NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS
ROSA N. CAREY
"Aunt Diana," "Averil," "Lover or Friend," "Merle's Crusade," "Esther," "Mary St. John," "Queenie's Whim," "We Wifie," Etc., Etc.
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
407-429 Dearborn Street
M.A. DONOHUE & CO. CHICAGO.
CHAPTER PAGE I. Five-o'clock Tea. 7 II. Dick objects to the Mountains. 14 III. Mr. Mayne makes Himself Disagreeable. 22 IV. Dick's Fete. 28 V. "I am Quite Sure of Him." 35 VI. Mr. Trinder's Visit. 41 VII. Phillis's Catechism. 48 VIII. "We should have to carry Parcels." 55 IX. A Long Day. 62 X. The Friary. 68 XI. "Tell us all about it, Nan." 77 XII. "Laddie" puts in an Appearance. 85 XIII. "I must have Grace." 91 XIV. "You can dare to tell me These Things." 99 XV. A Van in the Braidwood Road. 108 XVI. A Visit to the White House. 118 XVII. "A Friend in Need." 124 XVIII. Dorothy brings in the Best China. 132 XIX. Archie is in a Bad Humor. 139 XX. "You are Romantic." 147 XXI. Breaking the Peace. 154 XXII. "Trimmings, not Squails." 162 XXIII. "Bravo, Atalanta!" 167 XXIV. Mothers are Mothers. 174 XXV. Mattie's New Dress. 181 XXVI. "Oh, You are Proud!" 189 XXVII. A Dark Hour. 196 XXVIII. The Mysterious Stranger. 202 XXIX. Mrs. Williams's Lodger. 210 XXX. "Now we understand Each Other." 219 XXXI. Dick thinks of the City. 226 XXXII. "Dick is to be our Real Brother." 232 XXXIII. "This is Life and Death to Me." 240 XXXIV. Miss Mewlstone has an Interruption. 248 XXXV. "Barby, don't You recollect Me?" 255 XXXVI. Motes in the Sunshine. 262 XXXVII. "A Man has a Right to His Own Thoughts." 268 XXXVIII. About Nothing Particular. 277 XXXIX. "How do you do, Aunt Catherine?" 283 XL. Alcides. 292 XLI. Sir Harry Bides his Time. 299 XLII. "Come, now, I call that Hard." 307 XLIII. "I will write no such Letter." 315 XLIV. Mr. Mayne orders a Basin of Gruel. 321 XLV. An Uninvited Guest. 328 XLVI. A New Invasion of the Goths. 336 XLVII. "It was so Good of You to ask me Here." 343 XLVIII. Mrs. Sparsit's Poodle. 349 XLIX. Mattie in a New Character. 356 L. Phillis's Favorite Month. 362
NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS
Five-o'clock tea was a great institution in Oldfield.
It was a form of refreshment to which the female inhabitants of that delightful place were strongly addicted. In vain did Dr. Weatherby, the great authority in all that concerned the health of the neighborhood, lift up his voice against the mild feminine dram-drinking of these modern days, denouncing it in no measured terms: the ladies of Oldfield listened incredulously, and, softly quoting Cowper's lines as to the "cup that cheers and not inebriates," still presided over their dainty little tea-tables, and vied with one another in the beauty of their china and the flavor of their highly-scented Pekoe.
In spite of Dr. Weatherby's sneers and innuendoes, a great deal of valuable time was spent in lingering in one or another of the pleasant drawing-rooms of the place. As the magic hour approached, people dropped in casually. The elder ladies sipped their tea and gossiped softly; the younger ones, if it were summer-time, strolled out through the open windows into the garden. Most of the houses had tennis-grounds, and it was quite an understood thing that a game should be played before they separated.
With some few exceptions, the inhabitants of Oldfield were wealthy people. Handsome houses standing in their own grounds were dotted here and there among the lanes and country roads. Some of the big houses belonged to very big people indeed; but these were aristocrats who only lived in their country houses a few months in the year, and whose presence added more to the dignity than to the hilarity of the neighborhood.
With these exceptions, the Oldfield people were highly gregarious and hospitable; in spite of a few peculiarities, they had their good points; a great deal of gossip prevailed, but it was in the main harmless and good-natured. There was a wonderful simplicity of dress, too, which in these days might be termed a cardinal virtue. The girls wore their fresh cambrics and plain straw hats: no one seemed to think it necessary to put on smart clothing when they wished to visit their friends. People said this Arcadian simplicity was just as studied: nevertheless, it showed perfection of taste and a just appreciation of things.
The house that was considered the most attractive in Oldfield, and where, on summer afternoons, the sound of youthful voices and laughter were the loudest, was Glen Cottage, a small white house adjoining the long village street, belonging to a certain Mrs. Challoner, who lived here with her three daughters.
This may be accounted strange in the first instance, since the Challoners were people of the most limited income,—an income so small that nothing but the most modest of entertainments could be furnished to their friends; very different from their neighbors at Longmead, the large white house adjoining, where sumptuous dinners and regular evening parties were given in the dark days when pleasures were few and tennis impossible.
People said it was very good-natured of the Maynes; but then when there is an only child in the case, an honest, pleasure-loving, gay young fellow, on whom his parents dote, what is it they will not do to please their own flesh and blood? and, as young Richard Mayne—or Dick, as he was always called—loved all such festive gatherings, Mrs. Mayne loved them too; and her husband tried to persuade himself that his tastes lay in the same direction, only reserving certain groans for private use, that Dick could not be happy without a houseful of young people.
But no such entertainments were possible at Glen Cottage: nevertheless, the youth of the neighborhood flocked eagerly into the pleasant drawing-room where Mrs. Challoner sat tranquilly summer and winter to welcome her friends, or betook themselves through the open French windows into the old-fashioned garden, in which mother and daughters took such pride.
On hot afternoons the tea-table was spread under an acacia-tree, low wicker-chairs were brought out, and rugs spread on the lawn, and Nan and her sisters dispensed strawberries and cream, with the delicious home-made bread and butter; while Mrs. Challoner sat among a few chosen spirits knitting and talking in her pleasant low-toned voice, quite content that the burden of responsibility should rest upon her daughters.
Mrs. Challoner always smiled when people told her that she ought to be proud of her girls. No daughters were ever so much to their mother as hers; she simply lived in and for them; she saw with their eyes, thought with their thoughts,—was hardly herself at all, but Nan and Phillis and Dulce, each by turns.
Long ago they had grown up to her growth. Mrs. Challoner's nature was hardly a self-sufficing one. During her husband's lifetime she had been braced by his influence and cheered by his example, and had sought to guide her children according to his directions; in a word, his manly strength had so supported her that no one, not even her shrewd young daughters, guessed at the interior weakness.
When her stay was removed, Mrs. Challoner ceased to guide, and came down to her children's level. She was more like their sister than their mother, people said; and yet no mother was more cherished than she.
Her very weakness made her sacred in her daughters' eyes; her widowhood, and a certain failure of health, made her the subject of their choicest care.
It could not be said that there was much amiss, but years ago a doctor whom Mrs. Challoner had consulted had looked grave, and mentioned the name of a disease of which certain symptoms reminded him. There was no ground for present apprehension; the whole thing was very shadowy and unsubstantial,—a mere hint,—a question of care; nevertheless the word had been said, and the mischief done.
From that time Mrs. Challoner was wont to speak gloomily of her health, as of one doomed. She was by nature languid and lymphatic, but now her languor increased; always averse to effort, she now left all action to her daughters. It was they who decided and regulated the affairs of their modest household, and rarely were such wise young rulers to be found in girls of their age. Mrs. Challoner merely acquiesced, for in Glen Cottage there was seldom a dissentient voice, unless it were that of Dorothy, who had been Dulce's nurse, and took upon herself the airs of an old servant who could not be replaced.
They were all pretty girls, the three Misses Challoner, but Nan was par excellence the prettiest. No one could deny that fact who saw them together. Her features were more regular than her sisters', and her color more transparent. She was tall too, and her figure had a certain willowy grace that was most uncommon; but what attracted people most was a frankness and unconsciousness of manner that was perfectly charming.
Phillis, the second sister, was not absolutely pretty, perhaps, but she was nice-looking, and there was something in her expression that made people say she was clever; she could talk on occasions with a fluency that was quite surprising, and that would cast Nan into the shade. "If I were only as clever as Phillis!" Nan would sigh.
Then there was Dulce, who was only just eighteen, and whom her sisters treated as the family pet; who was light and small and nimble in her movements, and looked even younger than she really was.
Nobody ever noticed if Dulce were pretty; and one questioned if her features were regular or not, or cared to do such a thing. Only when she smiled, the prettiest dimple came into her cheek, and her eyes had a fearless child-like look in them; for the rest, she was just Dulce.
The good-looking daughters of a good-looking mother, as somebody called them; and there was no denying Mrs. Challoner was still wonderfully well preserved, and, in spite of her languor and invalid airs, a very pretty woman.
Five-o'clock tea had long been over at the cottage this afternoon, and a somewhat lengthy game of tennis had followed; after which the visitors had dispersed as usual, and the girls had come in to prepare for the half-past seven-o'clock dinner; for Glen Cottage followed the fashion of its richer neighbors, and set out its frugal meal with a proper accompaniment of flower-vases and evening toilet.
The three sisters came up the lawn together, but Nan carried her racquet a little languidly; she looked a trifle grave.
Mrs. Challoner laid down her knitting and looked at them, and then she regarded her watch plaintively.
"Is it late, mother?" asked Nan, who never missed any of her mother's movements. "Ten minutes past seven! No wonder the afternoon seemed long."
"No one found it long but Nan," observed Dulce, with an arch glance at her sister at which Nan slightly colored, but took no further notice. "By the bye," she continued, as though struck by a sudden recollection, "what can have become of Dick this afternoon? he so seldom fails us without telling us beforehand."
"That will soon be explained," observed Phillis, oracularly, as the gate-bell sounded, and was immediately followed by sharp footsteps on the gravel and the unceremonious entrance of a young man through the open window.
"Better late than never," exclaimed two of the girls. Nan said, "Why, what has made you play truant, Dick?" in a slightly injured voice. But Mrs. Challoner merely smiled at him, and said nothing; young men were her natural enemies, and she knew it. She was civil to them and endured their company, and that was all.
Dick Mayne was not a formidable-looking individual; he was a strong, thick-set young fellow, with broad shoulders, not much above middle height, and decidedly plain, except in his mother's eyes; and she thought even Dick's sandy hair beautiful.
But in spite of his plainness he was a pleasant, well-bred young fellow, with a fund of good humor and drollery, and a pair of honest eyes that people learned to trust. Every one liked him, and no one ever said a word in his dispraise; and for the rest, he could tyrannize as royally as any other young man who is his family's sole blessing.
"It was all my ill luck," grumbled Dick. "Trevanion of Exeter came over to our place, and of course the mater pressed him to stay for luncheon, and then nothing would do but a long walk over Hillberry Downs."
"Why did you not bring him here?" interrupted Dulce, with a pout. "You tiresome Dick, when you must know what a godsend a strange young man is in these wilds!"
"My dear!" reproved her mother.
"Oh, but it is true, mamma," persisted the outspoken Dulce. "Think how pleased Carrie and Sophy Paine would have been at the sight of a fresh face! it was horrid of you, sir!"
"I wanted him to come," returned the young man, in a deprecating voice. "I told him how awfully jolly it always is here, and that he would be sure to meet a lot of nice people, but there was no persuading him: he wanted a walk and a talk about our fellows. That is the worst of Trevanion, he always will have his own way."
"Never mind," returned Nan, pleasantly; she seemed to have recovered her sprightliness all at once. "It is very good of you to come so often; and we had Mr. Parker and his cousin to look after the Paines."
"Oh, yes! we did very well," observed Phillis, tranquilly. "Mother, now Dick has come so late, he had better stay."
"If I only may do so?" returned Dick; but his inquiry was directed to Nan.
"Oh, yes, you may stay," she remarked, carelessly, as she moved away; but there was a little pleased smile on her face that he failed to see. She nodded pleasantly to him as he darted forward to open the door. It was Nan who always dispensed the hospitalities of the house, whose decision was unalterable. Dick had learned what it was to be sent about his business; only once had he dared to remain without her sovereign permission, and on that occasion he had been treated by her with such dignified politeness that he would rather have been sent to Coventry.
This evening the fates were propitious, and Dick understood that the sceptre of favor was to be extended to him. When the girls had flitted into the little dusky hall he closed the door, and sat down happily bedside Mrs. Challoner, to whom he descanted eloquently of the beauties of Hilberry and the virtues of Ned Trevanion.
Mrs. Challoner listened placidly as the knitting-needles flashed between her long white fingers. She was very fond of Dick, after her temperate fashion; she had known him from a child, and had seen him grow up among them until he had become like a son of the house. Dick, who had no brothers and sisters of his own, and whose parents had not married until they were long past youth, had adopted brotherly airs with the Challoner girls; they called each other by their Christian names, and he reposed in them the confidences that young men are wont to give to their belongings.
With Nan this easy familiarity had of late merged into something different: a reserve, a timidity, a subtile suspicion of change had crept into their intimacy. Nan felt that Dick's manner had altered, but somehow she liked it better: his was always a sweet bountiful nature, but now it seemed to have deepened into greater manliness. Dick was growing older; Oxford training was polishing him. After each one of his brief absences Nan saw a greater change, a more marked deference, and secretly hoped that no one else noticed it. When the young undergraduate wrote dutiful letters home the longest messages were always for Nan; when he carried little offerings of flowers to his young neighbors, Nan's bouquet was always the choicest; he distinguished her, too, on all occasions by those small nameless attentions which never fail to please.
Nan kept her own counsel, and never spoke of these things. She said openly that Dick was very nice and very much improved, and that they always missed him sadly during the Oxford terms; but she never breathed a syllable that might make people suspect that this very ordinary young man with the sandy hair was more to her than other young men. Nevertheless Phillis and Dulce knew that such was the case, and Mrs. Challoner understood that the most dangerous enemy to her peace was this lively-spoken Dick.
Dick was very amusing, for he was an eloquent young fellow: nevertheless Mrs. Challoner sighed more than once, and her attention visibly wandered; seeing which, Dick good-humoredly left off talking, and began inspecting the different articles in Nan's work-basket.
"I am afraid I have given your mother a headache," he said when they were sitting round the circular table in the low, oddly-shaped dining-room. There was a corner cut off, and the windows were in unexpected places, which made it unlike other rooms; but Dick loved it better than the great dining-room at Longmead; and somehow it never had looked cosier to him than it did this evening. It was somewhat dark, owing to the shade of the veranda: so the lamp was lighted, and the pleasant scent of roses and lilies came through the open windows. A belated wasp hovered round the specimen glasses that Nan had filled; Dick tried to make havoc of the enemy with his table-napkin. The girls' white dresses suited their fresh young faces. Nan had fastened a crimson rose in her gown; Phillis and Dulce had knots of blue ribbon. "Trevanion does not know what he lost by his obstinacy," thought Dick, as he glanced round the table.
"What were you and the mother discussing?" asked Dulce, curiously.
"Dick was telling me about his friend. He seemed a very superior young man," returned Mrs. Challoner. "I suppose you have asked him for your party next week?"
Dick turned very red at this question. "Mater asked him, you may trust her for that. If it were not for father, I think she would turn the whole house out of the windows: every day some one fresh is invited."
"How delightful! and all in your honor," exclaimed Dulce, mischievously.
"That spoils the whole thing," grumbled the heir of the Maynes: "it is a perfect shame that a fellow cannot come of age quietly, without his people making this fuss. I begin to think I was a fool for my pains to refuse the ball."
"Yes, indeed; just because you were afraid of the supper speeches," laughed Dulce, "when we all wanted it so."
"New mind," returned Dick, sturdily; "the mater shall give us one in the winter, and we will have Godfrey's band, and I will get all our fellows to come."
"That will be delightful," observed Nan, and her eyes sparkled,—already she saw herself led out for the first dance by the son of the house,—but Dulce interrupted her:
"But all the same I wish Dick had not been so stupid about it. No one knows what may happen before the winter. I hate put-off things."
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,—eh, Miss Dulce?"
"Yes, indeed; that proverb is truer than people think," she replied, with a wise nod of her head. "Don't you remember, Nan, when the Parkers' dance was put off, and then old Mr. Parker died; and nearly the same thing happened with the Normatons, only it was an uncle in that case."
"Moral: never put off a dance, in case somebody dies."
"Oh, hush, please!" groaned Nan, in a shocked voice; "I don't like to hear you talk about such dreadful things. After all, it is such delicious weather that I am not sure a garden-party will not be more enjoyable; and you know, Dulce, that we are to dance on the lawn if we like."
"And supposing it should rain," put in that extremely troublesome young person, at which suggestion Dick looked very gloomy.
"In that case I think we must persuade Mrs. Mayne to clear a room for us," returned Nan, cheerfully. "If your mother consults me," she continued, addressing Dick, who visibly brightened at this, "I shall recommend her to empty the front drawing-room as much as possible. There is the grand piano, or the band might come in-doors; there will be plenty of room for the young people, and the non-dancers can be drafted off into the inner drawing-room and conservatory."
"What a head you have!" exclaimed Dick, admiringly; and Phillis, who had not joined in the argument, was pleased to observe that she was quite of Nan's opinion: dancing was imperative, and if the lawns were wet they must manage in-doors somehow. "It would never do for people to be bored and listless," finished the young lady, sententiously, and such was Phillis's cleverness that it was understood at once that the oracle had spoken; but then it was never known for Nan and Phillis to differ.
Things being thus amicably arranged, the rest of the conversation flowed evenly on every other point, such as the arrangements of the tennis-matches in the large meadow, and the exact position of the marquees; but just as they were leaving the table Dick said another word to Nan in a somewhat low voice:
"It is all very well, but this sort of thing does make a fellow feel such a conceited fool."
"If I were you I would not think about it at all," she returned, in her sensible way. "The neighborhood will expect something of the kind, and we owe a little to other people; then it pleases your mother to make a fuss, as you call it, and it would be too ungrateful to disappoint her."
"Well, perhaps you are right," he returned, in a slightly mollified tone, for he was a modest young fellow, and the whole business had occasioned him some soreness of spirit. "Take it all in all, one has an awful lot to go through in life: there are the measles, you know, and whooping cough, and the dentist, and one's examination, and no end of unpleasant things; but to be made by one's own mother to feel like an idiot for a whole afternoon! Never mind; it can be got through somehow," finished the young philosopher, with a sigh that sent Nan into a fit of laughter.
DICK OBJECTS TO THE MOUNTAINS.
"Shall we have our usual stroll?" asked Phillis, as Nan and Dick joined her at the window.
This was one of the customs at Glen Cottage. When any such fitting escort offered itself, the three girls would put on their hats, and, regardless of the evening dews and their crisp white dresses, would saunter, under Dick's guidance through the quiet village, or down and up the country roads "just for a breath of air," as they would say.
It is only fair to Mrs. Challoner's views of propriety to say that she would have trusted her three pretty daughters to no other young man but Dick; and of late certain prudential doubts had crossed her mind. It was all very well for Phillis to say Dick was Dick, and there was an end of it. After all, he belonged to the phalanx of her enemies, those shadowy invaders of her hearth that threatened her maternal peace. Dick was not a boy any longer; he had outgrown his hobbledehoy ways; the slight sandy moustache that he so proudly caressed was not a greater proof of his manhood than the undefinable change that had passed over his manners.
Mrs. Challoner began to distrust these evening strolls, and to turn over in her own mind various wary pretexts for detaining Nan on the next occasion.
"Just this once, perhaps, it does not matter," she murmured to herself, as she composed herself to her usual nap.
"We shall not be long, little mother; so you must not be dull," Dulce had said, kissing her lightly over her eyes. This was just one of the pleasant fictions at the cottage,—one of those graceful little deceptions that are so harmless in families.
Dulce knew of those placid after-dinner naps. She knew her mother's eyes would only unclose when Dorothy brought in the tea-tray; but she was also conscious that nothing would displease her mother more than to notice this habit. When they lingered in-doors, and talked in whispers so as not to disturb her, Mrs. Challoner had an extraordinary facility for striking into the conversation in a way that was somewhat confusing.
"I don't agree with you at all," she would say, in a drowsy voice. "Is it not time for Dorothy to bring in the tea? I wish you would all talk louder. I must be getting a little deaf, I think, for I don't hear half you say."
"Oh, it was only nonsense talk, mammie," Dulce would answer; and the sisterly chit-chat would recommence, and her mother's head nid-nodded on the cushions until the next interruption.
"We shall not have many more of these strolls," observed Dick, regretfully, as they all walked together through the village, and then branched off into a long country road, where the air blew freshly in their faces and low mists hung over the meadow land. Though it was not quite dark, there was a tiny moon, and the glimmer of a star or two; and there was a pleasant fragrance as of new-mown grass.
They were all walking abreast, and keeping step, and Dick was in the middle, with Nan beside him. Dulce was hanging on to her arm, and every now and then breaking into little snatches of song.
"How I envy you!" exclaimed Phillis. "Think of spending three whole months in Switzerland. Oh, you lucky Dick!"
For the Maynes had decided to pass the long vacation in the Engadine. Some hints had been dropped that Nan should accompany them, but Mrs. Challoner had regarded the invitation with some disfavor, and Mrs. Mayne had not pressed the point. If only Nan had known! but her mother had in this matter kept her own counsel.
"I don't know about that," dissented Dick; he was rather given to argue from the mere pleasure of opposition. "Mountains and glaciers are all very well in their way; but I think, on the whole, I would as soon be here. You see, I am so accustomed to mix with a lot of fellows, that I am afraid of finding the pater's sole company rather slow."
"For shame!" remarked his usual monitress. But she spoke gently: in her heart she knew why Dick failed to find the mountains alluring.
"Why could not one of you girls join us?" he continued, wrathfully. The rogue had fairly bullied the unwilling Mrs. Mayne into giving that invitation.
"Do ask her, mother; she will be such a nice companion for you when the pater and I are doing our climbing; do, there's a dear good soul!" he had coaxed. And the dear good soul, who was secretly jealous of Nan, and loved her about as much as mothers usually love an only son's choice, had bewailed her hard fate in secret; and had then stepped over to the cottage with a bland and cheerful exterior, which grew more cheerful as Mrs. Challoner's reluctance made itself felt.
"It is not wise; it will throw them so much together," Nan's mother had said. "If it were only Phillis or Dulce; but you must have noticed——"
"Oh, yes, I have noticed!" returned Mrs. Mayne, hastily. She was a stout, comely-looking woman, but beside Mrs. Challoner she looked like a housekeeper dressed in her mistress's smart clothes. Mrs. Mayne's dresses never seemed to belong to her; it could not be said that they fitted her ill, but there was a want of adaptability,—a lack of taste that failed to accord with her florid style of beauty.
She had been a handsome woman when Richard Mayne married her, but a certain deepening of tints and broadening of contour had not improved the mistress of Longmead. Her husband was a decided contrast: he was a small, wiry man, with sharp features that expressed a great deal of shrewdness. Dick had got his sandy hair; but Richard Mayne the elder had not his son's honest, kindly eyes. Mr. Mayne's were small and twinkling; he had a way of looking at people between his half-closed lids, in a manner half sharp and half jocular.
He was not vulgar, far from it; but he had a homely air about him that spoke of the self-made man. He was rather fond of telling people that his father had been in trade in a small way and that he himself had been the sole architect of his fortune. "Look at Dick," he would say; "he would never have a penny, that fellow, unless I made it for him: he has come into the world to find his bread ready buttered. I had to be content with a crust as I could earn it. The lad's a cut above us both, though he has the good taste to try and hide it."
This sagacious speech was very true. Dick would never have succeeded as a business man; he was too full of crotchets and speculations to be content to run in narrow grooves. The notion of money-making was abhorrent to him; the idea of a city life, with its hard rubs and drudgery, was utterly distasteful to him. "One would have to mix with such a lot of cads," he would say. "English, pure and undefiled, is not always spoken. If I must work, I would rather have a turn at law or divinity; the three old women with the eye between them knows which."
It could not be denied that Dick winced a little at his father's homely speeches; but in his heart he was both proud and fond of him, and was given to assert to a few of his closest friends "that, take it all in all, and looking at other fellows' fathers, he was a rattling good sort, and no mistake."
When Mrs. Challoner had entered her little protest against her daughter's acceptance of the invitation, Mrs. Mayne had risen and kissed her with some effusion as she took her leave.
"It is so nice of you to say this to me; of course I should have been pleased, delighted to have had Nan with us" (oh, Mrs. Mayne, fie for shame! when you want your boy to yourself), "but all the same I think you are so wise."
"Poor child! I am afraid I am refusing her a great treat," returned Mrs. Challoner, in a tone of regret. It was the first time since her husband's death that she had ever decided anything without reference to her daughters; but for once her maternal fears were up in arms, and drove her to sudden resolution.
"Yes, but, as you observed, it would throw them so entirely together; and Dick is so young. Richard was only saying the other night that he hoped the boy would not fancy himself in love for the next two years, as he did not approve of such early engagements."
"Neither do I," returned Mrs. Challoner, quickly. "Nothing would annoy me more than for one of my daughters to entangle herself with so young a man. We know the world too well for that, Mrs. Mayne. Why, Dick may fall in and out of love half a dozen times before he really makes up his mind."
"Ah, that is what Richard says," returned Dick's mother, with a sigh; in her heart she was not quite of her husband's opinion. She remembered how that long waiting wasted her own youth,—waiting for what? For comforts that she would gladly have done without,—for a well-furnished house, when she would have lived happily in the poorest lodging with the Richard Mayne who had won her heart,—for whom she would have toiled and slaved with the self-abnegating devotion of a loving woman; only he feared to have it so.
"'When poverty enters the door, love flies out of the window:' we had better make up our minds to wait, Bessie. I can better work in single than double harness just now." That was what he said to her, and Bessie waited,—not till she grew thin, but stout, and the spirit of her youth was gone; and it was a sober, middle-aged woman who took possession of the long-expected home.
Mrs. Mayne loved her husband, but during that tedious engagement her ardor had a little cooled, and it may be doubted whether the younger Richard was not dearer to her than his father; which was ungrateful, to say the least of it, as Mr. Mayne doted on his comely wife, and thought Bessie as handsome now as in the days when she came out smiling to welcome him, a slim young creature with youthful roses in her cheeks.
From this brief conversation it may be seen that none of the elders quite approved of this budding affection. Mrs. Challoner, who belonged to a good old family, found it hard to forgive the Maynes' lowliness of birth; and though she liked Dick, she thought Nan could do better for herself. Mr. Mayne pooh-poohed the whole thing so entirely that the women could only speak of it among themselves.
"Dick is a clever fellow; he ought to marry money," he would say. "I am not a millionaire, and a little more would be acceptable;" and though he was always kind to Nan and her sisters, he was forever dealing sly hits at her. "Phillis has the brains of the family," he would say: "that is the girl for my money. I call her a vast deal better looking than Nan, though people make such a fuss about the other one;" a speech he was never tired of repeating in his son's presence, and at which Dick snapped his fingers metaphorically and said nothing.
When Dick wished that one of them were going to Switzerland, Nan sighed furtively. Dick was going away for three months, for the remainder of the long vacation. After next week they would not see him until Christmas,—nearly six months. A sense of dreariness, as new as it was strange, swept momentarily over Nan as she pondered this. The summer months would be grievously clouded. Dick had been the moving spirit of all the fun; the tennis-parties, the pleasant dawdling afternoons, would lose their zest when he was away.
She remembered how persistently he had haunted their footsteps. When they paid visits to the Manor House, or Gardenhurst, or Fitzroy Lodge, Dick was sure to put in an appearance. People had nicknamed him the "Challoners' Squire;" but now Nan must go squireless for the rest of the summer, unless she took compassion on Stanley Parker, or that dreadful chatterbox his cousin.
The male population was somewhat sparse at Oldfield. There were a few Eton boys, and one or two in that delightful transition age when youth is most bashful and uninteresting,—a sort of unfledged manhood, when the smooth boyish cheek contradicts the deepened bass of the voice,—an age that has not ceased to blush, and which is full of aggravating idosyncrasies and unexpected angles.
To be sure, Lord Fitzroy was a splendid specimen of a young guardsman, but he had lately taken to himself a wife; and Sir Alfred Mostyn, who was also somewhat attractive and a very pleasant fellow, and unattached at present, had a tiresome habit of rushing off to Norway, or St. Petersburg, or Niagara, or the Rocky Mountains, for what he termed sport, or a lark.
"It seems we are very stupid this evening," observed Phillis for Dick had waxed almost as silent as Nan. "I think the mother must nearly have finished her nap, so I propose we go back and have some tea;" and, as Nan languidly acquiesced they turned their faces towards the village again, Dulce still holding firmly to Nan's arm. By and by Dick struck out in a fresh direction.
"I say, don't you wish we could have last week over again?"
"Yes! oh, yes! was it not too delicious?" from the three girls; and Nan added, "I never enjoyed anything so much in my life," in a tone so fervent that Dick was delighted.
"What a brick your mother was, to be sure, to spare you all!"
"Yes; and she was so dull, poor dear, all the time we were away. Dorothy gave us quite a pitiful account when we got home."
"It was a treat one ought to remember all one's life," observed Phillis, quite solemnly; and then ensued a most animated discussion.
The treat to which Phillis alluded had been simply perfect in the three girls' eyes. Dick, who never forgot his friends, had so worked upon his mother that she had consented to chaperon the three sisters during Commemoration; and a consent being fairly coaxed out of Mrs. Challoner, the plan was put into execution.
Dick, who was in the seventh heaven of delight, found roomy lodgings in the High Street, in which he installed his enraptured guests.
The five days that followed were simply hours snatched out of fairyland to these four happy young creatures. No wonder envious looks were cast at Dick as he walked in Christ Church Meadows with Nan and Dulce, Phillis bringing up the rear somewhat soberly with Mrs. Mayne.
"One pretty face would content most fellows," his friends grumbled; "but when you come to three, and not his own sisters either, why, it isn't fair on other folk." And to Dick they said, "Come, it is no use being so awfully close. Of course we see what's up: you are a lucky dog. Which is it, Mayne?—the pretty one with the pink and white complexion or the quiet one in gray, or the one with the mischievous eyes?"
"Faix, they are all darlints and jewels, bless their purty faces!" drawled one young rogue, in his favorite brogue. "Here's the top of the morning to ye, Mayne; and it is mavourneen with the brown eyes and the trick of the smile like the sunshine's glint that has stolen poor Paddy's heart."
"Oh, shut up, you fellows!" returned Dick, in a disgusted voice. "What is the good of your pretending to be Irish, Hamilton, when you are a canny Scotchman?"
"Hoots, man, mind your clavers! You need not grizzle at a creature because he admires a wee gairl that is just beyond the lave,—a sonsie wee thing with a glint in her een like diamonds."
"Hamilton, will you leave off this foolery?"
"Nae doubt, nae doubt; would his honor pe axing if he pe wrang in the head, puir thing? Never mind that, put pe giving me the skene-dhu, or I will fight with proud-swords like a gentleman for the bit lassie;" but here a wary movement on Dick's part extinguished the torrent of Highland eloquence, and brought the canny Scotchman to the ground.
Perfectly oblivious of all these compliments, the Challoners enjoyed themselves with the zest of healthy, happy English girls. They were simply indefatigable: poor Mrs. Mayne succumbed utterly before the fine days were over.
They saw the procession of boats; they were at the flower-show at Worcester; Sunday afternoon found them in the Broad Walk; and the next night they were dancing at the University ball.
They raved about the beauty of Magdalen cloisters; they looked down admiringly into the deer-park; Addison's Walk became known to them, and the gardens of St. John's. Phillis talked learnedly about Cardinal Wolsey as she stood in Christ Church hall: and in the theatre "the young ladies in pink" invoked the most continuous cheers.
"Can they mean us?" whispered Dulce, rather alarmed, to their faithful escort Dick. "I don't see any other pink dresses!"
And Dick said, calmly,—
"Well, I suppose so. Some of those fellows up there are such a trumpery lot."
So Dulce grew more reassured.
But the greatest fun of all was the afternoon spent in Dick's room, when all his special friends were bidden to five o'clock tea, over which Nan, in her white gown, presided so gracefully.
What a dear, shabby old room it was, with old-fashioned window-seats, where one could look down into the quadrangle. Dick was an Oriel man, and thought his college superior even to Magdalen.
It became almost too hot and crowded at last, so many were the invitations given; but then, as Dick said afterwards, "he was such a soft-hearted beggar that he could not refuse the fellows that pestered him for invitations."
Mrs. Mayne, looking very proud and happy, sat fanning herself in one of these windows. Phillis and Dulce were in the other attended by that rogue Hamilton and half a dozen more. Nan was the centre of another clique, who hemmed her and the tea-table in so closely that Dick had to wander disconsolately round the outskirts: there was no getting a look from Nan that afternoon.
How hot it was! It was a grand coup when the door opened and the scout made his appearance carrying a tray of ices.
"It is well to be Mayne!" half grumbled young Hamilton, as Dulce took one gratefully from his hand. "He is treating us like a prince, instead of the thin bread-and-butter entertainment he led us to expect. Put down that tea, Miss Challoner. I see iced claret-cup and strawberries in the corner. There is nothing like being an only child; doting parents are extremely useful articles. I am one of ten; would you believe it?" continued the garrulous youth. "When one has six brothers older than one's self, I will leave you to imagine the consequences."
"How nice!" returned Dulce, innocently; "I have always so longed for a brother. If it had not been for Dick, we should have had no one to do things for us."
"Oh, indeed! Mayne is a sort of adopted brother!" observed her companion, looking at her rather sharply.
"We have always looked upon him as one. We do just as we like with him,—scold and tease him, and send him on our errands;" which intelligence fairly convinced the envious Hamilton that the youngest Miss Challoner was not his friend's fancy.
Dick always recalled that evening with a sense of pride. How well and gracefully Nan had fulfilled her duties! how pretty she had looked, in spite of her flushed cheeks! He had never seen a girl to compare with her,—not he!
They were so full of these delightful reminiscences that they were at the cottage gate before they knew it; and then Dick astonished them by refusing to come in. He had quite forgotten, he said, but his mother had asked him to come home early, as she was not feeling just the thing.
"Quite right; you must do as she wishes," returned Nan, dismissing him far too readily, as he thought; but she said "Good-night!" with so kind a smile after that, that the foolish young fellow felt his pulses quicken.
Dick lingered at the corner until the cottage door was closed, and then he raced down the Longmead shrubbery and set the house-bell pealing.
"They are in the library, I suppose?" he asked of the butler who admitted him; and, on receiving an answer in the affirmative, he dashed unceremoniously into the room, while his mother held up her finger and smiled at the truant.
"You naughty boy, to be so late; and now you have spoiled you father's nap!" she said, pretending to scold him.
"Tut! tut! what nonsense you talk sometimes!" said Mr. Mayne, rather crossly, as he stood on the hearth-rug rubbing his eyes. "I was not asleep, I will take my oath of that; only I wish Dick could sometimes enter a room without making people jump;" by which Dick knew that his father was in one of his contrary moods, when he could be very cross,—very cross indeed!
MR. MAYNE MAKES HIMSELF DISAGREEABLE.
The library at Longmead was a very pleasant room, and it was the custom of the family to retire thither on occasions when guests were not forthcoming, and Mr. Mayne could indulge in his favorite nap without fear of interruption.
A certain simplicity, not to say homeliness, of manners prevailed in the house. It was understood among them that the dining-room was far too gorgeous for anything but occasions of ceremony. Mrs. Mayne, indeed, had had the good taste to cover the satin couches with pretty, fresh-looking cretonne, and had had arranged hanging cupboards of old china until it had been transformed into a charming apartment, notwithstanding which the library was declared to be the family-room, where the usual masculine assortment of litter could be regarded with indulgent eyes, and where papers and pamphlets lay in delightful confusion.
Longmead was not a pretentious house—it was a moderate-sized residence, adapted to a gentleman of moderate means; but in summer no place could be more charming. The broad gravel walk before the house had a background of roses; hundreds of roses climbed up the railings or twined themselves about the steps: a tiny miniature lake, garnished with water-lilies, lay in the centre of the lawn; a group of old elm-trees was beside it; behind the house lay another lawn, and beyond were meadows where a few sheep were quietly grazing. Mr. Mayne, who found time hang a little heavily on his hands, prided himself a good deal on his poultry-yard and kitchen-garden. A great deal of his spare time was spent among his favorite Bantams and Dorkings, and in superintending his opinionated old gardener—on summer mornings he would be out among the dews in his old coat and planter's hat, weeding among the gooseberry-bushes.
"It is the early bird that finds the worm," he would say, when Dick sauntered into the breakfast-room later on; for, in common with the youth of his generation, he had a wholesome horror of early rising, which he averred was one of the barbarous usages of the dark ages in which his elders had been bred.
"I never took any interest in worms, sir," returned Dick, helping himself to a tempting rasher that had just been brought in hot for the pampered youth. "By the bye, have you seen Darwin's work on 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould'? he declares that worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most people would at first suppose: they were our earliest ploughmen."
"Oh, ah! indeed, very interesting!" observed his father, dryly; "but all the same, I beg to observe, no one succeeded in life who was not an early riser."
"A sweeping assertion, and one I might be tempted to argue, if it were not for taking up your valuable time," retorted Dick, lazily, but with a twinkle in his eye. "I know my constitution better than to trust myself out before the world is properly aired and dried. I am thinking it is less a case of worms than of rheumatism some early birds will be catching;" to which Mr. Mayne merely returned an ungracious "Pshaw!" and marched off, leaving his son to enjoy his breakfast in peace.
When Dick entered the library on the evening in question, Mr. Mayne's querulous observation as to the noisiness of his entrance convinced him at once that his father was in a very bad humor indeed, and that on this account it behooved him to be exceedingly cool.
So he kissed his mother, who looked at him a little anxiously, and then sat down and turned out her work-basket, as he had done Nan's two or three hours ago.
"You are late after all, Dick," she said, with a little reproach in her voice. It was hardly a safe observation, to judge by her husband's cloudy countenance; but the poor thing sometimes felt her evenings a trifle dull when Dick was away. Mr. Mayne would take up his paper, but his eyes soon closed over it; that habit of seeking for the early worm rather disposed him to somnolent evenings, during which his wife knitted and felt herself nodding off out of sheer ennui and dulness. These were not the hours she had planned during those years of waiting; she had told herself that Richard would read to her or talk to her as she sat over her work, that they would have so much to say to each other; but now, as she regarded his sleeping countenance evening after evening, it may be doubted whether matrimony was quite what she expected, since its bliss was so temperate and so strongly infused with drowsiness.
Dick looked up innocently. "Am I late, mother?"
"Oh, of course not," returned his father, with a sneer; "it is not quite time to ring for Nicholson to bring our candles. Bessie, I think I should like some hot water to-night; I feel a little chilly." And Bessie rang the bell obediently, and without any surprise in her manner. Mr. Mayne often woke up chilly from his long nap.
"Are you going to have a 'drap of the cratur'?" asked his son, with alacrity. "Well, I don't mind joining you, and that's the truth, for we have been dawdling about, and I am a trifle chilly myself."
"You know I object to spirits for young men," returned Mr. Mayne, severely: nevertheless he pushed the whiskey to Dick as soon as he had mixed his own glass, and his son followed his example.
"I am quite of your opinion, father," he observed, as he regarded the handsome cut-glass decanter somewhat critically; "but there are exceptions to every rule, and when one is chilly——"
"I wish you would make an exception and stay away from the cottage sometimes," returned Mr. Mayne, with ill-suppressed impatience. "It was all very well when you were all young things together, but it is high time matters should be different."
Dick executed a low whistle of surprise and dismay. He had no idea his father's irritability had arisen from any definite cause. What a fool he had been to be so late! it might lead to some unpleasant discussion. Well, after all, if his father chose to be so disagreeable it was not his fault; and he was no longer a boy, to be chidden, or made to do this or that against his own will.
Mr. Mayne was sufficiently shrewd to see that his son was somewhat taken aback by this sudden onslaught, and he was not slow to press his advantage. He had wanted to give Dick a bit of his mind for some time, and after all there is no time like the present.
"Yes, it was all very well when you were a lot of children together," he continued. "Of course, it is hard on you, Dick, having no brothers and sisters to keep you company; your mother and I were always sorry about that for your sake."
"Oh, don't mention it," interrupted Dick: "on the whole, I am best pleased as it is."
"But it would have been better for you," returned his father, sharply: "we should not have had all this fooling and humbug if you had had sisters of your own."
"Fooling and humbug!" repeated Dick, hotly; "I confess, sir, I don't quite understand to what you are referring." He was growing very angry, but his mother flung herself between the combatants.
"Don't, my boy, don't; you must not answer your father in that way. Richard, what makes you so hard on him to-night? It must be the gout, Dick: we had better send for Dr. Weatherby in the morning," continued the anxious woman, with tears in her eyes, "for your dear father would never be so cross to you as this unless he were going to be ill."
"Stuff and nonsense, Bessie! Dr. Weatherby indeed!" but his voice was less wrathful. "What is it but fooling, I should like to know, for Dick to be daundering his time away with a parcel of girls as he does with these Challoners!"
"I suppose you were never a young man yourself, sir."
"Oh, yes, I was, my boy," and the corners of Mr. Mayne's mouth relaxed in spite of his efforts to keep serious. "I fell in love with your mother, and stuck to her for seven or eight years; but I did not make believe that I was brother to a lot of pretty girls, and waste all my time dancing attendance on them and running about on their errands."
"You ought to have taken a lesson out of my book," returned his son, readily.
"No, I ought to have done no such thing, sir!" shouted back Mr. Mayne, waxing irate again. It could not be denied that Dick could be excessively provoking when he liked. "Don't I tell you it is time this sort of thing was stopped? Why, people will begin to talk, and say you are making up to one of them, it is not right, Dick; it is not, indeed," with an attempted pathos.
"I don't care that for what people say," returned the young fellow, snapping his fingers. "Is it not a pity you are saying all this to me just when I am going away and am not likely to see any of them for the next six months? You are very hard on me to-night, father; and I can't think what it is all about."
Mr. Mayne was silent a moment, revolving his son's pathetic speech. It was true he had been cross, and had said more than he had meant to say. He had not wished to hinder Dick's innocent enjoyments; but if he were unknowingly picking flowers at the edge of a precipice, was it not his duty as a father to warn him?
"I think I have been a little hard, my lad," he said, candidly, "but there, you and your mother know my bark is worse than my bite. I only wanted to warn you; that's all, Dick."
"Warn me!—against what, sir?" asked the young man, quickly.
"Against falling in love, really, with one of the Challoner girls!" returned Mr. Mayne, trying to evade the fire of Dick's eyes, and blustering a little in consequence. "Why, they have not a penny, one of them, and, if report be true, Mrs. Challoner's money is very shakily invested. Paine told me so the other day. He said he should never wonder if a sudden crash came any minute."
"Is this true, Richard?"
"Paine declares it is; and think of Dick saddling himself with the support of a whole family!"
"It strikes me you are taking things very much for granted," returned his son, trying to speak coolly, but flushing like a girl over his words. "I think you might wait, father, until I proposed bringing you home a daughter-in-law."
"I am only warning you, Dick, that the Challoner connection would be distasteful to me," replied Mr. Mayne, feeling that he had gone a little too far. "If you had brothers and sisters it would not matter half so much; but it would be too hard if my only son were to cross my wishes."
"Should you disinherit me, father?" observed Dick, cheerfully. He had recovered his coolness and pluck, and began to feel more equal to the occasion.
"We should see about that, but I hardly think it would be for your advantage to oppose me too much," returned his father with an ominous pucker of his eyebrows, which warned Dick, that it was hardly safe to chaff the old boy too much to-night.
"I think I will go to bed, Richard," put in poor Mrs. Mayne. She had wisely forborne to mix in the discussion, fearing that it would bring upon her the vials of her husband's wrath. Mr. Mayne was as choleric as a Welshman, and had a reserve force of sharp cynical sayings that were somewhat hard to bear. He was disposed to turn upon her on such occasions, and to accuse her of spoiling Dick and taking his part against his father; between the two Richards she sometimes had a very bad time indeed.
Dick lighted his mother's candle, and bade her good-night; but all the same she knew she had not seen the last of him. A few minutes afterwards there was a hasty tap at the bedroom door, and Dick thrust in his head.
"Come in, my dear; I have been expecting you," she said, with a pleased smile. He always came to her when he was ruffled or put out, and brought her all his grievances; surely this was the very meaning and essence of her motherhood,—this healing and comfort that lay in her power of sympathy.
When he was a little fellow, had she not extracted many a thorn and bound up many a cut finger? and now he was a man, would she be less helpful to him when he wanted a different kind of comfort?
"Come in, my son," she said, beckoning him to the low chair beside her, into which Dick threw himself with a petulant yawn.
"Mother, what made the pater so hard on me to-night? he cut up as rough as though I had committed some crime."
"I don't think he is quite himself to-night," returned Mrs. Mayne, in her soft, motherly voice. "I fancy he misses you, Dick, and is half jealous of the Challoners for monopolizing you. You are all we have, that's where it is," she finished, stroking the sandy head with her plump hand; but Dick jerked away from her with a little impatience.
"I think it rather hard that a fellow is to be bullied for doing nothing at all," replied Dick, with a touch of sullenness. "When the pater is in this humor it is no use saying anything to him; but you may as well tell him, mother, that I mean to choose my wife for myself."
"Oh, my dear, I dare not tell him anything of the kind," returned Mrs. Mayne, in an alarmed voice; and then, as she glanced at her son, her terror merged into amusement. There was something so absurdly boyish in Dick's appearance, such a ludicrous contrast between the manliness of his speech and his smooth cheek; the little fringe of hirsute ornament, of which Dick was so proud, was hardly visible in the dim light; his youthful figure, more clumsy than graceful, had an unfledged air about it, nevertheless, the boldness of his words took away her breath.
"Every man has a right to his own choice in such a matter," continued Dick, loftily. "You may as well tell him, mother, that I intend to select my own wife."
"My dear, I dare not for worlds——" she began; and then she stopped, and laid her hand on his shoulder. "Why do you say this to me? there is plenty of time," she went on hastily; "that is what your father says, and I think he is right. You are too young for this sort of thing yet. You must see the world; you must look about you; you must have plenty of choice," continued the anxious mother. "I shall be hard to please, Dick, for I shall think no one good enough for my boy; that is the worst of having only one, and he the best son that ever lived," finished Mrs. Mayne, with maternal pride in her voice.
Dick took this effusion very coolly. He was quite used to all this sort of worship; he did not think badly of himself; he was not particularly humble-minded or given to troublesome introspection; on the whole, he thought himself a good fellow, and was not at all surprised that people appreciated him.
"There are such a lot of cads in the world, one is always glad to fall in with a different sort," he would say to himself. He was quite of his mother's opinion, that an honest, God-fearing young fellow, who spoke the truth and shamed the devil, who had no special vices but a dislike for early rising, who had tolerable brains, and more than his share of muscle, who was in the Oxford eleven, and who had earned his blue ribbon,—that such a one might be considered to set an example to his generation.
When his mother told him she would be hard to please, Dick looked a little wicked, and thought of Nan; but the name was not mentioned between them. Nevertheless, Mrs. Mayne felt with unerring maternal instinct that, in spite of his youth, Dick's choice was made, and sighed to herself at the thought of the evil days that were to come.
Poor woman, she was to have little peace that night! Hardly had Dick finished his grumble and sauntered away, before her husband's step was heard in his dressing-room.
"Bessie," he called out to her, "why do you allow that boy to keep you up so late at night? Do you know that it is eleven, and you are still fully dressed?"
"Is it so late, Richard?"
"Yes, of course," he snapped; "but that is the care you take of your health; and the way you cosset and spoil that boy is dreadful."
"I don't think Dick is easily spoiled," plucking up a little spirit to answer him.
"That shows how little you understand boys," returned her husband. Evidently the whiskey, though it was the best Glenlivat, had failed to mollify him. It might be dangerous to go too far with Dick, for he had a way of turning around and defending himself that somewhat embarrassed Mr. Mayne, but with his wife there would be no such danger. He would dominate her by his sharp speeches, and reduce her to abject submission in a moment, for Bessie was the meekest of wives. "Take care how you side with him," he continued, in a threatening voice. "He thinks that I am not serious in what I said just now, and is for carrying it off with a high hand; but I tell you, and you had better tell him, that I was never more in earnest in my life. I won't have one of those Challoner girls for a daughter-in-law!"
"Oh, Richard! and Nan is such a sweet girl!" returned his wife, with tears in her eyes. She was awfully jealous of Nan, at times she almost dreaded her; but for her boy's sake she would have taken her now to her heart and defied even her formidable husband. "She is such a pretty creature, too; no one can help loving her."
"Pshaw!" returned her husband; "pretty creature indeed! that is just your soft-hearted nonsense. Phillis is ten times prettier, and has heaps more sense. Why couldn't Dick have taken a fancy to her?"
"Because I am afraid he cares for the other one," returned Mrs. Mayne, sadly. She had no wish to deceive her husband and she knew that the golden apple had rolled to Nan's feet.
"Stuff and rubbish!" he responded, wrathfully. "What is a boy of his age to know about such things? Tell him from me to put this nonsense out of his head for the next year or two; there is plenty of time to look out for a wife after that. But I won't have him making up his mind until he has left Oxford." And Mrs. Mayne, knowing that her husband had spoken his last word, thankfully withdrew, feeling that in her heart she secretly agreed with him.
As Mr. Mayne's wrath soon evaporated, and Dick was a sweet-tempered fellow and bore no malice, this slight altercation produced no lasting effect, except that Dick, for the next few days, hurried home to his dinner, talked a good deal about Switzerland, and never mentioned a Challoner in his father's hearing.
"We must keep him in a good temper for the 25th," he said to his mother, with a touch of the Mayne shrewdness.
That day was rapidly approaching, and all sorts of festive preparations were going on at Longmead. Dick himself gravely superintended the rolling of the tennis-ground in the large meadow, and daubed himself plentifully with lime in marking out the courts, while Mr. Mayne stood with his hands in the pockets of his shooting-coat watching him. The two were a great deal together just then: Dick rather stuck to his father during one or two mornings; the wily young fellow knew that Nan was closeted with his mother, helping her with all sorts of feminine arrangements, and he was determined to keep them apart. Nan wondered a great deal why Dick did not come to interrupt or tease them as usual, and grew a little absent over Mrs. Mayne's rambling explanations. When the gong sounded, no one asked her to stay to luncheon. Mrs. Mayne saw her put on her hat without uttering a single protest.
"It is so good of you to help me, dear," she said, taking the girl into her embrace. "You are quite sure people won't expect a sit-down supper?"
"Oh no; the buffet system is best," returned Nan, decidedly. "Half the people will not stay, and you need not make a fuss about the rest. It is an afternoon party, you must remember that; only people who are very intimate will remain for the fun of the thing. Tell Nicholson to have plenty of ices going; people care most for that sort of refreshment."
"Yes, dear; I will be sure to remember," returned her friend, meekly.
She was very grateful to Nan for these hints, and was quite willing to follow her guidance in all such matters; but when Nan proposed once sending for Dick to ask his opinion on some knotty point that baffled their women's wits, Mrs. Mayne demurred.
"It is a pity to disturb him; he is with his father; and we can settle these things by ourselves," she replied, not venturing to mar the present tranquillity by sending such a message to Dick. Mr. Mayne would have accompanied his son, and the consultation would hardly have ended peaceably. "Men have their hobbies. We had better settle all this together, you and I," she said hurriedly.
Nan merely nodded, and cut the Gordian knot through somewhat ruthlessly; but on that occasion she put on her hat before the gong sounded.
"You must be very busy, for one never has a glimpse of you in the morning," she could not help saying to Dick, as he came in that afternoon to escort them to Fitzroy Lodge.
"Well, yes, I am tolerably busy," he drawled. "I am never free to do things in the afternoons,"—a fact that Nan felt was unanswerable.
When Nan and her sisters woke on the morning of the memorable day, the bright sunshine of a cloudless June day set all their fears at rest. If the sun smiled on Dick's fete, all would be well. If Nan's devotions were longer than usual that morning, no one was the wiser; if she added a little clause, calling down a blessing on a certain head, no one would be the poorer for such pure prayers; indeed, it were well if many such were uttered for the young men who go forth morning after morning into the temptations of life.
Such prayers might stretch like an invisible shield before the countless foes that environ such a one; fiery darts may be caught upon it; a deadly thrust may be turned away. What if the blessing would never reach the ear of the loved one, who goes out unconscious of sympathy? His guardian angel has heard it, and perchance it has reached the very gate of heaven.
Nan came down, smiling and radiant, to find Dick waiting for her in the veranda and chattering to Phillis and Dulce.
"Why, Dick!" she cried, blushing with surprise and pleasure, "to think of your being here on your birthday morning!"
"I only came to thank you and the girls for your lovely presents," returned Dick, becoming rather incoherent and red at the sight of Nan's blush. "It was so awfully good of you all, to work all those things for me;" for Nan had taken secret measurements in Dick's room, and had embroidered a most exquisite mantelpiece valance, and Phillis and Dulce had worked the corners of a green cloth with wonderful daffodils and bulrushes to cover Dick's shabby table: and Dick's soul had been filled with ravishment at the sight of these gifts.
Nan would not let him go on, but all the same his happy face delighted her.
"No, don't thank us, we liked doing it," she returned, rather coolly. "You know we owed you something after all your splendid hospitality, and work is never any trouble to us."
"But I never saw anything I liked better," blurted out Dick. "All the fellows will be jealous of me. I am sure I don't know what Hamilton will say. It was awfully good of you, Nan, and so it was of the others: and if I don't make it up to you somehow, my name is not Dick:" and he smiled round at them as he spoke. "Fancy putting in all those stitches for me!" he thought to himself.
"We are so glad you are pleased," returned Nan, with one of her sweet, straightforward looks; "that is what we wanted to give you,—a little surprise on your birthday. Now you must tell us about your other presents." And Dick, nothing loath, launched into eloquent descriptions of the silver-fitted dressing-case from his mother, and the gun and thorough-bred collie that had been his father's gifts.
"He is such a fine fellow; I must show him to you this afternoon," went on Dick, eagerly. "His name is Vigo, and he has such a superb head. Was it not good of the pater? he knew I had a fancy for a collie, and he has been in treaty for one ever so long. Is he not a dear old boy?" cried Dick, rapturously. But he did not tell his friends of the crisp bundle of bank-notes with which Mr. Mayne had enriched his son; only as Dick fingered them lovingly, he wondered what pretty foreign thing he could buy for Nan, and whether her mother would allow her to accept it.
After this Nan dismissed him somewhat peremptorily; he must go back to his breakfast, and allow them to do the same.
"Mind you come early," were Dick's last words as he waved his straw hat to them. How often the memory of that morning recurred to him as he stood solitarily and thoughtful, contemplating some grand sketch of Alpine scenery!
The snow peaks and blue glaciers melted away before his eyes; in their place rose unbidden a picture framed in green trellis-work, over which roses were climbing.
Fresh girlish faces smiled back at him; the brightest and kindest of glances met his. "Good-bye, Dick; a thousand good wishes from us all." A slim white hand had gathered a rose-bud for him; how proudly he had worn it all that day! Stop, he had it still; it lay all crushed and withered in his pocket-book. He had written the date under it; one day he meant to show it to her. Oh, foolish days of youth, so prodigal of minor memories and small deeds of gifts, when a withered flower can hold the rarest scent, and in a crumpled roseleaf there is a whole volume of ecstatic meaning! Oh, golden days of youth, never to be surpassed!
Never in the memory of Oldfield had there been a more delicious day.
The sky was cloudless; long purple shadows lay under the elm-trees; a concert of bird-music sounded from the shrubberies: in the green meadows flags were waving, tent-draperies fluttering; the house-doors stood open, showing a flower-decked hall and vista of cool shadowy rooms.
Dick, looking bright and trim, wandering restlessly over the place, and Mr. Mayne fidgeted after him; while Mrs. Mayne sat fanning herself under the elm-trees and hoping the band would not be late.
No there it was turning in now at the stable-entrance, and playing "The girl I left behind me;" and there at the same moment was Nan coming up the lawn in her white gown, closely followed by her mother and sisters.
"Are we the first?" she asked, as Dick darted across the grass to meet her. "That is nice; we shall see all the people arrive. How inspiriting that music is, and how beautiful everything looks!"
"It is awfully jolly of you to be the first," whispered Dick; "and how nice you look, Nan! You always do, you know, but to-day you are first-rate. Is this a new gown?" casting an approving look over Nan's costume, which was certainly very fresh and pretty.
"Oh, yes; we have all new dresses in your honor, and we made them ourselves," returned Nan, carelessly. "Mother has got her old silk, but for her it does not so much matter; at least that is what she says."
"And she is quite right. She is always real splendid, as the Yankees say, whatever she wears," returned Dick, wishing secretly that his mother in her new satin dress looked half so well as Mrs. Challoner in her old one. But it was no use. Mrs. Mayne never set off her handsome dresses; with her flushed, good-natured face and homely ways, she showed to marked disadvantage beside Mrs. Challoner's faded beauty. Mrs. Challoner's gown might be antique, but nothing could surpass the quiet grace of her carriage, or the low pleasant modulations of her voice. Her figure was almost as slim as her daughters', and she could easily have passed for their elder sister.
Lady Fitzroy, who was a Burgoyne by birth,—and every one knows that for haughtiness and a certain exclusive intoleration none could match the Burgoynes,—always distinguished Mrs. Challoner by the marked attention she paid her.
"A very lady-like woman, Percival. Certainly the most lady-like person in the neighborhood," she would say to her husband, who was not quite so exclusive, and always made himself pleasant to his neighbors; and she would ask very graciously after her brother-in-law, Sir Francis Challoner. "He is still in India, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes; he is still in India," Mrs. Challoner would reply, rather curtly. She had not the faintest interest in her husband's brother, whom she had never seen more than twice in her life, and who was understood to be small credit to his family. The aforesaid Sir Francis Challoner had been the poorest of English baronets. His property had dwindled down until it consisted simply of a half ruined residence in the north of England.
In his young days Sir Francis had been a prodigal, and, like the prodigal in the parable, he had betaken himself into far countries, not to waste his substance, for he had none, but if possible to glean some of the Eastern riches.
Whether he had been successful or not Mrs. Challoner hardly knew. That he had married and settled in Calcutta,—that he had a son named Harry, who had once written to her in round hand and subscribed himself as her affectionate nephew, Henry Ford Challoner—this she knew; but what manner of person Lady Challoner might be, or what sort of home her brother-in-law had made for himself, those points were enveloped in mystery.
"I suppose she is so civil to me because of your uncle Francis," she used to say to her girls, which was attributing to Lady Fitzroy a degree of snobbishness that was quite undeserved. Lady Fitzroy really liked Mrs. Challoner and found intercourse with her very pleasant and refreshing. When one is perfectly well-bred, there is a subtile charm in harmony of voice and manner. Mrs. Challoner might have dressed in rags if she liked, and the young countess would still have aired her choicest smiles for her.
It was lucky Nan had those few words from Dick, for they fell apart after this, and were separated the greater portion of the afternoon.
Carriages began to drive in at the gates; groups of well-dressed people thronged the lawn, and were drafted off to the field where the band was playing.
Nan and her sisters had their work cut out for them; they knew everybody and they were free of the house. It was they who helped Dick arrange the tennis-matches, who pointed out to the young men of the party which was the tea-tent, and where the ices and claret-cup were to be found. They marshalled the elder ladies into pleasant nooks, where they could be sheltered from the sun and see all that was going on.
"No, thank you; I shall not play tennis this afternoon; there are too many of us, and I am so busy," Nan said, dismissing one after another who came up to her. "If you want a partner, there is Carrie Paine, who is dying for a game."
Dick, who was passing with Lady Fitzroy on his arm, whom he was hurrying somewhat unceremoniously across the field, threw her a grateful glance as he went by.
"What a sweet-looking girl that is!" said Lady Fitzroy, graciously, as she panted a little over her exertion.
"Who?—Nan? Yes; isn't she a brick?—and the others too?" for Phillis and Dulce were just as self-denying in their labors. As Mr. Mayne said afterwards, "They were just everywhere, those Challoners, like a hive of swarming bees;" which, as it was said in a grumbling tone, was ungrateful, to say the least of it.
Dick worked like a horse too; he looked all the afternoon as though he had a tough job in hand that required the utmost gravity and despatch. He was forever hurrying elderly ladies across the field towards the refreshment-tent, where he deposited them, panting and heated, in all sorts of corners.
"Are you quite comfortable? May I leave you now? or shall I wait and take you back again?" asked Dick, who was eager for a fresh convoy.
"No, no; I would rather stay here a little," returned Mrs. Paine, who was not desirous of another promenade with the hero of the day. "Go and fetch some one else, Dick: I am very well off where I am," exchanging an amused glance with one of her friends, as Dick, hot and breathless, started off on another voyage of discovery.
Dick's behavior had been simply perfect all the afternoon in his father's eyes; but later on, when the band struck up a set of quadrilles, he committed his first solecism in manners: instead of asking Lady Fitzroy to dance with him, he hurried after Nan.
"This is our dance; come along," he said, taking her unwilling hand; but she held back a moment.
"Are you sure? Is there not some one else you ought to choose?—Lady Fitzroy, for example?" questioned Nan, with admirable forethought.
"Bother Lady Fitzroy!" exclaimed Dick, under his breath; he had had quite enough of that lady. "Why are you holding back, Nan, in this fashion?" a cloud coming over his face. "Haven't you promised weeks ago to give me the first dance?" And Nan, seeing the cloud on his face, yielded without another word. Dick always managed to have his own way somehow.
"Dick! Dick!" cried his father, in a voice of agony, as they passed him.
"All in good time; coming presently," returned the scapegrace, cheerfully. "Now, Nan, this is our place. We will have Hamilton and Dulce for our vis-a-vis. What a jolly day; and isn't this first-rate?" exclaimed Dick, rubbing his hands, and feeling as though he were only just beginning to enjoy himself.
Nan was not quite so easy in her mind.
"Your father does not look very pleased. I am afraid, after all, you ought to have asked Lady Fitzroy," she said, in a low voice; but Dick turned a deaf ear. He showed her the rose in his buttonhole; and when Nan told him it was withered, and wanted him to take it out, he gave her a reproachful look that made her blush.
They were very happy after this; and, when the dance was over, Dick gave her his arm, and carried her off to see Vigo, who was howling a deep mournful bass at the back of the gardener's cottage.
Nan made friends with him, and stroked his black curly head, and looked lovingly into his deep melancholy eyes; and then, as her flowers were fading, they strolled off into the conservatory, where Dick gathered her a fresh bouquet and then sat down and watched her arrange it.
"What clever fingers you have got!" he said, looking at them admiringly, as Nan sorted the flowers in her lap; and at this unlucky moment they were discovered by Mr. Mayne, who was bringing Lady Fitzroy to see a favorite orchid.
He shot an angry suspicious glance at his son.
"Dick, your mother is asking for you," he said, rather abruptly; but Dick growled something in an undertone, and did not move.
Nan gave him a frightened nudge. Why was he so imprudent?
"I cannot move, because of my flowers; do go, Dick. You must indeed, if your mother wants you;" and she looked at him in such a pleading way that Dick dared not refuse. It was just like his father to come and disturb his first happy moments and to order him off to go and do something disagreeable. He had almost a mind to brave it out, and remain in spite of him; but there was Nan looking at him in a frightened, imploring way.
"Oh, do go, Dick," giving him a little impatient push in her agitation; "if your mother wants you, you must not keep her waiting." But Nan in her heart knew, as Dick did in his, that the message was only a subterfuge to separate them.
"I AM QUITE SURE OF HIM."
Nan would willingly have effected her escape too, but she was detained by the flowers that Dick had tossed so lightly into her lap. She was rather dismayed at her position, and her fingers trembled a little over their work. There was a breath—a sudden entering current—of antagonism and prejudice that daunted her. Lady Fitzroy cast an admiring look at the girl as she sat there with glowing cheeks and downcast lids.
"How pretty she is!" she said, in a low voice, as Mr. Mayne pointed out his favorite orchid. "She is like her mother; there is just the same quiet style, only I suspect Mrs. Challoner was even better looking in her time."
"Humph! yes, I suppose so," returned her host, in a dissatisfied tone. He had not brought Lady Fitzroy there to talk of the Challoners, but to admire his orchids. Then he shot another glance at Nan between his half-closed eyes, and a little spice of malice flavored his next words.
"Shall we sit here a moment? Let me see: you were asking me, Lady Fitzroy, about Dick's prospects. I was talking to his mother about them the other day. I said to her then, Dick must settle in life well; he must marry money."
"Indeed?" replied Lady Fitzroy, somewhat absently; she even indulged in a slight yawn behind her fan. She liked Dick well enough, as every one else did, but she was not partial to his father. How tiresome it was of Fitzroy to insist so much on their neighborly duties!
Mr. Mayne was not "one of them," as she would have phrased it; he did not speak their language or lead their life; their manners and customs, their little tricks and turns of thought were hieroglyphics to him.
A man who had never had a grandfather,—at least a grandfather worth knowing,—whose father's hands had dabbled in trade,—actually trade,—such a one might be a very worthy man, an excellent citizen, an exemplary husband and father, but it behooved a woman in her position not to descend too freely to his level.
"Percival is such a sad Radical," she would say to herself; "he does not make sufficient distinction between people. I should wish to be neighborly, but I cannot bring myself to be familiar with these Maynes;" which was perhaps the reason why Lady Fitzroy was not as popular at Longmead and in other places as her good-natured husband.
"Oh, indeed?" she said, with difficulty repressing another slight yawn behind her fan, but speaking in a fatigued voice: but Mr. Mayne was too intent on his purpose to notice it.
"If Dick had brothers and sisters it would not matter so much; but when one has only a single hope—eh, Lady Fitzroy?—things must be a little different then."
"He will have plenty of choice," she returned, with an effort at graciousness. "Oldfield is rich in pretty girls:" and she cast another approving glance at poor Nan, but Mr. Mayne interrupted her almost rudely.
"Ah, as to that," he returned, with a sneer, "we want no such nonsense for Dick. Here are the facts of the case. Here is an honest, good-tempered young fellow, but with no particular push in him; he has money, you say,—yes, but not enough to give him the standing I want him to have. I am ambitious for Dick. I want him to settle in life well. Why, he might be called to the bar; he might enter Parliament; there is no limit to a man's career nowadays. I will do what I can for him, but he must meet me half-way."
"You mean," observed Lady Fitzroy, with a little perplexity in her tone, "that he must look out for an heiress." She was not in the secret, and she could not understand why her host was treating her to this outburst of confidence. "It was so disagreeable to be mixed up with this sort of thing," as she told her husband afterwards. "I never knew him quite so odious before; and there was that pretty Miss Challoner sitting near us, and he never let me address a word to her."
Nan began to feel she had had enough of it. She started up hastily as Lady Fitzroy said the last words, but the entrance of some more young people compelled her to stand inside a moment, and she heard Mr. Mayne's answer distinctly: "Well, not an heiress exactly; but the girl I have in view for him has a pretty little sum of money, and the connection is all that could be wished; she is nice-looking, too, and is a bright, talking little body——" But here Nan made such a resolute effort to pass, that the rest of the sentence was lost upon her.
Dick, who was strolling up and down the lawn rather discontentedly, hurried up to her as she came out.
"They are playing a valse; come, Nan," he said, holding out his hand to her with his usual eagerness; but she shook her head.
"I cannot dance; I am too tired: there are others you ought to ask." She spoke a little ungraciously, and Dick's face wore a look of dismay, as she walked away from him with quick even footsteps.
Tired! Nan tired! he had never heard of such a thing. What had put her out? The sweet brightness had died out of her eyes, and her cheeks were flaming. Should he follow her and have it out with her, there and then? But, as he hesitated, young Hamilton came over the grass and linked his arm in his.
"Come and introduce me to that girl in blue gauze, or whatever you call that flimsy manufacture. Come along, there's a good fellow," he said, coaxingly; and Dick's opportunity was lost.
But he was wrong; for once in her life Nan was tired; the poor girl felt a sudden quenching of her bright elasticity that amounted to absolute fatigue.
She had spoken to Dick sharply; but that was to get rid of him and to recall him to a sense of his duty. Not for worlds would she be seen dancing with him, or even talking to him, again!
She sat down on a stump of a tree in the shrubbery, and wondered wearily what had taken it out of her so much. And then she recalled, sentence by sentence, everything that had passed in the conservatory.
She had found out quite lately that Mr. Mayne did not approve of her intimacy with Dick. His manner had somewhat changed to her, and several times he had spoken to her in a carping, fault-finding way,—little cut-and-dried sentences of elderly wisdom that she had not understood at the time.
She had not pleased him of late, somehow, and all her little efforts and overtures had been lost upon him. Nan had been quite aware of this, but it had not troubled her much: it was a way he had, and he meant nothing by it. Most men had humors that must be respected, and Dick's father had his. So she bore herself very sweetly towards him, treating his caustic remarks as jokes, and laughing pleasantly at them, never taking his hints in earnest; he would know better some day, that was all; but she had no idea of any deeply-laid plan against their happiness. She felt as though some one had struck her hard; she had received a blow that set all her nerves tingling. It was very funny, what he said; it was so droll that it almost made her laugh; and yet her eyes smarted, and her cheeks felt on fire.
"'Dick must marry money.' Why must he?—that was so droll. 'Well, not an heiress exactly, but a pretty little sum of money, and a bright, taking little body.' Who was this mysterious person whom he had in view, whose connections were so desirable, who was to be Dick's future wife? Dick's future wife!" repeated Nan, with an odd little quiver of her lip. "And was it not droll, settling it all for him like that?"
Nan fell into a brown study, and then woke up with a little gasp. It was all clear to her now, all these cut-and-dried sentences,—all those veiled sneers and innuendoes.
They were poor,—poor as church-mice,—and Dick must marry money. Mr. Mayne had laid his plans for his son, and was watching their growing intimacy with disapproving eyes. Perhaps "the bright, taking little body" might accompany them to Switzerland; perhaps among the mountains Dick would forget her, and lend a ready acquiescence to his father's plans. Who was she? Had Nan ever seen her? Could she be here this afternoon, this future rival and enemy of her peace?
"Ah, what nonsense I am thinking!" she exclaimed to herself, starting up with a little shame and impatience at her own thoughts. "What has this all got to do with me? Let them settle it between them,—money-bags and all. Dick is Dick, and after all, I am not afraid!" And Nan marched back to the company, with her head higher, and a great assumption of cheerfulness, and a little gnawing feeling of discomfort at her heart, to which she would not have owned for worlds.
Nan was the gayest of the gay that evening, but she would not dance again with Dick: she sent the poor boy away from her with a decision and peremptoriness that struck him with fresh dismay.
"You are not tired now, Nan; and have been waltzing ever so long with Cathcart and Hamilton."
"Never mind about me to-night: you must go and ask Lady Fitzroy. No, I am not cross. Do you think I would be cross to you on your birthday? but all the same I will not have you neglect your duties. Go and ask her this moment, sir!" And Nan smiled in his face in the most bewitching way, and gave a little flutter to her fan. She accepted Mr. Hamilton's invitation to a valse under Dick's very eyes, and whirled away on his arm, while Dick stood looking at her ruefully.
Just at the very last moment Nan's heart relented.
"Walk down to the gate with us," she whispered, as she passed him on her way to the cloak-room.
Dick, who was by this time in a somewhat surly humor, make no sort of response; nevertheless Nan found him out on the gravel path waiting for them in company with Cathcart and Hamilton.
Nan shook off the latter rather cleverly, and took Dick's arm, in cheerful unconsciousness of his ill-humor.
"It is so good of you to come with us. I wanted to get you a moment to myself, to congratulate you on the success of the evening. It was admirably managed; every one says so: even Lady Fitzroy was pleased, and her ladyship is a trifle fastidious. Have the band in-doors, and set them to dancing,—that is what I said; and it has turned out a complete success," finished Nan, with a little gush of enthusiasm; but she did not find Dick responsive.
"Oh! bother the success and all that!" returned that very misguided young man; "it was the slowest affair to me, I assure you, and I am thankful it is over. You have spoiled the evening to me, and that is what you have done," grumbled Dick, in his most ominous voice.
"I spoiled your evening, you ungrateful boy!" replied Nan, innocently; but she smiled to herself in the darkness, and the reproach was sweet to her. They had entered the garden of Glen Cottage by this time, and Dick was fiercely marching her down a side-path that led to the kitchen. The hall door stood open. Cathcart and Hamilton were chattering with the girls in the porch, while Mrs. Challoner went inside. They peered curiously into the summer dusk, as Dick's impatient footsteps grated on the gravel path.
"I spoiled your evening!" repeated Nan, lifting her bright eyes with the gleam of fun still in them.
"Yes," blurted out Dick. "Why have you kept me at such a distance all the evening? Why would you not dance with me? and you gave Hamilton three valses. It was not like you, Nan, to treat me so,—and on my birthday too," went on the poor fellow, with a pathos that brought another sort of gleam to Nan's eyes, only she still laughed.