BY KATHARINE TYNAN
Author of "Julia," "The Story of Bawn," "Her Ladyship," "For Maisie," etc., etc.
WITH FOUR COLOURED ILLUSTRATIONS BY C. H. TAFFS
[Transcriber's note: This book was produced from scanned images of public domain material from the Google Print project. Only the Frontispiece was included in the scans.]
CASSELL AND COMPANY, LIMITED London, Paris, New York, Toronto and Melbourne 1909 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
CHAPTER I. Wistaria Terrace
CHAPTER II. The Wall Between
CHAPTER III. The New Estate
CHAPTER IV. Boy and Girl
CHAPTER V. "Old Blood and Thunder"
CHAPTER VI. The Blue Ribbon
CHAPTER VII. A Chance Meeting
CHAPTER VIII. Groves of Academe
CHAPTER IX. The Race with Death
CHAPTER X. Dispossessed
CHAPTER XI. The Lion
CHAPTER XII. Her Ladyship
CHAPTER XIII. The Heart of a Father
CHAPTER XIV. Lovers' Parting
CHAPTER XV. The General has an Idea
CHAPTER XVI. The Leading and the Light
CHAPTER XVII. A Night of Spring
CHAPTER XVIII. Halcyon Weather
CHAPTER XIX. Wild Thyme and Violets
CHAPTER XX. Jealousy, Cruel as the Grave
CHAPTER XXI. Two Women
CHAPTER XXII. Light on the Way
CHAPTER XXIII. The News in the Westminster
CHAPTER XXIV. The Friend
CHAPTER XXV. The One Woman
CHAPTER XXVI. Golden Days
CHAPTER XXVII. The Intermediary
CHAPTER XXVIII. Noel! Noel!
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"The men would salute their old General, the General salute his old regiment"
"Sir Robin Drummond had come to Mary's side, and turned the page of her music"
"'Do you know what I came here in the mind to ask you?'"
"'Miss Nelly is in the drawing-room, sir'"
The house where Mary Gray was born and grew towards womanhood was one of a squat line of mean little houses that hid themselves behind a great church. The roadway in front of the houses led only to the back entrance of the church. Over against the windows was the playground of the church schools, surrounded by a high wall that shut away field and sky from the front rooms of Wistaria Terrace.
The houses were drab and ugly, with untidy grass-plots in front. They presented an exterior of three windows and a narrow round-topped hall-door which was a confession of poverty in itself. Five out of six houses had a ramping plaster horse in the fanlight of the hall door, a fixture which went with the house and was immune from breakage because no one ever thought of cleaning the fanlights.
In the back gardens the family wash was put to dry. Some of the more enterprising inhabitants kept fowls; but there was not much enterprise in Wistaria Terrace.
Earlier inhabitants had planted the gardens with lilac and laburnum bushes, with gooseberries and currants. There were no flowers there that did not sow themselves year after year. They were damp, grubby places, but even there an imaginative child like Mary Gray could find suggestions of delight.
Mary's father, Walter Gray, was employed at a watchmaker's of repute. He spent all his working life with a magnifying glass in his eye, peering into the mechanism of watches, adjusting the delicate pivots and springs on which their lives moved. His occupation had perhaps encouraged in him a habit of introspection. Perhaps he found the human machine as worthy of interest as the works of watches and clocks. Anyhow, in his leisure moments, which were few, he would discuss curiously with Mary the hidden springs that kept the human machine in motion, the strange workings and convolutions of it. From the very early age when she began to be a comfort and a companion to her father, Mary had been accustomed to such speculations as would have written Walter Gray down a madman if he had shared them with the grown people about him rather than with a child.
Mary was the child of his romance, of his first marriage, which had lasted barely a year.
He never talked of her mother, even to Mary, though she had vague memories of a time when he had not been so reticent. That was before the stepmother came, the stepmother whom, honestly, Walter Gray had married because his child was neglected. He had not anticipated, perhaps, the long string of children which was to result from the marriage, whose presence in the world was to make Mary's lot a more strenuous one than would have been the case if she had been a child alone.
Not that Mary grumbled about the stepbrothers and sisters. Year after year, from the time she could stagger under the weight of a baby, she had received a new burden for her arms, and had found enough love for each newcomer.
The second Mrs. Gray was a poor, puny, washed-out little rag of a woman, whose one distinction was the number of her children. They had always great appetites to be satisfied. As soon as they began to run about, the rapidity with which they wore out their boots and the knees of their trousers, and outgrew their frocks, was a subject upon which Mrs. Gray could expatiate for hours. Mary had a tender, strong pity from the earliest age for the down-at-heel, over-burdened stepmother, which lightened her own load, as did the vicarious, motherly love which came to her for each succeeding fat baby.
Mary was nurse and nursery-governess to all the family. Wistaria Terrace had one great recompense for its humble and hidden condition. It was within easy reach of the fields and the mountains. For an adventurous spirit the sea was not at an insuperable distance. Indeed, but for the high wall of the school playground, the lovely line of mountains had been well in view. As it was, many a day in summer Mary would carry off her train of children to the fields, with a humble refection of bread and butter and jam, and milk for their mid-day meal; and these occasions allowed Mrs. Gray a few hours of peace that were like a foretaste of Paradise.
She never grumbled, poor little woman, because her husband shared his thoughts with Mary and not with her. Whatever ambitions she had had to rise to her Walter's level—she had an immense opinion of his learning—had long been extinguished under the accumulation of toils and burdens that made up her daily life. She was fond of Mary, and leant on her strangely, considering their relative ages. For the rest, she toiled with indifferent success at household tasks, and was grateful for having a husband so absorbed in distant speculations that he was insensible of the near discomfort of a badly-cooked dinner or a buttonless shirt.
The gardens of the houses opened on a lane which was a sort of rubbish-shoot for the houses that gave upon it. Across the lane was a row of stabling belonging to far more important houses than Wistaria Terrace. Beyond the stables and stable yards were old gardens with shady stretches of turf and forest trees enclosed within their walls. Beyond the gardens rose the fine old-fashioned houses of the Mall, big Georgian houses that looked in front across the roadway at the line of elm-trees that bordered the canal. The green waters of the canal, winding placidly through its green channel, with the elm-trees reflected greenly in its green depths, had a suggestion of Holland.
The lane was something of an adventure to the children of Wistaria Terrace. There, any day, you might see a coachman curry-combing his satin-skinned horses, hissing between his teeth by way of encouragement, after the time-honoured custom. Or you might see a load of hay lifted up by a windlass into the loft above the stables. Or you might assist at the washing of a carriage. Sometimes the gate at the farther side of the stable was open, and a gardener would come through with a barrowful of rubbish to add to the accumulation already in the lane.
Through the open gateway the children would catch glimpses of Fairyland. A broad stretch of shining turf dappled with sun and shade. Tall snapdragons and lilies and sweet-williams and phlox in the garden-beds. A fruit tree or two, heavy with blossom or fruit.
Only old-fashioned people lived in the Mall nowadays, and the glimpses the children caught of the owners of those terrestrial paradises fitted in with the idea of fairyland. They were always old ladies and gentlemen, and they were old-fashioned in their attire, but very magnificent. There was one old lady who was the very Fairy Godmother of the stories. She was the one who had the magnificent mulberry-tree in her garden. One day in every year the children were called in to strip the tree of its fruit; and that was a great day for Wistaria Terrace.
The children were allowed to bring basins to carry away what they could not eat; and benevolent men-servants would ascend to the overweighted boughs of the tree by ladders and pick the fruit and load up the children's basins with it. Again, the apples would be distributed in their season. While the distribution went on, the old lady would stand at a window with her little white dog in her arms nodding her head in a well-pleased way. The children called her Lady Anne. They had no such personal acquaintance with the other gardens and their owners, so their thoughts were very full of Lady Anne and her garden.
When Mary was about fourteen she made the acquaintance of Lady Anne—her full name was Lady Anne Hamilton—and that was an event which had a considerable influence on her fortunes. The meeting came about in this way.
Mary had gone marketing one day, and for once had deserted the shabby little row of shops which ran at the end of Wistaria Terrace, at right angles to it. She had gone out into the great main thoroughfare, the noise of which came dimly to Wistaria Terrace because of the huge mass of the church blocking up the way.
She had done her shopping and was on her way home, when, right in the track of the heavy tram as it came down the steep descent from the bridge over the canal, she saw a helpless bit of white fur, as it might well seem to anyone at a distance. The thing was almost motionless, or stirring so feebly that its movements were not apparent. Evidently the driver of the tram had not noticed it, or was not troubled to save its life, for he stood with the reins in his hand, glancing from side to side of the road for possible passengers as the tram swept down the long incline.
Mary never hesitated. The tram was almost upon the thing when she first saw it. "Why, it is Lady Anne's dog!" she cried, and launched herself out in the roadway to save it. She was just in time to pick up the blind, whimpering thing. The driver of the tram, seeing Mary in its path, put on the brakes sharply. The tram lumbered to a stoppage, but not before Mary had been flung down on her face and her arm broken by the hoof of the horse nearest her.
It was likely to be an uncommonly awkward thing for the Gray household, seeing that it was Mary's right arm that was injured. For one thing, it would involve the dispossession of that year's baby. For another, it would put Mrs. Gray's capable helper entirely out of action.
When Mary was picked up, and stood, wavering unsteadily, supported by someone in the crowd which had gathered, hearing, as from a great distance, the snarling and scolding of the tram-driver, who was afraid of finding himself in trouble, she still held the blind and whimpering dog in her uninjured arm.
She wanted to get away as quickly as possible from the crowd, but her head swam and her feet were uncertain. Then she heard a quiet voice behind her.
"Has there been an accident? I am a doctor," it said.
"A young woman trying to kill herself along of an old dog," said the tram-driver indignantly. "As though there wasn't enough trouble for a man already."
"Let me see," the doctor said, coming to Mary's side. "Ah, I can't make an examination here. Better come with me, my child. I am on my way to the hospital. My carriage is here."
"Not to hospital," said Mary faintly. "Let me go home; they would be so frightened."
"I shan't detain you, I promise you. But this must be bandaged before you can go home. Ah, is this basket yours, too?"
Someone had handed up the basket from the tram-track, where it had lain disgorging cabbages and other articles of food.
"I will send you home as soon as I have seen to your arm," the doctor said, pushing her gently towards his carriage. "And the little dog—is he your own? I suppose he is, since you nearly gave your life for him?"
"He is not mine," said Mary faintly. "He belongs to Lady Anne—Lady Anne Hamilton. She lives at No. 8, The Mall. She will be distracted if she misses the little dog. She is so very fond of it."
"Ah! Lady Anne Hamilton. I have heard of her. We can leave the dog at home on our way. Come, child."
The Mall was quite close at hand. They drove there, and just as the carriage stopped at the gate of No. 8, which had a long strip of green front garden, overhung by trees through which you could discern the old red-brick house. Lady Anne herself came down the gravel path. Over her head was a little shawl of old lace; it was caught by a seed-pearl brooch with an amethyst centre. She was wearing a quilted red silk petticoat and a bunched sacque of black flowered silk. She had magnificent dark eyes and white hair. Under it her peaked little face was the colour of old ivory. She was calling to her dog, "Fifine, Fifine, where can you be?"
A respectable-looking elderly maid came hurrying after her.
"I've looked everywhere, my lady, and I cannot find the little thing," she said in a frightened voice.
Meanwhile, the doctor had got out of the carriage and had taken Fifine gently from Mary's lap. Now that Mary was coming to herself she began to discover that the doctor was young and kind-looking, but more careworn than his youth warranted. He opened the garden gate and went up to Lady Anne.
"Is this your little dog, madam?" he asked.
"My Fifine, my darling!" cried Lady Anne, embracing the trembling bit of wool. "You don't know what she is to me, sir. My little grandson"—the imperious old voice shook—"loved the dog. She was his pet. The child is dead. You understand——"
"Perfectly," said the doctor. "I, too—I know what loss is. The little dog strayed. She was found in the High Road. I am very glad to restore her to you; but pray do not thank me. There is a young girl in my carriage at the gate. She picked up your dog from under the wheels of a tramcar, and broke her arm, I fear, in doing it. I am on my way to the hospital, the House of Mercy, where I am doing work for a friend who is on holiday. I am taking her with me so that I may set the arm where I have all the appliances."
"She saved my Fifine? Heroic child! Let me thank her."
The old lady clutched her recovered treasure to her breast with fervour, then handed the dog over to the maid.
"Take me to see Fifine's preserver," she said in a commanding voice.
Mary was almost swooning with the pain of her arm. She heard Lady Anne's praises as though from a long distance off.
"Stay, doctor," the old lady said; "I cannot have her jolted over the paving-stones of the city to the Mercy. Bring her in here. We need not detain you very long. We can procure splints and bandages, all you require, from a chemist's shop. There is one just round the corner. What, do you say, child? They will be frightened about you at home! I shall send word. Be quiet now; you must let us do everything for you."
So the doctor assisted Mary into the old house behind the trees. Lady Anne walked the other side of her, pretending to assist Mary and really imagining that she did.
The splints and the bandages were on, and Mary had borne the pain well.
"I'm afraid I must go," said the doctor, looking at his watch. "I am half an hour behind my time. And where am I to visit my patient?"
"Where but here?" said Lady Anne with decision. "It is now half-past eleven. I have lunch at half-past one. Could you return to lunch, Dr.—ah, Dr. Carruthers. You are Dr. Carruthers, are you not? You took the big house at the corner of Magnolia Road a year ago?"
"Yes, I am Dr. Carruthers; and I shall be very pleased to return to lunch, Lady Anne. I don't think the little dog is any the worse for her experience."
His face was flushed as he stood with his hat in his hand, bowing and smiling. If only Lady Anne Hamilton would take him up! That big house at the corner of Magnolia Road had been a daring bid for fortune. So had the neat, single brougham, hired from a livery-stable. So had been the three smart maids. But so far Fortune had not favoured him. He was one of fifty or so waiters on Fortune. When people were ill in the smart suburban neighbourhood they liked to be attended by Dr. Pownall, who always drove a pair of hundred guinea horses. None of your hired broughams for them.
"You are paying too big a rent for a young man," said Lady Anne. "You can't have made it or anything like made it. Pownall grows careless. The last time I sent for him he kept me two hours waiting. When I had him to Stewart, my maid, he was in a hurry to be gone. Pownall has too much to do—too much by half."
Her eyes rested thoughtfully on the agitated Dr. Carruthers.
"You shall tell me all about it when you come back to lunch," she said; "and I should like to call on your wife."
THE WALL BETWEEN
"The child has brought us luck—luck at last, Mildred," Dr. Carruthers was saying, a few hours later. "When I lifted her in my arms she was as light as a feather. A poor little shabby, overworked thing, all eyes, and too big a forehead. Her boots were broken, and I noticed that her fingers were rough with hard work."
He was walking up and down his wife's drawing-room in a tremendous state of excitement, while she smiled at him from the sofa.
"It is wonderful, coming just now, too, when I had made up my mind that we couldn't keep afloat here much longer, and had resolved to give up this house at the September quarter and retire into a dingier part of the town. Once it is known that I am Lady Anne Hamilton's medical man the snobs of the neighbourhood will all be sending for me."
"Poor Dr. Pownall!" said Mrs. Carruthers, laughing softly.
"Oh, Pownall is all right. They say he's immensely wealthy. He can retire now and enjoy his money. If the public did not go back on him he'd be a dead man in five or six years. He does the work of twenty men. I pity the others, the poor devils who are waiting on fortune as I have waited."
"There is no fear of Lady Anne disappointing you?" she asked, in a hesitating voice. She did not like to seem to throw cold water on his joyful mood.
"There is no fear," he answered, standing midway of the room with its three large windows. "She is coming to see you, Milly. If I have failed in anything you will succeed. You will see me at the top of the tree yet. You will have cause to be proud of me."
"I am always proud of you. Kit," she said, in a low, impassioned voice.
Meanwhile, Lady Anne herself had made a pilgrimage to Wistaria Terrace in the hour preceding the luncheon hour. She had left Mary in a deep chair in the big drawing-room. Outside were the boughs of trees. From the windows you could surprise the secrets of the birds if you would. The room was very spacious, with chairs and sofas round the walls, a great mirror at either end, a paper on its walls which pretended to be panels wreathed in roses. The ceiling had a gay picture of gods and goddesses reclining in a flowery mead. The mantelpiece was Carrara marble, curiously inlaid with coloured wreaths. There was a fire in the brass grate, although it was summer weather. The proximity of the trees and the natural climate of the place meant damp. The fire sparkled in the brass dogs and the brass jambs of the fireplace. The skin of a tiger stretched itself along the floor. The terrible teeth grinned almost at Mary's feet.
The child was sick and faint from the pain of having her arm set. She lay in the deep sofa, covered with red damask, amid a bewildering softness of cushions and rugs, and wondered what Lady Anne was saying to Mamie. Mamie was Mrs. Gray. From the first Mary had not called her Mother. Her name was Matilda, and Mamie was a sort of compromise.
Meanwhile, Lady Anne had gone out by her garden, through the stable, and into the lane at the back. There was a little door open in the opposite wall; beyond it was a shabby trellis with scarlet-runners clambering upon it.
Lady Anne peeped within. A disheartened-looking woman was hanging a child's frock on the line which was stretched from wall to wall. Three children, ranging in age from two to five, were sitting on the grass plot. Two were playing with white stones. The third was surveying its own small feet with great interest, sucking at a fat thumb as though it conveyed some delicious nourishment.
"Do I speak to Mrs. Gray?" asked Lady Anne, advancing. She had a sunshade over her head, a deep-fringed thing with a folding handle. She had bought it in Paris in the days of the Second Empire.
Mrs. Gray stared at the stranger within her gates, whom she knew by sight. There was some perturbation in her face. She had been worried about the unusual duration of Mary's absence. Mary had not come back with the market basket which contained the children's dinner. At one o'clock the four elder ones would be upon her, ravening. What on earth had become of Mary? The poor woman had not realised how much she depended on Mary, since Mary was always present and always willing to take the burdens off her stepmother's thin, stooped shoulders on to her own.
Now she caught sight of the market-basket. One of Lady Anne's white-capped maids had come in and deposited it quietly.
"Mary?" she gasped. "What has become of Mary?"
"Pray don't frighten yourself," said Lady Anne. "I have a message from Mary. She is at my house. As a matter of fact, she met with an accident. There—don't go so pale. It is only a matter of time. Her arm is broken. She got it broken in saving the life of my little Maltese, who had strayed out and had got in the way of the tram. I always said that those trams should not be allowed. The tracks are so very unpleasant—dangerous even, for the carriages of gentlefolk. There is far too much traffic allowed on the public highways nowadays, far too much. People ought to walk if they cannot keep carriages."
She broke off abruptly and looked at the three small children.
"These are yours?" she asked. "They seem very close together in age."
"A year and a half, three years, four years and three months," said Mrs. Gray, forgetting in her special cause for pride her awe of Lady Anne.
"Dear me, I should have thought they were all twins," said the old lady. "How very remarkable! Have you any more?"
"Four at school. The eldest is nine. You see, they came so quickly, my lady. Only for Mary I don't know how I should have reared them."
"H'm! Mary is very stunted. It struck me that she would have been tall if she had had a chance. Those heavy babies, doubtless. Well, I am going to keep Mary for a while. How will you do without her?"
Mrs. Gray's faded eyes filled with tears.
"I can't imagine, my lady. You see, we have never kept a servant. When I lived at home with my Mamma we always had three. Mr. Gray has literary attainments, my lady. He is not practical."
"I can send you an excellent charwoman," Lady Anne broke in, "for the present. I will see what is to be done about Mary. The child has rendered me an inestimable service. I must do something for her in return. By the way, she is not your daughter?"
"Ah, I thought so. Well, the charwoman shall come in at once. She can cook. Later on, we shall see—we shall see."
"By the way," said Lady Anne, coming back with a rustle of silks while Mrs. Gray yet stood in bewilderment, holding the baby's frock in her limp fingers. "By the way, Mary is very anxious about her father—how he will take her accident. Will you tell your husband that I shall be glad to see him when he comes home this evening?"
"I will, my lady," said Mrs. Gray; "and, my lady, would you please not to mention to Mr. Gray about the charwoman? He's that proud; it would hurt him, I'm sure. If he isn't told he'll never know she's there. A child isn't as easily deceived as Walter."
"I shall certainly not tell him," Lady Anne said graciously. She did not object to the honest pride in Walter Gray. He was probably a superior man for his station, being Mary's father. As for that poor slattern, Lady Anne had lived too long in the world to be amazed by the marriages men made, either in her own exalted circle or in those below it.
Walter Gray came, in a flutter of tender anxiety, at half-past six in the evening, to Lady Anne's garden, where Mary was sitting in her wicker chair under the mulberry tree. Lady Anne had given orders that he was to be shown out to the garden when he called.
"My poor little girl!" he said, with an arm about Mary's shoulder.
Then he took off his hat to Lady Anne. There was respect in his manner, but nothing over-humble, nothing to say that they were not equals in a sense. His eyes, at once bright and dreamy, rested on her with a friendly regard.
"The man has gentle blood in him somewhere," said the old lady to herself. She had a sense of humour which kept her knowledge of her own importance from becoming overweening. "I believe his respect is for my age, not for my rank. I wonder what the world is coming to!"
She went away then and left the father and daughter together. Walter, who had taken a chair by Mary's, looked with a half-conscious pleasure round the velvet sward on which the shadows of the trees lay long. The trees were at their full summer foliage, dark as night, mysterious, magnificent.
"What a very pleasant place!" Walter Gray said, with grave enjoyment. "How sweet the evening smells are! How quiet everything is! Who could believe that Wistaria Terrace was over the wall?"
"I have been missing Wistaria Terrace," Mary said. "You don't know how lonesome it feels for the children. I wonder how Mamie is getting on without me. I want to go home. Indeed, I feel quite able to. I don't know how I shall do without going home."
"If you went home," said Walter Gray, unexpectedly practical, "your arm would never set, Mary. You'd be forgetting and doing all manner of things you oughtn't to do. If Lady Anne is kind enough to ask you to visit her, stay a while and rest, dear. Indeed, you do too much for your size."
"You will all miss me so dreadfully."
"Indeed, I don't think we shall miss you—in that way. Oddly enough—I suppose Matilda was on her mettle—the house seemed quieter when I came home. The children were in bed. I smelt something good from the kitchen. Don't imagine that we shall not be able to do without you, child."
Mary, who knew no more of the capable charwoman than Walter Gray did, looked on this speech of her father's as a mere string of tender subterfuges. She said nothing, but her eyes rested on her grey woollen skirt, faded by wear and the weather, and she had an unchildish sense of the incongruity of her presence as a visitor in Lady Anne's house. Walter Gray's glance roamed over his young daughter. He saw nothing of her dreary attire. He saw only the spiritual face, over-pale, the slender, young, unformed body, graceful as a half-opened flower in its ill-fitting covering, the slender feet that had a suggestion of race, the toil-worn hands the fingers of which tapered to fine points.
"You have always done too much, child," he said, with sudden, tender compunction.
When he rose to go Mary clung to him as though their parting was to be for years.
"I will come in again to-morrow," he said. "I shall sleep better to-night for thinking of you in this quiet, restful place. Get some roses in your cheeks, little girl, before you come back to us."
"I wish I were going back now," said Mary piteously. She looked round the old walls with their climbing fruit trees as though they were the walls of a prison. "It is awful not to be able to come and go. And Mamie will never be able to do without me. The children will be ill——"
He left her in tears. As he re-entered the house by its iron steps up to a glass door Lady Anne came out from her morning-room and called him within. He looked about him at the room, walled in with books, with yellowed marble busts of great men on top of the book-cases. His feet sank in soft carpets. The smell of a pot of lilies mingled with the smell of leather bindings. The light in the room, filtered through the leaves of an overhanging creeper, was green and gold. It seemed to him that he must have known such a room in some other world, where he had not had to make watches all day with a glass screwed in his eye, but had abundant leisure for books and beautiful things. Not but that there might be worse things than the watchmaking. Over the works of the watches, the fine little wheels and springs, Walter Gray thought hard, thought incessantly. He thought, perhaps, the harder that he had neither the leisure nor opportunity for putting down his thoughts on paper or imparting them to another like-minded with himself. How his fellows would have stared if they could have known the things that went on inside Walter Gray's mind as he leant above his table, peering into the interior of the watch-cases!
"Sit down, Mr. Gray," said Lady Anne graciously; "I want to talk to you about Mary."
She approached the matter delicately, having wit enough to see that Walter Gray was no common person. While she talked she looked with frank admiration at his face: the fine, high, delicate nose; the arched brows, like Mary's own; the over-development of the forehead. The dust of years and worries lay thick upon his face, yet Lady Anne said to herself that it was a beautiful face beneath the dust.
"I want to talk to you about Mary," she went on. "The child interests me strongly. She is a fine vessel, this little daughter of yours. Pray excuse me if I speak plainly. She has been doing far too much for her age and her strength. Haven't you noticed that she is pulled down to earth? Those babies, Mr. Gray—they are remarkably fat and heavy; they are killing Mary."
"Her mother died of consumption," Walter Gray said, his face whitening with terror.
"Ah!" the old lady thought; "she is the child of his heart. Those three twins are merely the children of his home. That poor drudge of a mother of theirs! Mary is the child of her father's heart and mind."
Then aloud: "You had better let me have her, Mr. Gray."
"Let you have her, Lady Anne? What would you do with my Mary?"
He looked scarcely less aghast than he had done a moment before at the suggestion of consumption.
"Not separate her from you, Mr. Gray. This house is my home, and I am not likely to leave it, except for a month or two at a time, at my age. I think the child will be a companion to me. I have no romantic suggestions to make. I am not proposing to adopt Mary. I shall pay her a salary, and give her opportunities for education that you cannot. She interests me, as I have said. Let me have her. When I no longer need her—I am an old woman, Mr. Gray—she will be fit to earn her own living. Everything I have goes back to my nephew Jarvis Lord Iniscrone. But Mary will not suffer. Think! What have you to give her but a life of drudgery under which she will break down—die, perhaps?"
She watched the emotion in his face with her little keen, bright eyes.
"It is not a fine lady's caprice?" he said. "You won't make my Mary accustomed to better things than I could give her and then send her back to be a drudge?"
"The Lord judge between thee and me," she answered solemnly.
"Then I trust you, Lady Anne Hamilton," he said.
The strange thing was that the proud old lady was gratified, almost flattered, by the confidence in Walter Gray's unworldly eyes.
"Thank you, Mr. Gray," she said; then, as he took up his hat to go, she laid a detaining hand on his shabby coat sleeve.
"Why not have dinner with Mary in the garden?" she suggested. "Do, pray. I want you to tell her what we have agreed upon. I can send word to Mrs. Gray."
Walter Gray was pleased enough to go back to his little girl whom he had left in tears for the comfortless house and the burden of the young stepbrothers and stepsisters. It was pleasure, half pain, to see the uplifted face with which Mary regarded him when she saw him return. How was he going to put the barrier between them that this plan to which he had given his consent would surely mean? He had no illusions. Over the wall, Lady Anne had said. But the wall that separated Wistaria Terrace and the Mall was in reality a high and a great wall. He would never have Mary in the old close communion again. All passes. How good the old times were that were only a few hours away, yet seemed worlds! Never again! They would never be all and all to each other in a solitude which took no count of the others. Yet it was for Mary's sake. For Mary's sake the wall was to rise between them. As he began to tell her the strange, wonderful thing, his heart was heavy within him because a chapter of his life was closed. He had come to the end of an epoch. Henceforth things might be conceivably better, but—they would be different.
THE NEW ESTATE
Mary took the news of her great promotion in an unthankful spirit.
"Lady Anne is very kind," she said tearfully; "but I don't want to stay with her. I couldn't bear to live anywhere but in Wistaria Terrace. It is absurd that you should say you have given your consent, papa. How could you possibly have consented when the house could not get on without me? You know it could not. Why, even for a day things would be all topsy-turvy without me."
"And so you have not gone to school," the father answered, with an accent of self-reproach. "You have been weighed down with responsibilities and cares that you ought to have been free of for years to come. You have even been stunted in your growth, as Lady Anne said. It is time things were altered. I don't know how I was so blind. We ought to be grateful to the accident that has opened a door to us."
When he had gone, Lady Anne came and comforted Mary. There was a deal of kindness in the old lady's heart.
"You shall help them," she said. "Dear me, how much help you will be able to give them! Imagine beginning with a salary at fifteen! You are to leave things to me, Mary. I have sent help to your stepmother—an excellent woman, Mrs. Devine, whom I have known for many years. She is very capable. I will tell her that she must remain with your stepmother. It is amazing what one really capable woman can do. And afterwards there will be the salary."
The salary, and perhaps a quick, warm feeling for Lady Anne which sprang up suddenly in Mary's heart, settled the question. After all, as Lady Anne said, despite her greatness she was very lonely. She had lost her son and her grandson, and she could not endure her nephew or his family. She had only a few old cronies. As a matter of fact, although she had taken a fancy to Mary Gray and captured the child's susceptible heart, she was not a particularly amiable or lovable old lady to the rest of the world. She was too keen-sighted and sharp-tongued to be popular.
Mary slept that night in such a room as she had never dreamt of. There was a little bed in the corner of it with a flowing veil of white, lace-trimmed muslin like a baby's cot. There was white muslin tied with blue ribbons at the window, and the dressing-table was as gaily and innocently adorned. There was a work-box on a little table, a writing-desk on another; a shelf of books hung on the wall. The room had really been made ready for a dear young cousin of Lady Anne's, who had not lived to enjoy it. If Mary had only known, she owed something of Lady Anne's interest to the fact that her eyes were grey, like Viola's, her cheek transparent like Viola's.
Apart from the discomfort of the broken arm, as she lay in the soft, downy little bed, she was ill at ease, wondering how they were getting on without her at Wistaria Terrace. Her breast had an ache for the baby who was used to lie warm against it. Her good arm felt strange and lonely for the familiar little body. She kept putting it out in a panic during her sleep because she missed the baby.
In the morning Simmons, Lady Anne's maid, came to help her dress. It was very difficult, Mary found, to do things for one's self with a broken arm. Her head ached because of the disturbed sleep and the pain of the broken limb. Simmons had come to her in a somewhat hostile frame of mind. She did not hold with picking up gutter-children from no one knew where and setting people as were respectable to wait upon them. But at heart she was a good-natured woman, and her indignation disappeared before the unchildish pain and weariness of Mary's face.
"There," she said, "I wouldn't be fretting, if I were you. Lor' bless you, there's fine treats in store for you. Her ladyship sent only last night for a roll of grey cashmere. I'm to fit you after your breakfast and make it up as quick as I can. Then you'll be fit to go out with her ladyship in the carriage and get your other things."
It was the last day of the ugly linsey. Simmons got through her task with great quickness. She was a woman of taste, else she had not been Lady Anne's maid. Lady Anne was more particular about her garments than most young women. And, having once made up her mind to like Mary, Simmons took an interest in her task.
"You are so kind, Mrs. Simmons," Mary said gratefully, feeling the gentleness and dexterity with which the woman tried on her new garments without once jarring the broken arm.
"I'm kind enough to those who take me the proper way," said Simmons, greatly pleased with Mary's prefix of Mrs., which was brevet rank, since Simmons had never married. It would have made a great difference to Mary's comfort at this time if she had been sufficiently ill-advised to call Simmons without a prefix, as Lady Anne did.
Dr. Carruthers had called to see Mary the morning after the accident. He had interviewed his patient in the morning-room, and was passing out through the hall when Lady Anne's voice over the banisters summoned him to her presence.
"You can give me a little while, Dr. Carruthers?" she said. "I shall not be interfering with your work?"
"I am quite free"—a little colour came into his cheeks. "The friend whose work I was doing at the House of Mercy returned last night. Yesterday was my last day."
"Ah! and yesterday brought you an unexpected patient. How do you find her?"
"She has less physique than she ought to have."
"Yes, she has been underfed and overworked. I am going to alter all that. I have taken her into my house as my little companion."
Dr. Carruthers stared in spite of himself.
"You think it very odd of me? Well, I am odd, and I can afford to do what pleases me. Mary Gray is going to live here. You should know her father. A quite remarkable man, I consider him. Now, about yourself. I have heard of you, Dr. Carruthers. I have heard that you are a very clever young man and devoted to your work, that you have all the knowledge of the schools at your fingertips, but very little experience, and no practice to speak of."
"Excuse me, Lady Anne. I was three years house surgeon at the Good Samaritan; and I have done a great deal of work since I have been here. I will confess that my patients have been of a poor class."
"Who have not paid you a penny. I don't know whether you do it for philanthropy or to keep your hand in——"
"A little of both," the young man said with a faint smile.
"But it is a good thing to do," the old lady went on, without noticing his interpellation. "You're spoken well of by the poor, if the rich have not heard anything about you. I know you're living beyond your means in a big house, hoping that a paying practice will come to you. My dear man, it never will, so long as people think you are in need of it. They like Dr. Pownall at their doors with his carriage and pair, even if he can only give them five minutes. Pownall forgot himself with me. I remember his father—a very decent, respectable man who used to grow cabbages. That's nothing against Pownall—creditable to him, I should say. Still, he hadn't time to listen to my symptoms, and he was rude. 'A woman of your age,' he said. I should like to know who told Dr. Pownall my age. A lady has no age. 'It's time you retired,' I said to him. 'I don't think of it,' said he; 'not for ten years yet. My patients won't hear of it.' 'You're greedy,' said I; 'if you weren't your patients might go to Hong Kong.' He thought it was a joke—hadn't time to find out whether I was serious or not. I made him, Dr. Carruthers. It's time for him to retire now. I shall mention to all my friends that you are my body-physician."
She spoke like one of the Royal Family. But Dr. Carruthers had no inclination to laugh. His eyes were dim as he murmured his acknowledgments. It was fame, it was fortune, in those parts to be approved by Lady Anne Hamilton. Hitherto she had been understood to swear by Dr. Pownall.
"It means a deal to us, Lady Anne," he said, stumbling over his words. "We had made up our minds to give up the big house and look for a slum practice. The children—I have two living—are not very strong, any more than Mildred. We put all we could into the venture of taking the house. It was our bid for fortune."
"I wouldn't approve of it in a general way," said Lady Anne. "Still, it has turned out well. Will your wife be at home to-morrow afternoon? I should like to call upon her."
"She will be delighted."
Dr. Carruthers was regaining his self-control. He knew that the presence of Lady Anne's barouche at his door for an hour in the afternoon would be more potent in opening doors to him than if he had made the most brilliant cure on record.
Mary was with Lady Anne next day when she went to call on Mrs. Carruthers. It was characteristic of Lady Anne that she thought to tell Jennings, the coachman, to drive up and down in front of the house and round the sides, for Dr. Carruthers' house was a corner one with a frontage to three sides. It was a hot summer day, and Jennings wondered disrespectfully what bee the old lady had got in her bonnet. Such a jangling of harness, such a flashing of polished surfaces! Every window that commanded the three sides of Dr. Carruthers' house had an eye at the pane. The tidings flew from one to another that Lady Anne Hamilton was visiting Mrs. Carruthers, and was making a very long call.
Mildred was still on her sofa. She would have risen when Lady Anne came in, but the old lady prevented her. Lady Anne could be royally kind when it pleased her.
She drew a chair by the sofa and sat down. Mary, who had come in with her, listened in some wonder to Lady Anne's sympathetic questions about the children. That was something in which Mary was interested, in which Mary had knowledge and experience; but though she listened she would not have spoken a word for worlds.
As she sat there on the edge of one of Mrs. Carruthers' chairs—the drawing-room furniture was of the sparsest; a chair or small table dotted here and there on the wilderness of polished floor—she could see herself in a pier-glass at the other end of the room. It was a quite unfamiliar presentment she saw. This Mary was dressed in soft dove-grey. She had a little white muslin folded fichu about her shoulders. She had a wide black hat, with one long white ostrich feather. Her good hand was gloved in delicate grey kid. There was something quaint about her aspect; for that artist, Simmons, had discovered that Mary, for all her fifteen years, looked her best with her soft fine brown hair piled on top of her head. When she presented Mary so to Lady Anne the old lady was fain to acknowledge that Simmons was right. There was a quaint and delightful stateliness about Mary which made Lady Anne say to herself once more that the child had gentle blood in her.
"Dear me," Mildred Carruthers thought, as her eyes wandered again and again to the elegant little figure, "Kit said nothing of this. I expected to find a rather interesting child of the humbler classes. I remember particularly that he said she looked as though she had had a hard time."
Mary's changed aspect had one unforeseen result. When she presented herself at Wistaria Terrace the baby did not know her. Her stepmother shed a few tears, which were half-gratification. The elder children were already a bit shy of her, the baby's immediate predecessor even murmuring of her as "the yady," and surveying her from afar, finger in mouth. But the baby could in no way be brought to recognise her, and only shouted lustily when she tried to force herself upon his recognition.
"I shall come to-morrow in my old frock," Mary said, bitterly hurt by this lack of perception on the baby's part. "I hate these hideous things; so I do. To-morrow he will come to his Mary, so he will."
But when the morrow came, and she sought for her old work-a-day garments in that pretty white and blue wardrobe where she had hung them when she had discarded them for the grey frock and hat, they were not to be found. There were numbers of things such as Mary had never dreamed of. Lady Anne had provided her with an outfit, simple according to her thoughts, but splendid in Mary's eyes. A white cashmere dressing-gown, trimmed with lace, hung on the peg where the grey linsey had been.
Mary flew to Simmons to know where her old frock had gone to. The good woman, who by this time had taken Mary under her wing to uphold her against the rest of the household if it were inclined to resent the new inmate, looked at her reprovingly.
"You never wanted that old frock, and you her ladyship's companion? No, Miss Mary—for so I shall call you, as by her ladyship's orders, let some people say what they like—that frock you never will see, for gone it has to a poor child that'll maybe find it a comfort when winter comes. I wonder at you for thinking on it, so I do, seeing as how I've taken so much trouble with your clothes."
Mary turned away with a desolate feeling. The grey linsey might have been like the feathers of the enchanted bird that became a woman for the love of a mortal, the feathers which, if she wore them again, had the power of transporting her back to her kindred and her old estate. The old life was indeed closed to Mary with the disappearance of the grey linsey; and it was long before she lost the feeling that if she could only have kept her old garments she need not have been so separated from the old life.
BOY AND GIRL
It was during those early days that Mary made the acquaintance of Robin Drummond. She had a comfortless feeling afterwards about the meeting; but it was not because of Sir Robin or anything he did: he was always a kind boy in her memory of him. It was because of his mother, Lady Drummond. Mary knew from Lady Anne, who always thought aloud, that Lady Drummond made a good many people feel uncomfortable.
They had driven out all the way from the city to the Court, the big house on its wide plain below the mountains. It was a long drive—quite twenty miles there and back—and Jennings, who liked to have a good deal of his time to himself, had been rather cross about it. Not that he dared show any temper to Lady Anne, who was easy and kindly with her servants, as a rule, but could reduce an insubordinate one to humble submission as well as any old lady ever could. But Mary, who knew the household pretty well by this time, knew that Jennings was out of temper by the set of his shoulders, as she surveyed them from her seat in the barouche. It was a road, too, he never liked to take, because of a certain steam tram which ran along it and made the horses uncomfortable when they met it face to face. And there his mistress was unsympathetic towards him. She had been a brilliant and daring horsewoman in her youth and middle age.
"I never thought I should live to amble along like this," she confided to Mary as they drove between golden harvest fields. "Rheumatic gout is a great humbler of the spirit. Ah! here comes one of those black monsters to make the pair curvet a little. They are too fat, Mary. They have too easy a life. It is only on such an occasion as this that they remember their hot youth."
They reached the Court without mishap, although once or twice the horses behaved as though they meditated a mild runaway.
"You shall take the other road home, Jennings," Lady Anne said graciously, as she alighted in front of the great square, imposing house, amid its flower-beds of all shapes, its ornamental fountains flinging high jets of golden water in the sun.
"It's time we gave up the horses, my lady," Jennings said, with bitterness, "with the likes o' them black beasts on the road."
Later, as she and Mary waited in the great drawing-room for Lady Drummond, she returned to the subject of Jennings and his grievance.
"He is always bad-tempered when we come to the Court," she said. "For all its grandeur it is not a hospitable house. Jennings will have to go without his tea this afternoon."
Mary looked with wonder down the great length of the magnificent room. Her feet sank in the Turkey carpet. The walls, which were papered in deep red, were lined with full-length portraits, some of them equestrian. The place had an air of rich comfort. Was it possible that the mistress of so much magnificence could grudge a visitor's coachman his tea?
"Her ladyship looks after the bawbees," Lady Anne went on, thinking aloud as usual, rather than talking to Mary. "And those who are in her employment must think of them too, or they go. Ah! you are looking at Gerald Drummond's portrait. What do you think of it, child?"
It was one of the equestrian portraits. The subject, a man in the thirties, dressed in a lancer uniform, stood by his horse's head. His helmet was off, lying on the ground at his feet; and it was easy to see why the artist had chosen to paint the sitter with his head uncovered. The upper part of the face—the forehead and eyes—was strikingly handsome. The sweep of golden hair, despite its close military cut, was beautiful also. For the rest, the nose was too large and not particularly well-shaped, the chin was rugged, the mouth stern. Lantern-jawed was the epithet one thought of when looking at the portrait of the man whose deeds were written in his country's history.
It was an epithet Mary Gray would not have thought of. Indeed, she stared at the hero in fascinated awe, but would not have known how to express an opinion regarding his looks. Fortunately, Lady Anne did not wait for an answer to her question—had not, perhaps, ever intended that it should be answered.
"It is very like," she went on. "Half Greek god, half fanatic. He led his charges with Bible words on his lips. He spent the night before a battle in prayer and fasting. He was as stern as John Knox, and as sweet as Francis de Sales. The only time his light deserted him was when he married Matilda Stewart. We were all in love with him. I was, although I ought to have had sense, being ten years his senior and a widow. He picked the worst of the bunch. Luckily, he could get away from Matilda, for he was always fighting somewhere, and perhaps he never found out. He kept his simplicity to the day he died. Some people thought he married Matilda because she was one of the Stewart heiresses, and the Drummonds were as poor as church mice. They didn't know him. It was more likely he'd marry her because she was plain, with a face like a horse, and was head over ears in love with him. I will say that for Matilda. She was desperately in love with her husband, although no one would believe now that she had ever been in love with anybody."
Lady Drummond delayed about coming to her guests. Lady Anne tapped an impatient small foot on the floor.
"She's heckling someone now—take my word for it," she said.
Then her face wrinkled up, shrewdly humorous.
"What are you thinking, child?" she asked. "Thinking of how oddly we in the world talk of the friends we go to visit? I don't trouble the Court much. But I am interested in Gerald's boy. I should like to know how he is going to turn out. Not much of her Ladyship in him, I fancy."
However, there was no question of Mary's judging her benefactress; and Lady Anne smiled as she noticed that the girl had not heard her question, and watched the innocent, tender, worshipping look with which she was gazing at Sir Gerald's portrait. The smile faded off into a sigh. "Ah, le beau temps passe!" The expression on Mary's face recalled to Lady Anne the one romantic passion of her life, which had come to her after widowhood had put an end to a marriage in which esteem and liking for an elderly husband had taken the place of love.
"You must excuse me, Anne."
A monotonous, important voice broke into Lady Anne's dream like a harsh discord, shattering it to atoms.
"You must excuse me. I've been interviewing my gardener. In your town life you are spared much. Considering the size of the gardens here and the labour I pay for, the yield is far too little. I expect the gardens to pay for themselves, and send the fruit to market. This year there is a great falling-off."
"It has been a wet summer," said Lady Anne.
"Ah! and who is this young lady?"
Lady Drummond's voice told that she had no need to ask the question. She had heard of Anne Hamilton's extraordinary freak and had suggested that for the protection of the interests of Anne's relatives she had better be put under proper restraint. Still, she asked the question. One would have said from the deadly monotony of Lady Drummond's voice that she could not get any expression into it. Yet she could on occasion; and the chilling disapproval in it now made Mary look up in a frightened surprise.
"This young lady, Miss Gray, is my companion," Lady Anne said, with a stiffening of herself for battle and a light in her eye which showed that she had not mistaken Lady Drummond's challenge, and had no objection to take it up.
"Ah!" Lady Drummond again lifted the lorgnette that hung at her belt and stared at Mary through it. "The young lady is very young for the post, and a companion is a new thing—is it not, Anne?—for you to require."
"You mean that I never could get one to live with me," Lady Anne said good-humoredly. "Well, Mary and I get on very well together—don't we, Mary?"
"Miss Gray is very young."
"If we are going to discuss her, need she stay?" Lady Anne asked. "I am sure she is longing to see the gardens. I couldn't get round myself. The damp has made me stiff."
"Can you find your way, Miss Gray?"
Lady Drummond was plainly anxious to be rid of Mary, and made an effort at politeness which was only awkward and discouraging.
"I think so," said Mary, looking round with an air of flight.
Lady Drummond's disapproval chilled her. She was not accustomed to be disapproved of, and it filled her with a vague terror as though she had done something wrong ignorantly.
She glided out of the room like a shadow. As she went, Lady Drummond's unlowered voice followed her.
"Your choice is a very odd one, Anne Hamilton. That gawky child, all eyes and forehead. I remember I wanted you to have my excellent Miss Bradley."
"I wouldn't have your excellent Bradley for an hour...."
But Mary had fled beyond the hearing of the voices. She had no curiosity to hear any more of Lady Drummond's unflattering remarks concerning her.
Once again she longed for Wistaria Terrace. There was no place for her in this world, she said to herself; and sent a tender reproach in her own mind to the father who had given her up for her good. Then she felt contrite about Lady Anne. How good the old lady was to her, and how she stood up for her, would stand up for her, even to the terrible Lady Drummond! Still, it was not her world; it never would be. She thought, with sudden childish tears filling her eyes, that the next time Lady Anne went to see any of her fine friends she would pray to be left at home.
The great suite of rooms opened one into the other. Mary was in the last of them—a library walled in books from floor to ceiling. The heavy velvet curtains that draped the arched entrance by which she had come had fallen behind her. The silence in the room where the feet fell so softly could be felt. There was not a sound but the ticking of a clock on the mantel-shelf.
Suddenly she came to a standstill. She had entered the room, but how was she to leave it? The doors were constructed of a piece with the book-shelves. The backs of them were dummy books. Mary did not know in the least how to discover the doors. In fact, she supposed that there were not any. She would have to retrace the way she came—perhaps even ask the terrible Lady Drummond how to get out.
She looked up at the long windows with the eye of a bird who has strayed in and cannot find the way out. The elusive air of flight that was hers was more pronounced at the moment.
Suddenly there was a sound, and, as Mary thought, the book-shelves opened. She saw light through the opening. A tall boy came in, whistling, and pulled up short as his eyes fell on her. He was about her own age, or a little older.
Mary never forgot in after years the kindness and friendliness of his face as his eyes rested upon her. He came forward slowly, putting out his hand. The colour flooded his face to the roots of his fair hair.
"You came with Lady Anne Hamilton," he said. "I found the carriage outside. I have sent it round to the stables and told the man to put up the horses for a while. He will want some refreshment; and they need a rest."
Mary put a limp hand into the frankly extended one.
"I couldn't find my way out," she said, with a sigh of relief. "I thought there were no doors. I was going to see the gardens while Lady Anne and Lady Drummond talked."
"Let me come with you," the boy said eagerly. "I don't know how anybody stays in the house on such a day. Do you like puppies? I have a beautiful litter of Clumber spaniels. And I should like you to see my pony. I have just been out on him. It's a bit slow here, all alone, after so many fellows at school. I'm at Eton, you know. I am going back next Thursday. Shan't be altogether sorry, either, though I'll miss some things."
They went out together into the golden autumn afternoon. First they went round the gardens, where the boy picked some roses and made them into a little bunch for Mary. He took a peach from a red wall and gave it to her. They sat down together on a seat to eat their fruit. Gardeners and gardeners' assistants passing by touched their hats respectfully. It was, "Yes, Sir Robin," and "No, Sir Robin." The young master had a good many questions to ask of the gardeners. He was evidently well liked, to judge by the smiles with which they greeted him.
"They're no end of good fellows," he confided to Mary. "The mater's rather down on them; thinks they don't do enough. It's a mistake, a woman trying to run a place like this. She can't understand as a man does. Now, if you've finished your peach, Miss Gray, we'll go round to the stable yard and see the puppies. After that I'll show you the pony. His name's Ajax, and he's rather rippin'. Do you like Kerry cows? The mater has a herd of them—jolly little beasts, but a bit wicked, some of them. You needn't be afraid of them. They wouldn't touch you while I'm there."
Mary inspected the Clumber puppies, and was promised the pick of the litter if Lady Anne would allow her to accept it.
"She won't refuse," said the boy, confidently. "She thinks no end of me."
"Unless the puppy might worry Fifine."
"The puppy wouldn't take any notice of that thing—the old dog, I mean. Besides, she lives in her basket, doesn't she? You might keep the puppy in the stables and take him for walks whenever you can. He'll have a beautiful coat like his mother, and if he's half as clever as she is...!"
"He's a lovely thing," said Mary, hugging the puppy, who was licking her face energetically and patting her with tremendous paws.
They visited the paddock next; and Sir Robin, springing on Ajax's back, trotted him up and down for Mary's inspection. He had a good seat in the saddle, and he looked his best on horseback. To be sure, Mary had not discovered that Sir Robin was plain, his mother's plainness militating in him against what share of beauty he might have inherited from his father. There was something so exhilarating to Mary in the afternoon's experience, after its beginning so badly, that she forgot what had gone before. She thought Sir Robin a kind and delightful boy. They saw the Kerries, and afterwards there were the rabbits, and the ferrets, and the guinea-pigs to be visited. Intimacy advanced by leaps and bounds. Before the inspection had concluded she was "Mary" to her new-found friend, although she was too reticent by nature to think of addressing him so familiarly.
They had forgotten the time till half-past five struck from a clock in the stable-yard. At this time they were down by a pond in the shrubbery, where there was an islet with a water-hen's nest and a couple of swans sailing on the water. There was a boat, too, and Sir Robin was just getting it out preparatory to rowing Mary round the pond.
"Oh!" she said, with a little start. "What time is that?"
"Half-past five. I'd no idea it was so late."
"Nor I. I must go back at once. Lady Anne said we should be returning about five. I hope she will not be very angry with me."
Mary had begun to tremble. She always trembled in moments of agitation, as a slender young poplar might shiver in the wind.
The boy jumped out of the boat hastily.
"There, don't be frightened," he said. He had caught a glimpse of Mary's face. "Lady Anne won't mind. She's a good sort. You should see the hampers she sends me. The mater doesn't approve of school hampers. You must put the blame on me. It was my fault entirely, for I had a watch."
They hurried along the path leading back to the open space in front of the house. When they emerged into the open a breathless maid came towards them.
"I've been looking everywhere for you and the young lady, Sir Robin," she said. "Lady Anne Hamilton is waiting for Miss Gray."
Poor Mary! When they arrived in the drawing-room it was not with Lady Anne she had to count. Lady Anne sat with an air of humorous patience on her face, but Lady Drummond's brow was thunderous. The haughty indignation in her pale eyes terrified the very soul in Mary. She shrank away from it in terror.
"I had no idea you were with Miss Gray, Robin," she heard the lady say in glacial accents.
"I discovered Miss Gray trying to find her way out of the library. No one could find those doors without knowing something about them. And we went to see the puppies and the pony and the other beasts."
"We'd better be going, Mary," Lady Anne said, standing up. "You and Robin have made my visit quite a visitation."
"The horses had to rest and the coachman to have his tea," said Sir Robin, sturdily.
"You take too much care of your horses, Anne," Lady Drummond said. "They are too fat; they can't be healthy. And your coachman is very fat, too."
"Oh, they take it easy, they take it easy," Lady Anne said, laughing; "they've only my temper to worry them."
They left Lady Drummond looking as black as thunder in the drawing-room. Sir Robin escorted them to their carriage.
"So sorry, Lady Anne," he said, apologetically. "It was my fault. I hope you won't be angry with Miss Gray."
"It is your mother's annoyance has to be considered, my dear boy," answered Lady Anne, while he tucked the rug about her.
"All the same, Miss Gray and I had a rippin' time," he said, flinging back his head with an air of humorous defiance. "And—I say—you're too good to me, you know, you really are." Lady Anne had pressed something into his palm. "The mater doesn't see what boys want with so much pocket-money. Sometimes I don't know what I'd do only for you. There are so many things a fellow has to subscribe to."
The carriage rolled off, leaving him bare-headed on the drive in front of the house.
"That's a good boy," said Lady Anne, emphatically. "He has his father's heart. He's getting the ways of the master about him, too. I can tell by Jennings' back that he's had a good tea. He'll be a good son, but the time will come when he'll choose for himself. Well, Mary, I hope you've enjoyed yourself. Matilda won't want to see me for a month of Sundays again. Nor I her, for the matter of that. Dear me, she can make herself unpleasant."
Mary sat in a conscience-stricken silence during that homeward drive. Yet Lady Anne was not angry with her—that was very obvious. She seemed to be enjoying herself, too, judging by the smile that played about her lips. Now and again she cast a humorous glance on Mary. Once she chuckled aloud.
"Never mind me, my dear," she said, in answer to Mary's glance. "I was only thinking of something Denis Drummond, Gerald Drummond's elder brother, said of her Ladyship. Ah, poor Denis! He'd face a charge of the guns more readily than he would her Ladyship. Odd, isn't it, Mary, how those thoroughly disagreeable women can make themselves feared?"
"OLD BLOOD AND THUNDER"
Sir Denis Drummond had been his brother Gerald's senior by some seven or eight years. He, too, was a soldier, and had inherited the baronetcy from his father, upon whom the title had been bestowed by a grateful country for services in the field. A second baronetcy in the family had been specially created for Sir Gerald. It would not have been easy to say which was the finer soldier of the two brothers; for while Sir Gerald had made his name famous by the most dare-devil and brilliant feats, Sir Denis was rather the old type of soldier—cool as well as daring, always reliable and steady. Worshipped by his men, his name was one to be held in constant regard by the British public, which calls its heroes by their Christian names abbreviated, if they do not happen, indeed, to have a nickname for them.
"Old Blood and Thunder" was the name by which Sir Denis was known to his men, and that from a certain violence of speech of which he had never been able, or perhaps had never desired, to divest himself. This violence had somewhat annoyed his brother Gerald, who could get as much exhortation out of a verse of Scripture as ever he needed. Sir Denis, like many old soldiers, was quite a devout man in his way; but he had none of the zealot passion of his younger brother. The hidden fires which had given Sir Gerald a certain haggardness of aspect, as though a sculptor had hewed him roughly in marble, had never burned in Sir Denis's breast. He was a red-faced, white-moustached veteran, as blustering as the west wind, but with a heart as soft as wax in the hands of his daughter Nelly, and, indeed, in the hands of anyone else who knew the way to it.
His servants adored him, as did the dogs and all animals and children. He was beautiful in his manner to women of high and low degree, with perhaps one exception. He was as simple as a child, and loved the popular applause which fell to him whenever he made any kind of public appearance, for he had been so long a Londoner that now the London crowd knew him and had a sense of possession in him. His rosy face would beam all over when the crowd shouted itself hoarse for "Old Blood and Thunder." He did not at all object to the name, which had filtered from regimental into common use. The crowd was always "Boys!" to him. He had a most amiable feeling towards it, were it ever so frowsy and undersized and sallow. But he loved a soldier-man, and could hardly bear to pass one in the street without stopping to speak to him.
One delightful thing about Sir Denis was the esteem in which he held his own calling of arms. It might be questioned whether he held the Church even in higher honour. He was no subscriber to the belief that the army must necessarily be a refuge of rapscallions. "Straighten your shoulders, sir; hold your head high; for, remember that you are now a soldier!" he would say to the newest recruit who had just scraped through with a margin of chest. His thunderous wrath and sorrow when one of his "boys" was guilty of conduct unbecoming a soldier were something which, in time, impressed even the least impressionable. His old regiment, which he delighted to talk about, he had left a model regiment.
"There's a deal of good in the soldier-man," he would say to his daughter Nelly. "The poor fellows, they're good boys, they're very good boys."
Sir Denis had married, as he was approaching middle age, a very beautiful young girl, who had fallen in love at first with the soldier, and afterwards with the man.
His Nell had left him in his daughter Nelly a replica of herself. During the years of service that remained to him the child was always as near to him as might be. Fortunately, by this time the period of his foreign service was all but at an end. Wherever he had his command the child and her nurse were always within riding distance. He did not believe in barracks and towns for the rearing of anything so fresh and tender. His Nelly must have the fields and the woods and the waters. In later years her milkmaid freshness owed, perhaps, something to this upbringing.
Later, she went to school. Sir Gerald's widow, to whom Sir Denis always referred as the Dowager, who had taken an unasked-for interest in the motherless child from her birth, had found the ideal school for Nelly—a school where the daughters of the aristocracy were kept in a conventual seclusion while they learnt as little as might be of the simpler virtues, but a deal of the way to step in and out of a carriage, to comport themselves with dignity, to bear themselves in the presence of their sovereign, and so on.
Sir Denis, who had not been consulted, made a pretence of interviewing the Misses de Crespigny, by whom this aristocratic preserve was safeguarded.
He had listened to Miss Selina de Crespigny's eloquent exposition of the system adopted at De Crespigny House. Then he had torn it all to pieces as one might the delicate fabric of a spider's web, constructed at infinite cost.
"And, tell me now, do you teach them to be good daughters and wives and mothers?" he asked, with his air of convincing simplicity. "Do you teach them their duties to their husbands and children, ma'am, may I ask?"
Miss de Crespigny positively gasped. There was an indelicacy about the General's speech, to her manner of thinking.
"We expect our young ladies' mothers to teach them all that," she said, stiffly.
"And they don't. In nine cases out of ten they don't. They've too much to do otherwise. Whether it is philanthropy or politics, or just amusing themselves, they've all got too much to do," Sir Denis said, with a simple air that made it doubtful if this criticism of Society's ways was adverse or not.
Nelly did not go to De Crespigny House. She went, instead, to a much less pretentious school, kept by a family of four sisters, for whom the dry bones of teaching had been clothed with life. The house was perched on a high, windy cliff. The sisters, Miss Stella and Miss Clara, Miss Lucy and Miss Marianne, did their own teaching, and did it in a perfectly unconventional way to the twenty or so girls who made up their school.
When Nelly came home to her father at seventeen years of age, it would not have been easy to find a fresher, franker specimen of young girlhood. In fact, to her father's eyes she was somewhat alarmingly bright and fair.
"The young fellows will be about her thick as bees," he said to himself in a frightened way. "I won't have any nonsense about Nelly. I want my girl to myself for a little while. Afterwards there is that arrangement of the Dowager's about Nelly and Robin. I don't care for the marriage of first cousins. And I'm not sure that I care for Robin; still, he is poor Gerald's son. There can be nothing against poor Gerald's son."
He was so afraid of possible lovers for Nelly that he actually suggested to her that she should go to a smart finishing school for the couple of years that separated him from the sixty-five limit.
"After that," he said, faintheartedly, for there was a sparkle in Nelly's eye which discouraged him, "we shall settle down in London, and you shall see all you want to see. There are quiet nooks and corners to be had, even in London. I think I know the one I shall choose. Be a good girl, Nelly, and go to Madame Celeste's. A garrison town is no place for you. Unless, indeed, you would like to go to the Dowager, as she wishes."
"I shan't go to the Dowager, and I shan't go to Madame Celeste's," said Nelly, dimpling and sparkling. "I shall stay with my old Dad and take care of him."
"What, Nell? 'Shan't'! You forget you're talking to your commanding officer. Rank insubordination—that is what I call it!"
"Call it what you like," Miss Nelly replied. "I'm going to stay. A finishing school at seventeen! I never heard the like!"
With that she put her arms round the General's neck, and that was the final argument. Secretly, indeed, he was not altogether sorry to be worsted. He had done his best to ward off the things that might happen. Now he was going to trust in Providence and keep his little girl with him. To be sure, he had known that she would never go to the Dowager's. Nelly had never considered that possibility. After all, it was a relief that they were not going to be parted.
During the two years Nelly, indeed, had many admirers and lovers, but she was not attracted by any of them. She was kind and friendly and engaging; but she was unconscious with her lovers, or so it seemed to the jealous, fatherly eyes, to the verge of coldness.
He often said to himself that he could not understand Nell. None of the gay, handsome, gallant soldier lads seemed to have the least attraction in that way for her. To be sure, she was a child, and there was plenty of time. Why shouldn't her old father keep her for the years to come? Unless—unless, that fellow Robin had been beforehand with the others—Robin, who had refused point-blank to be a soldier, and had even, to the General's bitter offence, actually spoken at the Oxford Union "On the Waste and Wickedness of a Standing Army." The General had nearly had a fit over that. Good Heavens! Gerald's son, Sir Massey Drummond's grandson, to be found on the side of the Philistines like that! What chill was in the boy's blood? What crook in his character? What bee in his bonnet?
The General had sworn then that Robin never should have his Nelly. But the Dowager had been sapping and mining and laying plans to bring about the marriage almost from Nelly's infancy, when she had come in and altered the constituents of Nelly's baby bottles, and had infuriated Nelly's wholesome country nurse to the point of departure. The General had come just in time then to find Mrs. Loveday fastening the cherry-coloured strings of her bonnet with fingers that trembled, and had been put to the very edge of his simple diplomacy to undo the Dowager's work. He knew his own helplessness where women were concerned. Nelly might see something in Robin, confound him, that the General could not.
At this point he would remember that, after all, Robin was poor Gerald's son, if an unworthy one, and be contrite. But then the grievance would revive of a far-back Quaker ancestor of Lady Drummond, whom the General blamed for the peace-loving instincts of poor Gerald's boy; and once again he would be furious.
Meanwhile, Nelly's frank, innocent eyes, blue as gentians, had no consciousness of a lover. Her old father seemed to be enough for her. At one moment they gave him the fullest assurance; the next he was in heats and colds of apprehension about the lover, be it Robin or another, who would take his little girl from him.
THE BLUE RIBBON
The half-dozen years or so following Sir Denis's retirement were years of peace, in which he forgot for long periods, broken only by the Dowager's visits to London, his fear of losing his Nelly.
He had taken a house in Sherwood Square, where there is a space and breeziness that the fashionable districts could not possibly allow.
The square sits on top of one of the highest hills in London, and entrenches itself as a fortress against the poverty and squalor that are creeping up the hill towards it. Around the square there are still gardens and crescents and roads of consideration, but ever dwindling in social status as one goes down the hill, till the consideration vanishes in the degradation of cheap boarding-houses and the homes of Jews of the shopkeeping classes.
Sir Denis had discovered Sherwood Square for himself, and was uncommonly proud of it. He liked to point out to his friends that he rented a palatial mansion for what a pied-a-terre in Mayfair would have cost him. The houses had been built by wealthy merchants and professional people in the eighteenth century. They had splendours of double doors and marble pavements, of frescoed walls and ceilings, and carved mantelpieces. They were entered from a quiet street which showed hardly a sign of life. There were lions couchant guarding the entrances. The walls on that side showed mostly blank, uninteresting windows. With an odd pride the great houses showed only their duller aspects to the world.
All the living-rooms except one looked on the other side; and what a difference! There was a great stretch of emerald-green turf such as one would never look to see in London; to be sure, gardeners had been watering and mowing and rolling it for over a century. In the turf were many flower-beds, and here and there were forest trees which had been there when the district was fields. Country birds came and built there year after year. You might hear the thrush begin about January. And in the spring it was a wilderness of sweet hyacinths and daffodils, lilac and may. The rooms were spacious and splendid within the big cream-coloured house; and the General used to say that in the early morning, when the smoke had cleared away, it was possible from the upper windows to see as far as the Surrey hills. However, that was something which nobody but himself had tested.
In the house love and friendliness and good-will reigned supreme. The General had insisted on engaging his own servants, much to the disgust of the Dowager, who had several proteges of her own practically engaged. When the General had outwitted Lady Drummond on this occasion by a flank movement, he was very gleeful in his confidential moments alone with Nelly.
"She wanted to put in her spies and satellites, did she, Nelly, my girl? Pretty stories of us they'd have carried to her Ladyship. The only womanly thing your aunt has, my girl, is an invincible curiosity. She'd like to know what we had for lunch and dinner, who came to see us, and what clothes we wore. I'm glad you wouldn't have that mantua-maker of hers. Cannot my girl have her frocks made where she likes? I'll tell you what, Nelly: your aunt is a presumptuous, meddling, overbearing, impertinent woman—that she is."
"Why don't you tell her to leave us alone, papa?"
But the General, whose courage had never been doubted during all the years of his strenuous life, had very little bravery when it came to a question of telling hard truths to a woman, and that woman the Dowager.
"We must remember, after all, Nelly," he would say then, "that she is your Uncle Gerald's widow. Poor Gerald! what a dear fellow he was! No matter what we say between ourselves, we can't quarrel with Gerald's widow."
And Sir Denis, who was becoming garrulous in old age, would slip off into some reminiscence of the younger brother to whom he had been tenderly attached, and for whom he had also a certain hero-worship because he had been so fine and heroic a soldier.
Certainly it said well for the servants whom Sir Denis and Nelly had chosen for themselves that they fell in so completely with the kindness and honesty and good-will of the house. Some credit was doubtless due also to Sir Denis's soldier servant, whom he had installed as butler; for Pat's loyalty and devotion to "Old Blood and Thunder" must have influenced the class of persons who are so susceptible of impressions from those of their own station, while the standards and exhortations of their social superiors are as though they were not. Pat was lynx-eyed for a malingerer in his Honour's service; and, indeed, where the rule was so easy and pleasant there was no excuse for malingering. Pat, too, was ably seconded by Bridget, the cook, who had come in originally as kitchen-maid, and had in time taken the place of the very important and pretentious functionary with whom they had started, and whose cookery did not at all suit Sir Denis's digestion, impaired somewhat by long years in India. The young kitchen-maid had taken the cook's place during the latter's holiday, and had sent up for Sir Denis's dinner a little clear soup, a bit of turbot with a sauce which was in itself genius, a bird roasted to the nicest golden brown, and a pudding which was only ground rice, but had an insubstantial delicacy about it quite unlike what one associates with the homely cereal.
"You've saved my life, my girl," said Sir Denis, meeting Bridget on the stairs the morning after this banquet, and presenting her with a golden sovereign, "and if you like to stay on as cook at forty pounds a year, why so you shall."
"You could shave yourself in her sauce-pans, your Honour," said Pat, when he heard of this amazing promotion. It was Pat's way of saying that Bridget polished her utensils till they reflected like a mirror. "She's a rale good little girsha, that's what she is, the same Bridget; and I'm rale glad, your Honour, that ould consiquince isn't comin' back again."
After that there were few changes. The servants were in clover, and since Pat and Bridget knew it, and impressed it on their subordinates, it came to be a generally recognised fact. To be sure, it made it pleasanter for everyone in the house when, thanks to Bridget's excellent plain cooking. Sir Denis forgot he had such a thing as a liver, and had no more of the gouty attacks which made his temper east-windy instead of west-windy. During those peaceful years he forgot to be choleric. He was overflowing with kindness and helpfulness to those about him, and took a paternal interest in the affairs of his household.
"Sure," Pat would say to Bridget, "'tis for marrying us he'd be, if he knew how it was with us, same as he married off Rose to the postman and gave them a cottage; and that new girl isn't up to Rose's work yet, nor ever will be, unless I'm mistaken."
"'Twould be a sin to take advantage of him," Bridget would answer. "And we're both young enough to wait a bit, Pat. There'll be new ways when Miss Nelly marries Sir Robin. Maybe 'tis going to live with them he'd be."
"He never will, so long as her Ladyship's alive," said Pat, emphatically.
"Then maybe we'd be havin' him for a furnished lodger," said Bridget. "I'd rather it 'ud be something in the country. Why wouldn't you be his coachman as well, Pat? Sure, anything you don't know about horses isn't worth the knowin'."
"True for you. We might have a little lodge," said Pat.
They were really the quietest and most peaceful years—unless the Dowager happened to be in town. Then something went dreadfully wrong with the General's temper, and he would come roaring downstairs and along the corridors like a winter storm. The servants' hall used to take a tender interest in those bad days.
"Somebody ought to spake to her," said Bridget. "Supposin' the gout was to go to his heart! He was bad enough after the last time she was here."
"She'll never lave hoult of him," said Pat, solemnly. "The sort of her Ladyship houlds on the tighter the more you wriggle. He's preparing a quare bed of repentance for himself, so he is, the langwidge he's usin' about her all over the house. By-and-by he'll be rememberin' she's Sir Gerald's widdy, and'll be askin' me ashamed-like, 'I hope I didn't say too much about her Ladyship in my timper, Pat. She's a tryin' woman, a very tryin' woman. I'm afraid I'm apt to forget now an' agin that she's my dear brother's widdy, so I am.'"
Pat's imitation of Sir Denis was really admirable.
"'Tis a pity he doesn't run her out of the house," said Bridget, "instead of lettin' her bother the heart out of him like that."
"He couldn't say a rough word to a woman, not if it was to save his life," said Pat. "Nothin' rougher thin 'No, ma'am,' and 'Yes, ma'am,' I ever heard him say to her. Whirroo, Bridget, you should ha' heard him whin his timper was up givin' it to us long ago in the barrack square. I hope it isn't the suppressed gout she'll be giving him the next time! 'Tisn't half as bad whin it's out."
However, the storms were few and far between. The household lived by rule. Every morning, winter and summer, the horses were at the door by eight o'clock for the morning canter of the General and Miss Nelly in the park. At nine o'clock the household assembled for prayers. After breakfast Sir Denis walked to his club in Pall Mall, wet or dry. He would read the papers and discuss the cheeseparing policy of the Government with some of his old chums, lunch at the club, play a game of dominoes or draughts, and return home in time for dinner. Frequently they entertained a friend or two quietly at dinner. But, company or no company, there were prayers at ten o'clock, after which the General took his candle and went to his bedroom.
There were times, of course, when Nelly went out to balls and entertainments, and then Sir Denis was to be seen on duty, even though there were a good many ladies who would be willing to take the chaperonage of his daughter off his hands. But that was an office he would relinquish to no one. He was the most patient of chaperons, too, and never grumbled if the daylight found him still at the whist-table, although he would rise at the same hour as usual and carry out his appointed round for the day as if he had not lost his sleep over-night. Of course, Nelly might stay a-bed. He wouldn't have Nelly's roses spoilt, and the young needed their proper amount of sleep. As for himself, he couldn't sleep a wink after seven, no matter how late he had been up the night before.
But, on the whole, they lived a quiet life. Nelly was too unselfish, too fond of her father, to cost him many nights without his usual sleep. She had really the quietest tastes. Her few friends, her books, her music, her dogs and birds, sufficed for her happiness. They had a houseful of dogs, by the way, and any description of the way of life in Sherwood Square which made no mention of dogs would be quite insufficient. Duke the Irish terrier and Bonaparte the pug, usually Boney, and Nelson the bull terrier, were as important and characteristic members of the household as anyone else, except, perhaps, Sir Denis and Miss Nelly. Nelly used to explain her stay-at-home ways to her friends by saying that the dogs were offended with her if she went out for a walk without them. The dogs had many tricks. They knew the terms of drill as well as any soldier, and were always ready for parade, or to die for their country, or groan for their country's enemies, at the General's word of command. Nelly had to be much out-of-doors, as the dogs were clamorous for walks, and she kept her roses in London with the old milkmaid sweetness.
There was one happening of the quiet day that stood out for Sir Denis, and, although he did not know it, for his daughter also.
Sir Denis's old regiment happened to be stationed at a barracks in the immediate neighbourhood. To reach their parade-ground it was possible for the troops, by making a little detour, to pass along the quiet street on which the houses in Sherwood Square opened. It became an established thing that they should pass every morning about nine o'clock. How that came Sir Denis did not trouble to ask. He was quite satisfied and delighted that "the boys" should do him honour.
The breakfast-room was one of the few rooms that did not overlook the square but the street. Every morning, just as Sir Denis concluded prayers, there would come the steady trot of cavalry and the jingle of accoutrements. If he had not quite finished, he would say "Amen" in a reverent hurry. "Come now, boys and girls," he would say to the servants, "I want you to see my old regiment."
He would step out on the balcony above the hall-door with a beaming face, and his arm around his Nelly's waist. The servants would press behind him, the dogs push to the front with the curiosity of their kind. Down the street the soldiers would come, all flashing in scarlet and gold, the sleek horses shining in the morning sun with a deeper lustre than their polished accoutrements. There would be a halt for a second in front of the house. The men would salute their old General, the General salute his old regiment. Then the cavalcade would sweep on its way and the street be duller than before.
One morning—it was a bright, breezy morning of March—the wind had caught Nelly's golden hair and blown it in a halo about her face. She was wearing a blue ribbon in it. She was fond of blue, and the simplicity of it became her fresh youth. Just as the soldiers halted the wind caught Nelly's blue bow, and, having played with it a little, sent it drifting down like a little blue flower among the men on horseback.
It was such a slight thing that the General might not have noticed it. Anyhow, he made no comment, but watched the troops out of sight as usual. The odd thing was that Nelly passed over her loss in silence, although she must have missed her blue ribbon, since without it her hair had become loose in the wind.
At breakfast, when the servants had left the room, the General made a remark.
"That young Langrishe sits his horse well," he said. "He's a good soldier, Nelly, my girl. A very good soldier, or I'm much mistaken."
But Nelly was apparently too absorbed in her duty of making the tea to answer the remark. For an instant she was redder than a rose. No one would have suspected Sir Denis of slyness, but the look he shot at the girl was certainly sly. Under the white tablecloth he rubbed his hands softly together.
A CHANCE MEETING
It was worse for the General when Sir Robin Drummond left Oxford and settled in London, with an avowed intention of reading for the Bar, and at the same time making politics his real career.
"A man ought to do something in the world," he said to his irate uncle. "The Bar is always a stepping-stone. I confess I don't look to practice very much; my real bent is for politics. But the law interests me, and it is always a stepping-stone."
"I should have thought that the profession of arms, which your father and your grandfather adorned, as well as a good many of your forbears, might serve you as well," Sir Denis said, hotly.
"You leave out my uncle, sir," the young man replied, with urbane good humour. "Yes, the Drummonds have done very well for the profession of arms. Still, with my beliefs on the subject of war——"
"Pray don't air them, don't air them. You know what I think about them. Your father's son ought to be ashamed of professing such sentiments."
"One must abide by one's sentiments, one's convictions, if one is to be good for anything. Uncle Denis," Sir Robin said, patiently.
"You'll have no chance in politics. No constituency will return you. What we want now is a strong Government that will strengthen us, through our Army and Navy, sir, against our enemies. Such a Government will come in at the next election a-top of the wave. The people, or I am much mistaken, are not going to see the bulwarks of our power tampered with. The country is all for war. Where do you come in?"
Sir Robin smiled ever so slightly. It was that smile of his, with its faintest hint of intellectual superiority, that riled the General to bursting point.
"I don't believe there is a war feeling, Uncle Denis," he said. "The country has had enough of war. However, I should not come in on top of a wave of war feeling in any case. You would be quite right in asking where I should come in. To be sure, I look to come in on top of the anti-war wave. My side is pledged against war. The working man——"
"You don't mean to say that you're going to appeal to him!" Sir Denis shouted. "You don't mean to say that you're going to side with the Radicals! I've lived to see many strange things, but—Gerald's son a Radical!"
He brought out the ejaculations with the sound of guns popping. His face was red with indignation, his eyes leaping at his degenerate nephew. The next words did not tend to calm him.
"Do you know, Uncle Denis, I believe that if my father had been a politician he would have been a Radical? His profound feeling for Christianity, his adherence to the creed of its Founder, Whose whole life was a glorification of toil——"