[Transcriber's Note: This e-book was produced from a reprint of the edition first published in 1894 in London by Bliss, Sands, and Foster. Inconsistent spellings and hyphenations have been standardized. There is one instance each of Cruachmore and Croachmore, so they have been left as printed.]
The Daughters of Danaus
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The Daughters of Danaus 1
Appendix: "Does Marriage Hinder a Woman's Self-development?" by Mona Caird 535
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THE DAUGHTERS OF DANAUS
It was only just light enough to discern the five human forms in the dimness of the garret; the rays of the moon having to find their way through the deep window-embrasures of the keep. Less illumination would have sufficed to disclose the ancient character of the garret, with its low ceiling, and the graduated mouldings of the cornice, giving the effect of a shallow dome. The house stood obviously very high, for one could see from the windows for miles over a bleak country, coldly lit by the rays of the moon, which was almost at the full. Into the half light stole presently the sound of some lively instrument: a reel tune played, as it were, beneath one's breath, but with all the revel and rollicking emphasis of that intoxicating primitive music. And then in correspondingly low relief, but with no less emphasis, the occupants of this singular ball-room began to dance. One might have fancied them some midnight company of the dead, risen from their graves for this secret revelry, so strange was the appearance of the moving figures, with the moonlight catching, as they passed, the faces or the hands. They danced excellently well, as to the manner born, tripping in and out among the shadows, with occasional stamping, in time to the music, and now and again that wild Celtic shout or cry that sets the nerves athrill. In spite of the whole scene's being enacted in a low key, it seemed only to gain in intensity from that circumstance, and in fantastic effect.
Among the dancers was one who danced with peculiar spirit and brilliancy, and her little cry had a ring and a wildness that never failed to set the others going with new inspiration.
She was a slight, dark-haired girl, with a pale, rather mysterious face, and large eyes. Not a word was spoken, and the reel went on for nearly ten minutes. At length the girl with the dark hair gave a final shout, and broke away from the circle.
With her desertion the dance flagged, and presently came to an end. The first breaking of the silence gave a slight shock, in spite of the subdued tones of the speaker.
"It is no use trying to dance a reel without Hadria," said a tall youth, evidently her brother, if one might judge from his almost southern colouring and melancholy eyes. In build and feature he resembled the elder sister, Algitha, who had all the characteristics of a fine northern race.
"Old Maggie said the other day, that Hadria's dancing of the reel was no 'right canny,'" Algitha observed, in the same low tone that all the occupants of the garret instinctively adopted.
"Ah!" cried Fred, "old Maggie has always looked upon Hadria as half bewitched since that night when she found her here 'a wee bit bairn,' as she says, at this very window, in her nightshirt, standing on tiptoe to see the moonlight."
"It frightened the poor old thing out of her wits, of course," said Algitha, who was leaning with crossed arms, in a corner of the deep-set window. The fine outlines of face and form were shewn in the strange light, as in a boldly-executed sketch, without detail. Pride and determination were the dominant qualities so indicated. Her sister stood opposite, the moonshine making the smooth pallor of her face more striking, and emphasizing its mysterious quality.
The whole group of young faces, crowded together by the window, and lit up by the unsympathetic light, had something characteristic and unusual in its aspect, that might have excited curiosity.
"Tell us the story of the garret, Hadria," said Austin, the youngest brother, a handsome boy of twelve, with curling brown hair and blue eyes.
"Hadria has told it hundreds of times, and you know it as well as she does."
"But I want to hear it again—about the attack upon the keep, and the shouting of the men, while the lady was up here starving to death."
But Algitha shook her head.
"We don't come up here to tell stories, we must get to business."
"Will you have the candle, or can you see?" asked Fred, the second brother, a couple of years younger than Hadria, whom he addressed. His features were irregular; his short nose and twinkling grey eyes suggesting a joyous and whimsical temperament.
"I think I had better have the candle; my notes are very illegible."
Fred drew forth a candle-end from his pocket, stuck it into a quaint-looking stand of antique steel, much eaten with rust, and set the candle-end alight.
Algitha went into the next room and brought in a couple of chairs. Fred followed her example till there were enough for the party. They all took their places, and Hadria, who had been provided with a seat facing them, and with a rickety wooden table that trembled responsively to her slightest movement, laid down her notes and surveyed her audience. The faces stood out strangely, in the lights and shadows of the garret.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she began; "on the last occasion on which the Preposterous Society held its meeting, we had the pleasure of listening to an able lecture on 'Character' by our respected member Demogorgon" (the speaker bowed to Ernest, and the audience applauded). "My address to-night on 'Fate' is designed to contribute further ideas to this fascinating subject, and to pursue the enquiry more curiously."
The audience murmured approval.
"We were left at loggerheads, at the end of the last debate. I doubted Demogorgon's conclusion, while admiring his eloquence. To-night, I will put before you the view exactly contrary to his. I do not assert that I hold this contrary view, but I state it as well as I am able, because I think that it has not been given due consideration."
"This will be warm," Fred was heard to murmur with a chuckle, to an adjacent sister. The speaker looked at her notes.
"I will read," she said, "a passage from Emerson, which states very strikingly the doctrine that I am going to oppose."
Hadria held her paper aslant towards the candle-end, which threw a murky yellow light upon the background of the garret, contrasting oddly with the thin, clear moonbeams.
"'But the soul contains the event that shall befall it, for the event is only the actualization of its thoughts; and what we pray to ourselves for is always granted. The event is the print of your form. It fits you like your skin. What each does is proper to him. Events are the children of his mind and body.'"
Algitha leant forward. The members of the Preposterous Society settled into attitudes of attention.
Hadria said that this was a question that could not fail to be of peculiar interest to them all, who had their lives before them, to make or mar. It was an extremely difficult question, for it admitted of no experiment. One could never go back in life and try another plan. One could never make sure, by such a test, how much circumstance and how much innate ideas had to do with one's disposition. Emerson insisted that man makes his circumstance, and history seemed to support that theory. How untoward had been, in appearance, the surroundings of those who had made all the great movements and done all the great deeds of the world. Let one consider the poverty, persecution, the incessant discouragement, and often the tragic end of our greatest benefactors. Christ was but one of the host of the crucified. In spite of the theory which the lecturer had undertaken to champion, she believed that it was generally those people who had difficult lives who did the beneficent deeds, and generally those people who were encouraged and comfortable who went to sleep, or actively dragged down what the thinkers and actors had piled up. In great things and in small, such was the order of life.
"Hear, hear," cried Ernest, "my particular thunder!"
"Wait a minute," said the lecturer. "I am going to annihilate you with your particular thunder." She paused for a moment, and her eyes rested on the strange white landscape beyond the little group of faces upturned towards her.
"Roughly, we may say that people are divided into two orders: first, the organizers, the able, those who build, who create cohesion, symmetry, reason, economy; and, secondly, the destroyers, those who come wandering idly by, and unfasten, undo, relax, disintegrate all that has been effected by the force and vigilance of their betters. This distinction is carried into even the most trivial things of life. Yet without that organization and coherence, the existence of the destroyers themselves would become a chaos and a misery."
The oak table over which Hadria bent forward towards her audience, appeared to be applauding this sentiment vigorously. It rocked to and fro on the uneven floor with great clamour.
"Thus," the speaker went on, "these relaxed and derivative people are living on the strength of the strong. He who is strong must carry with him, as a perpetual burden, a mass of such pensioners, who are scared and shocked at his rude individuality; and if he should trip or stumble, if he should lose his way in the untrodden paths, in seeking new truth and a broader foundation for the lives of men, then a chorus of censure goes up from millions of little throats."
"Hear, hear!" cried Algitha and Fred, and the table rocked enthusiastically.
"But when the good things are gained for which the upholders have striven and perhaps given their lives, then there are no more greedy absorbers of the bounty than these same innumerable little throats."
The table led the chorus of assent.
"And now," said the lecturer slowly, "consider this in relation to the point at issue. Emerson asserts that circumstance can always be conquered. But is not circumstance, to a large extent, created by these destroyers, as I have called them? Has not the strongest soul to count with these, who weave the web of adverse conditions, whose dead weight has to be carried, whose work of destruction has to be incessantly repaired? Who can dare to say 'I am master of my fate,' when he does not know how large may be the share of the general burden that will fall to him to drag through life, how great may be the number of these parasites who are living on the moral capital of their generation? Surely circumstance consists largely in the inertia, the impenetrability of the destroyers."
Ernest shewed signs of restiveness. He shuffled on his chair, made muttered exclamations.
"Presently," said the lecturer reassuringly.
"Or put it in another way," she went on. "A man may make a thing—circumstance included—but he is not a sort of moral spider; he can't spin it out of his own inside. He wants something to make it of. The formative force comes from within, but he must have material, just as much as a sculptor must have his marble before he can shape his statue. There is a subtle relation between character and conditions, and it is this relation that determines Fate. Fate is as the statue of the sculptor."
"That's where Hadria mainly differs from you," said Fred, "you make the thing absolute; Hadria makes it a matter of relation."
"Exactly," assented the lecturer, catching the remark. "Difficulties need not be really obstructive to the best development of a character or a power, nor a smooth path always favourable. Obstacles may be of a kind to stimulate one person and to annihilate another. It is not a question of relative strength between character and circumstance, as people are so fond of asserting. That is mere gibberish. It means nothing. The two things cannot be compared, for they are not of the same nature. They can't be reduced to a common denominator."
Austin appreciated this illustration, being head of his class for arithmetic.
"We shall never be able to take a reasonable view of this question till we get rid of that ridiculous phrase, 'If the soul is strong enough, it can overcome circumstance.' In a room filled with carbonic acid instead of ordinary air, a giant would succumb as quickly as a dwarf, and his strength would avail him nothing. Indeed, if there is a difference, it is in favour of the dwarf."
Ernest frowned. This was all high treason against his favourite author. He had given his sister a copy of Emerson's works last Christmas, in the hope that her views might be enlightened, and this was the disgraceful use she made of it!
"Finally," said Hadria, smiling defiantly at her brother, "let us put the question shortly thus: Given (say) great artistic power, given also a conscience and a strong will, is there any combination of circumstances which might prevent the artistic power (assuming it to be of the highest order and strength) from developing and displaying itself, so as to meet with general recognition?"
"No," asserted Ernest, and there was a hesitating chorus on his side.
"There seem to me to be a thousand chances against it," Hadria continued. "Artistic power, to begin with, is a sort of weakness in relation to the everyday world, and so, in some respects, is a nice conscience. I think Emerson is shockingly unjust. His beaming optimism is a worship of success disguised under lofty terms. There is nothing to prove that thousands have not been swamped by maladjustment of character to circumstance, and I would even go so far as to suggest that perhaps the very greatest of all are those whom the world has never known, because the present conditions are inharmonious with the very noblest and the very highest qualities."
No sooner was the last word uttered than the garret became the scene of the stormiest debate that had ever been recorded in the annals of the Preposterous Society, an institution that had lately celebrated its fifth anniversary. Hadria, fired by opposition, declared that the success of great people was due not simply to their greatness, but to some smaller and commoner quality which brought them in touch with the majority, and so gave their greatness a chance.
At this, there was such a howl of indignation that Algitha remonstrated.
"We shall be heard, if you don't take care," she warned.
"My dear Algitha, there are a dozen empty rooms between us and the inhabited part of the house, not to mention the fact that we are a storey above everyone except the ghosts, so I think you may compose yourself."
However, the excited voices were hushed a little as the discussion continued. One of the chief charms of the institution, in the eyes of the members of the Society, was its secrecy. The family, though united by ties of warm affection to their parents, did not look for encouragement from them in this direction. Mr. Fullerton was too exclusively scientific in his bent of thought, to sympathize with the kind of speculation in which his children delighted, while their mother looked with mingled pride and alarm at these outbreaks of individuality on the part of her daughters, for whom she craved the honours of the social world. In this out-of-the-way district, society smiled upon conformity, and glared vindictively at the faintest sign of spontaneous thinking. Cleverness of execution, as in music, tennis, drawing, was forgiven, even commended; but originality, though of the mildest sort, created the same agonizing disturbance in the select circle, as the sight of a crucifix is wont to produce upon the father of Evil. Yet by some freak of fortune, the whole family at Dunaghee had shewn obstinate symptoms of individuality from their childhood, and, what was more distressing, the worst cases occurred in the girls.
In the debate just recorded, that took place on Algitha's twenty-second birthday, Ernest had been Hadria's principal opponent, but the others had also taken the field against her.
"You have the easier cause to champion," she said, when there was a momentary lull, "for all your evidences can be pointed to and counted; whereas mine, poor things—pale hypotheses, nameless peradventures—lie in forgotten churchyards—unthought of, unthanked, untrumpeted, and all their tragedy is lost in the everlasting silence."
"You will never make people believe in what might have been," said Algitha.
"I don't expect to." Hadria was standing by the window looking out over the glimmering fields and the shrouded white hills. "Life is as white and as unsympathetic as this," she said dreamily. "We just dance our reel in our garret, and then it is all over; and whether we do the steps as our fancy would have them, or a little otherwise, because of the uneven floor, or tired feet, or for lack of chance to learn the steps—heavens and earth, what does it matter?"
"Hadria!" exclaimed an astonished chorus.
The sentiment was so entirely unlike any that the ardent President of the Society had ever been known to express before, that brothers and sisters crowded up to enquire into the cause of the unusual mood.
"Oh, it is only the moonlight that has got into my head," she said, flinging back the cloudy black hair from her brow.
Algitha's firm, clear voice vibrated through the room.
"But I think it matters very much whether one's task is done well or ill," she said, "and nobody has taught me to wish to make solid use of my life so much as you have, Hadria. What possesses you to-night?"
"I tell you, the moonlight."
"And something else."
"Well, it struck me, as I stood there with my head full of what we have been discussing, that the conditions of a girl's life of our own class are pleasant enough, but they are stifling, absolutely stifling; and not all the Emersons in the world will convince me to the contrary. Emerson never was a girl!"
There was a laugh.
"No; but he was a great man," said Ernest.
"Then he must have had something of the girl in him!" cried Hadria.
"I didn't mean that, but perhaps it is true."
"If he had been a girl, he would have known that conditions do count hideously in one's life. I think that there are more 'destroyers' to be carried about and pampered in this department of existence than in any other (material conditions being equal)."
"Do you mean that a girl would have more difficulty in bringing her power to maturity and getting it recognized than a man would have?" asked Fred.
"Yes; the odds are too heavy."
"A second-rate talent perhaps," Ernest admitted, "but not a really big one."
"I should exactly reverse that statement," said Hadria. "The greater the power and the finer its quality, the greater the inharmony between the nature and the conditions; therefore the more powerful the leverage against it. A small comfortable talent might hold its own, where a larger one would succumb. That is where I think you make your big mistake, in forgetting that the greatness of the power may serve to make the greatness of the obstacles."
"So much the better for me then," said Algitha, with a touch of satire; "for I have no idea of being beaten." She folded her arms in a serene attitude of determination.
"Surely it only wants a little force of will to enable you to occupy your life in the manner you think best," said Ernest.
"That is often impossible for a girl, because prejudice and custom are against her."
"But she ought to despise prejudice and custom," cried the brother, nobly.
"So she often would; but then she has to tear through so many living ties that restrain her freedom."
Algitha drew herself up. "If one is unjustly restrained," she said, "it is perfectly right to brave the infliction of the sort of pain that people feel only because they unfairly object to one's liberty of action."
"But what a frightful piece of circumstance that is to encounter," cried Hadria, "to have to buy the mere right to one's liberty by cutting through prejudices that are twined in with the very heart-strings of those one loves! Ah! that particular obstacle has held many a woman helpless and suffering, like some wretched insect pinned alive to a board throughout a miserable lifetime! What would Emerson say to these cases? That 'Nature magically suits the man to his fortunes by making these the fruit of his character'? Pooh! I think Nature more often makes a man's fortunes a veritable shirt of Nessus which burns and clings, and finally kills him with anguish!"
Once more the old stronghold of Dunaghee, inured for centuries to the changes of the elements, received the day's greeting. The hues of dawn tinged the broad hill pastures, or "airds," as they were called, round about the Tower of the Winds. No one was abroad yet in the silent lands, except perhaps a shepherd, tending his flock. The little farmstead of Craw Gill, that lay at a distance of about a couple of miles down the valley, on the side of a ravine, was apparently dead asleep. Cruachmore, the nearest upland farm, could scarcely be seen from the stronghold. The old tower had been added to, perhaps two hundred years ago; a rectangular block projecting from the corner of the original building, and then a second erection at right angles to the first, so as to form three sides of an irregular courtyard. This arrangement afforded some shelter from the winds which seldom ceased to blow in these high regions. The spot had borne the same reputation for centuries, as the name of the old tower implied.
The Tower of the Winds stood desolately, in the midst of a wide-eyed agricultural country, and was approached only by a sort of farm track that ran up hill and down dale, in a most erratic course, to the distant main road.
The country was not mountainous, though it lay in a northern district of Scotland; it was bleak and solitary, with vast bare fields of grass or corn; and below in the valley, a river that rushed sweeping over its rough bed, silent where it ran deep, but chattering busily in the shallows. Here was verdure to one's heart's content; the whole country being a singular mixture of bleakness on the heights, and woodland richness in the valleys; bitterly cold in the winter months, when the light deserted the uplands ridiculously early in the afternoon, leaving long mysterious hours that held the great silent stretches of field and hill-side in shadow; a circumstance, which had, perhaps, not been without its influence in the forming of Hadria's character. She, more than the others, seemed to have absorbed the spirit of the northern twilights. It was her custom to wander alone over the broad spaces of the hills, watching the sun set behind them, the homeward flight of the birds, the approach of darkness and the rising of the stars. Every instinct that was born in her with her Celtic blood—which lurked still in the family to the confounding of its fortunes—was fostered by the mystery and wildness of her surroundings.
Dawn and sunset had peculiar attractions for her.
Although the Preposterous Society had not separated until unusually late on the previous night, the President was up and abroad on this exquisite morning, summoned by some "message of range and of sweep——" to the flushing stretches of pasture and the windy hill-side.
In spite of the view that Hadria had expounded in her capacity of lecturer, she had an inner sense that somehow, after all, the will can perform astonishing feats in Fate's despite. Her intellect, rather than her heart, had opposed the philosophy of Emerson. Her sentiment recoiled from admitting the possibility of such tragedy as her expressed belief implied. This morning, the wonder and the grandeur of the dawn supplied arguments to faith. If the best in human nature were always to be hunted down and extinguished, if the efforts to rise in the scale of being, to bring gifts instead of merely absorbing benefits, were only by a rare combination of chances to escape the doom of annihilation, where was one to turn to for hope, or for a motive for effort? How could one reconcile the marvellous beauty of the universe, the miracles of colour, form, and, above all, of music, with such a chaotic moral condition, and such unlovely laws in favour of dulness, cowardice, callousness, cruelty? One aspired to be an upholder and not a destroyer, but if it were a useless pain and a bootless venture——?
Hadria tried to find some proof of the happier philosophy that would satisfy her intellect, but it refused to be comforted. Yet as she wandered in the rosy light over the awakening fields, her heart sang within her. The world was exquisite, life was a rapture!
She could take existence in her hands and form and fashion it at her will, obviously, easily; her strength yearned for the task.
Yet all the time, the importunate intellect kept insisting that feeling was deceptive, that health and youth and the freshness of the morning spoke in her, and not reason or experience. Feeling was left untouched nevertheless. It was impossible to stifle the voices that prophesied golden things. Life was all before her; she was full of vigour and longing and good will; the world stretched forth as a fair territory, with magical pathways leading up to dizzy mountain tops. With visions such as these, the members of the Preposterous Society had fired their imaginations, and gained impetus for their various efforts and their various ambitions.
Hadria had been among the most hopeful of the party, and had pointed to the loftier visions, and the more impersonal aims. Circumstance must give way, compromise was wrong; we had but a short time in this world, and mere details and prejudices must not be allowed to interfere with one's right to live to the utmost of one's scope. But it was easier to state a law than to obey it; easier to inspire others with faith than to hold fast to it oneself.
The time for taking matters in one's own hands had scarcely come. A girl was so helpless, so tied by custom. One could engage, so far, only in guerilla warfare with the enemy, who lurked everywhere in ambush, ready to harass the wayfarers with incessant petty attack. But life must have something more to offer than this—life with its myriad interests, dramas, mysteries, arts, poetries, delights!
By the river, where it had worn for itself a narrow ravine, with steep rocky sides or "clints," as they were called, several short tunnels or passages had been cut in places where the rock projected as far as the bank of the river, which was followed in its windings by a narrow footway, leading to the farmstead of Craw Gill.
In one part, a series of such tunnels, with intervals of open pathway, occurred in picturesque fashion, causing a singular effect of light and shade.
As Hadria stood admiring the glow of the now fully-risen sun, upon the wall of rock that rose beyond the opening of the tunnel which she had just passed through, she heard footsteps advancing along the riverside path, and guessed that Algitha and Ernest had come to fetch her, or to join in any absurd project that she might have in view. Although Algitha was two-and-twenty, and Hadria only a year younger, they were still guilty at times of wild escapades, with the connivance of their brothers. Walks or rides at sunrise were ordinary occurrences in the family, and in summer, bathing in the river was a favourite amusement.
"I thought I recognised your footsteps," said Hadria, as the two figures appeared at the mouth of the tunnel, the low rays of the sun lighting them up, for a moment, as they turned the sharp bend of the narrow path, before entering the shadow.
A quantity of brown dead leaves were strewn upon the floor of the rock-passage, blown in by the wind from the pathway at each end, or perhaps through the opening in the middle of the tunnel that looked out upon the rushing river.
A willow-tree had found footing in the crevice of the rock just outside, and its branches, thinly decked with pale yellow leaves, dipped into the water just in front of the opening. When the wind blew off the river it would sweep the leaves of the willow into the tunnel.
"Let's make a bonfire," suggested Ernest.
They collected the withered harvest of the winds upon the cavern floor, in a big brown heap, and then Ernest struck a match and set light to it. Algitha, in a large black cloak, stood over it with a hazel stick—like a wand—stirring and heaping on the fuel, as the mass began to smoulder and to send forth a thick white smoke that gradually filled the cavern, curling up into the rocky roof and swirling round and out by the square-cut mouth, to be caught there by the slight wind and illumined by the sun, which poured down upon the soft coils of the smoke, in so strange a fashion, as to call forth a cry of wonder from the onlookers. Standing in the interval of open pathway between the two rock-passages, and looking back at the fire lit cavern, with its black shadows and flickering flame-colours, Hadria was bewildered by what appeared to her a veritable magic vision, beautiful beyond anything that she had ever met in dream. She stood still to watch, with a real momentary doubt as to whether she were awake.
The figures, stooping over the burning heap, moved occasionally across the darkness, looking like a witch and her familiar spirit, who were conjuring, by uncanny arts, a vision of life, on the strange, white, clean-cut patch of smoke that was defined by the sunlit entrance to the tunnel. The witch stirred, and her familiar added fuel, while behind them the smoke, rising and curdling, formed the mysterious background of light: opaque, and yet in a state of incessant movement, as of some white raging fire, thinner and more deadly than any ordinary earthly element, that seemed to sicken and flicker in the blast of a furnace, and then rushed upwards, and coiled and rolled across the tunnel's mouth. Presently, as a puff of wind swept away part of the smoke, a miraculous tinge of rosy colour appeared, changing, as one caught it, into gold, and presently to a milky blue, then liquid green, and a thousand intermediate tints corresponding to the altering density of the smoke—and then! Hadria caught her breath—the blue and the red and the gold melted and moved and formed, under the incantation, into a marvellous vision of distant lands, purple mountains, fair white cities, and wide kingdoms, so many, so great, that the imagination staggered at the vastness revealed, and offered, as it seemed, to him who could grasp and perceive it. Among those blue deeps and faint innumerable mountain-tops, caught through a soft mist that continually moved and lifted, thinned and thickened, with changing tints, all the secrets, all the hopes, all the powers and splendours, of life lay hidden; and the beauty of the vision was as the essence of poetry and of music—of all that is lovely in the world of art, and in the world of the emotions. The question that had been debated so hotly and so often, as to the relation of the good and the beautiful, art and ethics, seemed to be answered by this bewildering revelation of sunlit smoke, playing across the face of a purple-tinted rock, and a few feet of grass-edged pathway.
"Come and see what visions you have conjured up, O witch!" cried Hadria.
Algitha gave a startled exclamation, as the smoke thinned and revealed that bewildering glimpse of distant lands, half seen, as through the atmosphere of a dream. An exquisite city, with slender towers and temples, flashed, for a moment, through the mist curtain.
"If life is like that," she said at length, drawing a long breath, "nothing on this earth ought to persuade us to forego it; no one has the right to hold one back from its possession."
"No one," said Hadria; "but everyone will try!"
"Let them try," returned Algitha defiantly.
Ernest and his two sisters walked homeward along the banks of the river, and thence up by a winding path to the top of the cliffs. It was mild weather, and they decided to pause in the little temple of classic design, which some ancient owner of the Drumgarran estate, touched with a desire for the exquisiteness of Greek outline, had built on a promontory of the rocks, among rounded masses of wild foliage; a spot that commanded one of the most beautiful reaches of the river. The scene had something of classic perfection and serenity.
"I admit," said Ernest in response to some remark of one of his sisters, "I admit that I should not like to stay here during all the best years of my life, without prospect of widening my experience; only as a matter of fact, the world is somewhat different from anything that you imagine, and by no means would you find it all beer and skittles. Your smoke and sun-vision is not to be trusted."
"But think of the pride and joy of being able to speak in that tone of experience!" exclaimed Hadria mockingly.
"One has to pay for experience," said Ernest, shaking his head and ignoring her taunt.
"I think one has to pay more heavily for inexperience," she said.
"Not if one never comes in contact with the world. Girls are protected from the realities of life so long as they remain at home, and that is worth something after all."
Algitha snorted. "I don't know what you are pleased to call realities, my dear Ernest, but I can assure you there are plenty of unpleasant facts, in this protected life of ours."
"Nobody can expect to escape unpleasant facts," said Ernest.
"Then for heaven's sake, let us purchase with them something worth having!" Hadria cried.
"Hear, hear!" assented Algitha.
"Unpleasant facts being a foregone conclusion," Hadria added, "the point to aim at obviously is interesting facts—and plenty of them."
Ernest flicked a pebble off the parapet of the balustrade of the little temple, and watched it fall, with a silent splash, into the river.
"I never met girls before, who wanted to come out of their cotton-wool," he observed. "I thought girls loved cotton-wool. They always seem to."
"Girls seem an astonishing number of things that they are not," said Hadria, "especially to men. A poor benighted man might as well try to get on to confidential terms with the Sphinx, as to learn the real thoughts and wishes of a girl."
"You two are exceptional, you see," said Ernest.
"Oh, everybody's exceptional, if you only knew it!" exclaimed his sister. "Girls;" she went on to assert, "are stuffed with certain stereotyped sentiments from their infancy, and when that painful process is completed, intelligent philosophers come and smile upon the victims, and point to them as proofs of the intentions of Nature regarding our sex, admirable examples of the unvarying instincts of the feminine creature. In fact," Hadria added with a laugh, "it's as if the trainer of that troop of performing poodles that we saw, the other day, at Ballochcoil, were to assure the spectators that the amiable animals were inspired, from birth, by a heaven-implanted yearning to jump through hoops, and walk about on their hind legs——"
"But there are such things as natural instincts," said Ernest.
"There are such things as acquired tricks," returned Hadria.
A loud shout, accompanied by the barking of several dogs, announced the approach of the two younger boys. Boys and dogs had been taking their morning bath in the river.
"You have broken in upon a most interesting discourse," said Ernest. "Hadria was really coming out."
This led to a general uproar.
When peace was restored, the conversation went on in desultory fashion. Ernest and Hadria fell apart into a more serious talk. These two had always been "chums," from the time when they used to play at building houses of bricks on the nursery floor. There was deep and true affection between them.
The day broke into splendour, and the warm rays, rounding the edge of the eastward rock, poured straight into the little temple. Below and around on the cliff-sides, the rich foliage of holly and dwarf oak, ivy, and rowan with its burning berries, was transformed into a mass of warm colour and shining surfaces.
"What always bewilders me," Hadria said, bending over the balustrade among the ivy, "is the enormous gulf between what might be and what is in human life. Look at the world—life's most sumptuous stage—and look at life! The one, splendid, exquisite, varied, generous, rich beyond description; the other, poor, thin, dull, monotonous, niggard, distressful—is that necessary?"
"But all lives are not like that," objected Fred.
"I speak only from my own narrow experience," said Hadria.
"Oh, she is thinking, as usual, of that unfortunate Mrs. Gordon!" cried Ernest.
"Of her, and the rest of the average, typical sort of people that I know," Hadria admitted. "I wish to heaven I had a wider knowledge to speak from."
"If one is to believe what one hears and reads," said Algitha, "life must be full of sorrow indeed."
"But putting aside the big sorrows," said her sister, "the ordinary every day existence that would be called prosperous, seems to me to be dull and stupid to a tragic extent."
"The Gordons of Drumgarran once more! I confess I can't see anything particularly tragic there," observed Fred, whose memory recalled troops of stalwart young persons in flannels, engaged for hours, in sending a ball from one side of a net to the other.
"It is more than tragic; it is disgusting!" cried Hadria with a shiver. Algitha drew herself together. She turned to her eldest brother.
"Look here, Ernest; you said just now that girls were shielded from the realities of life. Yet Mrs. Gordon was handed over by her protectors, when she was little more than a school-girl, without knowledge, without any sort of resource or power of facing destiny, to—well, to the hateful realities of the life that she has led now for over twenty years. There is nothing to win general sympathy in this case, for Mr. Gordon is good and kind; but oh, think of the existence that a 'protected,' carefully brought-up girl may be launched into, before she knows what she is pledged to, or what her ideas of life may be! If that is what you call protection, for heaven's sake let us remain defenceless."
Fred and Ernest accused their elder sister of having been converted by Hadria. Algitha, honest and courageous in big things and in small, at once acknowledged the source of her ideas. Not so long ago, Algitha had differed from the daughters of the neighbouring houses, rather in force of character than in sentiment.
She had followed the usual aims with unusual success, giving unalloyed satisfaction to her proud mother. Algitha had taken it as a matter of course that she would some day marry, and have a house of her own to reign in. A home, not a husband, was the important matter, and Algitha had trusted to her attractions to make a good marriage; that is, to obtain extensive regions for her activities. She craved a roomy stage for her drama, and obviously there was only one method of obtaining it, and even that method was but dubious. But Hadria had undermined this matter of fact, take-things-as-you-find-them view, and set her sister's pride on the track. That master-passion once aroused in the new direction, Algitha was ready to defend her dignity as a woman, and as a human being, to the death. Hadria felt as a magician might feel, who has conjured up spirits henceforth beyond his control; for obviously, her sister's whole life would be altered by this change of sentiment, and, alas, her mother's hopes must be disappointed. The laird of Clarenoc—a fine property, of which Algitha might have been mistress—had received polite discouragement, much to his surprise and that of the neighbourhood. Even Ernest, who was by no means worldly, questioned the wisdom of his sister's decision; for the laird of Clarenoc was a good fellow, and after all, let them talk as they liked, what was to become of a girl unless she married? This morning's conversation therefore touched closely on burning topics.
"Mrs. Gordon's people meant it for the best, I suppose," Ernest observed, "when they married her to a good man with a fine property."
"That is just the ghastly part of it!" cried Hadria; "from ferocious enemies a girl might defend herself, but what is she to do against the united efforts of devoted friends?"
"I don't suppose Mrs. Gordon is aware that she is so ill-used!"
"Another gruesome circumstance!" cried Hadria, with a half laugh; "for that only proves that her life has dulled her self-respect, and destroyed her pride."
"But, my dear, every woman is in the same predicament, if predicament it be!"
"What a consolation!" Hadria exclaimed, "all the foxes have lost their tails!"
"It may be illogical, but people generally are immensely comforted by that circumstance."
The conversation waxed warmer and more personal. Fred took a conservative view of the question. He thought that there were instincts implanted by Nature, which inspired Mrs. Gordon with a yearning for exactly the sort of existence that fate had assigned to her. Algitha, who had been the recipient of that lady's tragic confidences, broke into a shout of laughter.
"Well, Harold Wilkins says——"
This name was also greeted with a yell of derision.
"I don't see why you girls always scoff so at Harold Wilkins," said Fred, slightly aggrieved, "he is generally thought a lot of by girls. All Mrs. Gordon's sisters adore him."
"He needs no further worshippers," said Hadria.
Fred was asked to repeat the words of Harold Wilkins, but to soften them down if too severe.
"He laughs at your pet ideas," said Fred ruthlessly.
"Break it gently, Fred, gently."
"He thinks that a true woman esteems it her highest privilege to—well, to be like Mrs. Gordon."
"Wise and learned youth!" cried Hadria, resting her chin on her hand, and peering up into the blue sky, above the temple.
"Fool!" exclaimed Algitha.
"He says," continued Fred, determined not to spare those who were so overbearing in their scorn, "he says that girls who have ideas like yours will never get any fellow to marry them."
Laughter loud and long greeted this announcement.
"Laughter," observed Fred, when he could make himself heard, "is among the simplest forms of argument. Does this merry outburst imply that you don't care a button whether you are able to get some one to marry you or not?"
"It does," said Algitha.
"Well, so I said to Wilkins, as a matter of fact, with my nose in the air, on your behalf, and Wilkins replied, 'Oh, it's all very well while girls are young and good-looking to be so high and mighty, but some day, when they are left out in the cold, and all their friends married, they may sing a different tune.' Feeling there was something in this remark," Fred continued, "I raised my nose two inches higher, and adopted the argument that I also resort to in extremis. I laughed. 'Well, my dear fellow,' Wilkins observed calmly, 'I mean no offence, but what on earth is a girl to do with herself if she doesn't marry?'"
"What did you reply?" asked Ernest with curiosity.
"Oh, I said that was an unimportant detail, and changed the subject."
Algitha was still scornful, but Hadria looked meditative.
"Harold Wilkins has a practical mind," she observed. "After all, he is right, when you come to consider it."
"Hadria!" remonstrated her sister, in dismay.
"We may as well be candid," said Hadria. "There is uncommonly little that a girl can do (or rather that people will let her do) unless she marries, and that is why she so often does marry as a mere matter of business. But I wish Harold Wilkins would remember that fact, instead of insisting that it is our inherent and particular nature that urges us, one and all, to the career of Mrs. Gordon."
Algitha was obviously growing more and more ruffled. Fred tried in vain to soothe her feelings. He joked, but she refused to see the point. She would not admit that Harold Wilkins had facts on his side.
"If one simply made up one's mind to walk through all the hampering circumstances, who or what could stop one?" she asked.
"Algitha has evidently got some desperate plan in her head for making mincemeat of circumstances," cried Fred, little guessing that he had stated the exact truth.
"Do you remember that Mrs. Gordon herself waged a losing battle in early days, incredible as it may appear?" asked Hadria.
Algitha nodded slowly, her eyes fixed on the ground.
"She did not originally set out with the idea of being a sort of amiable cow. She once aspired to be quite human; she really did, poor thing!"
"Then why didn't she do it?" asked Algitha contemptuously.
"Instead of doing a thing, she had to be perpetually struggling for the chance to do it, which she never achieved, and so she was submerged. That seems to be the fatality in a woman's life."
"Well, there is one thing I am very sure of," announced Algitha, leaning majestically against a column of the temple, and looking like a beautiful Greek maiden, in her simple gown, "I do not intend to be a cow. I do not mean to fight a losing battle. I will not wait at home meekly, till some fool holds out his sceptre to me."
All eyes turned to her, in astonishment.
"But what are you going to do?" asked a chorus of voices. Hadria's was not among them, for she knew what was coming. The debate of last night, and this morning's discussion, had evidently brought to a climax a project that Algitha had long had in her mind, but had hesitated to carry out, on account of the distress that it would cause to her mother. Algitha's eyes glittered, and her colour rose.
"I am not going to be hawked about the county till I am disposed of. It does not console me in the least, that all the foxes are without tails," she went on, taking short cuts to her meaning, in her excitement. "I am going to London with Mrs. Trevelyan, to help her in her work."
"By Jove!" exclaimed Fred. Ernest whistled. Austin stared, with open mouth.
Having recovered from the first shock of surprise, the family plied their sister with questions. She said that she had long been thinking of accepting the post offered her by Mrs. Trevelyan last year, and now she was resolved. The work was really wise, useful work among the poor, which Algitha felt she could do well. At home, there was nothing that she did that the housekeeper could not do better. She felt herself fretting and growing irritable, for mere want of some active employment. This was utterly absurd, in an overworked world. Hadria had her music and her study, at any rate, but Algitha had nothing that seemed worth doing; she did not care to paint indifferently on china; she was a mere encumbrance—a destroyer, as Hadria put it—while there was so much, so very much, that waited to be done. The younger sister made no comment.
"Next time I meet Harold Wilkins," said Fred, drawing a long breath, "I will tell him that if a girl does not marry, she can devote herself to the poor."
"Or that she can remain to be the family consolation, eh, Hadria? By Jove, what a row there will be!"
The notion of Hadria in the capacity of the family consolation, created a shout of laughter. It had always been her function to upset foregone conclusions, overturn orthodox views, and generally disturb the conformity of the family attitude. Now the sedate and established qualities would be expected of her. Hadria must be the stay and hope of the house!
Fred continued to chuckle, at intervals, over the idea.
"It does seem to indicate rather a broken-down family!" said Ernest.
"I wish one of you boys would undertake the position instead of laughing at me," exclaimed Hadria in mock resentment. "I wish you would go to eternal tennis-parties, and pay calls, and bills, and write notes, and do little useless necessary things, more or less all day. I wish you had before you the choice between that existence and the career of Mrs. Gordon, with the sole chance of escape from either fate, in ruthlessly trampling upon the bleeding hearts of two beloved parents!"
"Thank you kindly," said Fred, "but we infinitely prefer to laugh at you."
"Man's eternal reply to woman, admirably paraphrased!" commented Hadria.
Everyone was anxious to know when Algitha intended to go to London. Nobody doubted for a moment that she would hold to her purpose; as Fred said, she was so "beastly obstinate."
Algitha had not fixed any time. It would depend on her mother. She wished to make things as little painful as possible. That it was her duty to spare her pain altogether by remaining at home, Algitha refused to admit. She and Hadria had thought out the question from all sides. The work she was going to do was useful, but she did not justify herself on that ground. She claimed the right to her life and her liberty, apart from what she intended to do with either. She owed it to her own conscience alone to make good use of her liberty. "I don't want to pose as a philanthropist," she added, "though I honestly do desire to be of service. I want to spread my wings. And why should I not? Nobody turns pale when Ernest wants to spread his. How do I know what life is like, or how best to use it, if I remain satisfied with my present ignorance? How can I even appreciate what I possess, if I have nothing to compare it with? Of course, the truly nice and womanly thing to do, is to remain at home, waiting to be married. I have elected to be unwomanly."
"I wonder how all this will turn out," said Ernest, "whether you won't regret it some day when it is too late."
"Don't people always regret what they do—some day?" asked Hadria.
"Perhaps so, especially if they do it sooner than other people."
"When are you going to make the announcement at head quarters?" asked Fred.
There was a pause. The colour had left Algitha's cheeks. She answered at length with an effort—
"I shall speak to mother to-day."
Mrs. Fullerton had gone to the study, to consult with her husband on some matter of domestic importance. It was a long, low-pitched room, situated in the part of the house that stood at right angles to the central block, with long, narrow windows looking on to a rough orchard. A few old portraits, very yellow and somewhat grotesque, hung on the walls; a wood fire burnt on the hob-grate, and beside it stood a vast arm chair, considerably worn, with depressions shewing where its owner had been leaning his head, day after day, when he smoked his pipe, or took his after-dinner nap. The bookshelves were stocked with scientific works, and some volumes on philosophy of a materialistic character. With the exception of Robert Burns, not one poet was represented.
The owner of the house sat before a big writing-table, which was covered with papers. His face was that of a hard thinker; the head was fine in form, the forehead broad and high; the features regular, almost severe. The severity was softened by a genial expression. Mrs. Fullerton, though also obviously above the average of humanity, shewed signs of incomplete development. The shape of the head and brow promised many faculties that the expression of the face did not encourage one to expect. She was finely built; and carried herself with dignity. When her daughters accompanied her on a round of calls in the neighbourhood, they expressed a certain quality in her appearance, in rough and ready terms: "Other married women always look such fools beside mother!"
And they did.
Mrs. Fullerton wore her fine black hair brushed neatly over her forehead; her eyes were large, and keen in expression. The mouth shewed determination. It was easy to see that this lady had unbounded belief in her husband's wisdom, except in social matters, for which he cared nothing. On that point she had to keep her ambitions to herself. In questions of philosophy, she had imbibed his tenets unmodified, and though she went regularly every Sunday to the close little Scottish church at Ballochcoil, she had no more respect than her husband had, for the doctrines that were preached there.
"No doubt it is all superstition and nonsense," she used to say, "but in this country, one can't afford to fly in the face of prejudice. It would seriously tell against the girls."
"Well, have your own way," Mr. Fullerton would reply, "but I can't see the use of always bothering about what people will think. What more do the girls want than a good home and plenty of lawn-tennis? They'll get husbands fast enough, without your asphyxiating yourself every Sunday in their interests."
In her youth, Mrs. Fullerton had shewn signs of qualities which had since been submerged. Her husband had influenced her development profoundly, to the apparent stifling of every native tendency. A few volumes of poetry, and other works of imagination, bore testimony to the lost sides of her nature.
Mr. Fullerton thought imagination "all nonsense," and his wife had no doubt he was right, though there was something to be said for one or two of the poets. The buried impulses had broken out, like a half-smothered flame, in her children, especially in her younger daughter. Singularly enough, the mother regarded these qualities, partly inherited from herself, as erratic and annoying. The memory of her own youth taught her no sympathy.
It was a benumbed sort of life that she led, in her picturesque old home, whose charm she perceived but dimly with the remnants of her lost aptitudes.
"Picturesque!" Mr. Fullerton used to cry with a snort; "why not say 'unhealthy' and be done with it?"
From these native elements of character, modified in so singular a fashion in the mother's life, the children of this pair had drawn certain of their peculiarities. The inborn strength and authenticity of the parents had transmuted itself, in the younger generation, to a spirit of free enquiry, and an audacity of thought which boded ill for Mrs. Fullerton's ambitions. The talent in her daughters, from which she had hoped so much, seemed likely to prove a most dangerous obstacle to their success. Why was it that clever people were never sensible?
The gong sounded for luncheon. Austin put his head in at the door of the study, to ask if his father would shew him a drop of ditch-water through the microscope, in the afternoon.
"If you will provide the ditch-water, I will provide the microscope," promised Mr. Fullerton genially.
Luncheon, usually a merry meal at Dunaghee, passed off silently. There was a sense of oppression in the air. Algitha and her sister made spasmodic remarks, and there were long pauses. The conversation was chiefly sustained by the parents and the ever-talkative Fred.
The latter had some anecdotes to tell of the ravages made by wasps.
"If Buchanan would only adopt my plan of destroying them," said Mr. Fullerton, "we should soon get rid of the pest."
"It's some chemical, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Fullerton.
"Oh, no; that's no use at all! Wasps positively enjoy chemicals. What you do is this——." And then followed a long and minute explanation of his plan, which had the merit of extreme originality.
Mr. Fullerton had his own particular way of doing everything, a piece of presumption which was naturally resented, with proper spirit, by his neighbours. He found it an expensive luxury. In the management of the estate, he had outraged the feelings of every landlord and land-agent within a radius of many miles, but he gained the affection of his tenants, and this he seemed to value more than the approval of his fellow-proprietors. In theory, he stuck out for his privileges; in practice, he was the friend and brother of the poorest on the estate. In his mode of farming he was as eccentric as in his method of management. He had taken Croachmore into his own hands, and this devoted farm had become the subject of a series of drastic scientific experiments, to the great grief and indignation of his bailiff.
Mrs. Fullerton believed implicitly in the value of these experiments, and so long as her husband tried science only on the farm she had no misgivings; but, alas, he had lately taken shares in some company, that was to revolutionize agriculture through an ingenious contrivance for collecting nitrogen from the atmosphere. Mr. Fullerton was confident that the new method was to be a gigantic success. But on this point, his wife uneasily shook her head. She had even tried to persuade Mr. Fullerton to rid himself of his liability. It was so great, she argued, and why should one be made anxious? But her husband assured her that she didn't understand anything about it; women ought not to meddle in business matters; it was a stupendous discovery, sure to make the fortunes of the original shareholders.
"When once the prejudice against a new thing has been got over," said the man of science, "you will see——the thing will go like wild-fire."
Many years afterwards, these words were remembered by Mrs. Fullerton, and she bitterly regretted that she had not urged the matter more strenuously.
"Well, Algitha," said her father, wondering at her silence, "how are the roses getting on? And I hope you have not forgotten the sweet-brier that you promised to grow for me."
"Oh, no, father, the sweet-brier has been ordered," returned Algitha, without her usual brightness of manner.
"Have you a headache?" enquired Mrs. Fullerton. "I hope you have not all been sitting up talking in Hadria's room, as you are too fond of doing. You have the whole day in which to express your ideas, and I think you might let the remainder wait over till morning."
"We were rather late last night," Algitha confessed.
"Pressure of ideas overpowering," added Fred.
"When I was young, ideas would never have been tolerated in young people for a moment," said Mrs. Fullerton, "it would have been considered a mark of ill-breeding. You may think yourselves lucky to be born at this end of the century, instead of the other."
"Indeed we do!" exclaimed Ernest. "It's getting jolly interesting!"
"In some respects, no doubt we have advanced," observed his mother, "but I confess I don't understand all your modern notions. Everybody seems to be getting discontented. The poor want to be rich, and the rich want to be millionaires; men want to do their master's work, and women want to do men's; everything is topsy-turvy!"
"The question is: What constitutes being right side up?" said Ernest. "One can't exactly say what is topsy-turvy till one knows that."
"When I was young we thought we did know," said Mrs. Fullerton, "but no doubt we are old-fashioned."
When luncheon was over, Mr. Fullerton went to the garden with his family, according to a time-honoured custom. His love of flowers sometimes made Hadria wonder whether her father also had been born with certain instincts, which the accidents of life had stifled or failed to develop. Terrible was the tyranny of circumstance! What had Emerson been dreaming of?
Mr. Fullerton, with a rose-bud in his button-hole, went off with the boys for a farming walk. Mrs. Fullerton returned to the house, and the sisters were left pacing together in the sheltered old garden, between two rows of gorgeous autumn flowers.
Hadria felt sick with dread of the coming interview.
Algitha was buoyed up, for the moment, by a strong conviction that she was in the right.
"It can't be fair even for parents to order one's whole life according to their pleasure," she said. "Other girls submit, I know——"
"And so the world is full of abortive, ambiguous beings, fit for nothing. The average woman always seem to me to be muffled——or morbid."
"That's what I should become if I pottered about here much longer," said Algitha—"morbid; and if there is one thing on the face of the earth that I loathe, it is morbidness."
Both sisters were instinctively trying to buttress up Algitha's courage, by strengthening her position with additional arguments.
"Is it fair," Hadria asked, "to summon children into the world, and then run up bills against them for future payment? Why should one not see the bearings of the matter?"
"In theory one can see them clearly enough; but it is poor comfort when it comes to practice."
"Oh, seeing the bearings of things is always poor comfort!" exclaimed the younger sister, with sudden vehemence. "Upon my word, I think it is better, after all, to absorb indiscriminately whatever idiotcy may happen to be around one, and go with the crowd."
"Nonsense!" cried Algitha, who had no sympathy with these passionate discouragements that alternated, in Hadria, with equally passionate exaltations.
"When you have gone, I will ask Mrs. Gordon to teach me the spirit of acquiescence, and one of those distracting games—besique or halma, or some of the other infernal pastimes that heaven decrees for recalcitrant spirits in need of crushing discipline."
"I think I see you!" Algitha exclaimed with a dispirited laugh.
"It will be a trial," Hadria admitted; "but it is said that suffering strengthens the character. You may look forward before long, to claiming as sister a creature of iron purpose."
"I wonder, I wonder," cried Algitha, bending her fine head; "we owe everything to her."
"I know we do. It's of no use disguising the unpleasant side of the matter. A mother disappointed in her children must be a desperately unhappy woman. She has nothing left; for has she not resigned everything for them? But is sacrifice for ever to follow on sacrifice? Is life to go rolling after life, like the cheeses that the idiot in the fable sent running downhill, the one to fetch the other back?"
"Yes, for ever," said Algitha, "until a few dare to break through the tradition, and then everyone will wonder at its folly. If only I could talk the matter over, in a friendly spirit, with mother, but she won't let me. Ah! if it were not that one is born with feelings and energies and ambitions of one's own, parents might treat one as a showman treats his marionettes, and we should all be charmed to lie prone on our backs, or to dance as may be convenient to our creators. But, as it is, the life of a marionette—however affectionate the wire-pullers—does become monotonous after a time."
"As to that," said the younger sister, with a little raising of the brows, as if half shrinking from what she meant to say, "I think most parents regard their children with such favourable eyes, not so much because they are they as because they are theirs."
The sisters paced the length of the garden without speaking. Then Hadria came to a standstill at the sun-dial, at the crossing of the paths, and began absently to trace the figures of the hours, with the stalk of a rose.
"After all," she said, "parents are presumably not actuated by humanitarian motives in bringing one into this wild world. They don't even profess to have felt an unselfish desire to see one enjoying oneself at their expense (though, as a matter of fact, what enjoyment one has generally is at their expense). People are always enthusiastically congratulated on the arrival of a new child, though it be the fourteenth, and the income two hundred a year! This seems to point to a pronounced taste for new children, regardless of the consequences!"
"Oh, of course," said Algitha, "it's one of the canons! Women, above all, are expected to jubilate at all costs. And I think most of them do, more or less sincerely."
"Very well then," cried Hadria, "it is universally admitted that children are summoned into the world to gratify parental instincts. Yet the parents throw all the onus of existence, after all, upon the children, and make them pay for it, and apologise for it, and justify it by a thousand sacrifices and an ever-flowing gratitude."
"I am quite ready to give gratitude and sacrifice too," said Algitha, "but I don't feel that I ought to sacrifice everything to an idea that seems to me wrong. Surely a human being has a right to his own life. If he has not that, what, in heaven's name, has he?"
"Anything but that!" cried Hadria.
* * * * *
While the momentous interview was going on, Hadria walked restlessly up and down the garden, feverishly waiting. The borders were brilliant with vast sunflowers, white lilies, and blazing "red-hot pokers" tangled together in splendid profusion, a very type of richness and glory of life. Such was the sort of existence that Hadria claimed from Fate. Her eyes turned to the bare, forlorn hills that even the August sunshine could not conjure into sumptuousness, and there she saw the threatened reality.
When at last Algitha's fine figure appeared at the further end of the path, Hadria hastened forward and took her sister's arm.
"It was worse than I had feared," Algitha said, with a quiver in her voice. "I know I am right, and yet it seems almost more than I am equal for. When I told mother, she turned deadly white, and I thought, for a moment, that she was going to faint. Let's sit down on this seat."
"Oh, it was horrible, Hadria! Mother must have been cherishing hopes about us, in a way that I don't think she quite knew herself. After that first moment of wretchedness, she flew into a passion of rage—that dreadful, tearing anger that people only feel when something of themselves is being wrenched away from them. She said that her children were all bad and unnatural; that she had spent her whole life in their interests; that if it had not been for her, we should all of us have grown up without education or accomplishments, or looks, or anything else; that she watched over us incessantly when we were little children, denying herself, spending her youth in devotion to us, when she might have gone into the world, and had some brightness and pleasure. If we imagined that she had never felt the dulness of her life, and never longed to go about and see people and things, we were much mistaken. But she had renounced everything she cared for, from her girlhood—she was scarcely older than I when her sacrifices began—and now her children gave no consideration to her; they were ready to scatter themselves hither and thither without a thought of her, or her wishes. They even talked scoffingly of the kind of life that she had led for them—for them, she repeated bitterly."
Hadria's face had clouded.
"Truly parents must have a bad time of it!" she exclaimed, "but does it really console them that their children should have a bad time of it too?"
Algitha was trembling and very pale.
"Mother says I shall ruin my life by this fad. What real good am I going to do? She says it is absurd the way we talk of things we know nothing about."
"But she won't let us know about things; one must talk about something!" cried Hadria with a dispirited laugh.
"She says she has experience of life, and we are ignorant of it. I reminded her that our ignorance was not exactly our fault."
"Ah! precisely. Parents throw their children's ignorance in their teeth, having taken precious good care to prevent their knowing anything. I can't understand parents; they must have been young themselves once. Yet they seem to have forgotten all about it. They keep us hoodwinked and infantile, and then launch us headlong into life, with all its problems to meet, and all momentous decisions made for us, past hope of undoing." Hadria rose restlessly in her excitement. "Surely no creature was ever dealt with so insanely as the well-brought-up girl! Surely no well-wisher so sincere as the average parent ever ill-treated his charge so preposterously."
Again there was a long silence, filled with painful thought. "One begins to understand a little, why women do things that one despises, and why the proudest of them so often submit to absolute indignity. You remember when Mrs. Arbuthnot and——"
"Ah, don't!" cried Algitha, flushing. "Nothing ought to induce a woman to endure that."
"H'm——I suspect the world that we know nothing about, Algitha, has ways and means of applying the pressure such as you and I scarcely dream of." Hadria spoke with half-closed eyes that seemed to see deep and far. "I have read and heard things that have almost taken my breath away! I feel as if I could kill every man who acquiesces in the present order of things. It is an insult to every woman alive!"
In Hadria's room that night, Algitha finally decided to delay her going for another six months, hoping by that time that her mother would have grown used to the idea, and less opposed to it. Mr. Fullerton dismissed it, as obviously absurd. But this high-handed treatment roused all the determination that Algitha had inherited from her father. The six months had to be extended, in order to procure funds. Algitha had a small income of her own, left her by her godmother, Miss Fortescue. She put aside this, for her purpose. Further delay, through Mrs. Trevelyan, brought the season round again to autumn, before Algitha was able to make her final preparations for departure.
"Do try and reconcile them to the idea," she said to her sister, as they stood on the platform of Ballochcoil station, very white and wretched-looking.
"It breaks my heart to see father look so fixed and angry, and mother so miserable. I am not going away for ever. Dear me, a day's journey will bring me back, at any time."
"I'll do my best," said Hadria, "here's your train; what a clumsy instrument of fate it does look!"
There was not much time for farewells. In a few minutes the train was steaming out of the station. A solitary figure stood on the platform, watching the monster curving and diminishing along the line, with its white smoke soaring merrily into the air, in great rolling masses, that melted, as if by some incantation, from thick, snow-like whiteness to rapid annihilation.
As Hadria drove over the winding upland road back to her home, her thoughts followed her sister into her new existence, and then turned wistfully backwards to the days that had been marked off into the past by Algitha's departure. How bright and eager and hopeful they had all been, how full of enthusiasm and generous ambitions! Even as they talked of battle, they stretched forth their hands for the crown of victory.
At the last meeting of the Preposterous Society, Ernest had repeated a poem of his favourite Emerson, called Days, and the poem, which was familiar to Hadria, sounded in her memory, as the pony trotted merrily along the well-known homeward way.
"Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days, Muffled and dumb, like barefoot Dervishes, And marching single in an endless file, Bring diadems and faggots in their hands. To each they offer gifts after his will, Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all. I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp, Forgot my morning wishes, hastily Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day Turned and departed silent. I, too late, Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn."
In spite of Hadria's memorable lecture of a year ago, it was still the orthodox creed of the Society, that Circumstance is the handmaid of the Will; that one can demand of one's days "bread, kingdoms, stars, or sky," and that the Days will obediently produce the objects desired. If one has but the spirit that can soar high enough to really be resolved upon stars, or the ambition sufficiently vaulting to be determined on kingdoms, then—so ran the dogma—stars and kingdoms would be forthcoming, though obstacles were never so determined. No member except Hadria had ever dreamt of insinuating that one might have a very pronounced taste for stars and kingdoms—nay, a taste so dominant that life would be worthless unless they were achieved—yet might be forced, by the might of events, to forego them. Hadria's own heresy had been of the head rather than of the heart. But to-day, feeling began to share the scepticism of the intellect.
What if one's stars and kingdoms lay on the further side of a crime or a cruelty?
What then was left but to gather up one's herbs and apples, and bear, as best one might, the scorn of the unjust Days?
Hadria cast about in her mind for a method of utilizing to the best advantage possible, the means at her disposal: to force circumstance to yield a harvest to her will. To be the family consolation meant no light task, for Mrs. Fullerton was exacting by nature: she had given much, and she expected much in return. Her logic was somewhat faulty, but that could not be gracefully pointed out to her by her daughter. Having allowed her own abilities to decay, Mrs. Fullerton had developed an extraordinary power of interfering with the employment of the abilities of others. Hadria had rather underrated than exaggerated this difficulty. Her mother would keep her for hours, discussing a trivial point of domestic business, giving elaborate directions about it, only to do it herself in the end. She spent her whole life in trifles of this kind, or over social matters. Everything was done cumbrously, with an incredible amount of toil and consideration, and without any noticeable results. Hadria, fighting against a multitude of harassing little difficulties, struggled to turn the long winter months to some use. But Mrs. Fullerton broke the good serviceable time into jagged fragments.
"I really can't see," said the mother, when the daughter proposed to set apart certain hours for household duties, and to have other portions of the day to herself, "I really can't see why a girl's little occupations should be treated with so much consideration. However, I have no wish for grudging assistance."
Hadria's temper was far indeed from perfect, and painful scenes often occurred. But as a rule, she would afterwards be seized with a fit of remorse, knowing that her mother was suffering bitterly from her keen disappointment about Algitha. The failure of a life-long hope must try the endurance of the bravest. Mrs. Fullerton, seeing that Hadria was more patient, quickly took advantage of the favourable moment, with a rapid instinct that had often done her good service in the management of a niggard destiny. The valuable mood must not be allowed to die fruitless. The elder girl's defection thus became, to the mother, a sort of investment, bearing interest of docility in the younger. Because the heartless Algitha had left home, it seemed to Mrs. Fullerton that the very least that Hadria could do, was to carry out her mother's lightest wish.
And so the weeks went by, in dreary, troublous fashion, cut into a hundred little barren segments. The mind had no space, or stretch, or solitude. It was incessantly harassed, and its impetus was perpetually checked. But Hadria hoped on. This could not last for ever. Some day, doubtless, if she sank not in spirit, the stars and the kingdoms would come.
Meanwhile, the position of affairs was decidedly ridiculous. She was here as the family consolation, and nobody seemed to be consoled! Her efforts had been sincere and even enthusiastic, but the boys only laughed at her, in this role, and nobody was apparently in the least gratified (except those imps of boys!).
For a long time, Mrs. Fullerton seemed to be oblivious of her daughter's efforts, but one day, when they had been talking about Algitha, the mother said: "Your father and I now look to you, Hadria. I do think that you are beginning to feel a little what your duty is. If you also were to turn deserter in our old age, I think it would kill us."
Hadria felt a thrill of horror. The network of Fate seemed to be fast closing round her. The temporary was to become fixed. She must act all her days according to the conviction of others, or her parents would die of grief!
When she went to the hills that afternoon, she felt as if she must walk on and on into the dreamy distance, away from all these toils and claims, away into the unknown world and never return. But, alas! the night descended and return she must. These wild impulses could never be followed.
The day had been peculiarly harassing and cut up; some neighbours had been to afternoon tea and tennis, and the sight of their faces and the sound of their talk had caused, in Hadria, an unutterable depression. The light, conventional phrases rang in her ears still, the expression of the faces haunted her, and into her heart crept a chill that benumbed every wish and hope and faith that she had ever cherished.
She sat up late into the night. Since freedom and solitude could not be had by day, the nights were often her sole opportunity. At such times she would work out her musical ideas, which in the dead silence of the house were brought forth plentifully. These, from her point of view, were the fruitful hours of the twenty-four. Thoughts would throng the darkness like swarms of living things.
Hadria's mood found expression to-night in a singular and most melancholy composition. She called it Futility.
It was unlike anything that she had ever done before, and she felt that it shewed an access of musical power.
She dreamt an absurd dream: That she was herself one of those girls with the high pattering accents, playing tennis without ceasing and with apparent cheerfulness; talking just as they had talked, and about just the same things; and all the time, a vast circle of shadowy forms stood watching, beckoning, and exhorting and warning, and turning away, at last, in sorrowful contempt, because she preferred to spend her youth eternally in futilities. And then they all slowly drifted by with sad eyes fixed on her, and she was still left playing, playing. And it seemed as if whole weeks passed in that way, and she grew mortally tired, but some power prevented her from resting. The evil spell held her enthralled. Always cheerful, always polite and agreeable, she continued her task, finding herself growing accustomed to it at last, and duly resigned to the necessity, wearisome though it was. Then all hope that the game would ever cease went away, and she played on, mechanically, but always with that same polite cheerfulness, as of afternoon calls. She would not for the world admit that she was tired. But she was so tired that existence became a torture to her, and her heart seemed about to break with the intolerable strain—when she woke up with a start, and found herself lying in a constrained attitude, half-choked by the bed-clothes.
She did not see the comic side of the dream till next morning, when she told it at breakfast for the benefit of the family.
As Hadria was an ardent tennis-player, it struck her brethren as a particularly inappropriate form of nightmare.
Hadria, at this time, went frequently with her father on his farming walks, as he liked to have one or more of the family with him. She enjoyed these walks, for Mr. Fullerton would talk about philosophy and science, often of the most abstruse and entrancing kind. His children were devoted to him. During these expeditions, they always vied with one another to ferret out the most absurd story to tell him, he being held as conqueror who made their father laugh most heartily. Sometimes they all went in a body, armed with wild stories; and occasionally, across the open fields, a row of eccentric-looking figures might be seen, struggling in the grip of hilarious paroxysms; Mr. Fullerton doubled up in the middle of a turnip-field, perhaps, with his family in contortions round him. The air of the hills seemed to run to their heads, like wine. Roulades of laughter, hearty guffaws, might have been heard for surprising distances, much to the astonishment of the sober labourers bending over their toil.
Ernest had to go back to college; Fred and Austin to school. The house seemed very quiet and sad after the boys left, and Hadria missed her sister more and more, as time went on.
Algitha wrote most happily.
"With all its drawbacks, this existence of hard work (yet not too hard) suits me exactly. It uses up my energies; yet, in spite of the really busy life I lead, I literally have more leisure than I used to have at home, where all through the day, there was some little detail to be attended to, some call to make, some convention to offer incense to, some prejudice to respect. Here, once my day's work is over, it is over, and I have good solid hours of leisure. I feel that I have earned those hours when they come; also that I have earned a right to my keep, as Wilfrid Burton, the socialist, puts it somewhat crudely. When I go to bed at night, I can say: 'Because of me, this day, heavy hearts have been made a little lighter.' I hear all sorts of opinions, and see all sorts of people. I never was so happy in my life."
It was Hadria's habit still to take solitary rambles over the country. A passionate lover of Nature, she found endless pleasure in its ever-changing aspects. Yet of late, a new feeling had begun to mutter angrily within her: a resentment against these familiar sights and sounds, because they were the boundaries of her horizon. She hated the line of the round breezy hills where the row of fir-trees stood against the sky, because that was the edge of her world, and she wanted to see what was beyond. She must and would see what was beyond, some day. Her hope was always vague; for if she dared to wonder how the curtain of life was to be lifted, she had to face the fact that there was no reasonable prospect of such a lifting. Still, the utter horror of living on always, in this fashion, seemed to prove it impossible.
On one dim afternoon, when the sun was descending, Hadria's solitary figure was noticed by a white-haired lady, presumably a tourist, who had stopped to ask a question of some farm labourers, working in a field. She ceased to listen to the information, on the subject of Dunaghee, that was given to her in a broad Scottish dialect. The whole scene, which an instant before had impressed her as one of beauty and peace, suddenly focussed itself round the dark figure, and grew sinister in its aspect. At that moment, nothing would have persuaded the onlooker that the hastening figure was not hastening towards misfortune.
A woman of impulse, she set off in purposeless pursuit. Hadria's pace was very rapid; she was trying to outrun thought. It was impossible to live without hope, yet hope, in this forlorn land, was growing faint and tired.
Her pursuer was a remarkable-looking woman, no longer young, with her prematurely white hair drawn up from her brow with a proud sweep that suited well her sharply defined features and her air of defiance. She was carelessly dressed after the prevailing fashion, and gave the impression of not having her life successfully in hand, but rather of being driven by it, as by a blustering wind, against her inclination.
The impression which had seized her, a moment ago, deepened as she went. Something in the scene and the hastening figure roused a sense of dread. With her, an impression was like a spark to gunpowder. Her imagination blazed up. Life, in its most tragic aspect, seemed before her in the lonely scene, with the lonely figure, moving, as if in pursuit of a lost hope, towards the setting sun.
If Hadria had not paused on the brow of the hill, it is unlikely that she would have been overtaken, but that pause decided the matter. The stranger seemed suddenly to hesitate, wondering, apparently, what she had done this eccentric thing for.
Hadria, feeling a presence behind her, turned nervously round and gave a slight start.
It was so rare to meet anybody on these lonely hills, that the apparition of a striking-looking woman with white hair, dark eyes, and a strange exalted sort of expression, gave a shock of surprise.
As the lady had stopped short, Hadria supposed that she had lost her way, and wished to make some enquiries.
"Can I direct you, or give you any assistance?" she asked, after a second's pause.
"Oh, thank you, you are very kind. I have come over from Ballochcoil to explore the country. I have been trying to find out the history of the old houses of the district. Could you tell me, by the way, anything about that house with the square tower at the end; I have been loitering round it half the afternoon. And I would have given anything to know its history, and what it is like inside."
"Well, I can help you there, for that old house is my home. If you have time to come with me now, I will show you all over it," said Hadria, impulsively.
"That is too tempting an offer. And yet I really don't like to intrude in this way. I am a perfect stranger to you and—your parents I suppose?"
"They will be delighted," Hadria assured her new acquaintance, somewhat imprudently.
"Well, I can't resist the temptation," said the latter, and they walked on together.
Hadria related what she knew about the history of the house. Very scanty records had survived. It had obviously been one of the old Scottish strongholds, built in the lawless days when the country was plunged in feuds and chieftains lived on plunder. A few traditions lingered about it: among them that of a chief who had carried off, by force, the daughter of his bitterest enemy, in revenge for some deed of treachery. He had tortured her with insolent courtship, and then starved her to death in a garret in the tower, while her father and his followers assaulted its thick walls in vain.
"The tradition is, that on stormy nights one can still hear the sound of the attack, the shouts of the men and the father's imprecations."
"A horrible story!"
"When people say the world has not progressed, I always think of that story, and remember that such crimes were common in those days," Hadria remarked.
"I doubt if we are really less ferocious to-day," the other said; "our ferocity is directed against the weakest, now as then, but there are happily not so many weak, so we get the credit of being juster, without expense. As a matter of fact, our opportunities are less, and so we make a virtue of necessity—with a vengeance!"
Hadria looked at her companion with startled interest. "Will you tell me to whom I have the pleasure of speaking?" the lady asked.
"My name is Fullerton—Hadria Fullerton."
"Thank you. And here is my card, at least I think it is. Oh, no, that is a friend's card! How very tiresome! I am reduced to pronouncing my own name—Miss Du Prel, Valeria Du Prel; you may know it."
Hadria came to a sudden standstill. She might know it! she might indeed. Valeria Du Prel had long been to her a name to swear by.
"Miss Du Prel! Is that—are you—may I ask, are you the writer of those wonderful books?"
Miss Du Prel gave a gratified smile. "I am glad they please you."
"Ah! if you could guess how I have longed to know you. I simply can't believe it."
"And so my work has really given you pleasure?"
"Pleasure! It has given me hope, it has given me courage, it has given me faith in all that is worth living for. It was an epoch in my life when I first read your Parthenia."
Miss Du Prel seemed so genuinely pleased by this enthusiasm that Hadria was surprised.
"I have plenty of compliments, but very seldom a word that makes me feel that I have spoken to the heart. I feel as if I had called in the darkness and had no response, or like one who has cried from the house-tops to a city of the dead."
"And I so often thought of writing to you, but did not like to intrude," cried Hadria.
"Ah! if you only had written to me!" Miss Du Prel exclaimed.
Hadria gazed incredulously at the familiar scene, as they approached the back of the house, with its round tower and its confusion of picturesque, lichen-covered roofs. An irregular circle of stately trees stood as sentinels round the stronghold.
After all, something did happen, once in a while, in this remote corner of the universe, whose name, Hadria used to think, had been erased from the book of Destiny. She was perhaps vaguely disappointed to find that the author of Parthenia wore ordinary human serge, and a cape cut after the fashion of any other person's cape. Still, she had no idea what supersensuous material she could reasonably have demanded of her heroine (unless it were the mythic "bombazine" that Ernest used to talk about, in his ignorant efforts to describe female apparel), or what transcendental form of cape would have satisfied her imagination.
"You have a lovely home," said Valeria Du Prel, "you must be very happy here."
"Would you be happy here?"
"Well, of course that would depend. I am, I fear, too roving by nature to care to stay long in one place. Still I envy girls their home-life in the country; it is so healthy and free."
Hadria, without answering, led her companion round the flank of the tower, and up to the front door. It was situated in the angle of the wings, a sheltered nook, hospitably careful of the guest, whom the winds of the uplands were disposed to treat but roughly.
Hadria and her companion entered a little panelled hall, whence a flight of broad stairs with stout wooden balusters, of quaint design, led to the first floor.
The visitor was charmed with the quiet old rooms, especially with Hadria's bedroom in the tower, whose windows were so deep-set that they had to be approached through a little tunnel cut out of the thickness of the wall. The windows looked on to the orchard at the back, and in front over the hills. Miss Du Prel was taken to see the scene of the tragedy, and the meeting-room of the Preposterous Society.
"You must see the drawing-room," said Hadria.
She opened a door as she spoke, and ushered her visitor into a large, finely-proportioned room with three tall windows of stately form, divided into oblong panes, against which vagrant sprays of ivy were gently tapping.
This room was also panelled with painted wood; its character was quiet and stately and reposeful. Yet one felt that many human lives had been lived in it. It was full of the sentiment of the past, from the old prints and portraits on the walls, to the delicate outlines of the wooden mantel-piece, with its finely wrought urns and garlands.
Before this mantel-piece, with the firelight flickering in her face, sat Mrs. Fullerton, working at a large piece of embroidery.
For the first time, Hadria hesitated. "Mother," she said, "this is Miss Du Prel. We met out on the hills this afternoon, and I have brought her home to see the house, which she admires very much."
Mrs. Fullerton had looked up in astonishment, at this incursion into her very sanctuary, of a stranger met at haphazard on the hills. Hadria wheeled up an easy-chair for the visitor.
"I fear Miss Du Prel will not find much to see in the old house," said Mrs. Fullerton, whose manner had grown rigid, partly because she was shy, partly because she was annoyed with Hadria for her impulsive conduct, and largely because she disliked the idea of a literary acquaintance for her daughter, who was quite extraordinary enough as it was.
"We have been all over the house," said Hadria hastily, with an anxious glance at Miss Du Prel, whom she half expected to rise and walk out of the room. It must surely be the first time in her life that her presence had not been received as an honour!
"It is all very old and shabby," said Mrs. Fullerton. "I hope you will take some tea; if you have walked far to-day, you must be cold and in need of something to eat."
"Oh no, no, thank you," returned the visitor; "I ought to be getting back to Ballochcoil to-night."
"To Ballochcoil!" exclaimed mother and daughter in simultaneous dismay. "But it is nearly seven miles off, and the sun is down. You can't get back to-night on foot."
"Dear me, can I not? I suppose I forgot all about getting back, in the interest of the scenery."
"What an extraordinary person!" thought Mrs. Fullerton.
Miss Du Prel glanced helplessly at Hadria; rising then and looking out of the window at the dusk, which had come on so rapidly. "Dear me, how dark it has grown! Still I think I can walk it, or perhaps I can get a fly at some inn on the way."
"Can we offer you a carriage?" asked Mrs. Fullerton.
"Oh no, thank you; that is quite unnecessary. I have already intruded far too long; I shall wend my way back, or what might perhaps be better, I could get a lodging at the farmhouse down the road. I am told that they put travellers up sometimes."
Miss Du Prel hurried off, evidently chilled by Mrs. Fullerton's freezing courtesy. Hadria, disregarding her mother's glance of admonition, accompanied the visitor to the farm of Craw Gill, having first given directions to old Maggie to put together a few things that Miss Du Prel would require for the night. Hadria's popularity at the farm, secured her new friend a welcome. Mrs. McEwen was a fine example of the best type of Scottish character; warm of heart, honest of purpose, and full of a certain unconscious poetry, and a dignity that lingers still in districts where the railway whistle is not too often heard. Miss Du Prel seemed to nestle up to the good woman, as a child to its mother after some scaring adventure. Mrs. McEwen was recommending a hot water-bottle and gruel in case of a chill, when Hadria wended her way homeward to brave her mother's wrath.
"I cannot make you realize that you are an ignorant girl who knows nothing of the world, and that it is necessary you should accept my experience, and condescend to be guided by my wishes. You put me in a most unpleasant position this afternoon, forcing me to receive a person whom I have never been introduced to, or heard of——"
"Valeria Du Prel has been heard of throughout the English-speaking world," said Hadria rhetorically.
"So much the worse," retorted Mrs. Fullerton. "No nicely brought up woman is ever heard of outside her own circle."
Hadria recalled a similar sentiment among the ancient Greeks, and thought how hard an old idea dies.
"She might have been some awful person, some unprincipled adventuress, and that I believe is what she is. What was she prowling about the back of our house for, I should like to know?"
"I suspect she wanted to steal chickens or something," Hadria was goaded into suggesting, and the interview ended painfully.
When Hadria went to Craw Gill, next morning, to enquire for Miss Du Prel, Mrs. McEwen said that the visitor had breakfasted in bed. The farmer's wife also informed Miss Fullerton that the lady had decided to stay on at Craw Gill, for some time. She had been looking out for a retreat of the kind.
"She seems a nice-like body," said Mrs. McEwen, "and I see no objection to the arrangement."
Hadria's heart beat faster. Could it be possible that Valeria du Prel was to be a near neighbour? It seemed too good to be true!