but one passage I already knew off by heart:--

"Dear one, I am glad that you miss me--very glad, isn't that cruel?  If
you want me, how much more do I want you, my poor little girl.  I long
to put my arms round you and kiss your big, wistful eyes--kiss away the
wistfulness, which only came with your suffering, and I will do it when
I come home.

"Aunt Letitia is slowly sinking.  She is not suffering, and her mind is
quite clear.  She has asked a great many questions about you, and has
even laughed feebly at Amelia and her household arrangements--I mean
_your_ household arrangements.  For the squeaking and cracking of bones
and wearing of unsuitable slippers she has no suggestions to offer.
She says there is always _something_.  With old Ann it has been a
misfit in artificial teeth.  They have moved horribly, and the gums
have gaped at her, but she has not considered this of sufficient
importance to give Ann notice.

"I wired to Nanty to know how you were.  You don't tell me in your
letters, bad girl.  I shall scold and slap you when I get home, as well
as kiss you."

I glanced carefully round to see that neither Amelia nor Jumbles were
watching me, and holding the letter to my lips, I kissed it over and
over again.



CHAPTER XIV

MOTHER AND PETER ARRIVE ON A VISIT


I said that mother and I were going to have a peaceful and happy time
together--that we should chat in the mornings, doze in the afternoons,
and discuss Amelia in the evenings.  We are doing none of these things.
We are expending our entire energies, and mine are very feeble, in
soothing Peter and trying to keep him in a good temper, for Peter
arrived with mother a couple of days ago on a visit to One Tree Cottage.

I _will_ say that it wasn't dear mother's fault.  She even stooped to
equivocation, or, to put it plainly, lying to keep him away.  She told
him that she didn't know by which train she was coming, when she knew
perfectly well.  She told him our spare-room bed would only hold one.
Oh, mother!  And she told him that there had been burglaries in the
neighbourhood of Dorking, and it would be unsafe to leave the house to
servants.  To all of which he said, "Pooh!"

From what I can gather he lay in waiting at the station like a
detective in plain clothes, and pounced upon mother just as she was
saying to Mary, the parlourmaid, "Good-bye; you will take great care of
the master, and give him kidneys with his bacon twice a week."

"No, she won't," he said sardonically as he limped into the carriage,
"for she won't get the chance.  I am coming with you, Emma.  I refuse
to be left to the mercy of servants when my gout is so troublesome.  It
is most selfish and unreasonable of you to suggest such a thing.  I am
as much to be considered as Marguerite," at which he planked himself
firmly on to the seat opposite to mother and glowered at her.

At the moment he is seated in the sun with his feet on Amelia's fair
white step, which is now covered with a sort Of Egyptian
hieroglyphic--_à la_ the Tompkinses'.  When she wheeled me in the other
evening after a long day in the garden, and I caught sight of the step,
I was filled with a great amazement, for I was unaware that Amelia
understood the ancient Egyptian language.  A series of curves and dots,
and flourishes and symbolic signs met my gaze.  I leaned forward and
translated with fluency [Symbol: water-line]--a water-line, [Symbol:
sun]--the sun, [Symbol: reed]--a reed, [Symbol: night]--night, [Symbol:
hilly country]--hilly country, [Symbol: egg]--egg.  Father was a bit of
an Egyptologist, and I had picked up the meaning of a few of the
symbols from him: [Symbol: star]--star, [Symbol: tooth]--tooth,
[Symbol: serpent]--serpent.

Amelia opened her mouth and stared at me, and then shot me into the
house.  It is on such occasions that she regards me as "dotty," and
quickly puts me to bed.

Peter is now scraping his boots on the step after carefully dirtying
them in the gooseberry-bed.  Amelia is hissing at him through the front
door; she objects to her hieroglyphics being defaced.  Peter is not
accustomed to being hissed at, and he will presently come and tell me
what he thinks of Amelia.

I persuaded mother a little time back to wheel me under the apple tree
and sit with me.  The grass is still dew-laden, and Peter will not
dare, on account of his gout, to join us till the lawn is dry, hence
his position on the doorstep.  Peter's gout has been the one bit of
luck in mother's life since she was married.  Being the more active of
the two, she can, when the pressure becomes very great, walk away from
him--in fact, run.

I cannot help rejoicing at Dimbie's being away while Peter is here, for
I am convinced that long ere this Dimbie would have thrown my father
out of the house; and for mother's sake I should not care for such an
ignominious thing to happen to her husband.  Besides, he would make
such a mess on the step while he danced about, his customary habit
being, when extra annoyed, to dance a kind of war dance.

When he and mother arrived Amelia rushed into the drawing-room and in
great excitement whispered, "A red-nosed gent has come with your
mother!"

In an instant my mind flew to Peter, but I remained sufficiently
controlled to correct Amelia for saying '"Your mother."

"Is she your step, mum?" she murmured cautiously.

"Certainly not,"' I said.  "But it is not polite.  You must speak of
her as Mrs. Macintosh.  Where have you left them?  Why don't they come
in?"

"The gentleman is having a row with the cabby.  Don't you hear him?"
She grinned with enjoyment.  "He has just called the cabby a grasping,
white-livered Jew.  It seems as though he knowed how to take care of
himself."

I did not speak.

"Who is he, mum?"

I pretended not to hear.

"Is he your uncle?"

"He's--my father."  I closed my eyes, signifying that the conversation
was finished.

"Never knew you had a father, mum," came in a succession of gasps and
squeaks.

"Of course I have a father," I said excessively crossly.  "How do you
suppose I came into the world.  Kindly show them in here and go and
unstrap the luggage."

When they appeared, and I had embraced them both, giving mother an
extra squeeze, I said--

"Dear father, whatever has been the matter?"

"That impudent shark has been trying to rob me," he replied, picking up
a vase from the mantelshelf and returning it with a bang.

"What did he charge you?"

"Two shillings."

"Well, that is the right fare, and Dimbie gives an extra sixpence if he
has a portmanteau.  What did you give him for the luggage?"

"A piece of my mind, and threatened him with the police for his
impudence."

"Oh, father," I cried, "I am sorry you have made a disturbance.  Up to
now we--Dimbie and I--have been respected in the village."

"Have you been to church?"  He smiled sardonically.

"N--o."

"Who respects you--the vicar?"

"The villagers have a great respect for us.  I--I am sure they have."

"That's all right.  They'll respect your father now.  They'll know I'm
a man not to be trifled with.  How are you?"  He shot this last at me
as though he were at Bisley competing for the King's Prize.

"I'm pretty well, thank you."

"Well, you don't look it.  You're as thin as a rat.  But it's rather
improved you than otherwise, made you look less defiant and assertive."

"Oh, Peter," mother broke in, "Marguerite never looked assertive.  I
remember Dimbie saying to me that he had never seen a sweeter face."

"Of course, that is exactly the sort of thing Dumbarton _would_ say,"
he jeered; "but then Dumbarton's an ass."

"Look here, father," I said steadily, "once and for all I wish you to
remember that I will not allow you to call my husband an ass.  Yes,
_allow_, I repeat the word."  I shivered all over as I spoke.  Never,
never had I dared to speak to Peter in such a manner, but my blood was
up.  "Dimbie was a brave man to have married into such a family.  His
courage was immense there."  I clutched the tortoise as I
spoke--clutched it for support, but I kept my head well up, looking at
him defiantly and waiting for the storm.

But it never burst.  To my everlasting astonishment Peter remained mute
and just stared at me, stared at me for a full minute, then putting his
hands in his pockets, he said, "Well, well!" and stumped out of the
room.

"There!" I said, "that is the way you should have treated
Peter--_always_."

But mother sat with her hands locked and remained speechless for some
seconds.

"How dared you do it?" she breathed at length.

"Oh, it was quite easy," I replied airily.

"Was it?"

"Well, perhaps not _quite_ easy," I corrected myself, "but fairly easy
when you once get started."

"I never dare start," she said plaintively.  "As soon as I open my
mouth I----"

"Shut it again," I said.  "But don't in future, keep it well open.
Begin to-night, and I'll help you.  Make a firm stand like Horatius."

"What did he do?" she asked with interest.

"He stood alone and--and looked after a gate."

"Oh, I could do that.  If your father were a gate----" she began
eagerly.

"What would you do?" inquired Peter, walking into the room and
surveying her from head to foot.

"I--I----" she stammered.

"Don't forget Horatius," I signalled.

"I--I should sit on you!"  With which terrific exhibition of courage
she took to her heels and fled.

"I mustn't laugh," I told myself, "or everything will be spoiled."

Peter stood in the middle of the room, staring at the closed door.

"I believe your mother is trying to be funny," he remarked when he had
got his breath.

"Mother is often funny," I murmured.

"I have noticed she has been a bit strange lately."

"Oh?"

"Very secretive."

"Indeed?"

"In fact, deceitful."

"Mother deceitful?"

"Yes, said she didn't know what train she was coming by."  He was
beginning to raise his voice.

"Trains don't always start at the time mentioned in Bradshaw.  Look at
the South Eastern."

"This was the South Western," he snapped.  "I must give her a dose of
medicine."

"A dose of medicine!" I repeated in surprise.

"Yes, calomel.  It's her liver, I expect.  She has been like this
before.  How soon will dinner be ready?"

"When Amelia feels inclined to give it to us."

"Is Amelia the forward young person with the pearl necklace who came to
the door?"

"That is an excellent description of Amelia, but I thought you had seen
her before."

"And does she arrange the hour you are to dine?"

"She arranges the hour in which the potatoes are dried, the meat
dished, the gravy made, and the cabbage chopped.  You see, as she does
it all, she naturally knows when it will be ready."

"God bless my soul!" he ejaculated.

"What is the matter?"

"I had no idea you ran your servants in such a shocking manner."

"Servant," I corrected; "and I don't run her, she runs me."

"I wouldn't have believed it."

"You would if you had an Amelia."

"I'd sack her."

"She wouldn't go if I did."

"I'd lock her out."

"She'd break a window and climb through it."

He began to march about the room.

"I'd manage that girl in ten minutes."

"She would hold you in the hollow of her hand in less than five," I
said.

He spluttered.

"What do you take me for?"

"I never know.  I've often thought about it," I said gently.

He stopped marching and stared at me.

"I wonder what mother is doing," I said, averting my eyes.

"Your mother," he shouted, rushing towards the door, "is the slowest
woman on God's earth.  She'll be doing her hair.  _I'll_ bring her
down."  And he went to take out of her what, by right, he should have
taken out of me.

"Poor mother!" I sighed.

I much fear we are going to have ructions--Peter and I.  A strange and
tremendous courage has come to me.  Is it that I know I shall have a
staunch ally in Amelia?  One Amelia is surely worth two Peters.  And
yet I don't know.  Peter has been accustomed to fighting and bloodshed,
and managing his men and out-manoeuvring the enemy most of his life;
and Amelia is only used to managing her mistresses and charwomen.  As a
tactician Amelia may be weak.  One cannot tell.  I am hoping for the
best.



CHAPTER XV

AMELIA GIVES ME NOTICE


It is said that the young look forward and the old look backward.  I am
still young enough, I suppose, to live chiefly in the future--a
beautiful future, with Dimbie ever as the central figure.  But should I
live to be an old woman, and send my thoughts backward through the
years, a smile will rise to my lips unbidden at the memory of a certain
dinner at which Peter and Amelia played prominent parts.

I have to put down my manuscript book for a moment while I laugh.
Amelia is, I know, watching me through the pantry window.  She will be
considering that this is one of my "dotty" moments.  For anyone to lie
under an apple tree and apparently laugh at nothing at all is to Amelia
a strange and sad sight.

Wait a while, Amelia, you may see stranger things yet.  Life contains
infinite possibilities for those who have even the smallest sense of
humour.  At present that sense with you is lacking.  Let us hope that
it is not altogether void, but in an embryo stage waiting for
development.

To you the dinner last evening was not in the least amusing.  In fact,
the tears you shed later on were very bitter.  Of course, lookers-on
always see most of the game, and had I been in your place I admit I
should have been very angry; for Peter is capable of arousing in the
human breast passions which are anything but Christian.

Let me relate the story as it sounded to my ears from the drawing-room.
It is a source of regret to me that I cannot be present at meals, for
the bicycle-room is not large enough to hold both the dining-table and
my Ilkley couch.  Still, with both doors set wide apart I can hear most
of what is going on.

Peter's voice carried better than Amelia's; he is used to drilling.
Mother's sounded like punctuation marks--notes of exclamation and
interrogation, gentle little apostrophes, and full stops.  But Peter
was not to be stopped.  This is how he began to annoy Amelia:--

[Illustration: THIS IS HOW HE BEGAN]

"What's this?"  A stab of a fork.

"Don't you know, sir?"

"No, I don't."

"Not seen lamb before?"

"Do you call this burnt cinder lamb?"

Mother, gently, "I think it looks beautifully cooked, just nicely
browned."

"Of course you do.  You can eat anything.  Some people have the
digestion of an ostrich."

Amelia, breaking in, "Please don't carve it that way, sir.  We eats the
bottom side first--that was Tompkinses' way--and next day when it's
turned over it looks as though it had never been touched, quite
respectable like."

Peter: "Am _I_ carving this cinder or are you?"

Amelia (calmly, but as I knew ominously): "Neither of us, sir, at this
partickler minute.  But p'r'aps you will be startin' before it's cold."

Sounds of splashings of gravy, and hurried exit of Amelia (I guessed to
fetch a cloth).

"It's the best table-cloth, sir, double damux, and has to last a
fortnight."

"A _what_?"

"A week for dinner, and followin' week for breakfast."

"A piggish habit!"

"A what, sir?"

"A piggish habit.  Are there no laundries or washerwomen about here?"

"Plenty, sir, but we don't want to over-work 'em.  Will you give me a
bit of the knuckle for the mistress, she likes knuckle.  It's not often
she gets meat for her dinner, only beef and lamb and mutton, no pork or
veal or beefsteak pie.  That's the knuckle, sir, the other end."

Splutterings and drill language from Peter.

"And what does she have then?" asked mother.

"A whitin', mum, mostly."

"She looks like it."

"And you'd look like it too, sir, if you was to lie still, flat on your
back, day after day."

Arrival of Amelia with my tray.  Confidential whispering.  The meat
will have to be hashed to-morrow, as it's been carved so disgracefully.
I cheer her up to the best of my ability.

Return of Amelia to dining-room.

"What's this vegetable supposed to be--seakale or asparagus?"

"Neither, sir" (chuckling).  "It's salsify.  Thought you wouldn't know
it, as you don't seem to be up in the names of things."

I bury my face in my serviette and hold on to the tortoise.

"It's like stewed sawdust."

"Is it, sir?  The cookery book says it's like vegetable hoyster."

"Vegetable _what_?"

"Vegetable _hoyster_."

"I don't understand you" (thunderingly).  "Speak plainly, girl."

"Do you know what gentlefolks buys off stalls at the seaside and eats
with lemon and cyenne?"  (An apparent effort to keep calm.)

Peter (shouting): "Winkles!"

Amelia (with fine scorn): "My friends don't buy winkles; it's only
_common_ folks as does that.  My friends buy hoysters."

"Oh, oy--sters!"

"Yes, hoy--sters."

"You can bring in the next course, Angelina."

"Amelia, sir.  You're _that_ bad in your memory----"  Rest of sentence
finished in hall and kitchen.

Gentle murmur from mother.

"I shall!" (loudly).  "It's a treat to speak to a girl with a bit of
sense, though she is an impudent hussy, after our sleek-tongued
fools--yes, fools, every one of them!"

Clattering of saucepans in kitchen and stamping of Amelia across the
hall with the pudding.  I could not remember what I had ord--suggested
in the way of pudding, and I hoped it would meet with Peter's approval.

"Is this a pudding?"

"Yes, sir."

"I thought puddings stood up straight?"

"Not all of 'em, sir.  Some is a bit weak-kneed in the joints."

Was she poking fun at Peter's gouty legs?

"What's inside it?"

"Here's a knife and fork, sir.  You'll soon find out."

"What's inside it?"

"P'r'aps it's a spoon you are wantin' as well."

"I don't eat red-currant pudding."

"Sorry, sir.  Just keep quiet till the next course, sir.

"Keep quiet!"  (Yells.)  "What do you mean?"

"The mistress's nerves gets upset with a bit of noise."

"Your mistress seems to get upset with the slightest provocation."

"She does, sir.  I saw her cryin' not so long ago over a bunch of
honeysuckle.  She was took reg'lar bad--red eyes and nose."

"Well, of course she'll miss gathering it this year.  The deuce knows
why women like picking things full of d--ahem! abominable insects.  But
they're born that way--born stupid."

I surprised a gentle note almost in the first part of his sentence
which filled me with wonder.  Was Peter really sorry for me?

And as though he were ashamed of his unwonted softness his next remark
made Amelia skip.  I could distinctly hear her skip, and it made me
laugh.  Few people can make her run, let alone skip.

"This pudding makes me sick, girl.  It smells of suet, reeks of suet.
Remove it _at once_!" he thundered.

She stood her ground for a moment.

"But the mistress hasn't had any."

"Remove that pudding!"

"But supposin' Mrs. Macintosh wants another helpin'" (waveringly).

"Mrs. Macintosh _won't_ require any more pudding.  Mrs. Macintosh is
going to take a liver pill.  Too much pudding would be bad for her."

"But----"

"Take out this pudding!"

The windows rattled, and Amelia bolted--not into the kitchen but into
here, and after planking the pudding down on to Dimbie's arm-chair,
said--

"If you please, mum, I must leave."

"Leave?" I echoed in astonishment.

"Yes, mum.  I could not stop another minute--not for a thousand pounds
down--with that gentle--I mean man in the house.  Either he must go or
me."

Before I could check myself I had smiled, for had not Amelia called
Peter a gentle, the offspring of a meat-fly--the horrible creature with
which I had fished as a little girl?  And--Amelia took instant offence
at my smile.  Not being able to follow my train of thought, she
imagined I was laughing at her.

"To-night," she said.

"To-night!" I cried, not wishing to echo her words, but surprise bereft
me of an original mode of speech.

"I must leave you to-night."

I lay back and looked at Amelia--at her leaning, high-heeled shoes, at
her pearl necklace, at her befrilled apron, at her perky cap, at her
tightly-curled fringe.  Could all these things be leaving me to-night,
leaving me forever?  I should miss them, I knew, so accustomed does one
become to familiar objects.  I wondered where they would go, how long
it would be before Amelia stitched the right-hand string to her apron
instead of pinning it there?  My eyes rose slowly from the apron, upon
which they had been resting, to her necklace.  Whose gaze, instead of
mine, would rest upon those pearls?  Then I reached Amelia's face--her
soap-shone, eager face.  This brought me to the girl herself.  She,
Amelia, who had seemed so devoted, she was going to leave me----

"To-night!" broke in Amelia sternly.

"Yes, yes," I said quickly.

She stood and looked at me defiantly.  I don't know why, for I wasn't
speaking.

"How soon shall you start?" I asked for want or something to say.

She did not reply.

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind giving me a little pudding before you go," I
said.  "It's getting cold.  You put it over there on the chair."  And
to my immense surprise she burst into tears.

"Whatever's the matter?" I asked in consternation.  "Don't cry, Amelia,
don't cry."  I patted the tortoise as Amelia wasn't near enough to pat.

"I--I don't want to go," she sobbed.

"No?  Well, don't go," I said soothingly.

"But you want me to."

"I want you to go?"

"Yes."

"Whatever makes you think that?"

"You didn't say as I wasn't to go when I said I was, and I would too."

This was a little involved, but I disentangled it.

"I never thought of saying you were not to go.  You seemed to have so
completely made up your mind."

"I wish everybody was all like you," she said, somewhat inconsequently.

"All cripples," I laughed.

She went on sobbing.

"I wonder why you are crying?" I said at length gently.

"Because I don't know where to go at this time of night.  It's past
eight, and the roads are full of tramps."

"Well, don't go.  Your bedroom is surely comfortable.  You've always
said how much you like the pink roses on the wall-paper."

"I couldn't sleep in the same house as that man who calls himself a
gentleman, beggin' your pardon, mum.  The same roof shall never cover
us again.  And to think he's your father--you're flesh of his flesh,
bone of his bone."

For a moment I wondered whether she would consent to sleep in the shed
with the canoe and Jumbles if we rigged up a hammock.  Or could I
persuade Peter to return home if I explained how matters stood?  But on
reflection I knew neither of these things could be.  Amelia was still
repeating "bone of his bone" in an automatic fashion, when I broke in,
"I can't help that, Amelia.  I can't help his being my father."  Then
perhaps I behaved foolishly, unfilially, for I took her into my
confidence.  But what else was I to do?  I am not a diplomatist.  I am
not a Talleyrand.  Amelia must be kept at any price.  The thought of
mother and Peter struggling to light the kitchen fire on the morrow
made me shudder.

"Amelia"----I began.

She took her apron from her eyes, and I became nervous.

"I--I would like some pudding, please, however cold it may be.
And--and what are they doing in the other room?"

"I don't know," she replied, with a gesture indicating, as I took it,
that she didn't care if they were descending the bottomless pit.

"Shut the door," I breathed.

She did so.

"Amelia----" I began again.

"Yes, mum."

"_I_ have felt like that."

"Like what?"

"Like--that I couldn't sleep in the same house as Pet--General
Macintosh."

Her eyes became round.

"Yes, I have," I repeated.

She nodded her head and came closer.

"You see, he is a little difficult, a little difficult, Amelia.
Perhaps his tem--peculiarity has been caused by his gout.  He has
suffered a great deal.  The servants at home and mother--well, they all
stay on.  They don't leave.  Do you understand?"

She nodded with complete comprehension.

I now realised how very clever Amelia was.

"I am not well," I went on plaintively, "and mother isn't very strong
and capable, and I don't quite know what I shall do without you.
I'm--I'm afraid I shall die if you leave me.  In fact, I'm sure I shall
die----" and my voice tailed off into a moan as I finished.

Amelia twisted her apron into tight rolls, then untwisted them, and
then leaned on her high heels towards the couch.

"Of course, I don't want you to die, mum."

"No?" I said.

"I shouldn't like it to be said as how I finished you off."

"I am sure you wouldn't," I agreed with warmth.

"Well, then, I will stop."  There was an uplifted, heroic expression on
Amelia's face.  "I'll stop.  I'll never leave you, mum--not till the
breath goes out of my body, not till I'm a corpse in my coffin, not
even for the butcher's young man, who was only a-sayin' yesterday as
how I had the finest figger he'd ever come across.  I'll work for you
till I drops.  I'll just ignore your father, mum.  Oh, mum, if
everybody was as gentle and perlite and soft spoken as you I'd die for
'em."  And flinging herself upon her knees, she wept against the
Liberty sofa blanket, while I surreptitiously stroked her cap, there
being no hair visible to stroke.



CHAPTER XVI

FOREBODINGS


I am very weary.  In the old days, before my accident, it was my boast
that I was never tired.  Perhaps the exertion of conciliating Peter, of
trying to keep the peace between him and Amelia, has been too much for
me these sultry days.  I know not.  But I do know that I am always
tired.  The sort of tiredness which makes me say, "Go away, Amelia,"
when she brings my hot water, and lays my tea-gown and brush and comb
on the bed, and the long arduous task of being dressed lies before me.
"Leave me for another hour, please."  And of course she argues and says
the water will go cold; and I tell her I prefer it so, closing my eyes
wearily to show that the discussion is finished.

She surveys me, I know, in surprise.  How can I be tired when I do
absolutely nothing but lie still, when she is quite fresh after doing
the whole work of the universe?  "Amelia, there is a weariness of the
spirit which is greater than that of the flesh.  You cannot understand
this.  A weariness which leads you to no other desire but that of lying
quite still with your eyes closed, which makes you regard the simple
act of combing out your own hair as tantamount to one of the Herculean
labours.  You would almost prefer its being tangled to going through
the exertion of getting it straight.  That you would like to
disentangle it for me, I know, but I shudder at the very thought.  You
are kind, but you don't understand how very tired I am.  I want to rest
a little longer."

Even the prospect of being under the apple tree, in the proximity of my
friends the ants, doesn't tempt me.  The dressing has to be got through
first.  It hurts--the lifting from the bed to the couch--though Amelia
is very tender.  It jars--that being wheeled from the hall on to the
step.  I want to be without steps and doors, and corners and turnings
and sudden descents.  I want to be on a gentle, inclined plane--on a
soft, billowy cloud, on wings of thistledown.  I am tired of my body.
It is troublesome and aching.  I would gladly have done with it to-day.
Oh, that I could step out of it and into a new, whole, strong
body--radiant and beautiful--for Dimbie's sake.

It is hard that these bodies have to get so tired before we have done
with them.  God sends this weariness, I suppose, to make the passing
easier.  I am thinking of Aunt Letitia now.  She has gone, she has done
with the world, she knows what is behind the veil.

Dimbie says she just slept herself away.  She was conscious almost to
the last, but was too tired even to eat a grape.  Then she fell asleep.

Dimbie will be coming home now, but--not for four days.  Four days seem
a long time in which to bury a very tired, little, old lady.  What am I
saying?  Am I growing selfish?  "Forgive me, Aunt Letitia.  I will
_not_ grudge Dimbie to you at the last, when you have done so much for
him."  And the time will pass, for mother and Peter are still here, and
one cannot be dull when Peter is in the neighbourhood.

I hear Amelia's footsteps.  She enters the room and tells me I _must_
get up.  It is useless asking her to permit me to have "a little
slumber, a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to sleep," for
she tells me that it is dining-room day, which means that she must
clean it, and cannot waste any more time on an idle, troublesome girl.

I ask her if I may lie in Nature's own garments under the apple tree,
with just a soft, silken coverlet thrown over me; and she is
scandalised, and says most probably Mr. Brook, the vicar, or Mrs.
Cobbold may call.

"Amelia," I say, "I am tired of your threatening me with Mr. Brook.  We
have lived here for six months, and he does not seem to be dreaming of
calling upon us.  As for Mrs. Cobbold--well, she will never call again."

"Mr. Brook has been ill," she argues.

"Mrs. Brook might have called."

"She has been too busy nursing him."

"Poor woman!  She must be quite glad of an excuse, then, not to call,"
I said.  "I have the truest sympathy for clergymen's wives, always
going to see stupid parishioners because it is considered their duty.
I only hope she will not call."

"We never use the best china," said Amelia sadly.

"Use it while mother is here," I said cheeringly; "it will be a good
opportunity."

She shook her head.

"It's too good for common use.  Mrs. Macintosh might stay a fortnight,
and _he_ might smash it."  ("_He_" is Peter.)

I ask her what they are doing with themselves, and she says Peter is
scrattlin' his feet about on the doorstep like an old hen.

She attacks me with a brush, and I implore her to permit my hair to
hang loose to-day.  I explain that it is all in a tangle, and perhaps a
passing breeze might disentangle it, so saving us much trouble.  She
regards me severely, and says no breeze will think of knocking about,
that it is about 80 degrees in the shade, and that if I wish Mr. Brook
to see me, of course--

"Put it up," I cry; "and if you dangle Mr. Brook in front of my eyes
_once_ again I will throw something at you."

She tells me to calm myself, and, picking me up, lays me on the couch
and trundles me out of the front door.

And here I lie refusing to do anything but gaze at the soft, white,
eider-down clouds which seem to be trying to tuck up the blue.  Amelia
has tried to make me eat.  I have refused.  Mother has tried to engage
me in a conversation about Dimbie--artful mother!  I have refused.
Peter has tried to draw me into a quarrel.  I have still refused.  And
now they have all gone away and left me.  Praised be the gods!

      *      *      *      *      *

As the shadows began to lengthen upon the lawn I fell asleep, and when
I opened my eyes, very slowly, for I did not want to return to a world
without Dimbie, I found Dr. Renton sitting at the side of my couch
watching me intently.  I fancied that he had been there for some time,
and I felt vaguely uneasy.

"May I smoke?" was his first question.

"Of course," I said.  "Have you been here long?"

"About half an hour."  He struck a match.

"Why didn't you wake me?"

"You had a bad night?"

I nodded.

"It was the heat."

"Where's your husband?  It's time he was home, isn't it?"  He took out
his watch.

"He's away."

"Away!  Well, he's no right to be away when you are so--feeling the
heat.  What's he doing?"

"My husband was obliged to go to an aunt of his who was dying," I said
with dignity.

"What does she mean by dying now?" he said with asperity.

"She's not, she's dead."

"Ah, that's better!" he observed in a most shameless manner.  "He will
be returning to-day?"

"Not for four days.  He must wait for the funeral.  This aunt
practically brought him up."

"Well, she's not bringing him up now," he said, marching about the
lawn.  "His duty lies at home."

"Dimbie knows his duty as well as any man," I said stiffly.

Dr. Renton laughed.

"I beg your pardon, but----"

"You think I am fretting for him?"

"Yes, I do.  Your face is like a bit of white notepaper."

"The heat," I said.

"Are you eating properly?"

"Who could eat in this weather?"

"Are you sleeping well?"

"Dr. Renton, I don't want to talk of myself."

"But we must.  What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing."

"Are you tired?"

"I have just been to sleep."

"Look here, Marguerite," he said sternly, sitting down and staring into
my face, "answer my questions properly--I am your medical adviser--or I
will call in Mr. Rovell; in fact, I am going to persuade Rovell to have
a look at you in any case."

"Call in Mr. Rovell?" I said blankly.

He nodded.

"Candidly, I am not satisfied with your appearance.  You are much
thinner."

"Mr. Rovell can't make me fatter."

"I shall bring him this week--say Thursday."

I stared at him, dismayed and frightened.

"I don't see the sense of making Dimbie fork out another big fee," I
quavered, "and I'm--I'm quite well."

"Are you?  How's the back?"

"It's quite--well, thanks."

"I thought you were truthful."

"Well, it's pretty well."

"Marguerite," he said gently, holding my hand, "I don't want to
frighten you.  As you say, your white, rose-leaf face and hands may be
the result of the great heat, but--I think it well to have another
opinion.  It cannot do you any harm, it may do you good, and at any
rate it will satisfy me."

[Illustration: MARGUERITE, I DON'T WANT TO FRIGHTEN YOU]

"Very well," I said, laying my face on his hand for a moment, "but
I--_am_ frightened."

"I know," he replied.  "I have seen fear, sickening anxiety, written on
the faces of many of my patients when the great specialist--the man who
will pronounce their doom or otherwise--has entered the room, only to
be followed by a great joy.  We must hope and pray that this joy will
be yours.  It must be," he said almost savagely, getting up and kicking
over his chair.  "You are too young always to lie still."  The last
words were muttered to himself but I caught them, and a momentary
darkness rose before my eyes, but I brushed it away as something
tangible.

"You--but you do think it will be well with me, Dr. Renton?" and the
bitter entreaty of my cry startled my own ears.

Voices came across the garden, and mother and Peter appeared through
the gate.

Dr. Renton hesitated a moment, and then went to meet them.

My question remained unanswered.



CHAPTER XVII

MY WORST FEARS ARE REALISED


The day has come at last on which Dimbie is to return, and--I am not
glad.  That I, his wife, should ever write such words seems almost
unbelievable.  But, oh--I am not ready for him!  I am not yet brave
enough to smile.  I shrink from the thought of meeting the look of
happiness in his blue eyes, of hearing the joyous ring of his voice, of
seeing the whimsical, crooked smile on his lips.  For how can I return
the look, how smile back at him when my heart is wellnigh breaking, and
every fibre of my being will be concentrated in keeping my lips steady,
my eyes undimmed?

And yet I must smile--somehow.

It matters not that my happiness is marred so long as Dimbie never
knows it--if my tears fall in the darkness when he is asleep; if my
spirit cries out in its anguish, and only God hears.  God will not mind
as Dimbie would mind, for Dimbie loves me.  It is hard to believe that
God loves me, or why give me such happiness just for a little while
only to wrest it from me?  It is He who has crippled me for life; He
who gave me strong young limbs, only to strike them helpless; He who
filled me with a passionate love for Nature, only to shut me away from
her forever within four walls.

And yet Christian people tell us that He is a God of love.  Love?  I
smile, it seems so strange that they should believe this.  And they
will come along and say very kindly, very gently, "You loved Dimbie too
much, you made an idol of him.  God has sent you this trial to bring
you to Him.  He must always come first."  And you wonder at their lack
of understanding.  Do they not know that you come closest to God in
your moments of supreme happiness?  It is then you want to creep away
to a quiet spot and thank Him, on your knees, for giving you such
happiness.  It is then you look upon all the wonders of the world with
understanding eyes.  It is then you try to help those who suffer and
are sick.  Oh, dear religious people, it is you who don't understand!
It is not sorrow which brings men and women to God, it is joy.  It
would seem to me a poor sort of thing to go to God when you are down on
your luck--to make Him a substitute for husband, home, friends; in
fact, to call upon Him when everything else has failed.  That sort of
religion does not appeal to me!

I was grateful to Him, too, for my happiness, for giving me Dimbie.  In
my contentment I think I tried to lead a better life, to be more
tender-hearted, more charitable, less down upon other people's
shortcomings; and now--God has forgotten me.

O God, were you not a little sorry for me when they--the doctors had
gone, stepped out into the beautiful wide world, and left me alone a
helpless, stricken creature?  Did you not feel a little twinge of pity
when, not believing them, I struggled to stand, gripped the head of the
bed, held out vague, wandering hands to anything that might help me to
raise myself, only to fall in a huddled, unconscious heap on the floor?
Or perhaps you said, "Poor, foolish little child, she is rebellious
now; but a day will come when her spirit will be broken, broken upon
the wheel of suffering."

Ah! what am I saying?  Forgive me, O Lord.  I am weak and sorrowful and
lonely.  I cannot understand it yet; I cannot see the reason why.  I am
as a little child groping in the darkness.  The darkness stretches away
to an eternity, and I can see no daylight.  But help me to smile, help
me to smile when Dimbie comes home.


The afternoon is hot and long and very silent.

Mother and Peter are gone.  Instinctively mother knew I wanted to be
alone to meet Dimbie.  How wise mothers are!  She strained me to her
breast, and the hot tears fell upon my face as she said "Good-bye."

"A word from you," she whispered, "will always bring me, even from the
very end of the earth."

"And what about Peter, little mother?" I asked tremulously.

"Peter must remain at home."

"But I think _even he is_ a little sorry for me," I said gently.

She turned away, trying to get her face and lips still.

"In the night I heard him say, 'My little Marguerite, my poor little
girl!'" she whispered.

"Don't, mother!"  A great sob burst from me.  "Don't tell me things
like that.  Don't sympathise with me, for I cannot bear it--yet.  Just
take your broken girl as a matter of course.  Try to pretend that I
have always been helpless, crippled.  Imagine me as a little baby once
more, needing all your love and tenderness, but not your sympathy.  It
is sympathy that will make me break down, it is sympathy that will make
me weep.  And I am trying to keep all my strength for Dimbie.  If I cry
I shall become weak, and then I shan't be able to smile when he comes
through the garden-gate.  Don't give me sympathy, mother."

      *      *      *      *      *

It is five o'clock.  In an hour's time Dimbie will be here.

The day has passed desperately slowly, and yet all too quickly, for I
am not ready for him yet.  My smile is still trembly.  I feel my lips
quiver as I practise it.  Amelia looks at me out of the corner of her
eye.  How can she know what I am doing--that I am engaged in smiling
exercises?  A new feature of my curious mental condition, she thinks.
But Amelia is very gentle and patient with me now.  She does not want
me to know that there is any difference in her method of treating me.
She is still firm and managing, but an unwonted softness creeps into
her voice and manner when she addresses me.  She has not referred to my
trouble, and I understand why.  She is cheating herself into believing
that the doctors have made a mistake, and she thinks she is cheating me
into the same belief.  In an off-hand way she will refer to Mr.
Tompkins having been told by a famous specialist that he was suffering
from "hangina pectorate," and how it was nothing of the kind, but
simply indigestion through eating Welsh rabbit six nights out of seven;
and how the second Miss Tompkins was told unless she had an operation
she would be dead in a week, and how she ran away from the nursing home
to which she had been taken and so saved her life, as she never had it
done.

Amelia's recitations help to pass the time.  Just now I pretended I
wanted tea, hoping to decoy her into staying with me a while when she
came to remove the tray, but she said she was busy.

"Busy!" I ejaculated, "on a sultry afternoon like this.  What can you
be doing?"

And she asked me if I imagined the work got done itself.  And if I
thought an oven never wanted washing out with quicklime.

"What do you do that for?" I said eagerly.

From certain well-known signs I thought Amelia was preparing for a
gossip, but I was disappointed, for she picked up the tray and moved
towards the house.

"Why do you quicklime the oven?" I called after her desperately.  I
could not face another long half-hour alone.

She put the tray down on to the step and walked slowly back.

"Do you really want to know, mum?"

"Of course," I said.

"Well, to sweeten it."

"Oh!  Doesn't the lime burn you?"

"It would if I got it on to my hands, but I don't."

"Where do you get it from?"

"I got a big lump out of a field."

"Do you--do you find lime in fields?"

She eyed me with pity.

"A house was being built there," she said laconically, as she began to
walk away.

"Wait a minute," I called.  "There's no hurry.  Where was the field?"

She stood and stared at me.

"You see, I--I am very interested in quicklime and ovens."  I spoke
rapidly.  "Did the Tompkinses quicklime their oven?"

Amelia fell into the trap like a mouse.

"They didn't till I taught 'em.  They didn't do anythink like that till
I showed 'em how.  When I went there first, the oven was like that tex
in the Bible."

"Which text?" I asked with relief, for she had seated herself upon the
grass.

"'It stank in your nostrils.'"

"Dear me," I said, "how unpleasant."

"Heverythink tasted of ovens.  You know the taste, mum?"

"I'm not sure that I do."

"It's like bad hot fat."

"Oh, then, I'm sure I don't.  And so you cleaned it."

"It came off in cakes.  I had to take a knife to it."

"The lime?"

She eyed me sadly.

"I'm afraid you're not listenin', mum?"

"Why?"

"I'm just tellin' you as how I put the lime on, and you asks me if I
took it off.  It's the dirt--the fat I'm speaking of now."

"Oh, of course.  It's the dirt you are speaking of--the fat that stank
in your nostrils."  I added this last to show how very sure I was of my
ground.  But this didn't appease her.  She was in a contrary mood, and
rose.

"Don't go," I cried.  "Wait, I have something important to ask you.
I--" feverishly I cudgelled my brains--"I want to know the name of the
poet who used to go to the Tompkinses', and looked like a garden leek.
Was it by any chance"--I picked up a book--"William Watson?"

"No, mum, William Potts."

"A poet named Potts?  You must be mistaken.  A poet could not be named
Potts."

Amelia set her lips doggedly.

"This one was."

"Perhaps he was a tinker really, or you are mistaken in the name, as I
said before.  Poets have musical-sounding names, such as Wordsworth,
Tennyson, Byron."

Amelia was evidently trying to keep her temper.

"This man was named Potts, I know it for a fact, for I always
remembered it by thinking of kettles."

"Oh!" I said.

"Yes, whenever I wants to remember a name I think of somethink else
like it, _that_ helps me.  When that stout lady called on you I thought
of a cobbler."

"Oh, Mrs. Cobbold," I said brightly, pleased at being able to follow
her meaning.

She cheered up a little.

"Now, when your father, General Macintosh, came, I just thinks quickly
of your waterproof hangin' in the hall."

"I see."

"Don't you think it's a good plan, mum?"

"Most brilliant," I replied.  "When you want to remember to feed the
canary you say to yourself the word 'sparrows.'"

There was a pause.  I was not looking at Amelia.  I was, therefore,
unprepared for the blinding sarcasm which followed.

"That's it, mum.  When I wants to remember to boil some pertaters I
straightway puts on a cabbage.  When I'm trying to recollect to clean
the master's patent boots I washes his golf stockin's.  You've got it
quite right, mum.  You've understood my meanin'.  I'm not blamin' you.
Folks can't help the hinterlecks as God gives 'em, and I'm not blamin'
you," and picking herself up she marched into the house.

I laughed weakly for some minutes after she had gone.  She might have
been watching me through the pantry window--I care not.

"Bless you, Amelia, for living with me and looking after me and amusing
me.  I know the kindness of your heart as well as the sharpness of your
tongue.  I know with what infinite tact you keep away from the subject
of my infirmity, and I am grateful to you."

Presently she was out again.  I was lying with my eyes closed.

"You're tired, mum?"

"A little," I said.

"Shall I get a flower to put in your gown before the master comes?  It
will freshen you up a bit."

"How do I look?"

She carefully selected a beautiful red rose.

"There are two spots the colour of this rose in the middle of your
cheeks."

"I look well, then?" I asked eagerly.

She sniffed a little.

"I've seen folks as looked better."

"Bring me a hand-glass."

She went slowly to the house.

"I didn't know as you was vain, mum," she observed, as she put it into
my hand.

"You can go back to your oven now, Amelia," I said a little frigidly.

I waited till she had gone, and then raised the glass.  Two great,
dark, burning eyes looked into mine.  My cheeks were wasted, and my
hair lay in a damp cloud on my forehead.  All the gold which Dimbie
loved so much seemed to have gone out of it.  In the relentless light
of day, fascinated, I gazed at my strangely-altered countenance.

"And once Dimbie thought that face beautiful!"  The words burst from me
in a sob, but no tears came.  My aching eyes turned to the roses and
lupins which were drooping in the hot afternoon sunshine, to the hedge
of wondrous-tinted sweet-peas, to the cool, green limes and beach tree
leaning over the fence.

"How lovely to be inanimate!" I cried passionately.  "To be without a
soul, without a memory, without a future.  To be a soft, fragrant rose
wrapped round by the sun and the wind and summer rain, sending forth a
sweetness to gladden the heart of man, and then falling petal by petal
to the cool, kind embrace of mother earth."

Why should humans suffer so?  Why should all this pain be?  Animals and
birds and fish and insects prey upon one another.  They drink to the
dregs the cup of physical suffering, but they are spared the anguish of
mental pain.

Will Dimbie's love stand?

Ah, that is what is torturing me day and night!

Will Dimbie remain faithful?

He is but young.  Life is before him.  He still lives in the present
and future, only the old live in the past.  To be tied forever to a
helpless wife, to a creature wedded to a couch, to a stricken, maimed
woman.  Oh, how I hate myself!  I despise my own weakness and
impotence.  Once I was a strong girl, who could run and dance and scale
high mountains.  Dimbie said my eyes were as bright as stars in the
frosty heavens, my hair as gold as the setting sun, my cheeks--ah, he
flattered me!  And now, God help--but no, there is no one to help me.
God has forgotten me!

Bring a brush, Amelia, and try to weave into my dull hair a little of
the bright sunshine.  Pin the red rose you gathered into my gown.
Twine around your finger the damp tendrils which lie on my forehead,
and make them curl as of old.  Tell me a funny story of the Tompkinses
to straighten up the droop of my mouth.  For Dimbie is coming down the
lane--I hear his footstep eager and fast--and I want to look like the
Marguerite he married.

A bird has broken into song in the apple tree--a golden melody.  Is he
singing for the coming of Dimbie?  Or is he a harbinger of hope?  Does
he mean that Dimbie's love _will_ stand--last throughout the ages?  Oh,
that it might be so!  I would rather be a cripple with Dimbie's love
than whole and strong without it.



CHAPTER XVIII

DIMBIE ROLLS A GREAT LOAD FROM MY HEART


In the crises of life--the tremendous moments of fear, hope, and
expectation--what a curious calmness overtakes us.  Maud's poor lover,
after killing her brother in the duel, says--

  "Why am I sitting here so stunn'd and still,
  Plucking the harmless wild-flower on the hill?"

And later on, when he sits on the Breton strand, he says--

  "Strange that the mind when fraught
  With a passion so intense
  One would think that it well
  Might drown all life in the eye,--
  That it should, by being so over-wrought,
  Suddenly strike on a sharper sense
  For a shell, or a flower, little things
  Which else would have been passed by."


And so it was with me, I "suddenly struck on a sharper sense" as Dimbie
came through the gate, and I had nothing to say in the first moment of
greeting but to tell him that a button was missing from one of his
boots and his coat was very dusty.

His look of utter astonishment expelled my apathy, and when his arms
were round me and he was showering kisses upon my face and hair, and
whispering, "Marguerite, Marguerite, have you nothing else to say?" in
an overwhelming torrent it came to me what I _had_ to say, what I had
to tell him.  The reality of it suffocated me, I felt as though I were
drowning.  I could only cling to him murmuring his name.

"Dear love," he whispered at length, "say that you love me!"

"Love you!" I cried, finding speech.  "Love you!  Ah, Dimbie, it is not
for you to ask such a question.  It is _I_ who must put it to you.  Do
you love me?  Can you always love me--forever and ever, whatever
happens to me?  Whatever I am----"

I broke off.  "Whatever I am," I repeated mechanically.

Again he looked at me, held my face away from his, and surprise and
bewilderment chased across his countenance.

I could not meet the look in his eyes, and my own fell.

He took my hands in his and held them to his lips very tenderly.

"Love you as you are, whatever you are!  Why of course, that is why I
shall love you always, because you are Marguerite.  You may grow blind
and deaf, and old and feeble, but you will always be my Marguerite.
That is the beautiful part, we shall always have each other--to the
end.  Aunt Letitia's was a lonely life and a lonely death.  Only old
Ann and I with her.  No husband nor children, nor brothers nor sisters,
no one very closely related; only I, a nephew, and an old servant."  He
settled himself on the grass at the side of the couch and leant his
head against my knee.  "But you and I will have each other for ever.
But I am not going to talk of sad things--not that Aunt Letitia's death
in itself was sad, for it was very peaceful and beautiful--but I want
to talk of the delights of being home again, of sitting in our jolly
little garden with my own dear wife, and of the said wife's stroking
her husband's head."  He raised his blue eyes to mine and pulled my
hand down to his hair, and perforce I had to stroke it.

"I cannot tell him yet," I cried to myself.  "We must have this
beautiful hour together.  Later on--perhaps when the dusk has fallen."

He sighed contentedly as my hand passed over his crisp, kinky hair, and
took Jumbles, who was purring and arching his back, on to his knee.

"Now tell me the news, wife," he commanded.  "First of all, how are
you?  Has Renton been to see you?"

"Yes," I replied after a pause, "he came the other day."

"And what does he think?"

"He thinks"--I caught at my breath--"that I am thinner and--not quite
so well."

Dimbie turned round quickly and gave me a prolonged scrutiny.  Then he
threw Jumbles off his knee and got up.

"You are decidedly thinner, Marg.  Let me feel your arms."

"My arms," I said, trying to smile, "were always so abominably fat that
it is an improvement their being thinner."

Dimbie felt me carefully, then his mouth set in a hard, straight line.

"We must get you away from here," he said, "to the sea, or somewhere
bracing.  By the time you are ready to walk about there will be nothing
left of you to walk."

"By the time you are ready to walk about," I started.  Amelia was
coming across the lawn, and heard Dimbie's words.  Her lips parted.
She was going to tell him.

"Amelia," I cried, "come here quickly.  The--the tortoise is slipping
down the couch."

"And that won't be the first time, mum," she returned, diving after it.
"And you won't have a pocket, mum."

"Shake up my cushions, please, and--" I whispered in her ear as she
leaned over me, "don't tell the master yet."

"What are you two up to?" asked Dimbie.

"Amelia is bringing you some tea, and we are going to have supper in
the garden.  I always have supper under the apple tree when it's fine,"
I said quickly.

"Isn't it a bit earwiggy?"

"It is; but to make up for that there is the night-scented stock, and a
corncrake in the field.  Peter got very angry with the corncrake and
the frogs."

"By the way, where are Peter and your mother?  It is very decent of
them to have gone out and left us alone for a bit."

"They are gone home," I replied.  "A seismic movement of the earth's
crust is now taking place at Dorking."

Dimbie laughed.

"Not very polite to me to clear off just as I was returning."

"I think Peter feared you might quarrel with him."

"A nice way of putting it.  How did he and Amelia get on?"

"They didn't get on at all.  Amelia gave me notice to leave, and Peter
flung dinner plates on to the floor.  I think he had been reading about
Savage Landor's pitching crockery about when he was a little annoyed."

"I'd have pitched him out of the house."

"Yes," I said, "that was why I felt glad you were not at home."

Amelia appeared with the tray.

"How did you like General Macintosh, Amelia?" asked Dimbie.

She sniffed and tilted her head.

"I gave him his half-sovereign back when he went this morning; that
will show you how much I liked him, sir.  He nearly wore the mistress
and me out.  I managed him though in the end."

"What did you do?"

"Well, sir, I peppered him and Keatinged him just as though he was a
house-moth."

We both stared at her.

"Readin' a book made me think of it; it was about a duchess and a baby,
and the baby kept sneezin'.  'This will do for him,' says I to myself.
So I buys a quarter of a pound of pepper and a tin of Keating's moth
powder, and I sprinkles his pillow and hairbrushes, and handkerchiefs
and pyjamas, and shaving-brush and his clothes, and the sneezin' which
took place after that was somethin' dreadful.  His eyes and nose was
runnin', and he says he had a dreadful attack of influenza.  Don't you
remember, mum?"

She looked at me, but I made no answer.  He was, after all, my father,
and I must not sympathise with Amelia in her depravity.

"Go on," said Dimbie encouragingly, helping himself to a large supply
of strawberry jam.

"Well, he came and danced about my kitchen like a hathlete at the
circus.  Couldn't have believed pepper could have made anythink so
active, and with his gout, sir.  I couldn't get him out of the kitchen
for hever so long."

"And what did you do?"

"Oh, I just fetched the pepper-pot and shook it at him, one shake and
he fairly raced.  And Jumbles began a-sneezin' too, and rushed off to
the roof of the shed; there was legs flying in all directions."

Dimbie tilted back his chair and roared with laughter.

"And was he polite to you after that?"

"Pretty well, sir.  He had to be.  Every time he was going to break out
I just casual-like referred to the pepper.  I would ask Mrs. Macintosh
if there was enough of it in her soup, or if the curry was too hot."

"You are a strategist, Amelia," said Dimbie.

"Yes, sir," she replied, without comprehension.

"Do you know what I mean?"

"No, sir."

"You can outwit the enemy."

"Yes, sir."

She moved towards the house.  She was wearing the tea-rose slippers
again.  Dimbie caught sight of them.

"Why are you wearing my slippers?  How dare you, Amelia!"

She stood nonplussed for a moment, then, "The mistress won't allow
_you_ to wear them, sir, and I thought it was a pity for them to be
wasted," and she disappeared into the house.

We looked at each other and laughed.

"She is a good girl, and looks after you well, doesn't she?"

"Excellently."

"But I think we will get another maid--one who is more used to
invalids."

"No one but Amelia shall look after me; besides, we can't afford," I
said decidedly.

"Oh, we can afford right enough, Marg.  Wouldn't you like one, dear?"

"No, I wouldn't."

He smiled.

"Well, don't get so heated about it, you shan't if you don't like.  You
shan't do anything or have anything contrary to your wishes."

"You are very good to me, Dimbie, dear;" and tears trembled in my eyes.

"Whatever's the matter?" he said in alarm.

"I'm only tired.  I have been so excited about your coming."

"Poor darling!" he murmured softly.  "It's this hot weather that is
making you so weary.  I'm going to read you to sleep, and you must
sleep till supper.  What shall it be?"  He picked up one or two of the
books from the table.  "_Omar_?"

"No, I'm tired of _Omar_."

_"The Garden of Allah_?"

"No, beautiful but sad."

"What, then?"

I lay and thought.  Dimbie had a musical voice; he read well.  I wanted
something to suit his voice.

"_Pilgrim's Progress_," I said.  "It's on the drawing-room table."

He fetched it, and turned the pages.

"What part do you fancy?"

"Anywhere, so long as I can see you while you read."

He stooped and kissed me, and holding one of my hands in his he began.

Very little of the beautiful language did I hear, for I was thinking
and pondering upon what I should say to him later.  How should I tell
him?  How break my news?  The shock would be so great; I must choose my
words carefully.  "Help me to say the right thing," I prayed I know not
to whom.  "Help me to choose the right words, and let him go on loving
me."

      *      *      *      *      *

And Dimbie himself made it all quite easy for me, for before I spoke or
told him his own words rolled a great load from my heart.

We had finished supper, the darkness had fallen, and a moon swam in a
sky of the deepest blue.  Heavy on the warm night air lay the perfume
of the roses, the night-scented stock, and the flowering lime, in which
a thousand and one bees had been humming throughout the day.  Now they
were asleep, and the lime was at rest.

Dimbie, with his arm around me, was telling me of Aunt Letitia's death,
and how glad she was to go; how quietly and simply she had talked of
her business affairs, of the disposal of her money, of her legacies.
She had left her house in order, and with the faith of a little child
had set out on the long, unknown journey fearless and with a great
trust in the mercy of God.

"At the last she said to me, 'From what you have told me I quite seem
to know Marguerite, and I should have loved her I am sure.  I feel she
is good.  Some good women are very unlovable; they are hard on the
frailties of others.  In their unsmirched purity they cannot understand
the meaning of the words temptation, sin; but I do not think Marguerite
is one of these.  I should imagine she would be very tender towards
those who are weak, for she understands and knows the mercy of God.'"

"The mercy of God."  The words rang in my ears--dinned and hammered and
beat.

"_I_ understand the mercy of God!  Dimbie, Dimbie, Aunt Letitia is
wrong.  I don't, I don't.  I'm wicked, I'm rebellious, I----"  My words
broke off in a bitter cry, and I clung to him with both hands.

"Hush, hush, my dear one," he said, holding me closely.  "If you are
wicked it is a poor lookout for the rest of humanity.  Why, to myself,
I always call you my white Marguerite.  I--" he paused, and I could
hear the beating of his heart--"I want to tell you now what you have
made of me, of my manhood.  I have wanted to tell you ever since I
first met you, but--it is difficult to lay your heart bare, even to the
woman you love, but--I think I'm a better man now, Marguerite.  I was a
careless, selfish sort of beggar before, I only thought of myself.  The
down-on-their-luck fellows were down through their own fault I
supposed.  The women on the streets disgusted me; the sick and
suffering I shunned as something repulsive; the poor and hungry bored
me with their whining.  Then I met you.  You gave me something
priceless--your love.  I knew I was not worthy of it, but you married
me.  Then came your accident and illness.  Will you think me cruel when
I tell you I was almost glad?  Now I could do something for you, wait
on you, take care of you, cherish you, I thought, try to make myself
worthy of your love.  And your first question was, Would my love stand
the strain of your illness?  Ah, Marguerite, how those words hurt, how
they cut me to the heart.  'She doesn't understand me,' I cried, 'she
has no faith in me.'  And have you still no faith in me?  Do you not
trust me?  Marguerite, wife, were you to be stricken for life, always
tied down to your couch, always a helpless invalid, I should feel that
you were a sacred trust given to me by God to love and cherish.
And--so long as you gave me your love I should be more than content.
Do you still doubt me, fear that my affection would waver?  Tell me
that you trust me.  Speak, Marguerite."

And I spoke, very slowly at first.  The words came haltingly, brokenly.
I was trying to keep the tears back--tears not of sorrow now, but of
joy.  As my husband was speaking sorrow left me, and my soul was
irradiated with a great and wondrous happiness.  I forgot my tired
body, it seemed to fade away, dissolve, and only my spirit was left
behind singing a _Te Deum_.  My doubts, my fears had gone.  Dimbie
would _always_ love me.  I believed him as truly as I believed that the
sun would rise on the morrow.

"Dimbie, dear," I said simply, "I _do_ believe you, and I do trust you.
Your words to-night have made that which I have to tell you quite easy.
I--shall never walk again."  My arm stole round his neck and I drew his
cheek to mine.  "No, don't speak till I have finished.  I want to tell
you all about it now--everything.  Then we will accept it as the
inevitable and never speak of it again.  You say that I am patient,
good.  When the doctors had left me--Dr. Renton had broken it to me--I
railed against God.  I cried out in my agony, 'This cross is greater
than I can bear!'  I beat the pillows, tried to tear the sheets, struck
my head against the bed.  I longed to die.  I prayed to die.  I
struggled to rise, only to fall in unconsciousness on the floor.  This
unconsciousness, I think, saved my reason.  And, oh, the tears I shed,
the bitter tears!  I was glad you were not there, Dimbie.  In the
darkness of the night, even as Job, I cried out, 'Let the day perish
wherein I was born!'  Never to walk again--the words rang in my ears.
Always to lie still.  The wind and sea would call me, but I must lie
still.  Spring and summer would call me, but I must lie still, always
still.  Never stretch my limbs in the sunshine or feel the mountain air
upon my face.  Never hear the wind in the corn, or listen to the soft
falling of the pine-needles in the woods.  Dimbie, that night has left
its mark upon my brow, I fear.  I felt as though I had been seared with
a hot iron.  I quivered when they touched me--Peter, mother,
Amelia--they all came to me, and I cried, 'Leave me, leave me!'"

With a passionate movement Dimbie made to speak, but I laid my fingers
on his lips.

"Wait," I said.  "Hush, dear.  I don't feel unhappy now, that has all
gone, you have sent it away.  For above all my grief there was a sorrow
which was a thousand-fold more keen, more bitter.  I doubted you.  I
doubted your love, and I did not in my mind reproach you, Dimbie.  'He
is young and strong,' I cried, 'and I am a cripple.  He cannot spend
the remainder of his life with a hopeless invalid.  Nature demands a
healthy mate.  I cannot expect him to be faithful to me.'

"But, oh, I felt I could not give you up!  I loved you so.  You were
_my_ husband.  No other woman should have you.  And--I looked at my
face.  It is a little pitiful when a woman comes to look at her face, I
think.  Is it the men's fault, I wonder?  Ah, and what the mirror told
me!  I put it from me, and I laughed mirthlessly.  'That will never
hold him,' I said, and so I drew nearer and nearer to my Gethsemane and
my cup was wellnigh full.  And--then you came, and I woke as from a
hideous nightmare; my sorrow and pain and anxiety fell from me like an
old worn-out cloak.  Dimbie, Dimbie, do you know how you smiled?  In
that dear crooked, whimsical, and most loving smile lay a woman's
heaven--a heaven upon earth--and without you she wants no other
paradise."

Dimbie's arms were around me as I finished.  His tears fell upon my
face, but he did not speak.  In each other's arms we lay, wrapped
around by the still, warm, scented night, and the silence was more
beautiful than words.  Later on, when he carried me to bed, he knelt
down and said--

"I thank Thee for my most precious wife, O Lord, so much more precious
now that she is--she is--brok----"  He paused, and, getting up, went
quietly out of the room.



CHAPTER XIX

WE INHERIT A FORTUNE


I have done with sadness forever.

Who could be sad on an afternoon such as this?  Is the witchery of
spring with us once more? we ask; for it has rained for a week, and now
every faded green thing--leaf and grass and hedges--are chortling with
pride over their fresh, bright raiment.  They are as maidens of fifteen
mincing in their new frocks.

The roses are holding up their heads and inviting you to bury your face
in the heart of their sweetness where some raindrops still remain.  You
gladly do as you are bidden, and Amelia, who has brought them to you,
thinks you are an eccentric creature to go sighing and sniffing and
kissing their wet petals in such sentimental fashion.

"The sweetest flower that blows," you sing, and she says they are
nothing of the kind, that "vi'lets take the cake."

"The master will be home at half-past four," you tell her, and she says
you have mentioned this fact at least half a dozen times.

"Only twice, Amelia," I say.  "You should learn to speak the truth."
And she steps deliberately on to the tortoise, which lies on the grass,
in order to teach me that I may allow it to stray once too often.  I
tell her I am sorry, and she suggests that I should tie it round my
neck suspended from a ribbon, and people might take it for an enlarged
miniature of one of my relations.

I ignore her remark, and watch a thrush who is having a succulent feast
of worms after the rain.  I wonder at the worms being so easily
deceived as to imagine that the stamping of the thrush's small feet is
an earthquake, bringing them out of their burrows with a run.

"Miniatures are fashionable," she continues.

I am still engrossed in the thrush.

"That one of you in the drawing-room is not bad, but a bit flattering."

"Miniature of me?" I say lazily, refusing to be interested in Amelia's
conversation.  "I have never had a miniature painted in my life.  The
one to which you are referring is the master's great-aunt, painted when
she was a girl."

She walks on high, sloping heels to the house with her head well up.

In about two minutes she returns with ill-concealed triumph written on
her face, and places a portrait of myself on my knees.  In surprise I
pick it up and examine it closely.  Yes, it is I, and--my heart
contracts painfully as I look at it.  Have I that expression in my
eyes--now?  Surely not.  I put it down hastily, as Amelia is watching
me.

"Don't you like it, mum?  I shouldn't be disappointed if it was my
portrait.  Not but what I thinks it flatters you.  The master was
starin' at it for half an hour this morning--never touched his
breakfast, and it was a fried sole, too."

I picked up a book.  "It's not bad," I say carelessly.  "Will you go to
the village, Amelia, and bring me some bull's-eyes--hot, pepperminty
ones.  The master is very fond of bull's-eyes, and so am I."  I evaded
her glance and searched for my purse.

"It's in your pocket, mum.  I stitched one in last night after you had
gone to bed.  Second seam, right-hand side.  The house was being that
neglected while I was lookin' for things--purses and tortises--that I
took the liberty, mum."

Now I own to feeling excessively annoyed with Amelia.  I had
particularly requested her not to stitch a pocket on to me--anywhere,
and she had disobeyed me.  I had wondered what the hard, knobly thing I
was lying upon could be.  It was my own purse.  I should not search the
second right-hand seam.  Amelia must be shown that she could not
disobey my commands with impunity.

I read my book carefully, and turned its pages assiduously.

"I am waiting for the money, mum."  This in an injured voice.

"There is some in the jewel drawer in my dressing-table," I said
distantly.  "And bring me my _crêpe de chine_ gown, and kindly remove
the pocket from this one to-night."

Amelia's prolonged stare almost broke down my gravity.

"Why, you're holding your book upside down!"

"And what if I am?" I retorted.  "If I choose to read a book upside
down that is no concern of yours.  Kindly go."

I smiled as she walked slowly to the house.  She was a very good girl,
but must be kept in her place.

She was back in a minute.

"Here's your money, mum, and did you mean your grand new lavender gown
which your moth--I mean Mrs. Macintosh--sent you?"

"That is what I meant," I said.

"But it's like a bit of spider's web."  She held it at arm's-length.
"It's that delikit and lovely, you'll crush it to pieces."

"That is your fault," I said quietly.  "You have debarred me from
wearing the other till the pocket is removed.  Now help me, please."

With dexterous hands she got me out of one gown and into the other, but
I was tired and spent when she had finished.

"You look like a pichir with your gold hair, mum, though it's not so
bright as it was.  Lavender wouldn't suit me, now, scarlet's my colour,
but----" she broke off with a cry.

"Whatever's the matter now?" I asked.

"There's a pocket in _this_ one, mum," she gasped, pointing to a gaping
seam.

I looked and said nothing.

"Dressmakers is but human, mum.  'Ow was they to know that you had a
prejudice against----"

"Amelia, _will_ you hush," I almost shouted.  "I am so tired of your
talking so much.  Go and buy the bull's-eyes."

"Will you have this gown off first?" she asked placidly.

"No, I won't.  I am not a load of hay to be pitched about from pillar
to post.  And my gowns are not legion."

"There's the white serge, and the black heolian, and----"

"Amelia," I said, "if you don't go away I shall ring the tortoise for
help--help from a stranger passing down the lane.  I am a pestered,
servant-driven creature, and I require as much help as a drowning man."

And she went without another word to me, but muttering softly to
herself, of which I caught a word or two: "Moidered with the heat!
Poor thing, I have known as sunstroke----" &c., &c.  She disappeared
round the broom bush, and I laughed more than I have done for many days.

      *      *      *      *      *

Dimbie brought great news with him.  He flung himself down upon the
grass, tilted back his hat, wiped his brow, and said--

"I have retired from business, Marg."

"Well, that doesn't make sitting upon the damp grass an act to be
commended," I said severely.

An amused giggle came from behind me.  It was Amelia crossing the lawn
with a lettuce in her hand.

"I thought you were getting tea."

"So I am, mum.  This here lettuce is for it, and I just catched what
the master said, 'Retired from business!'"  She put her hands to her
hips.  "I'm thinkin' there'll be a power more work to do now two for
lunch and two for tea hevery day.  And the master, beggin' his pardon,
will be makin' more mess with his tobacco ash than ever.  It lies about
the carpets like bone manure on a flower-bed."

She continued her walk to the house, brandishing the lettuce and
squeaking with emotion, without giving us time to reply.

"Amelia is like a jack-in-the-box.  She seems to spring from nowhere,"
said Dimbie depressedly.

"Well, never mind.  Go on with what you were saying, and get up from
the grass, it's very damp, and you are sitting on a multitude of
worm-hills."

"Give me the end of the couch, then.  Tuck up your toes.  Did you hear
what I said?  I have retired from business.  I have done with the Stock
Exchange forever, Marg."

"This then, I suppose, will be our last meal.  We have no private
means."

"I will feed you on oysters and champagne!"

"Bread-fruit and yams, more likely, on a desert island, where you can
obtain food for nothing."

"Marg, I am worth £3,000 a year," he said gravely, and with suppressed
eagerness.

I looked at him anxiously.

"Sunstroke too," I murmured.

"Do you hear?  I am worth £3,000 a year.  I can give you everything you
want."

He raised his voice excitedly.  And of course Amelia, who was bringing
tea, tipped the hot-water jug over, and in endeavouring to catch it
dropped the tray, and then sat down among the ruins and began to weep.

"Don't be a fool!" said Dimbie.  "Get up! it doesn't matter."

But Amelia remained rooted to the ground, sobbing her heart out.

"I shan't leave, I _shan't_ go," she wailed at length, looking at me as
though I were contradicting her.

"Of course you won't," I agreed.  "It's not the best china.  It doesn't
matter the least little bit in the world, Amelia."

"Oh, I don't mean that, mum.  I mean that if the master's got £3,000 a
year--I couldn't help hearin'--there'll be no room for Amelia Cockles.
You won't want me.  You'll keep cook, kitchenmaid, housemaid,
parlour-maid, butler, boots, and have hentries, hoary-doves,
cheese-straws, low dresses, and dessert every day of the week."

She reeled this off without apparently drawing breath, and I too was
breathless at the contemplation of such a truly awful prospect.

"Never!" I said.

She looked incredulous.

"Never!" I repeated.

She sat up on her heels and began to collect the broken pieces and pick
up the bread and butter.

"And were I ever to indulge--I mean saddle myself with the retinue of
servants you mention--there would always be room for you, Amelia."

"Thank you, mum," she sobbed, while eating a piece of sandy cake in
complete unconsciousness.

"You could be mistress of the robes," said Dimbie cheeringly.

Her sniffs became less frequent.

"You could be lady's maid," I said.  "But no pockets, Amelia.  You
understand."

She gave a watery smile.

"I could find the tortis and brush your hair all day long, mum."

"Thank you," I said; "and would you let me wear plaits?"

She hesitated, and then, like the boy who stood on the burning deck,
remained faithful to duty.

"People might call."

"And if they did?"

"Plaits is only proper for little girls and in bedrooms--I don't like
them there,--but if the master doesn't mind _I_ don't."

Dimbie broke into roars.

"Go and get some more tea," I commanded, "and make haste."

"She's a good, faithful soul," said Dimbie when she had gone, "and we
won't part with her."

"Part with her!" I repeated in astonishment.  "I should think not
indeed.  Why, if Amelia were to go I should be lost; and I should not
only lose myself, but the tortoise, my purse--everything I possess.
She is my guide, my comforter, my solace in my lonely hours, and tells
me entrancing stories about the Tompkinses.  I could not do without
Amelia."

"And yet I don't know how she would agree with other servants."

"Dimbie, dear," I said petulantly, "don't joke any longer.  I don't
feel like joking and Amelia dropping trays; they upset my silly nerves."

"I am not joking," he returned slowly.  "Aunt Letitia has left me all
her money.  She has lived simply, almost niggardly, the last few years,
poor old lady.  The money has been accumulating at compound interest,
and we shall have an income of £3,000 a year and a house in Yorkshire.
What do you think of that, Marguerite?"

He put an arm around me and laughed like a happy schoolboy.

"We shall be able to buy you everything you want.  We will take a house
by the sea, in the mountains, in the heart of one of your dearly-loved
pine woods--wherever you wish it, my princess.  You've only to hold up
your little finger and your desire shall be gratified.  We'll bring the
roses back to your pale cheeks in a more bracing climate.  You might
even--get well--nearly well.  This garden is too small and hot.  Now
isn't it?"

"I love it better than any other spot in the world," I said earnestly.

He looked at me with disappointment chasing across his face.

Quickly I said, "Dimbie, dear, I am delighted at your good luck.  It
will be too beautiful to have plenty of money.  I can hardly believe it
yet.  It seems too good to be true.  And I think you deserve every
little bit of it.  You have been to Aunt Letitia more than a son.
But--you won't take me away from here just yet.  I--I don't want to go."

"You don't want to go to a jolly big house with nice grounds and smooth
lawns?"

"What lawn could be smoother than ours?  It is like velvet."

He smiled.

"But it's only the size of a----"

"It's big enough to hold the apple tree and me," I interrupted.

"You shall have grand chestnuts, wind-torn oaks, and sit under a
weeping willow in our new garden."

"I want to sit under my own apple tree," I said querulously.

He surveyed it disdainfully.

"It is so beautifully gnarled and old."  I disregarded the look.  "And
you see it has seven apples on it, and I believe they are going to be
red."

"We shall be able to use them for cider, perhaps."  His voice was
mocking.

"And I don't want to leave the ants; they're so interesting."

"I suppose no other garden contains ants?"

"And look at the roses!  Have you ever seen trees bloom more freely?"

"Roses--in England--are, of course, extremely rare."

"Dimbie," I said, "if you mock me again I shall----"

"Kiss me, sweetheart," and he held his face to mine.

"I shall not kiss you until you promise faithfully you will not
transplant me to another garden.  I--I don't want to go yet awhile,
Dimbie."

"But what shall we do with our money?  There is nothing to spend it on
here," he argued.

"Oh, I could soon run through it, given the opportunity.  I should
first of all buy new shoes for Amelia--lovely, respectable, black, kid
shoes, with neat bows and low heels."

"Would they cost seven and sixpence?" he asked ironically.

"Quite," I returned gravely.

He walked up and down the lawn impatiently.

"But tell me why," he said after a time, standing still in front of me,
"why, Marguerite, my poor white daisy, you are so anxious to remain
here?"

"Because----"  I paused.  Ah, no, I must not tell him _yet_; it is not
time.  Besides, after all, it may only be my foolish fancy.  "Because,"
I continued, "to take me away from the garden that I love, from our
pretty cottage, would be to tear out my heart-strings.  Perhaps you
will think it sentiment, Dimbie, but I want to finish our year
here--our wonderful year.  Into the branches and green lace-work of the
trees, into the dewy grass, into the sweet-peas and roses, into the
beech--which is always so kind and friendly--into the frog-pond, and,
above all, into our much-loved apple tree, are woven a thousand
beautiful associations and memories.  The memories, you will say, will
remain with us, be with us wherever we go; but they are not yet
complete.  This is only August.  We have four months left to finish our
year.  Into those four months may be crowded much happiness, much
simple, quiet joy, and the storehouse of our 'looking back' will be
full to the brim and running over.  Let us finish our year here--you
and I and Amelia--and then----"

I turned away to hide my face.

"And then----?"

"Why then," I said softly, "I will do whatever is required of me."

He sat down beside me.

"Your will will always be mine, Marguerite."

[Illustration: YOUR WILL WILL ALWAYS BE MINE, MARGUERITE.]

I shook my head.

"You and everybody will turn me into the most selfish creature that
ever breathed if I let you have your way."

"And why not?  There is not very much left to you now."  His voice was
a little bitter, and a shadow crept across his face.

"Hush!" I said.  "I have nearly everything a girl could possibly
want--husband, home, friends, and now riches.  Why," I continued,
trying to divert his thoughts, "why didn't you tell me your most
important news on the day you returned home?  Didn't you know?"

"Yes, I knew.  The will was read after the funeral.  I was going to
tell you.  I kept it as a _bonne-bouche_ till the night fell, and then
there was your news----"

He broke off and did not finish.

"Afterwards," he said a little later, "I waited till my right to the
money was confirmed.  My mother was inclined to dispute it.  She was
Aunt Letitia's only sister, and considered she had the first claim,
though she had not been to see her for years.  Yorkshire was too dull
for her after the gaieties of London.  Still, she seemed to think the
money was hers by right."  He slowly dissected a sweet-pea.  "I hope
never again to see such a look on any woman's face as was on my
mother's when the will was being read.  It was very ugly and--sad.
Poor mother, she has missed the best things of life."  He sighed
deeply.  Amelia's voice singing "I wouldn't leave my little wooden hut"
came through the pantry window.

"She too is evidently of the same opinion as I," I said, smiling.  "She
doesn't want to leave."

"You are in collusion, that is quite clear.  Two women are too much for
any one man, especially when one of the women is an Amelia.  We will
stay here and see the old year out, Marg.  Your wishes are but
commands.  What is your desire now, my princess--to be wheeled nearer
the sweet-peas?"  He stroked my cheek lovingly.

"Was there ever a husband like mine?" I asked myself.  And aloud, "Go
and tell Amelia to sing less loudly, and inquire of her the size in
shoes she takes."



CHAPTER XX

PROFESSOR LEIGHRAIL PAYS US A CALL


The afternoon was waning, and Dimbie and I were beginning to wake up
and trying to ignore the fact that Amelia was watching us through the
ever useful point of vantage, the pantry window, when Professor
Leighrail drifted through the gate, round the broom bush, and stood
staring at the cottage.

That he hadn't seen us in the profound shade cast by the apple tree was
evident from his not too polite remark addressed to the cottage--

"Worse than I imagined--an overgrown pest-house!"

We laughed aloud, and he walked to us with outstretched hands.  His
dress attracted my immediate attention, as it was a little
unusual--black cloth trousers, white linen coat, large, badly-fitting,
brown shoes with different coloured laces, and a top hat.  The last he
removed with a flourish, and his first observation seemed
characteristic of the little I knew of him.

"Guessed I should find you like this, still playing at Romeo and
Juliet, and you look," he put on a pair of spectacles, "you look,
seated against that background of gnarled old branches, just as
foolishly sentimental and happy as any young couple _could_ look."  He
did not wait for any reply, but rattled on.  "I found you without the
slightest trouble.  I knew I should."

"Pine Tree Valley is not a large--"

"Certainly not," he interrupted, "but had it been a town and not a
village, I should have found you just as easily.  I said to a
villager--man in corduroys--'Where is the residence of a lady and
gentleman who smile, who live on sunshine and walk on air?'"

"And did he understand you?" we asked, determined _not_ to smile.

"Certainly, I spoke quite clearly.  He reflected for a moment,
scratched his head, and said, 'First turning to the right, One Tree
Cottage.'  'That is correct,' I said.  'One Tree Cottage is the foolish
and fantastic name they mentioned to me, now I come to think of it.'
So you see here I am, and I must say that you and your cottage are
worse than I anticipated."

"Worse!" Dimbie ejaculated.

"Yes, you and your wife are still at it, the love-making.  I thought
you would be getting over it by now.  And your cottage--isn't it below
the sea level?  It looks to me as though it might have been built on
drained marsh land, originally a swamp."  He spoke in the same
cheerful, detached manner as when he first scraped acquaintance with us
in the wood.

"We are two hundred feet above the level of the sea," said Dimbie with
as much pride as if he had had a hand in the manufacture of the earth's
surface.  "A valley does not necessarily mean below the sea level, as
you must know."

The Professor laughed.

"But isn't it extremely damp and insanitary, covered over with that
weed?"

"That weed is clematis."

"Oh!" said the Professor.  "I should root it up, all the same."

"But Marg--my wife and I almost took the cottage on the strength of it."

"A foolish reason.  Did you look into your drains, young man?"

"Amelia does that," I broke in.  "You know she has a drain-bamboo."

"Of course, I remember.  Very sensible of Amelia, most sensible.  Where
is she?"

"On the pantry table."

"A curious place to sit."

"She has the best view of us from there."

He smiled.

"I like servants to be interested in their master and mistress."

"She is _very_ interested in us," I said.

"I should like to see this young person, and I should like to see your
drains.  Are they trapped?"

We both remained silent.

"I will have a look at them, if you don't mind."

Dimbie rose.

"No, I want Mrs. Smiling Face.  Women ought to know more about the
arrangements of their homes than men."

He offered me his hand.

I looked helplessly at Dimbie.  It was so difficult to speak, to tell
him.  My voice still had an annoying habit of breaking when I was
trying my hardest to refer to my--sorrow in a cheerful, careless
fashion.  The tears did not come, but--there was always the break.  I
would be telling Amelia she might have my waterproof, as I should never
require it again.  I would start quite bravely, then would come the
catch.  Will it always be so, I wonder?  Shall I never become quite
calm and indifferent?  It is eleven days since Dimbie came home--a rich
man--full of his good news.  Eleven days he has spent with me, and
never once have we spoken of the cross we are called upon to bear, for
it is Dimbie's cross as much as mine.  Are we wise to put it behind us
thus?  Should we not feel it less if we bravely discussed it?  And yet
it is my doing.  It is I who willed it so, I who bade Dimbie never to
speak of it, and now I am almost sorry.  Somehow it seems as though the
silence makes it harder to bear.  Our skeleton becomes more of a
skeleton.  Perhaps if we were to discuss it freely, frankly, we should
begin to regard it in the same way as one regards a smoky chimney--as
tiresome, annoying, but bearable if the windows are kept open to let in
the fresh air.  Our windows left wide would let in a great deal of
happiness--love, comradeship, the pleasure of friends, the interest of
books, the everlasting joy of Nature.  I must ask Dimbie what he
thinks.  Dimbie always knows what is right.

In a few brief words he explained to Professor Leighrail that I was a
prisoner to my couch, and that _he_ must conduct him to the house.  The
Professor started as though to offer me words of sympathy, and then
stopped.  Simply taking my hand in his he pressed it gently, and then
followed Dimbie into the house.

"That was nice of him," I thought.  "I wish Nanty was here that they
might renew their old friendship.  Perhaps they--but no," I laughed,
"they are a little old, and--Nanty hates men."

Amelia bore down upon me with intense excitement.

"That gentleman has got his coat off, and he's poking about the drains
with _my_ bamboo."

"It just shows how prepared you were for any emergency, Amelia," I said
sympathetically.

She looked at me out of the corner of her eye.  I never knew anyone's
eyes capable of turning back so far.  "Like a halibut's," I murmured.
They instantly became straight.

"What did you say, mum?"

"Nothing," I replied gently.  "I sometimes think aloud."

"Yes," she said, in a tone which suggested she wished I wouldn't.

"Is he a sanitary inspector, mum?"

"Who?"

"The gentleman who's doin' the drains."

"No, certainly not.  He's one of the greatest and cleverest men in
England, and--he killed his mother."

Amelia looked incredulous.

"He'd have been hung if he'd done that, mum--hung by the neck till he
was dead."

My servant is painfully dramatic on occasions.

"It was an accident," I hastened to explain.  I was afraid she might
lock the Professor in the cistern-room, or some other dark and unholy
place.  "He was driving an aerodrome.  An aerodrome is----" but Amelia
was not in the least interested in my explanation.

"What's he examining the drains for?"

"He is afraid we shall be down with typhoid."

Amelia jumped into the air and dropped with a thud on to her now
decently flat-heeled shoes.

"Tompkinses' grandfather died of typhus."

"On the maternal side?" I asked affably.

She took no notice of my question.

"He lay for twelve weeks."

"Well, that was better than standing," I said.  She resumed her
halibut-eyed expression, and--left me.

Presently I heard her in strident-voiced conversation with the
Professor.  I could not hear what they said, but they appeared to be
very much in earnest.

Dimbie came out smiling.

"One is seated on the back kitchen table, and the other is working away
at the sink with the bamboo.  It seems a nasty job, but they appear to
be very happy."

"Which is doing the work?"

"Amelia.  The Professor wanted to, but she snatched the implement from
him."

"Well, are we to be down with typhoid, or is there any chance of our
escaping?"

Dimbie sat down.

"He doesn't know yet, but he is hoping for the best.  He's a queer old
cock, but I like him immensely."

"So do I," I agreed.  "I wish Nanty would come."

It very rarely happens that one's wishes are instantly granted, but in
this particular case my fairy godmother was in a generous mood, for as
I spoke Nanty's carriage drew up at the gate, and she swept down the
path and across the lawn just as the Professor emerged from the house
brandishing in his right hand the drain-bamboo.

Now that Nanty should, after a lapse of nearly thirty years, meet her
old friend Professor Leighrail armed with a drain-bamboo would appear
to be a situation very far removed from romance.  But to me it seemed a
most delightful and natural proceeding, for Nanty would no doubt
remember that her one time lover was, to say the least of it, a little
eccentric in his habits.  And Professor Leighrail would equally
remember that Nanty with her broad outlook on life was not easily
shocked.  Did I say "broad outlook"?  I withdraw it, for Nanty with her
hard and narrow views of the genus man is anything but broad in one
respect.  Even her more intimate knowledge of Dimbie has not converted
her, and Peter pronounces her as "pig-headed."

Anyway, her meeting with the Professor left her quite calm and
unruffled, while he, poor man, because he _was_ a man, mopped his brow
and dropped the bamboo on to the grass as though it had been a live
snake.

I had omitted to tell Dimbie of their former relationship, and he now
stood and stared at them in the same way that Amelia stares at me when
I am gone, as she terms it, "a bit dotty."

Nanty dropped gracefully into a wicker basket-chair, and settled her
mauve taffeta gown comfortably and elegantly.  The Professor with his
big shoes and linen coat cut a poor figure beside her.

"Nanty and Professor Leighrail used to know one another," I explained
to Dimbie.

"It was a very long time ago, when we were young.  I won't say how
long, because the Professor might not like it," said Nanty calmly.

Here was an opening for the Professor to say something gallant, "That
_she_ was not altered in the least, that only _he_ had grown old," but
he did not take it.  The Professor is not a party man.  He stared at
the bamboo and said nothing.  Was he thinking of the days when Nanty
stood to him for everything adorable in woman, or was he thinking of
his lost Amabella?  Can the woman you have married entirely efface your
memory of the other woman you wished to marry?  And Nanty.  She had
started and seemed distressed when I told her of the Professor's
loneliness, of his unkempt appearance.  She was downright cross when I
mentioned his ballooning, she had said it was a dangerous game.  She
had also said she had been a fool not to marry him, and she supposed
that he had grown very fond of Amabella.  Now she sat sphinx-like, with
a little smile on her lips and her hands folded on her lap.  The
Professor might have been a casual acquaintance she had met the day
before.  I longed for strength to get up and shake her.

Dimbie recognised that the Professor was in trouble.  His embarrassment
and awkwardness, not to mention silence, were only too evident.
Manlike he came to the help of man.  He plied him with questions about
the drains.  He did not understand why the Professor _should_ be
awkward and embarrassed, though vaguely he felt it had something to do
with the presence of Nanty; but whatever the cause, he knew that the
Professor required gentle assistance, and to give this assistance he
must get him on one of his own pet subjects, either drains,
over-eating, or balloons.  He selected drains.  He picked up the bamboo
to attract the Professor's attention, and asked him how long he gave us.

"Give you?" said the Professor, looking a little dazed.

"Before we are down with typhoid."  Dimbie was quite grave.

"Oh, that depends on how much or how little you flush your drains."
The Professor was equally grave.

"What do you recommend us to use?"

"Condy's fluid, or any other good disinfectant."  The Professor was now
becoming interested.

"Chloride of lime is cheapest," chipped in Amelia excitedly.  Under the
pretext of rescuing her drain-bamboo she had joined the party, and when
I tried to catch her eye to inform her that her services were not
required her eye steadily refused to be caught.

"Quite right," said the Professor, "chloride of lime _is_ the cheapest."

"Tompkinses always used it; their drains was always beautiful, that
sweet and fresh you could have eaten your dinner in 'em."

Dimbie now tried to catch her eye, but she still wouldn't be caught.

"Amelia," I said gently.

She became deaf as well as blind.

"The Tompkinses set a good example which all householders might follow
with great advantage to themselves.  It is simply suicidal"--the
Professor had now quite forgotten Nanty--"it is simply suicidal the
manner in which they neglect their drains, ignore their drains.  And
their ignorance on drains is usually colossal, only exceeded by the
ignorance and stupidity of the men who lay them.  I quite expected to
find your main drain running beneath your drawing-room.

"You almost seem disappointed that it isn't," I said.

He smiled.

"Do you know where it is?"

"No--o."

"Do you know where your gas-meter is?"

"We haven't one, we use lamps and candles."

"Ah, well, you wouldn't know if you had.  Women never know these
things."  He spoke despondently.

"I am not overwhelmed at our ignorance," I said laughing.  "I don't see
why we should know.  Surely the knowledge of gas and water is a man's
business?"

"I do not agree with you at all."  He spoke with extreme rapidity.
"Women use them as much as men, they should therefore understand
something of their working."

"Do you know where the pearl buttons for your flannel shirt are kept?"
I asked quietly.

Dimbie suppressed a chuckle.

"I didn't know I used them."

"How do you suppose your shirt remains fastened?  At the present moment
the button on your left wrist-band is cracked across the centre.  You
must replace it with a new one on your return home."

The Professor laughed good-humouredly.

"You had me there," he said.

"They always have us," quoth Dimbie.  "Haven't you found it so?"

The Professor stole a sly glance at Nanty.

"Not always," he said softly.

He was evidently recovering from his embarrassment by leaps and bounds.

A smile flickered across Nanty's lips.  She did not return the look,
but she unbent ever so little.

"What do _you_ think of women, Professor?  You have told us what you
think about drains and creeper-covered cottages, let us have your
opinion of the fair sex."  Dimbie looked wicked.  With unusual
perspicacity he smelt a rat, and now he meant to run it to earth.

"What do I think of women!  I--I--" (the Professor was now undoubtedly
flurried) "I don't think anything of them."

"That is a little rude and unkind of you," I said.

"Eh, what?"

"That you should not think anything of them.  Are they so very
unworthy?"

The poor man looked worried.

"I--I think I must go now."

"No, don't go," I pleaded.  "Do stay to supper.  We do so want to hear
your views upon women.  We so often hear them upon men" (I glanced at
Nanty) "that it will be quite refreshing to have a change."

"And--what are the views you hear upon men?"  He also looked at Nanty.

"That they are all bad."

He laughed.

"And--_I_ think women are all good," at which he bolted across the
garden, called a good-bye, raised his hat, and disappeared through the
gate.

"That is the thinnest man I have ever seen," said Nanty somewhat
unromantically.

"I don't think he gets enough to eat."

She started.

"Housekeepers are poor sort of creatures--selfish, thoughtless,
heartless," I generalised, not having known one.

Nanty looked at the sweet-peas.

"I am sure he is often hungry."

She started again, and getting up from her seat walked across the lawn
and back to me.

"Where does he live?" she asked abruptly.

"The Grey House, Esher.  Why do you want to know?"

"Oh--just curiosity."

"Perhaps you might ask him to tea?" I suggested.

"I don't ask men to tea," she said crossly, picking up a newspaper and
beginning to read.

"Visitors don't usually read."

"Humph!"

"While you read I'll think," and I fell into a reverie, weaving many
pleasant fancies, in which, strange to say, Nanty and the Professor
were always the central figures.

By and by she looked up.

"Of what are you thinking and smiling?"

"Of--marriage and love."

"A foolish thought, and you cannot put the two together."

"No?"

"_No_!" said Nanty decisively.



CHAPTER XXI

JANE FAIRBROTHER'S IMPENDING VISIT


"All's right with the world."  The long-looked-for letter from Miss
Fairbrother has arrived, and she is coming to stay with us.  I read out
the good news to Dimbie exultantly and most happily:--


"'LITTLE OLD PUPIL,--Shall I be glad to come to you?  Why my pulses
quicken at the very thought, and my heart sings when I contemplate the
quiet joy of sitting in an English garden--a little green garden under
an apple tree with Marguerite Westover.  Kipling says: "O the oont, O
the oont, O the Gawd-forsaken oont!"  But I cry, "O the heat, O the
heat, O the hellish, burning heat!" and I conjure up before my
sun-tired eyes a vision of wondrous golden cornfields, ripening
blackberries, leaves turning to crimson and russet, dewy, hazy mornings
and over all the soft, mellow September sunshine--for it will be
September, that sweetest of English months, when I arrive.

"'Everything I have to say to you must wait till I am at One Tree
Cottage.  Of your accident and suffering I cannot write, but you will
know--knowing me a little--what I feel for you.  But take heart.
Twelve months will not pass quickly at your age.  Time tarries only for
the young it would seem, when for the old--who would have it linger--it
flies all too quickly.  But the months _will_ pass.  Think, Marguerite,
if it had been for life!'  (This I did not read to Dimbie, I feared my
voice, for it still breaks.)  'As it is, you will get stronger each
month.  And then a day will come when I shall take you for your first
walk, if I am anywhere near you, through the stately pine trees you
loved so much as a child.  Do you still love them?  But, ah, I
forgot--Mr. Dimbie will be there to take you.  There will always be a
husband now, tiresome man!  Forgive me, but I want to step back to the
dear old days when I had my little pupil all to myself.

"Till the fifteenth of September good-bye.  I shall, on reaching
London, travel straight to Pine Tree Valley.  It is so good of you to
ask me, and much _gooder_ of your husband.

"'Always your affectionate,
  "'JANE FAIRBROTHER.'"


I smiled up at Dimbie, who was leaning over me, but there was no
response.  On his face there was an expression I had never seen before.
He avoided my eyes and walked across to the window.

"She seems a silly, sentimental woman," he pronounced curtly.  "I can't
bear people who gush."  And he marched out of the room and shut the
door with a bang.

For a moment I wondered whatever was the matter.  Then it dawned upon
me that he was jealous, and I laughed softly to myself.  "Dear Dimbie,
goose, that you should be jealous of anyone, when I'm--I'm--no use now,
makes me absurdly happy, ridiculously puffed up with pride and----"

Dimbie was back.

"Will that woman have meals with us?"

"Where else could she have them?" I asked.

"Couldn't she have them in the kitchen with Amelia?"

"With Amelia?  Miss Fairbrother is the daughter of----"

"I don't care if she is the daughter of an archbishop," he interrupted
with extreme gloom.  "I am not going to have her always messing round."

"She won't mess round.  Miss Fairbrother is not that sort of person."

"You are prejudiced.  You see her through the rose-coloured spectacles
of time.  It is eight years since you met.  Probably she has
degenerated into a prig."  He threw himself on to the bottom of the bed.

"Should I be mistaken in my estimation of Miss Fairbrother, and she
prove to be a prig, she shall leave within a week.  I promise you that."

"How are you going to get rid of her?" He spoke eagerly.

"Why, I _do_ believe you hope she will be one."

"Oh, I don't say that!"

"But you'll want her to go all the same?"

"Yes," he returned brazenly, "I shall.  She'll go and spoil everything,
I know.  I was a fool to suggest her coming; but you seemed such dead
nuts on her.  Our pleasant afternoons in the garden will be spoiled.
All our jolly talks and reading aloud and suppers under the apple tree
will be at an end----"

"But she can have talks and supper under the apple tree with us.
There'll be plenty of room for three," I interrupted.

"And that's just what there won't be.  I'll see to that," almost
shouted Dimbie in a manner very similar to Peter, I am ashamed to say.

"Are you going to be rude to Miss Fairbrother?"

"Yes, very rude."

"Very well, then, I'll cable to stop her."

"Where are you going to cable--she sailed more than a month ago--why
she'll be here this week!" springing up.

"Of course," I returned.  "Have you only just found that out?  Amelia
is already airing the best drawn-thread linen sheets."

"Then what did you mean by saying you'd cable?"

"I meant I would wire on her arrival."

"But she said she was coming straight here.  You can't wire."  He
groaned.  "Oh, Marg, Marg, what _shall_ we do?"

"Do?" I cried impatiently.  "You talk as though Miss Fairbrother were a
perfect gorgon, instead of the sweetest and best woman in the world."

"That's just it."  He wiped his forehead.  "I don't like best women; I
like 'em ordinary.  In fact, I don't like them at all--no one but you."

"That is exactly the way Peter talks."

"I don't care.  There are worse people in the world than Peter.  Look
what we're going to have planked on to us for weeks--months even."

"Hand me my desk!" I commanded in a patient voice.

"What do you want it for?"

"To write a telegram form for Amelia to take at once.  It will be given
to Miss Fairbrother on the boat when it arrives, I should imagine.
Anyway, I will try it.  She must be stopped from coming at any price."

"It's no good wiring till the boat is due."

"I don't know when it is due.  Please pass me my desk."

"We'd better go through with it."

"Hand me my desk."

"Shan't!  Let the infernal woman come and be done with it!"

With which exceedingly ungallant remark my husband again stumped out of
the room, and again I lay and laughed and kissed the ugliest photo' of
him in my possession, for which I have an unaccountable liking.

And so to-day I have lived more or less under a cloud--a cloud in the
shape of a lowering frown on Dimbie's face.  But I care not.  I know
most assuredly that it will disappear as Jane Fairbrother walks through
the gate.  He will like Miss Fairbrother, or Jane, as I always think of
her now.  He will not be able to help it.  And into our days Jane will
bring outside interests, a fresh, breezy atmosphere, new thoughts, new
ideas, which I know will be good for both of us.  Most fearful am I of
becoming a self-centred invalid, thinking of myself only, of my
ailments, of my weariness, of my sometimes suffering.

And if I am afraid for myself, still more desperately afraid am I of
the _invalid_ atmosphere for Dimbie.  "It is not natural," my heart
cries out, "that a man young and strong should be the silent witness of
everlasting helplessness and weariness."  When I am pretty well and
able to be interested in all that goes on around me, and can smile and
be happy, it matters not for him; but, oh, the days when I am too tired
to do anything but lie with my eyes closed!  And the nights, the long,
long nights, when I am too restless to do anything but keep them wide
open; when my head tosses and moves restlessly from one side of the
pillow to the other, and when I long with an unspeakable longing to be
able to move my helpless body in unison!  That is not good for Dimbie
to see; it cannot be good.  He will stretch out strong, cool hands and
gently lift me on to my side, or turn my pillow, or hold a cooling
drink to my thirsty lips.  He will speak cheerfully, he will even try
to find a joking word; but, oh, the heartache that must be his, the
weary heartache!  And some day--as yet perhaps the burden is not too
heavy, the yoke not too galling, because out of his great love for me
he has learnt a great patience; but will not the day come when the
burden _will_ be too heavy, when he will falter or faint by the
wayside?  "O God, take me before that," I whisper out of the darkness,
"take me before he gets tired of me!"

And so I look for the coming of Jane with a great thankfulness.  The
days in the garden, which I have feared will become long and monotonous
to Dimbie, will be shared by one who, as I remember her with her vivid
personality, was always engaging and interesting.  I have searched the
papers for the shipping intelligence, and for the date upon which the
good steamship _Irrawaddy_ is due.  I have looked up every possible
train by which she could come down to Pine Tree Valley.  The spare
room, Amelia tells me, is fit for the habitation of the Queen of
England.  And it _is_ a pretty room, with its Indian matting floor
coverings, soft green walls and rugs, wide, old-fashioned windows
through which a white rose peeps, and airy, silken casement curtains.
It seems a long time since I was in that room.  Some day, perhaps, if I
should get stronger, I will persuade Dimbie and Amelia to carry me
upstairs, and it will be like exploring a long-forgotten country.  That
Amelia has flattened every piece of furniture (as much as you _can_
flatten washstands and wardrobes) against the walls I feel pretty
certain.  She objects to corners and pretty angles disturbing her
visual horizon.  She likes furniture to be neat and orderly and placed
like soldiers in a row.  She looks at my bed, which I insist upon
having in the window, and sighs heavily.  I can see her fingers itching
to bang me up against the wall.  She suggests that I shall feel
draughts and get a stiff neck, be bitten by earwigs taking a walk from
the clematis which endeavours to climb through the window, be
sun-struck in the morning, moon-struck at night, and be blown out of
bed by the first gale which comes along.  To all of which I say, "I
don't care, Amelia"; and she, figuratively speaking, washes her hands
of me, as sensible people do wash their hands of silly, contrary
creatures who won't listen to reason.

Amelia really is no more pleased at the prospect of Jane's visit than
Dimbie, although she has so thoroughly cleansed the spare room.  She
talks to me in this strain--

"Miss Fairbrother's not going to dress you, mum?"

"Of course not."

"And she won't be wanting to order the dinners?"

"I am sure she won't.  Besides," with a sly smile, "I thought _I_
ordered the dinners."

Amelia considered this, and with the wisdom of a diplomatist said--

"Of course you do, mum."

"I thought so," I agreed.

Amelia looked at me--one of the halibut looks--and continued, "And I
won't have her messing about the kitchen."  Had she overheard Dimbie's
remark?

"Miss Fairbrother would not dream of messing about the kitchen.  Miss
Fairbrother is not used to kitchens and flue-brushes and 'sweetening'
ovens with lime."

"Oh, of course, if she's a grand lady!"  Amelia's nose tilted in the
air.

"She's not a grand lady; but her work in life has lain in channels
otherwise than kitchens.  She teaches, she used to teach me."

"Oh----!"

I took up the paper.

"She can't know much, then!"

Now I am sure Amelia had no intention of being in the least rude.

"That depends upon what you mean by much," I said.

She began to walk away.

Unaccountably I yearned to know her definition of knowledge.

"What do you think constitutes 'knowing much'?"

She looked at me without understanding.

"What do you mean by saying Miss Fairbrother won't know much?"

"Well, she won't."

"Granted that," I was becoming impatient, "but what sort of things
won't she know?"

"She'll know nothing useful."

"Amelia," I said despairingly, "if anyone can walk round and round a
circle you can."

She batted her eyes and regarded the ceiling in complete vacancy.

Once again I tried.

"Will you tell me the things you consider not useful?"

"Lessons and maps and 'broidery work."

"Maps?"

"We was made to do maps in Mile End Road."

"What sort of maps?"

"Heurope in red paint."

"Don't you mean the British possessions?"

"That was it--America and----"

"But America doesn't belong to us," I interrupted.

She closed her eyes in intense boredom, but I was not to be snubbed.

"What do you call useful?"

"Gettin' bailiffs out of a house when they thinks they's settled in."

"Oh!" I said.

"I've got two lots out."

"Was it at the Tompkinses'?" I whispered.

"Tompkinses was as respectable as you, mum," she said, mildly indignant.

"Oh, I beg your--I mean the Tompkinses' pardon."

"They had salmon--lots of it."

"The bailiffs?"  I knew I had been stupid the moment the words were
uttered, but it was too late.

"I'm speaking of Tompkinses, mum."

"Of course you are."

"Why did you say bailiffs then?"

"A slip of the tongue."

Amelia with her eyes dared me to any more "slips."

"The Tompkinses had salmon twice a week and manase once."

"Did it agree with them?"

"Of course it did.  _We_ might afford salmon a bit oftener now as we's
rich before it goes out."

"Goes out where?"

"Goes out of season, of course," and this time she left my presence
with a most distinct snort.

Human nature is very much alike.  Dimbie is cross about Miss
Fairbrother's coming because he thinks his nose with its dear crook
will be put farther out of joint.  Amelia is cross because she thinks
_her_ nose will be put out of joint.  And I am sufficiently human and
feminine to derive considerable joy and satisfaction from their anxiety
about the putting out of their said noses.



CHAPTER XXII

A LITERARY LADY HONOURS ME WITH A VISIT


On several different occasions of late has Amelia had the pleasure of
reaching out the best china to a shrill accompaniment of "Now we shan't
be long," for the few select residents of Pine Tree Valley have begun
to call.  Six months have elapsed since we came to live here.  Now it
will not look like "rushing at us."  Most of them are kindly, amiable,
well-meaning matrons, who seem sincerely sorry for me, who have sent me
books and magazines, and who take an unfeigned interest in Amelia, her
management, and her singing.  "At any rate, she has nice, respectable
shoes now," I say to myself with secret satisfaction.  And _she_ is
enjoying the callers; she feels we are getting on.  She has hinted at
an "at home" day; she says I must buy Japanese paper serviettes to lay
on the ladies' laps; and that rolled bread and butter is more correct
than flat, every-day bread and butter.

Of all my visitors only two stand out in my memory with any
distinctness: Mr. Brook, the vicar of the parish, because he was a man,
and Mrs. Winderby, because she was literary.

As Mr. Brook walked through the gate Amelia simultaneously flew out of
the front door, and put my slippers on to my feet with a smart action,
rescued the tortoise, and generally put me in order.  On reflection, I
have decided that Amelia must take up her position at the pantry window
each afternoon to lie in wait for callers.

Mr. Brook's eyes twinkled as he watched Amelia's efforts, and I liked
him for the twinkle.

I remember more of Mrs. Winderby's conversation than I do of that of
Mr. Brook, for the latter was not literary or nervous, or highly strung
or jumpy, he was just a plain clergyman.  I don't mean plain-looking,
but a man without frills or nonsense, a kindly, breezy, broad-minded
Christian gentleman with a clean-shaven face and a cultured voice.  He
was apologetic for having been so long in calling, he had been more or
less ill for some months, and his wife did not make calls without him;
she was at the seaside just now enjoying a well-earned rest.  He was
extremely sorry to hear of my illness; he hoped I should soon be
better; he had seen my husband at church; and he consumed two muffins
and four cucumber sandwiches with his tea.

Tennyson's bad and unpoetical line in which he burlesqued Wordsworth
jumped into my mind: "A Mr. Wilkinson, a clerygman."  That, I thought,
exactly described Mr. Brook; but I felt he would be a good friend to
those who were down on their luck.

I cannot dismiss Mrs. Winderby thus briefly, for she still keeps edging
into my thoughts in exactly the same way as Amelia used to edge.

Mrs. Winderby wore, as Amelia describes it, a bed-gown, and her words
were well chosen, for it _was_ a bed-gown.  The bed-gown was fashioned
of green velvet cut in a low square at the throat.  It was supposed to
hang in full, graceful folds, but it didn't do any thing of the kind,
for Mrs. Winderby was of rounded, uncorseted, somewhat stout
proportions, so the poor bed-gown was tight and strained.  Around Mrs.
Winderby's throat was a string of amber beads; and her hair, which was
red and towsly, was surmounted by a green, untidy, floppy, Liberty hat.

She sank on to the low wicker chair, and said--

"I have simply ached to know you ever since you came to Pine Tree
Valley."

"Oh!" I returned, unable to keep the surprise out of my voice.

"Of course, I know you have been here some time; but, you see, I am
always so _frantically_ busy."

"Are people ever busy here?" I asked.

"If they like to be," she pronounced; "it depends on the people.
People who have resources of their own are always busy.  _You_ have
resources."  She pointed her parasol at me.

"Oh, have I?" I said, surprised.

"For you have a temperament."

Now I knew I had a temperature, but I didn't exactly know what she
meant by the other thing; so I just laughed carelessly.  Had she said,
"You are of a sanguine or pessimistic temperament," I should have quite
understood; but to say in that decided manner, "You have a
temperament," simply nonplussed me.  And as she evidently knew more
about it than I, I didn't contradict her.

"I can see it in the colour of your gown, in the books on your
table--dear, darling _Omar_--in the way you dress your hair."

She trod on Jumbles as she spoke.  Involuntarily I put my hand to my
head, but it felt all right.

"And this is such a sweet garden.  You live the simple life, I suppose?"

"I live the life of an invalid," I replied; "it is bound to be simple."

"Of course, of course.  I was told that you were a sufferer--most
distressing."

She spoke hurriedly, as though anxious to get away from a painful
subject.  Did she think that I should dilate on my affliction to her?
God forbid!

"I had been so hoping that you would have been one of us."

I looked at her, puzzled.

"That you and your husband would have been kindred spirits.  I thought
I saw your husband as I came through the gate?"

"Yes, that was my husband," I said steadily.

She looked about the garden, as though Dimbie were concealed behind the
sweet-pea hedge or hidden among the rhubarb, and I had difficulty in
suppressing my laughter.

"Even if _you_ are a prisoner--poor thing--perhaps your husband would
join our little coterie.  What is his bent?  What line does he take?"

Her conversation was mysterious, but here was a plain, simple question
easily understood.

"The South-Western he used to take," I said; "but now----"

She eyed me a little coldly.

"I was not referring to railway lines," she interrupted.  "I meant in
what movement, art, thought, work, is he specially interested?"

"Oh," I said in confusion, "I beg your pardon.  I don't think there is
anything very special.  My husband is rather a lazy man.  He enjoys
walking, and, oh," I added with inspiration, "he likes gardening."

"Gardening has been overdone," she said firmly.  "Charming subject,
communing with Nature and all that sort of thing; but we have had
Elizabeth, Alfred Austin, Mrs. Earle, Dean Hole, and a host of others."

"My husband does not commune with Nature, he kills slugs," I retorted.
"Besides, none of the people you have mentioned have gardened for us.
Elizabeth may fall into ecstasies of astonishment at the unique sight
of a crocus in bloom in February, Alfred Austin may converse most
charmingly with his verbenas and lavender, but they don't know where
Dimbie has planted our celery."

She made a gesture of impatience.

"You don't seem to understand me, but I will endeavour to explain.  You
see, a few of us here have formed ourselves into a little band of----"

"Musicians," I said pleasantly.  I was listening to Amelia's rendering
of "Now we shan't be long," and had not quite followed the gist of Mrs.
Winderby's conversation.

"I was not going to say 'musicians,'" she contradicted, "though musical
people _are_ members of our club.  We are literary--_I_ am literary" (a
pause)--"artistic, scientific.  We have formed ourselves into a club,
and meet at each other's houses once a week."

"It sounds most interesting and improving," I observed.  "I know a
scientific man.  He invented an aerodrome which killed his mother, and
he goes about in a balloon, and----"

"We only have gentlemen in our club."

"But he _is_ a gentleman.  He is the great----"

She leaned forward and stared at me intently.

"What's the matter?" I asked, "an insect crawling over me?"

"More than that."

"More than that!" I cried, nervously clutching at my gown.  "Is it a
wasp?"

"Don't get excited."  she murmured, leaning still farther towards me.
"It is most interesting.  You have a cleft under your nose between your
two nostrils; it denotes extraordinary artistic sensibility."

"Oh, no," I said, "you are mistaken.  That mark is the result of
falling against a sharp-edged fender as a child.  I thought it was
practically imperceptible.  My husband calls it a dimple.  I am afraid
I am not artistic in the sense you mean.  My husband and I are not very
interesting.  We are just every-day, ordinary people."

"And you are all the happier for that," she said, lifting the hair from
her forehead as if it were too heavy.  "You ordinary people, as you
call yourselves, have the pull over us nervous, highly-strung, thinking
mortals.  Oh, the thoughts that burn in my brain!  Sometimes I lie with
my face pressed to dear mother earth--I put my lips to the grass, I
murmur to her, I become one with her, and she soothes and comforts me
as a mother soothes a tired child."

Involuntarily I pictured Mr. Winderby finding his rather portly spouse
in her green velvet bed-gown rolling on the ground, and I smiled.  I
pretended that I was smiling at Amelia, who appeared with an advance
guard of Japanese serviettes, but Mrs. Winderby detected my deceit.
She frowned and rose.

At once I felt conscience-stricken.  Mrs. Winderby was trying to
entertain me, she had taken me into her confidence, and here was I, a
supercilious invalid, laughing at her.  I felt really sorry.

"Don't go, Mrs. Winderby," I said pleadingly.  "Tea is coming, and I
should like you to meet my husband."

"Master's in the cock-loft," said Amelia, carrying the three-decker
cake-stand and placing it in front of Mrs. Winderby.

"In the where?" I asked.

"In the cock-loft."

"Wherever's that?"

"The cistern-room.  He's doin' photigraphs in the dark."

Now I felt that Dimbie was acting very basely.  He had seen Mrs.
Winderby coming through the gate.  He had rapidly taken his bearings,
and was now in hiding in a cock-loft.

"Will you tell the master tea is ready, and that I am anxious to
introduce him to Mrs. Winderby," I said to Amelia.

"Yes, mum."

Mrs. Winderby sat down again appeased.  She graciously accepted a cup
of tea, which she said must be just milk and water on account of her
nerves, and she skilfully brought round the conversation to a man with
a name which sounded like a sneeze, whom I knew nothing about.  She
talked of him, quoted him, raved about him.  "He was a dear, naughty
philosopher, and his philosophy drove him mad," she finished, and I
covertly made a note on the fly-leaf of a book which lay beside me:
"Niet or Ntiez, man who went mad."  I intended looking him up in the
encyclopædia.  Mrs. Winderby might call and talk of this sneezy
philosopher again, and I must know something about him.

She detected me in my note-making.

"What are you doing?" she inquired.

"I was only jotting something down."

"Your commonplace book? I presume.  Was it something I said?  My
friends do put down bits of my conversation ready for copy."

She smoothed out her velvet gown with a plump, white hand.

"Copy books?" I murmured.

"Certainly not," she retorted snappily.  "Copy means matter for
books--anything interesting or amusing, that you hear and see.  Have
you not met any literary people?"

"No," I returned humbly.  "But Amelia--Amelia is my maid--knew a poet
in her last place; he visited the Tompkinses."

"How interesting!  I wonder if she remembers his name, and what he was
like."

"I know what he was like," I said, delighted to have interested her.
"Amelia described him to me.  He was like a garden leek that had been
boiled without soda--yellowish looking I suppose she meant.  And a
great friend of mine once knew an authoress--a fifth edition, Marie
Corelli sort of writer--whose head was like a mangel-wurzel."

I began to feel more on an equality with Mrs. Winderby.  Nanty's and
Amelia's reflected glory was raising my spirits.

"I am afraid I don't understand you," my visitor said.

"Oh, because it was so----" I stopped abruptly.

Suddenly I remembered that Mrs. Winderby was literary.

She looked at me coldly, she did not help me.  She saw my agitation,
she watched the beads rise on my forehead, and the only word I could
think of was "swelled."  I could not say swelled--it was impossible to
say swelled.  I hugged the tortoise, and my slippers fell off.

"I am afraid I don't understand.  I cannot see the connection between a
mangel-wurzel and a successful author," she repeated.

"Why because," I laughed feebly, "I--I--they----"  And Dimbie appeared
from the cock-loft and saved me.

"Because they are both so nice," he said affably, offering a hand to
Mrs. Winderby and drawing up a chair close to hers.

The situation was saved.  Dimbie was covered with cobwebs.  His hands
were dirty, but his manners were irresistible; and that Mrs. Winderby
fell in love with him straight away gave me no qualms of jealousy.

"It is so kind of you to come and call upon my wife," he was saying.
"She is delighted to see any of the residents of Pine Tree Valley."

Oh, Dimbie, Dimbie!

Mrs. Winderby gracefully crossed one velvet-clad leg over the other.
She was prepared to prolong her visit indefinitely now that Dimbie had
appeared.  Jumbles, giving her foot a wide berth, crept on to the couch
and snuggled down beside me.

"I have been telling Mrs. Westover how much I had been hoping that you
would have been one of us.  We are wanting new members."

"Oh!" said Dimbie politely.

"We call ourselves the Sesameites."

It sounded so like a tribe of Israel that I wanted to laugh, but
Dimbie's face checked me.

"We are a little club for self-improvement.  We exchange views,
opinions, thoughts.  We help each other like the----"

"Buffaloes," came a voice from the neighbourhood of the couch, but it
was certainly not mine.  It belonged to Amelia, who stood behind me
regarding Mrs. Winderby with parted lips.

"_Amelia!_" I said.

"_Amelia!_" echoed Dimbie.

"My brother's a buffalo," she said defiantly, while turning a little
red.  "I though p'r'aps he belonged to the same club as this lady, as
she says it's to help one another.  You put in so much money a week,
and then when you's ill you----"

"That will do," I said when I could get a word in.  "You can remove the
tray."

She walked unwillingly to the house, and we turned apologetically to
our guest.

"You were saying?" said Dimbie.

"I am afraid I have lost the thread," she returned gloomily.

"Perhaps it will come to you," he said hopefully.  "You were talking
about the Simeonites."

"Sesameites," she corrected.

I pinched the tortoise quietly under the sofa blanket.

"Oh, yes, a sort of debating and literary society?"

"Exactly.  _I_ started it.  It was uphill work at first, but I
persevered.  And now we have an extremely interesting number of
members.  Some of them are quite celebrities; for instance, it was I
who wrote _Winged White Moths_."

"Really?" said Dimbie.

"Yes," she said, dropping her eyelids.  "It took a great deal out of
me--I felt it all so intensely.  I was quite exhausted when I had
finished."

"How many editions?" I asked pleasantly.

She did not reply, perhaps she did not hear me, anyway she did not
reply.  She drew on her gloves and said "Good-bye."  Dimbie conducted
her to the gate.  I could hear him entreating her to come again, and
she sounded a little more cheerful as she went away.

When he came back he threw himself into a chair and frowned at me.  I
returned it with an engaging smile, but he continued to frown.

"It doesn't suit you because of your dear crooks," I said.

"We shall never have any friends, Marg, if you behave like----"

"Do you want friends like that?" I interposed.

"_I_ don't, but I'm thinking of you."

"Well, don't," I said.  "I don't want any friends like Mrs. Winderby.
I like clever, _really_ clever people, because they are usually
unaffected and quite simple, and can be interested in you and your
doings as well as in their own.  But Mrs. Winderby is artificial, and
she poses.  I don't like people who pose.  I would infinitely prefer
unclever, natural women than posy ones.  Wouldn't you?"

"She was a bit of an affected ass, certainly."

"Some of the women who have called are very nice--not violently
interesting any more than I am, but just kind and simple and
straightforward.  I like to know them, but I don't want to know Mrs.
Winderby."

"And you shan't," said Dimbie, lighting his pipe.  "The next time she
comes I'll throw her out of the gate if you like."

"Dear Dimbie," I said, "one of your most engaging qualities is that you
so often see things from my point of view.  Now some husbands would
have forced their wives to know that woman."

He laughed, then a tender expression crept into his face.

"You see, you are not like most wives."

"I am not able to run away from disagreeable people, you mean?"

"No, I did not mean that."  A shadow now superseded the tenderness.  "I
meant that you were so much more reasonable in your wishes than most
women."

I blew him a kiss.

"Dimbie, you are prejudiced.  What about my selfishness in insisting
upon remaining here when you are aching to spend your money upon some
large establishment.  You are penned in, I know.  When I think that if
we were away from here you might get some shooting, riding, golf this
autumn, I am ashamed of my own selfishness.  But--it won't be for long,
that comforts me a little.  Not for very long now."

"And then you are willing to go?" he said eagerly, kneeling at the side
of my couch.

"And then I shall be ready to go," I said gently, hiding my face on his
breast.

"Dear sweetheart!" he murmured, kissing my hair.

"Dear God," I said in my heart, "once again I thank thee for Dimbie!"



CHAPTER XXIII

I SURPRISE DOCTOR RENTON'S SECRET


Very blind, very dense, and downright stupid have I been; and being of
the gender called feminine, and presumably supposed to possess the gift
of scenting a love affair of even the most embryo growth, I am all the
more annoyed at my own density.

Besides, Dr. Renton helped me.  The scent was hot.  He mentioned India;
he said she had lived at Dorking, or am I imagining he said that?
Anyway, the trail was good, and it was only at five o'clock this
afternoon that I discovered that my medical adviser, Dr. Renton, has
been in love with my old governess, Jane Fairbrother, for over ten
years.

And my discovery was only made by accident.  Had I been staring at
Dimbie, as is my customary fashion, instead of at Dr. Renton, when I
announced from the open telegram in my hand that Jane would arrive on
the morrow, I should not have seen the red colour dye the Doctor's
bronzed cheeks, and I should still be wondering most probably who was
his long-loved and long-lost woman.

"Oh!" I said, blinded for the moment by my sudden illumination.  "Oh!"

Our eyes met.  He smiled, and I knew that he understood.

"Yes," he said, nodding quietly.

Dimbie was balancing a piece of cake on Jumble's nose.

"I'm so glad."

"Thank you," he said simply.

"What are you glad about?" asked Dimbie, looking around.

"That the sun is coming out for Jane and Dr. Renton after the long,
long gloom."

Dimbie gazed at me.

"I don't see why you should be specially glad for them.  I think we
require the sun much more than they, as we are lazy people who lie
about and do nothing.  Besides, it has only been dull for three or four
days.  You can't expect this wonderful summer to go on forever.  You've
become exacting, captious."

"It has been more or less dull for eight years," I remarked
sententiously; and Dimbie, after again staring at me, returned to
Jumbles, as though cats were easier to understand than women.

The Doctor and I smiled.

"I should wear grey flannel and a soft, grey hat--grey goes so well
with hair of the same colour," I observed.

"It's not very bad," he protested, putting his hand to his hair.

"Pretty bad," I laughed; "there's a little brown left, but it's mostly
tinged with grey."

"And my tie?" he asked, with a funny and almost resigned expression
upon his face.

I put my head on one side to consider.

"Lavender would be--too bridal.  I think grey or black and white."

"Whatever are you two talking about?" asked Dimbie.

"Colours.  We were just considering what would best suit a man with
iron-grey hair."

"But I'm not grey," said Dimbie.

"No, dear."

"Well, what do you mean?"

"I was just considering another man for the moment.  Another man's
appearance for an occasion on which he is anxious to look unusually
well and young."

"He must be a conceited ass!" quoth Dimbie, getting up and strolling
after Jumbles, who with arched back and stately tread marched away,
refusing to be turned into a common performing clown at any man's
bidding.

We laughed outright.

"May I--may I talk to you about it?" I asked.

He nodded.

"When would you like to see her?"

"To-morrow evening if you'll let me."

I considered this.

"Say the day after."

"Why?"

"Because if--if she says 'Yes' she'll cease to take any further
interest in me.  I've grown selfish, and I should so like to have her
all to myself for the first evening."

"Very well," he agreed somewhat grudgingly.

"You see, after waiting for eight years one day----"

"Will seem longer than the whole lot put together," he said
despondently.

"Well, come late to-morrow night, after supper."

"No, I'll try to hold out."  He smiled a little.  "If she--well, if she
refuses me, I shall have had all the longer blissful looking forward to
meeting her again.  And if she should say 'No' it will serve me right."

"I somehow don't think she'll refuse you, though, as you say, it would
certainly serve you right."

"Yes, I know it would."  In his eyes lay an anxious, almost wistful
look, which touched me.  His rugged face had softened to a semblance of
youth, his voice was less gruff.

"Women don't forget easily.  If she ever cared for you----" I began.

Dimbie was returning.

"Dimbie," I called, "you might climb over into the frog-pond field and
bring me some marguerites."

"Aren't they over?"

"If they are bring me some loosestrife and, scabious and anything you
can find.  I long for some wild-flowers."

Lazily he threw a leg over the fence and disappeared.

"He'll be away some time now.  Dimbie never does anything quickly; he
is slow and thorough, and he will endeavour to find the largest daisies
in the field."

"I suppose when I--if I were ever married my wife"--he stumbled over
the words--"might ask me to pick daisies for her?"

"Perhaps.  But a great deal depends upon the man.  I cannot imagine my
father picking flowers for mother; he would more likely throw them at
her."

Dr. Renton smiled.  He had known Peter as long as I.

"I wonder whether you will find Miss Fairbrother much changed?  She is
eight years older, you know."

"Of course," he said placidly.

"Women age as well as men."

"Naturally."

"You don't care?"

"How do you mean?"

"You don't mind if she looks older?"

"Certainly not.  No man _wants_ his wife to look old, but if she does
he loves her none the less.  I have not been married, but I know this
is so.  I have seen the most beautiful affection between quite old men
and women.  It is not passion, but a love that has been tried in the
fire and emerged triumphant."

I gave a sigh of relief.

"Besides, I know Jane's is a face that will have become more beautiful
with the years."

"Why?"

"You will remember that her mouth was firm, almost hard?  Her clear
eyes honest, but almost defiant?"

I shook my head.

"Well, they were.  Perhaps I studied her features more carefully than
you."

"Possibly," I said, a little dryly.

"She had had to fight her own battles.  She had had to stand up for
herself against the world.  Her childhood had been sad--an invalid
mother, a drunken father----"

"No?" I said.

"Yes.  Once she told me all about it.  We were alone, and she gave me
her confidence.  And--I was fool enough to let that moment pass, though
every bit of my being cried out to me to speak to her, tell of my love.
But I thought she wasn't ready, and then she went away.  But, as I was
saying, I know she will be more beautiful now, Hers was a large nature.
The years will have brought her a tenderness and sympathy which will
have written themselves on the lines of her face.  Some lined faces,
with their experience, are infinitely more attractive than the fresh,
smooth faces of youth.  Don't you think so?"

I nodded.  For the first time in my life I was learning that the Doctor
had another side to his character.  He had thrown aside his cloak of
reserve, his professional manner, and I feared lest a chance word of
mine might cause him to withdraw into his shell.

"In some faces you will see written the history of their owners' lives,
dispositions, characters, if you look carefully.  Note the little lines
around the eyes that star away in all directions.  They mean that the
person who possesses them has smiled much, laughed at misfortune,
helped the world to be the brighter and better for his or her presence.
I expect to see those lines around Jane's eyes, and if they are not
there I shall almost be disappointed."

He fell into a reverie, and I looked at him thoughtfully.  He would
make Jane very happy.  "Oh, I hope she'll have him, I hope she'll have
him!" I whispered again and again to myself.

Dimbie appeared over the fence.

"Will those do?" he asked, putting into my hand an enormous bunch of
wild-flowers.

I buried my face in their fresh sweetness.

"We will put them in Jane's room; she loves flowers."

"You will not put them in Jane's room," contradicted Dimbie crossly.
"I don't gather flowers for every strange woman from India, please
understand that, Marguerite."

Dr. Renton looked up in surprise.

"Yes, I have to speak like that.  Marguerite will make a perfect fool
of Miss Fairbrother if I let her have her way.  It's Miss Fairbrother
this and Miss Fairbrother that.  I'm sick of the very name of the
woman.  I'll take jolly good care that she is out of this house in less
than a fortnight.  Marguerite asked her for an _in_definite period, but
it happens to be very definite in my mind."  With which he flung
himself across the lawn and into the house.

The Doctor opened his mouth.

"Don't take any notice," I said quickly, for I knew Dimbie was watching
us through the drawing-room window, "it's only jealousy, nothing more;
he'll be all right when she comes."

"I'll marry her at once," the Doctor pronounced, getting up from his
chair.

"You forget that she may not accept you."

He blushed a little.

"Good-bye," he said gruffly.

"Good-bye," I laughed; "but you might tell me before you go whether you
think I am any better or worse.  You'll remember you came over to see
me--perhaps?"

He couldn't help laughing too.

"I'm awfully sorry.  You see, the telegram came just after my arrival."

"You needn't be, there's nothing fresh to report."

"Still tired?" he asked very gently.

"Still tired and waiting for a fresh breeze to blow.  I think I shall
be better then, Doctor."

"God grant that it may be so."  He raised my hand to his lips.  "You
are a staunch friend, Marguerite."

"Take care," I said, my eyes suddenly filling, "Dimbie is watching, and
he is in a bit of a temper.  You will be coming on Thursday, and good
luck to you."

When he had driven away Dimbie sauntered across the grass.

"What is that man kissing you for?"

"Dimbie," I said, "you are too comical for words, and I will return
your question with another.  What is the matter with you?"

"I don't know."  He lay down on the grass and leaned his head against
my couch.  "I'm cross, I think, Marg."

"Yes," I returned, running my fingers through his wavy hair, "you're
very cross.  How long do you think you will continue to be so?"

"Till Miss Fairbrother has gone.  Marg, I don't want to be a surly
beast, but, oh, I do wish I had never consented to that Indian woman's
coming."

"If I tell you something will you promise to keep it secret--either
till the day after to-morrow, Thursday, or forever?"

"There's rather a wide difference between the two periods of time."

"Yes, but there is a reason for it.  Will you promise?"

"All right."

"I mean a faithful promise.  You have a rather trying habit of slipping
things out.  This must be an on-my-oath promise."

"On-my-oath, world-without-end promise," repeated Dimbie.

"Dr. Renton wishes to marry Jane Fairbrother."

"The deuce he does!"

"Yes," I said, enjoying his astonishment.

"But he doesn't know her."

"He has known her for years.  He knew her when she lived with us, but
she went to India before he could make up his mind to speak to her.
Now he is coming on Thursday."

"And he will take her away just when she is going to be useful to us,
selfish beast!"

I smiled behind my hand.

"Dear Dimbie," I said, "I always thought men the most _contrary_
creatures, having lived under Peter's roof for some years, but never
_quite_ so contrary as I now find them to be."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that here you have been making yourself extremely disagreeable
about Miss Fairbrother's visit, and the moment someone comes along and
says he will remove the incubus you turn equally nasty."

"I don't want _you_ to be disappointed.  For myself, I am only too
jolly thankful that she won't be here long."

"But she may.  I am not sure that she will accept Dr. Renton."

"I am."

"Why?"

"Most women accept the first man who asks 'em."

I swelled with indignation, and I rang the tortoise to emphasise my
righteous anger.

"The conversation is finished," I said.

"No, it isn't," contradicted Dimbie.

"I repeat that it is."  I shut my eyes.

"You've beautiful eyelashes--look like a fringe on your cheeks, and
they all curl up at the ends, Marg."

An interval of silence.

"I didn't say _you_ would rush at a man.  I meant most women."

More silence.

"Don't you think I'm right?"

"Your ignorance of women is only equalled by your colossal conceit.
The conversation, I again repeat, is at an end."

"And once again I assert that it isn't.  I wish to discuss the
matrimonial prospects of Dr. Renton and Miss Fairbrother."

"You must discuss them with yourself."

"Can't."

"You must take back what you said."

"Shan't."

I closed my eyes tightly.

"I shall go and talk about them to Amelia."

He got up.

"You dare!"

"I shall."

"You promised.  You can't break your word."

"It would be quite easy."

"Dimbie, I never thought you _could_ descend to such meanness."

"You see how little you knew me."

"Women are always deceived."

"It's funny how they rush at marriage."

"Oh," I cried, "you are too dreadful!  Go away at once."

He laughed and croodled closer to the couch.

"This is our last afternoon," he said ingratiatingly, looking up into
my face.

"What do you mean?"

"Before the she-dragon comes.  Be nice to me, wife."

I looked away.  It is hard to resist the plead in Dimbie's eyes and the
crook of his mouth.  His hand stole into mine.  I took no notice.  The
other hand stroked my hair the wrong way, and--then, after the manner
of fond, foolish woman, I forgave him and was nice.



CHAPTER XXIV

MUSINGS ON AUTUMN AND THE ARRIVAL OF JANE


One of those September days is with us in which the world, like Rip Van
Winkle, is very fast asleep.  A great stillness broods o'er our little
garden.  No blade of grass or leaf of tree moves or rustles to disturb
the silence.  Jumbles lies curled upon the warm front doorstep; Dimbie
lies asleep in a low hammock chair.  The birds and insects, and even
the ants, have joined in the general siesta; and I, generally having
more time than the others in which to indulge in flights to the land of
Nod, am keeping awake to take care of all my friends of the garden.  I
have to keep removing a fly from Dimbie's nose; to see that Jumbles
doesn't wake up suddenly and pounce upon a drowsy, unwary bird in the
neighbourhood of the broom bush; and to turn an eye upon a butterfly
which appears to have fallen asleep in the heart of a single dahlia.

Over all broods a haze, gossamer and fairy-light, but still a haze
which ever follows in the footsteps of sweet September--September so
quiet, so peaceful, so mellow and rounded.  September is to May as
mature and still beautiful womanhood is to the freshness of girlhood,
not so radiant, but so complete, so satisfyingly lovely.  Spring
somehow, I know not why, gives me an ache at the heart, creates within
me a yearning for something.  Autumn does not affect me thus.  There
may be a regret, a glance of retrospection at the months which are
gone--the beautiful, bountiful summer months--but the ache has
vanished, the yearning has departed.

Is it that September, herself the most peaceful of all the months,
bears in her arms a gift for Nature's truly loving and understanding
children--the gift of peace, a peace which passeth all understanding?
Lately it has come to me, this peace, and I smile happily, hugging it
to my heart.  All the anguish of the last weeks--the bitter tears, the
pining for movement, the unutterable yearning to be out in the wind, by
the sea, on the mountains--has left me.  I am content to lie in my
little garden, to be still, to commune with myself, and to know that
Dimbie is there.

And--I am reading a Book, one that I read as a child, as a girl, and
now as a woman.  I am a woman now, for I know the meaning of the word
suffering.  In the old days I read this Book as one reads a
lesson--dull, uninteresting, I thought it.  I chafed at the chapter
which Miss Fairbrother obliged me to read each day.  Some parts struck
me as being duller than others.  There was the tiresome description of
the building of the temple, and the bells and
pomegranates--pomygranates I used to call them--and the fourscore cubit
this and the fourscore cubit that.  Miss Fairbrother would endeavour to
make it interesting, but I was unmistakably bored.  But now---it seems
curious that I should have ever thought it dull.  I read it with deep
intensity.  I know as I turn the pages what is coming, but yet it is
all new to me, a new meaning falls upon my understanding.  And there
are three words from this Book which of late have continually danced
before my eyes.  I have seen them written on the sky, on the grass, on
the pages of my book.  I have heard the wind whisper them, the flowers
repeat them, the leaves pass on the refrain to the waving corn, and yet
I alone have been unable to say or believe them.  The words have stuck
in my throat, my dry lips have refused to form them.  And then a night
came when I saw them written on Dimbie's face.  He had been depressed,
and had taken his sorrow to the pine woods, and when he returned a
gladness irradiated his countenance, and on his forehead, as it seemed
to me, were the words, written in letters of gold, "God is Love!  God
is Love!"  I repeated them mechanically to myself over and over again;
and suddenly the mists cleared away, the fog dispersed, and I too
cried, with a great sincerity and gladness, "God is Love!"

      *      *      *      *      *

Jane came softly down the walk and with finger to lip bade me be silent.

"I want to love and kiss you, little old pupil, without any jealous eye
to mar my happiness.  And I also want to have a good look at your
husband."

Dimbie lay with head thrown back, giving to the garden a music that was
not of the sweetest.

"He is not at his best," I whispered; "his mouth isn't always like
that."

Jane made a comical little _moue_ and kissed me again.  "The same old
Marguerite," and she framed my face in her hands.

"With a difference," I said quietly.

"With a beautiful difference.  I don't wonder at your husband's
falling----"

"Hush!" I said, "I am going to wake him."

Jane sat down and watched with interest.

"Dimbie!  Dimbie, dear, would you mind waking up?"

"He doesn't always sleep quite so heavily as this," I explained
apologetically.  "It has been such a warm, enervating day."

"_Dimbie_, will you stop snoring."

Still no answer.

Loudly I rang the tortoise, and he was on his feet in an instant,
blinkingly staring at Jane.

"It's not a fire or an accident," I said; "it's Miss Fairbrother."

With the first of Jane's wholesome, heartsome smiles I knew that his
conquest had begun.  They shook hands, and he apologised for being
caught in such an attitude.

"It enabled me to have a good look at Marguerite's husband, of whom I
have heard so much," said Jane frankly.

"And what do you think of him?" Dimbie asked with a twinkle.

"I must reserve my judgment till later.  It may be a case of cruelty,
desertion, and wife beating.  Appearances are so deceitful.  And no
faith should be placed in a young wife's estimate of her husband."

He pushed his hammock chair towards her.

"Won't you take this; it is more comfortable.  And were Marg's letters
very tiresome?"

"Well, she didn't say much about you."  Jane wore an air of "May God
forgive me!"  "But what little she did write of you was mostly to the
good."

Dimbie laughed, and began to enjoy himself.

"Before you begin to talk," I said, "would you like a wash or have tea
first?"

"Tea, please."

I rang the bell.

"I'm quite anxious to see the young person with the tea-rose slippers,"
observed Jane, removing her hat and running her fingers through her
soft, luxuriant hair, which was parted on one side.

"She doesn't wear them now.  We have had a lot of money left us," I
said, studying the expressive face in front of me, which had changed so
little.

"Does she run about barefoot?"

"Oh, no!  What I mean is that we can afford now to give her nice, kid
slippers."  I struggled to keep my mind on Amelia, and not on Jane's
pretty, cool, grey linen gown which was inset with beautiful, Irish
crochet lace.

"It isn't mercerised cotton," I thought aloud.

"It's one of my best frocks," said Jane, following my eyes.  "Do you
think it suitable for my years, Marguerite?"

"I should wear it to-morrow," I said impulsively, and then stopped
awkwardly.

"Why to-morrow?" she asked in surprise.  "Are you having a party?"

"Only Marg's medical m----"

"Dimbie," I shouted, "will you go and see if tea is ready?  I can't
think what Amelia can be doing."  I looked at him feverishly.  He sat
open-mouthed for a moment, and then he remembered, nodded his head, and
set off to the house with a run.  I could see from Jane's expression
that she thought we were very odd people.

"What--what do you think of the sunflowers?" I asked jerkily.

"I think they appear to be very handsome, self-respecting sunflowers,"
she replied.

There was an interval of silence.

"What's the matter, Marguerite?" she asked at length.  "The atmosphere
is charged with a mysterious something which I cannot understand."

"I will tell you on Thursday."

"On Thursday?"

"Yes.  Oh, here is Amelia with tea!  This is Amelia."

Jane gave her a smile, showing her even, white teeth.  This was
returned by a look of hostility.  Amelia was not to be won by any
smile.  She was not a weak man, and she prided herself on her even
balance.

"Good afternoon," said Jane.

"Good afternoon," said Amelia in a tone of "Go to perdition with you!"

But Jane had no intention of doing so, at any rate, till she had had
some tea.  She handed some money to Amelia.

"Will you be good enough to give this to the man who is bringing my
trunks along?"

"Were there no cabs?  Most people takes cabs."  Now she was being
distinctly impertinent.  I felt very angry with her.

"Please do as you are told," I said wrathfully, "and without comment."

She was, for the first time since she had been in my service, impressed
by my anger, and at once she changed her tactics.

"The day would be hot I was thinkin' for Miss Fairbrother to walk."

"You were thinking nothing of the kind.  Stick to the truth."  And to
my consternation she immediately did as she was told and stuck to it.

"I don't want no visitors."

"_Amelia!_"

Jane laughed unconcernedly.

"I shouldn't either," she said, looking at Amelia in a most friendly
manner.  "I quite sympathise with you.  You think I am going to meddle
and interfere?"

"Yes."

"You think I am going to poke into the kitchen and do things for your
mistress that you have been in the habit of doing?"

"Yes," said Amelia, surprised at Jane's intuition.

"Well, you may make your mind quite easy on that score.  To begin with,
I am far too lazy to interfere.  I like people to work for me if they
will.  And I think it would be a mean thing to do when you have served
Mrs. Westover so faithfully and lovingly.  I shall not usurp your
place."  Jane's voice was most gentle now, full of sympathy and
kindliness.  "But if you will allow me, I will help you with my bed and
dust my room.  I shall make a little extra work, of course, and I am
sure you must have a great deal to do."

Amelia wavered, rocked about with indecision for a moment, and was won.

"Thank you, miss, it's very good of you," was all she seemed able to
say.  And as a relief to her feelings she slapped the tortoise, picked
up Jane's gloves from the ground and returned to her kitchen.

"Tea is going cold," said Dimbie.  "First game of the rubber to Miss
Fairbrother."

"You don't say the rubber, I notice," observed Jane.

"I know Amelia."

"I fancy though, without any undue conceit, that I shall win.  I like
that girl."

"So do we, but that doesn't give us the power of managing her."

"I don't want to manage her.  My simple desire is that she shouldn't
manage me, and will permit me to remain with you for a short time."

"You shall certainly do that," said Dimbie.  "Marg has been counting
the days to your coming."

"And you?" she asked slyly.

"I--I have been doing likewise," said my husband brazenly.

She laughed, a merry, incredulous laugh.

"And yet I fancied I had two rubbers to play and hoped to win."

"Really?" said Dimbie.  "Only one as far as I know, and the first game
is already yours."

"You are very kind," she said simply.  "I understand, and am grateful.
I did so want to see Marguerite again."

"You could not be more grateful than I am for your coming," he returned
earnestly.  "The thanks are on our side."  And I knew he meant it.

"A rubber and a half for Jane," I whispered to the tortoise.  And I
stretched out a hand and held Dimbie's closely in mine.



CHAPTER XXV

AN ENGAGEMENT, AND I TELL JANE MY STORY


The two of them came down the garden path hand in hand.  The sun
caressed Jane's small, dark head.  She wore the pretty, cool, grey
gown, and in her belt was tucked a red rose no redder than her cheeks.
They stopped in front of the couch, and I held out my hands to them.

"I know," I said.  "You needn't tell me.  I'm so glad.  You two dear
things.  It is beautiful, and--I like your suit, Dr. Renton; my
sartorial instinct is good, I think."

"I don't think it was the suit--altogether, but perhaps I'm vain."  He
looked gravely at Jane.

She was a little mystified.

"I was telling Dr. Renton the other day that I considered grey flannel
was very becoming to men with grey hair."

"Oh," she said, "I didn't notice what he was wearing."

"There!" said the Doctor.

"I don't feel abashed.  Unconsciously she would take in the general
effect."

Jane wandered to the sweet-pea hedge and hummed a little tune.

"I don't like a conversation conducted in asides," she called.  "When
you two have finished tell me."

Dr. Renton regarded her with pride and love written on every line of
his face.

"You see, she has grown beautiful!" he said.

"Do you think so?"

"Certainly.  Don't you?"

"Well, no.  I haven't thought so; but I will look more closely.  Are
the lines there?"

"A few, but not so many as----"

"You had expected?"

"As I had hoped," he finished with a smile.

"Jane," I called, "the Doctor is disappointed not to find you wrinkled."

"Did he wish me to keep him in countenance?"

"Jane, you must learn to be respectful.  The Doctor is older than you."

"I cannot learn such a lesson at my time of life.  My pupils have
respected _me_."

"I shall be your master, not your pupil."

"These are early days to adopt such a tone, sir."

"You might both be in your teens," I observed.  And they laughed as
happily as though they were.

A hammering at the drawing-room window attracted our attention.

"It's Dimbie," I explained.  "You see, he is a little cross.  He went
to look up something for me in the encyclopædia, and I told Amelia to
lock him in.  I was afraid he might worry you, and perhaps follow you
about."

"Do you mean to say he knew----" Jane broke off, turning a vivid
scarlet.

What was I to say?  Here was a pretty dilemma.

"I let it out the other day," said the Doctor bravely.

"Did you know when you invited me here?"  Her eyes were full of fire,
but her voice was quiet.

"No," I said triumphantly, "not a word.  And Dr. Renton didn't exactly
tell me; I found out.  He was here when your telegram came."

"Mr. Westover will certainly break the window," she said, somewhat
inconsequently.

He was waving and war-whooping like an Indian.  Amelia came to the door.

"Shall I let him out now, mum?" she asked.

"At _once_."

When he appeared I said--

"Dimbie, you should try to be more controlled."

"Well, of all the cheek----"

"It wasn't cheek, but common sense," I interposed gently.  "I told
Amelia to do it."

"But why?  You may be the mistress of One Tree Cottage, but _I_----"

"Come here, and I will whisper to you."  I pulled his sunburnt face
down to mine.

"Your hair tickles!"  He was still a little cross.  I pushed it back.

"I was afraid you might follow those two about and stare at them, and I
wanted them to get engaged and----"

Dimbie raised his head.  (Jane, followed by the Doctor, had strolled
away.)  Light broke across his face.

"And they've done it?"

"It is not an elegant way of putting it."

"They've been jolly sharp."

"Dr. Renton has been here over half an hour."

"And where have I been?"

"Studying the encyclopædia.  Don't you remember I asked you to find me
the sneezy man?  Who was he?"

"Nietzsche, a bally German who didn't know what he wanted."

He crossed the lawn, and I noticed that the grip he gave the Doctor's
hand was pretty severe.  To Jane I heard him say: "It's made Marg
awfully happy.  Her eyes are shining, and she thinks she has brought it
all about--a regular match-maker!"

I could not catch Jane's reply, but presently they returned to me.

"You will be wanting to walk and wander down the lanes, as Dimbie
and--as all lovers want to wander, and you shall go at once.  The
evening is lovely.  There is a cornfield in the lane after you have
passed the four cross-roads.  Dimbie has told me of it.  The sun is
setting--sun on a golden cornfield is a thing of beauty--and later
there will be a moon.  Please remember that supper is at eight o'clock."

They laughed, and Jane without any more ado put on her hat.

"It seems to me," observed Dimbie, as our eyes followed them round the
broom bush and through the gate, "that they are a little old for the
game."

"That is so like a man who never knows or understands anything."

"Oh!"  He settled himself in a deck-chair and lighted his pipe.

"You see, the hearts of Jane and the Doctor are still quite fresh and
young."

"Indeed?"

"Yes," I said, "love has kept them so.  As they walk down the lane they
are back in their 'twenties.'  The years have slipped away.  What
matters if their faces are tired, if some of the brightness has gone
out of their eyes, if some of the freshness has left their voices?
They are beautiful to each other, that is sufficient."

"You sound very wise, little wife."

I nodded.

"I am wiser than you in a few things because I am a girl.  Only women
understand that which pertaineth to love.  Men are very ignorant."

Dimbie smiled and smoked for a while in silence, while I thought of the
happiness of Jane.  We had had a long and intimate talk the previous
evening.  Dimbie had left us and gone to the fields in search of
mushrooms at my special request.  Mushrooms, I had felt, were the one
thing needed to complete our evening in the garden, for we were to sup
under the apple tree; and Dimbie on his return was to hang out our
Chinese lanterns and dot fairy lights about the lawn.

"You only want to get rid of me," he had laughed.  "I am convinced that
there will not be a single mushroom in Surrey after the long, dry
summer."

"If I want to get rid of you," I returned, "it will be for the very
first and last time in my life; but I want to talk to Jane for a little
while--just by ourselves."

He looked at me for a moment jealously and suspiciously.

"You don't mind just for once, dear."

"No, not very much, though I don't approve of secrets between women."

"Good-bye," I said, patting his cheek, "and bring plenty of mushrooms."

Jane sat on a low chair with her arms pillowed behind her head.

"Now," she said, "tell me all, tell me your story from the very
beginning.  You have suffered much, I can see it in your face, but you
are happy.  Tell me where you met your husband.  I may say at once that
I like him tremendously."

"Jane," I said, "my heart goes out to you at your words.  To like
Dimbie shows that you possess a fine discrimination."

She smiled and said, "I am waiting."

And so in the gentle hush of evening, in the fading light, in the sweet
fragrance of the garden, I told her all.  Of Dimbie's and my first
meeting, of our engagement, of our marriage, of my great happiness--I
lingered on that.  The pain which had been mine when I recalled those
radiant days had gone.  I could speak of them now calmly and without
any break in my voice.  Those were days pulsating with joy, these were
days of a great peace.  Then briefly I touched upon my accident and
suffering, of our hopes only to be dashed to the ground, of my
subsequent despair, of my doubts as to the steadfastness of Dimbie's
love, followed by the radiance of complete faith and understanding.  I
told her of Aunt Letitia's money, of my desire to remain at our cottage
till the end of the year because----  Should I tell her why?  Should I
tell her that which I had even withheld from Dimbie?  Jane was so
sensible, so----  And out of the gathering darkness it came to me that
she was crying silently, despairingly.

"Why, Jane," I whispered, "you are crying.  You must not do that,
Dimbie might come, and it would distress him.  Listen, I am not unhappy
now.  Do not think I am sorry for myself, for--perhaps I cannot make it
clear to you, words are so futile, but--one morning just lately, one
wonderful dawn when God Himself took out His palette and brush and
touched the clouds with softest grey and pearl, and pink and rose, when
the first note of a still sleepy bird broke the silence, when the
flowers shook the dew from their fresh morning faces, something came to
my room on footsteps light as thistledown, something came to my bed on
which I had spent a long, weary, sleepless night, and laid a gentle,
healing hand on my aching brow, and sorrow and pain and the fear of
death fell from me, and I was comforted.  You will say I was fanciful,
imaginative, that my mind was overwrought from fatigue; but no, I was
calm and clear-eyed, and I knew that it was Peace that had come to me.
I opened my arms wide and held it closely, never to let go.  'Dear
Comforter,' I whispered, 'you shall never leave me, for now I know a
happiness which is not of this world, but is of a life which is
eternal.'

"I lay very still thinking about it.  I must tell you that during my
weeks of suffering I had lost my faith, I had lost God.  I felt that He
had treated me too cruelly.  'He is not a God of love,' I had cried.
'I cannot believe that.  I have done with Him.'  So as I lay watching
the dawn, waiting for the sun, I wondered and wondered again: 'Has God
forgiven me--forgiven my rebellion, taken pity on my loneliness?'  For
when Dimbie has said his prayers at night with his hand in mine, and
entered into His presence, I have felt so lonely and cried in my heart,
'Lord, let me find Thee again, for where Dimbie is there I want to be.'

"'Perhaps He has forgiven me, and wants me--_even_ me,' I said to
myself.  With my eyes on the glowing east I waited and watched for the
sun.  At last he appeared, and, as though looking for me, sent a warm
shaft of light across my body.  And from me came the words, 'God is
good!  Allah is great!'  And I laughed aloud, and Dimbie stirred and
woke.  'What is it, girl?' he asked.  'Have you had a good night?'

"'A bad, bad night, but such a dawn.  Look!  Here from my corner I can
see all the beauty of the world--shell-pink softness, the red glory of
sunrise, a distant cornfield touched with gold, dewdrops on gossamer
web.

  "'O world as God has made it, all is beauty;
  And knowing this is love, and love is duty.
  What further may be sought for----'

And Dimbie put a gentle arm around me and drew my head on to his
shoulder.  'And have you no further need to ask for, sweetheart?' he
inquired.

"'Not one,' I whispered.  'I am beginning to understand things--just a
little, and I am at peace.'"

I stopped.  Night had fallen, my story was finished.  Jane got up--I
could not see her face--and she walked across the lawn to the sweet-pea
hedge.  No sound broke the stillness of the garden.

Presently she returned and knelt in front of me.

"Little old pupil."

"Yes," I said.

"I want to say something to you.  Most people say things when it is too
late.  I don't want to be too late.  I want to tell you, now, that you
have given me all the happiness I have had for the last eight years.
An Indian station is a dreary place for a plain, unattached, working
woman.  I should have become hard, dull, apathetic but for your love,
little Marguerite, but for your admiration of my poor qualities.  Your
bright, loving letters came each month as a draught of fresh water to a
tired, thirsty traveller.  Your faithfulness cheered me on my way.
Your symp----"

"I don't want to hear any more, Jane," I broke in.

"And but for you I should never have returned to England."

"And you would have missed happiness, the crown of your life."

She paused and looked up into my face.

"Happiness!" she said a little bitterly, "the crown of my life!  I
don't know what you mean.  I only know that you suffer; I have just
heard your story."

"Ah, don't speak of that!  There are other things.  There is love."

"Love and I passed each other long years ago," she said.  "Love mocked
me, laughed at me, left me alone."

"But he may return."

"It is unlikely.  I am not young.  But I don't want to talk of myself.
I want only to speak of you.  A little while back you said--you said
that the fear of death fell from you.  What did you mean?"

"Just what I said," and I bent my head and kissed her.  "I think I hear
Dimbie."

He came down the lane whistling, through the white gate--a dark,
mysterious figure.

"Three mushrooms!" he called gaily.  "One for each of us.  Now I must
light up.  You are all in the dark."

"We are all in the dark," said Jane hopelessly.

"And the light is coming," said I.



CHAPTER XXVI

DIMBIE TAKES PETER AND AMELIA IN HAND


Peter and mother are here again, and Jane has been transferred to the
bachelor's room.

Peter is gouty, irritable, chilly--for October is with us and giving us
sharp little frosts--and sulphurous in his language.

Amelia wears a patient, stand-by-me-O-Lord air; and Dimbie is crossly
resigned to the inevitable.

He came to me this morning.

"I am going to kick Peter."

"Yes," I agreed, drawing my blue nightingale, which mother has made me,
more closely round my shoulders.

"I am going to pitch him out of the front door."

I nodded.

"You have no objection?"

"Well, choose a flower-bed for his descent."

"But I want to hurt him."

"I quite sympathise with you in your desire, which is most reasonable.
But were he to alight on the gravel path he might break his leg, and
then we should be obliged to have him here for weeks."

"Then I shall certainly not choose the path," said Dimbie decisively.

"That is right.  What has he been doing?"

"Everything he shouldn't do.  Your mother is reduced to tears, and
Amelia is flinging the saucepans and kettles at the kitchen-range."

"She is certainly making a noise."

Dimbie sat down on the bed and knit his brows.

"I am sorry, dear," I said sympathetically.  "I couldn't help his
coming; I didn't invite him."

"I know.  Naturally your mother wanted to see you."

"Yes.  Poor mother!  To live for three months without any respite upon
the edge of a crater subject at any moment to volcanic eruptions is
naturally wearing, and she must have an occasional change in order to
keep her reason."

Dimbie nursed his leg, and his mouth was a little more crooked than
usual.  I lay and watched him.  How unselfish and forbearing he was!
He put up with Peter for mother's sake, he put up with mother for my
sake, he put up with Jane for her own and the Doctor's sake.  Here he
was yearning to be alone, to be by ourselves; and the house was full up
with parents, friends, and doctors.  And I, to add to his worries, have
been obliged to keep my room for the last week owing to a feverish cold
and general poorliness.

"But they will all go soon," I said, trying to comfort him.  "Peter and
mother are returning home after the wedding, and Jane is to be married
next month."

"November is an idiotic month for a wedding," he said irritably.

"Why?"

"She mightn't have been in such a deuce of a hurry."

"But it isn't she, it's the Doctor."

"Then he ought to have learnt patience at his age."

I smiled.

"You've grown fond of Jane?"

"Oh, I like her all right, but it's you I'm thinking of.  She seems to
know how to look after you and make you comfortable.  I'm rough and
Amelia's stupid, and it's amazing how she knows exactly what you want.
And Amelia has taken to her, she's a perfect lamb in her presence."

"I wish Peter would be a lamb, too.  How are they getting on at meals?"

And Dimbie gave me a most vivid description of how they _were_ getting
on at meals, which left me weak with laughter.

"And really, sweet," he concluded, "I am rather glad you are fast here,
though the drawing-room without you seems like a barren wilderness.
Your old corner looks lonely and empty."

"I'll soon be there to fill it," I said.

"Do you think you are better?"  He furrowed his brow.

"I wonder how many times a day you ask me that, dear one.  Don't I look
better?"  He regarded me anxiously.  "When we get to our new house----"

"Ah, yes!" he said, brightening at once.  "It is change you want.  As
soon as ever we have cleared out this rabbit warren we'll begin our
plans.  We'll be our own architects--master builders, eh?"

"Do you mean by the rabbit warren mother and Peter?"

"Yes," he laughed.  "And when the endless discussion of frocks and
Jane's wedding is over we'll set to work hard.  I want the house to be
ready by the summer."

A little pain settled at my heart.  He was so bent upon building this
new home for us--a home after our own hearts, a house with south-west
windows to catch every bit of sunshine for me, with a verandah in which
I could lie, with an old-world garden--we must find a plot of land with
well-grown, stately trees--with extensive views, with distant,
pine-clad hills, and smiling, fertile valleys.  Perhaps a river might
be included too, a babbling stream which would cheer me with its happy
laughter.  His eyes glisten as he paints his picture, develops his
foreground, sketches in his distances.

"They must be blue distances," he said to-day.

"They might be grey, swept by clouds, wrapped in mist."

"Even then they would be beautiful," he argued.

"Yes," I agreed, "most distances are beautiful; look at the frog-pond."

He laughed.

"Still attached to our little home?"

"Oh, so attached!  I love it more each day.  It is so cosy, and we are
so comfortable.  Now that Amelia has permitted us to have daily help
there is nothing we want, is there?"

A cloud passed over his face.

"I am sorry that you still do not wish to leave, Marg.  I know it would
be so much better for you, and Renton insists upon it.  He says in
bracing air you will be so much stronger, and--I am disappointed that
you are not interested."

"He does not know----" the words broke from me.  And then, "I _am_
interested.  I want to do what you want.  Your picture is entrancing.
Let us begin at once.  I will draw a plan of the garden, and you shall
draw a plan of the house, and then we'll compare notes."

I spoke rapidly.  Why should we not begin, as he was so eager?  It
would give him occupation during the long days.  It would make him
happy, feeling that it was being done for me and my comfort.

He brightened at once.

"Where shall we have it?" I went on.  "Shall it be on the top of Leith
Hill, or at Hind Head, Farndon, Frensham, or Dorking?"

"It must be where there are pine trees and heather for you, and in the
neighbourhood of shooting for me.  It must be high up, and yet not too
cold, and we must pitch the house southwest for the sun."

"And there must be a river," I continued gravely, "and blue distances,
a wide, extensive view, grand forest trees in our own garden, and lawns
that have been rolled and 'mowd' for a thousand years.  And God will
specially create it all for us."

"Now you are being impertinent."  He smiled happily.  "I will fetch
paper and pencils."  But he didn't, for Peter arrived at the moment and
forced an entrance.  His nose was a trifle blue, and his eyes glistened
as a warrior's who has recently tasted blood.  He pecked me on the
forehead and asked me how I was.  I informed him that I was only very
middling, and Dimbie added that rest and quiet were most essential for
my well-being.

Peter ignored Dimbie and seated himself in front of the fire, to which
he held out a gouty leg, and remarked that Amelia was a brazen minx.
Dimbie and I not replying, he repeated it again.  Dimbie and I admired
the view from the window, and Peter for the third time repeated the
same uninteresting remark, but this time with a yell.  Dimbie said
politely and firmly that if the yell was repeated Peter must leave the
room, as my nerves were not in a state to stand cat-calls.  Peter
glared but didn't repeat the yell, at which I marvelled.

Mother popped her head in at the door, and seeing Peter, popped it out
with extreme activity.

Jane did the same.

Amelia popped hers in, but kept it there, and then advanced.  She sort
of arched her back as she looked at Peter, and bristled and
figuratively spat.

"What is it, Amelia?" I asked, before they got at each other.

"The butcher, mum."

"How often the butcher seems to call," I said wearily.  "Does he live
very near to us?"

"He lives in the village, mum, and he's killed a home-fed pig."

"Poor thing!  Just when there's an abundance of acorns."

Amelia ignored my sympathy.

"A nice loin of pork with sage and onion stuffing would be a change,
mum."

"I don't eat sage and onion," growled Peter.

"A nice loin of pork with sage and onion stuffing would be a change,"
repeated Amelia steadily.  "And I've got oysters and a partridge for
you, mum."

"I don't want both.  General Macintosh could have the partridge," I
said pacifically.

"There'll be soup, pork, Charlotte _Ruce_, and savoury eggs for the
dining-room."  When Amelia adopted that tone it was unwise to argue.

"Do _you_ know how to make Charlotte Russe?"

Amelia creaked, and a bone snapped, the result of an extraordinary
veracity.

"I have an idea how it's made, but Miss Fairbrother does the sweets
now.  She's gettin' her hand in before she's married.  She's goin' to
spoil the Doctor.  Most ladies spoils their husbands."  She fixed a
baleful eye upon Dimbie and Peter.

Peter seized the poker and thumped the fire into a blaze.  I was glad,
for the room was chilly.

"Is that all, Amelia?"

"No, mum.  I wants to speak about the bathroom.  It's fair swimmin'
with water.  You could float the canoe in it."

"Dear me, has the cistern overflowed?" asked Dimbie.

"No, sir, it's General Macintosh.  When he takes his bath in the
mornin' he thinks he's suddenly turned into an alligator.  The
splashin's dreadful, and when he's tired of that he just bales the
water on to the floor.  It's like the Bay of Biscay when I go in, and I
shall be glad if you'll kindly speak to him about it, sir."

Peter put his gouty leg carefully and firmly on to the floor, and, as
golfers say, got a good stance.  Then he opened his mouth, but before
he could utter a word Dimbie had gently but forcibly taken him by the
shoulders and put him out of the room.  Amelia was triumph personified,
but her victory was short lived, for when Dimbie returned he was very
angry with her.

"Understand now, Amelia, that no such tales are brought to the
mistress.  I will _not_ have her worried with trivial household
matters.  I thought you were capable and clever enough to manage for
yourself; you keep telling us that you are, and the first thing that
goes wrong you fly to her.  Understand too that your manner of speaking
to General Macintosh is little short of downright impertinence, and if
it should occur again, if there are any more scenes, not only he goes
out of the house, but you also.  Yes, _you_ go, understand that.  You
are a good girl, but there are plenty of other good girls in the world.
Your mistress is poorly, weak and nervous, and she is _not_ to be
worried.  Now go!  Not a word.  _Go!_"

Dimbie stopped for breath, and weeping, humiliated, and very unhappy,
Amelia went.  Whether she straightway fisted Peter, whether she
peppered him from every point of vantage, we have not inquired; but
during the last six hours there has been a marked improvement in the
behaviour of both.  Peter is not bearing Dimbie any grudge for his
ejectment, which seems to me remarkable, but which Dimbie says isn't.
"Bully a bully and he becomes an angel."

"He is hardly that yet," I objected.

"He passed the hot buttered toast to us at tea and didn't have any
himself."

"Hot buttered toast doesn't agree with him," I said.  "It has always
lain heavily upon his stomach."

Dimbie laughed, and Peter entered in the middle of it.

"Your mother and I are going for a stroll.  Do you want anything from
the village?"

My stare was rude, I fear.  It was certainly the first time I had ever
heard Peter ask if anybody wanted anything.

"Thank you," I began, "it is very good of you."  I cast round in my
mind for some requirement--soap, candles, Shinio, oatmeal, pearl
barley, gelatine, potatoes, all the various things Amelia spent her
life in requiring--but we were not "out" of any of them.  Peter was
waiting; his kindly intention must not be nipped in the bud at any
cost.  "Chips!" I cried with illumination.

"Chips?"

"Firewood.  Hudson's Dry Soap boxes."

Peter clutched at his understanding.

"Amelia chops them up," I explained.

"He can't carry soap boxes home," whispered Dimbie.  "Couldn't you want
darning wool?"

Of course, darning wool was one of the most useful things in the world.

"Please bring me two cards of darning wool," I said aloud.  "You will
get them at the candle shop."

Peter rubbed his head.

"Wool at a candle shop?"

"Yes, it keeps everything--sweets, oil, candles and haberdashery."

He went out of the room.

"Well, I'm blessed!" ejaculated Dimbie.

"So am I.  He looked quite docile, and he's really wonderfully handsome
for a man of his age."

Peter was back.

"What colour your mother wishes to know?"

"Colour?  Oh, anything!"

"Brown," said Dimbie hastily, turning a reproachful eye upon me.

"You really are stupid, Marg," he said when Peter had gone.

"I admit it," I said ruefully, "and we haven't a brown thing in the
house.  Why couldn't you have said black while you were about it?"

And Dimbie didn't know why he hadn't said black.  But it is sufficient
for me to know that Peter is trying to be good, and that Amelia has
ceased to throw saucepans about the house, as the noise was a little
trying.  Peter may yet go to heaven.



CHAPTER XXVII

A DISCUSSION ABOUT A WEDDING-GOWN


The discussion about Jane's wedding-gown began in that pleasant hour
between tea and dinner on the soft edge of the dusk, when the
refreshing influence of tea still pervades one, when the fire seems to
burn its brightest, when the clock ticks its softest, when the little
shadows begin to creep into the corners of the room, and the familiar
furniture and ornaments become a soft, rounded blur.

Nanty had been persuaded into staying for a real long evening; and John
had been persuaded, against his better judgment, into putting up his
horses at the "Ring o' Bells," and was in the kitchen saying pleasant
and pacifying things to Amelia, no doubt.

"We shall be held up by highwaymen.  John will be gagged and thrown
into a ditch, and my pockets will be rifled and my jewellery stolen."

Nanty said this resignedly, nay almost cheerfully, as though a change
from the ordinary routine of life would not be unacceptable to her.
And mother gazed at her in fearful admiration.  Heroism in any form
appeals strongly to mother, though she herself is the bravest of the
brave.  To have lived with Peter for twenty-five years denotes some
courage.

Nanty's pleasure on hearing of Jane's engagement was cloaked by a
pretence at surprise and pity; but of course we all know Nanty.  She
had been very kind to Jane when she lived with us.  "Above the ruck of
ordinary governesses," she had pronounced.  "Not always on the look-out
for slights and snubs; a most sensible young person!"  Now the sensible
young person was anxious to tell her herself of the happiness which had
come into her life, and had requested mother and me to keep silent on
the subject "if we _could_."  She had, however, conceded to our earnest
request that the announcement should be made in our presence after the
men had gone out.  We knew that Nanty's observations would be amusing,
and we looked forward to a pleasant half-hour.  When tea had been
removed Peter seemed inclined to linger, notwithstanding the
unnecessary number of women around him.  The arm-chair which he had
annexed--(Dimbie's)--was luxurious, the fire was warm, his temper was
mild.  Dimbie seemed still more inclined to linger.  The rug on which
he was stretched was curly and soft, his hand sought mine, he liked and
was always entertained by Nanty.  Mother and I looked at one another
and looked at Jane, and curbed our impatience.  Mother glanced at Peter
and opened her mouth and shut it again.  The courage of Horatius was
not within her this day.  I did the same at Dimbie.

"What is it, dear?" he asked.  "Aren't you comfy?  Shall I alter your
pillow?"

I assured him that I was perfectly comfortable, and at the same time
ventured to suggest that it was a lovely evening on which to take a
walk.  Jane's approaching marriage could not be discussed before two
men when one of them was Peter; for Nanty was never talkative before
Peter, she said he always roused her temper to such a pitch that she
could scarcely get her breath.

Dimbie agreed with my view of the evening's attractiveness, and
stretched his legs luxuriously towards the fire.

I mentioned that the birch trees in the spinny would be at their best,
dressed out in all their autumn glory.

He again agreed with me, and remarked that their grey boles was what
peculiarly appealed to him--grey with the vivid splashes of orange and
red leaves above.

The others began to look bored.

I mentioned that the squirrels would be busy gathering and storing
acorns for the winter.

He said he thought it was within the range of possibility, and he put
more coal on the fire.

Mother folded her hands and looked resigned, and Jane took some
needlework from her basket.

"Why don't you say what you want?" said Nanty suddenly.  "Men don't
understand hints and beating about the bush.  They are simple-minded
creatures--some of them.  Do you want your husband to fetch you some
chocolate from the village?"

Dimbie looked at me inquiringly.

"I want you to go for a walk for an hour, and take father with you and
show him the beauties of the spinny.  And you might take a basket and
get some blackberries."

Mother's startled and amazed countenance at the idea of Peter's going
blackberrying made me laugh, and Dimbie's reproachful face moved me to
pity.

"Well, Peter might go blackberrying alone and you to see the
squirrels," I said confusedly.

And now Nanty laughed outright, and mother sat horror-stricken, gazing
at Peter.  But he by a merciful dispensation of Providence, was dozing
which was a lucky thing for me.

Dimbie got up slowly and stretched himself.

"Come on, General Macintosh," he said resignedly, but Peter dozed on.
Dimbie patted his leg, unfortunately the gouty one, and Peter started
up swearing loudly.

"We've got to go for a walk," said Dimbie apologetically.

"Who's got to go for a walk?" demanded Peter fiercely.

"You and I.  We have to go blackberrying and see the squirrels."

The look which Peter gave to Dimbie obliged me to press my mouth
against the tortoise's back to keep from screaming.

Peter sat down heavily.

"I don't know whether you think you are being funny, sir, but I don't.
To wake a man up from a much-needed sleep to talk about da--ahem,
squirrels and blackberries seems to me to be about the most deucedly
idiotic thing--"

"Hsh, father!" I said.  "Dimbie wants you to go for a walk with him to
the spinny.  It's a lovely evening, and you might just happen to come
across some squirrels and blackberries."

"But I don't _want_ to see any squirrels or bl----"

Dimbie took him by the arm and began gently to drag him towards the
door.  "Come on," he said coaxingly, "we've got to go somewhere,
General.  They want to get rid of us.  Women are----" and Peter was so
interested in hearing what Dimbie thought of the senseless creatures,
that he actually followed him into the hall, allowed himself to be put
into his top coat, and led through the door, down the path and out of
the gate.

"You can take a breath, mother, dear," I said, "or you will suffocate.
And now, Jane, tell your news, they won't be back under an hour."

She drew a thread from the linen tea-cloth she was making with
unswerving fingers, but the colour crept into her cheeks.

"She looks as though she were making bottom drawer things," remarked
Nanty dryly.

"And that's exactly what she is doing."

"Oh!  For herself?"

"Well, she'd hardly bother to make them for other people."

"I disagree with you.  Miss Fairbrother is exactly the sort of kind
person who would like to see a friend's drawer filled with a lot of
feminine frippery."

"This is for her own," I returned.  "Go on, Jane."

She put down her work.

"You seem to be telling, so you had better finish, Marguerite."

"You mean you are too shy.  Well, Nanty, Jane is to be married next
month.  Guess to whom.  You shall have three tries."

Nanty sniffed superciliously.

"I should have thought she would have had more sense.  To an Indian
rajah who lives in a gilded palace?"

"Wrong."

"To a man in the Service with a small pension, an enlarged liver,
residing at Brighton and requiring a kind nurse?"

"Wrong again."

"To a widower--perhaps the father of the two sticky children you
mentioned to me?"

"The mother is alive and extremely healthy," said Jane.

Nanty leaned back in her chair.

"I only hope the man is as nice as can be expected or hoped for.  Miss
Fairbrother has the appearance of a woman who would throw herself away
upon a rake, hoping to reform his morals and save his soul."

Jane smiled.

"Do you think that Dr. Renton's soul is in danger?"

Nanty checked a gasp of surprise.

"I have always felt that he was a man with a hidden--something.  I have
wondered about it," she said, recovering herself.

"Most women wonder at single men, and they wonder still more when they
are married," said mother.

"Who," I asked, laughing, "the women or the men?"

"Oh, the women!"

She spoke with an earnestness that recalled Peter and his blackberrying
to my mind, and I laughed again.

"Men," said Nanty, "are necessary for the continuation of the race.  I
cannot see that they are of any other use in the world."

"Now I am waiting for your opinion, Marguerite," said Jane with a
twinkle.  "I should like to have no illusions about man before I marry
him."

"I am not to be drawn," I returned.  "There are men and men.  The two
looking for squirrels at the moment are extreme types.  Perhaps there
is something half-way between, and you may be fairly fortunate."

Jane smiled with a satisfied air.

"You have not congratulated me," she said to Nanty.  "It is usual, I
think."

"I don't congratulate people on marriage."

"You are a cynic."

"No, but my eyes are open; there was a time when they were closed like
yours."

"It is a pity," said Jane softly.  "I hope mine will always remain
shut."

"Let us hope so," returned Nanty a little bitterly.

"I thought we were to discuss Jane's wedding gown," said mother
plaintively, bringing us back to actualities.

She fetched two big bundles of patterns from a side-table and handed
them to Jane.

"Before we begin," said the latter, turning again to Nanty, "won't you
change your mind and congratulate me?"

"I'll congratulate Dr. Renton, if that will satisfy you."

"But it won't.  I think I am quite as much, if not more, to be
congratulated than he."

"Now you are being humble," said Nanty whimsically, "and I don't like
humility in a woman.  A woman should always remember that she is quite
good enough for any man living."  And with that Jane had to be
satisfied.

And what a discussion followed as to the gown Jane should wear on the
great day.  We might have been schoolgirls.  And the trouble was that
no two of us agreed on any single point--colour, material, or fashion
of making.  When mother had soared away to silver gauze posed on
chiffon, Jane said--

"Kindly remember my age, and that I am going to a wedding and not to a
ball."

When Nanty even, roused to enthusiasm, had completed a dream of a
princess gown of softest pastel-blue, chiffon velvet, Jane said--

"Kindly remember that I am small and dumpy."

And when I extolled the virtue of palest mauve taffeta, Jane simply
laughed outright and asked me to look at her colouring.

"I'm looking," I said.  "You've brown hair and bright red cheeks."

But she ignored all our suggestions.

"I shall be married in silver-grey poplin," she pronounced.

"Exactly like a servant."  Nanty closed her eyes.  "They always wear
silver-grey.  I had three parlour-maids in succession who had selected
it for their wedding-gowns."

"But alpaca, surely!  Mine will be silk poplin of a good quality."

But Nanty and mother refused to take any further interest in the
subject, and Nanty picked up a paper.

"What about grey cloth, then--pale dove-grey?"  Jane waived the silver
poplin with an apparent effort.

Nanty put down the paper.

"Grey cloth with chinchilla is rather nice," she admitted grudgingly.

"I did not mention chinchilla," said Jane meekly.

"_I_ will give the chinchilla as a wedding present if you don't mind.
Grey cloth alone would be most uninteresting."

"The coat must be a bolero," said mother firmly, "lined with white
satin."

"You are all evidently going to run me into a lot of money.  I am not
accustomed to satin linings.  I thought of having Italian cloth."

"What?" shouted mother and Nanty.

"Italian cloth," repeated Jane firmly.  "I hope to do the whole thing
for about five pounds."

"_Impossible!_" said Nanty.  "Fifteen would be mean and skimpy."

Jane set her mouth good-humouredly.

"Then I can't get married."

"No, you evidently can't," agreed Nanty.  "It would be unfair to the
man."

"It's a pity," observed Jane, "because I rather wanted to."

"A foolish desire on your part which should be checked at once."

Mother began to look worried.  With a desire to cheer her up I casually
inquired of Nanty if she had seen anything more of Professor Leighrail.
I was unprepared for her dropping the patterns about like chaff in a
wind.

"Professor Leighrail!" said mother, with widely-open eyes.
"Anastasia's old lover?"

"Exactly," I replied.  "He's a friend of ours, and Nanty met him here
the other day.  Have you seen him again?" I asked.

She did not reply.

"It is a pity when deafness overtakes people--the first sign of old
age."

"She is not deaf," said mother, "and is only fifty-one."

I laughed.

"Kiss me, mother, dear," I said, "you are so practical at times.  And
yet some people of your age are quite romantic and sentimental."

"La, la, la, la!" sang Nanty.  She leaned over my couch.  "Marguerite,"
she said, "I should slap you if you were strong and well."

"But I'm not," I said, "so kiss me."  And she did so, while whispering
that the Professor _had_ been to tea with her.  "It's not proper," I
said, and Nanty laughed.



CHAPTER XXVIII

PREPARATIONS FOR A WEDDING


The house is very quiet.  Jane and Dimbie are out in the woods
gathering sprays of red-tinted brambles, briony, traveller's joy,
bracken, which though fading is of that golden tinge which is almost
more beautiful than the green, hips and haws shining and scarlet, and
clusters of berries of the mountain-ash.  This collection of autumnal
loveliness is for the decoration of the cottage, for is not Jane to be
married to-morrow?  Mother and Peter have gone for a stroll as Peter
calls it, or for a gallop as mother terms it, for Peter can get up as
much speed, in spite of his gouty leg, as Amelia can with my Ilkley
couch.

Amelia has "run" to the village for innumerable things forgotten this
morning when the grocer's boy clamoured for orders.  And the Help I
should imagine, from the quiet of the house, has fallen asleep over the
kitchen fire.  The Help, from what Amelia tells me, is very stupid and
is no help at all.  She puts the blacking on the scullery floor instead
of on the boots.  She never screws the stopper on to the Shinio bottle
after use, and the contents are therefore spilled all over the place.
She allows the handles of the knives to lie in water.  "Does she take
them off the blades?" I asked, and I received one of Amelia's halibut
looks.  She forgets to sprinkle tea-leaves on the carpets before
brushing them, though the tea-leaves are put all ready for her in a
nice clean saucer.  And yet, in spite of all these enormities, Amelia
permits her to remain and not help.

Before "running" to the village just now she wondered whether anything
would go wrong during her temporary absence and what the Help would be
up to.

"She's worse than her at Tompkinses'."

"The one who wore half a pound of tea as a bustle when she left at
night?"

Amelia seemed pleased at my memory, and she then went on to explain why
this Help was worse than the other.  It appeared that deceit was her
besetting sin.  The other one openly, so to speak, wore tea as a
bustle; this one you could never catch.  She would leave of an evening
with a face like the Song of Solomon--I did not see the connection, but
did not like to interrupt--and yet butter, bacon, and tea disappeared
miraculously.  Amelia would search her hand-bag when the Help was
washing up; she would look under the lining of her crêpe bonnet.
"Crêpe!" I said.  "Is she a widow?"

But Amelia said she wasn't, that the bonnet had been given to her by a
late employer, and the crêpe was of the best quality.  I felt remiss in
not having a crêpe bonnet too to present to the Help, and asked Amelia
if she thought my old yellow satin dancing frock would be of any use to
her, and Amelia has gone off without replying.  Perhaps she would like
the frock for herself.  I know she can dance, for have I not seen her
executing the cakewalk in Dimbie's tea-rose slippers?

The Help is to wear a cap and collar and cuffs for to-morrow's
festivities.  Amelia is making her do this; and I am a little sorry for
the poor Help, for she may dislike a cap very much, having a husband
and four nearly grown-up children.

Amelia says that she and the Help will be able to manage the guests
quite easily, and I believe her.  I know that she alone would be quite
equal to forty, and we are only expecting ten besides the house-party.
A younger brother of Dr. Renton is to be best man; and then there will
be Nanty; a Miss Rebecca Sharp, a Suffragist, and cousin to Jane; Dr.
Renton's married sister and her husband; his housekeeper, who has
served him faithfully like a housekeeper in a book for nearly twenty
years; a Mrs. Wilbraham, an old patient, who has invited herself; and
Professor Leighrail.  Dimbie suggested inviting the last, and I jumped
at him.

"He will entertain Nanty," I said.

"You don't want to marry them?" said Dimbie in alarm.

"Dimbie, dear," I returned, "you must try to break yourself of the
habit of assuming that I am perpetually trying to marry people."

"What about Jane and the Doctor?"

"I was a girl in the schoolroom when they fell in love with one
another."

"You brought them together."

"I did nothing of the kind.  Jane's visit was arranged long before I
knew."

He was only half convinced.

"I don't want another wedding from here," he said a little gloomily.
"One is all right.  I like Jane, and it has been fun and amusement for
you.  But if Nanty and more pattern-books arrive I shall clear off."

"Were I stronger," I said, "I should shake you."

"Would you?"  He laughed, holding his face to mine.

"I hope you are going to be very good to-morrow, and give Jane away
nicely.  You mustn't give her a push, you must hand her over gracefully
to the Doctor."

Dimbie screwed up his face.

"I don't fancy the job.  I wish you could be there, Marg, to give me a
wink at the right moment."

"Oh, don't!" I whispered, in a momentary fit of passionate longing.
"Don't remind me that I can't be there.  Dimbie, I am _so_ disappointed
that I shall not see Jane married!  I do so love Jane.  It is--hard to
bear."

As the words were uttered I would have given a kingdom to recall them.
When should I learn control?  Pain flitted across my dear one's face,
pity and sorrow.

"Never mind!" I cried, striving to heal the wound.  "I shall see her
dressed.  She is going to don her wedding-gown in my room, and I am to
put all the finishing touches.  She will kneel in front of me, and I am
to pull a lock of hair out here, pat one in there, persuade a curl to
wander across her forehead, tilt her hat to a more fashionable angle,
and altogether make her the most beautiful Jane in the world."

But Dimbie was not to be comforted.  He has gone to the woods with
black care hovering very close at hand, and every effort must I strain
this evening to bring back the smile to his lips.  There must be no sad
faces to-morrow.  Jane has had a somewhat hard and lonely life, and she
must embark upon her new voyage without a shadow of unhappiness.  The
Doctor will be good to her, I know--gentle and chivalrous.  One knows
instinctively when a man will be good to the woman he has married; it
is in his voice, his manner, in the very way he looks at her.  What
Dimbie is to me he will be to her.  Why should Jane and I be of the
elect among women?  We deserve it no more than mother and Nanty.  But
they will have their compensation, I verily believe.  God in His
goodness will reserve for all the tired, disillusioned wives of the
world a little peaceful niche where they may rest from their husbands,
which is another word for labours.  And the husbands!  I do not think
that theirs is always the blame, the fault.  There must be many too who
would like to find a peaceful haven where they may smoke and read, and
put their feet upon the chairs, and rest from the perpetual nagging and
fault-finding of their wives.

      *      *      *      *      *

Amelia is back and has roused the Help, for her voice was borne to me
loudly indignant.  "And there is no kettle boiling for tea!"  Poor
Help, or sensible Help?  Did she realise that if she waited long enough
Amelia would put on the kettle?  There are usually plenty of Amelias to
put on kettles and scold Helps and tidy up the universe.  And so also
are there many Helps who realise this, and therefore sit with folded
hands doing nothing so long as the Amelias will permit them.  I don't
know to whom my sympathy goes the most, the Amelias or Helps.

Peter and mother are back too, and are removing their outdoor wraps.
Peter, blowing and snorting like the alligator to which Amelia likened
him, has informed me that it is a beastly cold day with an east wind,
that the roads in Surrey are the worst in Europe, and that mother is
the slowest woman in God's universe.  Mother has tip-toed back to tell
me what she thinks of Peter.  That his limp was so fast and furious
that you might just as well try to keep up with a fire-engine, that she
has made up her mind that this will be her last walk with him (mother
has been saying this for many years), and that he has _forbidden_ her
to wear her new bonnet on the morrow, as--she looks a fright in it.

I have soothed her as best I can.  I have told her that Dimbie shall
stand by and see that she does wear the new bonnet, and that if Peter
is in any way untractable he shall be locked up for the day in the shed
with his own canoe, which has caused her to steal away in a state of
fearful joy.

I see Jane and Dimbie coming through the gate.  Jane is wellnigh lost
in a tangled wealth of glorious autumn treasures, and Dimbie trails
behind him an immense bough of pine.  It is for me to smell, I know--to
inhale the delicious, resinous scent fresh from the woods.  A bit
broken off is less than nothing, you must have a branch straight from
the heart of the trunk.  When I have felt it and held it, and smelled
it and loved it, it shall stand by the grandfather clock in the hall,
and it will make a beautiful decoration for to-morrow's festivities.

I must cease scribbling.  They are all assembling for the last family
tea.  The Doctor has just arrived.  Jane has a bunch of mountain-ash
berries tucked into her belt.  Here comes Amelia with the tea and
toast, and resignation under suffering written on her brow!  What has
the Help been doing now?



CHAPTER XXIX

JANE'S WEDDING


Nanty described it as a calm, gracious sort of wedding.  There was no
blare of trumpets when Jane and the Doctor plighted their troth.

"Just as it should be," said Nanty.  "A wedding at all times is to me a
depressing spectacle; and when accompanied by a sound of brass and
tinkling of cymbals, and shawms, and ringing of bells, and thumping of
wedding marches, it simply becomes ridiculous, not to mention that the
making of such noises is a relic of barbarism."

Mother said a bright ray of sunshine found Jane out, and lit up and
illumined her face just as she was repeating the beautiful and solemn
words, "Till death us do part."

"She looked--she looked----"  Mother paused for suitable words.

"As though she had been sunstruck," interposed Nanty.

Mother was mildly indignant.

"She looked like an angel, Anastasia."

Nanty gave a little grunt.

"An angel in a Paris hat, eh?  But I must admit she looked rather nice.
She's certainly far too good for the Doctor."

"Of course, Jane is getting on," said mother doubtfully.

"If she were sixty she would be too good for any man," pronounced Nanty
decisively, and when she adopted that tone mother ceased to argue.

I was glad that the wedding morning dawned serenely beautiful.  I had
feared lowering skies, heavy, white mists, a dripping, gloomy,
sad-faced world, but November was on her best behaviour.  The sun sent
mild, warm rays across the garden, and the few leaves which still clung
to the trees across the fence were as splashes of gold against the
brown branches and quiet, blue sky.

They bade me remain in bed till late on in the morning, so that I might
be well and strong for the reception, which was a grand name to give to
a gathering of a dozen or more people.

I lay and laughed at the various sounds of the household, which were
carried to me through my open door--at Amelia's shrill expostulations
with the Help, who seemed to be bent upon doing the wrong thing at the
wrong time; at Peter's explosions as he was chivied about from pillar
to post by "tiresome women who would go putting silly decorations all
over the confounded place"; and at Dimbie's perpetual wailing at the
disappearance of the corkscrew.  "Tie it round your neck on a ribbon,
Dumbarton," I could hear Peter growl; and Dimbie said it was a most
excellent suggestion on the part of his father-in-law, and he would
carry it out at once.

"Would you mind moving once again, General Macintosh, we must arrange
the refreshments now," came Jane's voice pleading and ingratiating.

"Well, I'm not preventing you."

"But we want the table, please."  And he straightway burst into my room
to tell me what he thought of the institution of marriage.

"Not so much as a hole left for a cat to creep into," he said angrily.

"Jumbles is here; _you_ can stay if you like.  The easy chair by the
fire is very comfortable."

He dropped into it a little ungraciously.

"So you don't like weddings?" I said with a smile.

"Like weddings!"

"Why did you come?"

"Your mother insisted.  When your mother gets an idea into her head you
might as well talk to a mule."

"But _you_ needn't have come," I said gently.

He put some coal on the fire with unnecessary energy.

"What is mother doing?"

"Getting in everybody's way."

"I thought it was you who were doing that."

He vouchsafed no reply, and buried himself behind _The Times_,
thinking, I suppose, like the ostrich, that if he covered up his head
his body would not be detected.

But Jane soon routed him out.

"I have come to dress Marguerite," she announced.  "Amelia is
permitting it."

There was no movement from behind the paper.

"General Macintosh, I am sorry to disturb you, but the time is getting
on."

"I thought Marguerite was dressed, she looks very grand."

"It is the ribbons of my nightingale which have deceived you, I have
only that and my nightdress on.  I can hardly appear in so scanty an
attire."

"Give 'em something to talk about."

"Father," I said, "_will_ you go."  And growling and grumbling he went
in search of mother, presumably to have a row.

The sunshine streamed into the room, the tits chattered, and a robin
blithely showed what could be done with a range of eight notes: tweet,
tweet, ta ra ra tweet, tre la, tre la, ta ra ra tweet.

"Listen, Jane," I said, "it is singing to you.  Isn't it a lovely day!
I'm so glad the sun is shining.  Are you happy, Jane?"

"Yes," she said simply, dropping a kiss on to my hair, which she was
gently brushing.  "I'm too happy to talk about it; and I must hurry,
Dimbie will be here in a minute, he has got something for you."

And there he was, peeping through the door with Amelia close behind
him.  In his arms was a large cardboard box.

"It's a new tea-gown straight from Paris, mum," said Amelia, excitedly,
as Dimbie removed the lid.  "There were twenty to choose from," added
Jane, "and _we_ were over an hour in settlin' on it," completed Amelia.

Very carefully Dimbie removed all the folds of soft, white paper, and
shook out the gown--a lovely mass of pearly satin, soft as the petals
of a rose, and marvellous old lace of cobweb transparency and texture.

"It is too beautiful!" I whispered to him, folding my arms around his
neck.

"And there is a rose for your neck, sweetheart, just the colour of your
hair.  Isn't he a beauty?"

I held the fragrant, yellow softness to my face, for the tears were
coming, and Jane and Amelia stole softly away and left us by ourselves
for ten minutes--ten minutes which would alone make the saddest life
worth living, and mine was not sad because I had Dimbie.

Presently Jane came back.

"You must go, sir," she commanded, "or your wife will not be ready."
And Dimbie went.

Deftly and quickly she arranged my hair, got me into the lovely gown,
and fastened the rose at my breast.  And while she worked she talked.
She made me laugh at her description of the Help, who was sitting dazed
and "amoithered" in the middle of the kitchen, drinking the strongest
black tea, and regarding every onslaught of Amelia with the utmost
indifference and apathy.  And Amelia!  She, of course, was working like
a traction engine in the refreshment-room, shaking her fist at the
creams and jellies, some of which refused to stand up, and persuading
trails of briony to stick to their proper position on the cake and not
wander away to the dishes of oyster pâtés.

"And now you are ready, and you look--well, Dimbie will tell you how
you look.  I will call him."

"Don't," I said, "he will stay so long, and then you will go to another
room to dress, and I do so want to watch you.  I shall be awfully
particular about your hair."

"You won't suggest a hair-frame?"

"God forbid!  You are not the type of woman for a frame.  But you drag
your hair too much off your temples at times, and although your
forehead is low and broad and all that a forehead ought to be, I fancy
a few tendrils straying across it would look sweet under your
chinchilla toque, and you must humour my fancy, Jane."

Obediently she knelt down and let me do what I would with her.

"Be very careful getting into your skirt," I commanded.  "Don't ruffle
your hair whatever you do."

She made a comical face.

"What a fuss!" she said.

"If you don't fuss on your wedding-day you never will.  And men don't
like dowdy women.  Come here and I will fasten your bodice.  I can if
you will kneel very close to me."

For a moment I rested my cheek against the soft, beautiful fur which
trimmed the bolero-bodice--Nanty had indeed been generous.

"Jane, dear," I said, "I _am_ glad you are going to be married, and
that you will have no more sticky children to teach.  I should like to
have seen the Doctor as a bridegroom.  I feel sure that he will use
profane language in the stress of his emotions.  Now put on your hat
and walk across the room with stately mien so that I may have a good
look at you."  I nodded approval.  "You'll do.  You look sweet--a study
in grey.  And you are quite tall and slight in that elegant frock.  I
believe even Nanty will be satisfied."

She came and knelt again by my couch.  How strong and yet gentle was
her face! I thought.  How steady and clear were her eyes!  How sweet
and expressive the large, sensitive mouth!

"I want to say good-bye to you alone--not before the others.  I want to
thank you, little, patient Marguerite, for all your goodness to me----"

"Jane," I said, "if you utter another word I shall weep, and then my
eyes will be red.  Be merciful to me."

"God bless you and keep you!" she murmured with a great earnestness,
and then she bowed her head for a moment, and I knew that she was
praying.

Mother forced an entrance.

"Peter has hidden my bonnet"--her air was tragic--"and I can't find
him, he has hidden himself as well."

"He was under the pine tree in the hall when I last saw him," said
Jane.  "He may have slipped behind the clock."

"I'll go and see," said mother breathlessly, "I shall never be ready in
time.  The carriages are due now."  Mother and Peter were to have one
to themselves, and Dimbie was to take Jane.

She was back in a moment.

"I've got it.  Amelia found it.  He says he never touched it, and that
it was the Help."

And now Dimbie came banging at the door.

"Time's up," he shouted.  "How much longer are you going to prink,
Jane?"  Then popping his head in, "Peter will be smashing the wedding
presents if you don't all hurry up."

"I'm ready.  What do you think of your wife, sir?" said Jane.

I covered my face with my hands at the look in his eyes.

"Wheel me to the drawing-room," I whispered to him, "you don't go so
fast as Amelia; and put me right in the window, so that I may see you
all coming down the path."

"What a lovely Marguerite!" he murmured, shutting the door.  "I must
kiss my little wife.  Why, even your cushions are gold!  You look like
a golden lily."

"The carriages are waiting," I said.

"I shall come home the very minute I have given Jane away; I shan't
wait to the end.  You will be lonely."

And Dimbie little knew how earnestly during the next quarter of an hour
I longed for the loneliness he had predicted.  Never had I more
fervently yearned to be by myself, for as soon as ever Jane and Dimbie
had driven away the Help appeared.  She came slowly and deliberately
into the room and seated herself on a chair opposite to the couch.  She
wore the black crêpe bonnet, a black dress, black kid gloves, and she
carried a black parasol and a prayer-book.

"Good afternoon," I said politely.

"Good afternoon," she returned.

"Are you going--to a funeral?"

She stared at me with hard, black eyes.

"I've come to the reception."

"Oh!" I said.

"Master said me and 'Melia could hear their health drunk--the bride and
bridegroom's."

"But they are not here yet."

"No," she said, still staring at me unwaveringly.

"Where's Amelia?"  The Help alarmed me.

"'Melia's gone to the wedding, and then she's going to run 'ome before
the others to make the tea and coffee."

"Couldn't you make it?" I cried with sudden relief.

"No, 'Melia's going to make it.  She said I was to look after you and
see that you wanted for nothin'."

"I don't require anything, thank you; if I do, I will ring."

She did not move.

I closed my eyes.

"I do not require anything at present, thank you," I repeated.

There was no movement, and I opened my eyes.  The Help was still
staring at me unflinchingly--not a flicker of an eyelid, not a movement
of a muscle.

I felt I was going to scream.

"Don't you think,--perhaps, it would be advisable--will you be so good
as to see to the potatoes?"

I clasped and unclasped my hands feverishly.

"What pertaters?"

"Oh--er--the potatoes we are going to eat."

"We're not goin' to eat no pertaters.  'Melia never told me.  There's
to be tea, coffee, jelly, and champagne."

"But shan't we require some later on with our dinner?"

She shook her head.

"It's to be 'igh tea.  There'll be no time for dinner."

"But I should like potatoes."

The Help looked doubtful.

"I love potatoes."

"I'll ask 'Melia when she comes in."

"There is no occasion to ask Amelia.  Won't you go now, please,
Mrs.----?"

She still stared at me steadfastly.

"There's plenty of time; pertaters only takes half an hour."

"It's not enough," I cried sharply.

"I've boiled 'undreds of 'em--Skerry blues, magnums, queen of them all,
Cheshires--none of 'em takes more than half an hour."

I closed my eyes and clung to the tortoise.  "Oh, when would Dimbie
come?" I moaned to myself.  I lay thus for some minutes.  It seemed
ridiculous, absurd to be frightened of a mere Help.  I told myself this
over and over again.  At length I ventured to open one eye.  I longed
to know if the Help were still staring at me.  She was, and I shut it
again quickly.  What was I to do?  When would the wedding be over?  I
opened my eye again.  The Help was staring harder than ever.  Most
wickedly I wished that she could be struck dead by lightning.  But it
was unlikely, the day was brilliantly fine and sunny.  Now I put a
handkerchief over my eyes.  I would not look at the Help.  The gate
banged.  I heard Dimbie's step, and he came into the room, but I dare
not remove the handkerchief.

"What is it?" he cried anxiously.  "Are you poorly, Marguerite?"

"Come here," I said.

He stooped down.

"Is the Help still staring?" I whispered.

"Yes."

"Can you get her out of the room?"

He began to laugh.

"Can you?" I repeated.

"Of course."

"Well, do so quickly, please."

His voice rang out pleasantly and commandingly--

"Will you go and tell Amelia, please, that when the carriage returns I
shall be glad if she will give the coachmen some dinner--some meat and
potatoes."

Would the Help think that we were all in a conspiracy to make her boil
potatoes?

"'Melia is not here."

"Where is she?"

"At the weddin'."

"Well, then, you go and get the dinner ready, please."

She looked at her black dress and gloves and parasol.

"I didn't know as there was to be cookin'.  I've got my best dress on."

"You can put on an apron," I said gently.

She wavered.

Dimbie opened the door for her as he would have opened it for a
duchess, and looked at her.

She rose, carefully placed her parasol and prayer-book on the chair in
order to reserve it for future use, and unwillingly went out of the
room.

"Move the chair quickly," I gasped, "and hide the parasol and
prayer-book.  That woman must never be permitted to stare at me again
or I shall go mad.  How could you tell her that she might come in to
hear the health of the bride and bridegroom drunk?"

"She asked me.  What could I say?" said Dimbie ruefully.

"And dressed up as though she were going to a funeral----"

Dimbie began to laugh.

"And is she going to hand tea to the guests in a crêpe bonnet?"

"Can't say, you are the mistress of the house."

"Oh, Dimbie, what shall I do?  I daren't tell her to remove it."

"Wait till Amelia comes home.  She'll manage her."

Amelia came rushing through the gate, and I signalled to her from the
window.

"Yes, mum!"

"The Help is--wearing a crêpe bonnet.  I thought you said she was to
wear a cap and collar and cuffs?"

"So she is, mum.  She must have slipped into that bonnet the minute my
back was turned.  She'll be out of it in a jiffy, I'll see to that.
She's that deceitful, she'll wear me into my grave.  And the weddin'
was _that_ beautiful!  Miss Fairbrother looked----"

"I think I hear a carriage," I interrupted; and Amelia miraculously
flew into her cap and apron, and the next moment announced--

"Doctor and Mrs. Renton."

Jane advanced to the couch with outstretched hands.  Her eyes were
shining and her lips smiling.

"Did your husband swear?" I asked as she kissed me.

"Certainly not," said the Doctor.  "How's my patient to-day?"

"Quite well, thank you," I replied.  "Now that you've got Jane safely
tied up you'll begin to remember that you have some patients hanging on
your words.  Jane, he mustn't let his practice go to the wall.  You
have to live, you know."

"There's another carriage," said Dimbie, looking through the window.
"Ah, and here's Nanty!--what a howling swell!--and a whole host of
people I don't know."

"Jane, I am frightened of Miss Rebecca Sharp.  Stand by me when you
introduce us.  I am not used to Suffragettes," I said.

And a most delightful half-hour followed, while we discussed Jane's and
Amelia's united efforts at refreshments.  Dimbie would not permit my
being wheeled to the refreshment-room and noise, so my cake and
champagne were brought to the drawing-room, and I was entertained in
turn by Nanty and Professor Leighrail, the Doctor and Jane, Miss
Rebecca Sharp, who was most mild and unassuming, Mr. Tom Renton, the
best man, who ran to a heavy moustache and pimples, and even Peter came
for a moment to give me his opinion of Amelia's jelly.

Nanty and the Professor interested me greatly.  She, resplendent in
purple velvet and old lace, was composed and sarcastic; he genial,
happy, and detached.

"Down with all weddings!" was the gist of her conversation.

"Do all you can to encourage them," said the Professor cheerfully.

"Disillusionment and misery are the inevitable sequence."  Nanty
nibbled at the almond on a piece of wedding-cake.

"Happiness and a fuller life are the natural result."  The Professor
waved his glass in the air.

She regarded him with amusement.

"And you really think so?"

"I do, madam."

"You are optimistic."

"There was a time when I believed that the world contained no
happiness."

"And now?"

"Now I am older, and think that most people are as happy as they will
allow themselves to be."

"But the sin, the suffering?"

"Many sufferers are happy."  (His glance rested for a second upon me.)
"And as for the sinners--well, surely they wouldn't sin if they didn't
enjoy it?"

"I do not agree with your philosophy."

"Madam, I am open to argument."

"The room is too warm for discussion."

"It is pleasant in the garden, and there are some late roses.  Will you
come?"

Nanty hesitated.

He held out his arm.

"The sunshine is inviting."

"Perhaps it is," she admitted; and laying a beautifully-gloved hand
lightly upon his arm, she went out with him.

Dimbie came in and found me smiling.

"What is it, girl?"

His eyes followed mine through the window.

"Humph!" he said.

"He asked her to go and look at the roses."

"And now I suppose you are happy?"

"Nanty's and the Professor's desire for roses does not affect my
happiness," I said gravely.

"Liar!" He laughed, stroking my hair.

And now the bride and bridegroom came to say "good-bye."  The Doctor
held back while Jane kissed me and said, "I'll come back soon, little
old pupil; and I will drive over the day after our return and tell you
everything."  Her eyes were full of unshed tears.  The Doctor held my
hand in a strong, close grip, and they were gone.

Through the window I could see everyone assembled on the path.
Confetti was in the air, congratulations, good-byes.  The Help with her
cap all askew, into which Amelia had insisted upon her changing, hurled
rice and a slipper at the retreating cab.  And so Jane and the Doctor
drove away to happiness.



CHAPTER XXX

THE DEATH OF A LITTLE BLACK CHICKEN


A day has come, still, cold and grey, when you say, "There is snow in
the air," and you are not sorry.  The first snow is curiously
attractive.  Before, you are a little doubtful as to the season.  Is it
late autumn--there are still a few leaves on the beech tree--or has
winter arrived?  You would like to know; you object to being in
uncertainty about your seasons.  And then the snow comes one night very
softly but very surely, and you wake in the morning to find that the
thing is accomplished--winter has come.  Your furs are reached out,
your last thin frock is laid away, your eider-downs are aired, and you
are quite resigned, you have no regrets.  The summer brought you
treasures in abundance, scattered largess with prodigal hand.  But
winter is no niggard.  It gives you branches of trees stripped of their
greenery, but beautiful in their form and shape.  You had forgotten
that the apple tree had a delicious crook here, a bend of the knee
there, and a graceful arm with finely-turned wrist held out to its
neighbours in the field in a spirit of friendship.  And winter gives
you brown fields--sad, you were about to say, but your pen halts at the
word.  They are not sad, they are but resting and waiting.  "All things
must rest."  Those quiet, brown fields have done their work, they have
yielded great riches, they have given of their best.  Now is their
season of peace, and they will be ready after their winter sleep for
more work.

Winter gives you red suns and clear, frosty nights.  It gives you the
friendship of little birds who in summer are shy and not to be won.
You are not deceived by their sudden overtures; it is not you, you
know.  It is the cocoa-nut hanging in front of the window, and the
crumbs on the lawn, and the succulent bit of mutton-fat suspended from
the apple tree.  But you are glad to have them at any price; the tits'
joyful chatter and the wrens' hurried warble, and the clear, sweet note
of the robin enliven the atmosphere.  They make no pretence of being
fine musicians, like their sometime friend the thrush; but they say,
"What's the good of being a singer if you keep your mouth or bill shut
for six months in the year?"  And I smile behind my hand and partly
agree with them, though I dare not let the thrush hear me.  I gave him
a great welcome in the spring, and he would think me faithless were I
now to speak of him disparagingly.

And winter brings in its wake great glowing fires and warm, lamplit
rooms, and a feeling of snug cosiness when the curtains are drawn.

They have pushed my couch close to the fire, for I am a shivery mortal
these days, and from my corner I can see the grey sky, the still, bare
trees, and I can feel the hush in the air which ever precedes the snow.

Anxiously I hope that Dimbie will be home before it comes, for he is
many miles from here--gone at my request to satisfy a longing, a desire
of mine which has been with me for many weeks, which has lain very
close to my heart, and which has now become so insistent that it cannot
be hushed.  It has been with me by day, I have whispered it in the long
hours of the night, "How fares the tiny black chicken?"  Has it
suffered, lived on since that cruel moment when my bicycle crushed it
to earth, or was its life snatched away from it?  If it has lived it
will be a big chicken now.  The soft down will have become feathers,
the wee legs will have grown long and thin.

This morning I found courage to voice my request, to tell Dimbie of my
longing.  At the first word he started, and his face became set.  He
walked to the window and drummed on the panes.

"You don't mind, Dimbie?  You'll go for me?" I pleaded.

"But why?  Why do you want to know?"

"I cannot tell," I replied.  "It may be silly, morbid, but I feel as
though--one or two things might be made clear to me if I knew."

He did not speak for a long time.  His back was to me, and I could not
see his face.  Presently he said, without looking round, "I'll go.  I
cannot refuse you anything, Marg.  But I don't like it.  The chicken
may be gone."

"Gone?"

"Well--dead."

"And if it is," I said softly, "I shan't mind.  I shall know--and be
satisfied."

He came and knelt by the couch.

"But won't you be lonely, girl?"

I shook my head.

"Are you better to-day, sweetheart?  Do you think you are any stronger?
That wedding was too much for you."

Each day my dear one abuses poor Jane's wedding.  I had been overtired
that night, faint, with a singing in my cars and the sound of many
waters surging around me.  And each day also he says, "You are a little
stronger, I think, don't you?"  But he does not wait for an answer.
Sometimes it is better to leave a question unanswered.

Oh, my husband, will you ever know, ever understand how much happiness
you have given to me?  Before I knew you life was an arid wilderness.
I was but young, but there was always Peter.  Afterwards I came to a
garden of roses and lilies set about with the tender green of spring.
And _our_ year!  How wonderful it has been!  Sorrow came to us, but joy
entered a little later.  Sorrow we thrust forth, and joy crept still
closer, and has remained with us even to the end.  Sorrow will dog
Dimbie's footsteps for a little season, but joy will triumph over
all--"for here we have no continuing city."

      *      *      *      *      *

Dimbie came home as the first snowflake brushed the window-pane.  In
the firelight he knelt and told me of the strange thing that had
happened.  He found the cottage, and as he entered the little chicken
turned over on its side, stretched its legs and died.  A child with
golden hair leaned over it and wept bitterly.

"And had it suffered?" I whispered.

He shook his head.

"The woman said not, but it was lamed.  The child from the day of the
accident cared for it, tended it, nursed it.  It slept in a box in the
kitchen, and became very tame.  The woman is a widow, and this little
one the only child."

"Did you tell her of--me?"

"Yes," said Dimbie gently.

I laid my cheek to his, and he stroked my hair in his old, dear
fashion.  And we sat thus, and once again told each other the old, old
story of our love.  The soft snow brushed the window-pane, the corners
of the room became shadowy and mysterious, and hand in hand we waited
for the light which always follows the darkness.



AN AFTERWORD


The pen has fallen from Marguerite's hand never again to be taken up.
And we who wait for the lifting of the veil find it hard not to
question the why and the wherefore.

Hers was a beautiful, blameless life.  Her suffering was borne with a
great patience and cheerfulness, and we cry and cry again, "Why should
this be?"

Jane Renton's philosophy is simple: "God wanted her more than we."

But to me it seems such love as theirs--of husband and wife--should
have been allowed to continue yet a little while longer.  Jane says it
will outlast the ages.  To Jane has been given a faith, an
understanding which has been withheld from many.  Her eyes can see
while ours are blinded with tears.

I have her husband's sanction to give her simple story to the world.
"It may help to brighten the life of some other sufferer, and she would
be glad," I said, and he bowed his head.

The last night of her life was one of silver, as she herself would have
described it, for the moon turned the earth with its soft mantle of
snow into silver sheen.  We drew back the curtains and pushed the bed
still nearer to the window.  Dimbie's arms pillowed her head.  From
unconsciousness she kept creeping back to moments of consciousness, and
she would speak a little.  Once she murmured something about a little
black chicken, and always the word "Dimbie" was upon her lips.  At the
last we left them alone.  By and by Dimbie came out of the room and
passed out into the moonlit night.  She would be glad that it was so,
that there was the moonlight, and that while her spirit winged its way
to eternal light there was a reflection of its brightness left for her
Dimbie.

NANTY.



THE END.



      *      *      *      *      *



A FEW OF

GROSSET & DUNLAP'S

Great Books at Little Prices

NEW, CLEVER, ENTERTAINING.


GRET: The Story of a Pagan.  By Beatrice Mantle.  Illustrated by C. M.
Relyea.

The wild free life of an Oregon lumber camp furnishes the setting for
this strong original story.  Gret is the daughter of the camp and is
utterly content with the wild life--until love comes.  A fine book,
unmarred by convention.


OLD CHESTER TALES.  By Margaret Deland.  Illustrated by Howard Pyle.

A vivid yet delicate portrayal of characters in an old New England town.

Dr. Lavendar's fine, kindly wisdom is brought to bear upon the lives of
all, permeating the whole volume like the pungent odor of pine,
healthful and life giving.  "Old Chester Tales" will surely be among
the books that abide.


THE MEMOIRS OF A BABY.  By Josephine Daskam.  Illustrated by F. Y. Cory.

The dawning intelligence of the baby was grappled with by its
great-aunt, an elderly maiden, whose book knowledge of babies was
something at which even the infant himself winked.  A delicious bit of
humor.


REBECCA MARY.  By Annie Hamilton Donnell.  Illustrated by Elizabeth
Shippen Green.

The heart tragedies of this little girl with no one near to share them,
are told with a delicate art, a keen appreciation of the needs of the
childish heart and a humorous knowledge of the workings of the childish
mind.


THE FLY ON THE WHEEL.  By Katherine Cecil Thurston.  Frontispiece by
Harrison Fisher.

An Irish story of real power, perfect in development and showing a true
conception of the spirited Hibernian character as displayed in the
tragic as well as the tender phases of life.


THE MAN FROM BRODNEY'S.  By George Barr McCutcheon.  Illustrated by
Harrison Fisher.

An island in the South Sea is the setting for this entertaining tale,
and an all-conquering hero and a beautiful princess figure in a most
complicated plot.  One of Mr. McCutcheon's best books.


TOLD BY UNCLE REMUS.  By Joel Chandler Harris.  Illustrated by A. B.
Frost, J. M. Conde and Frank Verbeck.

Again Uncle Remus enters the fields of childhood, and leads another
little boy to that non-locatable land called "Brer Rabbit's Laughing
Place," and again the quaint animals spring into active life and play
their parts, for the edification of a small but appreciative audience.


THE CLIMBER.  By E. F. Benson.  With frontispiece.

An unsparing analysis of an ambitious woman's soul--a woman who
believed that in social supremacy she would find happiness, and who
finds instead the utter despair of one who has chosen the things that
pass away.


LYNCH'S DAUGHTER.  By Leonard Merrick.  Illustrated by Geo. Brehm.

A story of to-day, telling how a rich girl acquires ideals of beautiful
and simple living, and of men and love, quite apart from the teachings
of her father, "Old Man Lynch" of Wall St.  True to life, clever in
treatment.


      *      *      *      *      *


GROSSET & DUNLAP'S

DRAMATIZED NOVELS

A Few that are Making Theatrical History


MARY JANE'S PA.  By Norman Way.  Illustrated with scenes from the play.

Delightful, irresponsible "Mary Jane's Pa" awakes one morning to find
himself famous, and genius being ill adapted to domestic joys, he
wanders from home to work out his own unique destiny.  One of the most
humorous bits of recent fiction.


CHERUB DEVINE.  By Sewell Ford.

"Cherub," a good hearted but not over refined young man is brought in
touch with the aristocracy.  Of sprightly wit, he is sometimes a
merciless analyst, but he proves in the end that manhood counts for
more than ancient lineage by winning the love of the fairest girl in
the flock.


A WOMAN'S WAY.  By Charles Somerville.  Illustrated with scenes from
the play.

A story in which a woman's wit and self-sacrificing love save her
husband from the toils of an adventuress, and change an apparently
tragic situation into one of delicious comedy.


THE CLIMAX.  By George C. Jenks.

With ambition luring her on, a young choir soprano leaves the little
village where she was born and the limited audience of St. Jude's to
train for the opera in New York.  She leaves love behind her and meets
love more ardent but not more sincere in her new environment.  How she
works, how she studies, how she suffers, are vividly portrayed.


A FOOL THERE WAS.  By Porter Emerson Browne.  Illustrated by Edmund
Magrath and W. W. Fawcett.

A relentless portrayal of the career of a man who comes under the
influence of a beautiful but evil woman; how she lures him on and on,
how he struggles, falls and rises, only to fall again into her net,
make a story of unflinching realism.


THE SQUAW MAN.  By Julie Opp Faversham and Edwin Milton Royle.
Illustrated with scenes from the play.

A glowing story, rapid in action, bright in dialogue with a fine
courageous hero and a beautiful English heroine.


THE GIRL IN WAITING.  By Archibald Eyre.  Illustrated with scenes from
the play.

A droll little comedy of misunderstandings, told with a light touch, a
venturesome spirit and an eye for human oddities.


THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.  By Baroness Orczy.  Illustrated with scenes
from the play.

A realistic story of the days of the French Revolution, abounding in
dramatic incident, with a young English soldier of fortune, daring,
mysterious as the hero.


      *      *      *      *      *


A FEW OF

GROSSET & DUNLAP'S

Great Books at Little Prices


CY WHITTAKER'S PLACE.  By Joseph C. Lincoln.  Illustrated by Wallace
Morgan.

A Cape Cod story describing the amusing efforts of an elderly bachelor
and his two cronies to rear and educate a little girl.  Full of honest
fun--a rural drama.


THE FORGE IN THE FOREST.  By Charles G. D. Roberts.  Illustrated by H.
Sandham.

A story of the conflict in Acadia after its conquest by the British.  A
dramatic picture that lives and shines with the indefinable charm of
poetic romance.


A SISTER TO EVANGELINE.  By Charles G. D. Roberts.  Illustrated by E.
McConnell.

Being the story of Yvonne de Lamourie, and how she went into exile with
the villagers of Grand Prè.  Swift action, fresh atmosphere, wholesome
purity, deep passion and searching analysis characterize this strong
novel.


THE OPENED SHUTTERS.  By Clara Louise Burnham.  Frontispiece by
Harrison Fisher.

A summer haunt on an island in Casco Bay is the background for this
romance.  A beautiful woman, at discord with life, is brought to
realize, by her new friends, that she may open the shutters of her soul
to the blessed sunlight of joy by casting aside vanity and self love.
A delicately humorous work with a lofty motive underlying it all.


THE RIGHT PRINCESS.  By Clara Louise Burnham.

An amusing story, opening at a fashionable Long Island resort, where a
stately Englishwoman employs a forcible New England housekeeper to
serve in her interesting home.  How types so widely apart react on each
others' lives, all to ultimate good, makes a story both humorous and
rich in sentiment.


THE LEAVEN OF LOVE.  By Clara Louise Burnham.  Frontispiece by Harrison
Fisher.

At a Southern California resort a world-weary woman, young and
beautiful but disillusioned, meets a girl who has learned the art of
living--of tasting life in all its richness, opulence and joy.  The
story hinges upon the change wrought in the soul of the blasé woman by
this glimpse into a cheery life.


QUINCY ADAMS SAWYER.  A Picture of New England Home Life.  With
illustrations by C. W. Reed, and Scenes Reproduced from the Play.

One of the best New England stories ever written.  It is full of homely
human interest * * * there is a wealth of New England village
character, scenes and incidents * * * forcibly, vividly and truthfully
drawn.  Few books have enjoyed a greater sale and popularity.
Dramatized, it made the greatest rural play of recent times.


THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF QUINCY ADAMS SAWYER.  By Charles Felton
Pidgin.  Illustrated by Henry Roth.

All who love honest sentiment, quaint and sunny humor and homespun
philosophy will find these "Further Adventures" a book after their own
heart.


HALF A CHANCE.  By Frederic S. Isham.  Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer.

The thrill of excitement will keep the reader in a state of suspense,
and he will become personally concerned from the start, as to the
central character, a very real man who suffers dares--and achieves!


VIRGINIA OF THE AIR LANES.  By Herbert Quick.  Illustrated by William
R. Leigh.

The author has seized the romantic moment for the airship novel, and
created the pretty story of "a lover and his lass" contending with an
elderly relative for the monopoly of the skies.  An exciting tale of
adventure in midair.


THE GAME AND THE CANDLE.  By Eleanor M. Ingram.  Illustrated by P. D.
Johnson.

The hero is a young American, who, to save his family from poverty
deliberately commits a felony.  Then follow his capture and
imprisonment, and his rescue by a Russian Grand Duke.  A stirring
story, rich in sentiment.


BRUVVER JIM'S BABY.  By Philip Verrill Mighels.

An uproariously funny story of a tiny mining settlement in the West,
which is shaken to the very roots by the sudden possession of a baby,
found on the plains by one of its residents.  The town is as
disreputable a spot as the gold fever was ever responsible for, and the
coming of that baby causes the upheaval of every rooted tradition of
the place.  Its christening, the problems of its toys and its illness
supersede in the minds of the miners all thought of earthy treasure.


THE FURNACE OF GOLD.  By Philip Verrill Mighels, author of "Bruvver
Jim's Baby."  Illustrations by J. N. Marchand.

An accurate and informing portrayal of scenes, types, and conditions of
the mining districts in modern Nevada.

The book is an out-door story, clean, exciting, exemplifying nobility
and courage of character, and bravery, and heroism in the sort of men
and women we all admire and wish to know.


THE MESSAGE.  By Louis Tracy.  Illustrations by Joseph C. Chase.

A breezy tale of how a bit of old parchment, concealed in a figurehead
from a sunken vessel, comes into the possession of a pretty girl and an
army man during regatta week in the Isle of Wight.  This is the message
and it enfolds a mystery, the development of which the reader will
follow with breathless interest.


THE SCARLET EMPIRE.  By David M. Parry.  Illustrations by Hermann C.
Wall.

A young socialist, weary of life, plunges into the sea and awakes in
the lost island of Atlantis, known as the Scarlet Empire, where a
social democracy is in full operation, granting every man a living but
limiting food, conversation, education and marriage.

The hero passes through an enthralling love affair and other adventures
but finally returns to his own New York world.


THE THIRD DEGREE.  By Charles Klein and Arthur Hornblow.  Illustrations
by Clarence Rowe.

A novel which exposes the abuses in this country of the police system.

The son of an aristocratic New York family marries a woman socially
beneath him, but of strong, womanly qualities that, later on, save the
man from the tragic consequences of a dissipated life.

The wife believes in his innocence and her wit and good sense help her
to win against the tremendous odds imposed by law.


THE THIRTEENTH DISTRICT.  By Brand Whitlock.

A realistic western story of love and politics and a searching study of
their influence on character.  The author shows with extraordinary
vitality of treatment the tricks, the heat, the passion, the tumult of
the political arena, the triumph and strength of love.


THE MUSIC MASTER.  By Charles Klein.  Illustrated by John Rae.

This marvelously vivid narrative turns upon the search of a German
musician in New York for his little daughter.  Mr. Klein has well
portrayed his pathetic struggle with poverty, his varied experiences in
endeavoring to meet the demands of a public not trained to an
appreciation of the classic, and his final great hour when, in the
rapidly shifting events of a big city, his little daughter, now a
beautiful young woman, is brought to his very door.  A superb bit of
fiction palpitating with the life of the great metropolis.  The play in
which David Warfield scored his highest success.


DR. LAVENDAR'S PEOPLE.  By Margaret Deland.  Illustrated by Lucius
Hitchcock.

Mrs. Deland won so many friends through Old Chester Tales that this
volume needs no introduction beyond its title.  The lovable doctor is
more ripened in this later book, and the simple comedies and tragedies
of the old village are told with dramatic charm.


OLD CHESTER TALES.  By Margaret Deland.  Illustrated by Howard Pyle.

Stories portraying with delightful humor and pathos a quaint people in
a sleepy old town.  Dr. Lavendar, a very human and lovable "preacher,"
is the connecting link between these dramatic stories.


HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS WIFE. By E. P. Roe.  With frontispiece.

The hero is a farmer--a man with honest, sincere views of life.  Bereft
of his wife, his home is cared for by a succession of domestics of
varying degrees of inefficiency until, from a most unpromising source,
comes a young woman who not only becomes his wife but commands his
respect and eventually wins his love.  A bright and delicate romance,
revealing on both sides a love that surmounts all difficulties and
survives the censure of friends as well as the bitterness of enemies.


THE YOKE.  By Elizabeth Miller.

Against the historical background of the days when the children of
Israel were delivered from the bondage of Egypt, the author has
sketched a romance of compelling charm.  A biblical novel as great as
any since "Ben Hur."


SAUL OF TARSUS.  By Elizabeth Miller.  Illustrated by André Castaigne.

The scenes of this story are laid in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome and
Damascus.  The Apostle Paul, the Martyr Stephen, Herod Agrippa and the
Emperors Tiberius and Caligula are among the mighty figures that move
through the pages.  Wonderful descriptions, and a love story of the
purest and noblest type mark this most remarkable religious romance.


WHEN A MAN MARRIES.  By Mary Roberts Rinehart.  Illustrated by Harrison
Fisher and Mayo Bunker.

A young artist, whose wife had recently divorced him, finds that a
visit is due from his Aunt Selina, an elderly lady having ideas about
things quite apart from the Bohemian set in which her nephew is a
shining light.  The way in which matters are temporarily adjusted forms
the motif of the story.

A farcical extravaganza, dramatized under the title of "Seven Days".


THE FASHIONABLE ADVENTURES OF JOSHUA CRAIG.  By David Graham Phillips.
Illustrated.

A young westerner, uncouth and unconventional, appears in political and
social life in Washington.  He attains power in politics, and a young
woman of the exclusive set becomes his wife, undertaking his education
in social amenities.


"DOC." GORDON.  By Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman.  Illustrated by Frank T.
Merrill.

Against the familiar background of American town life, the author
portrays a group of people strangely involved in a mystery.  "Doc."
Gordon, the one physician of the place, Dr. Elliot, his assistant, a
beautiful woman and her altogether charming daughter are all involved
in the plot.  A novel of great interest.


HOLY ORDERS.  By Marie Corelli.

A dramatic story, in which is pictured a clergyman in touch with
society people, stage favorites, simple village folk, powerful
financiers and others, each presenting vital problems to this man "in
holy orders"--problems that we are now struggling with in America.


KATRINE.  By Elinor Macartney Lane.  With frontispiece.

Katrine, the heroine of this story, is a lovely Irish girl, of lowly
birth, but gifted with a beautiful voice.

The narrative is based on the facts of an actual singer's career, and
the viewpoint throughout is a most exalted one.


THE FORTUNES OF FIFI.  By Molly Elliot Seawell.  Illustrated by T. de
Thulstrup.

A story of life in France at the time of the first Napoleon.  Fifi, a
glad, mad little actress of eighteen, is the star performer in a third
rate Parisian theatre.  A story as dainty as a Watteau painting.


SHE THAT HESITATES.  By Harris Dickson.  Illustrated by C. W. Relyea.

The scene of this dashing romance shifts from Dresden to St. Petersburg
in the reign of Peter the Great, and then to New Orleans.

The hero is a French Soldier of Fortune, and the princess, who
hesitates--but you must read the story to know how she that hesitates
may be lost and yet saved.


HAPPY HAWKINS.  By Robert Alexander Wason.  Illustrated by Howard Giles.

A ranch and cowboy novel.  Happy Hawkins tells his own story with such
a fine capacity for knowing how to do it and with so much humor that
the reader's interest is held in surprise, then admiration and at last
in positive affection.


COMRADES.  By Thomas Dixon, Jr.  Illustrated by C. D. Williams.

The locale of this story is in California, where a few socialists
establish a little community.

The author leads the little band along the path of disillusionment, and
gives some brilliant flashes of light on one side of an important
question.


TONO-BUNGAY.  By Herbert George Wells.

The hero of this novel is a young man who, through hard work, earns a
scholarship and goes to London.

Written with a frankness verging on Rousseau's, Mr. Wells still uses
rare discrimination and the border line of propriety is never crossed.
An entertaining book with both a story and a moral, and without a dull
page--Mr. Wells's most notable achievement.


A HUSBAND BY PROXY.  By Jack Steele.

A young criminologist, but recently arrived in Hew York city, is drawn
into a mystery, partly through financial need and partly through his
interest in a beautiful woman, who seems at times the simplest child
and again a perfect mistress of intrigue.  A baffling detective story.


LIKE ANOTHER HELEN.  By George Horton.  Illustrated by C. M. Relyea.

Mr. Horton's powerful romance stands in a new field and brings an
almost unknown world in reality before the reader--the world of
conflict between Greek and Turk on the Island of Crete.  The "Helen" of
the story is a Greek, beautiful, desolate, defiant--pure as snow.

There is a certain new force about the story, a kind of
master-craftsmanship and mental dominance that holds the reader.


THE MASTER OF APPLEBY.  By Francis Lynde.  Illustrated by T. de
Thulstrup.

A novel tale concerning itself in part with the great struggle in the
two Carolinas, but chiefly with the adventures therein of two gentlemen
who loved one and the same lady.

A strong, masculine and persuasive story.


A MODERN MADONNA.  By Caroline Abbot Stanley.

A story of American life, founded on facts as they existed some years
ago in the District of Columbia.  The theme is the maternal love and
splendid courage of a woman.



      *      *      *      *      *


BOOKS ON NATURE STUDY BY

CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS

Handsomely bound in cloth.  Price, 75 cents per volume, postpaid.


THE KINDRED OF THE WILD.  A Book of Animal Life.  With illustrations by
Charles Livingston Bull.

Appeals alike to the young and to the merely youthful-hearted.  Close
observation.  Graphic description.  We get a sense of the great wild
and its denizens.  Out of the common.  Vigorous and full of character.
The book is one to be enjoyed; all the more because it smacks of the
forest instead of the museum.  John Burroughs says: "The volume is in
many ways the most brilliant collection of Animal Stories that has
appeared.  It reaches a high order of literary merit."


THE HEART OF THE ANCIENT WOOD.  Illustrated.

This book strikes a new note in literature.  It is a realistic romance
of the folk of the forest--a romance of the alliance of peace between a
pioneer's daughter in the depths of the ancient wood and the wild
beasts who felt her spell and became her friends.  It is not fanciful,
with talking beasts; nor is it merely an exquisite idyl of the beasts
themselves.  It is an actual romance, in which the animal characters
play their parts as naturally as do the human.  The atmosphere of the
book is enchanting.  The reader feels the undulating, whimpering music
of the forest, the power of the shady silences, the dignity of the
beasts who live closest to the heart of the wood.


THE WATCHERS OF THE TRAILS.  A companion volume So the "Kindred of the
Wild."  With 43 full page plates and decorations from drawings by
Charles Livingston Bull.

These stones are exquisite in their refinement, and yet robust in their
appreciation of some of the rougher phases of woodcraft.  "This is a
book full of delight.  An additional charm lies in Mr. Bull's faithful
and graphic illustrations, which in fashion all their own tell the
story of the wild life, illuminating and supplementing the pen pictures
of the authors."--_Literary Digest_.


RED FOX.  The Story of His Adventurous Career in the Ringwaak Wilds,
and His Triumphs over the Enemies of His Kind.  With 50 illustrations,
including frontispiece in color and cover design by Charles Livingston
Bull.

A brilliant chapter in natural history.  Infinitely more wholesome
reading than the average tale of sport, since it gives a glimpse of the
hunt from the point of view of the hunted.  "True in substance but
fascinating as fiction.  It will interest old and young, city-bound and
free-footed, those who know animals and those who do not."--_Chicago
Record-Herald_.



      *      *      *      *      *



FAMOUS COPYRIGHT BOOKS

IN POPULAR PRICED EDITIONS

Re-issues of the great literary successes of the time, library size,
printed on excellent paper--most of them finely illustrated.  Full and
handsomely bound in cloth.  Price, 75 cents a volume, postpaid.


THE CATTLE BARON'S DAUGHTER.  A Novel.  By Harold Bindloss.  With
illustrations by David Ericson.

A story of the fight for the cattle-ranges of the West.  Intense
interest is aroused by its pictures of life in the cattle country at
that critical moment of transition when the great tracts of land used
for grazing were taken up by the incoming homesteaders, with the
inevitable result of fierce contest, of passionate emotion on both
sides, and of final triumph of the inevitable tendency of the times.


WINSTON OF THE PRAIRIE.  With illustrations in color by W. Herbert
Dunton.

A man of upright character, young and clean, but badly worsted in the
battle of life, consents as a desperate resort to impersonate for a
period a man of his own age--scoundrelly in character but of an
aristocratic and moneyed family.  The better man finds himself barred
from resuming his old name.  How, coming into the other man's
possessions, he wins the respect of all men, and the love of a
fastidious, delicately nurtured girl, is the thread upon which the
story hangs.  It is one of the best novels of the West that has
appeared for years.


THAT MAINWARING AFFAIR.  By A. Maynard Barbour, With 11 illustrations
by E. Plaisted Abbott.

A novel with a most intricate and carefully unraveled plot.  A
naturally probable and excellently developed story and the reader will
follow the fortunes of each character with unabating interest * * * the
interest is keen at the close of the first chapter and increases to the
end.


AT THE TIME APPOINTED.  With a frontispiece in colors by J. H. Marchand.

The fortunes of a young mining engineer who through an accident loses
his memory and identity.  In his new character and under his new name,
the hero lives a new life of struggle and adventure.  The volume will
be found highly entertaining by those who appreciate a thoroughly good
story.


THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE.  By Mary Roberts Reinhart.  With illustrations
by Lester Ralph.

In an extended notice the _New York Sun_ says: "To readers who care for
a really good detective story 'The Circular Staircase' can be
recommended without reservation.  The _Philadelphia Record_ declares
that 'The Circular Staircase' deserves the laurels for thrills, for
weirdness and things unexplained and inexplicable.


THE RED YEAR.  By Louis Tracy.

"Mr. Tracy gives by far the most realistic and impressive pictures of
the horrors and heroisms of the Indian Mutiny that has been available
in any book of the kind * * * There has not been in modern times in the
history of any land scenes so fearful, so picturesque, so dramatic, and
Mr. Tracy draws them as with the pencil of a Verestschagin or the pen
of a Sienkiewics."


ARMS AND THE WOMAN.  By Harold MacGrath.  With inlay cover in colors by
Harrison Fisher.

The story is a blending of the romance and adventure of the middle ages
with nineteenth century men and women; and they are creations of flesh
and blood, and not mere pictures of past centuries.  The story is about
Jack Winthrop, a newspaper man.  Mr. MacGrath's finest bit of character
drawing is seen in Hillars, the broken down newspaper man, and Jack's
chum.


LOVE IS THE SUM OF IT ALL.  By Geo. Cary Eggleston.  With illustrations
by Hermann Heyer.

In this "plantation romance" Mr. Eggleston has resumed the manner and
method that made his "Dorothy South" one of the most famous books of
its time.

There are three tender love stories embodied in it, and two unusually
interesting heroines, utterly unlike each other, but each possessed of
a peculiar fascination which wins and holds the reader's sympathy.  A
pleasing vein of gentle humor runs through the work, but the "sum of it
all" is an intensely sympathetic love story.


HEARTS AND THE CROSS.  By Harold Morton Cramer.  With illustrations by
Harold Matthews Brett.

The hero is an unconventional preacher who follows the line of the Man
of Galilee, associating with the lowly, and working for them in the
ways that may best serve them.  He is not recognized at his real value
except by the one woman who saw clearly.  Their love story is one of
the refreshing things in recent fiction.


A SIX-CYLINDER COURTSHIP.  By Edw. Salisbury Field.  With a color
frontispiece by Harrison Fisher, and illustrations by Clarence F.
Underwood, decorated pages and end sheets.  Harrison Fisher head in
colors on cover.  Boxed.

A story of cleverness.  It is a jolly good romance of love at first
sight that will be read with undoubted pleasure.  Automobiling figures
in the story which is told with light, bright touches, while a happy
gift of humor permeates it all.

"The book is full of interesting folks.  The patois of the garage is
used with full comic and realistic effect, and effervescently,
culminating in the usual happy finish."--_St. Louis Mirror_.


AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW.  By Gene Stratton-Porter.  Author of
"FRECKLES."

With illustrations in color by Oliver Kemp, decorations by Ralph
Fletcher Seymour and inlay cover in colors.

The story is one of devoted friendship, and tender self-sacrificing
love; the friendship that gives freely without return, and the love
that seeks first the happiness of the object.  The novel is brimful of
the most beautiful word painting of nature and its pathos and tender
sentiment will endear it to all.


JUDITH OF THE CUMBERLANDS.  By Alice MacGowan.

With illustrations in colors, and inlay cover by George Wright.  No one
can fail to enjoy this moving tale with its lovely and ardent heroine,
its frank, fearless hero, its glowing love passages, and its variety of
characters, captivating or engaging humorous or saturnine, villains,
rascals, and men of good will.  A tale strong and interesting in plot,
faithful and vivid as a picture of wild mountain life, and in its
characterization full of warmth and glow.


A MILLION A MINUTE.  By Hudson Douglas.  With illustrations by Will
Grefe.

Has the catchiest of titles, and it is a ripping good tale from Chapter
I to Finis--no weighty problems to be solved, but just a fine running
story, full of exciting incidents, that never seemed strained or
improbable.  It is a dainty love yarn involving three men and a girl.
There is not a dull or trite situation in the book.


CONJUROR'S HOUSE.  By Stewart Edward White.

Dramatized under the title of "THE CALL OF THE NORTH."

Illustrated from Photographs of Scenes from the Play.

_Conjuror's House_ is a Hudson Bay trading port where the Fur Trading
Company tolerated no rivalry.  Trespassers were sentenced to "La Longue
Traverse"--which meant official death.  How Ned Trent entered the
territory, took _la longue traverse_, and the journey down the river of
life with the factor's only daughter is admirably told.  It is a warm,
vivid, and dramatic story, and depicts the tenderness and mystery of a
woman's heart.


ARIZONA NIGHTS.  By Stewart Edward White.

With illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, and beautiful inlay cover.

A series of spirited tales emphasizing some phase of the life of the
ranch, plains and desert, and all, taken together, forming a single
sharply-cut picture of life in the far Southwest.  All the tonic of the
West is in this masterpiece of Stewart Edward White.


THE MYSTERY.  By Stewart Edward White and Samuel Hopkins Adams.

With illustrations by Will Crawford.

For breathless interest, concentrated excitement and extraordinarily
good story telling on all counts, no more completely satisfying romance
has appeared for years.  It has been voted the best story of its kind
since _Treasure Island_.


LIGHT-FINGERED GENTRY.  By David Graham Phillips.  With illustrations.

Mr. Phillips has chosen the inside workings of the great insurance
companies as his field of battle; the salons of the great Fifth Avenue
mansions as the antechambers of his field of intrigue; and the two
things which every natural, big man desires, love and success, as the
goal of his leading character.  The book is full of practical
philosophy, which makes it worth careful reading.


THE SECOND GENERATION.  By David Graham Phillips.

With illustrations by Fletcher C. Ramson, and inlay cover.

"It is a story that proves how, in some cases, the greatest harm a rich
man may do his children, is to leave them his money."  "A strong,
wholesome story of contemporary American life--thoughtful,
well-conceived and admirably written; forceful, sincere, and true; and
intensely interesting."--_Boston Herald_.



      *      *      *      *      *



THE MASTERLY AND REALISTIC NOVELS OF

FRANK NORRIS

Handsomely bound in cloth.  Price, 75 cents per volume, postpaid.


THE OCTOPUS.  A Story of California

Mr. Norris conceived the ambitious idea of writing a trilogy of novels
which, taken together, shall symbolize American life as a whole, with
all its hopes and aspirations and its tendencies, throughout the length
and breadth of the continent.  And for the central symbol he has taken
wheat, as being quite literally the ultimate source of American power
and prosperity.  _The Octopus_ is a story of wheat raising and railroad
greed in California.  It immediately made a place for itself.

It is full of enthusiasm and poetry and conscious strength.  One cannot
read it without a responsive thrill of sympathy for the earnestness,
the breadth of purpose, the verbal power of the man.


THE PIT.  A Story of Chicago.

This powerful novel is the fictitious narrative of a deal in the
Chicago wheat pit and holds the reader from the beginning.  In a
masterly way the author has grasped the essential spirit of the great
city by the lakes.  The social existence, the gambling in stocks and
produce, the characteristic life in Chicago, form a background for an
exceedingly vigorous and human tale of modern life and love.


A MAN'S WOMAN.

A story which has for a heroine a girl decidedly out of the ordinary
run of fiction.  It is most dramatic, containing some tremendous
pictures of the daring of the men who are trying to reach the Pole * *
* but it is at the same time essentially a _woman's_ book, and the
story works itself out in the solution of a difficulty that is
continually presented in real life--the wife's attitude in relation to
her husband when both have well-defined careers.


McTEAGUE.  A Story of San Francisco.

"Since Bret Harte and the Forty-niner no one has written of California
life with the vigor and accuracy of Mr. Norris.  His 'McTeague' settled
his right to a place in American literature; and he has now presented a
third novel, 'Blix,' which is in some respects the finest and likely to
be the most popular of the three."--_Washington Times_.


BLIX.

"Frank Norris has written in 'Blix' just what such a woman's name would
imply--a story of a frank, fearless girl comrade to all men who are
true and honest because she is true and honest.  How she saved the man
she fishes and picnics with in a spirit of outdoor platonic friendship,
makes a pleasant story, and a perfect contrast to the author's
'McTeague.'  A splendid and successful story."--_Washington Times_.



GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, -- New York





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