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Title: An Act in a Backwater
Author: Benson, E. F. (Edward Frederic)
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "An Act in a Backwater" ***

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                           By E. F. BENSON.


                       An Act in a Backwater.

                        12mo. Cloth, $1.50.


                       Scarlet and Hyssop.

                        12mo. Cloth, $1.50.


                       The Luck of the Vails.

                        12mo. Cloth, $1.50.


                       Mammon and Co.

                        12mo. Cloth, $1.50.


                       Dodo.

                       _A Detail of the Day._

                         12mo. Cloth, $1.00; paper, 50 cents.


                       The Rubicon.

                        12mo. Cloth, $1.00; paper, 50 cents.


                  D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.



                         An Act in a Backwater

                                 _By_

                             E. F. BENSON

                              _Author of
                  “Dodo,” “Scarlet and Hyssop,” etc._

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                               NEW YORK

                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                                MCMIII


                          COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY

                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

                      _Published November, 1903_



AN ACT IN A BACKWATER



CHAPTER I


It was approaching half-past five on a June afternoon, and in
consequence Colonel Raymond was approaching the Wroxton County Club. He
was a man of method, and a retired Colonel of Volunteers, and thus he
left his house (christened Lammermoor by his wife) with great regularity
at a quarter past five in summer, and a quarter past four in winter, and
marched rather than walked with an inflated chest and a gallant bearing.
The Colonel, even at the age of fifty-six, remained one of those
harmless idiots who draw themselves up and try to look interesting
whenever a pretty woman passes them; indeed, he went further, for, being
a little short-sighted, he drew himself up and tried to look interesting
when he saw any female figure approaching, on the chance that at nearer
range she might prove to be pretty. He had a somewhat flaming face, and
a long mustache “silver sabled.” In very hot weather he was liable to
touches of liver, and when thus afflicted, sometimes alluded, when only
comparative strangers were present, to the trying climate of India, a
country in which, as his intimate acquaintances knew, he had never set
foot. But to the uninitiate the combination of the title of Colonel and
the climate of India led to the deduction that he had seen service, and
the Colonel did not put himself to the pains of correcting this. He
would even encourage it further by sometimes talking of lunch as
“tiffin.”

Now Colonel Raymond’s manner was so radically bluff and straightforward
that it would be absurd to argue any want of sincerity from such
trifles. Every man he met was either “the best fellow on this earth,” or
“a blackguard, sir, a low Radical blackguard!” Shades and fine
distinctions did not exist for him; there was no nonsense about him, he
would say. But there was very little sense.

The Colonel had his idols. Dizzy, “old Dizzy,” was one of them, and
this full measure of his approbation was conferred on the Queen when old
Dizzy was created an Earl, for the aristocracy was another. His wife’s
sister had married a man whose sister had married Lord Avesham, and had
this fortunate peer known it, he must have often been gratified to have
heard himself alluded to by the Colonel as “my noble relative.” His
noble relative was President of the Wroxton County Club, toward which
the Colonel was now marching; but on the few occasions on which his
lordship had set foot in that establishment, the Colonel, if there, had
speedily effaced himself, only to come in half an hour afterward with
the avowed object of looking for him, and much regret at having missed
him. He had once even gone so far as to address a note to Lord Avesham,
with a few formal lines inside and his own name very large on the
left-hand corner of the envelope. This he left conspicuously in the rack
which held members’ letters, with “To await arrival” in the corner. But
from some reason or other (Lord Avesham had been seen in Wroxton several
times that week) the Colonel surreptitiously removed it the day after.
Perhaps he thought that he would certainly meet his noble relative in
the street, and could ask him to tiffin then.

On this particular afternoon the Colonel had drawn himself up and looked
interesting quite a number of times--indeed, it would scarcely be an
exaggeration to say that he had not looked dull for thirty seconds
together during the second and more populous part of his walk. The day
had been hot, and the inhabitants of Wroxton were streaming out for a
walk in the cool of the evening. Once, a fine instance of the innate
kindliness of the Colonel, he had gone so far as to help a nursery-maid
over a crossing with her perambulator, for the strong should always
assist the weak, and there was a butcher’s cart standing only a few
doors off, which might have driven rapidly in her direction without
warning. Then he had passed the younger Miss Clifford on her bicycle,
and, though the younger Miss Clifford was forty-three and as plain as a
biscuit, the gallant Colonel had fired some piece of robust wit at her
on the subject of country lanes and chance meetings.

The smoking-room of the club was rapidly filling when the Colonel
entered. Captain Johnson and Major Daltry were on the point of going to
the billiard-room, and as they both played a game more slow than sure,
the table would be occupied for the next hour. Colonel Raymond, with all
his gallantry and romantic bearing where the other sex was concerned,
did not trouble to stand on his manners when among what he called “old
cronies,” and when he found that Mr. Hewson, who completed his regular
four at whist, had not arrived, he was not pleased. Among his old
cronies, in fact, he gave the impression of being always in a rage. At
whist he certainly was, particularly with his partner. However, as he
had to wait, he took up the evening paper until Mr. Hewson should
appear, and, standing in front of the fireplace, read out scraps of news
with loud, explosive comments.

“Perfectly childish and suicidal,” he said, hitting the paper angrily
with his hand. “I have always said so, and I shall always say so. Our
foreign policy is perfectly childish and suicidal. I don’t know what we
are about. Why don’t we turn those blackguards out of Constantinople,
and hang the Sultan, and make an end of the whole business in the good
old English fashion. Old Dizzy would have done it long ago. I’m ashamed,
positively ashamed to be English. Eh, what?”

And he turned fiercely on Mr. Newbolt, a gentle solicitor with
mutton-chop whiskers, who had not spoken.

“I didn’t say anything, Colonel,” he remarked.

“No, sir,” retorted the Colonel, “there is nothing to be said. There is
no justification possible for our policy. Childish and suicidal I call
it, because I am a man who doesn’t mince matters, and isn’t afraid of
speaking his mind. Bring me a whisky and soda, waiter. Ah, here is
Hewson. Now perhaps we shall get a game of whist at last.”

“I am not late, Colonel,” he said. “It is only just the half hour.”

“Let us lose no more time in getting to our whist,” repeated Colonel
Raymond.

Mr. Newbolt had furtively picked up the paper which the Colonel had
dropped on Mr. Hewson’s entry.

“Hullo, here is news for you,” said he; “Lord Avesham is dead.”

“God bless my soul!” cried the Colonel, wheeling suddenly round. “Dead?
My noble relative dead? Pooh, I don’t believe a word of it. It’s some
lie of that infernal Radical paper of yours. Why, it was only the other
day that--Let’s look.”

He took the paper out of Mr. Newbolt’s unresisting hand.

“Expired at nine o’clock this morning at his residence in Prince’s
Gate,” he read. “Yes, Number Seventeen, that’s quite right. Seems to be
true. Very shocking, indeed. Poor Avesham, poor fellow. Family all
there--I must send a wire. No, I’ll send it after our whist, or
to-morrow morning first thing. Dear me, dear, dear me! Waiter, am I
going to wait all night for that whisky and soda? Bring it to the
card-room, and look sharp.”

“He seems to have been ill some time,” said Mr. Newbolt, in quiet,
precise tones. “I suppose you expected it, Colonel?”

“No, sir, I did not,” he replied. “The report of his illness was greatly
exaggerated. It’s a blow to me, a blow.”

And the Colonel strutted out of the room, followed by the three others,
as if Lord Avesham’s death had brought him within a life or two of the
title.

Colonel Raymond’s whist was as explosive as his manner among his old
cronies, and was conducted on principles founded crookedly on Cavendish.
The rule there inculcated to retain command of a suit, he interpreted by
readings of his own, and thus it not infrequently happened that a
perfect spate of kings and aces would burst from his hand after his
adversaries had begun to rough the suit. His unhappy partner had to
cower beneath the rain of winning cards and censure when this happened.

“You should have drawn the trumps, sir,” the Colonel would say; “a baby
in arms would have drawn the trumps. You could see I was keeping command
of the ordinary suits, and if you had only had the sense to draw the
trumps they would all have made. My deal, I think; cut again, please, I
hate a slovenly cut. Let’s see, that’s a treble. We pay dear for your
mistake. Honours? Two against us by honours. One of the instances, as
Cavendish says, where a weak hand could have been turned into a winning
hand by a little judgment and forethought.”

His partner, if discreet, would not reply, but sometimes, goaded to
frenzy, if the same sort of thing had happened before that evening, he
would point out with perfect justice that he had positively had no
opportunity of taking a trick, as the Colonel held all the winning
cards, and that being the case he might have played one of them, and
opened trumps for himself.

That was what Colonel Raymond was waiting for.

“And weaken my own suit, sir,” he would cry, “and spoil all chance of
what I was playing for. What would have been the use of that? You fail
to understand the elementary laws of the game. You will spend an hour
with Cavendish now and then, as I’m not ashamed to do, if you take my
advice. It will save you many rubbers.”

But his partner, if wise, would say nothing, possessing his soul in a
show, at any rate, of patience until the Colonel revoked. Sometimes he
revoked early, sometimes late, but one revoke in an evening might be
confidently looked for. It cost three tricks, it is true, but peace at
any price was the motto of the Colonel’s partner, for after the revoke
occurred the Colonel ceased to be a man of war, and let his kings die
like men under the stroke of the ace. At other times he would cover his
mistakes with humorous gallantry.

“I ought to have played the queen, sir, and I acknowledge it,” he would
be so kind as to say; “but I couldn’t bear that that knave of a
king--knave of a king, ha, ha!--should take her from me. The fair sex,
sir, the fair sex.”

Morton Hall, the country-seat of the Colonel’s noble relative, was only
a few miles out of Wroxton, and when he returned home that evening to
dinner, after breaking the news of Lord Avesham’s death to Mrs. Raymond
and his daughters, he held a loud, overbearing discussion across the
table (for at home, as among his old cronies, his gallantry was relaxed)
as to whether the eldest son of his deceased relative would be able to
keep it open. The family was poor, and the Colonel asserted angrily, as
if he had been personally affronted, that the death duties would be so
heavy that they would have to let it.

“Don’t tell me,” he said, sipping his soup with a sound of many waters,
though nobody had told him anything. “Don’t tell me. They are as poor as
rats. Pepper, give me the pepper. I’d sooner wash my hands in this soup,
Constance, than drink it. Simple water, simple warm water. As poor as
rats. Poorer. It’s all that infernal Radical government. We are the best
blood in England--the Aveshams are the best blood in England, and have
served their king and country for five hundred years. There ought to be
a government grant. Take away the soup.”

Mrs. Raymond was a resigned and feeble woman, with a thin, vague face
which it was impossible to remember. Ten years of married life with her
husband had made a phantom of her. She had the wreck of long-departed
prettiness about her, but that had been sunk, becoming, as it were, a
total loss, leaving her face devoid of any qualities. Her mind was
destitute of hopes, aims, and regrets; she was as intangible to
description as a moonbeam.

“It would be impossible to provide for all the families of all the poor
peers in England, Robert,” she suggested.

“Impossible? Yes, if you have a government of Atheists and Socialists,
who are afraid of the Sultan, and wish to abolish the House of
Lords--God bless it! That is where the fault lies. England is going to
the dogs. I wish, Constance, you would sometimes get hold of fish that
is eatable. Worcester sauce. Give me the Worcester sauce. Venison--my
fish is venison. Going to the dogs. Why, in the good old days it was
sufficient for a man to be connected with a bishop or a peer to make
sure of a government office. The apotheosis of the brewer, that’s what I
call the England of to-day. Take away the fish. What else is there for
dinner?”

“It is very hard to get good fish in this weather,” said Mrs. Raymond.
“It is next to impossible to keep it.”

“Impossible? Nonsense. You women have no method. You’ve only got to keep
it cool. No method at all. You keep fish all day in a hot kitchen, and
then expect it to be good in the evening.”

“The fish was only sent in at half past six this evening,” said his
wife, in a low, monotonous voice. “It was so late I thought it would not
be here in time for dinner.”

“And a good thing if it hadn’t been,” retorted the Colonel; “I’d sooner
have no fish at all than fish like that--uneatable, perfectly
uneatable.”

Mrs. Raymond was silent, and the meal proceeded to the noise only of
knives and forks.

“Arthur Avesham, too,” broke out the Colonel again. “He’ll have to make
his way in the world alone now. What’s to happen to him and Jeannie?
Tell me that. Some ignoramus said the other day that his father had
bought him a place in Dalton’s brewery here. I don’t believe a word of
it, not a word of it. Even if it’s true, what then? Eh?”

“Perhaps he’ll go on living at Morton, if it’s true,” said Mrs. Raymond,
“or perhaps he’ll take a house at Wroxton.”

“Take a house in Wroxton?” cried her husband, again insulted. “Sheer
nonsense. There’s not a house in the town to live in beside our own. And
as for Morton, I tell you that they’ll have to shut it up. They’re as
poor as rats.”

“If it’s true about his place in Dalton’s,” said Mrs. Raymond, “I
suppose he will have a few hundred a year. His father cannot have left
him nothing.”

“A few hundred a year!” said Colonel Raymond. “If I were to say that his
income was a hundred and fifty all told, I should be overstating it. And
what’s that to a young fellow who has been brought up with every luxury
that wealth and rank can supply? Eh?”

“I thought you said they were as poor as rats,” remarked Mrs. Raymond,
in the same even, colourless voice.

The argument--or, rather, the string of assertions--was not worth
continuing, and Colonel Raymond only snorted contemptuously in reply.
The three daughters had long been fidgeting on their seats and
struggling against the twitchings of sleepiness. They were not yet of
an age to dine with their parents, but Colonel Raymond insisted on their
presence at dinner till bedtime came. Sometimes they were regaled with a
grape or two, but usually they had to sit silent and unoccupied. Their
father said he saw so little of them during the day, which was not
surprising, since the first rule of the house was that he must never be
disturbed. Occasionally he took them out for a walk, and then he might
be seen stalking over the downs outside the town, stopping occasionally
to revile them for lagging behind, followed by a string of small figures
in various stages of labour and distress, panting and trotting after
him. These nightmare excursions were part of Colonel Raymond’s system. A
good, quick walk he considered the panacea of all childish ailments,
particularly tiredness, which was synonymous with laziness, and he did
not approve of coddling. Consequently their mother coddled them in
private, and their father walked them off their legs in public. The
happy mean did not result from this treatment, and they were growing up
peaked and thin, and their father had to confess that even the best
blood in England had a tendency to run to seed.

It was the habit of Mrs. Raymond to retire early, and on the entry of
the tray with whisky and soda at ten o’clock she usually went to bed,
leaving her husband to console himself for her absence by a drink of
that invigorating mixture, another cigar, and his own thoughts. These
latter were as straightforward as himself, and he usually ran over in
his mind his gains and losses at whist, and, twirling his mustache,
lived over again the moments in which he had assumed an interesting
appearance. It must be understood that we are following the Colonel into
the innermost sanctum of his being, and are recording what he scarcely
recorded consciously himself. Probably he did not know how much he was
absorbed in these two subjects, but the truth of the matter is he
thought about little else except them and the aristocracy. To-night,
however, the aristocracy held a dominating place in his reflections, and
the quality of his meditations was not agreeable. That in-_a-propos_
remark of his wife, in fact, returned again and again to his mind, and
he could not help thinking that if Arthur Avesham came to live in
Wroxton his habitual conversation about his noble relative, Arthur’s
father, would have to be curtailed or, still worse, corrected.



CHAPTER II


In spite of the Colonel’s settled belief to the contrary, it was
perfectly true that, only a few months before his noble relative’s
death, Lord Avesham had bought for Arthur, his second and youngest son,
a share in Dalton’s brewery in Wroxton, and he was to enter it the
following September. Arthur had only just left Oxford, where he had
shown an almost remarkable distaste for study and indoor pursuits, and a
notable tendency not to get through examinations, and he had welcomed
the brewing prospect with alacrity. The diplomatic service, for which he
had been intended, had been closed to him through a couple of complete
and graceful failures to compete successfully with other candidates, and
he had dreaded that the gradual closing of other careers would
eventually land him, as it had landed so many others at that terrific
_faute de mieux_, the bar. But he was a very long way from being stupid,
or, rather, his stupidity was of most limited range--of the range, in
fact, which only comprises dates, idioms, and fractions, a small part of
life. But when this is joined to an incapacity for continued application
amounting almost to paralysis, parents and guardians would be wise to
reconcile themselves to the fact that those they love will never
distinguish themselves in examinations. As long, however, as that
immemorial fiction is held up before the young that the object of
education is to enable them to rise triumphant over examinations, so
long dateless and unidiomatic children will continue to feel that they
are disappointing their parents.

Arthur had felt this at times acutely, but he had accepted the
inevitable with such success that Lord Avesham had written him down
indifferent as well as stupid, and what was in him only great sweetness
of disposition was credited as _insouciance_. This, too, he bore with
equanimity.

Harry, his elder brother, his sister Jeannie, and himself had come down
to Morton with their mother’s sister, Miss Fortescue, for the funeral of
Lord Avesham, and were going to stop there for the present. Family
councils had to be held about the disposition of affairs, and one was in
progress on a morning in July about a fortnight after Lord Avesham’s
death. They were certainly a remarkably handsome family, and it was to
be conjectured that their good looks were a heritage--perhaps the most
valuable he had bequeathed them--from their father, for the most that
could be said about Miss Fortescue was that she had a very intellectual
expression. Harry was sitting at a desk with some papers before him, and
Miss Fortescue was sitting opposite him. Jeannie lounged in the
window-seat, and Arthur was resting in a chair so long and low that all
that could be seen of him was one knee and a great length of shin. The
position of his head was vaguely indicated by a series of smoke-rings
which floated upward at regular intervals. There had been silence for a
few moments. Miss Fortescue’s baritone voice broke it.

“Well, what does the black sheep say?” she demanded.

There was a pause in the smoke-rings, and a voice asked:

“Do you mean me, Aunt Em?”

“Yes, dear. Whom else?”

“I thought you must mean me, but it was best to ask,” said the voice.
“I’m not a black sheep, though; I’m only a sheep.”

Harry looked up, half impatient, half amused.

“Oh, Arthur, don’t be so trying,” he said. “It really rests with you.”

“I’d much sooner somebody settled for me,” said Arthur.

“But they won’t; speak, sheep,” said Miss Fortescue.

The chair in which Arthur sat creaked, and he struggled to his feet.

“I’m not good at speaking,” he said; “but if you insist--well, it’s just
this. Harry, you’re a brick to suggest that we should all live here, but
I think you’re wrong about it. In the first place, we’re poor, and if
you keep Morton open we shall be all tied here, and we sha’n’t be able
to fill the house with people, and we shall not be able to keep up the
shooting; and here we shall be with this great shell over our heads,
like bluebottles or some other mean insect which lives in palaces. In
the second place, you will probably marry, and that will cramp you still
further. In the third--this is from my own point of view, purely--if I
live here, I know perfectly well that, with the best intentions in the
world, on wet mornings when I don’t want to go out, and on fine ones
when I do, I shall persuade myself that I am far from well, and not go
to Wroxton and the brewery. Fourthly, you yourself will miss not being
in London horribly. You’d bore yourself to death here. But you’re a
brick for suggesting it. And--and that’s all.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“So the sheep has spoken,” said Jeannie. “Well done, sheep. But I
thought you said you were wholly indifferent?”

“I know I did. But you drove me into a corner.”

Miss Fortescue looked at Arthur approvingly.

“For so stupid a boy, you have glimmerings of sense,” she said.

“Oh, I’m a sharp fellow,” said Arthur.

“Really, Arthur, I think you are,” said Harry. “Mind, my offer holds
perfectly good, but I do think there is something in what you say.”

Arthur stood looking from one to the other, with his head a little on
one side, like a dog who has done its trick. Unlike Jeannie and his
brother, he was fair, with blue eyes and an extraordinarily pleasant
face.

“Well, them’s my sentiments,” he said. “Your turn, Jeannie.”

“I know it is,” said Jeannie. “And what’s to happen to me, Arthur?” she
demanded.

Arthur groaned slightly.

“I’ve done all that can be expected of me,” he said. “My turn is over.”

Jeannie jumped up.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “I’ll come and keep house for you in Wroxton,
Arthur, and Harry shall come down to stay with us from Saturday till
Monday, and we’ll go up to stay with him from--from Monday till
Saturday.”

“A lot of beer shall I brew,” remarked Arthur. “Why, you could swim in
it.”

“I don’t much see you living at Wroxton, Jeannie,” said Harry.

“Why not? I should enjoy it. I really should. And we’ll give high teas
to the Canons.”

“I think you’d loathe it before a month was out,” repeated Harry.

“Indeed I shouldn’t.”

“We’re all so terribly unselfish, and that’s what is the matter with
us,” said Arthur. “First Harry wants to let us all live with him, and
then I want to live in that funny little town in order to attend to my
work, and then Jeannie wants to live with me. Aunt Em, give us a
contribution, and try, oh, try to be selfish; I’m sure you can.”

“Well, I think Jeannie is right,” said Miss Fortescue. “You would hate
not living in London, Harry, and I think the best thing you can do is to
have a flat there, quite small, so that one or two of us could very
kindly come to stay with you, and let Jeannie and Arthur live in
Wroxton. Then shut Morton up, or let it. You’d better let it, if
possible. It’s only for a year or two, till you’ve paid these iniquitous
Radical taxes. And then when you open it again you can order your beer
from Arthur.”

Arthur gave a sigh of relief.

“Well, that’s settled,” he said. “Jeannie, let’s go into Wroxton this
afternoon and see the householders or the house-agents. Oh, Aunt Em,
what is going to happen to you?”

“You are all so unselfish,” said Miss Fortescue, “that I thought one of
you might have considered that. But I was wrong.”

A general shout went up of “Come and live with me,” and the meeting was
adjourned for the time being.

Miss Fortescue, who has hitherto been distinguished from the Aveshams
generally by the fact of her not being at all good-looking, had her
compensations. She was, in the first place, exceedingly musical, and had
about as much wits as two generations of Aveshams put together. She was
a woman of very pronounced opinions, and though you might accidentally
hit upon a subject on which she had neither opinion nor knowledge, she
would be happy to pronounce an opinion on it offhand with such
conviction as to lead you to suppose she knew something about it. If
you could induce her to argue about the said subject, though you might
suspect that she knew nothing whatever of it, yet you would find it
difficult to bring her ignorance home to her. She would glean facts from
her opponent as she went along, and use them against him with telling
effect. But it was next to impossible to make her argue; if you
disagreed with her she would raise her eyes to the ceiling as if
commending you and your benighted condition to the hands of Providence.
Like most clever people, she was sublimely inconsistent, and though she
genuinely abhorred the idea of the death of any living creature, she
would eat flesh meals without any qualms whatever. This may be partly
accounted for by the fact that she hated fads as much as the death of
innocent animals, and it was her dislike of vegetarians rather than of a
vegetable diet which led to so sturdy an inconsistency. The same
contradictions appeared in her views about horses and dogs, and she
would rather walk to the station, though hating bodily exercise, than
have out a horse which was bursting with condition and make it pull her.
The same misplaced tenderness applied to her treatment of dogs, and her
own pug was an object-lesson of unwholesome overfeeding.

Miss Fortescue on this particular morning had been glad, by her last
ungenerous speech, to shift the responsibility of her future on to other
shoulders, or, at any rate, to delay her own decision. She wanted, in
the main, to determine what she wanted to do, and she could not quite
make up her mind. She had lived with the Aveshams since her sister’s
death some eight years ago, and they all took it for granted (herself
included) that she would continue to go on living with them. For
herself, she would have much preferred to have gone on living at Morton,
but she saw and admitted at once the reasonableness of Arthur’s view.
Her own income, with the exception of a hundred a year for dress and
travelling (she dressed with notable cheapness, and never travelled),
she was prepared to give into the household coffers of whatever branch
of the family she decided to live with, and as Jeannie and Arthur had
only six hundred a year between them, the extra five hundred she could
give constituted an additional reason for joining them. As far as the
advantages of town and country were to be considered, she had no great
choice, for she felt no thrill in the stir and noise of streets, and the
sweet silence of the country could not appreciably add to her habitual
tranquility. She hardly ever went out unless she was obliged, and on
those occasions she took short walks very slowly, and it was something
of a mystery, even to those who knew her best, as to what she did with
the hours. She would always disappear soon after breakfast, and if asked
at lunch what she had been doing, she would say, “Working.” Then, if
pressed further as to what her work had been, she would only raise her
eyes to the ceiling, and the incident would close. This raising of the
eyes had long been a danger-signal to the Aveshams. It implied that Miss
Fortescue was unwilling to say more on this particular subject, and any
further questions would only evoke severe remarks on their
inquisitiveness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jeannie and Arthur rode into Wroxton that afternoon and made the
house-agent an unhappy man. The house they required had to be near the
brewery, and also at the top of the hill, which, to begin with, was
impossible, as the brewery was at the very bottom of the town. Then it
had to have a good smoking-room, two nice sitting-rooms--one for Jeannie
and one for Miss Fortescue, in case she decided to join them--a
drawing-room and a dining-room (the size of these was really important),
and four excellent bed-rooms away from the street. To be away from the
street implied a garden, which must be private, sunny, and extensive.
That red brick should be the material of the house was desirable, but
not absolutely essential. The offices, Miss Fortescue insisted, should
be really good, for they made all the difference to servants, whom one
was bound to consider before one’s self. A small stable only, but
well-aired and dry, was required, and the rent of the whole must be
exceedingly low.

The only point which presented no difficulty were the offices. Jeannie
and Arthur were both quite vague as to what offices meant, but in the
half dozen houses they saw that afternoon there was always some other
radical defect. In one they found that an apartment described as a
sitting-room was more probably intended to be a house-maid’s cupboard;
in another they disgraced themselves by thinking that the kitchen was
the scullery. A third case was more complicated, for Jeannie remembered
about a still-room, and had to explain to an antiquated caretaker what a
still-room was. What made the afternoon more bewildering was that they
both fell in love with every house they saw, and thought it would do
excellently with a little alteration. Then came the question of rents:
they had hoped to find something for about a hundred and twenty pounds a
year, and the only consolation, as Arthur said, was that at
corresponding prices, if Morton was let, it ought to bring to Harry an
income of about fifty thousand a year, which certainly seemed a
satisfactory sum.

“Why, if it would let for that,” he exclaimed, with a sudden splendid
thought, “we should be rich enough to live in it ourselves, and not let
it at all!” But the mention of Morton roused the house-agent to rather
greater interest in his impracticable clients. It appeared that there
were other houses which might also be had, and, if the gentleman would
give his card, he had no doubt that the owner of 8 Bolton Street would
let them look at it. He had long been thinking of letting it, though it
was not exactly in the market. It had a garden, it was built of red
brick, and the offices, as usual, were quite palatial.

“A different stamp of house, sir, quite a different stamp of house.”

“And a different stamp of rent?” asked Arthur.

“The gentleman is very anxious to get desirable tenants,” was the
hopeful reply.

“Come, Jeannie,” said Arthur, “it will end in our taking Buckingham
Palace, but no matter!”

The house in question was not exactly Buckingham Palace, but within a
few days they had taken it. Miss Fortescue drove in to see it, after
bargaining that the horses should not be used again the whole of the
next day, and made up her mind to stay at any rate with Jeannie and
Arthur for a week or two. As she also indicated which room she would
like, and chose a paper for it, it may be supposed that her “week or
two” did not mean less than a week or two. The rent was not prohibitive,
the garden was charming, and the house stood in a side street where
traffic was scanty, and looked out behind over the Cathedral, and
Canons, as Jeannie said, really hung on their garden wall like ripe
plums.

A day or two later rumours began to spread through Wroxton that the
Aveshams were coming to live there, and discussion raged. The Colonel
knew they were not.

“I should think, sir, if my cousins were coming, I should not be the
last to be informed of it. Just gossip, sir, mere gossip--I wonder at
you for paying any attention to it.”

He scarcely even believed the assurance of the owner of 8 Bolton Street
that he had actually let it to them, for as soon as Mr. Hanby had left
the room he burst out:

“A mere ruse, sir, to send up the value of the house, by making people
think that the aristocracy want to take it. Transparent, transparent!”

But he did not feel quite easy about it in the depths of his gallant
heart, and he thought again how awkward it would be if it were true.



CHAPTER III


A fortnight later Jeannie, Miss Fortescue, and Arthur were all staying
at the Black Eagle Hotel, employed in settling in. Morton had been let,
but let unfurnished, and in order to avoid the expense of storing, it
was laid upon them that they should cram as much furniture into 8 Bolton
Street as it would possibly hold. Thus from morning to night the greater
part of the street was congested with Pantechnicon vans, and Jeannie and
Arthur might be seen many hours a day measuring wardrobes, and finding
for the most part that they would not go into any of the rooms. Miss
Fortescue sat in a large chair in the middle of the street and made
scathing comments on the appearance and behaviour of the others.

“I little thought,” said this magisterial lady one day, “that the time
would come when I should see my nephew in his shirt-sleeves wrestling
with towel-horses in the Queen’s highway.”

“No, dear Aunt,” said Arthur, “and if you will look round you will see a
distressed bicyclist who wants to pass. You must move.”

Miss Clifford, in fact, was approaching. She did not ride with any
overpowering command over her machine, and from the desire to avoid Miss
Fortescue was making a beeline for her. A collision was just avoided by
Miss Fortescue’s extreme agility in removing herself and her chair.

A wardrobe was just blocking the front door, and Arthur threw himself
down in another unoccupied chair for a moment’s rest. Jeannie’s voice
sounded in passionate appeal from inside the hall, but till the wardrobe
had been passed it was impossible to go to her aid.

“Oh, it is hot!” he said. “Why on earth did we move in this broiling
weather? Aunt Em, dear, I’m going to send for some beer from that
wine-merchant’s opposite, and if you don’t like to see me drink it in
the Queen’s highway you must look in the other direction.”

“The Aveshams have no sense of dignity,” said Miss Fortescue,
sweepingly.

“No, but it doesn’t matter; they’ll think that I’m not me, but the
footman.”

“You’re much too badly dressed for any footman,” said Aunt Em.

“Well, they’ll think you are the cook and I’m your young man,” said
Arthur.

Arthur sent one of the Pantechnicon men to get some beer, and while he
was gone:

“They told me there was so little traffic here,” he said, “and the
street is crowded with vans. Oh, there’s that man again! He has passed
and repassed a dozen times this morning, besides standing at the corner
for ever so long. Is he a friend of yours, Aunt Em?”

The man in question was Colonel Raymond, no less, strutting and swelling
down the other side of the street, and bursting with uneasy curiosity.
He had, as Arthur said, passed and repassed a dozen times, longing to
speak to one of them, and manage to introduce himself in some way. Once
he had given a hand to one of the van-men with a bookcase, but as
ill-luck would have it, all three of the house-party, as he called it,
were inside at the moment, and when the danger of the bookcase falling
on a washing-stand was over there was no excuse for lingering. On
another occasion he had waited a full two minutes while the foot-path
was congested, and on it being made possible for him to pass, he had
raised his hat with a gallant flourish to Jeannie, who stood at the
door. But she had appeared quite unconscious of his salute, and the
Colonel was working himself into a fever of impatience. It was one thing
to be able to say at the club that he had spent his morning in Bolton
Street, where his cousins had taken Number 8, but it was another to have
them definitely established in Wroxton, not knowing him from Adam. The
trying climate of India was nothing compared to the sultriness which
loomed over his prospects.

The amiable and kindly interest in the minutest dealings of others,
which is known as curiosity, was not wanting in the town of Wroxton.
Miss Clifford had hardly passed on her bicycle when she realized that it
was idle to struggle with so overmastering an emotion, and dismounted at
the end of the street, for she was no adept at turning round, and rode
straight back again. She would have done so if only to get another look
at the furniture which was being unloaded, though, as they had got on to
a bed-room layer of it, it might not have seemed engrossing to the
ordinary mind; but this was not all. She would get another look at the
lady who sat in the middle of the road, and at the young man in his
shirt-sleeves. She might even, if lucky, catch a glimpse of Miss Avesham
herself, whom she had not yet seen.

So she rode slowly back, and when about thirty yards distant saw Arthur
drinking out of a pewter mug. The disappointment was intense, for he
might even have been Lord Avesham himself, come to help his brother and
sister in the settling in. But this beer-drinking in public made it
impossible. It could only be the foreman of the Pantechnicon, or
perhaps--this would be better than nothing--the footman or a valet of
peers. But as she passed she distinctly heard him say, “Do have some
beer, Aunt Em.”

Miss Clifford rode on towards the High Street, away from the direction
of her home, lost and stupefied in a whirl of conjecture and perplexity.
If he was the footman, what was his Aunt Em doing there, unless--and
this was just possible--his Aunt Em was the cook? If, on the other hand,
he was the foreman, the presence of his aunt was still more difficult,
for that foremen of furniture companies should bring their aunts with
them to superintend seemed a proposition which might almost be negatived
offhand. Could it be--No, it was not possible, and Miss Clifford, by
this time having reached the High Street, dismounted again and
determined to go home without more delay. The shortest way home lay down
Bolton Street--at least to go down Bolton Street was so little longer
that the excellence of the road quite made up for it--and a minute
afterward she was again opposite the house. No very great change had
taken place since she saw it last. The possible footman was still
standing in the doorway with the pewter pot in his hand, and his Aunt Em
was sitting on a low black oak chest, which suggested to Miss Clifford’s
romantic mind all sorts of secret drawers and unsuspected wills,
confessions of crime, and proofs of innocence. As a matter of fact, it
contained Jeannie’s boot-trees and a knife-board, but Miss Clifford did
not know this. But her perseverance had its reward. Even as she passed,
a voice of lamentation sounded from the inside of the house.

“Oh, Arthur,” it wailed, “you said it was only four foot six, and it’s
four foot nine, and won’t go in. Do come here.”

And the possible footman put his pewter pot on the black oak chest and
went inside.

The chain of evidence was growing massive. Supposing, as before, Aunt Em
was the cook and Arthur’s aunt, whose was the wailing voice inside?
Could it be the lady’s-maid’s or the house-maid’s? Miss Clifford’s
masculine intellect decided that it scarcely could. Again, had not she
and her sister spent an hour last night in following the history of the
Avesham family in Debrett’s Peerage into all its ramifications and
collateral branches? “Sons living, Hon. Arthur John Talbot, b. 1873, ed.
at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford”--how was it possible for a person
of intelligence not to connect the subject of that entry with the person
called Arthur who lounged with a pewter pot? The coincidence was too
glaring to be overlooked. One thing would settle it, and Miss Clifford
cursed her defective memory. If either Lord Avesham or his wife had a
“sister living called Emma or Emmaline, that must be the Aunt Em” who
had sat so truculently in the highway and been offered beer. Miss
Clifford turned quite cold at the thought that she had perhaps been
within an ace of running into a sister or a sister-in-law of a peer.
What would her mother have said if she had been alive to see such a day?

Miss Clifford wasted no more time, but went home like a positive
race-horse, arriving in a breathing heat. She went straight to the room
called by her and her sister “the libry,” and took the Peerage from its
shelf.

No, the late Lord Avesham had only one sister living, who was called
Lucy, which could not possibly be abbreviated into Em, but he married
Frances Mary Fortescue, second daughter of late Mr. John Fortescue. It
was but the work of a moment to turn to the Fs in the landed gentry and
find John Lewis Fortescue, Esq., son of late John Fortescue, Esq., who
had one sister living, Emma Caroline. The thing was as good as proved,
and Miss Clifford was practically face to face with the fact that peers
(at any rate, the brothers of peers) drank beer in shirts, and that she
had nearly run down the sister of a peeress. It had been a most exciting
morning, and she waited with weary impatience for the return of her
sister, who was out, to pour into her horror-struck ears these
revelations about the aristocracy. “No wonder many people turn Radical,”
she said to herself.

Colonel Raymond’s temper at lunch that day bordered on the diabolical,
and when he savagely announced that he should take the children for a
walk afterward, the hearts of those unfortunate infants sank in their
shoes. They well knew what kind of an afternoon was in store for them.
While on the level they would be able to keep up, but they knew from
experience that when their father was in the state of mind which Mrs.
Raymond referred to in their presence as “looking worried” that their
way would be dark and slippery, and that their father would march up the
steep sides of the downs as if he was storming a breach. Long before the
most active of them was half-way up he would be there, and he would
revile them with marrowy and freezing expressions. Then as soon as their
aching legs had scaled the summit he would be off again, and ten minutes
later the same scene would be re-enacted with the same trembling and
breathless mutes. Occasionally, on the worst days, he would take one by
the hand and--“he called it helping”--drag her along in a grasp of iron.

Poor Mrs. Raymond always looked more than usually insignificant when her
husband was looking worried, but when things were very bad indeed
sometimes a strange sort of recklessness came over her. If you can
imagine a mouse or some soft feathered bird in a reckless humour, you
will have some picture of Mrs. Raymond when the Colonel was looking
worried. She had asked him some question about where he had been this
morning, and had been treated to a reply of this kind:

“Where have I been? Did you ask where I have been, Constance? You are
devoured by curiosity--devoured; and it would be better if you tried to
check it sometimes. But I’ll tell you--oh, I’ll tell you. I’ve been
hanging about Bolton Street all morning, and not one of those infernal
aristocrats had a word to say to me.”

“Do you mean the Aveshams, Robert?” asked his wife.

“Yes, I mean the Aveshams, and why shouldn’t I mean the Aveshams? Eh?”

“I don’t suppose they recognised you.”

“Not recognised me? I tell you, they cut me. Cut me, Constance. Blood is
thicker than water--thicker than water--and it’s a motto that I’ve
always stuck to myself, and it would be a good thing if others did the
same.”

Then Mrs. Raymond began to be reckless.

“You’re not a very near relative, Robert,” she said, in her meaningless
voice.

“Not a near relation?” stormed her husband. “Do you mean to put me in my
place? Confound it all, your brother-in-law’s sister, your sister-in-law
in fact, indeed my sister-in-law, was the late Lady Avesham. If we don’t
hang together it’s the ruin of England!”

Mrs. Raymond’s recklessness increased.

“If I were you I shouldn’t go about talking of the Aveshams as your
relatives, particularly now they’ve come to live in the town,” she said;
“it will only make people laugh.”

The Colonel glared at her a moment; he could literally not find words.

“Anything else, madam, anything else?” he asked at length.

The fit of recklessness was passed.

“No, that is all, Robert,” she said, listlessly; “I didn’t mean to make
you worried.”

“I shall call there this afternoon,” he said, “and you will go with me.”

Mrs. Raymond brightened.

“Then you won’t take the children out?” she asked, with a ray of hope in
her voice.

“Certainly I shall take them out,” he said, “and--and they shall come
and call, too. Go and get your things on, all of you.”

“You won’t go far then, if you are to be back in time to call?” asked
his wife.

“We shall go a good brisk walk,” he said, grimly, “and we shall be home
by four. Now, am I to wait all day?”

Dismal, faltering feet came down the passage outside, and the three
little victims appeared in the doorway.

“Now then, march,” said the Colonel.

It was some little while after four when the hot and jaded expedition
returned. The walk had been more severe than usual, and even the Colonel
flung himself with an air of fatigue into a chair.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said; “I shall not go near the house. Not go
near it. At least, I sha’n’t go to-day. Tea--isn’t tea ready? Let it be
brought.”

Even the friends of the Colonel might have felt inclined to accuse him
of a slight duplicity for his action on this occasion. He had returned
by way of Bolton Street, like the burned moth to the candle, and sending
the children on with instructions to go home after waiting for five
minutes at the end of the street, he had rung the bell, which was opened
by a surprised maid. The hall was full of miscellaneous furniture, and
the maid had to go warily among pictures and stools to the drawing-room,
bearing his card. Jeannie’s voice was what is known as “carrying,” and
she did not reflect how near the front door was to the drawing-room,
where an agonizing measurement of a carpet was going on. Her words were
distinctly audible.

“Colonel who? Colonel Raymond. I never heard of him. Fancy calling when
we are in this state! Tell him we are all out. Did you say fifteen foot
six or fifteen foot eight, Arthur? It makes just the whole difference.”

Then somebody said “Hush!” and Jeannie’s voice said “Oh!”

A moment afterward the maid came out of the drawing-room, shutting the
door carefully after her.

“Not at home, sir,” she said, without a blush or a tremor in her voice.

The children did not have to wait long at the corner. The pace home was
perfectly appalling.



CHAPTER IV


One evening, about a fortnight after the attack of congestion in Bolton
Street, Canon and Mrs. Collingwood were sitting in their dining-room
lingering over their dessert. The butler had filled their claret-glasses
to the brim with water, and had left the room. It was a warm night in
mid-July, and the French window opening on to the garden was flung wide,
admitting breaths of soft and flower-scented air. The dusk was not yet
passed the bounding line between day and night, and the eye was led over
a cool, spacious square of grass, framed in flower-beds in which colour
still lingered, to a red brick wall at the end of the garden over which
rose the gray pinnacle of the Cathedral. It was still near enough to
midsummer to dine without candles if your dinner-hour was 7.45, and the
absence of them and decanters gave to the table a certain virginal and
ascetic air. Both the Canon and his wife were teetotalers, she of the
kind which we may call intemperate--that is to say, she regarded alcohol
not only as poison, but as an essentially immoral thing. Mrs.
Collingwood was a woman of strong will, and ruled her husband; and
though his own inclination would have been to set wine before his guests
when they were entertaining, her detestation of fermented liquids
overruled hospitality, and, unless one particular person was dining with
them, you would no more see a decanter on the table than you would see a
roulette board. But the exception was made in favour of their Bishop,
who was under doctor’s orders to drink the abominable thing, and on
these occasions a half bottle of Burgundy blushed before Mrs.
Collingwood’s eyes. How exactly it is possible to conceive of a natural
and lifeless product as being in itself wicked is a problem at which the
ordinary mind stumbles. But Mrs. Collingwood had solved it, and we
should show a more becoming modesty if we lamented our mediocrity of
grasp and silently envied Mrs. Collingwood’s extraordinary powers of
conception, than if we called her point of view unreasonable. It is
possible also that if a guest had produced a doctor’s certificate that
he must drink wine, he would have been accorded some of the Bishop’s
Burgundy, but his wine would be understood to be of the nature of
medicine, which custom has ordained that we shall not indulge in at the
dinner-table.

Now it was not the habit of Canon Collingwood or his wife to linger over
the pleasures of the table, but they were discussing a subject which had
probably been discussed at thirty or forty other tables that evening,
namely, the advent of Jeannie and Arthur to Wroxton.

“I don’t feel certain that she will be helpful,” said Mrs. Collingwood;
“to me she seemed not in earnest. There was no depth about her.”

And she put a hard piece of gingerbread into her rather wide mouth.

Canon Collingwood stroked his beard for a moment in silence.

“She is young,” he said, doubtfully.

“One can never be too young to be in earnest,” said his wife. “And I did
not like the look of the drawing-room. There were several books on the
table which I should never allow in my house, and there was an organ in
the hall.”

Canon Collingwood had been married many years, but even now his wife
occasionally puzzled him.

“Why not, my dear?” he said.

“Because an organ should only be used for sacred music,” said Mrs.
Collingwood, “and I have no doubt that they use it for other pieces.
Indeed, I saw some opera of Wagner’s standing open on it.”

“Did you call there to-day?” he asked.

“Yes, I paid a long call there. I tried to interest Miss Avesham in
various things, but I had to begin at the beginning. She did not even
know what G. F. S. meant. It is very strange how unreal life must be to
some people.”

“Is not their aunt staying with them?”

Mrs. Collingwood could not reply for a moment, for the gingerbread was
very hard.

“Yes, she is living with them for the present,” she said. “I am bound to
say that Miss Fortescue baffled me. I could make nothing whatever out
of her. She seemed to me at first most keenly interested in the
prevention of cruelty to animals, but when I spoke of the prevention of
cruelty to children--much more important, of course--she did not seem to
pay the slightest attention. And later, when we were speaking of
household matters, she urged Miss Avesham to see that the mulberries
from their tree in the garden were picked for making mulberry gin. She
asked me if I did not think it was delicious.”

“She could not know how you felt about such matters,” said the Canon,
apologetically.

“I should have thought that gin was not a subject usually mentioned,”
said Mrs. Collingwood. “No one can be ignorant of how terrible a curse
it is to so many households.”

Canon Collingwood sighed.

“I met Miss Avesham a day or two ago at the Lindsays’,” he said. “She
seemed to me a nice, pleasant girl, and very full of life.”

Mrs. Collingwood folded her napkin up in silence. Her husband’s remark
seemed to her fatuous. Either a person was earnest and helpful or not.
Any other quality, particularly that very dangerous quality known as
“life,” was only trimming, and a possible temptation. Earnestness and
helpfulness were to be rated by the desire to aid in good works. But as
she rose she made a great concession.

“If you mean energy by life, William,” she said, “I agree with you that
it is admirable as an instrument if properly used. You have not said
grace.”

To do her justice, Mrs. Collingwood’s time was spent in good works, and
her thoughts (when not thus occupied) in passing judgments on other
people. Her favourite text, the text by which her life was conducted,
was, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” In her youth she must have been
remarkably handsome, but she had got over that, which was lucky, since
she now tended to consider that good looks, if not actually the
invention of the evil one, were an open door by which he entered,
bringing with him pride, vanity, and self-esteem. Like alcohol and
tobacco, she regarded them as almost more than dangerous, as something
in themselves not right. But with what might be hastily considered as
inconsistent, she thought it her duty to admire the beauties of nature
when not exhibited in human beings. The green of forest trees, the level
lines of the sunset, the Gothic architecture, particularly when seen
from a Cathedral close, and thus, as it were, chastely framed, she
thought were meant to lead one’s aspirations heavenward. These things
(the trees and light, at any rate) had been at the Creation pronounced
good, and that was enough for Mrs. Collingwood, who, if she could pin a
text on to any conclusion, put it away in a drawer as proved. Her
drawers were full of such. Similarly, man had fallen, and his face was
the face of a fallen thing.

Thus this evening, when she and her husband left the dining-room, and he
retired to his study to finish his sermon for the next day, she stood a
full minute at the open window of the drawing-room looking at the view.
Then she sat down at her davenport to finish writing a paper on the
Downward Tendency of Modern Fiction, which she was to read at a meeting
of the Wroxton Ladies’ Literary Union next week. She proposed to deal
more particularly with novels which discuss theological problems, and
were so upsetting to the faith of the weaker, for what is known as the
Higher Criticism seemed to Mrs. Collingwood to be synonymous with the
temptation of the devil. But she was a just woman, and one of her
sentences began, “What a very clever book we all feel this to be, but
how immoral!” Mrs. Collingwood found literary composition presented no
difficulties, and she looked upon it, provided the motive of it was
earnest and helpful, as an agreeable relaxation. Her style was
conversational, and there was a good deal of “dear friends” in it.

The view on which she so resolutely turned her back in order to give
this timely warning to the literary ladies of Wroxton against
theological, or rather infidel, novels, justified her minute’s
contemplation. The lawn, a cool, restful space of sober green, sloped
down to a prattling tributary of the chalk stream which ran through the
town, and in the dusk the flower-beds (the Canon’s hobby was gardening)
glowed with subdued and darkening colour. The scent of the
tobacco-plant (like Adam and Eve, still in its garden innocence) came
floating in through the window, dominating all other perfumes. Thrushes
still called to each other from the bushes, or crossed the lawn with
quick, scudding steps, and an owl floated by with a flute-like note. To
the right rose the gray piled mass of the Cathedral in all the dignity
and sobriety of Norman work, set there, it might seem, like the rainbow,
a pledge to the benignity of the circling seasons, serene and steadfast
with centuries of service. From here, too, for the drawing-room was on
the second floor, it was possible to see over the bounding garden-wall,
and westward the river lay in sheets and pools of cloud-reflected
crimson. Patches of light mist lay like clothes to dry over the
water-meadows through which it ran, but beyond the great chalk down lay
clear and naked. The sky at the horizon was cloudless, and the evening
star hung like a jewel on blue velvet. Peaceful, protected stability was
the keynote of the scene.

Canon Collingwood had been at Wroxton for twenty mildly useful but not
glorious years. From the years between the ages of twenty and forty he
had lived entirely at Cambridge as Fellow and subsequently classical
tutor of his college. The effect, if not the object, of his life had
been uneventfulness, and twenty years of looking over pieces of Latin
verse and prose had been succeeded by twenty years of busy indolence as
Canon of Wroxton. To keep one’s hands and heart moderately clean in this
random business of life is a sufficient task for the most of mankind,
and if Canon Collingwood had not experienced the braver joys of
adventure, or even the rapture of mere living, it is not to be assumed
that his life was useless. He set an admirable pattern of unruffled
serenity and complete inoffensiveness, and though he could never set the
smallest stream on fire, his passage through the world was bordered with
content. At Wroxton, apart from the merely animal needs of sleep and
exercise, his time was fairly equally divided between hardy annuals and
an extensive though not profound study of patristic literature. Eight
times in the year he delivered a sermon from the Cathedral pulpit, and
never failed to give careful preparation to it. In the summer he and
his wife always spent a month at the lakes, but otherwise they seldom
slept a night outside their own house. He got up every morning at half
past seven, and breakfasted at a quarter past eight. He attended
Cathedral service at ten, and read or wrote in his study till a quarter
past one. Three-quarters of an hour brought him to lunch-time, and a
walk along one of three roads or two hours among his flowers prepared
him for tea. His dinner he earned by two hours’ more reading, and his
rest at night was the natural sequel to this wholesomely spent day,
rounded off by three-quarters of an hour’s Patience in the drawing-room,
or, if the game proved very exciting, it sometimes extended to a full
hour.

Mrs. Collingwood, as has been stated, was somewhat given to passing
judgment on other people, but these judgments were never of a gossipy or
malicious nature, and she judged without being in any way critical. Her
judgments were straightforward decisions, of the jury rather than the
judge, as to whether the prisoner at the bar was guilty or not guilty.
To be not guilty, it need hardly be indicated, meant to be earnest and
helpful. Now, whether she could, with her hand on her heart, say that
her husband was earnest or helpful is doubtful, but no decision was
necessary, and for this reason: Though he took no part in her good
works, nor even organized Christian associations, he was a Canon. To be
a Canon implied to live in a close, and to live in a close (if we run
Mrs. Collingwood to ground) meant to be not guilty. Furthermore, in what
we may call her more Bohemian moments, she would have acknowledged that
life could be looked at from more than one point of view. She would even
have allowed that it might be possible to live otherwise than she lived,
and yet be saved at the last. Yet some people had been known to think
her narrow!

Mrs. Collingwood, it must be considered, was not ill content with
living. Her aims were too definite, and her devotion to them too
complete to allow her to indulge in any vague dissatisfactions. She
could lament the wickedness of the world, yet find the antidote for the
sorrow the thought had caused in efforts to remedy it. Further, in the
sphere of inevitable and intimate things, she and her husband had
perhaps only one weak spot, so to speak, in the armour in which they met
the world. She, at any rate, went armed like a dragoon through the
routine of life, armed against danger and difficulty and snares of the
evil one. But this weak spot was in a vital place. She had a son, now
some twenty-five years old, who did not live in a close, or anywhere
near one. He was an artist--not a landscape painter, for Mrs.
Collingwood could have borne that--but a painter of men and women, a
recorder of human beauty. That he was rising and successful in his
profession was no consolation to his mother, but rather the reverse, and
she had before now hesitated whether the text, “I also have seen the
wicked in great prosperity,” was not to be pinned to him, for that he
was essentially sober and straight in his life she could scarcely
believe. He seldom came to Wroxton, for his profession, at which he
worked very hard, naturally kept him in London, but he was going to
spend a week or two with them in September, after their return from the
lakes, and she always found his visits trying. In the first place, it
was quite certain that, though he did not smoke in the house out of
deference to his mother’s abhorrence of the act, he did smoke in the
garden; and in the second, though he never alluded to wine at lunch or
dinner, a half-empty bottle of whisky had been found in his bed-room
after he had gone. It often seemed cruel to Mrs. Collingwood that she
should have had such a son, and in her own mind she was disposed to
regard him as but a dubious gift, partaking more of the nature of a
cross than of a crown.

Jeannie Avesham that afternoon had spoken of him to his mother, saying
that, though she did not know him personally, he had been at Oxford with
her brother, and the mention of those Oxford days had roused terrible
memories in the mind of Mrs. Collingwood, and made her attack on modern
fiction bitter and incisive. For he had gone to Oxford with the object
of reading theology, and eventually of taking orders, but a day came
when he wrote to his father saying he could not do so. He wanted to talk
it all over with him, but he feared his decision was irrevocable.

Now it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that his mother would sooner
have seen him in his coffin than that he should have written such a
letter. It was a complete break-up of her hopes. Her world, hard and
narrow as it might be, was all the world she had, and it was overturned.
The last straw had been added when he decided to become an artist, and
on that occasion she had said to her husband, and had meant it, “He will
go to the devil.”

Time, of course, had done something to heal the wound, and in the five
years which had passed since then Mrs. Collingwood had in a way grown
used to it. But she was naturally rigid and incapable of adapting
herself, for any change meant a change in her principles. She prayed for
him with her accustomed fervour, but as long as he did not give up his
profession she was forced to believe that her prayers, if answered, were
answered in a way beyond her comprehension.

By half past nine she had finished her warning against infidel novels,
and her husband had finished his sermon for the next day. He read
prayers in the dining-room, and afterward they went up together to the
drawing-room again, and he played Patience till half past ten. The town
was already settling itself to sleep, and only a faint hum of living
came in through the windows. They talked for a few minutes on
indifferent subjects, and by eleven the house was dark.



CHAPTER V


“A little military society is so pleasant, is it not?” said Miss
Clifford. “That you will find is one of the great advantages of Wroxton,
Miss Avesham. We have so many factors in our little world. It is quite a
miniature capital. There is the close, there is the town, there is the
garrison, and there is the county.”

Miss Clifford spoke in a very quiet voice, and glowed gently as she
spoke, turning for approval to her sister Clara, who rode the bicycle a
fortnight before up and down Bolton Street.

Clara was forty-two, and her sister a year or two older. They lived in
Montrose Villa and they were calling on Jeannie Avesham.

Jeannie gave a little rippling laugh, and pushed back her hair from her
forehead. She had been out in the garden with Aunt Em when her callers
were announced, and as the drawing-room windows commanded the
mulberry-tree under which they had been sitting, she had not been able
to go upstairs to brush her hair, as she was aware of the four mild eyes
of the two Miss Cliffords raking her from the windows. Aunt Em had
altogether refused to come in, leaving Jeannie to entertain the callers
alone. She had expressed a wish, however, that a cup of tea should be
sent out to her in the garden, which Jeannie had flatly refused to do.
“If you won’t come and help me, you sha’n’t have your tea,” she had
said.

But the Miss Cliffords were so refreshing that she was almost glad Aunt
Em had not come. She thought she could enjoy them more alone.

“It all sounds delightful,” she said. “You know I have never lived in a
country town before; we were either at Morton or in London, and it is
all quite new to me. But I love new things.”

“I think you will find the charm of Wroxton grow,” said Miss Clara.
“Certainly we all find that it grows on us. My sister and I are always
glad to get back after our summer holiday to all our work and
interests. We are very fond of our little centre.”

“I am sure I shall find it charming,” said Jeannie. “Do tell me more.
Tell me about the people here. What do you all do?”

“We have charming neighbours,” said Miss Phœbe. “One of them is a
relation of yours, is he not--Colonel Raymond?”

“Colonel Raymond?” asked Jeannie. “I don’t know him, I think. What
relation is he to us? You see, my mother had so many brothers and
sisters. I am really very ignorant about my cousins.”

“He is related through his wife, I think,” said Miss Phœbe. “His wife’s
sister, I think, married a Mr. Fortescue.”

Jeannie laughed again.

“Well, I’m not so much to blame,” she said, “for the relationship is not
very close. In fact, one is more nearly related to his wife. What is
Mrs. Raymond like?”

“A very quiet, sweet woman,” said Miss Clara, “and very unlike her
husband. He is a very dashing, military sort of man.”

Jeannie pondered a moment.

“Oh, now I remember,” she said. “I’m sure he called here, while we were
settling in. But Arthur and I were undoing the drawing-room carpet, so I
had to say we were out. Do tell me some more. What do you all do?”

Miss Clifford looked puzzled.

“We find our days very full,” she said. “Household duties take up a good
deal of our time, and then we have our relaxations. My sister’s great
hobby is literary work.”

“Oh, Phœbe!” ejaculated Miss Clara, blushing.

“Oh, but how delightful!” put in Jeannie. “Do you write much?”

“Clara has had fourteen poems in the Wroxton Chronicle,” said Miss
Phœbe, with proper pride, “and another appears next week.”

“I must get it,” said Jeannie.

“Perhaps, if you are so kind as to take an interest in what I do,” said
Miss Clara, “you would allow me, Miss Avesham, to send you a copy. It
would be a great pleasure. The editor always sends me half a dozen
copies.”

“That would be very nice of you,” said Jeannie. “And what is your
hobby, Miss Clifford?”

“My sister plays the mandolin beautifully,” said Miss Clara. “She was a
pupil of Professor Rimanez.”

“Why, how charming!” said Jeannie. “Do bring it round here some day,
Miss Clifford, and we will have duets. I, too, play a little.”

“It would be a great pleasure,” said Miss Clifford, “but I am only a
very poor performer.”

The two Miss Cliffords were thawing like icicles in June. They hardly
remembered that they were having tea alone with the daughter and sister
of a peer.

“Then there is the Ladies’ Literary Union,” said Miss Clara. “We meet
every fortnight, and very improving and sometimes entertaining pieces
are read.”

“All the members read papers in turn, I suppose,” said Jeannie.

“Yes, and then we discuss the paper. Next week we have a great treat.
Mrs. Collingwood is going to read us a paper on The Downward Tendency of
Modern Fiction. I got the notice this morning. Mrs. Collingwood is a
great critic, but rather severe, so my sister and I think.”

“Mrs. Collingwood?” asked Jeannie. “Oh, yes, I remember her; she called
the other day. I thought she was rather severe, too. I am afraid she was
very much shocked at my not knowing what the Girls’ Friendly Society
was. But how should I know? I don’t think there is one in London. Oh,
yes, she must be a teetotaler--so my aunt and I thought. Is that so?”

Miss Clifford looked solemn. It was difficult to conceive of any one not
knowing that Mrs. Collingwood was a teetotaler.

“Indeed, she is,” she replied. “Would it be inquisitive if I asked what
occurred?”

“Not in the least,” said Jeannie. “My aunt only asked me to tell the
cook to see that the mulberries were gathered to make mulberry gin. I
said I would be sure to remember.”

“Yes, Mrs. Collingwood is very strict,” said Clara. “But she is so
practical and so much in earnest. She says that so many books have a
tendency to upset people’s faith, and that is very shocking if she is
right about it. A friend of hers, she told me, the other day had had her
faith very much shaken by reading a free-thinking novel.”

“A free-thinking novel?” said Jeannie. “I don’t think I ever saw one.”

“Well, there is Robert Elsmere,” said Miss Clifford. “I have never read
it, but Mrs. Collingwood says that it is terribly upsetting.”

“Of course there is some discussion about theological questions in those
books,” said Jeannie, “though I never finished Robert Elsmere. But don’t
you think it may have been the fault of Mrs. Collingwood’s friend that
her faith was shaken?”

Miss Clifford looked grave.

“Surely not,” she said. “The responsibility must lie with the author. If
the book had never been written, no one’s faith would ever have been
upset. Don’t you think so?”

“Perhaps you are right,” said Jeannie. “I never really thought about it.
Don’t you think we look wonderfully settled in, considering how short a
time we have been here?”

Miss Clara clasped her hands.

“It is all quite beautiful,” she said. “And what a lovely garden you
have.”

“Yes, it is pretty,” said Jeannie. “And there is a fountain with a basin
round it, in which are water-lilies. Arthur says we must give a water
picnic there.”

“I had no idea you had so extensive a piece of water,” said Miss Phœbe,
gravely.

“Oh, it’s only a joke,” said Jeannie, “and a very small one. Must you be
going?”

“We must, indeed,” said Miss Phœbe. “Come, Clara, you would linger here
forever unless I tore you away. We have already far exceeded our time,
and taken up far too much of Miss Avesham’s.”

The Miss Cliffords walked some little way in silence.

“There is quite an air about the house,” said Miss Clara, at length. “It
is quite different from even Colonel Raymond’s, and Mrs. Raymond’s
drawing-room always seemed to us so refined.”

“Yes, it was quite different,” said Phoebe, “and I don’t know how it was
produced. The piano I saw was just at the same angle from the wall as
ours. I am glad we have got that right, Clara.”

“I think we have too many little things about,” said Clara; “there must
be ten vases on our chimneypiece, if there’s one, and I noticed there
was only a clock and two candlesticks on Miss Avesham’s. Yet it looked
ever so much more furnished than ours. Let us aim at a greater
simplicity, Phœbe.”

The two Miss Cliffords lived in what is known as a “highly desirable
detached mansion,” and its desirability was much enhanced by its being
known as Montrose Villa. It is probable that the owner took his hint
from Mrs. Raymond’s happy thought of calling her house “Lammermoor,” but
the Miss Cliffords had gone one better, for the last six months they had
dated all their letters “Villa Montrose,” and were even thinking of
having a die made for their paper and envelopes. “Villa Montrose”
sounded much more delightful, and gave, as Miss Clara said, while
hanging a reproduction of Carlo Dolci in the front hall, “quite an
Italian air to the place.” To the ordinary eye the Villa Montrose was a
plain gray house, covered with stucco, but if (as the Miss Cliffords
did even when alone) you called stucco, stookko, a perfectly different
effect is produced. Similarly, a dwarf fir-tree which stood in the back
garden was, rightly considered, a stone-pine, and visions of Tuscan
valleys (the Miss Cliffords’ father had once been English chaplain at
Florence) rose to the inward eye, with hardly any sense of their being
pumped up from a distance. Miss Clara, in fact, got at the kernel of the
matter when she said that the atmosphere with which the imagination can
invest a place is wholly independent of the materials on which it works.

On the ground floor were four rooms, a drawing-room and dining-room
looking out over the room, and at the back two small apartments, known
as “the libry” and the studio. The walls of the studio were decorated
with quite a quantity of oil pictures by the Miss Cliffords’ father, and
an unfinished sketch of his stood on an easel. There was a tiger’s-skin
rug on the floor, rather moth-eaten, and some low chairs. The only
drawback to the room was that, as there was no fire-place, it was too
cold to sit in in winter, and in summer, as it was exposed to the
southern sun, and had a large sky-light, you might as well, as Miss
Phœbe once remarked with a certain acrimony, make your sitting-room of
an oven. But in the more temperate rays of April and September nothing
could be more delightful than its temperature, and, even when it was
untenantable, there was a pleasure in referring to “the studio.”

The “libry” was simply one mass of books, chiefly consisting of the
theological collection of the Miss Cliffords’ father. Here Miss Clara
worked every morning from nine till one, and it was in itself an
inspiration to be surrounded by books, although she seldom took one from
its shelf. When it is said that thirteen of the fourteen original poems
by her which had appeared in the Wroxton Chronicle were produced in this
room (the fourteenth was produced during an attack of influenza in bed,
and was called Depression) it will be seen at once that the actual area
of the “libry,” which measured eight feet by ten, was no index to its
potentialities, for even Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-on-Avon is no
palace, and Miss Clara, it is hardly necessary to say, was the
president of the Ladies’ Literary Union, and was considered rather
Bohemian.

Her elder sister, Miss Phœbe, was, as Clara had told Jeannie, musical.
She had no sitting-room, for, like Martha, she was cumbered with much
serving, and she knew, and was proud to know, that Clara was the genius.
But some half of the drawing-room, which would hold five people easily,
was known as Phœbe’s corner, and in Phœbe’s corner was a cottage piano
and mandolin, and always a vase of flowers. A cabinet photograph of the
mandolin teacher, Professor Rimanez, signed “Rimanez,” no less, in the
Professor’s own hand, hung on the wall. Phœbe’s corner was full.

The two sisters lived a regular and most harmonious life. Since they
never sat idle, they were right in considering that they were busy, and
when Miss Phœbe had spent two or three hours every morning in washing
the china they had used for breakfast, ordering dinner, and marching
through every room in the house, examining towels to see if they
required darning, soap to see if it wanted renewing, and smelling the
water in the bed-room bottles, she was glad to seek refreshment about
half past twelve by throwing herself into a chair in her corner and
playing a Neapolitan air on her mandolin, or, with the soft pedal down
for fear of disturbing Clara, trying over a song by Tosti or Pinsuti
about “Life of my life, and soul of my soul.”

The tragedy of growing old, in fact, consists, if we look at it more
closely, not in growing old, but in remaining young, and their
irredeemable youthfulness was the pathetic fact in the lives of the
Misses Clifford. The banjo-playing and the writing of youthful lyrics
was a true symptom of the age they felt themselves to be, and the
streaks of gray in their hair and the wrinkles in their faces were a
travesty of their spirits. Since childhood they had led a perfectly
serene and untroubled existence, and it was their bodies, the sheaths,
and not the sword, which was rusting. They had floated slowly round and
round in a backwater of life, and the adventure and romance of living
swept by them, making them feel as if they and not the great stream was
moving, and if they had been told that it was the stream that hurried
by them in turmoil and charmed bewilderment, while they were standing
still, they would scarcely have credited it. This is a malady most
incident to country towns.

But it would be giving a totally erroneous picture of them if the
impression was left that they were unhappy or unsatisfied. Herein lay
the tragedy of it to the onlooker, but to them the tragedy would begin
when they became aware of it. They had aged and narrowed without knowing
it. They lived the life they had lived twenty years ago, among those
whose days had been distinguished by a similar uniformity, without
knowing that twenty years had made a difference in them. Clara always
thought that Phœbe was a girl yet, and Phœbe constantly considered that
Clara was still a little flighty. Meantime they scored their little
successes. Clara was congratulated on her last poem in the Wroxton
Chronicle, and Phœbe sang Pinsuti in a quavering voice to the cottage
piano. Then when the afternoon party was over (they gave teas at Villa
Montrose), Clara would start for a reckless ride on her bicycle, and
Phœbe hungered for her return.

Their father had been the rector of a country village near Wroxton, and
their great-uncle--a grocer--the mayor of the town. Thus Villa Montrose
had a double halo round it; the grocery was sunk in the civil dignitary,
and the poverty of the clergyman in the honour of his office. “My
father, the rector,” “My great-uncle, the Mayor,” were notable subjects
of conversation.

But this evening Miss Phœbe felt more disturbed than she had felt for
many years. For many years no fresh friend and no fresh interest had
touched the lives of herself and her sister, and the call they had paid
on Jeannie, though they talked only on trivial subjects, and looked out
on to the familiar spires of the Cathedral, had been strangely
exhilarating. The impression had been conveyed to her in some subtle
manner that Jeannie’s whole attitude toward life was utterly different
to any she had known before. How it had been conveyed to her she could
not have told you, but Jeannie’s every word and gesture she saw to be
the product of a wholly new idea of life. Her hair had been untidy, yet
Miss Clifford knew how different would have been the effect if it had
been her own hair which wanted brushing; she lounged in a chair, with
one leg crossed over the other, an attitude which Miss Clifford knew
from her earliest childhood to be most unladylike, and though her manner
had been utterly unstudied, and she did not, as Miss Clifford always
did, press her guests to stay when they said they must be going, she
gave you the impression that you were welcome.

These thoughts hovered round Miss Clifford’s head as she lay awake that
night. Jeannie was so much fresher and vivacious even than Clara, who
often talked and laughed more than her elder sister quite liked. How was
it that Clara looked rather old and tired beside Jeannie? Could it be
because she was so? And Miss Clifford, for her own peace of mind, fell
asleep without solving the question.



CHAPTER VI


Jack Collingwood came to pay his expected visit to Wroxton early in
September, as soon as his father and mother were back from their annual
trip to the English Lakes. Canon Collingwood had much enjoyed their time
there, and had brought back several tin boxes full of roots of wild
marsh-growing plants which he intended to cultivate on the edge of the
chalk-stream which ran at the bottom of the garden. He did this every
year, and the plants never grew, which did not in the least stand in the
way of his doing it again. He had also, as usual, preached an old sermon
in Grasmere church, and had written three new ones. His life, indeed, at
the Lakes was not less regular than his life at Wroxton; he had been out
of doors more and had spent only two hours a day over the study of
patristic literature, but he had been out at the same hours, and in at
the same hours, and was quite unaltered. He had worn the same straw-hat
at the Lakes that he always wore, and on returning home put it on the
top shelf of his mahogany wardrobe, where it reposed for eleven months
out of the twelve.

It would be giving a false impression to say that Mrs. Collingwood had
enjoyed herself. She took a holiday like medicine, with a view to its
after-effects, in order to enable her to return with renewed vigour to
the battle with immoral books and people who were not helpful and did
not live in closes. In order to attain this end as fully as possible she
had spent all her time out of doors, taking long strolls from breakfast
till lunch, and a walk with her husband from lunch till tea, on the
recognised plan that the best rest for a tired mind is to strenuously
overtire the body also. She had continually looked at the beauties of
nature also as part of the prescription, and had read a little
Wordsworth as she would read a guide-book in a foreign town. In the
evening, and sometimes if it was exceedingly wet, she would work, and
had produced three G. F. S. leaflets, one of which embodied her lecture
on the Downward Tendencies of Modern Fiction. Another was called No
Parleyings with the Enemy. In fact, when she and her husband returned,
she might be said to be a match for anything.

Jack arrived on a brilliant September afternoon, and, sending his
luggage on, walked himself. The old, quaint town seemed to his brisker
London eye to be dozing on as peacefully as ever, in a sort of tranquil
mediæval drowsiness. From the station, which was on a hill, he could see
across the cup-shaped hollow in which lay the red-tiled town. There were
no new houses on the way down, and the names above all the old ones were
the same. The man who had cut his hair when he was a child stood, as he
had always stood, at his door, looking on to the street, with a pair of
scissors stuck into the pocket of his white apron, neither balder nor
stouter than he used to be. It had always been a matter of wonder to
Jack how a man with so bald a head dare have his windows filled full of
infallible hair-preservers, but perhaps he was a cynic, and traded with
amusement on the fathomless credulity of man. The very slope of the
high street seemed designed for a leisurely folk; it was too steep for a
horse to trot either up or down, and the foot-passengers ascended softly
like bubbles arising through water, and descended with the same equable
motion like pebbles sinking in the sea. Half-way down he branched off
through a covered passage leading under a house into the close, and
there, too, time seemed to have stood still. A few nursery-maids wheeled
contented babies up and down its paths, and children were playing among
the grave-stones; the gray pinnacled west front seemed the incarnation
of stability. As always, the place asserted its instant charm over him;
for the moment as he passed through the grave-yard into the close he
would have asked nothing better than to say an eternal good-bye to the
froth and bubble of the world and turn the key on his ambitions. It
would be necessary, he reflected, to be rid of them, else in a week or
two he would be tingling for wider things again and chafing at the slow
passage of ungrudged hours. Like all healthily minded young men, he knew
he was going to overtop the world, and the air here was opiate. But for
the moment he was in love with tranquility.

Both his father and mother were out when he arrived at the house, and,
with the spell of soothing still on him, he sauntered off again, meaning
to return home for tea, and leaving the town, struck into a foot-path
that led through the water-meadows by the river. It has been stated how
his mother regretted that, if he was to be a painter at all, he had not
been a landscape-painter, and this afternoon the regret was his also.
Portrait-painting, he told himself, was an inspiration which might or
might not be at one’s command. For every hundred faces he looked at he
only saw one or two that suggested anything. Before now he had caused
offence, when given an order for a portrait, by insisting on seeing his
sitter before he promised anything, and then declining the task. It was
not beauty he looked for in a face, nor was it exactly intelligence. The
quality, whatever it was, might be altogether absent in the most admired
features, and present in every line of the face when there were, so to
speak, no features at all. It was this eternal search for this, the
refusal to paint where he did not find it, and a magical brush when he
did, that had already given him a somewhat unusual standing among the
younger painters of the day. His pictures were few, but, as a natural
consequence of the integrity and honesty of his art, his refusal to
paint without the conviction that his subject was for him, there was
nothing in any of them to show a want of grasp. That everything was
proper material for art he did not deny, but he emphatically affirmed
that everything was not proper material for each artist.

But, compared to the portrait-painter who thus limited himself, how
fortunate, he thought, was the landscape-painter. All trees were
paintable if you could paint a tree at all; all clear and running water
was beautiful, all clouds “composed.” This green bank on which he
wandered, the lower grasses of which waved in the suck of the brilliant
stream, the stretch of meadow beyond, tall with loose-strife and the
hundred herbs of watery places, the great austern downs beyond with the
clump or two of pines, the remnants of the great southern forests of
England--what landscape-painter could fail to find his subject in any of
these?

He paused on the edge of the stream where the water was running in
steadfast haste toward a mill which stood a hundred yards below, and
looked long into that translucent coolness. Subaqueous plantations of
green weed undulated backward and forward in the thrust of the water
like the tail of a poised fish, alternating with bare spaces
pebble-sown, but the pebbles were glorified to topaz and amber. Here and
there tall tufts of pithy rushes stood breast-high in the water, making
strange movements of twitching as the current struck them, causing the
smooth crystal to be broken with a sudden dimple. Over the surface from
time to time there would run like a wreath of mist a darker line, as if
some finger had traced on the stream a letter which the water was trying
to efface; then the mark would change from a circle to a half-circle,
straighten itself out for a moment, and then be broken. From below came
the gush of the mill mixed with the bourdon note of the machinery, and
Jack could see the rush of water coming out of the dark passage in
torrents of white foam, a soda-water of bubbles. There, he knew, the
weeds would be altogether different; they would be close as velvet, or
moss on a tree, offering little surface to the flood, and not like
thick, branching forests, which would be torn away in the mill-race.

He had waited so long looking into the water that he saw it was nearly
time to go back, but the attraction of the stream held him by cords, and
he could not but go on, just to look at the jubilant water escaping from
the prison of the mill and perhaps extend his wandering to a pool he
knew of a hundred yards below where the water deepened suddenly and
resumed again its sedater going. A plank bridge crossed at the head of
this, just below a red brick wall which bounded the garden belonging to
the mill. He would go as far as that corner, cross the stream, and
return to Wroxton by the path on the other side of the meadows.

So on he went: the channel below the mill was all it should be, and the
sun, for his delight, caught the white spray of the plunging river and
hung a broken rainbow on it. This Jack felt was a gift thrown in; he had
not anticipated it, and it gave him a thrill of pleasure. Yet, even as
he looked, he shook his head. The need of the artist for expression was
on him, and he could only tell himself that this was all beautiful, and
he wished he was a landscape-painter. And, thinking thus, he turned the
corner of the red wall, and stopped.

In the centre of the plank bridge by which he intended to cross was
standing a girl opposite him, with a face full of laughter and anxiety,
and with her parasol she kept at bay a small retriever puppy who had
just left the water, and, still dripping, was evidently coming to his
mistress in order to shake himself and receive her congratulations on
his having had a swim. Even as Jack turned the corner the puppy began
his shake, and to his trained, quick eye the whole scene was as complete
and as faithful as an instantaneous photograph. The puppy’s head was
already shaken, and down to his shoulders he was black and curly set in
a halo of spray, but the shake had not yet touched his back and tail,
the hair of which was still shining and close. The girl was also dressed
in black; with one hand she drew her skirts away from the dog, with the
other she held out her open parasol so that the puppy should be
compelled to keep his distance, for the bridge was narrow, and he could
hardly pass. Her face, with its wide, laughing eyes set in an expression
of agonized dismay, which her smiling mouth contradicted, was a moment’s
miracle. Obviously every nerve of her body, every cell, however secret,
in her brain was taken up and lost in the amused fear that the puppy
would wet her. She had no hat on, and the perfect oval of her face was
crowned with the most glorious black hair. And Jack gave a quick-drawn
breath. A moment before he had lamented that he was not a
landscape-painter; now, for all he cared, the world might be made of
Portland cement, if only that girl would laugh and that puppy would
shake itself.

The infinite moment was soon over. Even while he stared, oblivious of
all else, the puppy had grown curly from nose to tail, the anxiety had
faded like a breath from the girl’s face, and she looked up and saw
him. She turned and retraced her steps over the plank, and stepped into
the meadow, where, only a few yards off, was sitting an oldish lady
reading a book. The girl’s hat was lying by her, and there was a
tea-basket out, the silver of which twinkled pleasantly in the sun. Jack
walked straight past them, and did not look again. He had recorded in
his brain all he wanted, and to stop and stare would be not only rude
but, what in his present frame of mind was more important, unnecessary.
He did not even look round when he heard short, scuffling steps behind
him, and impatient barkings, and a voice said, “Toby, come here at
once.”

He knew instinctively that it was the girl who had spoken, and not the
elder lady, for the voice had the _timbre_ which belonged to that face.
Who she was he did not know, and really he did not care. She had given
him a vision, and she might disappear again. He would have liked, he
longed, in fact, to paint her, but no more, and, except as a sitter, she
was nothing to him. He could even, on reflection, have thought twice
about that, for his one moment had been so complete and was so
indelible. Perhaps she was a _poseuse_, startled for once into a genuine
emotion, though on so small a matter as the wetting of her gown. It was
more than possible that she would never serve him again, though she sat
to him for a score of years, as she had served him at that moment. She
did not concern him as long as the puppy was not shaking itself close to
her, and in that regard she was his already. And as he walked back along
the water-meadows he thought no more about the amber pavement of the
stream, and envied not any mood of the landscape-painter, for whom a
water-meadow held no such exquisite surprises. But the girl was to him
no more than a subject, and though the puppy was an essential factor in
the scene, he valued it not on the principle of “Love me, love my dog.”

All the way home his vision remained vivid, and in his mind he settled
the composition of it. The girl should stand facing full, with the dog
almost straight in front of her, cutting the canvas in two by a long
black line. Behind should be the green meadow, with a narrow strip of
broken ground just indicating the stream bank, and the moment should be
when the dog had shaken its head curly again, while the rest of it was
still drowned and sleek. And in the joy of creation he laughed aloud and
let his pipe go out.

He found his father and mother had both come in, and was told they were
having tea in the garden. Canon Collingwood welcomed him warmly, and his
mother evidently remembered she was his mother. These first moments were
always a little awkward, for Jack was apt to forget how few subjects
they had in common, and would pour himself out in matters that were near
his life before perceiving that what he said was, if not distasteful to
his mother, at any rate alien to her. He did so on this occasion.

“I walked down by the river as I saw you were not in,” he said, “and I
was in luck. Just as I turned the corner by the mill I came upon a
finished picture. A girl standing on the bridge, keeping off a wet puppy
with her parasol. You should have seen her face, beautiful to begin
with, laughing in every line. I never saw anything so complete. I
wonder who she was?”

“Some young woman from the town probably,” said his mother, in tones
that would have frozen the mercury in a thermometer.

“I wish I had spoken to her now,” continued the unfortunate Jack,
“though I didn’t want to at the moment. Anyhow, I remember her face
pretty well. Besides, she looked a lady--it might have been awkward.”

“Very awkward,” said his mother.

This time he heard, and the vivacity was struck from his face. But he
went on without a pause.

“And did you enjoy your time at the Lakes, father?” he said; “I never
answered your letter, I know, but I really was tremendously busy, though
that is no excuse. I was painting Mrs. Napier; do you know her, mother?
She has a sort of Lady Hamilton face.”

Now Lady Hamilton was not a person whom Mrs. Collingwood desired to have
mentioned, and she felt it her duty to change the subject.

“There will be a beautiful sunset,” she said.

Now this was kind. Though torture and chains should not make her allude
to any one who even resembled that notorious woman, yet she was willing
to talk about subjects in the domain of art, provided only that they
were innocent, and might without profanation be mentioned under the
shadow of the Cathedral. But as a Christian woman she drew the line at
Lady Hamilton.

Canon Collingwood plunged to the rescue.

“Exquisite, quite exquisite,” he said; “that rose-colour is so--so
beautiful, and the contrast of it with the blue above is quite--quite
beautiful.”

And, exhausted by the effort of making this discerning criticism, he
took another cup of tea. Whether conversation could have languished
further is unknown, for at the moment the butler came out of the house,
followed by Miss Clara Clifford. Mrs. Collingwood welcomed her with a
worker’s smile.

“So pleasant to see you,” she said; “you know my son, I think. We were
all enjoying the lovely sunset.”

“Beautiful, is it not?” said Miss Clara, staring at the east. She was
always a little nervous about coming to call without her sister, but
Phœbe had the tooth-ache, and Villa Montrose smelt as if it were built
of creosote. She took a sip of her tea, and laid hands upon her courage.

“And talking of sunset,” she said, “reminds me of what I wanted to say
to you, Mrs. Collingwood. May we add your name to our list of
patronesses this year for our Annual Art Exhibition? You have been so
kind as to permit it before.”

“I shall be delighted,” said Mrs. Collingwood, “for I have always found
that the Wroxton Exhibition was so delightful. You must exercise a
strict censorship over what you exhibit, and I am sure you do. I
remember very clearly seven or eight pictures of Switzerland and several
of the Lakes. Surely you remember the picture of Grasmere, William,
which was shown last year? I pointed out the original to you when we
were there.”

It was one of Mrs. Collingwood’s chiefest pleasures in the artistic line
to be able to see the “original” of a picture she had noticed, or to
recognise in a picture an “original” she knew. She cared, in fact, more
for the fact that a picture represented a place she knew than she did
for its merits. She always bought a catalogue when she went to a picture
exhibition, and always marked with a cross the pictures which had
pleased her most. These would be found to be representations of places
she knew. Occasionally, when she knew a place very well, she would have
given the picture two crosses, but two crosses in Mrs. Collingwood’s
catalogue were as rare as double stars in Baedeker. Any part of Wroxton
Cathedral would receive one, and Grasmere had a chance.

This favourable reception of her first request made Miss Clara even
bolder. She was afraid that Phœbe might consider her conduct unladylike,
but Phœbe was not there. She turned to Jack.

“We should be so much honoured,” she said, “if you could lend us a
sketch, a mere sketch. It would be the greatest pleasure, and I would
be responsible for its being well hung.”

“I have nothing with me here,” said Jack, “but”--and a thought struck
him--“but when must the pictures be sent in by?”

“The exhibition opens in ten days,” said Miss Clifford.

“Certainly then, I shall be charmed,” he said. “It will only be a
sketch, you know, but you shall have it this week. Shall I send it to
your house?”

Miss Clifford was overwhelmed with gratitude. She looked round, indeed,
apprehensively at Mrs. Collingwood, but neither she nor the Canon
appeared to have thought her request unmaidenly. The triumph of having
secured a sketch by Jack was so great that even Phœbe would probably be
lenient.

Jack had come to Wroxton nominally for a holiday, but as soon as Miss
Clifford had left he began working at his sketch. He found, as he had
hoped, that the scene of the afternoon was very clearly visualized, and
by dinner-time he had sketched it out as he meant it to be. He felt an
extraordinary delight in the work, and as he progressed with it it
became more and more capable of becoming a picture. In fact, before
dinner his promised sketch, which he had intended to be an eighteen-inch
water-colour, had so changed in scheme that he determined to make an oil
picture of it, three feet by two. Whether or not it would be finished in
the three days in which he had promised that Miss Clifford should have
it was more than doubtful, but he had forgotten Miss Clifford. All he
knew was that a picture was in his head.

The face he had drawn with great minuteness, and as he found himself
reproducing, with a faithfulness for which he had scarcely dared to
hope, the laughing anguish of the girl, it crossed his mind, but for one
moment only, that he was doing rather a questionable thing. He had no
idea who his subject was. She might or might not be a resident in
Wroxton, she might or might not come to the picture exhibition, and then
find a portrait of herself; and how she would take it if she did was
equally problematical. Jack confessed to himself that he knew nothing
whatever of her. All he had seen was her laugh; she might be able to
frown; he did not know.

But the scruple lasted so short a time, and was in itself of so slight a
nature, that it never reoccurred. Artists, it is said, do their work in
a sort of somnambulism; it seemed to Jack that he worked in a state of
intoxication. He lived riotously when the brush was in his hand, his
mind sang and shouted as he worked.

Certainly as he progressed with it--and day by day it continued to
prosper and live on the canvas--he was frankly surprised at the
vividness with which the moment had been impressed upon him. The girl
had a moonstone brooch on, the dog a silver collar; the sunlight caught
some outlying hairs on her head, and though they were black, it turned
them into gold. All these things and a hundred like them he had hardly
been conscious of seeing until he began to record them.

On the fourth day it was finished, and as soon as it was dry he sent it
to Miss Clifford. The day after he was leaving himself and going back to
work, and he seemed to himself to have had no holiday at all. Yet he did
not regret it; somehow his occupation had taken hold of his mind, and
when he looked at the finished thing he knew that conscious humble pride
which alone is sufficient reward to the artist for what he has done.

“It is good,” he said to himself. “I wish I had seen that girl again,”
he added.



CHAPTER VII


Phœbe had not been very kind when she heard that her sister had been so
bold-faced, as she called it, to ask Jack Collingwood for a sketch. “You
don’t know what interpretation might be put on such a thing,” she said,
and indeed it was difficult to conjecture. But Clara attributed this
severity as much to the tooth-ache as anything else, and in point of
fact when the picture arrived, Phœbe, who would usually spend a quarter
of an hour over untying a knot rather than cut it, fetched the scissors
in less than no time, and behaved as if string was not a precious metal.

“It is kind of him,” said Clara. “See what a size, Phœbe! though perhaps
that may be mostly frame. I know artists are very fond of putting large
frames on small pictures. Oh, dear, there is another wrapper!”

The picture was undone at last, and the two peered closely into it, in
the approved fashion. Suddenly Clara started.

“It’s the corner down by the mill,” she said, “where the foot-bridge
crosses the river. And the dog, it’s like the--Phœbe, it’s Miss Avesham
and her dog on the bridge by the mill.”

Phœbe looked in silence a moment.

“What is to be done?” she said, at length. “Dear me, yes, it’s a
wonderful likeness, too. She is just like that when she laughs.”

“What is the picture called?” said Clara, opening the note which had
accompanied it. “In Danger. Oh! I see. The dog is shaking itself, and
her dress is in danger of getting wet. How very clever!”

Phœbe had ceased looking at the picture: an affair far more momentous
and interesting occupied her.

“I wonder what it all means?” she began.

“You see the dog is shaking itself,” repeated Clara, “and the danger
is----”

“I know that,” said Phœbe. “But is there, if I can say so without being
indelicate, do you think there is some understanding between Miss
Avesham and Mr. Collingwood? Do you suppose she stood to him? How
interesting it would have been if we had happened to stroll down there
one of these last days and seen him working!”

“No doubt you are right, Phœbe,” said her sister.

“It is not proved,” said Phœbe, modestly, “but it seems likely. We can’t
ask Miss Avesham about it, and really I dare not ask Mrs. Collingwood.”

“Ask her about what?”

“Don’t you see, Clara, it would be so awkward if this picture had been
done without Miss Avesham’s knowledge. Dear me, how well he has caught
the likeness! There is a ring at the bell. Go to the window, Clara,
keeping yourself out of sight, and see who it is.”

Clara ambushed herself behind the curtains and peeped out.

“Colonel Raymond,” she whispered, “and Mrs. Raymond.”

“Dear me, how fortunate! I dare say he will know. Tell them to bring tea
at once, Clara. He is sure to have heard of it if his cousin is engaged.
We’ll show him the picture, and see if he says anything.”

Colonel Raymond was in the best spirits that afternoon. He had at last
been to call on the Aveshams, and he considered that his reception had
been most gratifying. He had also explained at length his relationship
to Jeannie, and all was satisfactory. Mrs. Raymond also was in cheerful
mood, since the Colonel had decided to pay calls this afternoon, and
thus there was no brisk walk for the children.

The talk soon turned on the picture exhibition, and Clara announced with
modest pride that Jack Collingwood had sent them a contribution.

“Indeed, we were just unpacking it when you came, Colonel Raymond,” she
said, “and I should so much like to hear your opinion on it.”

The Colonel adjusted his eye-glasses.

“Why, God bless my soul,” he exclaimed, “it’s Jeannie Avesham!
Constance, do come here, and look at Mr. Collingwood’s picture of cousin
Jeannie. Wonderfully good, is it not? Just caught the look she has when
she smiles. She looked just like that at some little story I told her
this afternoon, do you remember? And the dog, Toby, dear little Toby.
How like! How like!”

Now this was not quite all that the Miss Cliffords wanted, and as
Colonel Raymond raised his head from the examination of the picture,
Clara looked slyly at him. Now, when Miss Clara looked sly there was no
possibility of missing it; she looked sly, so to speak, with both hands.
The Colonel, as he often said himself, was a prodigious observer, and he
observed this.

“Eh, what?” he began, and then suddenly a possible explanation of Miss
Clifford’s slyness came into his mind. He was that nature of a man who
cannot endure that any one should know a piece of gossip or news before
himself, and he determined to appear at least as well-informed as Miss
Clifford.

“Ah, you have heard something, too, Miss Clifford,” he said. “How these
things get about! But I understand it is to be kept quite secret at
present, except from a few friends. Of course, as long as they are in
mourning, you understand--a great thing for the Collingwoods. Puts them
among the county families.”

The Colonel raised his eyes to the ceiling as he had observed Miss
Fortescue do when she wished to say no more on any subject, and
congratulated himself on having come with credit out of that.

Both the Miss Cliffords were bursting with curiosity to hear more, but
the Colonel tactfully led the subject round to other topics.

“Jack Collingwood was at Oxford with our cousin Arthur,” he said.
“Wonderful place, Oxford; I spent a night there once. It would suit you
and your literary tastes, Miss Clara. Plenty of opportunity for study.
What a treat, by the way, you gave us in the last Observer. Brought
tears into my eyes, positively brought tears into my eyes.”

All this was very pleasant, but, the great secret told, the Miss
Cliffords were almost anxious for the departure of the Colonel, for they
longed to talk the matter over. The Colonel, however, was in good
spirits, and he remained.

“Very pleasant and gratifying it is,” he said, “to see our cousins
settling down here in the way they are doing. Jeannie--Miss Jeannie
said to me to-day how much she enjoyed Wroxton.”

“And does Mr. Avesham enjoy it?” asked Miss Clara.

“I have not had an opportunity of talking to him about it,” said the
Colonel, cautiously, “but he must be hard to please--he must be hard to
please if he does not. What a charming life for a young man! For a few
hours a day he has his work, but when that is over, what a choice! A
game of whist at the club, the pleasures of the home circle--and Miss
Fortescue is such a shrewd, delightful woman--or, or, if his tastes are
literary, a call at Villa Montrose.”

“Colonel Raymond, how can you!” cried Miss Clara, in an ecstasy of
slyness; “how can you be so wicked?”

“Robert likes his joke,” said Mrs. Raymond, in her colourless voice. “He
means nothing, Miss Clifford. Do you, Robert?”

“My dear, a soldier sticks to what he says,” said the Colonel. “Or
Arthur can come and take a glass of the best port in the Midlands with
Constance and me.”

“Does Mr. Avesham play whist well?” asked Phœbe.

Now if the Colonel was proud of anything it was of his reputation as a
whist-player. He was known to play for “points,” a term vague to the
Miss Cliffords, but with an undefined air of extravagance and
recklessness about it. And though Arthur had never at present had the
privilege of playing with the Colonel, the latter answered without a
pause.

“A good, sound game,” he said. “Perhaps he does not know the subtleties
of the thing as well as--as well as some old stagers at it, but with an
hour or two of Cavendish a day, which I am not ashamed myself to spend
on it, he will develop into a fine player. Wonderful man, Cavendish.
Whist is not a game, it is an institution, a national institution.”

And the Colonel’s chest became gigantic.

“The work of a lifetime,” he went on. “To know whist is the work of a
lifetime, and a lifetime not ill-spent. Put it on my tombstone,
Constance. I shall not be ashamed of having it on my tombstone, ‘He
played a good hand,’ or, let us be more modest, ‘He played a fair
hand.’ And now we must tear ourselves away; we must really tear
ourselves away. My old cronies will be waiting for me at the club and
wondering where I am.”

“Colonel Raymond is very fond of his whist,” said his wife, as if this
was a fact new to every one.

It was the custom at Villa Montrose to show the departing guests as far
as the front door, not because there was any fear of their appropriating
some small articles on their way out, but with the idea of speeding
them, and as soon as the door was closed Phœbe and Clara hurried back to
the drawing-room.

“Well, it’s the most exciting thing I ever heard,” said Clara, “and how
clever of you to have guessed it, Phœbe. I should never have thought of
it.”

“Anyhow we can make our minds quite easy about sending the picture to
the exhibition,” said Phœbe. “I suppose Miss Avesham told the Colonel
about it this afternoon. We must be sure to mention it to no one, Clara.
It is only to be known in the family at present. Dear me, the
Honourable Jeannie Avesham to Mr. John Collingwood! Does he become
Honourable, too? I rather think he does.”

“There has not been a wedding in Wroxton for years,” said Miss Clara,
“at least not in our circle. I wonder what Mrs. Collingwood will say to
it. The Colonel said the Collingwoods would become a county family. How
I shall long to see the ‘County families’ for next year.”

“It would make a pretty subject for a poem next time you are in the
mood,” said Phœbe, “the artist painting his love.”

“I had thought of that,” said Clara, with conscious pride. “It will be
difficult, but I shall try.”

“I should recommend the sonnet form,” said Phœbe, as if she was choosing
a wallpaper.

Clara considered a moment.

“I saw it as a lyric,” she said, “with a little refrain like some of
Miss Rossetti’s. ‘Jeannie, my Jeannie,’ would be a pretty line.”

“No, you must mention no name, at any rate till the engagement is
announced,” said Phœbe. “It would never do.”

“Perhaps you are right, Phœbe,” said the other. “I shall have a long
morning’s work to-morrow.”

Colonel Raymond in the meantime was walking to the club, rather quicker
than his wont was. He almost forgot to look interesting for the benefit
of passers-by in the excitement of possessing, and that by his own
extraordinary shrewdness, this family secret. His momentary annoyance at
not having been the first to have known it was quite overscored by the
delight in knowing it now, and though he had been disposed for a second
or two to consider it to be an impertinence on the part of Miss Clifford
that she, though indirectly, was the channel by which it was conveyed to
him, the anticipation of the flutter he would make at the club more than
compensated for it. He did not intend to state the secret boldly; he
proposed to make a mystery of it, to set people on the right track, and
to refuse to answer any questions, for if there was anything which the
Colonel loved more than imparting information in a superior manner, it
was withholding it in the same irritating way.

“I’m late, gentlemen,” he cried, in his bluff, hearty manner, as he
entered the smoking-room; “I’m late, and I cry ‘peccavi.’ But it is not
altogether my fault. I’ve been down to my cousins at Bolton Street. They
all are very much excited about it, of course--why, God bless my soul, I
nearly let it out.”

From a dark corner of the room there came a faint rustle as of a paper
being folded, and Arthur Avesham’s head looked over the corner of the
Evening Standard, and back again, as quick as a lizard.

“But we must get to our whist,” continued the unconscious Colonel.
“Whist and wine wait for no men. And, talking of wine, get me a glass of
port, a glass of port, waiter, and bring it to the card-room, and don’t
be all day about it.”

The Colonel was in rather an _exalté_ mood that afternoon, and just as
his bluff heartiness was a shade more pronounced than usual, so, too,
were his immoderate remarks when his partner did not play his hand
correctly.

“Bumble-puppy, the merest bumble-puppy,” he roared. “It’s a pure waste
of time playing a game like this, and to call it whist is a profanation.
Ah, we got the odd, did we? I thought you had secured it. You ought to
have. That puts us out. Well, well, as we are out I’ll say no more about
it, but we ought never to have got out. It’s the principle of the thing
for which I go.”

A few minutes later the door opened and Arthur entered. The Colonel was
sorting his hand with angry snorts and growls and did not notice his
entrance. Arthur took a seat near the table where the Colonel and his
party were playing, and watched the game.

The Colonel finished sorting his hand first, and was not apparently
satisfied with it, for he burst into a torrent of angry recrimination.

“A waiting game; is this what they call a waiting game? Really, partner,
you seem to fall asleep upon your cards. And there are other gentlemen
waiting here to take a hand.” And he turned an inflamed face upon
Arthur.

There was dead silence. If the Colonel had seen the ghost of his late
noble relative he could not have been more shocked. Only a few minutes
before he had been talking of his afternoon with his cousins in Bolton
Street, and here was one of them, to whom he had never spoken, at his
elbow. Arthur seldom went to the club, and, as luck would have it, he
and the Colonel had not met before. The Colonel knew Arthur by sight,
but the mischief was that Arthur did not know the Colonel. The man of
war was up a tree, and his old cronies knew it. But he faced the
position like a volunteer.

“Charming little place you have in Bolton Street,” he said, without fury
in his voice. “I was there this afternoon paying my respects to Miss
Avesham and Miss Fortescue--I and my wife. We claim connection with you
through the Fortescues. Ah, my partner has played. A good card, sir, a
very good card.”

Arthur glanced at the Colonel, then at the other players. They all
exhibited an unnatural absorption in their cards, and he guessed that
this connection of his, whoever he might be, was in a tight place. He
waited till the hand was over, which concluded the rubber.

The Colonel got up impatiently.

“You will take my hand,” he said, “and give these gentlemen another
rubber; I have got to go: I must get home early to-night,” and he fairly
ran from the room.

Arthur was known to the other three present, and, as he took his seat:

“Who on earth is that God-forsaken man?” he asked.

Mr. Newbolt alone found his tongue.

“Colonel Raymond is his name,” he said.

“I wonder why he went away?” said Arthur, and a sound like a chuckle
came from Mr. Hewson.



CHAPTER VIII


Three days after this the picture exhibition opened, and Jeannie and
Miss Fortescue, as they strolled out one morning, passed the Guildhall,
where placards were up saying that the seventh exhibition of the Wroxton
Art Union was now open inside. Jeannie wished to go in. Miss Fortescue
was certain that she did not.

“All you will see, Jeannie,” she said, “will be about an acre of Wroxton
Cathedral, six pictures of sunrise on the Alps, and some studies of
carnations. You can see Wroxton Cathedral and the carnations in our own
garden, and you can see sunrise on the Alps in any tomato salad.”

“I bet you a sterling shilling,” said Jeannie, “that there is at least
one picture that interests us; I have never yet been to any exhibition
in which there was not something I liked to look at. Do you take it,
Aunt Em?”

“Done,” said Aunt Em.

It was still early, and only a few people were straying about the room,
looking as people do at an exhibition, as if they were lost and wanted
to find their way out. But an acre of Wroxton Cathedral, as Aunt Em had
said, stopped egress on one side, the spears of rose-tinted Alps on
another, and several forbidding portraits on a third. At the far end of
the room, however, were some ten or twelve people congregated round one
picture.

“That will be the one, Aunt Em,” said Jeannie, “over which I shall win
my bet. So we’ll look at it last.”

Miss Fortescue smiled in a superior manner.

“That picture is a bereaved party having tea after a funeral,” said Aunt
Em; “I feel it in my bones. Come, Jeannie, here are the tomato salads.
That’s a beauty, but a little overripe.”

They strolled slowly toward the far end of the room, and while still
they were some way off Mrs. Collingwood detached herself from the group
surrounding the chief attraction and came down the room toward them.
Her face was a little flushed, and as she caught sight of them she
paused, and then shot by them without a word.

“No manners,” sighed Miss Fortescue. “Now we are getting into the
carnations.”

Jeannie had bought a catalogue, and turned to the list of artists
exhibiting.

“There’s one by Jack Collingwood,” she said. “Now I am safe to win.
Arthur wrote to him to-day asking him to come and stay with us. I hope
he’ll come: I’ve never seen him. His pictures are splendid. It’s number
8. Oh, that must be the one all those people are standing round. Let’s
go and look at it.”

“Tea after a funeral,” said Aunt Em.

No fresh arrivals had come in lately, and by the time they got near the
picture there was no one by it. Suddenly Jeannie quickened her pace.

“Aunt Em, come here,” she said.

They stood before the picture for a moment in silence, to which its
worth as a work of art alone entitled it. The whole thing was admirable.
A stretch of lank, thick grass, starred with meadow-sweet and ragged
robin ran from side to side of the canvas. The nearer edge of this was
broken away, showing a chalky soil, and from it there ran at a slight
angle a couple of wooden planks with a handrail crossing a stream which
lay invisible but for a streak of water underneath the chalky bank. A
few tall grasses in the immediate foreground round the nearer edge of
the plank bridge showed where the stream ended. In the middle of it,
cutting the picture nearly in two, was the figure of a girl, dressed in
black, hatless, and keeping off a puppy with her parasol. Round the dog
was a halo of spray, and he was in the middle of shaking himself, for
his head was curly, his flanks and tail still smooth. It was an
inimitable representation of a moment. One almost expected to see the
halo of spray spread further, and the hind part of the dog grow curly.
But if Jack had been successful with the dog, he had surpassed himself
in the girl’s figure and face. She lived utterly and entirely in the
present, and had no thoughts but amused apprehensions for her dress. Her
head was bent forward, following the bend of her arm and the parasol,
and the face a little foreshortened. But every inch of her laughed.

Jeannie looked at it in silence. Suddenly bending forward and pointing
at it (the picture was hung rather low), she laughed too.

“Oh, it is admirable! it is simply admirable!” she cried. “And I never,
never heard of such a piece of impertinence in my life. Aunt Em, it’s
the best thing I ever saw. Look at the dog; why, Toby would recognise
it, I believe. And look at me! Certainly I recognise it. But what cheek!
My goodness, what cheek!”

Aunt Em fumbled in her purse.

“A sterling shilling,” she observed, laconically. “Now, Jeannie, it
would be more decent if you came away. We will talk about this
elsewhere.”

“Oh, one moment,” said Jeannie. “You see, I can’t come here again and
look at it, as you can. Aunt Em, I remember the afternoon so well. It
was when we had been down at the mill. But how on earth could Mr.
Collingwood--Well, I suppose I must go. Oh, Aunt Em, mind you don’t tell
Arthur about it. I have my reasons.”

They walked out of the exhibition without looking at the acre of Wroxton
Cathedral at all. On the stairs they met Miss Clara Clifford with a load
of catalogues going up.

“We’ve just spent a half hour in the exhibition,” said Jeannie, “and I
think it is quite excellent. So does Aunt Em. Oh, I don’t think you know
Aunt Em, do you? Miss Fortescue, Miss Clifford. And the picture of me by
Mr. Collingwood is quite admirable. But it was rather a surprise to me.”

The catalogues extended from Miss Clifford’s chin to nearly the whole
stretch of her arms, and bowing was difficult. But it was more difficult
not to drop them all at this remark of Jeannie’s.

“A surprise, Miss Avesham?” she cried. “Will you ever forgive me, for I
am the secretary? But Colonel Raymond said--” and she paused, looking
distressfully at Miss Fortescue.

Jeannie caught the look, and saw that Miss Clifford’s face was the
picture of agonized embarrassment.

“Go on, Aunt Em,” she said, “I’ll come after you.”

Miss Fortescue looked at the ceiling in mute appeal, and then marched
down the stairs.

“There’s no harm done, Miss Clifford,” said Jeannie; “I assure you I
don’t in the least mind. But what did Colonel Raymond say? Oh, take
care, the catalogues are slipping.”

It was too late; the pile bulged ominously in the middle, and then fell
all ways at once to the ground. Miss Clifford clutched wildly at them as
they fell, but the disaster was there.

“We’ll pick them up first,” said Jeannie. “Gracious, what a lot of them!
Where do you want them put? Take care, you’re treading on some.”

“I was just taking them to the entrance where people pay,” said poor
Miss Clifford. “Please don’t trouble; indeed, it is too good of you.”

Jeannie collected a foot or two of them, and together they deposited
them all on the table by the entrance.

“And now, Miss Clifford,” she said, “will you just give me two words
with you? First of all I assure you solemnly that I don’t in the least
mind the picture being in the exhibition, so if it was you who passed it
you can make your mind perfectly easy. But what did Colonel Raymond say
about it?”

Miss Clifford looked round as if she was half determined to run away.

“I cannot tell you, Miss Avesham; indeed, I cannot tell you,” she almost
moaned.

“Oh, don’t be so distressed,” said Jeannie, with the air of a grown-up
person soothing a child. “I am sure I should never be anything but
amused at what Colonel Raymond--I mean Cousin Raymond--said. Please tell
me.”

Miss Clifford closed her eyes and clenched her hands.

“He said--he said there was some understanding between you and Mr.
Collingwood, but that you didn’t wish it to be known yet.”

Jeannie’s smile faded, and a look of intense surprise took its place.

“Colonel Raymond said that?” she asked. “Do you mean he meant we were
engaged?”

Miss Clifford shut her mouth very tight, but moved her head as if she
was swallowing.

“That we were engaged?” repeated Jeannie, wishing to be quite certain.

Miss Clifford’s lips formed the word “yes,” but no sound issued.

Jeannie sat down on a stone seat at the top of the stairs.

“Cousin Raymond is a very imaginative man,” she said. “Miss Clifford, I
have never consciously set eyes on Mr. Collingwood. Oh, yes, I have. I
remember now a young man coming round the corner of the mill when Toby
was shaking himself. I think that must be he. Now!”

“It is terrible, terrible!” moaned Miss Clifford. “I have never been so
ashamed.”

Jeannie was not attending to her particularly.

“Cousin, too,” she said. “He’s no more my cousin than Mrs. Collingwood
is.”

“I am very, very sorry,” continued Miss Clifford, in the same low voice.

“Sorry?” said Jeannie. “My dear Miss Clifford, there’s nothing whatever
for you to be sorry for. Please believe that. I’m delighted you should
have the picture here--I am, really. But please be very careful not to
repeat what Colonel Raymond says. I will see that he doesn’t. Good-bye.
I must go after my aunt. Please cheer up. Does any one else know?”

“Colonel Raymond is rather fond of talking,” said Miss Clifford,
faintly.

“So I should think.”

“He told Phœbe and me not to tell any one. And Mrs. Raymond was there,
too.”

“Good gracious, how many more?”

“No one else,” said Miss Clifford.

Jeannie rose.

“Well, I must go,” she said. “And if you won’t promise me never to blame
yourself, I sha’n’t forgive you. So promise.”

“I will try,” said Miss Clifford.

Jeannie nodded and smiled at her, and went quickly down the stairs after
Miss Fortescue.



CHAPTER IX


The Aveshams always had coffee, when it was fine, under the
mulberry-tree, the fruits of which were destined to make the g--n, as
Mrs. Collingwood would have preferred to express it. During lunch on
this particular day Miss Fortescue had, in deference to Jeannie’s wish,
kept silence about the picture, though when the exhibition was mentioned
she had cast her eyes up to the ceiling with a gesture of passionate
despair. Arthur had mentioned casually that Jack Collingwood had
telegraphed to him to say that he would come to them next day for the
Sunday, at which news Jeannie had laughed in a loud and meaningless
manner, and Miss Fortescue’s eyes had been so glued to the ceiling that
it seemed doubtful if she would ever detach them.

“It is such good manners to telegraph,” said Arthur, “much more
business-like. Don’t you think so, Aunt Em?”

“Extraordinary lapses--” began Miss Fortescue.

“Aunt Em,” said Jeannie, “you said you wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t what?” asked Arthur.

“Nothing. I’m glad he is coming, Arthur; I’ve got several things to say
after lunch. Wroxton is waking up.”

“Is it?” asked he, dubiously.

“Yes. Aunt Em, do have some pâté.”

“Innocent birds,” said Miss Fortescue.

“Quite innocent. I’ll give you some.”

Miss Fortescue watched Jeannie helping her with an absent eye, which
suddenly became attentive.

“No truffles, Jeannie,” she said; “I can’t bear truffles. Why they put
them in pâté I can’t think. It entirely spoils it.”

Jeannie laughed.

“The plot thickens,” she said. “As soon as you’ve finished eating the
liver of diseased game, Aunt Em, we’ll go out.”

“Not diseased, dear,” said Miss Fortescue, earnestly, with her mouth
full, “only unwisely fed. They feed them on figs. How delicious! And
how unwise!”

“How clever and how immoral!” said Jeannie, who had gone as a guest to
the Ladies’ Literary Union.

“That woman,” said Miss Fortescue, incisively, “thinks everything that
doesn’t live in a close is immoral.”

“I’ve got a letter from ‘that woman,’ which I shall read you after
lunch,” said Jeannie. “Poor Mrs. Collingwood is in a terrible state of
mind.”

“She always is,” said Miss Fortescue. “She is always either deploring
something or condemning something. Which does she do in your letter,
Jeannie? A shade more pâté, please.”

“She does both,” said Jeannie.

“I would give a hundred pounds,” said Arthur, “if I had it, to see Mrs.
Collingwood tipsy.”

“It would do her a world of good,” said Miss Fortescue. “Her only chance
of learning to forgive any one for drinking lies in drinking too much
herself. I can not stand people who think that the miracle at Cana
consisted in water being turned into fruit syrup.”

“Don’t be profane, Aunt Em,” said Jeannie.

Aunt Em cast her eyes to the ceiling. She had finished her pâté.

“I don’t know whom we are waiting for,” she observed.

“No one, dear, if you have finished,” said Jeannie. “Come out, Arthur.
The revelations shall begin.”

Aunt Em had a horror of damp grass, even when only the soles of her
strong boots rested on it, and she always had a rug spread by her chair,
on which she could put her feet. Ripe mulberries from the tree not
infrequently fell on it, and when Aunt Em got up she usually trod on
them with her strong boots, and made an indelible stain. But her silence
had been so thundery when Jeannie suggested that a piece of matting
would do as well that no one had ventured again to propose any
substitute for her valuable Persian rug.

“Now, Arthur,” said Jeannie, as soon as coffee had come, “I’m going to
tell you and Aunt Em all that has happened. Aunt Em, dear, don’t toss
your head; you only know the less important piece of it.”

“Go on,” said Arthur.

“Well, it all began this morning. Aunt Em and I went to the Art
Exhibition, and saw there a picture of me and Toby by Mr. Collingwood.”

Arthur stared.

“I thought you had never seen him,” he said.

“I didn’t think I had. But, apparently, he had seen me. Oh, there was no
mistaking it. It was a picture of Toby shaking himself, and me keeping
him off with a parasol. I remember it happening perfectly. I had on a
new dress, as Aunt Em and I had been calling, and afterward we had tea
down by the mill.”

“That’s not so terrible,” said Arthur.

“I know it isn’t; but that is not all. On the way out of the exhibition
I met Miss Clifford carrying catalogues. When I told her I was surprised
at seeing the picture, she was filled with such dismay that she dropped
them all, and we picked them up together. But before she dropped them
she said, ‘But Colonel Raymond told me----’”

Jeannie suddenly burst into a peal of laughter.

“I know that man,” remarked Arthur. “He is like a person out of a book
about the army by a lady. What did Colonel Raymond say?”

“You see, as I was picking up the catalogues,” continued Jeannie, “I
could not help concluding that Miss Clifford was surprised that I was
surprised because of something Colonel Raymond had said. So when we had
finished I asked her what it was. And she told me.”

“Well?” said Arthur.

“Oh, Arthur, how dull you are!” said Jeannie. “He had said or hinted
that I knew all about it--in fact, that I was engaged to Mr.
Collingwood. He was kind enough to add that it was to be kept private
for the present.”

There was silence for a moment. At last Miss Fortescue spoke.

“It was an ill day for the Aveshams,” she said, “when Colonel Raymond’s
wife’s sister’s husband’s sister married your mother’s brother’s
cousin.”

“So that is what that infernal man meant,” said Arthur. “Yesterday
evening, in the smoking-room of the club, I heard him say we were all
very much excited about it. Then he stopped, and said he had nearly let
it out.”

“Well, then, there is some hope yet,” said Jeannie. “Arthur, I want you
to go there this afternoon, and tell him he is under a delusion. Mrs.
Raymond was with him, so Miss Clifford said, when he announced it.”

“And may I tell him exactly what I think about him?” asked Arthur.

“Tell him what I think,” said Miss Fortescue; “I feel more strongly than
you.”

“Oh, no,” said Jeannie. “What is the use of quarrelling with people?
Just say he is mistaken. Oh, you might ask who told him. Of course he
made it up.”

“Yes, that would be awkward,” said Arthur, appreciatively. “But read me
Mrs. Collingwood’s letter.”

Jeannie took it from her pocket, and read:

                                                   “THE CLOSE, WROXTON.

     “DEAR MISS AVESHAM: I can not express to you how shocked and
     horrified I am at what my son has done. I hurried home directly
     after I saw that terrible picture in order to write to you and
     assure you how entirely ignorant I was of the subject of the work
     which I knew Jack was going to send to the exhibition, and how
     entirely ignorant, I may add, I have been of him. I passed you and
     Miss Fortescue, I know, in the gallery, but I could not speak--I
     was too indignant. I am quite upset, and can neither think nor
     work.

                         “With much sympathy,
                             “Believe me,
                               “Yours truly,
                                “MARGARET COLLINGWOOD.

     “P.S.--I have written to my son expressing my views.”

“I should like to see her letter to her son,” said Miss Fortescue,
grimly. “An awful woman. Why, you would think that he had committed an
assault with violence on Jeannie, or had been garroting her.”

Arthur took a telegram out of his pocket.

“He says he will be here before lunch,” he said, “as I want to play golf
with him in the afternoon. I hope he won’t get the letter before he
starts. Also I should like to see him open it.”

“I don’t suppose he would come if he got it first,” said Miss Fortescue.
“It would make matters rather simpler if he didn’t.”

“Why?” asked Jeannie.

“Won’t it be rather awkward when he meets you?” asked Aunt Em.

“Not in the least, unless he makes it so for himself. But men are so
stupid. Of course, if he stares like an owl, and then turns red in the
face, it will be. But if he has a grain of tact he will do neither. Now,
if he was a woman, he wouldn’t mind in the least.”

“Oh, he’s not a woman,” said Arthur, with conviction.

“Then he probably has no tact. In any case, it is his own doing if it is
awkward for him. He has done nothing wrong. He saw a strange girl and a
strange dog, and painted them. He painted them well, too; if he had
painted them badly it would have been different.”

Arthur got up.

“Well, I must get back to the brewery,” he said. “Afterward I shall go
to the club, and get there in time to catch the Colonel before his
whist. Oh, he told me he was a relation. Is that so?”

“He explained it to me at some length,” said Miss Fortescue. “I think
his wife is your mother’s sister’s husband’s wife’s brother’s sister’s
sister-in-law. I followed him so far, I know.”

“What a man!” said Arthur. “I must be off. Are you going to answer Mrs.
Collingwood’s note, Jeannie?”

“Yes; she will think I have no delicacy of feeling, but I shall answer
it. Also it would be better to let her know that Mr. Collingwood is
coming here to-morrow.”

“You’d better send her a quart of mulberry gin at once,” remarked Miss
Fortescue.

“Yes, my character is gone,” said Jeannie. “Good-bye, Arthur. Be gentle
with our cousin, but be firm.”

“Be what you like, as long as you’re firm,” said Aunt Em. “It will end
in a duel in the asparagus-bed, I expect.”

“He and I, Jeannie and Mr. Collingwood,” said Arthur.

Miss Fortescue followed him indoors, leaving Jeannie alone under the
trees. She was much annoyed at all that had happened, but she was a
little amused, and had a sense of being somewhat ill-used. Though she
had defended him, she thought Mr. Collingwood had behaved rather badly,
the Colonel had behaved very badly indeed, and Mrs. Collingwood was
absurd. However, she was going to deal with that lady, and Arthur was
going to deal with the Colonel, and there only remained Mr. Collingwood
himself. Jeannie devoutly hoped he would have some glimmerings of tact
about him. If he looked awkward and uncomfortable, she would feel so,
too, and really there was nothing to be awkward about. If she had done
such a picture she would have snapped her fingers at any possible
consequences, for she had the greatest respect for achievement of any
kind. Certainly the picture was an achievement, and in her secret heart
she had a pang of exultation at the thought that she was like that.
Jeannie was singularly free from self-consciousness, and in her nature
there was hardly a touch of egotism. But she wondered whether her sight
of the picture had not given her some. In a way it had been a piece of
self-revelation to her. She had no idea that people saw her like that.
Very possibly they did not, but here was a man who did. How could she
see him, she wondered?

She had only given him one glance at their one meeting, and she
remembered nothing more than a straight, rather tall figure, and a
kindled eye. Very likely she would not have known him again if they had
met casually. He looked clean and alert, that is all she would have
sworn to. But she looked forward with a good deal of interest to his
coming next day.

Thus far had run her meditations when they were interrupted by the
butler. Miss Clifford was waiting outside to know if she could see
Jeannie for a moment, and only if she was disengaged. Jeannie sat up.

“Yes, ask her to come out here,” she said.

It would be hardly possible to conceive a more agonized and embarrassed
face than that which Miss Clifford turned to Jeannie, and the latter
could not conceive what was the matter.

“I am quite free,” she said, “and delighted to see you. Did you come
down on your bicycle?”

“No,” said Miss Clara, “I did not feel up to my bicycle,” and Jeannie
noticed that her hands were trembling.

“Do sit down,” she said, gently. “And there is no hurry. Have some
coffee? No? Tell me what it is then, just when you feel inclined.”

There was a bitter tension about the corners of poor Miss Clara’s mouth,
and twice she tried to speak, but was unable.

“Phœbe,” she began at length, “Phœbe has been very unkind to me, Miss
Avesham. And I felt--I felt I could not rest without telling you about
it. It was my fault, she said, that--Oh, dear me, dear me!”

And Miss Clifford gasped once or twice, like a person coming up after a
long dive, and burst into tears.

In a moment Jeannie was by her.

“Oh, my poor, dear thing!” she said; “please don’t cry. You are upset
about something, and speaking makes it worse. Let’s get up and walk
quietly to and fro a little, and then if you feel better and still want
to tell me, you shall, and if not--why, just don’t tell me. I am sure it
is nothing bad, and, whatever it is, remember I forgive you, if it in
any way concerns me.”

Miss Clifford tied her face into a series of hard knots, and put on a
series of expressions so widely different from each other that she could
have made her fortune as an impersonator at a music-hall if any of them
had resembled any one else, but they were all of them unique.

In a few minutes, however, she recovered.

“No, I want to tell you, dear Miss Avesham,” she said, “if you will
excuse the liberty of my calling you that, and Phœbe was so unkind that
I felt I should never be happy again, if she was right, and I never told
you. She said I drew Colonel Raymond on to say what he did.”

Jeannie’s companion struggled a moment with a wild spasm of internal
laughter at the thought of Miss Clara drawing Colonel Raymond on, and
conquered it.

“I don’t quite understand,” she said, “Tell me all about it from the
beginning.”

“Well, it was this way,” said Miss Clara, “that picture came to our
house, and of course Phœbe and I both recognised it, and Phœbe said it
would be very awkward if we exhibited it if it so happened that it had
been done without your knowledge. And she suggested--it was she who
suggested it--that there might be some understanding between you and Mr.
Collingwood.”

“I see,” said Jeannie. “Well?”

“At that moment there came a ring at the door, and it was Colonel and
Mrs. Raymond. And Phœbe said how lucky, because Colonel Raymond, being
your cousin, would be sure to know if there was anything. So in they
came, and I showed the picture to the Colonel. Then there came in what
Phœbe blames me for, and she was so unkind I hardly ate a bit of lunch.
I can hardly tell you about it.”

“There is no hurry,” said Jeannie again, seeing that Miss Clifford’s
face was growing contorted. But after a moment she went on.

“Colonel Raymond recognised it at once,” she said, “and looked up at me.
And Phœbe says I looked slyly at him, and prompted him to say what he
did. You know, Miss Avesham, Colonel Raymond is rather an odd man in
some ways. He can’t bear that any one should hear anything before he
knows it himself, and naturally he would feel it more if I knew
something about you particularly before he did. He did catch my eye, it
is true, and-- Oh, yes, I must tell you all; Phœbe was right--I meant
that he should. And then he broke out with, ‘How news travels, but of
course you must say nothing about it!’ And, oh, dear me, Miss Avesham,
if it has all been my fault I shall never, never forgive myself.”

Jeannie got up from her chair, took both Miss Clara’s hands in hers, and
kissed her.

“You are a dear, good woman,” she said, “and I love you for telling me.
Now we won’t say a single word more about it, unless your sister is
unkind again, in which case I shall come flying to the rescue. There is
no harm done at all, and as Mr. Collingwood is coming to stay here
to-morrow every one will think it perfectly natural that he should have
done a picture of me. Give me a kiss.”

Miss Clara’s face had been a perfect study during this last speech of
Jeannie’s, and at the close she heaved herself out of her chair, and
raised her face to hers like a child, and the joy and honour of kissing
and being kissed by an Honourable was entirely submerged in her natural
and human affection for the beautiful girl.



CHAPTER X


Jack Collingwood started from London next morning, before the arrival of
his mother’s letter, and travelled with only a Saturday-till-Monday bag
as representing the necessaries of life, but with a bicycle and a great
number of golf clubs for its luxuries. Arthur had been away when he was
at Wroxton only a fortnight before, and he had been delighted to accept
the invitation, for he not only very much wished to see Arthur, but he
had an affair of some importance to talk over with his mother. His last
visit home had been, with the exception of that sultry conversation
about Lady Hamilton and the sunset, unusually harmonious, and he was,
for his own peace of mind, at present unconscious of the squall which
had struck the close on the occasion of the opening of the picture
exhibition. He was a person of simple, boyish pleasures, and he found
entertainment enough in the express to make him abstain from any search
for excitement in the daily papers. He timed the speed of the train with
the quarter-of-a-mile posts by the side of the line; he leaned out of
the window as they swept through flying stations, and he had the
prodigious luck of being stopped by signal just opposite the golf-links,
when he saw an angry man in a red coat play an absurdly bad shot into a
bunker, and his low, furious exclamation flecked the beauty of the
morning. Still unconscious of all that lay before him, he arrived at
Bolton Street, and was told that Arthur was not in yet, but that Miss
Avesham was out in the garden. He followed the butler through the hall
and the little conservatory that lay beyond, and as the door was opened
he stopped a moment, with a dizzy, bewildered feeling that all this had
happened before.

For there in the middle of the lawn was standing a girl opposite him,
with a face full of laughter and anxiety, and with her parasol she kept
at bay a small retriever puppy which had just left the water, and, still
dripping, was evidently coming to his mistress to shake himself and
receive her congratulations.

The whole scene was in brilliant sunlight, and Arthur found himself
saying:

“The dog is just going to shake!”

The words were not out of his mouth when the puppy’s head was shaken,
and down to his shoulders he was black and curly, set in a shower of
spray, but the shake had not yet reached his back and tail, the hair of
which was still strong and close.

Next moment he stepped out on to the lawn, and Jeannie, seeing him, came
a step forward to meet him.

“How do you do, Mr. Collingwood?” she said. “Arthur will be in in a
moment. Toby had just fallen into the fountain in trying to catch a
bird. Oh, dear, how extraordinary!”

And as the coincidence struck her she laughed.

Now laughter is certainly the best beginning of a friendship, and Jack
hailed the omen.

“It seems fated that I should see you keeping off a wet dog,” he said.
“Is not the subject forced on me?”

“Indeed it is,” said Jeannie, who had not meant to allude to it at all,
and hoped that he would not. But her first exclamation had been quite
voluntary, not in her power to check.

“If I had known it was you,” he went on, not even explaining that he
alluded to the picture, “of course I should never have done it. And if
any one had told me before I came here to-day that it was you, I doubt
if I should have come. Anyhow, I should be apologizing now. But twice!
It is beyond my control. I think I won’t even apologize.”

“It would be an impertinence to apologize for so clear a dealing of
Providence,” said Jeannie. “I, too, was rather uneasy about this moment;
I was afraid you might be awkward, and make me so. But certainly you are
not. Am I?”

Jack laughed.

“I had not noticed it,” he said. “And here’s the author of it all come
to dry himself against me.”

“Toby, come here at once,” said Jeannie.

“You said that before, too,” remarked Jack.

Jeannie’s eyes grew round.

“I believe I did,” she said. “Then we had tea. What a pity! The chain of
coincidence is broken. We are only going to have lunch. Of course you
know this place well.”

“I have never been in this house before,” said Jack. “It used to belong
to a queer old lady who kept forty cats, when I lived here as a boy. My
only connection was that I used to catapult the cats when they came over
into our garden.”

“Yes, forty is a considerable number,” said Jeannie. “Oh, here are
Arthur and my aunt, Miss Fortescue. Anyhow, you haven’t met her before.”

“Excuse me, she was sitting by your hat,” said Jack.

“On it,” said Jeannie; “it was crushed flat.”

Arthur came back alone toward tea-time; Jack, he said, had gone to see
his mother.

“It was kinder,” he remarked, “to let him know that a letter had been
written, as he had not received it yet, and I did so. He is remarkably
brave. He is as bold as a dragoon. He will talk it out, he says.”

“Mrs. Collingwood will rub it in,” said Miss Fortescue. “I am sorry for
that young man. Oh, did he behave decently when he met you, Jeannie?”

Jeannie looked up, absently.

“Oh, quite decently,” she said. “It was not at all awkward. He has tact,
I think; or, if he hasn’t, I have. Anyhow there was enough tact about
for two.”

“No one person has tact for two,” said Miss Fortescue, decidedly. “He
must have had some.”

Whatever he looked, Jack Collingwood did not feel nearly as brave as a
dragoon, unless dragoons are timid things, when he entered the house in
the close. But it was not in anticipation of a cool reception due to the
picture which made him distrustful of what the next hour would bring. He
hardly gave that a thought, for he had seen Jeannie, and it mattered but
little what the rest of the world thought, as long as she had an
uninjured mind on the subject. Her frank welcome of him, her utter
_insouciance_ on the subject--above all, though he scarcely knew it yet
himself, the fact that he had met again that vision by the river,
combined to make him almost exultantly happy on that score. His errand
to his mother, however, was far different, and full of difficulty.

She met him with a kind, Christian expression. He had received, so she
supposed, her note, and the desire to see her after that was filial and
laudable, for the note had been strongly expressed. Not that Mrs.
Collingwood regretted that: the occasion demanded strong speaking, and
her duty dictated to her.

“I am staying with the Aveshams,” he said, “and I remain over the
Sunday. Mother, Arthur tells me you have written to me about that
picture. I have not received the letter yet, as I started early this
morning, but no doubt it will be forwarded to me. Shall we, then,
dismiss that for the present, until I have read your note?”

“Certainly, if you wish it,” said Mrs. Collingwood, freezing a little.
“But if you came here to talk about that, it is better you should know
at once what I think.”

“I didn’t come to talk about that,” said Jack. “I came to ask your
advice and your help about a very different matter.”

“I shall be delighted to give it you,” said Mrs. Collingwood, sitting
very upright

“It is a very sad story I have to tell you,” he said, “and I want
experienced advice about it. You can give it me.”

Mrs. Collingwood relaxed a little. One of the chief businesses of her
life was directing and advising, and she enjoyed it.

“Tell me,” she said.

“Do you remember a fellow who stayed here once with me from Oxford,” he
asked, “called Frank Bennett?”

Mrs. Collingwood unbent a little more. She had approved of the young man
in question.

“Yes, I remember him perfectly,” she said. “He had a beautiful voice,
and sang Nazareth after dinner. He sang with great feeling, I remember,
and we talked about the aims and career of an oratorio singer.”

Jack could not help smiling. Frank had a unique talent, he had always
considered, of adaptability. It was exactly like him to sing Nazareth.
He sang other things as well, if not better.

“Yes,” he said, “I see you remember him. He was one of my closest
friends. He is dead.”

“Oh, Jack,” she said, “I am so sorry! I liked him so much for himself.
Does the advice you want concern him in any way?”

“Yes, very closely.”

Jack paused. His mother had been sympathetic, the thing had touched her,
and it was with less apprehension that he went on.

“It concerns him very closely,” he said. “He had a child. No, he was not
married----”

He looked steadily at his mother as he said this, and saw the sympathy
and warmth die out of her face.

“The girl is also dead,” he continued. “The baby is about ten days old.”

“I should recommend an orphanage,” said Mrs. Collingwood. “I can give
you a letter to one.”

“He was an awfully good fellow,” said Jack.

Mrs. Collingwood drew her mouth very tight. There was no reply
necessary. Jack rose.

“The girl died suddenly a few days ago,” he said, “only a week after
the birth of the baby. Frank died in May last. He appointed me executor
of his will, and I see by it that he leaves all he has to his--to this
girl in trust for the child. He meant to marry her, he had told me that;
of course he ought to have.”

“Of course he ought to have!” said Mrs. Collingwood.

If you can imagine such a thing as a malignant echo, you will know how
she spoke.

“You suggest nothing else?” asked Jack, still lingering. “I have already
a promise of a place in an orphanage. Of course the child does not want
that. There is plenty of money.”

“There is nothing else to suggest,” said Mrs. Collingwood, in a
perfectly business-like manner. “I cannot see why you wanted my advice
if you already have a place for the child.”

“No; I was wrong,” said Jack.

There was a moment’s silence. All that was righteous and hard in Mrs.
Collingwood surged to the surface; all that was human in Jack struggled
for utterance. She was the first to speak.

“Jack, how can you come to me with such a story?” she said. “You knew
already all that I could possibly say, and that without examining into
the merits of the case I could not even recommend it. Do you realize
what the case is? There are hundreds such, less fortunate, because for
them there is no money. It is a bad case, this. The father was rich. If,
then, for these hundreds there is no excuse, what excuse is there here?
I do not say that the sin is less, if there has been no marriage,
because there was no means of supporting possible children, but, if we
can weigh anything against that, that is the more excusable. You spoke
of him as a ‘very good fellow.’ Have you thought?”

Jack stood quite still during his mother’s speech. A little heightened
colour appeared on his face, and his big brown eyes opened a little.

“I have thought,” he said. “Frank was honest, kindly, generous, and he
had hot blood. He would always help a friend in trouble: once he helped
me. I should always have gone to him if I was in a difficulty. Thus I
owe him a debt. Please God, I will repay it. He committed a fault, or
sin, what you will. I have made it my business, as far as I humanly can,
to repair that. I do not wish that the sins of the father should be
visited on the child. I beg your pardon, mother, I have put that in a
way that will offend you. Let me put it like this: I want the child to
have as good a chance as possible. I thought perhaps you might help me.”

“How could I help you?” said Mrs. Collingwood.

Jack paused. Then:

“I meant to bring up the child myself,” he said. “I should have told you
that earlier if you had encouraged me at all. I thought even that you
might suggest--no, I scarcely thought it--that the child should live
here. I was wrong. I ought never to have come.”

Again there was a silence. Again all that was best and most human in the
man burst out:

“Mother,” he said, “do not blame me. There was a bad business--I knew
it. I only thought to repair it as far as I could. You do not agree
with me. Very well, let us forget it. Why should this, too, come between
us?”

His eyes had the glimmer of tears in them, and he took an unresisting
hand.

“I said ‘this too,’” he went on. “I know that there is much in me that
you do not approve. You would have had me choose a different way of
life. That, I am afraid, cannot be remedied. Shall we not accept it?
And, such as I am, I have tried to be a good son to you and father.”

The hand that lay unresistingly in his tightened its grasp. He looked
up, but his mother only shook her head.

“Go, Jack,” she said; “kiss me, then go.”

He kissed her, and left the room without another word. Mrs. Collingwood
sat quite still for a moment. Then her wide mouth widened, and she burst
into tears.

Jack had been more moved by his interview with his mother than was
convenient for social purposes, and he did not go straight back to the
Aveshams, but took a stroll through the town first. He had not expected
that his mother would suggest any arrangement other than an orphanage
for the child, but he had thought it possible. What had moved him was
the sudden deepening of their talk; in a moment they had gone from the
instance to the great eternal principles of things, to sin and love and
death. From that the talk had veered as suddenly to personal relations,
the relations between his mother and himself. Deep down in him he knew
what an empty place there was in his heart, a place empty and garnished,
but ready and with the door open for the entering in of that exquisite
presence, not less sacred and entrancing than any, the sympathetic,
comprehending love between mother and son. All his life long he had
missed that. His mother would never have committed a reckless,
unconsidered act for his sake; the mere fact of motherhood, as in so
many women, was not to her enough for that. For the glory of motherhood
lies in this: that the child will instinctively take from her without
question, and without question she gives. The joy of self-surrender must
be made without question. And he, on his side, had missed the son’s
part. His joys and troubles were not self-despatched presents to her;
she would not have known what to do with them, they would have been to
her like strange, savage implements of which she did not know the use.
She might indeed have tried to find a use for them, and thus missed
their significance. To use them at all was their abuse. They were her
son’s; that to the mother is enough.

Jack wandered down the High Street and hung on the parapet of the stone
bridge that crosses the river. This strange unrest was new to him. He
had never been of the nature that toils in the soil of other human
souls, or even of his own, and delves thereout so much that is
worthless, and sometimes an unconjectured jewel. He had not ever been in
the habit of considering life as a serious business. He got through his
day’s work with cheerfulness and honesty, and the day’s work brought its
own raptures. He was not carnal, but emphatically he was not spiritual.
To him the tastes and the rewards of life lay in artistic and
intellectual achievement; about them he had a store-house of
kaleidoscopic theories and much sober practice; but as for problems of
life and being, all such were an algebra to him. Being of a clean mind,
and holding--a low gospel it may be, but an excellent working
hypothesis--that sensuality means the death of the intellect, he had
never troubled his head to make out moral codes. The tragedy of Frank
Bennett’s life and death did not make him shudder and wince. He called
him a fool, but with tenderness, and whether he was a knave or not did
not concern him.

He was roused from his meditations by a short, staccato bark at his
heels, and found the round retriever pup staggering up to him. Toby had
an inability to walk straight; he rolled along like a drunken man with a
jovial boisterousness. He had a large wire muzzle on, and the tip of his
pink tongue hung through it.

“Oh, are you looking at the water?” said Jeannie, sympathetically.
“That’s so nice of you. I have to look at running water every day. It
clears one’s brain out, I think. Toby is shortly to have his bath.”

“It is a shame making him wear a muzzle while he has still his
milk-teeth,” said Jack.

“It isn’t a muzzle,” said Jeannie, “it is his hat. Toby is rather proud
of it. But don’t you agree with me about water?”

“Yes; I was having a wash myself. I have had rather an agitating talk.”

Jeannie knew that he had been to see his mother, and did not see her way
to any reply. She supposed that the picture was at the bottom of it.

“It was about a friend of mine,” continued Jack, “who got into great
trouble. We disagreed hopelessly, my mother and I. It is a bore. Oh, I
want washing!” he cried, and turned to look at the water again.

Jeannie had a sort of fleeting idea that she had only seen this young
man for the first time that morning, and that convention would call
confidences premature. But convention meant little to her; she did not
wilfully neglect it, but she simply forgot its existence.

“Oh, but we must expect to disagree with people,” she said. “Think how
extraordinarily tame the world would be if we didn’t! We should spend
our whole lives in admiring the views of other people which tallied so
exactly with our own.”

“But do you like disagreeing with people who are very near you?” he
asked.

Jeannie considered a moment.

“I don’t suppose I have agreed with Aunt Em about anything for five
years,” she said.

Jack laughed.

“But you have not disagreed--not radically, I mean.”

Jeannie turned half round and looked at him. But before she could reply
there swept by Colonel Raymond, followed by a string of straggling
children, returning from their “good, brisk walk.” He saw her, stared,
stared also at her companion, and passed on.

“Oh, dear me,” thought Jeannie, “Arthur has evidently seen him. That was
one of the most complete cuts I ever received.”

She paused a moment to bring her thoughts back to the point from which
they had strayed.

“No, you are right; not radically,” she said. “And if your disagreement
has been radical, and it is not impertinent of me, do let me offer you
my sympathy. It is rather a common word, but sincerity makes common
things real.”

She looked divinely beautiful. The soft, wistful expression of her face
was altogether womanly, the brightness and vivacity belonged to
girlhood. Spring trembled on the verge of summer, an entrancing moment.
Admirable as his sketch had been, like her as it was, Jack found it but
a pale parody of the deeper beauty which shone on him. Sympathy like an
electric spark had passed from her, and the face he had thought only so
admirable in its amused anxiety became a face which showed a beautiful
soul. The lamp within had been lit, and the light showed through the
fair carving of the lantern.

“Thank you for that,” he said at length, gravely. “Tattered banners of
words are hung in sacred places.”

She turned and looked at the water again.

“Are our brains cleaner?” she said. “If so, let us go and give Toby his
bath. Won’t you come with me, Mr. Collingwood? We can stroll along the
river and go back home round through the close.”

It was at that divine hour when day and evening meet. The sun was low
and level, and its light, instead of coming from one spot and dazzling
the eyes, was diffused through a golden haze. The heat and stress of
summer, one would have said, was over or not yet come, and it might have
been a day from early May or from late September. The fulness of the
stream argued the former, but a certain mellowness of colour showed the
other. Jack, inclined as an artist is to be very indolent except when he
is very industrious, was under the spell of the evening, under the
spell, too, of the sympathy which had floated to him across the airy
bridge by which soul spans the otherwise inaccessible gulf which divides
it from any other soul. He was a man, lovable; she was a lovable woman;
heaven is there, and all is said.

Toby staggered round them, occasionally dashing away after interesting
smells, and barking hoarsely and rudely at passers-by in a state of
self-importance not unmixed with nervousness. He enjoyed his bath when
once he was in the water, but he was a little distrustful of it; the
self-importance was due to the fact that he considered this daily walk
by the river to be taken entirely on his account. He had something, in
fact, of the air of Colonel Raymond about him, and Jeannie wondered what
he would make of this sight of herself and Jack together lounging on the
bridge.



CHAPTER XI


That prodigious observer had not failed to notice them, and though
Arthur’s interview with him had been quite remarkably frank and
outspoken, the Colonel was not to be taken in that way. Indeed, the fact
that Arthur had denied with such directness the truth of that brilliant
conjecture the Colonel had made when he saw the picture of Jeannie
rather tended to confirm his belief in his own acuteness. “Meant to put
me off the scent, sir, meant to put me off the scent!” he said, angrily,
as he waited to let his three daughters catch him up at the Guildhall.
And he added, savagely, looking at Maria, who was near collapse: “But he
doesn’t take me in that way!”

But our strategist was not quite certain how to act. The secret joy of
knowing he was right, and had seen through all these flimsy attempts to
baffle him, was gratifying, but it was like money locked up, which he
could not use. On the other hand, he had not enjoyed that moment when,
in the presence of his wife, Arthur had spoken of the absurd and foolish
report which some busybody had invented, and which, so he had heard, had
reached Colonel Raymond. People, so thought the Colonel bitterly, talked
so, and let things get about, and if he again alluded to what he knew so
well about Arthur and Jack Collingwood another interview might occur
between Arthur and himself. It was bad enough when only Mrs. Raymond was
present, but the Colonel turned quite cold at the thought that the next
rendezvous might be at the club, in the presence of all his old cronies.
It was only a timely and unhesitating retreat which had perhaps saved
him the other day on the question of cousinship, and even then he was
far from certain that the others had not suspected some awkwardness.

Colonel Raymond began to feel ill-used. Why should these Aveshams,
particularly that insolent Arthur, come and settle in Wroxton and render
precarious the Colonel’s immemorial position as cousin and friend of
noble families? Why, if they must come, could they not have treated him
more like a cousin, and have told him the truth about this affair,
rather than try to hoodwink him with denials? “Why, the thing was as
plain as the nose on my face!” stormed the Colonel as he ascended the
club steps (and indeed his nose was not beautiful), “and to go and tell
me that Jeannie had never seen young Collingwood, when the very next day
I see them with my own eyes lounging in the public street together, is
an insult to me and a disgrace to them!”

The party at Bolton Street were happily ignorant of these thunderings,
and their tranquility was undisturbed. Jeannie had, indeed, told Arthur
that the Colonel had seen herself and Jack together that afternoon, and
they wondered with some amusement what he would make of it.

“I made myself pretty clear to him yesterday,” said Arthur,
thoughtfully; “but he is a poisonous sort of animal. He is given, I
notice, to repeating himself. I hope he won’t do so, Jeannie, on this
occasion; otherwise I shall have to repeat myself to him. Yet you say
he cut you. That makes the question simpler.”

“Why a gossip is a gossip is more than I can understand,” said Jeannie.
“And where the pleasure of repeating as true what you made up yourself
comes in is altogether beyond me.”

“It is one of the pleasures of the imagination,” said Arthur, taking off
his coat. “Go away and dress, Jeannie, and leave me to do the same. We
shall be late.”

“We always are,” said Jeannie, still lingering. “Isn’t it odd--” and she
paused.

Arthur began unlacing his boots.

“Well?”

“Isn’t it odd that Mrs. Collingwood should be Mr. Collingwood’s mother?”

“It would be odder if she wasn’t,” remarked Arthur.

Miss Fortescue had taken rather a fancy to Jack, and she showed it by
treating him as she treated her nephew and niece--that is to say, she
was rude to him. It was a bad sign for Miss Fortescue to be polite to
any one; it implied she did not like him. But no one could have called
her polite to Jack. She had asked him several questions on very
different subjects during dinner, and to each he had returned an answer
showing he knew something of the various questions. That was Miss
Fortescue’s test.

“Yes, you seem to know,” she said; “in fact, I think you know too much,
Mr. Collingwood. The mind of a well-informed man is a horrible thing. It
is like a curiosity-shop, full of odds and ends which are of no use to
anybody.”

Jeannie and Arthur burst out laughing.

“Answer her back,” said Arthur; “she won’t mind.”

Jack was sensible enough to know that Miss Fortescue could not be so
rude, if her object was to be rude.

“If I had not been able to tell you about pearl-oysters and
Cayenne-pepper,” he said, “you would only have said, ‘The mind of an
ignorant man is a horrible thing. It is like a new jerry-built villa
unfurnished.’”

“Just so,” said Miss Fortescue, “and the owner calls it a desirable
mansion.”

“But what is one to do?” said Jack. “Either one knows about a thing or
one does not. It is a choice between being a jerry-built villa or a
curiosity-shop.”

“Some people,” said Miss Fortescue, “fill their villa with curiosities.
It is possible to be well informed and completely uneducated.”

“Go it, Jack,” said Arthur; “she’s beginning to hit wildly.”

“Am I to apply that to myself?” asked Jack, turning to Miss Fortescue.

“Oh, that is so like an Englishman,” said she. “Whenever you suggest an
idea to an Englishman he cannot consider it in the abstract; he has to
think whether it applies to him.”

“Aunt Em never does that,” observed Jeannie; “she goes on the opposite
tack. If you tell her she is being offensive, quite personally, she
considers offensiveness in the abstract, and makes remarks about true
courtesy.”

“Have some hare, Aunt Em?” said Arthur. “I shot it two days ago.”

“Did you kill it at once?” asked Miss Fortescue.

“No, I wounded it,” said Arthur, quite regardless of truth. “It
screamed.”

“Butcher!” said Aunt Em.

“Shall I give you some?” repeated Arthur.

Miss Fortescue glanced at the menu-card.

“Only a very little,” she said.

“But where is the proper mean, Miss Fortescue?” resumed Jack. “How can
one avoid both being well informed and being ignorant?”

“Well-informed people are those who know about the wrong things,” she
said.

“I and the pearl-oysters, for instance?”

Aunt Em groaned.

“The Englishman again,” she said. “The Englishman abroad! How well that
expresses the Englishman’s attitude toward ideas.”

“And the Englishman at home is the Englishman slaughtering innocent
beasts, I suppose,” said Arthur. “I’ve only given you a very small
piece, Aunt Em.”

“Yes, dear, you have taken me at my word,” said Miss Fortescue,
inspecting her plate. “That is very English, too. We are the heaviest,
most literal nation that ever disgraced this planet.”

“Poor planet!” said Jeannie. “How the people in Mars must look down on
us.”

“And rightly,” sighed Miss Fortescue. “How many Philistines one sees.”

“I’m one,” said Arthur, cheerfully. “Philistia, be thou glad of me!”

Miss Fortescue shook her head.

“Tell me any one you know who is not a Philistine,” said Jack.

Miss Fortescue raised her eyes to the ceiling, but Jack did not
understand the signal.

“Can’t you think of one?” he repeated.

“When Aunt Em raises her eyes,” said Jeannie, “we talk of something
else. Don’t apologize, Mr. Collingwood; you couldn’t have known.”

“A little more hare, Arthur,” said Aunt Em; “about as much as you gave
me before.”

Frank Bennett, Jack, and Arthur had all been up at Magdalen together,
and when the two were left in the smoking-room together Arthur, who only
knew vaguely the story, asked Jack about it.

“You wrote to me, I remember, after his death in May, and told me about
the woman he had lived with. What happened further?”

Jack got up.

“It is all very terrible,” he said. “The girl died only about ten days
ago, in giving birth to a baby. The baby is living. It was about that
that I went to see my mother this afternoon.”

“What did she suggest?”

“An orphanage,” said Jack. “It had been suggested before, and I think it
is quite out of the question. The case is not an orphanage case. There
is plenty of money. I hoped--no, I hardly hoped--that my mother would
suggest that the baby should be brought up in her house, for I owe a
great deal to Frank, and as he is dead without my being able to pay it,
I owe it to his memory. But she did not suggest it. So I think I shall
take the child and bring it up myself.”

He paused.

“Yes, I know there are objections,” he said. “To begin with, people will
talk. Luckily, however, there is nothing in the world which matters so
little as what such people say. The other objections are more
important. It would be better for the child not to be in London. But I
dare say things will work out somehow. For the present, at any rate, I
shall certainly do that. It is bad enough for a child to be fatherless
and nameless. What an ass poor Frank was! And what a good one!”

“What was the girl like?” asked Arthur. “Did you know her?”

“Yes, but very slightly. Oh, I can’t talk about it. She was nice. Frank
meant to marry her--that I know.”

“One means so much,” said Arthur.

“My dear fellow, don’t attempt to be cynical. You make a poor hand of
it; and really I know that he did mean to. But, as my mother pointed
out, that is no excuse.”

Arthur was silent a moment.

“I apologize,” he said; “I am sure you are right. I have an idea--no,
never mind. Have some whisky.”

They sat smoking for a spell without speech.

“You ought to be awfully happy here,” said Jack, at length. “You have a
charming house, and nothing particular to do. How I wish I had been
born a loafer. I have great inclinations that way, but no gift at all.
The real loafer is born, not made. I am always wanting to settle down,
or finish up, or get to work.”

“I want none of these things,” said Arthur, with conviction. “Settling
down, I suppose, means marrying. Are you going to marry, by the way?”

“I am going to do everything that there is to be done,” said Jack, “and
after that I shall find more things to do.”

“And all this in the near future?” he asked.

“You ask as many questions as Miss Fortescue,” said Jack. “I am in dread
of appearing well informed, so I shall not answer them.”

“Don’t. As soon as I know the answer to a question I lose all interest
in it.”

“It’s lucky, then, that you have still so many questions,” observed
Jack. “By the way, your sister did not mind about the picture, did she?
She set me so thoroughly at my ease about it that until this evening it
really never occurred to me that she easily might.”

“No, I’m sure she didn’t,” said Arthur.

“Good. I shall go to bed. When is breakfast?”

Arthur got up and lit a couple of candles.

“Breakfast is when you come down,” he said. “We bind ourselves to
nothing.”



CHAPTER XII


The Avesham family manner of attending Cathedral was characteristic.
Miss Fortescue was always the first to start, and she reached her seat
in the choir five minutes before service began. She took with her a
Bible, a prayer-book, and a large tune hymn-book, and frowned
abstractedly at them all. Jeannie started about seven minutes after her,
and was almost invariably just late, so that she had to sit in the nave
close to the choir. Arthur considered it sufficient to arrive during the
first lesson, and he sat at the far end of the nave, where he could hear
nothing but the singing. It followed, therefore, as a corollary that he
left before the sermon. Jack on this particular morning proposed to stay
at home and go to the afternoon service. Thus, when Arthur came through
the garden on his way to the first lesson, he found him in a large
chair underneath the mulberry-tree. He paused a moment.

“Would it seem more hospitable if I didn’t go to Cathedral?” he asked.
“Remember, I rank hospitality very high among the cardinal virtues.”

“Be honest,” said Jack.

“Then perhaps I had better go to Cathedral,” he said. “But you might
have made it easier for me to stop. Well, good-bye; I shall come out
before the sermon.”

“I shall devote the time to silent meditation,” said Jack. “Where shall
I find cigarettes? I’ve run out.”

“In the smoking-room. But it’s distinctly bad manners to talk about
cigarettes to a fellow on his way to church. Have a novel and an iced
drink, too, won’t you? Don’t mind me.”

Arthur made his reluctant way across the lawn and disappeared. If Jack
had been obliged to be perfectly honest too he would have had to confess
that he bore the prospect of a solitary hour with perfect equanimity. He
had several things to think about, and he could do it best alone. In the
first place, he had received that morning a note from his mother asking
him to tear up the letter she had written him, when he received it,
unread. Also she would like to see him again before he left Wroxton.
This note occupied Jack’s thoughts not a little. When Jeannie had broken
in upon his meditations on the bridge the evening before he was doing
his best not to draw conclusions, not to formulate in his own mind what
his relations with his mother were. He had not known how their talk had
moved her, and it was only natural that he should not. For Mrs.
Collingwood’s deepest emotions were founded on the cardinal virtues, and
the more she was moved the more passionately she felt and expressed
horror of what was wrong, and to Jack, with his antipodal nature, this
had appeared like hardness. He had wronged her, but his mistake was
excusable. For with him, the more his emotions were touched the more
human and indulgent he became--a dangerous development, no doubt, but,
luckily for the kindliness of the world, a common one, and certainly one
that is lovable if we are not too censoriously moral. That Frank should
so have failed to act up to the proper reasonable code made him feel
the more tenderly toward him, though he regretted it. It was otherwise
with his mother. A lapse of this kind blotted tenderness from her mind;
had it happened to one she loved, the more complete would have been her
horror. The attitude of neither mother nor son is ideal, but the
resultant leaves nothing wanting.

This request, then, to tear up the letter unread seemed to him of good
omen. His mother, he knew, had felt strongly about this picture of
Jeannie, and her letter would not have been pleasant reading. But he did
her the justice not even to question whether it had not been written
with the most utter obedience to her notion of duty. She was never
unkind from carelessness or anger; or, rather, if she was unkind from
anger, the anger was never of a brutish or selfish sort. Thus he hoped
that their interview would develop her idea that the letter should be
unread.

But this was not the sum of the task of meditation. More intricate even
and more absorbing was the remainder. He assured himself, and believed
his own assurance, that he was not falling in love; but when a man has
to tell himself that it is doubtful whether he is any longer a fit
person to decide. That radiant presence he had first met on the plank
bridge was no longer a subject for sketches. She had stepped down (or
up) from the platform of “subjects,” and had taken him by the hand. She
had become, in fact, that ever agitating thing, a woman. Jack had been
often agitated before, and took it as a doubtful boon. He had never
indulged in those maudlin sentiments which place our human emotions on a
pedestal, as it were, in an otherwise empty room. To be married ideally
did not, according to him, mean an ideal life, if all else was to be
sacrificed for that; and the man who gave up the whole world for a woman
he loved was as incomplete as a man who gave up the woman he loved for
the whole world. Still less was love a plaything to him. If it was not
all-absorbing, it was not therefore nothing more than a pleasant
amusement. More hopeless still was the common case of men who seem to
regard it as a mere amusement, and yet devote their whole life to it.
Never did extremes meet more deplorably.

The truth lay beyond and between all these things. Every man had his
work to do in the world; Jack at any rate made no question about that.
To certain men and women came a great gift, a gift no less than the
completion of their nature by fusion with another. It did not come to
all, and whether it came or not there remained the stubborn fact that
one had still one’s work to do. It was no use saying that love is the
greatest thing in the world, or that it is stronger than death. For so,
if we look at it aright, is the steam-engine. It must not be supposed
that these chill reflections were rehearsed in Jack’s mind as he sat
under the mulberry-tree that morning. They are given here merely to show
the outcome of his previous thoughts on the subject, that the reader may
be enabled to realize the starting-point from which his meditations
began racing, the ground-colour of the piece on which perhaps the gold
thread would be traced, the nature of the soil from which the mysterious
seed would draw its nourishment. In intellectual and artistic matters he
was vivid, quick, fastidious, but sympathetic and, above all, almost
incapable of accepting a thing as proved unless he had practical
experience of it. And just as he would have denied with his utmost
cheerfulness the claim of Raphael to be a great painter, unless he so
considered him after looking at his pictures, so he would take no ideal
of love as his own because it had been the ideal of great and good men.

He got up from his chair and looked out over the shining garden. The
quiet peacefulness of a Sunday morning was in the air; hardly a breath
of wind swayed the tall single dahlias, and the heavy heads of the
sunflowers drooped. The great, quiet trees of the close, old but unaged,
seemed a guarantee for the safety of the world, and the gray Cathedral
numbered centuries to their decades. Yet, in spite of the suggestion of
secure tranquility which the whole view offered, Jack felt excited and
almost frightened.

“Who knows, who knows?” he said, half aloud. He paused a moment, and
then walked forward, half laughing at himself.

“Falling in love is a common enough experience,” he thought, “and it is
not to be treated as a tragedy. But I cannot think of it as a comedy.”

Miss Fortescue, it appeared at lunch, had thought deeply on questions of
ritual, or if she had not previously thought deeply, it apparently did
not stand in the way of her speaking strongly. A reredos, it seemed, was
a synonym for idolatry, and the absence of an extra candle on the altar
was the only plank, so to speak, which saved the English Church from
being immerged in the bottomless sea of Romanism. She proposed, as an
experiment, to make an offer to the chapter that she would present to
the Cathedral a small chapel in honour of St. Joseph, to be erected at
her expense, if they would build a corresponding one to the Virgin, and
felt no doubt that the thanks and acquiescence of the Cathedral body
would be accorded to her and her proposal. The ingenuity with which she
twisted the arguments of the other side to tell in her favour was truly
remarkable, and when, at the end of a hot half-hour, she raised her eyes
to the ceiling, she was not the only person present who was grateful for
a respite. She had already reduced Jack to such confusion of mind that
he had founded some theory on the seven veils of the Jewish sanctuary,
and though he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, Miss
Fortescue had, and convinced him out of his own mouth of being a friend
to the detestable enormities of the Pope of Rome.

“You say you are going to see your mother at tea-time,” she said. “Very
well, tell her what I have said.”

Jack was discreet, but not provident.

“I am sure she will agree with you,” he admitted, eagerly.

“In that case,” said Miss Fortescue, “it is her duty to use her
influence with your father to get these things remedied.”

Jeannie laughed.

“Give it up, Mr. Collingwood,” she advised. “It’s no use. We always give
it up when Aunt Em feels strongly at church on Sundays. You will, too,
when you know her better.”

There were several people at tea when Jack came into his mother’s
drawing-room, and when he entered he saw that they had been talking on
some point which concerned him, for there was a lull in the
conversation, and yet every one looked interested and rather eager,
which showed that the conversation had been suddenly broken off. Mrs.
Vernon, the gushing wife of another canon, more distinguished for a
vague æsthetic loquacity than for tact, appealed to him at once.

“We were talking about your picture of Miss Avesham,” she said. “I
maintain--and do agree with me, Mr. Collingwood--that it is not the
function of art to be photographic. You have seized, it is true, a
moment (oh, such a dear, delicious moment!), but you have given us, have
you not, what I called the story of the moment?”

Jack looked a little puzzled.

“I don’t quite understand,” he said.

“Oh, Mr. Collingwood, you are laughing at me!” she cried. (This was very
unjust, and not appreciative of Jack’s gravity, which was creditable to
him.) “You are laughing at me. You want me to involve myself. I mean
that you could never have given us such a wonderful moment if you had
not known the ancestry, if I may say so, of it. You must have studied
Miss Avesham’s face till it was your own. To know and to show us exactly
how she looked when that dear little puppy was shaking (In Danger,
too--what a delightful title!)--you must have made a thousand sketches
of her. For surely it is impossible to paint a portrait--a real
portrait, I mean--without knowing the face _and_ the character!”

Jack stirred his tea.

“Your theories are admirable, Mrs. Vernon,” he said, “and I agree with
them entirely. But I must confess that my portrait in this instance was
a rank contradiction of them. Until the moment that I saw Miss Avesham
standing as I represented her I never saw her before. And I finished the
sketch before I ever saw her again. I can only say that I am luckier
than I deserve in having done something which you are kind enough to
consider as being like her.”

Something of the interest died out of Mrs. Vernon’s face, and it
occurred to Jack for the moment that she had a theory at stake more
interesting to her than her theory about the true method of painting
portraits. He flushed a little, and was annoyed at himself for doing
so.

“I am afraid it may seem to you that I did a very rude thing,” he said;
“but the facts are these: I was walking down by the river, about three
weeks ago, and suddenly saw what I tried to paint. I had no idea that it
was Miss Avesham, for, as I have told you, I had never seen her before.
And without sufficiently considering, I confess, whether the girl,
whoever she was, would see the picture, and whether if she did she would
object to it, I painted it. I saw Miss Avesham again yesterday for the
second time. I am staying with her brother and her for the Sunday.”

“I am sure she would be charmed and flattered at your picture,” said
Mrs. Vernon.

“I don’t know about her being charmed and flattered,” said Jack. “But
certainly she was very kind about it, considering what a liberty I had
taken.”

“Rather what a compliment you had paid her,” exclaimed Mrs. Vernon,
effusively. “What a sweet girl she is! So simple and kindly. You are
staying there, are you not?”

“Yes, for the Sunday,” said Jack, with all his teeth on edge. “I knew
Arthur well at Oxford.”

“And did Miss Avesham talk to you about the portrait?” continued Mrs.
Vernon. “I am told she is so artistic.”

“Oh, yes, she spoke about it,” said Jack. “Indeed, it was a curious
coincidence, for just as I arrived she was out in the garden, and again
the puppy was shaking himself, having fallen into the fountain.”

Mrs. Vernon gave a titter of laughter, like a chromatic scale.

“There seems to be a fate in such things,” she exclaimed. “How exciting,
and how romantic! Thank you, _one_ more cup of this delicious tea.”

Before long the others left, and shortly after Canon Collingwood retired
to the garden. Jack and his mother spoke of indifferent things till the
tea-table was cleared; and after the servant had gone:

“I wanted to talk to you, Jack, before you went. You received my
letter?”

“Yes, this morning. I tore it up, as you asked me to, without reading
it.”

Mrs. Collingwood was silent a moment.

“Thank you,” she said at length, simply. “My reason was this--I wrote
hastily. I could not but think that Miss Avesham would consider your
painting of that portrait as a great liberty. It appears she did not,
and that you are excellent friends. So I was wrong about her attitude.”

Mrs. Collingwood took a chair closer to Jack.

“Jack, you were right in what you said yesterday,” she went on. “You and
I are made very differently. We must accept it. I have been too much
given to judging you, to disapproving, and disapproval does no good. But
you must not judge me either. You have your own life to live. You can
not grasp my point of view, and if I am tempted to disapprove of you, I
will be careful in the future not to do that, but to simply say that I
do not understand.”

Jack looked up; his mother’s voice was trembling.

“Ah, my dear,” she went on, “in the Father’s house are many mansions,
and it is likely there are many mansions of His on earth. And if the
windows of some look out on to beautiful things and others on to
austere surroundings, suffering perhaps, and sin, those in the different
chambers must not judge each other. That is what I wanted to say to you.
But I have to go on in my own way. We can only do what we think right.
There, that is all. But tell me, what do you intend to do about this
baby?”

“I shall have it to live with me, I think,” said Jack; “that is, unless
something else turns up. Mother, you don’t know how you have touched me,
and how glad you have made me that you have spoken, and how ashamed.”

“No, Jack, not ashamed,” she said. “But I had to talk to you about it. I
have thought of nothing else since I saw you yesterday. You go back
to-morrow, do you not?”

“Yes.”

“Then say good-bye to your father before you go. I must leave you; I
have an evening class. Good-bye, my dear.”

She kissed him with a tenderness that was new to her, and left him.

But it is not in the nature of those who have lived in a groove lightly
to get out of it. Habit becomes nature, and to look permanently at one
view would, no doubt, if continued for forty years, tend to make the
observer believe that the world contained no other.

This was the case with Mrs. Collingwood. Her humanized interview with
Jack had jolted her as a stone on the line may jolt a train for a moment
without causing it to leave the metals. The direction in which it had
been running, its speed, and its weight have all to be overcome, and
with her long-continued convictions had given her great momentum, and an
address she delivered three days afterward at a Mothers’ Union showed no
speck of apostasy.



CHAPTER XIII


Jeannie threw herself into the life of the place with amazing energy,
and she had her hands very full. In the first place, the house in Bolton
Street had a new inhabitant--none other than the baby of Frank Bennett.
It had occurred to Arthur when Jack was telling him about it that here
was a possible situation, at any rate for the present, and before a week
had elapsed he had written to Jack to say that if he wished they would
give the child a home as long as the present _régime_ of Bolton Street
continued. Jack had accepted the offer with the most thankful alacrity:
to live there was much better for the child; also (this he hardly
admitted to himself) he could run down with reasonable frequency to see
how it throve.

Jeannie had wanted no persuading, and Miss Fortescue hardly more. She
had opposed the scheme at first on the same grounds as she opposed
everything, in order to see how the thing looked from the other side.
That such a plan was somewhat out of the way, and that it would give
Wroxton a good deal to talk about, she did not consider at all a
disadvantage to them, and a distinct benefit to Wroxton.

“We shall hear less of the S. P. C. K.,” she remarked.

The baby was to Jeannie of absorbing interest. The same instinct which
had led her when a child to make dramatic the lives of her dolls, and to
watch over them with an anxious benignity of which saw-dust and wax were
really not worthy, had here a sort of fruition. A doll had come to life,
the inventions of her childhood were being played over again in the
theatre of living, her play was become true. Arthur, who was the
youngest of them, was only a year younger than herself; she had thus
never known a baby in the house, and she found an ineffable charm in it.

But the baby, in being at least, was only a relaxation to be enjoyed in
odds and ends of time, for the solid hours were full. She seemed to
have taken on her shoulders the responsibility for the whole of Wroxton.
She had already written a paper for the Literary Ladies, which had
caused a kind of revolution in that gentle society, and Mrs. Collingwood
had left the room in a marked manner in the middle. It is true that she
came back again, and spoke venomously about it, but that was an
after-thought, for by going away she expressed her silent disapproval,
which she repeated not at all silently in the discussion that followed.
Indeed, she might well be horror-struck, for Jeannie, taking as her text
that notorious and scandalous novel, The Sheltered Life, had made
remarks about “realism” and artistic treatment which made Mrs.
Collingwood not exactly blush, but bristle. In the first place, the hero
of the work was a professed unbeliever, and though, if we are to believe
the author, he sought for light, and lived a sober and innocent life,
there was no doubt about his religious opinions. It is unnecessary to go
into details of the rest of the story; that one fact was enough for Mrs.
Collingwood. But Jeannie seemed hardly to have noticed it. Instead, she
spoke of the admirable development of his characters, of the sobriety
and reticence of the narrative; of the skilled surgical dissection of
the man’s actions, and the exhibition of the real forces that swayed
them, partly the result of heredity, partly of early training and
circumstance, and the one thing that, according to Mrs. Collingwood,
condemned the book, even had it been written by Shakespeare and
corrected by Milton, she passed over with the remark that the
description of the struggle of the reason against a faith his reason
could not accept was wonderfully rendered.

Dead silence followed her reading; and the Literary Ladies, who for the
most part had followed her with great interest, saw Mrs. Collingwood
enter again (she came in so punctually as Jeannie sat down that it
seemed almost as if she had been listening at the door) and cowered.
Most of them looked guilty, but it was noticed that Miss Clara, in her
place as president, sat bolt upright, and looked as brave as a lion.
Indeed, several times during the lecture she had applauded with her
silver pencil-case on the table. Miss Fortescue, who sat next Jeannie,
also appeared unterrified, but, as her niece sat down, she said in a
whisper to her:

“You’ve done it now, dear. There’s war in that woman’s eye. But I’ll see
you through.”

Miss Fortescue was right. There was war in Mrs. Collingwood’s eye; there
was crusade in her eye, and she marched out to attack the hosts of the
infidel like Cœur de Lion. She made no parleying with the enemy, and
though she alluded to Jeannie’s speech as “most suggestive and clever,”
it was only to point out to her hearers how dangerous cleverness was.
She hurled texts at their heads: the house built on sand, the kings who
did evil, the captivity, the fall of Babylon, the mark of the beast, the
seven foolish virgins, the man who put his hand to the plough and looked
back, the seed on the dry ground, the pitcher broken at the well, the
woman of Samaria--all these, if rightly understood, proclaimed how
abhorrent was The Sheltered Life! Jeannie as she listened was first
angry, and ended by being amused. There had been a seven days’ storm;
Mrs. Collingwood had sent in her resignation, and Jeannie, hearing of
it, sent in hers, provided that Mrs. Collingwood would remain. It ended
in Jeannie’s calling on Mrs. Collingwood, in answer to the almost
tearful request of Miss Clifford, and talking it out with her. She
explained that she had not been criticising the data of the book, but
the treatment of certain data, and made her points with such sweetness
of temper and apparent inability to take offence that Mrs. Collingwood
was charmed in spite of herself.

“But these things are the most serious in the world, Miss Avesham,” she
had said at parting. “You do not, I now believe, take them lightly, but
that was the impression your very clever speech made on me. I was wrong,
I am willing to confess that.”

Then Jeannie started a musical society, at the meetings of which the
Miss Cliffords quavered an uncertain alto, and Colonel Raymond thundered
an approximate bass. They met originally once a week at Bolton Street,
to sing glees for an hour, under the severe guidance of Miss Fortescue,
who taught them by degrees not so much what good part singing was, as
what it was not. Then they won their way to the passable. Her teaching
seemed almost hair-splitting at first, especially when she insisted on
the middle of a note being sung, and allowed nothing which to the
ordinary mind was allowable enough, and insisted on the existence of
notes intermediate between semitones.

“Because a piano has black notes and white notes,” she observed once,
“you think that there is no interval between. If you think you are lower
than A flat, and higher than G sharp, you must be singing A. The chances
are strongly against it. The basses again, please.”

But in spite of, or perhaps because of, this severity the club
prospered. The instinct for perfection is commoner than one thinks, even
among those who never attain more than mediocrity, and those new facts
about intervals were as fascinating as X-rays. Mrs. Collingwood even
joined, for she valued music among the higher relaxations. The apostles
of this art she held were Mendelssohn and Handel--these were the moons.
And the greater stars were Barnby, Stainer, and the Rev. P. Henley,
whose chant in E flat she ranked among the noblest productions of the
world of art. A memorable evening indeed came, when Mrs. Collingwood
sang also in a drinking-song, without turning a hair. She professed her
willingness in a spuriously fugal passage “to drink a bowl wi’ thee”
fortissimo, though there was no foot-note stating specifically that the
bowl contained a non-alcoholic beverage. A charity performance was to be
given at Christmas, in which the drinking-song would be performed, and
Mrs. Collingwood knew it. But she made no protest, and practised
“drinking her bowl” every Tuesday evening with gusto.

And Jeannie had classes of all sorts. She interested herself in the
girls of the soap manufactory at Wroxton, and taught them that there
were more things in the world than factory and followers. Some showed
botanical tendencies, and she would bury herself in Sowerby’s Plants in
order to be able to take them further in their hobby. Two others had
violins, and Jeannie made night hideous by bringing them to Bolton
Street two evenings in the week and accompanying their vagrant strains.
There was another who sang, and a fifth who had a mania for
wood-carving. Jeannie weaned her from the reproduction of imagining
ferns tied together by amorphous ribbons, and persuaded her to copy the
lines of real leaves and flowers. All these various elements were
amalgamated on Sunday afternoon, when a large room over the stables,
which she had appropriated for her purposes, was thronged with the
wood-carvers, the musicians, and the botanists. On these occasions she
read to them and gave them tea. The readings were not strictly
Sabbatical, and Arthur, spying out the land one Sunday after they had
gone, found a large number of perfectly secular books with markers in
them. Jeannie, when confronted with them, only laughed.

“The point is to interest them in something,” she said. “Look what lives
they live. But the dreadful difficulty is that two of Mrs. Collingwood’s
Sunday afternoon class seceded to me. I didn’t know what to do.”

Arthur laughed.

“You should have tried to interest them in Mrs. Collingwood,” he said.

Jeannie frowned.

“I know. But it is so difficult,” she said. “I read them a story out of
Plain Tales from the Hills instead.”

The girls’ class led on to a boys’ class, and Wroxton was again
convulsed. For it was known that Jeannie allowed her boys, if they were
allowed to smoke at home, to smoke when they came to her class, and her
rule that not more than four might smoke simultaneously, for the sake of
the atmosphere, was clearly not directed against smoking in general.
This class was held on Saturday evening, in order to keep them out of
the public-houses, for “the boys” were for the most part grown men, and
several fathers of families had tried to steal surreptitiously into it.
This Jeannie had stopped with good-humoured firmness.

“Go and sit with your wives,” she said, “and help to amuse the
children.”

But the smoking was the root of offence, and Mrs. Collingwood stumbled
heavily over it. She and her husband were dining at the Aveshams one
Saturday evening, and Jeannie, who had dressed before the class in order
not to break it up sooner than usual, came in, and, Mrs. Collingwood
said, “reeking of the pot-house.” But even Mrs. Collingwood, who had
been accustomed all her life to express things strongly, felt that her
expression fully met the enormities of the case.

The ramifications of the boys’ class and the girls’ class were
innumerable. There was the case of the girl who played the violin, and
the boy who professed to do the same. It was natural that they should be
taken together. But when it appeared that the boy in question was a
follower of the girl in question, Jeannie’s indignation knew no bounds.
“I would not play gooseberry to the Czar of Russia,” she exclaimed.

Then it happened that between the Literary Ladies and the glee club, the
boys’ class and the girls’ class, the violins, botany, and singing
lessons, Jeannie had not any hour of her own. There were also, as Miss
Fortescue said, several hours a week to be devoted to the suppression of
scandal. An instance of this occurred when Mrs. Vernon overheard an
animated conversation between Jeannie and a draper’s assistant in the
High Street. Jeannie’s voice carried, and the tones were audible to
passers-by.

“Do come round this evening about nine,” she said, “because the others
are dining out, and I shall be alone. Mind you come.”

He came.

One evening, about the end of October, Jeannie had had an unexpected
respite. The policeman who was learning botany had to go on unexpected
duty, owing to the illness of one of the staff, and she had an evening
free. It would be false to say that she was relieved, for the patient
was another of her boys, and she was anxious about him; but she
certainly ran up the stairs, two at a time, to the nursery, where the
evening toilet of the baby was going on. The baby was in his bath,
worshipping his toes. He crowed with delight when he saw Jeannie, and
when the bath was over the warm, wet body was blanketed and hoisted into
her lap. Jeannie was long ago initiated into the mysteries of the
evening meal, and the nurse, having mixed the patent food, went by
Jeannie’s request to her own supper, without any sense of shifting
responsibility on to untrustworthy shoulders.

It was a brisk, frosty evening, and the fire prospered in the grate.
Jeannie drew the nurse’s rocking-chair close to the fender and adjusted
the bottle. The baby was warm and hungry, and her thoughts turned
inward, soothed and driven there by the dear, helpless presence, and she
meditated nonsensically, so she told herself, as if she had been talking
alone to the baby.

“What do you know,” she thought, “of to-morrow and to-morrow and
to-morrow? Boys’ class to-morrow, and girls’ class the day after.
Somebody will play the violin a little less villainously, and some one
will perhaps not cut his finger at all. Oh, baby, it is a world where
things go slow. First the seed, and then the stalk, and who knows about
the corn? Supposing a storm comes in June? Ah, when will June come? How
I long for June!

“Poor little fatherless mite, are we so much better off than you? Oh,
baby, Heaven prevent us from getting morbid! Yes, those toes are quite
beautiful, and all your own. Nobody has any more toes than you, and
what a consolation that ought to be. But nobody has any less. There is
always that. We are all very average, and we have no right to expect
extraordinary happiness. Yet I do, and so do you; you think that you
will always have some one to hold you like this, and have a fire to look
at. But what if the fire goes out, and somebody drops you?”

Jeannie’s face had got quite grave over these unconsidered
possibilities. But her brow unclouded quickly.

“You tell me that there is the other side of the question,” she went on,
“and that somebody else whom you like better may come and sit here,
ready to take you when the first person is tired. So they may, so they
may. And if ever you prefer anybody else to me I will bite you.”

She closed her lips gently on a little pink shell ear that peeped out
from the blanket.

“I will bite you,” she went on, “and I will not hurt you. How should I
hurt you? You would have your avengers if I did. Many of them, many of
them, and myself among the first. Others also, one other particularly.
Oh, baby, I assure you that you are not in bad hands. That is a very
good man who comes to see you sometimes, that man whom I think you
recognise. He is clever, too, and once he painted a picture of a girl
and a puppy dog, which was quite extraordinarily like.”

Jeannie paused a moment, and adjusted the bottle again.

“What an impertinence, was it not? And I was very angry. You should have
seen us meet! He walked into the garden one day not long after, and I
told him what I thought. I said he was a cad; I troubled him not to do
that sort of thing again. I said it stamped a man, and he would have
done better to take example by his blessed mother, and write tracts for
the G. F. S., instead of spoiling good canvas and wasting his time in
trying to paint. He had no idea of line, I told him, and less of colour.
Did I really say all these things? I can not be quite sure: it is so
long ago.”

There was a step on the stairs, and the moment after the door opened
gently.

“May I come in?” said a voice.

Jeannie turned round quickly.

“Yes, come in, Mr. Collingwood,” she said. “I didn’t expect you till the
later train. Baby and I are having a talk, and I can’t get in a word
edgeways.”

“I caught the earlier train,” he said. “But I, too, didn’t expect to
find you here. Isn’t it the policeman’s night?”

Jeannie laughed.

“What an awful memory you have!” she said. “Isn’t it a great
responsibility? How did you think, to begin with, that it was the
policeman’s night?”

“I came a fortnight ago, you remember,” he said, “and you were late for
dinner because of the policeman.”

“Yes, that is quite true,” said Jeannie; “but poor Williams has a bad
headache and a touch of fever, and so Rankin is on duty.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jack. “But baby and I are the gainers.”

Jeannie pointed to the little pink face.

“Fast asleep, do you see,” she said, “two minutes after a heavy meal. He
always does that. Fancy falling fast asleep over dessert, and sleeping
on till eight next morning over the dinner-table. I must put him to
bed.”

Jack stood by the fire watching Jeannie tuck the baby into its cot with
deft fingers. All her movements were sharp and decided; her fingers
seemed to have an intelligence of their own.

“I must sit here till nurse comes up from her supper,” she said. “Look
at that seraph!”

“I think he has his share of luck, after all,” said Jack.

Jeannie sat down again in the rocking-chair.

“Oh, but the responsibility!” she sighed. “We all share it. I believe so
much of the happiness of one’s life depends on the happiness of one’s
babyhood. The first glimpses of consciousness are what make the
temperament.”

“He has a good chance, then.”

“It is a crying shame if he doesn’t,” said Jeannie. “It is the easiest
thing in the world to make that child crow with delight. If you laugh,
he laughs. Oh, we mustn’t talk so loud. We’ve awoke him.”

Jeannie slipped softly to the side of the cot and began crooning a
little baby-song:

    “Black grow the blackberries,
       Cherries are red,
     But golden are the curls
       That grow on baby’s head.

    “All the ladies in the land
       Come to see the show,
     But baby went on sleeping
       And baby did not know.”

Jack watched her intently, and a sudden thrill of passion throbbed in
him. There was something in the sight of the girl bending over the baby
and crooning in that low voice that stirred all his nature. Her
exquisite fitness there, her absorbing joy in the young thing was a
flash of revelation to him. Her dormant potential motherhood suddenly
became divine and real to him. Every vein in his body seemed to have
sent all the blood it contained in one great bound to his heart, and it
stood still on the top of its beat. A long-drawn breath hung suspended
in his lungs, and it was as if every particle of the warm, brisk air of
the nursery was bubbling intoxicating fire. The next moment all that
was within him bowed and fell and worshipped.

That moment of incorporeal existence must have been short, for Jeannie
had not got to the end of the second silly little verse when he was
aware of himself again, like a man who has come round after an
anæsthetic, feeling as if he had travelled swiftly from very far away.
But he did not come back to his normal consciousness; the world he awoke
to was different, and Jeannie filled it.

Almost simultaneously the nurse came softly in, and Jeannie got up
quietly.

“He is sleeping again now,” she said; “step gently, Mr. Collingwood.”

It was long past dressing time, and they went straight to their rooms.
During dinner Miss Fortescue was unusually vitriolic, and afterward they
played a game called Adverbs. Jack had only a confused recollection of
going out of the room, and being totally unable to guess what was
required of him on his return. Soon after this Jeannie and her aunt went
upstairs. Jack must have been really idiotic about the game, for Miss
Fortescue looked at him anxiously as she shook hands.

“I think you must have overworked yourself,” she said. “Be careful.”

She took several turns up and down her bed-room before ringing for her
maid. As she pulled the bell:

“Head over ears,” she remarked.



CHAPTER XIV


Long-continued drought had marked this summer-time, and when in
September no rain fell the papers had been full of acrimonious comments
on the ways of water-companies. The water-company at fault was really no
earthly controller, and the most intelligent body of men can not milk
the clouds. But the British public is not happy without its grievance,
and just now it was certainly enjoying itself immensely.

Wroxton had hitherto suffered less than other towns, but by the
beginning of October the supply began to cause uneasiness. But the
water-company had another spring up its sleeve, and, to quiet
complaints, about the second week in the month it was drawn upon, and
the intelligent public was deprived of its right to grumble.

The weather was hot and unseasonable, with the heat not of an
invigorating sun, but of the closed and vitiated atmosphere of a packed
room. Day after day a blanket of gray cloud covered the earth as with a
lid, yet the rain came not. A windless, suffocating calm environed the
earth; it was rank weather for man and beast. The perennial green of the
great downs faded to an unwholesome yellow, like a carpet that is losing
its colour from the sun, and the nights were dewless. The heavenly
forces that temper the frosts of winter with a benigant sun and the
heats of summer with the cool dews of night seemed to have been struck
dead. Clouds overset the earth, but neither dispersed nor discharged. It
was as if the vitality of the seasons had failed, as if the earth was
abandoned to decay.

Jeannie was immune from the assaults of climate, and Miss Fortescue went
out so seldom that she found no great disagreeableness in the stagnation
of the air. But Colonel Raymond felt it acutely, and said it was like
waiting for the rains in India. Miss Clara Clifford could no more write
poetry than she could play the mandolin, and Miss Phœbe would have as
soon thought of playing the mandolin as of embarking on an epic. But
the Colonel gave up the brisk walks while such dispiriting weather
lasted, and though Mrs. Raymond dwindled and paled, she found her
consolation in seeing the children play hide-and-seek among the
gooseberry bushes.

Ten days after the new spring had been drawn upon certain ill-defined
cases of illness began to appear in the town. For the most part they
were among children, and the doctors for a day or two considered them as
only a natural outcome of this long-continued sultriness and inclement
air. But they were not wholly at their ease about it, and as the cases
increased day by day it was no longer possible to exclude the idea that
this was an epidemic. By this time some of the first cases, which were
now five or six days old, began to look grave, and before the week was
out it was generally known that typhoid had appeared in many houses.

Several of Jeannie’s various classes were ill with the hitherto
unspecified fever, and she had been visiting them daily at their homes.
She was up in the nursery making herself agreeable to the baby one
morning when Miss Fortescue came in, looking grave.

“Jeannie, some of your girls have been ill, have they not?” she asked.

“Yes, four or five of them and several of the boys. I am just going out
to see them.”

“Leave the child,” said Miss Fortescue, “and come.”

Jeannie followed her, and a howl followed Jeannie.

“What is it, Aunt Em?” she asked, when they were outside.

“It is typhoid,” said Miss Fortescue.

Jeannie dropped her eyes for a moment, and then looked up.

“Is it infectious?” she asked; “I mean, can I carry it?”

“I don’t know,” said Miss Fortescue. “Jeannie, what is the matter with
you?”

Jeannie had sat down on a chair in the landing, and was looking in front
of her with wide, unseeing eyes.

“I may have given it to the baby,” she said.

“Jeannie, don’t be foolish,” said Miss Fortescue. “Oh, my dear, be
sensible. I have already written to Dr. Maitland saying that you had
been with probable typhoid cases, and asking what precautions one ought
to take. I thought it probable that you would be uneasy about the baby,
so I also asked whether it was possible that you had carried infection.
That was about half an hour ago; I expect the answer every moment.”

“Oh, Aunt Em,” said Jeannie, coming close to her, “you think it is all
right, don’t you? You don’t think I have been stupid or incautious?”

“I think you are being very stupid now,” said Aunt Em. “Ah, here is
Pool.”

The butler came upstairs and handed Miss Fortescue a note; she glanced
at it quickly.

“Such a risk of carrying typhoid as the one you mention is
inconceivable,” she read, “and a baby of a few months old having it at
all is unknown to the medical profession.”

She passed the note to Jeannie, who glanced at it.

“Oh, thank God, thank God!” she cried. “Aunt Em, I am going to see Dr.
Maitland at once.”

“The Avesham nerves,” sighed Miss Fortescue. “Surely the note is clear
enough.”

“Yes, it is not that,” said Jeannie; “but if this increases they will be
short of hands. I heard that all the nurses in the hospital were working
double time. I am going to say that I wish to help in any way that he
will allow me.”

Miss Fortescue looked at her a moment, and neither surprise nor
criticism was in her eye.

“We will go together,” she said; “let us go at once.”

“Why should you come?” asked Jeannie.

“Because I wish to. I know something about nursing, though I have never
nursed typhoid, which is more than you do, Jeannie.”

Jeannie looked surprised.

“I didn’t know--” she began.

“You know very little about me, dear,” said Miss Fortescue, “and that’s
a fact. Go and get on your hat. I suppose I ought to forbid you to visit
or help in any way, even forbid you suggesting it. But there are certain
risks on certain occasions which every one is bound to run. Whether the
risk in your case is too great to be allowed I do not know. That is
what we are going to Dr. Maitland to find out. I remember only that
people who are fortunate enough to be as old as I are practically
immune. I hear there are fifty fresh cases this morning.”

They found that Dr. Maitland was out and up at the hospital, where they
followed him. After they had waited for a few minutes in a bare, dismal
room, of which the principal furniture was a weighing-machine, a
stethoscope, and a bottle labelled “poison,” he came in, looking grave,
florid, and anxious.

“Yes, it is typhoid beyond a doubt,” he said, “and epidemic. Please sit
down. Personally I am disposed to think it may be traced to the
water-supply of the town, which has come since the drought was so bad
from an open spring in the Gresham fields. I am making a bacteriological
examination of it. Till that is settled I should advise you not to drink
it, or even use it for washing, except after boiling.”

“Are you very short of nurses?” asked Miss Fortescue.

“Yes, I am at my wit’s end to know what to do. My wife has volunteered
to help, and, I hear, two other ladies. There are some coming from
London and Shrewsbury to-day, but we have fifty fresh cases reported
this morning, and there will be certainly more I have not yet heard of.”

“Miss Avesham and I have come to offer our help,” said Miss Fortescue.
“I have been six months in a London hospital, and know something about
it, though I have never nursed typhoid.”

“That is very kind of you,” said Dr. Maitland, “and I accept your offer
most gladly. But it is right to tell you that you run some risk. As far
as we can see, the disease is of the most malignant type. Several have
died already, which is rare in the first week. In your case, Miss
Fortescue, the risk is light, but for younger people it must not be
disregarded. There is a risk.”

Miss Fortescue looked at Jeannie.

“I suppose many of the nurses are quite young,” said Jeannie.

“No doubt; but it is their profession.”

“Aunt Em, there is really no choice,” said Jeannie. “I am afraid I may
not be of much use, Dr. Maitland, but please let me do what I can.”

Dr. Maitland was not given to gushing any more than Miss Fortescue.

“I will certainly do so,” he said. “But you must remember that the work
is tiring and demands incessant watchfulness and patience, for typhoid,
above all other diseases depends on nursing. Please remember what I told
you about boiling and filtering water. If you cannot trust your
servants, see it done yourselves. There is no precaution half so
necessary.”

“And the baby?” asked Jeannie. “Is it quite safe that it should remain
here?”

Dr. Maitland had a merry eye.

“Perfectly,” he said. “But you will probably not think so. If you are in
any way likely to worry about it, send it away at once. I can not have
my nurses thinking about any thing but their patients. That is all, I
think. If you will be here again by half past two I will have arranged
about your duties.”

He shook hands with them, and went hurriedly back to his work. Miss
Fortescue and Jeannie came out again into the hot, drowsy atmosphere,
and walked a little way in silence.

“Think it over, Jeannie,” said the other at length. “I quite understand
that you are not frightened for yourself, and I never expected you would
be. But you have to consider your duty toward your brother and other
people who are fond of you. Me, for instance,” she added, with an
unusual burst of emotion.

“There is no choice,” said Jeannie. “I must help if I can, and I am sure
you see that. But what about the baby? Shall we send it away? No doubt
it is stupid of me, but I think I should be happier if it was not here.”

“It shall go this afternoon,” said Miss Fortescue. “We will telegraph to
Jack Collingwood.”

“Don’t alarm him,” said Jeannie, and stopped abruptly.

Miss Fortescue devoted several seconds to the consideration of this
remark, and then smiled on the side of her mouth away from Jeannie.

“How could he be alarmed?” she asked. “I shall say, of course, what Dr.
Maitland said, that typhoid is unknown in babies.”

“Yes, that will be all right,” said Jeannie, rather absently. “But don’t
make the outbreak too serious.”

And her enigmatic aunt smiled again.

Arthur had got in to lunch when they got back. He, too, had heard the
news about the typhoid.

“They told me you had both gone to the hospital,” he said. “What do they
say there? Is it very serious?”

“Yes,” said Miss Fortescue. “The baby goes to Jack Collingwood this
afternoon. Not that there is the least risk, but Jeannie is foolish. She
and I are going to help in nursing.”

He had not expected anything else, for he knew Jeannie. Aveshams were
not demonstrative, and he only looked at her quietly a moment.

“I supposed you would,” he said. “I suppose it is right. Is there much
risk?”

“Ordinary risk,” said Jeannie. “Dr. Maitland allowed it.”

“Yes, one wants to be of some use in such cases,” said Arthur. “I hear
the state of things in the lower part of the town is awful. The brewery
stops working to-day; there are over twenty men down with it. I wonder
if I could help?”

“No, Arthur, you mustn’t,” said Jeannie, quickly. “I wish you would go
away. Go up to Mr. Collingwood’s with the baby for a week or two. Dr.
Maitland said that for younger people the risk was greater.”

“Then we will ask him whether a man of twenty-three is much more liable
to infection than a girl of twenty-four,” he said. “It sounds highly
probable. Let’s come in to lunch. I am famished.”

Miss Fortescue went upstairs to tell nurse to pack and be ready to start
in the afternoon, and write a telegram to Jack Collingwood; and having
written it she paused for a moment, looking out of her window.

“It is a fine breed,” she said, “and it is not in my heart to stop
either of them. They will walk into the wards and feverful houses as if
they were going out to tea.”

Directly after lunch the two women turned out their wardrobes to find
some thin washing stuff suitable for their dresses. Jeannie could only
lay her hands on a pale-blue cotton, and though she was still in deep
mourning she put it on without question. As Miss Fortescue had said,
neither she nor Arthur regarded any possible risk for themselves any
more than they would have reckoned on the danger of a ceiling falling on
them as they sat at dinner. Personal fear was unknown to them, though
they both heartily wished the other would stop securely at home or go
with the baby. The three went up together to the hospital. Dr. Maitland
was there, and came to them at once, looking a little less florid, and a
little graver.

“Twenty more cases,” he said, “and two have died in hospital in the last
three hours, Miss Fortescue. Ah, how do you do, Mr. Avesham? What can I
do for you? I hope you haven’t come to get your temperature taken?”

Arthur laughed.

“No, not yet,” he said; “I only came with my aunt and sister to see if
you could find anything for me to do.”

“Certainly I can, and any one else also who comes. Start with Cowley
Street this afternoon--all that district is the worst--and see that all
the drinking-water in the houses is boiled. It is no use giving them
advice. See the pot on the fire. Don’t frighten them; encourage them,
and tell them they are perfectly safe if they will do what you tell
them. Go first to the dispensary here, and say I sent you, and tell the
man to give you plenty of bicarbonate of mercury, and instruct you how
it is to be used. Distribute it at the houses you visit, and show them
how to use it. Be sure they don’t put it into their drinking-water. By
the way, have you a room to spare?”

“Yes; at your disposal.”

“You see, I take you at your word when you offer to help,” said Dr.
Maitland. “Two friends of mine are coming from Guy’s to assist me, but I
can’t put them both up. May I send one on to you?”

“By all means,” said Arthur.

“Thank you very much,” said he. “There is no time nor need, I think, to
tell you how grateful I feel for your kindness. By the way, Mr. Avesham,
can you use a clinical thermometer? No? That’s bad. When you go to the
dispensary tell them to give you one, and take your own temperature and
the dispensary man’s temperature several times, under the tongue. Get a
thirty-second thermometer, and your temperature is 97·6°. Take it until
it is right. Then you know how to use one. In the houses you visit, if
you see a man, woman, or child ill, insist on taking their temperature.
If the thermometer registers as much as half a degree over 99 take their
names and addresses and tell me when you come back. Also, after taking
each temperature, if there is any fever, dip the thermometer into a
solution of the mercury and wipe it carefully. Good-bye, and many
thanks. The dispensary is the second door on the right.”

As soon as he was gone Dr. Maitland turned to the others.

“A fine absence of nervousness,” he said; “he looked as if he was going
to pay a call. And I don’t see any nervousness here, either. Miss
Fortescue, I think you said you knew something about nursing, so I have
put you with Nurse James in charge of the first ward. In a day or two
she will have put you in the way of your work, and then probably I shall
ask you to look after certain houses, or take charge of patients by
yourself. Miss Avesham also is under her in the same ward. You have
about forty cases, some very serious. Please put yourselves entirely in
her hands: she is admirable. There is no need to tell you that on your
care and watchfulness many lives depend. You will both have day nursing
only. This way, please.”



CHAPTER XV


The weeks that followed were the most terrible and most wearing that
Jeannie had ever known. During the first day or two she showed a real
aptitude for her work; she was gentle, firm, and untiring, and as the
epidemic increased Miss Fortescue was soon moved to help in a larger
ward, and a dozen cases in a smaller ward, off the one under Nurse
James, were put under Jeannie. The head nurse was thus always at hand in
case she wanted her, but otherwise Jeannie had to manage her patients
alone. It was a constant matter of anxiety to Jeannie as to whether she
ought or ought not to summon the other. At first the slightest rise in a
patient’s temperature seemed to her enough grounds on which to ask the
inspection of the elder woman, for she had been told she could not be
too careful. Nurse James herself was worked almost to death; and on
Jeannie’s calling her one day to look at a patient she had exclaimed,
snappishly:

“It would be less trouble to look after them myself.”

Jeannie flushed slightly, but said nothing, and went back to her work.
Nurse James hurried out of the room, but returned a moment later.

“You must forgive me, Miss Avesham,” she said, “but I am worried to
death. What we should do without you and Miss Fortescue I don’t know.
But the temperature always goes up a little in the afternoon; it is only
the very sudden rise or sudden falls, particularly the latter, which
need alarm you.”

Jeannie smiled.

“I see; I will try to remember,” she said. “You are very patient with
me.”

The work was terribly severe to any one unaccustomed to it. In her ward
were women and girls only, who were easier to manage than the men, but
who were more hopeless and apathetic, and Jeannie often thought that she
would sooner have them fretful and irritable if they only would be less
despondent. One woman, who was having the attack very slightly, and
getting through with it very well, would spend half the day in sulky
tears, pitying herself, and moaning over the cruelty of Jeannie, who, in
obedience to her orders, did not, of course, let her have a crumb of any
solid food. Sometimes when she was giving her a wash in the morning she
would be called away by another trying to raise herself in bed or
wanting to be attended to in some way, and when she came back there
would be nothing but querulous complaints of the time she had been left;
she felt sure she would catch a cold; Jeannie had not dried her properly
before she went. At another time she would beg for food with tears,
saying how she had read a story in which was described an epidemic of
typhoid, where a charitable lady in the village had sat by her patients
and fed them with cooling fruits. Jeannie had laughed at this, out of
the superiority of her ten days’ knowledge.

“My good woman,” she said, “if I wanted to kill you I should give you a
cooling fruit.”

“You are killing me with starvation,” cried the woman. “Look how thin I
have grown with a fortnight of this. Oh, for God’s sake, Miss, give me
just a crust of bread!”

Jeannie had finished washing her, and covered her up gently.

“Now I am leaving you, and I shall come again to you in two hours with
your milk,” she said. “Look, you have two hours before you. Just say
your prayers, and thank God for getting over this. And ask Him to make
you more sensible and more patient. You are more trouble than all the
rest of the ward put together.”

Jeannie took down the woman’s temperature-chart, which hung over her
bed, and put down the ten o’clock register.

“You are doing very well,” she said. “Just think over what I have said.”

The next case was as bad as a case can be. It was a girl not more than
sixteen years old, and even now, when the second week of the fever was
only just beginning, her strength was terribly exhausted by the
continued high fever. The afternoon before Jeannie had spent two hours
sponging her with iced water, and had only succeeded in bringing it
down to 102°. She came on duty herself at eight in the morning, and as
she put the thermometer into the child’s mouth she looked at the
temperature-chart. It had been 102° again at six in the morning, when it
should have been lowest, and she looked anxiously at the face. It was
very wan and thin, and the skin looked hard and tight as if it had been
stretched. Below the eyes were deep hollows, and though they were wide
open it was clear that the girl was scarcely conscious. She waited a
full half minute, and then drew the thermometer gently out of her mouth
and looked at it. It registered only 98°. She frowned and put it into
her mouth again, hoping there might have been some mistake. Then when
she saw it a second time she hurried into the next ward.

“That girl, Number 8,” she said to Nurse James, “had a six-o’clock
temperature of 102°. It has sunk to 98°.”

Nurse James hardly looked up; she was watching a man who lay quite
still, but tried every other moment to get up in bed.

“Dr. Maitland is in the next ward,” she said; “go and tell him at once.
It may be perforation. Then, when you have finished your round, if all
the rest are doing well, I wish you would come here while I finish. I
can’t leave this man alone. You can hear any sound in your ward from his
bed.”

Jeannie hurried on and told Dr. Maitland. He came at once, looked at the
girl, and shook his head.

“You did quite right to send for me, Miss Avesham,” he said. “Yes, she
is as bad as she can be. I can do nothing.”

At moments like these Jeannie felt sick and utterly helpless, and almost
inclined to say that she could bear it no longer. But she said nothing,
and went on to the next bed.

The next patient was a robust woman of about thirty with a baritone
voice. She proclaimed loudly that she was perfectly well, and was being
starved. Her gray Irish eyes used to plead with Jeannie for something to
eat, and she badly resented being washed. But this morning she took it
in silence, and thanked Jeannie.

“She’s bad?” she asked, looking hard to the next bed.

“Yes, very bad,” said Jeannie, hardly able to speak. She took the
woman’s chart down from the wall and indicated the ten-o’clock
temperature on it.

“You’re nearly through, I hope,” she said. “Yes, quite normal this
morning. Now all you have to do is to lie very quiet, and you will get
stronger every day. The doctor said you might have beef-tea this morning
instead of milk.”

She smiled at her rather sadly, and was passing on, but the woman seized
her hand.

“It’s cruel hard on ye,” said she; “but don’t mind so, don’t mind so.
An’ me worrying you and all. I’ll bite out me tongue before I say
another hasty word to ye.”

Then came two or three very bad cases. One was a frail, tired-looking
woman, who glanced at Jeannie wistfully as she examined the thermometer.

“I’m no better?” she asked.

Jeannie smiled, but with a heavy heart. The woman, she felt sure, could
not last through very many days of this.

“How do you feel?” she said.

“Weak and tired--oh, so tired! And I have a pain in my back.”

“Do you cough at all?” asked Jeannie.

“I couldn’t sleep for it last night,” said the woman, “and that makes a
body weary.”

“Keep yourself warm, then,” she said, “and lie still.”

“But I’m no better?” she asked again.

“That was one of the questions which we settled not to ask,” said
Jeannie. “When you are quite well you will get up. Till then, nothing,
nothing.”

Half an hour more sufficed to finish the round, and she went into the
next ward to watch the man who was so restless. For nearly an hour she
had to sit close by his bedside, with her hands continually pressing on
his shoulders to prevent his getting up. He was more than half
unconscious and wandering in his talk, saying things now and then which
ten days ago would have made Jeannie turn from him in horror and
disgust. But now she had nothing of that left, only pure pity and the
one great end in view to let none of these poor people die.

Then when Nurse James had finished her round she came back to her, and
by then it was time to get the patients’ food. Some of the more advanced
and progressing cases were already allowed Mellin’s Food, but for the
most it was still only milk and beef-tea.

At mid-day she had a couple of hours’ interval, usually returned home to
lunch, and went afterward for a walk. But to-day she felt too fagged and
too sick at heart to do more than sit in the garden and beneath the
pitiless leaden cowl of the sky. The effort of appearing cheerful and
remaining cheering was too great, and when alone she abandoned herself
to a sort of resigned hopelessness. Just before leaving the ward she had
seen the terrible screen put up round the bed of the girl who was dying.
That was all the privacy that could be given her. She almost hoped that
when she got back the end would have come; only two days before she had
sat in the still and awe-struck ward while a woman passed through her
last hours. She had heard the wandering, inarticulate cries; she had
counted her breaths through the long, pitiless silences; she had shut
her teeth hard to bear, without screaming audibly, that one last
exclamation in which the spirit clutches with unavailing hands not to be
torn away from the inert body, the one last convulsive breath in which
the body tries to retain it, and she thought she could hardly bear it
again. Then she cudgelled and contemned herself for her paltry, selfish
cowardice. Was there ever, she thought, a girl so puny-spirited?

During these ten days in which she had been nursing the epidemic had
showed no signs of abatement. Sometimes for a couple of days the return
of the fresh cases was suddenly diminished, and once when Jeannie went
to the hospital at eight in the morning to take up her duties they told
her that there had been no fresh cases reported since the night before.
But on all these occasions the lull was only temporary, and in the next
twelve hours there would perhaps be seventy more reported. She pictured
the disease to herself like some hideous monster which would lie down to
sleep for a few hours after one of its gigantic meals, and then, when
the victims were digested, would rise up again and clutch at them with
his hot hands. Once as she was leaving the hospital Dr. Maitland had
called her into his consulting-room to ask her a question about one of
her patients, and as she rose to go he had said:

“Would you like to see what is the matter with all these people?”

He pointed to a microscope which stood on the table, and Jeannie looked
through it at the drop of water which was beneath the lenses.

“There are a quantity of typhoid bacilli in that,” he said; “they are
long and black, with one pointed end, rather like pencils.”

He adjusted the light for her, and among the infinitesimal denizens of
the water she saw five or six little dark lines seemingly as lifeless as
the rest. She drew back with a shudder.

“I thought of it as some terrible beast with claws and teeth,” she said;
“but this is the more terrible.”

Never before had she realized on what a hair-breadth path this
precarious life of ours pursues its way. The strength and the wit and
the beauty of man were slaves and puppets in the hands of this minute
organism. A king on his throne mixes one day a little water with the
wine in his golden cup, and with it one of these black pencils,
invisible but to a high power of lens, and thereafter he ascends his
throne no more, but another sits in his place, before whom they sing
“God save the King.” And the father is but one among the uncounted dead.

This afternoon, as she sat under the trees in the garden after her
lunch, thoughts like these flitted bat-like through the gloomy chambers
of the brain. How insignificant and insecure was life! It was like some
ill-constructed clock which might stop any moment. And how mean and
trivial were all its best aims. Here was she, with a fair average of
birth and brains and heart, and life held for her no more heroic task
than to wage war--and, oh, how hopelessly!--with an infinitesimal atom.
The peace and sheltered security of Wroxton, the busy tranquility she
had fashioned for herself here, were all knocked in the dust. Everything
was at the mercy of the bacillus.

Luckily for her peace of mind these unfruitful imaginings were
interrupted by Pool. She did not hear his step on the soft grass, and
his voice spoke before she knew he was there.

“Mr. Collingwood is here, Miss,” he said, “and wants to know if you can
see him.”

Jeannie did not move, but her voice trembled a little.

“Yes, ask him to come out here,” she said; “and bring another chair.”

She rose to meet him.

“Ah, how do you do?” she said. “Tell me, the baby is quite well?”

“Quite well,” he said, and then there was silence.

Pool brought out another chair, and still in silence they sat down.
Jeannie’s heart had suddenly begun to beat furiously.

“I heard from Arthur this morning,” he said, “and that is why I am here.
I knew, of course, from the papers that there was an epidemic of typhoid
here, and I was frightened. But his letter told me more. It told me that
you spent all your days in nursing at the hospital. And I could not bear
it.”

Jeannie said nothing, but a great, pervading peace took possession of
her troubled soul. It was as if she had suddenly passed from a stormy,
mountainous sea round into a harbour, and the bacilli resumed their real
dimensions.

“I could not bear it,” he said, again looking at her.

No word of explanation passed between them. His right to question what
she did Jeannie did not dispute, and he did not miss the significance of
that.

“I could not help myself,” she said. “It was impossible for me not to do
what I could. Oh, it has been a terrible time, and we are not at the end
of it yet. Oh, these poor people!”

“Leave the place, come away,” he began, suddenly and passionately, but
then stopped, for he saw in Jeannie’s face the light of pity, divine and
human and womanly, and all that was selfish in his love for her, all
that said “I cannot live without her,” died.

“Do not leave the place,” he resumed. “Do all that your heart prompts
you to do. But promise me this--promise that you will leave no
precaution untaken to minimize the risk to yourself. I know there is no
need to ask you that, because that is your duty as much as the other,
but it will comfort me to hear you say it.”

“I promise you that,” said Jeannie, simply.

The divine deed was done, and the word yet unspoken had changed all.
Three minutes before there had been only a leaden sky, the withered,
drought-yellowed grass round her, but the grass was become the paved
sapphire of the courts of heaven, and the sky was the sky. Each of them
was so utterly in tune with the other that Jack felt no desire to speak
directly, nor did Jeannie wish it. The pause out of which music should
issue was theirs.

“And what is to be done with me?” he asked, in a lighter tone. “May I
stop here?”

“No, Jack,” she said, and the utter unconsciousness with which she spoke
his name smote him with sweetness. “No, you are to go back to your work,
too. We have all got our work; nothing can refute that. Tell me about
the baby.”

“He cries for you,” said Jack.

“Kiss him for me then, and pray for us. Oh, let me tell you about it
all. It will do me good, and I am too heart-sick to talk it over with
the others. If I tell Aunt Em about my cases it is a double burden for
her, and if she tells me about hers it is double for me. Arthur behaves
splendidly. He goes his rounds all day, like a milkman, he says, with
cans of disinfectants.”

“Ah, he helps too, does he?” said Jack. “He never mentioned that in his
letter.”

“No? That is so like the dear boy. He has found lots of cases which they
were trying to keep dark, for they hate going to hospital, and he alone
of us all remains perfectly cheerful. But it is terrible at the
hospital. I have about a dozen cases almost entirely under me. One died
two days ago; another, I am afraid, will die to-day. It is so awful to
work and work and work, and with what result? Oh, I am a stupid,
ungrateful little fool! Is it not enough to find that little silver line
on the thermometer a little lower than it was at the same time
yesterday, and perhaps a degree lower than it was the day before? But
one feels so helpless. And it is all on account of a little invisible
demon which the carelessness of dirty people allowed to get into the
water-supply. People talk of the horror of war. The horror of
water-companies seems to me the more frightful.”

Jeannie paused a moment.

“But I would not have gone through it, and I would not be now going
through it for the kingdoms of the world,” she said. “The mischief has
been done, and it is an inestimable privilege to be allowed to help in
minimizing the results. It is giving me a new view of life, Jack. Here
in this sheltered, peaceful town I was in danger, I think, of becoming a
sort of ruminating animal, sleek, and living in the meadows like a sort
of cow.”

“I didn’t gather you were in danger of that,” remarked Jack. “You did
happen to hold some classes in your meadow, did you not?”

“Yes, classes of other cows. We were all cows together--at least I was.
But out of all this suffering there comes, I know not what--certainly
despondency; but I do not believe that that is the permanent net
result. One learns what a little thing is life, and how great. Also it
seems as if I was learning to be egoistic.”

She got up out of her chair.

“Oh, you have done me good!” she cried. “Look, what was that?”

Jack had seen it, too; it was as if the sky had winked. They waited in
silence, and in a few minutes came the growl of answering thunder.
Jeannie stretched out her arms with a great sigh.

“Thunder!” she cried. “Perhaps there will be rain. How I have prayed for
that. You don’t know what it may mean to us. Well, what is it, Pool?”

“Mrs. Raymond is here, Miss,” said he, “and would like to speak to you.”

“Very well, I will come in. Wait here, Mr. Collingwood; I will see what
she wants.”

Jeannie went indoors with a new briskness of step and found Mrs. Raymond
standing helplessly in the middle of the drawing-room.

“Oh, Miss Avesham,” she said, “will you come? Maria is ill, and I can’t
find any doctor in. So I thought, if you would be so kind, you would
come and look at her, as I heard you have been working at the hospital.”

“When was she taken ill?” asked Jeannie.

“She wasn’t well yesterday at lunch, and had no appetite. And my husband
said it was all nonsense and took her out for a walk. She was very bad
last night, but he said she would be all right in the morning, and now
she’s no better.”

Jeannie gave a little exclamation of impatience, and looked at her
watch.

“Yes, I’ve just got time before I go back to the hospital,” she said.
“Have you a carriage here?”

“Yes, it’s waiting,” said Mrs. Raymond.

“Very good; get in. I’ll follow you in a moment.”

She went quickly into the garden again.

“I must go,” she said to Jack. “I have to see a girl before I go back to
the hospital.”

“And I am to go back to paint my silly little pictures?” he asked.

“Yes; you don’t paint badly, you know!”

“I will try and paint better. But I may come again?”

Jeannie shook hands with him.

“Yes, do come again,” she said.



CHAPTER XVI


They drove quietly through the dusty, sultry streets, and came in a few
minutes to Lammermoor. Mrs. Raymond conversed all the time in a low,
monotonous voice, like the tones of some one talking in their sleep,
chiefly in defence of her husband, though Jeannie had said no word about
him.

“Colonel Raymond is so very strong himself,” she said, “and I think
sometimes that he doesn’t quite make allowance for the children. But he
disagrees with me, and I dare say he is right. He always finds a good
walk, he says, the best cure for a headache or a feeling of tiredness;
he says such things are best walked off. But with children, you know, it
may be different; they are so easily tired, and the Colonel always walks
very fast. But Maria’s walk yesterday certainly did her no good, and my
husband was as anxious as myself to-day that some one should see her,
and the doctors were all out. That was why I came for you, and it is so
good of you to come. Colonel Raymond is terrified for the child; he does
not at all like illness in the house. He has seen so much illness in
In--in his service. And here we are!”

Jeannie followed Mrs. Raymond up the narrow gravel walk and up the three
stone steps, with balls at the top and bottom, into Lammermoor. A strong
smell of tobacco and camphor was apparent in the hall.

“Colonel Raymond says smoking is the best disinfectant,” explained his
wife, “and he has been sprinkling camphor about in the study and in the
dining-room. He says camphor is a good disinfectant, too.”

Jeannie sniffed.

“I should recommend you to open all the doors and windows in the house
and let in some fresh air,” she said. “Fresh air is better than either
camphor or tobacco.”

“I will tell my husband what you say,” said Mrs. Raymond. “Will you step
into the drawing-room a moment, Miss Avesham? I know Robert would like
to see you.”

“I really haven’t time,” said Jeannie. “I must be back at the hospital
at three.”

“Then perhaps you will come upstairs straight?” said the other.

The house reeked of the Colonel’s disinfectants as they mounted the
stairs. On the first floor the door into his dressing-room was just
open, disclosing a view of him putting some clothes into a small valise,
with a cigar in his mouth, and in his shirt-sleeves.

“Oh, here is Robert,” said Mrs. Raymond, in her thin voice. “Robert,
here is Miss Avesham very kindly come to see Maria. What are you doing,
dear?”

The Colonel treated Jeannie to his best military bow, and took the cigar
out of his mouth, but his usual heartiness was absent from his greeting.

“Very kind of you, very kind, I am sure, Miss Avesham,” he said, “to
come and see our poor little Maria. The hot weather--she feels the hot
weather, poor child.”

A curious, grim look came into Jeannie’s face. Like most people who have
the salt of courage necessary for the conduct of life she felt unkindly
toward cowardice. She noticed also that this bluff and gallant
gentleman did not advance to meet her, but rather retreated farther into
his room. She remembered also the confidence that Miss Clifford had made
her on the stair-case, and she hardened her heart.

“How do you do, Colonel Raymond?” she said, still advancing toward him,
but the Colonel retreated behind his open luggage.

“What are you doing, Robert?” asked his wife again, in the same voice.

Colonel Raymond did not reply at once, and Jeannie did not break his
silence.

“Well, I’m packing,” he said, at length. “If there’s illness in the
house a man is only in the way. Better make myself scarce, you know;
better make myself scarce.”

Jeannie looked at him fixedly for a moment. Then, breaking into a smile:

“You need not be frightened,” she said. “For any one well over forty
there is really no risk, even when typhoid is about. And I thought you
said it was only the hot weather that had tried your daughter. Well,
Mrs. Raymond, I have to be back at the hospital very soon, and I think
we had better go and see your daughter at once.”

She turned her back on the Colonel, and followed Mrs. Raymond to a
higher story.

“My husband is very careful about infection,” said the latter as they
mounted the stairs. “That is so right, is it not? But I did not know he
was thinking of going away.”

“He is quite right to be careful of infection,” said Jeannie. “But there
is no need for him to go; and, indeed, we do not know if there is any
reason yet.”

Maria slept in the same room with one of her sisters, the eldest having
the dignity of a room to herself. Jeannie cast one glance at the little
haggard, fevered face, and took out her thermometer.

“Put it under your tongue, dear,” she said, “and keep it there till I
take it away. Don’t bite it. No, it’s not medicine; it doesn’t taste
nasty.”

She glanced at it at the end of half a minute.

“That’s all right,” she said, reassuringly. “How do you feel?”

“Headache,” piped the little feeble voice from the bed.

“We’ll soon make that all right then,” said Jeannie. “Now lie quite
still and covered up, and your mother will come to you again.”

“And I sha’n’t go a walk to-day?” said Maria.

“No, you shall stay in bed and rest. You are a little tired.”

Jeannie closed the door when they came out.

“Yes, she has high fever,” she said to Mrs. Raymond. “Go and sit with
her, and don’t let her raise herself in bed. I am afraid it is typhoid,
but we can’t tell yet. I will see you again before I leave the house. I
am just going to speak to your husband, unless you will take the
responsibility of what you do.”

“You must speak to him, then,” said Mrs. Raymond. “But please remember,
dear Miss Avesham, how careful he is about infection.”

“Yes, I will remember,” said Jeannie.

The dressing-room door was shut when she went downstairs again, and she
knocked at it. It flew open, and it seemed to Jeannie that the Colonel
thought he was opening to his wife.

“I want to speak to you, Colonel Raymond,” she said. “Oh, please don’t
apologize for the state of your room. I have only a minute, and you need
not come downstairs.”

“You have seen Maria?” asked the Colonel.

“Yes; she is ill. She must be treated as if she had typhoid.”

“God bless my soul!” exclaimed the Colonel. “Why, I have seen men die of
it like flies!”

“They are dying of it like flies here,” said Jeannie. “Now I don’t want
to dissuade you from going away, though for a man of your age there is
really no risk. Still there is no telling what fright will do. If you
were frightened of whooping-cough you might still catch it. But I want
to know this. Will you send your daughter to the hospital? She will be
as well looked after there as here; it will take anxiety off your wife,
and you can take the other two children away with you. Might I trouble
you to open the window? This mixture of camphor and cigar is
overpowering.”

“She would go as a paying patient?” asked the Colonel.

“Of course,” said Jeannie.

“Then, upon my soul, Miss Avesham, I think we’ll keep her here. She’ll
be better looked after in her own home. My wife is an excellent nurse,
and any little delicacies she might require will be more easily supplied
at home.”

“As you will,” said Jeannie. “If, as I am afraid, it is typhoid, you
will of course have to have two trained nurses, by day and night. Mrs.
Raymond told me the decision would be with you.”

Colonel Raymond looked undecided, and slipped on his coat.

“Very difficult to decide,” he said, “very difficult. Which do you
recommend, Miss Avesham?”

“It is difficult to choose,” said Jeannie. “Ah, it lightened again; I
hope we shall have rain. As you say, perhaps she would be more
comfortable here. Please tell me at once. I am going straight back to
the hospital, and I will tell them to send an ambulance if you decide
she should go.”

“Well, she shall go, she shall go,” said the Colonel. “Nothing like
proper treatment.”

“I think you have decided right,” said Jeannie. “The other child who
sleeps in the same room must, of course, be removed at once. You have a
spare room? If not, no doubt you could make her a bed here in your
dressing-room.”

“That would be possible,” said the Colonel.

“And since the case is removed,” said Jeannie, “it will no longer be
necessary for you to go away. Please don’t trouble to come down, as I
can let myself out.”

As Jeannie left the house she noticed that the south was black with
cloud. The texture of it was different to what it had been during the
last fortnight of congested weather. The sky was no longer leaden and
dry, but moist and dark with imminent rain. A little wind was beginning
to blow in fitful gusts from the same quarter, and leaves nearly dead
danced with clouds of whirling dust about the road. Already in the air
was the hint of a change; her heart was lighter, for the two hours had
been like a caress to her troubled spirit. She had been worn with
fruitless effort; the collar of the suffering world chafed her, but one
hand brought healing to her, and her heart was holpen.

She reported the case of probable typhoid to a doctor, and went back to
her ward. Nurse James met her with a smiling face, and when Nurse James
smiled it was not without reason.

“That girl you left so ill this morning is no worse,” she said. “If
anything, she is a little stronger. Dr. Maitland thinks that the sudden
drop in the temperature may be after all a sudden turn for the better.
He says it occasionally happens. Certainly if there had been perforation
we should have known by now. Watch her very carefully.”

All the afternoon remote lightning winked distantly in the sky, and the
answering thunder got ever gradually louder and more continuous. The
wind had veered into the north-west, and was coming in sudden claps and
buffets of hot air, and the storm, a distant rack of coppery, hard-edged
cloud, distinct and different from the heavy, soft vapours overhead, was
approaching slowly from the opposite quarter. The oppression of the air
was as intolerable as ever, and strangely more acute, the remote heavens
seemed to be pressing down on the earth like a hot lid over a stewing
pot. But in the ward there was a general feeling of cheerfulness, easy
to perceive, hard to define, a survival doubtless in man of the curious
instinct in animals which makes them smell an approaching storm and
warns the domestic sort that an earthquake is coming. The earth and the
fever-stricken town were waiting for a change, which could not be for
the worse. Of them all, only the girl who had been almost despaired of
that morning lay quite still and apathetic, and again and again Jeannie
went to her bedside betwixt hope and fear.

About five the storm burst in riotous elements. For an hour before that
the strain had been almost unbearable. The forked flashes of lightning,
the dry growl of the thunder had approached nearer and nearer, and all
the earth seemed to pause, finger on lip, for the catastrophe. Now and
then a few rain-drops as big as pennies fell down upon the pavements,
and vanished again like a breath on a frosty morning on the hot, thirsty
stones. Then suddenly the heavens burst, a ribbon of blue fire leaped
downward from the zenith, and the noise of the thunder was as if the sky
had cracked. One woman half raised herself in bed and cried, “Lord, have
mercy!” but at the end of the words came a sound as if a thousand snakes
had hissed in the street outside, the blessed whisper of rain, and all
was changed.

The girl who was so ill moved slightly and laid one hand outside the
bed-clothes; the woman who had cried aloud lay back in bed smiling;
Jeannie felt a pulse rise in her throat and subside again, and outside
the hiss of the snakes changed to a drumming on the roof, which got
gradually louder and more insistent. Perpendicularly it fell, like rods
of steel, and as the seconds added themselves into minutes the roofs,
drains, and gutter-pipes began to gurgle and chuckle to themselves, and
never was there a song so sweet. These guttural sounds grew ever fuller,
and in a few minutes, with a great splash, they choked and overflowed in
bubbling laughter. Again and yet again the lightning tore a path through
the clouds, and at each reverberation in the baptism of fire the earth
grew regenerate and young. The hot, stifling smell of the last six weeks
turned to something infinitely fresh and vigorous, and down the
pavements and over the roads began to flow the flushing streams.

Five was the hour of the afternoon milk and beef-tea, and Carmel hour,
as it seemed to Jeannie, of the evening sacrifice. Food and the healing
rain were poured out, a sign of His hand, abundant, health-giving.
Exultantly she went her rounds, and found smiling faces. One only did
not smile, for the girl lay in deep, natural sleep, as if the racket and
tumult outside were a lullaby to her. Outside it had grown very dark;
the wind had ceased; but as if to compensate for the darkness, from
moment to moment an intolerable brilliance of lightning made a tenfold
brightness. It was as if the town was beleaguered by the artillery of
the sky, and from right and left fired unceasingly the guns of heaven.
In the intervals between the flashes colour was blotted out from the
world, dark roofs and black trees huddled together to meet a sky
scarcely more luminous. Then in a moment the colour would be restored.
The geraniums in the boxes outside the window, black before, leaped into
their scarlet liveries; the black elm-tops, a dark blob, became an
outlined company of green leaves, and the tiled roofs of the houses were
red once more. A noise as of a hundred sacks of marbles poured out on to
a wooden floor endorsed the truths, and once again the world became
shadow and the click of gutters.

By six the first violence of the storm was momentarily abated. Sullen,
blessed rain-clouds hung ready to burst, but when Jeannie and Miss
Fortescue came to leave the hospital they passed unwetted down to Bolton
Street. In Jeannie’s head an easy melody of love and joy bubbled and
repeated, and listening to it she was silent. But Aunt Em spoke.

“I wish I had brought goloshes,” she said. “But I am glad this rain has
come; it will flush the drains.”

It was Miss Fortescue’s habit, though those who knew her best least
suspected it, to commend herself and those she loved to the special care
of God every night. Though she never talked about religion, there was
nothing in the world more real to her than her communion with things
unseen. But she never lost sight of her undoubted connection also with
things seen, and to-night her devotions were tepid. For at dinner
Jeannie had been altogether unaccountable, the obsession of gravity and
responsibility which had beleaguered her during the past week was
altogether absent, and Miss Fortescue wondered what had driven it away.
She had laughed and spilled things with the mastery of custom, and after
dinner she had stopped in the dining-room with Arthur, smoking a
cigarette.

Now Jeannie’s cigarette was, properly speaking, not a cigarette at all,
but a barometer. It argued a very rare content and an almost passionate
acceptance of the present circumstances of life. For weeks past, and
more especially since this epidemic had come to the town, Jeannie could
no more have smoked than she could have flown, and something, so argued
Miss Fortescue, must have occurred to send her needle up this sky-high
weather. The thunder-storm and the clearing of the air no doubt were
predisposing causes, and so also might be reckoned the wonderful turn
for the better of the case of the girl whose life had been despaired of
that morning. But Miss Fortescue was not content to accept these alone
as sufficient reasons. They would have occasioned relief, but no more,
and this sudden rise in the barometer was due to the removal of a more
marked depression. So, instead of going to bed, she put on her
dressing-gown, and knocked softly at Jeannie’s door, and receiving no
answer went in.

The room was brilliantly lighted. Jeannie seemed to have lit all the
candles she could find, and she herself was standing far from the door
by the wide-flung window and looking out into the night. She too had
taken off her dress and put on a short-sleeved dressing-gown, which left
her arms bare to nearly the shoulder. Her hair was hanging down her back
in a great black river as far as her waist, and her face, nearly in
profile, was cut like a cameo against the dark square of the night. The
rain had begun to fall heavily again, and the room was filled with the
“sh-sh-sh” of the drinking grass. Just as Miss Fortescue stood at the
door the blackness outside turned to a sheet of blue flame, and the
thousand rods of the rain became for a moment a prism of colour. Jeannie
started, and turning half round saw her aunt. A smile of great happiness
played round her mouth, and she held up her head, listening. In another
half second came the great gongs of thunder in answer to the lightning,
and she laughed with pleasure.

“Hear them, hear them!” she cried. “Oh, Aunt Em, isn’t it splendid? And
the rain! Oh, the rain! Have you come for a talk? That is good also, for
I cannot go to bed yet. Let us pull out our chairs to the window.”

Now, Miss Fortescue hated thunder-storms and snakes and German bands,
but she hated thunder-storms the most. But Jeannie’s happiness was too
infectious to be denied, and she sat down in the chair by her.

“Oh, I am so happy!” cried Jeannie. “Listen at the rivers down the
gravel walks. There won’t be a flower in the garden to-morrow.”

“I don’t know that that is altogether an advantage,” said Aunt Em.
“Haven’t you got a better reason than that?”

“Hundreds,” said Jeannie. “I am sane again. I was looking at things
awry, and I have been put right.”

“Who put you right?” asked Aunt Em.

“Why, Mr. Collingwood!” said Jeannie. “He was here this afternoon.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Miss Fortescue.

Jeannie looked at her with frank surprise.

“That never occurred to me,” she said. “Now I come to think of it, you
couldn’t have known. He came just after lunch, and we talked together
for about half an hour.”

Again a ribbon of instantaneous flame was dangled from the sky, and the
thunder replied with a short, unechoed clap. Miss Fortescue’s chair was
a little behind Jeannie’s, and as the girl leaned eagerly forward at the
lightning she saw the bright, wholesome colour flood her face and arms.
And when she turned to her, the transcendent brilliance in her face was
a thing to wonder at.

“Yes, even that,” said Jeannie, employing the figure of speech known as
hiatus. “Oh, Aunt Em! And to think that you never knew all I have known
so well this afternoon.”

There was something infinitely simple and noble in the girl’s gesture of
happiness, and Miss Fortescue’s eyes were suddenly dim.

“Jeannie, you mean it?” she cried.

“I mean it. I did not mean to tell you yet, yet I never meant not to.
Have you guessed, or have I told you? I hardly know. It matters less.
But so it is!”

“Jeannie, Jeannie!” cried Miss Fortescue, and the girl was folded in her
arms.

For a moment she lay there, her face buried on Miss Fortescue’s
shoulder, her hair lying in coils, her arms, warm, supple, clinging,
clasped round her neck, and for half a quarter of that embrace jealousy
of all the insolent happiness of youth rose bitter in the elder woman’s
throat. Here was a young life, one very dear to her, made suddenly
complete, and with a pang as overpowering as it was brief, Miss
Fortescue raged inwardly over her unfinished, incompleted life. But the
next moment all in her that was womanly, all that was true and good rose
triumphant. Her outward cynicism, her assumed hardness, fell from her
like a peeled bark, and the heart of the tree was sound. But Jeannie had
felt the slack return to her eager embrace, and she raised her head.

“You do not understand what it means to me,” she said. “You have never
known.”

But Miss Fortescue’s arms closed round her.

“Yes, dear, I have known,” she said, “though that was one of the things
you never knew about me. I have known, dear Jeannie----”

Jeannie raised herself to a kneeling position by her chair, and the
inimitable unselfishness of love stung her heart.

“I am a little brute,” she said, quietly. “First forgive me, and then we
will talk.”

She looked up in the other’s face, and for a moment hardly recognised
her. The plain, strong face was no longer there; a dim-eyed girl sat in
the chair above her.

“That is no word from me to you, Jeannie,” she said. “It is an insolence
to say one forgives those one loves. But I have known.”

A crowd of confused, scarcely remembered moments suddenly sprang into
Jeannie’s mind. She looked like one awakened suddenly from sleep by a
loud noise.

“Tell me,” she said.

Miss Fortescue shook her head.

“The thing is past,” she replied. “I have buried it.”

Again the wild bull’s-eye of the storm flashed through the window, and
Miss Fortescue drew instinctively away. But Jeannie’s arm detained her.

“Do tell me,” she said again, “unless it would hurt you.”

“It would not hurt me,” said Miss Fortescue.

Jeannie suddenly stood up.

“What do you mean?” she said. “Is it possible that I guess, Aunt Em?”

Again the light of youth flooded Miss Fortescue’s face.

“Yes, dear, it is possible,” she said.

“My father,” said Jeannie, simply.

“Yes, your father.”

Jeannie sat down on the arm of Miss Fortescue’s chair, and kissed her
impulsively.

“Oh, Aunt Em, Aunt Em,” she said. “And I never knew. Yet that was
natural. I could not have known, could I, until I was able to know,
until to-day in fact, and it was like you, so like you, to give us no
possibility of guessing. Tell me all, unless it is bitter to you.”

“There is no bitterness about love,” said Miss Fortescue, gently. “How
it is possible for a woman to love and be bitter, even though her love
is not returned, I cannot guess. But once, so I thought, my love was
returned. I do not know; I may be wrong. Then he met your mother,
and--and they were very happy. And how, unless I was the lowest of God’s
creatures, could I wish anything more than that my sister and the man I
loved should love each other.”

There was a long silence, broken only by the steady hiss of the rain on
the grass outside. Jeannie’s head lay on Miss Fortescue’s shoulder, but
she did not speak. The occasion lay beyond the realm of words, and could
be met only by that great silence which is the language of hearts. The
familiar figure of her aunt had been suddenly transformed, her care and
protection for the children of her sister had on the moment become to
Jeannie a thing more sweet and tender than she had ever dreamed of, the
mask playful, severe, grotesque even, which she had known was only a
mask, was removed, and how fair-featured a soil lay below. She could not
estimate the sweet strength which even then had been so powerless to
imbitter, nor what must have been the daily sacrifice in her life. It
was not for her either, she felt, to judge her father. Perhaps, as Miss
Fortescue had said, he had never loved her, or at any rate had never
known she loved him. Jeannie was only ten when her mother died, and
since then Aunt Em had always lived with them, a mother--how truly so,
she never knew till this moment--to all three of them.

But presently Miss Fortescue went on, still without any tremor in her
voice.

“So all this has been another bond between us, dear Jeannie,” she said.
“I have always felt that as the sister of your mother and as a woman who
loved your father, God, in that inscrutable way of His, gave me a
peculiar charge. And the charge has been very sweet to me. Oh, my dear,
I don’t say it was always easy. It would be foolish to pretend that, but
nothing that is easy is worth doing. That is always a consolation--no,
not a consolation, but a strength--when one’s way seems difficult.
Perhaps all difficult things are not worth doing, but it is only among
them that you find anything that is. And when a difficult thing lies so
clearly in one’s path as this, one may take it for granted that one is
meant to try one’s hand at it. And I have tried, Jeannie.”

Jeannie’s face was still buried on her shoulder.

“Oh, Aunt Em, Aunt Em,” was all she could say.

Aunt Em stroked her hair gently.

“And then this unreasonable old aunt of yours,” she continued, “in order
to crown her efforts, comes like a burglar into your room and makes you
cry.”

Jeannie lifted her head and smiled at her through her tears.

“I am not crying unhappily,” she said; “and really, I am going to cry no
more. I was crying only because things were so big, and the world was so
fine, and I was so little. Is that reasonable, do you think? I rather
believe it is. Oh, Aunt Em, if I could only tell you how I honor you!”

“I prefer that you should love me a little, Jeannie; that is quite
enough. Spare me a little from Jack; there will be plenty left. Oh, my
dear, I am so glad! I always liked that rude young man who painted your
portrait. Weeks ago I knew he loved you, and I hoped--I hoped that you
might love him.”

“How could I help it?” cried Jeannie. “And what have I done that this
great gift should come to me?”

“You have grown up into an attractive young woman,” remarked Aunt Em,
with a brisk return to her more usual attitude toward life, “and he into
an attractive young man. That, to judge by the marriages one often sees,
is more than enough.”

Jeannie laughed.

“Oh, I am happy, I am happy!” she cried. “What a day I have had: that
girl turned the corner, the blessed rain fell, I talked with Jack in the
garden, and I have talked to you.”

“And now you are going to bed,” said Miss Fortescue. “So I shall be off
to my room. Kiss me, my dear, once more.”

She rose as she spoke, and Jeannie, bending from her height, kissed her
on the forehead and on the cheeks, and without another word Aunt Em took
up her candle and went back to her room.

It was already after midnight and Jeannie undressed quickly and, putting
out her illumination of candles, got into bed. How long she lay there
without sleeping she did not know, but at last the myriad-voiced rain
outside blended indistinguishable into tones she knew, and in her dreams
she communed with Jack.

All night long the storm bellowed and flickered about the town, but
about four in the morning the guns of heaven were silent, and the rain
began to fall less heavily, and when Jeannie woke, soon after six, the
room was filled with the transparent aqueous light of a clear dawn. A
smell of unutterable cleanliness came in through the open window, and
from her bed she saw the last star fade in the dove-coloured sky. Short
as had been her sleep, she felt no inclination to lie in bed, and got up
and went to the bath-room. A rain-gauge was on the leads outside, and
stepping out through the open window she examined it and saw that two
inches of rain had fallen in the night. The flowers in the garden-beds,
as she had expected, were beaten down and robbed of their petals, and
the smaller gravel from the paths had been swept on to the grass in a
spreading delta. The stalwart-leaved mulberry had not suffered, and the
outline of leaves was cut out with lavishness and clearness against the
tenderness of the sky. Above no traces of the overpast tempest lingered:
the pale blue of the zenith melted with imperceptible gradation into the
dove colour of the horizons on the west and north, in the south-west the
pink of the dawn was already growing gilded before the sun imminent to
rise. Already, so it seemed to Jeannie, a flush of green had spread over
the grass, and the glistening house-roofs, so long dust-ridden, looked
clean again. Above all, the intolerable oppression of the air was no
more than a sick dream of night, and to be abroad in this exquisite dawn
was like coming out of an ill-ventilated tunnel into the coolness of
Alpine pastures. Even as she looked a beam of the risen day shot its
level arrow and struck the elm-trees in the close, and with the aptest
punctuality a thrush scudded out of the bushes below her and poured out
a throatful of repeated song. And on the moment a verse from the song of
songs chimed in her head. “The rain is over and past, the flowers appear
on the earth, the time of the singing birds has come.”

She stood looking out over the fair rejuvenated earth, smiling. At last
she turned.

“Indeed it has come,” she said.



CHAPTER XVII


Before another week was over the fresh cases of typhoid had ceased.
During the three days immediately following the thunder-storm rain had
fallen again and again, heavily and all night long. By day the same
liquid autumn weather had stretched its length of sunlit creamy hours as
the morning on which Jeannie had watched the sunrise over the cleaned
earth, but every evening at sunset the thick, desired clouds came
trooping out of the south-west, and made night full of the noise of
rain. The wells, swiftly fed by the spongy chalk, had filled, the foul
water of the polluted springs was no longer drawn on, and the gorging
microbe, with its holocaust of victims, Jeannie’s fiend of the
garden-scene, found none to drink from his shrine. The first cases which
had occurred were hardly out of the doctor’s hands before the epidemic
ceased, as suddenly as it had begun, but there was now no lack but
rather a plethora of nurses, for typhoid is the nurses’ favourite
disease, since in it each case depends so entirely on them, and nothing
is dearer to the skilled than responsibility.

This being the case, both Jeannie and Miss Fortescue had, in the fourth
week since the epidemic began, given up their places at the hospital.
Regular trained nurses were there in abundance, and there was no longer
need for them. But to both the sacrifice of giving up their work was far
greater than the original risk of taking it up. For several weeks
certainly their lives had centred on one thing, the victory over the
microbe, and to think only of one thing, even for three weeks of a life,
wears a rut in it, and a jolt is necessitated by passing out of the rut.

Jeannie, after the momentous midnight talk with her aunt, had not been
encouraged to allude to the subject again, nor had she wished it. That
curious flood of confidence had passed by in spate, like the
thunder-storm that had raged simultaneously outside, and, like the
sediment of gravel which the storm had made on the grass, there lingered
in Miss Fortescue’s manner a conscious and expressed reminiscence of
what had passed between them. An added tenderness in little things was
there, hard to define, but impossible not to appreciate. Both of them,
moreover, had something of that quality which is supposed to be confined
to the sterner sex, who, when greatly moved, say, “Good-night, old
chap,” and all is said.

This fortnight of deluged nights had brought about its natural
consequences. The inimitable baby was to return to Wroxton, and, as was
quite natural, Jack Collingwood was going to accompany it and its nurse
in their hazardous forty-mile journey from town. The day had been fixed
for its return, and the arrival, though the train was not certainly
known, might be expected about Monday. So Jeannie, at first contrary to
Miss Fortescue’s expectation, but on second thoughts conformably to
them, went out for a walk about eleven, and said no word about meeting
them at the station.

It was God’s own morning, a forenoon of brilliant autumnal sunshine,
which caressed the yellowing trees, as if to remind the foliage that,
though old, it might still be beautiful. The soap-suds of a light
hoar-frost had been sprinkled in the meadows during the night, but when
Jeannie set out at eleven they had already been melted to living drops,
which hung in the long-leaved grasses, turning them into a pod of
diamond peas. The stream by which she walked with Toby, now outgrown his
puppyhood, and developing into a dog embarrassed with length of limb,
was brimmed with the fallen rains, but the alchemy of the chalk and
gravel beds, in which its lot was cast, was a filter for the turgid
waters, and though brimming it was as translucent as in the summer days.
The tall flowering herbs of the water-side dangled their stalks in the
swollen water, and the reeds, breast-high in summer, were swimming in a
plentiful bath. Only the trees were changed, yet who should say that the
breath of winter had disfigured them? Here and there, it is true, the
heavy-leaved chestnuts were being stripped by invisible hands, and a
mound of their fallen yellow glory lay high around them, but the limes
were pyramids of unminted gold, and the beeches mines of undelved
copper. Sleek speckled trout, secure in their close time, flicked with
a riot of broken bubbles and cut the fast-flowing stream, and their
ripples were already swallowed by the water ere their returning plunge
cut the surface again.

What else was Jeannie’s goal but the mill with the red-walled garden?
The mill was working, and good was the omen, and the thicker growing
weeds below the weir were still as Jack Collingwood had seen them. A
soda-water of bubbles foamed from the prison of the darkness, and the
stream shook off the remembrance of its more utilitarian moments in a
froth of eddying waters. The plank bridge spanned the now sober-going
river, and Toby followed her sedately, yet quivering for his bath.

Indeed, this day no one had disappointment in store. Again and again he
rescued his drowning stick from the eddies, and the halo of his shaking
made the meadow damp. And when, with a yard of pink tongue hanging out,
he had rolled himself into an apology for a dry dog, Jeannie sat down on
her cloak, and let the abundance of the autumn speak to her.

“Here, it was here,” said the river, “here he passed, and we did not
know it was he. Did we not know? Ah, we only did not tell you.”

And the grass of the meadow-land chimed in like distant bells.

“Here, it was here,” it said, “and we knew. And you knew, Jeannie, but
you did not know you knew.”

And the grass laughed, like a child who laughs for no reason, except
that it laughs, as a whiff of west wind passed over it.

“And Toby shook himself,” the grass continued, “and you were afraid of
your dress. Your dress! As if a man looks at a maid’s dress!”

A more sonorous breath passed through the clump of elms near by.

“And he came,” they said, “and we knew him. He had looked at the water,
he had looked at the meadows, he had looked at us, but none of us were
what he looked for. He looked for one, for one, for the one,” and their
branches clashed together.

Jeannie, in her seat where her hat had lain as Miss Fortescue made tea,
gave a great sigh, and this filled her lungs with the living air.

“I did not know,” she answered. “How should I have known?”

“The way of a man with a maid,” said the grass. “Oh, I have seen often
in summer evenings----”

“Yes, and we have seen,” said a hundred leaves of the brambles. “You
have no idea of their folly. They sail little boats of straw or leaves,
and wonder which will win. But for me, I always let the maid’s boat win.
I do not care so much for the young men.”

“But I care, I care,” said the river. “The young men bathe in me, and
with strong arms, and laughing, they deride my waves, or from the top of
high ladders they throw themselves headlong to meet me. But I love them,
and loving them I do not suffer them to touch the ooze of the bed, but
bear them gently up, and they know not it was I, but say to each other,
‘That was a good header!’”

But the elms answered softly:

“Both I love, the man and the maid, for both sit by me, and tell their
love. And the spell of the woodland and the country is in their blood,
though they know it not--for who can make love in towns?--and it is I
who bring them together. Even now he comes, he comes, he comes--” and a
louder blast swept through them.

Jeannie heard and understood.

“He comes,” she said softly to herself. “I knew he would come.”

And round the corner of the garden of the mill he came.

Toby gave a tentative growl to the intruder, in case he should prove
unwelcome; but the growl had not ceased vibrating in his throat, and
Jeannie had not time to correct him, when he recognised, and ran to meet
Jack, muzzling a wet nose into his hand. He spoke to the dog in his low,
soft voice, but he had no word seemingly for Jeannie, nor she for him,
and in silence he sat down on the grass beside her. But on neither side
was there embarrassment in that pause, but each drank deep of the
other’s presence. Jeannie looked at him with wide-open eyes, and he at
her. At length he gave a long sigh.

“You, it is you,” he said simply.

Jeannie smiled at him. The great good pause was over.

“How did you know I should be here?” she asked.

“How could it have been otherwise? It was part of the whole plan.”

“What plan?” asked she, and her heart told her.

“The plan of you and me. The great plan,” he said; “God’s plan for us.”

She leaned forward toward him.

“Oh, Jack,” she said, “it is so? Is it indeed so?”

And he bent his face to hers, and the plan was sealed, and the stream
and the trees and meadows were the witnesses thereof.

They sat there, it may have been for a few hundred years, or half an
hour or so, and then by a common consent rose. Whether they walked back
to Wroxton or not they scarcely knew; it may have been that the surface
of the earth was fitted for them on a circular tape, which slid away
beneath their feet, and stopped revolving only when they reached the
garden door at Bolton Street. There certainly it stopped, for Jack
said:

“We will tell them, will we not, Jeannie?”

“Aunt Em knows,” she said. “She guessed, or I told her, I don’t know
which, the evening after we sat in the garden. But we will tell Arthur.”

“And baby?” suggested Jack.

Jeannie’s face suddenly grew grave.

“Oh, what a little pig I am!” she said. “How is baby? I had forgotten.”

“As fat as--as a baby,” said Jack, at loss for a simile.

Aunt Em was in the garden, with a pair of thick gloves on and a spade in
her hand. She called it gardening, and was alone in this opinion. She
was standing with her back to them as they entered, and seemed to be
employed in spearing the young and tender chrysanthemums. She was so
absorbed in her destructive pursuit that she did not hear their steps
till they were close to her, and she looked up with a snap.

“You, Jeannie,” she said, at length, “and you, Jack.”

Once again, as in her midnight talk with her niece, her face grew young
and her eyes dim.

“Thank God!” she said, and dropping her spade she gave a
gardening-gloved hand to each.

A sound of abundance of broken glass came from the far end of the
garden, and down the path shortly afterward came Arthur.

“If you don’t look where you go,” he explained, “you’ll go into the
cucumber-frames. Aunt Em, I sha’n’t garden any more. How many
chrysanthemums have you killed?”

He looked plaintively at Aunt Em, then curiously at the two others.
Suddenly he burst out laughing, and threw his hat in the air. It stuck
in the mulberry-tree.

“Hurrah!” he cried. “Jack, old chap, how splendid! What lucky people you
both are!”

“And what will Cousin Robert say?” asked Aunt Em. “He will think he was
right all along.”

“He is at liberty to think precisely what he pleases,” said Jeannie,
withdrawing her arm from Jack’s. “Oh, Jack, you don’t know about that;
you can be told now. I must go and see the baby. And it is lunch time.”

Jack followed her with his eyes into the house, and turning to Arthur
gave him a great hit in the chest, after the manner of a happy young
man.

“You blazing fool!” he said, and Arthur understood, and smote him back.

There was no reason for keeping the engagement secret, and Wroxton, like
Athens of old, ever anxious to hear some new thing, was not slow though
prolix in discussing the exciting news. Miss Clara Clifford was among
the first to receive it, for that very afternoon, while Jack had gone to
tell Canon and Mrs. Collingwood about it, she met Jeannie in the street.
Ever since Jeannie had been so friendly to her in the matter of the
picture she had regarded her with a mixture of worship and affection,
and during the weeks of the typhoid she had, so to speak, built a temple
to her. A warm heart beat underneath Miss Clara’s flat bosom, and its
capacity for loving had never yet been put to the stretch. But Jeannie,
with her beauty, her engaging grace, her kindness to herself, and her
unquestioning devotion to the sick, had stormed and taken her. She was
of a different order to the people of Miss Clifford’s world, and
nightly Miss Clifford dreamed of the aristocracy no longer as beings
apart, but as her friends. Jeannie met her as she was walking down the
High Street, turned her round, and insisted on her going her way, and
not much insistence was required.

“Oh, I have something to tell you,” she said, “which I am sure will
interest you. Oh, there’s Jim! Jim, you don’t look any worse for your
typhoid; you see you were sensible and came to hospital at once. The
class will begin again on Saturday. I shall see you? Yes?”

Miss Clifford glowed with appreciation while Jeannie talked to her
policeman, and the two went on together.

“What was I saying?” she continued. “Oh, yes! Do you remember once your
telling me that I was engaged to Jack Collingwood? Well, now it is I who
tell you that.”

Miss Clifford stepped into a puddle, and stood there.

“Oh, Miss Avesham!” she said. “I hope you will be very happy. To think
that--dear me, how things turn out!”

“There is no secret about it,” said Jeannie; “you may tell whom you
please. Only I should be rather glad, just in the way of private
revenge, if you did not tell Colonel Raymond first. But as you please.”

“Miss Avesham,” said Miss Clara, impressively, “I would not tell Colonel
Raymond for five gold mines.”

Jeannie laughed.

“Is he back yet?” she asked. “He went away, I think, a fortnight ago,
when that poor little mite of his got typhoid.”

“He came back yesterday,” said Miss Clara.

They had reached Bolton Street, and here Jeannie had to turn off.

“Good-bye, Miss Clifford,” she said. “I’m so glad I met you, and told
you myself.”

Miss Clifford felt herself a mere mass of congested sentiment which for
the life of her she could not put words to.

“I must go home,” she said, “for Phœbe and I are going calling this
afternoon. And, oh, I can not say things, but God bless you, dear Miss
Avesham!”



CHAPTER XVIII


Jeannie was standing on the first tee of the Wroxton golf links, doing
what is technically known as addressing her ball. In other words, her
driver was moving spasmodically backward and forward behind it, and she
was thinking about her right foot. Some six yards behind her stood two
impassive caddies, and Jack was standing opposite her ball and to the
right of her.

“Don’t press,” he said, “and go back slowly. Let your left heel come off
the ground quite naturally as the club goes back. Oh, keep your head
still! Your spine is a pivot round which the arms work. And keep your
eye on the ball.”

Jeannie’s club trailed very slowly back to about the level of her right
shoulder, when suddenly an idea struck her, and she paused.

“Jack, how can I see my club head on the back swing out of my left eye
if I am to look at the ball?” she asked.

“If you are going to argue, stand at ease,” said Jack. “You will
certainly miss the ball if you pause on the top of your swing. Let’s
talk it out, and take your stroke afterward.”

Jeannie was looking fixedly at the ball.

“Don’t talk when I’m playing,” she said, and with a long breath raised
her club a little higher. Then she hit furiously, and a frenzied ball
hid itself in long grass some ten yards in front of the tee.

“I told you so,” she exclaimed.

“Have it again,” said Jack.

“No, certainly not,” said Jeannie. “Oh, yes; I think I will. I will
start now. That was trial.”

“About the club head,” explained Jack, “it’s like this. You can see it,
but you don’t look at it. You look at the ball, and at nothing else
whatever. But do remember that you have to hit a part of the ball which
you don’t see at all.”

Jeannie’s caddie had teed her ball again.

“Then what’s the use of looking at it?” she asked.

“In about five years, if you stick to it, you will understand,” he
said.

Jeannie shifted uneasily on her feet. Then another idea struck her.

“Then tell me that in five years’ time,” she said. “But for practical
purposes, what am I to do this minute?”

There were already another couple waiting to start, one of which was
Colonel Raymond. Jeannie saw him, and nothing in the world would have
induced her to let him pass. Jack guessed as much.

“Hit this ball as hard as ever you can,” he said.

Jeannie shortened the intended swing, and threw her club at the ball.
Oddly enough, it rose clear of the grass, towered, and fell a full
hundred yards off, and getting a forward kick was like a bolted rabbit.

“I told you so,” she said again.

From behind came Cousin Robert’s voice.

“By gad!” he exclaimed loudly. But Jeannie did not turn round, and said
negligently to Jack:

“Topped!”

Now, the ball was anything but topped, and Jack, struggling with inward
laughter, sent a careless hooked drive down wind and far. Then, as is
natural at golf, the great silences of the game which isolates the
player from the whole world closed round them and they went forward.

Thereafter came distress and difficulties. A bunker welcomed Jeannie’s
second, and the bunker retained her third. A sky-sweeping iron shot was
recorded as her fourth, and the fifth leaped across the green as if a
wasp had stung it. Jack, meantime, had laid his second nearly dead, and
four was sufficient.

“That sha’n’t count,” said Jeannie; “we’ll begin now. The handicap is as
follows: We both play on till we reach the green, do you see, and then
the scoring begins. We are like as we lie on the green, Jack, and after
that you give me a stroke a hole. And I’ll play you for half a crown,”
she added, with a burst of reckless speculation.

It was an afternoon of spring, a day of that exquisite temper seldom
felt except in our much-maligned climate. April had laid aside its
outbreaks of petulant rain, and wore the face of a laughing child. The
great grave downs over which they played were scoured by a westerly
wind, which swelled the buds and smoothed out the creases in the little
buttons of green which were bursting from the hawthorn. From the height
an admirable expanse of big, wholesome country was visible on every
side: to the west the houses of Wroxton stood red and glimmering in a
hollow in the hills, and climbed the slopes of the circle. In the middle
rose the gray Cathedral piercing the blue veil of pure air in which the
lower houses were enveloped, and the tower was gilded with the sunshine.
North and east lay a delectable land, where broad fields alternated with
woods, round which hovered, like a green mist, the first outbreak of
bursting leaves, and down the centre of the valley, unseen but traceable
from a livelier flush of green, ran the river. To the south there were
only downs, rising and falling in strong undulations like the muscles of
strong arms interlaced. Overhead skylarks carolled unseen in the blue,
or dropped, when their song was done, among the grass, breathless and
drunken with music; the earth had renewed its lease of life, and the
everlasting fountains of youth were unsealed again. Never since the
seasons had begun their courses was winter farther away, and never
since Adam had walked with Eve in the garden had love touched two lives
more closely than it touched Jeannie and Jack as they went over the
breezy downs, club in hand.

The details of the play would not be interesting even to golfers, to
others tedious; but it may be remarked that Jack drove long balls, which
started low and rose inexplicably toward the end of their flight, and
that a clean ball rising suddenly against a blue sky is invariably felt
to be a stimulating object.

“It must be so nice,” remarked Jeannie, “if it doesn’t hurt to be a golf
ball. You lie there seeing nothing except blades of grass close round
you, and then suddenly the ground races away from you, and you rise,
rise, like that one did, over a bank and a road, and drop on the smooth
short grass of the green.”

“The hole must be unpleasant,” said Jack. “You go trotting over the
green, and then suddenly tumble into a horrible, small, dark prison,
with iron at the bottom.”

“Yes, and somebody says ‘Good shot!’ but they take you out again. Oh,
Jack, may I take off my hat?”

All mankind may be divided into those who like hats and those who do
not. Some people habitually wear a hat unless there is a real reason,
like a church or royalty, for taking it off, but to others a hat is to
be always discarded if possible. Both Jeannie and the other were
habitually hatless folk, a characteristic which goes hand-in-hand with a
love for wind and large open places, and is borne out, to endless
issues, in the normal attitude of the mind toward problems of life.

She gave it to her caddie to carry for her, and shook her head to free
it of its prison-house shades.

“That is better,” she said. “Now my drives will go ten yards farther.”

Colonel Raymond, meantime, playing behind them, was lavish of advice to
his opponent.

“Cultivate a style,” he said. “Hew out a style for yourself, and the
rest will follow. Ah!”--and he watched his own ball, which he had topped
heavily with his mashie, skip and bump over the outlying banks of a
bunker and roll up gently to the hole.

“A useful stroke that,” said this incomparable man. “I picked it up from
poor young Tom Morris. Time and again have I seen him skim his ball over
the rough stuff and lay it dead. A fine, useful shot.”

Useful the shot undoubtedly was, and certainly there was no showiness
about it, a quality which Colonel Raymond detested.

“You’ve got to get into the hole,” was his maxim. “Well, get there,” and
he missed his putt.

Colonel Raymond, on his return to Wroxton after the recovery of Maria,
had been at first a little disconcerted to find that the engagement of
Cousin Jeannie was common property. Mrs. Raymond, no doubt, would have
mentioned it in her letters to him, but the Colonel had begged her not
to write at all.

“The other children will be with me,” he had said, “and a letter may so
easily carry infection. Why, there was a man in India who got the
cholera simply through a letter. So don’t write, Constance. Send me a
telegram every day or two to say how Maria is, and don’t fret yourself.
Worry and fright, as Cousin Jeannie said, are to be avoided.”

But almost before the first shock of the news had conveyed itself to the
Colonel, he saw his ingenious way out of it.

“Didn’t I say they were engaged all along?” he roared to his old
cronies. “I remember nearly letting it out one evening here. It was
intended, as I said, not to be known at once, and I kept my counsel. But
I remember letting it slip once at Miss Clifford’s. Ask her if it is not
so. I knew all along, all along. Is that your lead, partner? A devilish
poor one.”

As soon as the year’s mourning for Jeannie’s father was over the
marriage was to take place--that is to say, they would not be married
till June. Never had a courtship run more smoothly, and never did the
course of true love behave less proverbially.

Canon Collingwood took the engagement as he took most things in life,
with placid enjoyment, but the event had moved Mrs. Collingwood beyond
the run of worldly matters. Like the rest of Wroxton, every time she had
been brought in contact with Jeannie she had been moved to something
warmer than mere liking, even when she disagreed with her, at the charm
and simplicity of the girl. There were some people, like herself, who
did many unselfish things from a sense of duty; Jeannie, on the other
hand, seemed to do them from inclination, and her sense of duty was as
invisible as the string which binds together a pearl necklace. All that
could be seen were the series of beautiful shining acts; what made the
series was left to conjecture. Mrs. Collingwood’s necklace of shining
acts was differently constructed. There were hard, black knots in it,
and the string showed between each pearl, and it looked remarkably
strong. There was no fear whatever of its breaking.

Weeks before the time for the wedding the new dresses of the Miss
Cliffords were ready. They were purple, real purple, fit for empresses,
and their bonnets were purple, too. They had also both of them left
cards at Bolton Street, with P. P. C. written in the corner. This was
not meant to imply that they were going away, or to express a hint that
Jeannie was; but Miss Phœbe remembered that cards had been left on a
curate of her father’s just before his marriage and his promotion to a
parsonage, and P. P. C. was connected in her mind with congratulations.
The Miss Cliffords had had some discussion of the etiquette of high life
prescribed on such occasions, and this had been fixed upon as a safe and
elegant thing to do.

“It does not matter so much for you, Clara,” Phœbe had said, “because
you saw Miss Avesham. I could not go and call in person and sit in the
drawing-room and say pretty things, for I should feel so hot and
awkward. It would be better simply to leave cards at the door. I hear in
London that it is a very general custom to do so without even asking if
people are in.”

“That seems so cold,” said Clara.

“It is better to be cold than to seem as if one were putting one’s self
forward. As for P. P. C., I am sure that is right. I remember writing P.
P. C. on the cards we left on Mr. Hopkinson as well as anything.”

“It would be a pity if it meant something different,” said Clara. “You
see, Phœbe, neither of us can recollect what it stands for.”

“It is French, I am sure,” said Phœbe. “Let us see. What could it be? C.
I think must be _congratulations_. To convey now. _Pour prendre!_ Of
course that is it. I remember _pour prendre_ perfectly now. _Pour
prendre congratulations._ I hope you are satisfied now, Clara.”

“Yes, Phœbe. I feel sure you must be right,” said her sister. “But shall
we not send a little present together? Miss Avesham has been very good
to me.”

Phœbe tossed her head. This was a covert allusion to that terrible
affair of the picture.

“A diamond necklace, perhaps,” she said scornfully; “or would you prefer
a pearl and diamond tiara?”

This cutting irony on the part of Phœbe closed the discussion for the
time being; but Clara bore the thing in mind, and eventually decided on
a silver bootjack and an ode of congratulation in the Wroxton Chronicle.
Phœbe had not negatived this proposition when she had advanced it
before, but of late she had been very sharp with her sister, and for
weeks past she had not looked well; habitually she had a high colour,
but of late she had become sallow and gray in skin. More than once
Clara had asked whether she would not see a doctor, but Phœbe had always
met the suggestion with a disdainful refusal. She had played hardly at
all on her mandolin lately, and when the household work was over she
would sit in a chair in her corner, with her hands on her lap, doing
nothing. If Clara came in when she was sitting like this, she would jump
up and pretend to occupy herself with something, for she did not wish
her sister to see her tears. But when alone she would seldom do
anything, and day by day a curious gnawing pain below her right
collar-bone grew worse and worse. The pain, whatever it was, was not
continuous. If she slept well at night it was usually bad the next day,
or had been bad the day before; but if her night had been disturbed by
it, in these early days, she usually passed a comfortable day. A little
lump had appeared there below the skin, and Phœbe, before her bed-room
glass, looked at it with some anxiety, and called it a rheumatic
swelling. As such she rubbed it with embrocation, which did not seem to
make it any better.

Both Clara and Phœbe were accustomed, even when alone, to dress for
dinner. In the winter, when the evenings were cold, this usually only
meant the donning of Sunday clothes; but when the milder days of spring
succeeded, they faced each other in low dresses. By the beginning of
April Clara had already worn her low dress more than once, but Phœbe
never. It was still chilly, she said, and if Clara did not take care she
would catch cold.

Phœbe had a horror of doctors. To call in a doctor implied that you
thought that you were ill. Turkey rhubarb, quinine, and embrocation,
according to her, were a trinity of greater potency than the whole
college of surgeons, and she was not naturally nervous. She even doubted
whether the epidemic of typhoid which had visited Wroxton in the autumn
might not have been made too much of, and a plentiful exhibition of the
staple drugs, she thought, should have been tried first. For this
swelling underneath her collar-bone she tried all these in succession,
but smarting, deafness, and general upset seemed only to have added to
her discomfort. The pain, which at first had been only a dull ache,
grew intenser. At times it stabbed and pierced her, and now, after a day
of pain, a sleepless, tossing night succeeded.

She was still firmly determined not to see a doctor; but when one
afternoon, Clara being out, she had met Jeannie in the street, and had
been persuaded to go to Bolton Street to have tea with her, Jeannie
saying it would be a kindness, since she was alone, she confessed, in
answer to a question of hers, that she was not well.

“I have pain,” she said, “oh, such pain! And it is all I can do to
prevent Clara seeing it. I cannot sleep for it. Oh, Miss Avesham, do
tell me that it is nothing.”

Jeannie had felt anxious when she saw her that day, but she tried to be
consoling.

“Very likely it is nothing,” she said. “But one cannot tell. Do see a
doctor at once. The thing worries you and makes you ill. If there is
anything wrong, it ought to be attended to; but if you are assured it is
nothing, that will be a relief, will it not?”

“But Clara will know,” objected Phœbe. “If it is anything wrong she
would fret so.”

“Oh, you are absurd,” said Jeannie, frankly. “Supposing nothing is
wrong, you need never tell her. But supposing you ought to see a doctor,
how she would blame herself for not having insisted. Where is the pain?”

Miss Phœbe, with much diffidence, alluded distantly to her collar-bone.

“I think it is probably rheumatic,” she added.

Jeannie rang the bell, and went to the table to write a note.

“Now, Miss Phœbe,” she said, “you are going to see the doctor here and
now. Don’t say you won’t, for it is no use. I am writing to Dr.
Maitland; he will be at home by now, and I am sure he will come here at
once. You see, in this way your sister will not know.”

The poor lady leaned back in her chair, almost with relief.

“It is very kind of you,” she said. “And indeed I think Clara must see
if it went on any longer.”

Jeannie gave the note to the butler, and when he had left the room:

“I am sure it is wise, Miss Phœbe,” she said. “Why, if I or Arthur have
an ache in our little finger we fill the house with surgeons. There is
never anything the matter, and they tell us so. Now Dr. Maitland will be
here in ten minutes or less. You shall go to my room, and he will look
at you there.”

“It is very kind of you,” said Phœbe; “and you will not tell Clara?”

“Never without your consent,” said Jeannie. “Come, let us go upstairs.”

Dr. Maitland was in, and in ten minutes he was at Bolton Street. He was
shown into the drawing-room, and Jeannie came down stairs to him.

“She looks as if it were only one thing,” she said. “But don’t tell her.
When you have seen her, come and tell me. She is upstairs.”

After he had gone Jeannie went to the window and looked out. The full
abundance of spring was in the air; the false death of winter was over,
and all living things rejoiced in this renewal of the world. The grass
of the lawn was starred with young crocuses, gnarled trees put out their
sheaves of tender living leaves; all was as it had been twelve months
ago. But in the lives of men no such renewal and repetition is admitted.
The year passes, and they are a year nearer to the grim apparition of
decay and death. It seemed to her a long time before the footstep of the
doctor again sounded on the stairs. She faced round again into the room
to meet him.

“I have not told her,” he said, “as you desired. But there is no
doubt--cancer.”

“Would any operation give her a chance?”

“A chance certainly, but a more than doubtful one. It is of five months’
growth at least.”

“If she had come earlier this chance would have been better?” asked
Jeannie.

“Undoubtedly.”

“Shall I tell her?” she asked.

“She had better be told. The operation would be dangerous. If it is
left, the end is certain, and probably--though one can never tell--not
far distant. It is a case where she must decide whether to have the
operation or not.”

“Do you recommend it?”

“Scarcely. If I was in the same condition I would not have it done.”

Jeannie stood silent a moment.

“Oh, poor thing, poor thing!” she said. “And I suppose I must tell her.”

She put her hands before her eyes for a space, and then gave herself a
little shake.

“What a coward one is!” she said. “Thank you very much, Dr. Maitland. I
will let you know about it.”

“I will tell her if you wish, Miss Avesham,” said he.

“No; I know her better than you,” said Jeannie. “Good-bye. I shall go
upstairs at once to her.”

Dr. Maitland shook hands with her; he felt an intense admiration for
her.

“It is only yourself who will accuse you of being a coward,” he said.



CHAPTER XIX


Jeannie tapped at the bed-room door, and Phœbe’s voice answered her
quite cheerfully.

“I was just coming down, Miss Avesham,” she said; “I should have come
down before, but I just waited to collect myself. Now, please tell me
truly. Dr. Maitland, I thought, looked very grave. Is that not so?”

Jeannie could hardly believe that this brisk, cheerful woman was the
same who had sat so limply and undecidedly in the drawing-room half an
hour ago. What had caused this change of front she could not guess, for,
evidently, Dr. Maitland had not been reassuring. But her own part was
made easier for her.

“Yes, he was very grave,” said Jeannie. “Dear Miss Clifford, it is idle
for me to say how sorry I am. But it is very grave, indeed.”

Phœbe stood at the window a moment with her back to Jeannie, and Jeannie
could see that her hand, which played with the blind-cord, trembled, and
at that her courage again failed her, and a sickening helplessness took
its place. But almost immediately Phœbe turned round again, and her
poor, gray face was quite composed, and her hand firm.

“Please tell me what it is, Miss Avesham,” she said.

Jeannie rose, took both her hands in hers, and looked at her with
infinite compassion.

“It is cancer,” she said.

Phoebe drew a long sigh.

“You will think it very singular of me, Miss Avesham,” she said, “but it
is almost a relief to hear that. The fear of it, I think, was worse than
the knowledge. Can anything be done?”

“An operation could be attempted,” said Jeannie, “but it would be very
dangerous, and not hopeful.”

“I am glad of that,” said Miss Phœbe, “for you must know, Miss Avesham,
that I am a terrible coward, and if there is one thing I dread it is
being pulled about by a professional man. I have three teeth now that
ought to come out. Would you think it very cowardly of me if I preferred
not to have the operation?”

“Oh, thank God you bear it so well!” cried Jeannie, suddenly. “No, I
should not think it cowardly. I think you are right. You a coward!” she
said; “you are the bravest woman I ever saw.”

Miss Clifford’s face brightened with pleasure.

“I prayed God to let me not be very foolish about it,” she said. “Tell
me one more thing. Would there have been a chance if I had gone to a
doctor sooner?”

“There would,” said Jeannie, simply.

“Then will you promise me something?” asked Phœbe.

“Anything.”

“Don’t let poor Clara know that,” said Phœbe. “And oh, Miss Avesham,
supposing she puts it to you rather directly, do you think you could go
so far as to--well, to tell her just a little fib about it? It would
save Clara a great deal of distress, for she would reproach herself for
not having insisted on my seeing a doctor.”

“I will lie to any extent,” said Jeannie; “and I promise you that Dr.
Maitland shall, too.”

Phœbe shrank back.

“Oh, you put it so strongly, Miss Avesham,” she said. “I would not ask
you to tell a lie, but if you could just be a little diplomatic, if you
could lead Clara off the scent, so to speak.”

“She shall never know,” said Jeannie.

“Thank you so much. And now I will put on my hat and go home. I wonder,
Miss Avesham, would it be too much to ask you to come and see us
to-morrow morning? I am afraid Clara will be very much upset, and you
can deal with her as no one else can. I shall send a line to Dr.
Maitland, asking him to come and tell me what I must do.”

And she put on her hat, taking great care to have it straight, and
adjusted her silk scarf round her neck.

“It is a little chilly this afternoon,” she said, “and to catch a cold
at this time of year is so tiresome. It is curious how much harder it
is to throw off a cold in the summer.”

To Jeannie there was something infinitely pathetic about this. The poor
lady had a mortal disease, yet the possibility of getting a cold in the
head appeared, even at this first stunning moment, to rank at far
greater importance in her mind. In a few weeks, now even, she was beyond
all mortal aid, yet the adjustment of the silk scarf to shield her
throat from possible chills was not less advisable.

The scarf adjusted, Miss Clifford paused again to pull down her veil to
its accustomed point. At first it was too low, and then too high; this
mattered no less than before. Little pleasures, little pains, seem to
have a deeper and more intimate hold over certain natures than the
greater calls: a man going out to be hung has been known to complain
that his boot hurt him.

Jeannie called at Villa Montrose next morning, and, standing on the
steps while the door was being answered, she heard the subdued tremolo
of a mandolin. She was shown at once into the drawing-room, and there
in Phœbe’s corner was sitting Phœbe, with one leg thrown over the other,
in the approved attitude, and in front of her, on a brass music-stand,
was Funiculi, Funicula. She got up with alacrity when Jeannie entered.

“A lovely morning, is it not?” she said. “Dr. Maitland was so kind as to
come early, and he told me I might get up and spend a quiet morning,
going out in the afternoon, if I felt inclined. He recommended a drive,
which I think I shall enjoy.”

Evidently for Phœbe the day of little things was not over. Uncertainty
had worried her, the relief of certainty had let her tiny occupations
resume their wonted importance. It seemed to Jeannie that condolence or
congratulations on her bravery would be alike misplaced. It is good to
weep with those who weep, but weeping friends are bad company if one
does not show any inclination to weep one’s self, and certainly Phœbe
showed none. And to continue congratulating any one on their fortitude
is gratuitous. Courage, above all the virtues, brings its own reward,
for it is warming to the heart.

“But Clara offered to take off my hands all the work of the household,”
continued Phœbe, “which was very thoughtful of her, for she had noticed,
she said, that it seemed to have fatigued me these last few weeks. And
so, Miss Avesham, I have been spending a holiday morning with my music.
I have hardly any pain this morning.”

“I am delighted to hear it,” said Jeannie, “and I see you have Funiculi.
I know it, so I will accompany you.”

Clara upstairs, employed in looking out the towels in the bed-room,
heard the light-hearted, rollicking tune vibrate through the house, and
guessed Jeannie had come. Clara had a marked bedside manner, and her
custom when any one was ill was to batter them with innocent questions
as to whether they would have the door shut or the window opened, and to
look at them with anxious, deprecating eyes, and to walk on a creaking
tip-toe. Phœbe’s faint tinkling had been inaudible upstairs, and to play
that song now seemed scarcely proper. She felt as she would have felt
if some one in the house was dead and the blinds had not been drawn
down.

She was nearly at an end of her tour of inspection, and when, a few
minutes later, she entered the drawing-room, the third verse of the song
was not yet ended. She closed the door with elaborate precaution, and
walking on tip-toe to Phœbe’s side, gazed into her face with a sad
smile. But Phœbe only frowned; Jeannie was taking the song at a pace she
was not used to, and it was as much as she could do to keep up.

“Turn over quick, Clara,” she said. “Now!” and Phœbe’s soul was in the
thrumming of the mandolin.

The verse came to an end, and Jeannie turned round.

“That’s more the pace,” she said. “I remember I was with my father and
mother in Naples when it came out, and it was the first sound you heard
in the morning and the last you heard at night. I have a book of those
Neapolitan airs; I’ll send them round to you if you like.”

Jeannie’s manner was anything but the ideal mortal-disease attitude
which Clara had expected. She had expected to find her sitting by
Phœbe’s side, with one hand in hers, talking about the next world and
the lessons to be learned from pain. Perhaps she might with advantage
have been found playing a hymn on the soft pedal, but instead of that
she was thumping Neapolitan songs, and Phœbe seemed to be enjoying it.
Was it possible that Dr. Maitland was wrong, and had told Jeannie so? In
that case surely Jeannie would have let her know.

“There is another one,” Jeannie went on, running her hands gently over
the keys. “Yes, that is right. It’s a duet, Stella d’Amore. The young
man is walking by the sea, and sees a girl. He does not speak to her,
but he sings to himself, as he passes, ‘There is a star by the sea,’ and
when he has finished his verse, she sings, like him, ‘There is a star by
the sea, but who am I that the star should hear me?’ And then they both
sing, ‘Star of love by the sea.’”

Clara flushed.

“How romantic!” she said. “And did they marry?”

“It doesn’t say,” said Jeannie. “You must write an extra verse, Miss
Clara, saying that they did.”

Jeannie got up from the piano and began putting on her gloves.

“I must go,” she said; “but whenever you feel up to it, Miss Clifford,
send me a note, and we’ll have another go at the mandolin. I won’t
forget to let you have the book. Now mind you do all that Dr. Maitland
tells you. Good-bye.”

Clara came to show Jeannie out, and stopped her in the hall.

“Oh, Miss Avesham,” she said, “is Phœbe better? Is it not what Dr.
Maitland thought?”

Jeannie shook her head.

“Better?” she said. “Has he not told you?”

Clara’s eyes filled with tears.

“Yes, he told me,” she said; “but you were so cheerful, I thought
perhaps it was not as bad as he said.”

“No; you must not comfort yourself with that,” said Jeannie. “But
comfort her, if I may suggest it, in little ways. You see, she still
cares for little things. She has not lost interest in life at all, it
seems to me. Do not do or say anything that will remind her of what she
is suffering from. My dear Miss Clara, it is not that I do not realize
it that I recommend you this, but just because I do. All we can do is to
help her in little ways. It is just that we can do.”

Poor Miss Clara looked bewildered and puzzled.

“But these things matter so little now,” she said. “I cannot understand
Phœbe caring for her songs and her mandolin now. To be sure, she was
never very fond of going to church, and she always says there are a
great many black sheep who are clergymen. But now, Miss Avesham. Oh, to
think of her playing _Funiculi_!”

Miss Clara delivered herself of this incoherent dissatisfaction with
shaking head and trembling lips. It was all she could do to keep herself
from bursting out crying, and the effort tied her face into hard knots.
Phœbe had evidently taken up her mandolin again, for its little metallic
notes came from the drawing-room, playing Funiculi, and in a few bars
her quavering voice joined it. They had been speaking in low tones for
fear Phœbe should hear them, but when the song began again Jeannie spoke
louder.

“It seems to me such a great thing that she can still take an interest
and a pleasure in things,” said Jeannie. “I would encourage her all I
could to continue to do that.”

“But it seems so strange,” said Clara. “I know my poor mother saw a
clergyman every day for six weeks before she died. And when I suggested
this morning to Phœbe that I should ask Mr. Crawshaw to call she got
quite angry, and said, ‘What for?’ So as any agitation, Dr. Maitland
told me, is bad for her, I didn’t urge it. But my conscience has pricked
me ever since.”

Jeannie smiled.

“Put it in a pin-cushion, then,” she said. “Oh, how little I should want
to see a clergyman if I was going to die soon. Fancy wanting a clergyman
when you were dying,” she said, half to herself.

For a moment Miss Clara looked shocked, but any opinion expressed by her
idol demanded unusual thought before it was condemned. And, after a
little reflection:

“I think I see what you mean,” she said. “But it seems so odd.”

“Well, I must go,” said Jeannie; “and I think it would be wise of you to
let your sister do as she likes and to encourage her in anything she may
wish.”

Clara sighed.

“I am sure you must be right,” she said. “Dear Miss Avesham, there is
one thing more I wanted to ask you. You do not think, do you, that if
Phœbe had seen a doctor sooner it would have been more hopeful?”

“I am sure it would have made no difference,” said Jeannie, with
assurance. Then, seeing that doubt still lingered on Miss Clara’s face:

“I happened to ask Dr. Maitland that myself,” she added, which happened
to be quite true.

Clara looked inexpressibly relieved.

“You can’t think how I worried about it since Phœbe told me last night,”
she said. “I was afraid it might have been, however indirectly, my
fault.”

“Well, anyhow, you needn’t worry about that any more,” said Jeannie.

She went down the steps and turned homeward, a little shocked at herself
at the ease with which what Miss Phœbe had called “the little fib” had
been spoken. No one had practised the difficult art of lying less than
she, but it seemed to come quite naturally. And not for a moment did she
repent it. “If it was wrong,” she said to herself, “God will
understand.”

Clara stayed for a moment looking after Jeannie and composing herself.
Then she nailed a smile to her face and went back into the drawing-room.

Phœbe was still sitting in her chair strumming to herself on the
mandolin, but she stopped as Clara entered.

“I wonder if you could play that accompaniment,” she said; “I want to
try the song that comes next, Amore Mysterio.”

“I will try,” said Clara, and seated herself at the piano.

But she did not make much of a success out of it, for, in addition to
the fact that she found four sharps even at the best of times a
scarcely negotiable quantity, her fingers were trembling, and she could
scarcely see the keys. Then quite suddenly, in the middle of the second
part, she put her elbows on the piano and, burying her face in her
hands, burst out crying.

Phœbe, whose mind had been entirely concentrated on her own difficulties
with the mandolin, looked up suddenly at this cessation of the
accompaniment. Then she got up and went to her sister.

“Clara,” she said, “don’t cry so. My dear, it is very hard on you, and
you will be lonely, I think. But don’t make it worse for yourself, and
don’t make it worse for me.”

Poor Clara turned her tear-stained face to her sister.

“Phœbe, Phœbe, I can’t bear it!” she sobbed. “Oh, to think of what is
coming! Indeed, I am not crying for myself; but if only it was me, and
not you. Oh, Phœbe, I prayed and I prayed last night that I might have
this, and not you, and I hoped God would hear me. But I am just as well
as ever this morning. Perhaps if you had seen a doctor sooner. No, that
can’t be, because Miss Jeannie told me that it would have made no
difference.”

Phœbe blessed Jeannie in her heart.

“So you know that nothing has been left undone that could have been
done,” she said. “And now, Clara, please go and wash your face, and
please try, love, to behave just as usual, just as you have behaved, my
own dear sister, all these years. Oh, it is hard, I know. Perhaps,
Clara, if we kneel down together and say Our Father we shall feel
better, and then let us both make up our minds to make the best of
things and to go on living quite simply and ordinarily. That has seemed
right to us before, and I do not see that it is not right still. There
is no use in my going to be a missionary just because of this.”

They said the prayer together, and when it was done Phœbe kissed her
sister.

“Go upstairs if you like, dear,” she said, “and have a good cry. Then
when you come down again, if you will be so kind, we will just try this
Amore Mysterio again. I should like to surprise Miss Avesham by playing
it when she comes. I told her I did not know it this morning.”

Clara stood irresolute a moment. Then she blew her nose, and wiped up
her face generally.

“We will try it at once,” she said, in rather a quavering voice. “I hope
I shall play it better this time, Phœbe.”

For the most part it is the natures of very strong vitality to whom
death seems so unfaceable, and all their courage is needed to meet it.
But Phœbe had never been a lusty swimmer in the waves and foam of life;
she had but dabbled with her feet in it, and perhaps it was this
unacquaintance with the thrill and throb of mere living which helped her
to face what was before her with such simple unconcern. She had passed
her life in safe and shallow waters, the buffeting and bracing risks of
the world had not been her affair; and to her straightforward, if
shallow and short-sighted, nature death did not seem an unnatural thing.
Her grasp of life had never been firm, and the relaxation and loss of it
came with no shock. Her fingers were but holding it lightly, they would
come away without a struggle.

But Clara’s capacity for suffering was greater. In her gentle way she
raged over that hideous end to existence, and it required all her
fortitude to meet that which Phœbe met without effort. She had never
rebelled or struggled against the ordinary necessities of life, and of
these death was one.

But from that day her case grew very rapidly worse. That cruel and
inexorable malady, whose only mercy is the swiftness with which it does
its work, was to her very merciful, and her suffering was comparatively
little. A fortnight after this she came downstairs for the last time,
and, sitting once more in her corner, talked very cheerfully to Clara
about Jeannie’s approaching marriage.

“It will take place in the Cathedral, so Miss Avesham told me
yesterday,” she said, “and Lord Avesham will give her away. I wish--”
and she paused.

“Yes, dear,” said Clara.

“I wish I could have been there,” said Phœbe, “but I am afraid Dr.
Maitland was not so cheerful this morning. Clara, love, I hope you will
go.”

Clara could not speak.

“I shall want to hear all about it, you know,” said Phœbe; “and your
new dress and bonnet and all are ready. I shall want to hear how they
all looked, and whether Miss Jeannie spoke up, and who was there.”

Again Phœbe paused.

“And if--if, Clara--I am not here for you to tell, please go very
quietly just the same. You can easily slip in among the crowd and see
it. In fact, I want you to promise me to go in any case. You will be
sorry to have missed it. And now--don’t let us talk any more about that.
You were going to read Lord Fauntleroy to me. I think Mr. Arthur must
have been so like him when he was little. We had just got to where he
went out to ride.”

And Miss Clara wiped her eyes furtively, and found her place.



CHAPTER XX


A brilliant June sun lay sparkling on tree and tower and over the roofs
of Wroxton and the downs which rise above the city. The morning might
have been ordered, like the wedding-cake, with _carte-blanche_, and no
expense to be spared. The promise of that first day of spring when
Jeannie had played golf with her fiancé was royally fulfilled, the
vigour and glory of the year was at its midmost. A light wind tempered
the heat of the morning, and set all the leaves of the trees chattering
to each other, and woke innumerable songs in the throats of the
lawn-haunting birds.

The marriage was to take place at two, and for an hour before people had
streamed into the Cathedral. The rows of free seats in nave and
transepts were full of the boys and girls of Jeannie’s classes, and the
combined length of feather in the girls’ hats would have stretched from
Bolton Street to the altar. Many of them knew exactly how to behave at
a marriage, and long before anything happened at all were crying
profusely into their pocket-handkerchiefs. This very proper proceeding
was interrupted with interested glances toward the west door, and when,
a few minutes before two, it was rumoured that the bridegroom had
arrived, the handkerchiefs were discreetly put away, for if you weep you
are apt to miss points of interest.

The choir was kept for the invited guests, who had come in enormous
numbers. A whole clan of Aveshams and Fortescues were there, and Colonel
Raymond felt it was quite a family gathering, and was conscientiously
able to congratulate himself on their appearance. The Collingwood party,
he considered, lacked that fine air of distinction which marked his
race, and the Colonel looked immensely interesting, and quite distinctly
caught the eye of a countess no less, who instantly looked away.

Among the women present there was only one dark spot of colour. In a
seat near the screen was Miss Clara. She was in black.

Weddings tend to be like each other. There are the same pieces on the
organ, and for the most part the same hymns. There is the same anxiety
to see how the bride behaves, and the same disappointment to find that
she behaves like most other brides.

Jeannie was perhaps a little different; she looked quite radiantly
happy, and not self-conscious at all; she said her own word very
audibly, and on the way down from the altar she caught sight of Miss
Clara, stopped the whole procession to kiss her in the face of the
assembled congregation, and all the Avesham contingent said to their
neighbours, “Who is that woman in black?”

Afterward there was a reunion at Bolton Street, and Collingwoods mixed
in a manner which did not suggest chemical affinity with Aveshams, and
each found the other just a shade trying. The bridegroom’s mother, for
instance, was, to say the least of it, puzzled with Lady Tamar, the
bride’s aunt, who smoked a cigarette with the whole of the close looking
on, and really did not seem to be aware how unusually she was behaving.
It was idle to explain, and Lady Tamar, on her side, at the end of the
interview, said to herself, “Poor Jeannie!” However, as neither knew (or
cared) what the other thought of her, there was no harm done. It was
lucky indeed that Mrs. Collingwood was not aware what the world in
general said about Lady Tamar; lucky also that Lady Tamar did not know
the innermost truth about Mrs. Collingwood! She believed that the whole
world was made to amuse her, and, if she had known, Mrs. Collingwood
would have amused her so much that her inextinguishable laughter might
have caused offence. Colonel Raymond alone, perhaps, was of all present
in the seventh heaven of bliss; he did not talk to anybody, but he
listened with both ears, and stocked himself with distinguished names.
He had an excellent memory and the Peerage. Thus his old cronies were
likely to hear more of collateral Aveshams.

Both bride and bridegroom effaced themselves from the party until their
appearance was necessary. They were to leave Wroxton by a train soon
after four, and the interval between their mingling with the party and
the last possible moment of catching their train was short. Jack held
that wedding parties were a barbarity, Jeannie that it was better not to
be a principal actor; and, as a matter of fact, they sat quietly in the
nursery and amused the baby till Arthur warned them it was time to go to
their train. For both there was rice and slippers, for each there was
the other.

The family who had taken Merton were in London, and were delighted that
the two should spend their honeymoon there. Merton was only a couple of
stations from Wroxton, and they arrived soon after five. All about her
were the dear familiarities of childhood, by her the crown of her
womanhood. Nowhere else, she thought, could Jack have known her as well
as here.

From tea till dinner-time they wandered about the place; like two
children, the one introducing the other to her home. This was the hedge
where the long-tailed tit built, and this the copse where wild
lilies-of-the-valley flowered in May. There was a reminiscence dear to
her, and infinitely dear to him, about every yard of the place. The old
boat-house with a leaky punt had given her many a Columbus voyage to
the island on the lake, and the clusters of water-lilies to surprised
eyes had been a Sargasso Sea. The punt was gone, but a newer boat was
there, and they rowed about for nearly an hour, and watched the quick
fishes in the water, and gathered the tall rushes and the golden-hearted
lilies, and together were rung to dressing time, as Jeannie in the old
days had been rung to bed. And as before they delayed to obey.

Dinner was over, and they sat on the south of the terrace-fronted house;
a full moon moved like a queen bee among the swarming stars, and the
world was refashioned out of soft darkness and ivory and pearl.
Pearl-coloured was Jeannie’s dress, and she the pearl of pearls.

“How strange one’s life goes in acts,” she said. “The act at Wroxton is
over now, but what a pleasant one it was. Oh, Jack, I hope this act will
be a long one. Do you remember the plank bridge by the mill, and Toby
shaking himself?”

“Do I remember?” echoed Jack. “Do I remember?”

“Only think, it is not a year ago,” she said. “And until then we had
lived without each other. What a pity we did not advertise for each
other before. It has been such a waste of time. Ah, there is the
nightingale; there is always one in the elms at the end of the terrace.
I remember how it sang all that night on which my father died.”

“It does not hurt you to think of that?” said Jack, gently.

“No, why should it? Life, love, death, the three great gifts of God.
‘What further can be sought for or declared?’” she quoted.

For a long time they sat in silence. The moon, still not yet in zenith,
shone with a very clear light across the lake, and made a pathway of
silver to the dim farther shore. To the right the nightingale trilled
and bubbled, a few lights gleamed from the great house behind. A spell
seemed cast over the world, and over the two sitting there a spell was
cast.

Suddenly Jeannie turned and laid her arm round his neck.

“You are happy?” she asked. “You have made no mistake?”

But in her heart there was no question, but utter conviction.

“God knows I am happy!” he said.

“And you, Jack, you?” she asked. “Do you know it?”

“You know that I know it,” he replied. “Is that not enough?”

And they rose and walked softly through the softness of the night back
to the house.


THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

BOOKS BY E. F. BENSON.


Scarlet and Hyssop.

12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

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The Luck of the Vails.

A Romance. 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

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Mammon & Co.

12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

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       *       *       *       *       *

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=The Law of Life.=

     By ANNA MCCLURE SHOLL. 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

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       *       *       *       *       *

A NEW BOOK BY MISS FOWLER.



“For months to come the story will be talked about by some millions of
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=Place and Power.=

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The story of an ambitious young man whose most cherished aims are
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     “Full of intellect and brightness.”--_Globe-Democrat, St. Louis._

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       *       *       *       *       *

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     “Worth reading for its own sake, on account of its deft and
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     “A novel of first-rate dramatic quality in construction and style,
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=The Career Triumphant.=

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Redfield Succession.” 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

It is always an entertaining subject when the life of the Old Dominion
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D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK

       *       *       *       *       *

BY A. CONAN DOYLE.

Uniform edition, 12mo. Cloth, $1.50 per volume.

_A DUET, WITH AN OCCASIONAL CHORUS._

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_UNCLE BERNAC._ _A Romance of the Empire._

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_THE EXPLOITS OF BRIGADIER GERARD._

_A Romance of the Life of a Typical Napoleonic Soldier._

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_ROUND THE RED LAMP._

_Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life._

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_THE STARK MUNRO LETTERS._

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       *       *       *       *       *

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=The Captain’s Toll-Gate.=


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=The Reproach of Annesley.=
=An Innocent Impostor.=
=A Costly Freak.=
=The World’s Mercy.=
=Sweethearts and Friends.=
=The Last Sentence.=
=Four-Leaved Clover.=
=In the Heart of the Storm.=

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     “Worth reading for its deft touches of sentiment and
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