THE GIRLS OF ST. OLAVE'S
The Girls of St. Olave's
BY MABEL MACKINTOSH AUTHOR OF "The Doings of Denys."
John F. Shaw & Co., Ltd., 3, Pilgrim Street, London, E.C.
I. AS GOOD AS GONE 7
II. LOVE AND MONEY 14
III. A GREAT BIG SHAME 23
IV. A SMALL WORLD 33
V. A WILD-GOOSE CHASE 40
VI. A TICKET FOR ONE 50
VII. HEIGHTS AND DEPTHS 58
VIII. IN FEAR 67
IX. BROTHERS-IN-LAW 80
X. A MEAN THING 89
XI. WITH A PURPOSE 98
XII. MASTER AND MAN 107
XIII. BEARDING THE LION 118
XIV. AN UNWELCOME GUEST 129
XV. THE LAST HOPE 140
XVI. LINKS IN A CHAIN 150
XVII. MEETING AND PARTING 161
XVIII. A BASE TRICK 174
XIX. A SUCCESSFUL RAID 183
XX. REAPING THE WHIRLWIND 194
XXI. THE HIDING-PLACE 203
XXII. OUT OF THE NORTH 217
XXIII. THE MEETING OF THE WAYS 224
XXIV. THE SUN SHINES OUT 239
AS GOOD AS GONE.
"You won't be any more use to us after this," said Gertrude positively.
A quick flush coloured Denys's cheek.
"Oh, Gertrude! why not?"
"Engaged girls never are the least use to their families," reiterated Gertrude. "All they think about is the postman and their bottom drawer. The family goes to the wall, its interests are no longer of interest, its sewing is no longer necessary, its duties——"
But Denys's good-tempered laugh rippled out and interrupted the flow of eloquence.
"Really, Gertrude! you are too funny!"
"I don't feel at all funny," grumbled Gertrude, half laughing and half ashamed of herself, "only I'm quite busy enough, and I can't be piled up with any of your odds and ends! Talking of bottom drawers," she added, more contented now she had said her say, "if I were you I would put away all your ornaments and vases, or Pattie will break them all before you are married."
Denys's eyes wandered round the room, the dear old night nursery where she had slept with one after another of the babies. The walls were adorned with coloured prints, of which the stories had been told and re-told to Tony and little Jerry and baby Maude, and the odds and ends of little ornaments and carved brackets had each its own history of a birthday or a holiday or a keepsake. There was nothing of value, except in the value of association, and Denys smiled tenderly as she shook her head.
On this evening, when she was just engaged to be married, every association in the room was tugging at her heart, and weaving its threads into the new fabric of joy that was spread out before her.
Gertrude's glance followed hers round the room.
"It isn't a half bad room," she remarked, "only those rubbishy old pictures spoil it. When you are gone I shall have this room and you will see the difference I shall make. What a joke it will be to see you come poking round to see all our arrangements then!"
With a gay little laugh, she rubbed her pretty round cheek against Denys's in a sort of good-night salute and departed, shutting the door behind her.
A moment later she opened it a crack.
"Don't lie awake thinking of him," she said, "you know Conway wants breakfast early."
Left alone at last, Denys gave a sigh of relief. It was just like Gertrude to come up and make arrangements not to be overworked! How Conway would rage if he knew! And this night of all nights in her life!
And then Denys forgot all about Gertrude, and sitting on the rug in front of the fire gave herself up to thinking of her happy future.
It was just like her mother to have lighted a fire for her to sit and dream by. Mother always seemed to think of little bits of comfort to give people.
And she was engaged to be married!
She got up hurriedly, unlocked her desk and took out a little pearl ring which had been her mother's. In the firelight she slipped it on to the third finger of her left hand, and sat down again to contemplate it and all that a similar ring given her by Charlie could mean!
And she would have to call Mrs. Henchman Mother, and Audrey would be her sister!
Her eyes brimmed over with amusement.
What would they all say! Would they be pleased and surprised—her grandmother and Mrs. Henchman and Audrey? Had they ever guessed at what Charlie had made up his mind to three years ago?
Mrs. Henchman had seemed to like her then, but then she had been an ordinary chance visitor coming in for a cup of tea, the granddaughter of Mrs. Henchman's old friend Mrs. Marston. What would she think of her now as her only son's future wife?
The fire was sinking down and Denys rose and lit a candle and looked at herself critically in the glass, and then she laughed into her own face at the ridiculousness of the position. Who would have believed that she, Denys Brougham, on the evening of her engagement day, would have been staring at her own reflection in the glass, trying to find out what her future mother-in-law would think of her!
And Charlie's words came back to her, a fresh and tender memory to be treasured for ever.
"I want to say something to you which I have waited three years to say. I've loved you ever since I've known you."
She slipped her mother's ring from her left hand and put it away. She unbound her bright brown hair with its curly waves, turned by the candle light into a halo of red gold, and laid a happy face upon her pillow.
Not a pretty, piquant face like Gertrude's, quickly smiling or quickly clouded, but a cheerful, reliable face with a pretty, good-tempered smile and kind, gentle eyes; a face that little children smiled back at, and which invalids loved to see bending over them. But the looking-glass did not tell Denys anything of all that.
Upstairs in the so-called spare-room where Tony slept, Charlie was standing at the tall dressing chest trying to describe Denys to his mother.
"I have got the berth I came for," he wrote, "I'll tell you all about it when I come, and I have got Denys! I'm so happy, mother darling, I can't write about it, but she is the prettiest, dearest, sweetest girl, and I know you'll love her."
He could not think of any more to say and he fastened his letter and opened his door a crack. Seeing a light still in the hall, he crept downstairs to find Conway just locking up. He held up his letter with a smile.
"The midnight post?" asked Conway, "not a love letter already!"
"It's to mother," answered Charlie simply.
"I'll show you the way," said Conway politely. "I have my latch-key and it's a lovely night."
It was not far to the post office, and the two young men walked there and back again in silence. Conway, always a silent boy, could think of nothing to say. He felt towards this stranger who, twenty-four hours ago, had been nothing but a name to him, as he might feel towards a burglar who had just stolen his greatest treasure, and who yet had to be treated with more than mere politeness because he now belonged to the family—a combination of feelings which did not tend towards speech.
But Charlie was too engrossed in his happiness to heed either silence or conversation. His mind was busily planning out trains and times for the next day's journey home. What would be the last possible minute that he could give himself at Old Keston?
They reached the house and Conway opened the door with his key and held out his hand.
"Good-night," he said.
Charlie's handshake was a hearty one.
"Good-night!" he said. "Good-night! How long do you reckon it takes to walk to the station?"
Conway smiled to himself as he put up the bolts.
"I wonder," thought he, "I wonder if my turn will ever come!"
LOVE AND MONEY.
"I think," said Charlie, looking across the luncheon table at Mrs. Brougham. "I think that in about five weeks I could get a Friday to Monday, and come down if you will let me——"
"Why, certainly," answered Mrs. Brougham, smiling back at the bright open face opposite her. She really liked him very much, but she shared something of Conway's feeling about the burglar. The idea that Denys belonged in any sense to anybody else, needed a good deal of getting used to.
She had certainly wondered once or twice in the last three years whether young Henchman, who wrote so regularly to Denys, would ever become more than a friend.
Charlie's telegram three days ago saying he had passed his final, and was coming up from Scotland to see about a post and would call at St. Olave's en route, had rather taken away her breath. His call had been only a short one, but he had asked if he might return the following day and tell them whether he had obtained the post.
He had duly returned—successful—with a good berth—with prospects—with life opening out before him, and she had been surprised at the gravity and anxiety that had shadowed his face even when he spoke so hopefully of the good things that had come to him.
But the shadow and the gravity were all gone now. It was only his fear that Denys would not see anything in him to love, that in the three years in which he had worked, and hoped, and loved her, she might have met someone else who was more worthy of her, and to whom she had given the love he so longed to gain. That very evening he had put his fate to the touch, over the nursery fire, while Denys waited to fetch away Tony's light, and now he was bubbling over with fun and laughter, and acting more like a big schoolboy than a sober young man who was contemplating the cares of matrimony.
It seemed to Mrs. Brougham that the world had gone spinning round her in an unprecedented manner in the last twenty-four hours, and she was not sure whether she was on her head or her heels.
Suppose Conway—or Gertrude—why, Reggie Alston wrote to Gertrude as regularly as the weeks went round!—or Willie——
She gave herself a mental shake and scolded herself for letting her head be turned with all these happenings. Why, Conway was only nineteen and Gertrude just eighteen, and what would schoolboy Willie say if she put him into such a line of possibilities!
She brought her thoughts back to the conversation round the table, and found that Charlie was still in the full swing of plans.
"Easter will be four or five weeks after that," he was saying, "and I shall get mother to have you down then, Denys—and Gertrude too," he looked across at Gertrude—"and it will be so jolly, because I shall get a whole week, I am sure, and we should have a lovely time. I'm ever so glad mother has moved to Whitecliff; it won't be nearly such a journey for you as Saltmarsh was."
Denys had opened her lips to reply, but before she could get out a word, Gertrude had answered for her.
"That will be very nice," she said eagerly, "I always count to get a holiday at Easter and I always want to go to the sea, whatever time of year it is. It's very kind of you to ask me."
Charlie's eyes were on Denys. It was his first invitation to her to his own home and she guessed that he felt a great happiness in it, but how could she tell him that while Gertrude always took the Easter holiday because of the school term, she herself always stayed at home then, so that her mother should be sure of having one daughter to help her—and Gertrude had already accepted the invitation!
Before she could frame any answer, a small voice chimed in.
"Maudie wants to go too! Maudie's got a spade and a pail."
There was a laugh all round the table, and Mrs. Brougham said, "My dear child! Mrs. Henchman can't ask all the girls of St. Olave's!"
Her glance met Denys's, and Denys understood that it said, "Accept, darling, I shall be all right!"
Denys looked up at Charlie and accepted the invitation with her own sunny smile. "I feel dreadfully frightened, but I should love to come," she said. "Oh, I do hope your mother will like me!"
"Like you!" echoed Charlie, and then he went crimson to the roots of his hair. "Like you," he repeated half under his breath.
Easter was a long way off, and Denys thought very little more about the proposed visit to Mrs. Henchman, and the present was very full and very interesting. She decided to make some quiet opportunity to speak to her mother about it, but before this opportunity could occur, Gertrude took time by the forelock, as she always did when she was set on a thing.
The two sisters were making marmalade in the kitchen on the morning following Charlie's departure, when Gertrude brought her guns to the attack.
"I say, Denys," she began, "it was very civil of Charlie to invite me to Whitecliff. I saw you opening your mouth to say we could not both go, so I just whipped in and accepted."
"I don't see how we can both go," said Denys gravely.
"No?" said Gertrude, raising her pretty eyebrows. "I suppose not! but you had your chance, and went to grandma's for three months and picked up a good match. Charlie is a very good match and he will be quite comfortably off, and he is pleasant and good-looking and all that! Oh! you have done very well for yourself, Denys, and you are not going to prevent my having my chance."
Denys's cheeks were scarlet. She literally did not know what to say!
Had she made a good match? Had she done very well for herself? Such a view of the case had never entered her head. She thought of what Charlie's prospects had been when she first knew him on that long ago visit to her grandmother.
Who would have said then that Charlie was likely to be comfortably off? How well she remembered Gwyn Bailey's picnic, when Charlie had told her that the positions he had hoped for were closed to him, and that he had no money to enter a profession! She remembered the hopeless ring of his voice as he had said, "now there's nothing."
No! she had not chosen Charlie for any such reason as Gertrude suggested.
She was standing with her back to the scullery, and was quite unaware that behind the half closed door Pattie was quietly peeling potatoes, but her answer could scarcely have been different if she had known it.
"I wish you would not talk so, Gertrude," she said.
"Very likely," said Gertrude calmly, "people often do not care to hear what is nevertheless quite true. And I mean to be pretty well off when I get married, and not to have to scrape and think of every penny, and wonder whether you can afford a new dress just directly you want it. I think it's horrid, and I have always thought it horrid."
"I don't," said Denys, "it seems to me that we have been as happy at home here as any family I know, even though we have had, as you call it, to scrape and think of pennies, and manage our clothes and work hard. I've liked it always and if I loved anyone I would not mind being poor. Mother did not marry anybody rich and she is happy!"
"Ah!" said Gertrude, "it is all very well for you to talk. You have Love and Money. And that's what I mean to have! So I shall go to Whitecliff and get to know fresh people and see what turns up!"
"What about——" began Denys, but she did not finish her sentence. She disliked putting names together, but her thoughts flew off to a Scotch town, where a boy with a merry face and dark twinkling eyes, was working his hardest as a bank-clerk. Reggie Alston had been Gertrude's chum since they were children, and he had never made any secret of the fact that Gertrude was the one girl in the world in his eyes.
But Gertrude divined what Denys had meant to say, and with a light laugh she went away to wash her sticky hands. She was not going to have Reggie Alston thrown at her. Reggie was all very well and Reggie might mean Love, but Reggie would not mean Money.
Turning to see what had become of Gertrude, Denys caught sight of Pattie's interested face.
"I've got a young man, Miss Denys," she said importantly, "he's such a nice, steady young man, Miss, your Mr. Henchman just reminds me of him, and he's just as fond of me as anything, but"—her face fell—"he's not very well off, Miss, not at all, and—and—well! it's rather a pity, as Miss Gertrude's been saying, to marry poor."
"Oh, Pattie!" said Denys earnestly, "don't say that. If you love one another, you can be so happy even if you are poor. If he is steady and nice, that is much more important than being rich."
But Pattie's shake of the head was only the echo of Gertrude's words.
"Love and Money. Love and Money." "It's all very well for you to talk."
A GREAT BIG SHAME.
"It's a shame! that's what it is, a downright shame," cried a woman's voice angrily, "and it's just like you, Jim Adams, to put upon a poor woman so. As if I had not enough trouble with one child, and you want to bring your sister's brat here. I never heard of such a thing."
Jim Adams stood with his broad back turned towards her, and he made no reply.
"Yes! much you care!" she scolded, "but I tell you, Jim Adams, I won't do it! You can write and tell your precious sister she can make other arrangements. You are married now and you can't do just as you like; you've got a wife, and I won't do it! There! you've waked the baby, shouting at me about your sister; but I won't have anybody else's child, so there!"
The lusty crying from the adjoining room continuing, she went in, banging the door behind her, and Jim was left alone, staring doggedly out at the tall houses opposite.
Should he write to his dying sister at Whitecliff and tell her to make other arrangements? What other arrangements could she make? Could she bring back her young sailor husband from his grave in the Red Sea? Could she stay the progress of the cough, the outward sign of the fatal sickness which was bringing her to an early death? Could she send the child, her treasured little boy, to any other relative? Jim knew she could not. Nellie and he had been alone in the world since they were children. If he did not take little Harry, the boy must go into the workhouse.
Should he tell Nellie that she must make that arrangement? He was an easy-going chap, this Jim Adams, too easy-going. He stood six feet one in his socks and was big and broad in proportion, a veritable giant in looks, but his strength was mere physical strength, and he knew it. He was not strong in himself. This was the very first time, since he had known and courted Jane Green, that he had resisted her will for twenty-four hours, and even now he was contemplating the possibility of giving way.
Jane could make herself very disagreeable indeed if she were thwarted. He had had nothing but storming since yesterday morning when Nellie's letter had come, and he had had two half-cooked suppers and a miserable cold breakfast. He did like a good supper, and if this was what it was going to be if he had Harry——
The sound of a gay voice singing on the pathway below, startled him. There were always noises in the street, but this song caught his attention.
"They had not been married a month or more When underneath her thumb went Jim, It can't be right for the likes of her To put upon the likes of him. It's a great big shame, and if she belonged to me I'd let her know who's who; Putting on a fellow six foot three And her only four foot two!"
Jim smiled grimly to himself; it was so absolutely true. Then his wrath rose. What business had Jack Turner to be singing that ditty under his window? He supposed all the neighbours laughed behind his back at the way his small wife ruled him. If they only had a taste of her nagging tongue they would not, perhaps, laugh so much. He would let them see he was not under Jane's thumb!
He turned at the opening of the bedroom door, prepared to have his say, and there was Jane with their big bouncing baby in her arms. "Here!" she said crossly, "you just get this kid off to sleep, I'm going for the supper beer. I've minded him all day, and I'm tired of him. I believe he wakes up in the evening just to spite me!"
Jim took his baby and his eyes softened as he cuddled the little fellow in his arms. He thought of Nellie's beseeching letter, and he thought of himself as dead and of Jane as dead, and this baby left to face a cold, unloving world. Would not Nellie have taken him? Would she not have been a mother to him?
Oh! he knew she would. Nellie had been as a mother to himself ever since they were children together.
Not for what the neighbours would say, nor for triumphing over Jane, but for love's sake, he would take Nellie's child and be a father to him.
That was settled finally, but Jane had gone for the beer and there was no one to listen to his determination.
As he sat there rocking his baby, there was one sentence in Nellie's letter that came back to his mind and disturbed it.
"Dear Jim, you'll teach my little Harry about our Saviour, won't you? I've done my best, but children forget so quickly! Tell him that Jesus Christ is our best Friend."
Our best Friend! A stab of pain shot through Jim's heart. Nellie's best Friend, perhaps, but not his, not our best Friend, little sister Nellie!
The baby dropped asleep, but Jane had not returned. She was no doubt enjoying herself at the Green Dragon.
He rose and with the lamp in his disengaged hand, went into the bedroom and laid the baby down, and covered him up warm.
He would make a cup of tea for himself, as Jane had not brought the beer. He wished Jane would give up beer, she might be getting a bit too fond of it, and he would give it up himself if she would.
He rather enjoyed making his tea and a couple of pieces of toast, and setting it out neatly. His supper had left him unsatisfied in every way.
As he poured out his first cup of tea there was a tap at the door, and on his calling out, "Come in," a young fellow, so like Jane as to be instantly recognised as her brother, entered.
"Hullo!" said he.
"Hullo, Tom! What's brought you over to-night? Will you have a cup of tea?"
"That I will!" said Tom. "Where's Jane?"
"Gone for the beer," said Jim shortly.
"You'd be a deal better off and a deal happier, both of you, if you didn't take any of that stuff," said Tom. "It makes Jane quarrelsome, I'm certain of it."
"I'd give it up if she would," said Jim valiantly. Then he added in a shamefaced sort of way, "you see, when I do give it up for a bit, she has it, and the smell and everything—well, I want it again!"
Tom nodded, gulped down his tea and set down his cup.
"You asked what brought me over," he said. "Pattie has given me up!"
"What!" demanded Jim incredulously, "given you up! Why?"
Tom's face worked. He was a simple-hearted fellow, and he loved foolish little worldly-minded Pattie very dearly.
"I believe," he said unsteadily, "I believe it's money what's done it. She was always so fond of me, was Pattie, and I thought she loved me with all her heart, as I did her. But one of her young ladies has got engaged to a gentleman as is pretty well off, and I s'pose—in fact, Pattie allowed it was so—they got talking, as girls will, and it's turned Pattie's head. 'She don't want to marry poor'—them's just her words—and so she's——"
"Chucked you," said Jim grimly.
Tom sighed deeply. "I told her as my wage, though not big, was reg'lar, winter and summer, and that was better than a big wage in the summer and being out of work in the winter; and I don't drink—nor smoke—and them two things makes a hole in any fellow's wages; but there—talking ain't no good—argufying don't bring love. I suppose she don't care for me and that's all about it." He reached out his cup for more tea and gulped it down; it seemed to help him to gulp down his feelings.
"I feel a bit done," he said after a minute's silence. "I'll be better to-morrow. I never thought as how my love-making would end like this."
Jim got up and gave him a hearty thump on his back.
"Don't you be downhearted," he said, "you keep on steady and wait a bit. You'll be seeing her looking downhearted soon, you mark my word, and then you can step up and say, 'Is't me you want, my girl?' You're a right down good fellow, Tom, and she don't know yet what she's giving up."
Tom looked a little more cheerful. "You can tell Jane," he said, rising to go.
"That's her on the stairs," answered Jim. "I'm going off to bed, so you can stay and tell her yourself. She's out of sorts with me."
So Jane, with her jug of supper beer, found only her brother waiting for her.
She greeted him effusively, and insisted on spreading the table afresh with meat and bread and cheese, talking incessantly and laughing loud and long as she did so, and Tom, knowing what it meant, wished he had gone before her return.
But being there and having come on purpose, in a moment's lull in her stream of talk, he told her about Pattie.
Her anger against Pattie was unbounded. She hugged Tom and called him "poor dear," till he pushed her away, and then she said she would pay the girl out. She would make her repent having used an honest fellow like that! She was going into Old Keston on Monday for a day's charring, and she knew well enough where Pattie lived. The garden of the house where she worked ran down to Pattie's garden, and she would give Pattie a bit of her mind.
"Then I hope you won't see her," said Tom. "I don't want any words. Words won't make her care for me, and that's all I wanted."
He turned to the door, but Jane intercepted him with the jug of supper beer.
"Have a glass, Tom, my lad! It'll comfort you and make you forget your troubles. There's a deal of comfort in a glass when you're low-spirited."
But the jug was struck from her hand and lay in twenty pieces on the floor, and the beer ran hurriedly over the boards and sank away between the crevices as if anxious to hide itself. "You dare to tempt me!" said Tom hoarsely.
A SMALL WORLD.
"Does you want a boat?"
Such a soft, clear little voice! Denys turned quickly and looked up, but her eyes had to come down again to the yellow sand on which she sat. There was no one near enough to have spoken to her but a mite of a boy in petticoats, with bare feet and yellow hair and brilliant blue eyes.
"Hullo!" said the little voice again, "does you want a boat?"
"No, thank you," she answered with a tender smile; she had heard no voice like this voice, since little Jerry died. It was as if Jerry himself had come back to her.
"Why doesn't you want one?" insisted the child.
"I have no one to row me," she said.
He looked down at his little brown hands and then up in her face. "When I'm a man I'll row you! I'm going to be a sailor like my dad was!"
"What is your name, dear?"
"Harry! Harry Lyon!"
He stood with his little brown legs apart, gazing at her.
"My dad's dead! That's his grave," he said, with a wave of his hand.
"Where?" said Denys aghast.
He pointed to the dancing waves. "What colour does you call that sea? Does you know colours?" he asked gravely.
"Why, yes! I know them. The sea is blue."
Harry shook his head unbelievingly.
"It's a red sea where my dad is?" he said.
"Where is your mother?"
Harry nodded inland, and a shadow fell over his sturdy little face.
"She's always coughing—she don't come out with Harry no more," he said, plaintively. Then his tone brightened. "She's going away somewheres; she's going to get quite well—it's along of Jesus, our best Friend—and I'm going with her," he added determinately.
There was a pause. Denys felt a great compassion for the little chap. She wondered what would happen to him when mother got quite well, and yet—with Jesus for best Friend—need she have wondered?
The child's next words effectually startled her out of her thoughts.
"Give us a penny!" he said.
"Oh, Harry! it's naughty to ask for pennies!"
"Give us a ha'penny then," he coaxed.
But Denys only shook her head and laughed at him, and at that moment Gertrude and a young fellow sauntered up to her.
"We have had a lovely row!" exclaimed Gertrude gaily. "Mr. Greyburne made the boat fly. It's such a little light thing, just made for two! Where is Mrs. Henchman?"
"She was not feeling well enough to come out," answered Denys, "and Audrey's school has not broken up yet."
"I'm afraid you have been dull," said Cecil Greyburne politely; "but you are going to cycle to Brensted Woods with us this afternoon?"
"Denys ought not to be dull," said Gertrude easily. "She has letters to write and to read, and she counts the hours till Charlie comes, and she has to do the pretty to her future mother-in-law. You see, I have not all these occupations. Denys! I am sure it is lunchtime!"
Denys rose and shook the sand from her dress.
"Mrs. Henchman wanted us all to walk to the Landslip this afternoon," she said. "She has ordered a donkey-chair and we shall have tea at the Cottage. Could not you join our party, Mr. Greyburne? We can hardly run away!"
"Oh, how horrid!" exclaimed Gertrude, "you know how I hate walking. I shall get out of it somehow. Mr. Greyburne and I can cycle there and join you at tea. How will that do, Mr. Greyburne?"
Cecil glanced at Denys, and his eyes passed on to Gertrude's merry, sparkling face. She was really good fun to ride out with, and it was turning out to be a much jollier Easter holiday than he had anticipated. He did not exactly see why he should sacrifice himself to walking beside a slow donkey-chair, when the prettiest girl he had ever known invited him to a cycle ride. If she could get out of the walk he was quite ready to second her. "I'll come up at any time you name, and be ready for anything that is wanted of me," he said gallantly. He felt he had handled a difficult decision very neatly.
As the two girls tidied their hair for lunch, Denys said very earnestly,
"Gertrude! we really can't run away from Mrs. Henchman this afternoon; it is not polite or—or—anything!"
"You can't, but I can," retorted Gertrude, "and I'm going to. You are not going to condemn me to a slow walk when I can have a nice spin with Cecil. I'll arrange it with Mrs. Henchman, and she'll be quite satisfied if you don't interfere."
She ran downstairs and went gaily into the dining-room.
"So I hear you are going to take us all to the Landslip, and have tea at the Cottage, Mrs. Henchman," she said, sitting down beside her affectionately; "and Denys has asked Cecil Greyburne to go too, and he and I are going to cycle instead of walk. Denys said you would not like it, but I knew you would not mind."
And Mrs. Henchman answered as Gertrude had meant she should.
"Not at all, my dear! I want you to enjoy yourself while you are here."
"Oh, I am!" answered Gertrude, very heartily and very truthfully. She cast a little triumphant look at Denys. She was certainly enjoying herself immensely. They had been at Whitecliff the larger half of a week already, and Cecil Greyburne, an old school friend of Charlie's, had dropped in to call on Mrs. Henchman the first evening, and since then he had called in or met the girls constantly. Mrs. Henchman had not been very well since their arrival, and Audrey was very engrossed with the end-of-term examinations, and Gertrude found it convenient to assume that Denys ought to be entertaining her future relatives or writing to Charlie; she, therefore, monopolised Cecil to such an extent, that every day it happened as it had happened that morning: Denys sat alone on the beach or wandered about on the cliff, and Gertrude, with a lightly uttered "Oh, Denys is busy somewhere," had gone cycling or rowing or primrose hunting with Cecil.
Mrs. Henchman had ordered her donkey-chair for three o'clock, and shortly before that hour Gertrude came bustling in from the garden.
She found Denys in the hall collecting cushions and shawls, for though the April sun was unusually warm there was a sharp touch in the wind.
"I say, Denys!" she exclaimed. "I have borrowed your machine—I have bent my pedal somehow, and you won't want yours."
A WILD-GOOSE CHASE.
Donkeys are proverbially obstinate animals, and Mrs. Henchman's this afternoon proved no exception to the rule. He had evidently made up his mind that the road to the Landslip was not a congenial one. In vain the boy who drove him cheered him onwards, in vain Denys tugged at his bridle, in vain Audrey walked in front holding out an inviting thistle. At length Mrs. Henchman got flurried and nervous.
"Boy!" she called, "what is your name?"
The boy turned a smiling round face, "Billy Burr, ma'am!"
"Billy Burr! if you can't make your donkey go, I shall get out."
"If you please, ma'am," answered Billy Burr serenely, "it's not my donkey. That's why he won't go, ma'am! It's Dickie Lowe's donkey, but he's got a cold and he had to save up for to-night, ma'am, to sing in the Stainer. Whoa—there—get on, you! That's better!"
The donkey broke into a trot, and Denys and Audrey and Billy were forced to do the same, but in a minute that was over and the donkey appeared to have recovered his right mind and walked on stolidly. Billy and Denys walking at his bridle fell into a confidential chat.
"I told Dickie how it would be," Billy said apologetically, "this one won't go for nobody else and the other one was lame."
"Are you going to sing in Stainer's Crucifixion to-night at All Saints'?" asked Denys with interest. "I am going to hear it. Are you one of the boys of All Saints'? One of Miss Dolly Allan's boys?"
Billy nodded cheerily, "Do you know her?" he inquired. "When is she coming down again?"
But the donkey had come to a standstill, and the party were forced to do the same.
"It is perfectly ridiculous going on like this," exclaimed Audrey. "We are a laughing stock to the neighbourhood! Billy Burr, if that is your name, why don't you give the animal a good thrashing and make him go?"
"'Twouldn't be no use," said Billy vexedly. "I'm real sorry, ma'am. Would you like to try another road? It's just the road he's taken offence at."
"No, indeed! the only road I shall go is home again," cried Mrs. Henchman. "It's too bad, though, to spoil all my afternoon like this. Turn him round, boy, and let us get back as fast as possible. It's a wasted afternoon."
"He'll go all right that way," said Billy.
"But what about Gertrude and Mr. Greyburne?" said Denys as the little cavalcade turned back. Oh, how she wished Gertrude had been more amenable and had not broken up the party.
"I am sure I should not trouble about them," said Audrey walking on, "I don't know why Gertrude did not stay with her hostess!"
"Yes!" said Mrs. Henchman, too worried and annoyed to remember what she had said to make it easy for Gertrude, "that is just what I thought. Now, what is to be done? I am not going home by myself with this donkey for anybody."
Denys was ready to cry with vexation, and yet as Gertrude and Cecil had been told to wait at the cottage till they came, they could not be left there indefinitely. She ignored the remarks on Gertrude with what grace she could, and tried to make the best of the situation.
"We can all go back together," she said soothingly, "and then I must go and find Gertrude and tell her how unfortunate we have been."
"You could cycle," suggested Audrey, relenting a little.
Denys shook her head, "Gertrude has my bicycle," she said; "something has happened to hers. Oh, I can easily walk."
"Mine has gone wrong too," said Audrey. "Look here, mother, surely I am capable of taking you home. I've looked after you all these years without help! If Denys has got to walk she had far better go straight on."
"Whatever you like," said Mrs. Henchman wearily. "I shall be truly thankful to be safe back in my own bedroom. I shall have a heart attack, I know! Go on, boy, at once!"
Denys stood and watched them out of sight, the donkey going quite amiably now, and then she turned to her own path. How tiresome it was! and oh, how disagreeable to have got into a bother with those she so much wished to please, through no fault of her own.
But Charlie was coming down that evening, and when he came everything would be all right!
She trudged on cheerily after that, trying to plan out the time between now and half-past seven, when she was to meet Charlie at the station, and they were to go together to hear Stainer's Crucifixion sung at All Saints'.
It was wonderfully pretty in the Landslip, though the trees were only just showing a green tinge in the sunlight, but she hurried on as fast as she could, and reached the cottage at last.
It was a pretty little ivy-clad cottage, with a bench outside and a table set invitingly for visitors, but the bench was unoccupied, and she looked about in vain for any sign of Gertrude or Cecil.
Upon inquiry she found that she was the first visitor that afternoon. People had hardly come down yet, the woman explained; they generally came into Whitecliff this evening, Thursday, and this was a favourite Good Friday walk.
Denys sat down to wait and had not been seated long, before the little voice that was so like Jerry's, fell upon her ear.
"Hullo!" said little Harry, peeping round the door at her.
"How did you come here?" asked Denys, but before she could get a reply, a sound of terrible coughing came from within, and a voice said, "Harry! Harry! you've left the door open!"
Harry darted back, but returned very quickly. He seemed to like talking to Denys, but while she talked, Denys was watching for Gertrude and listening to that rending cough. Harry seemed to listen to it too. "That's mother," he said, "aren't you coming to see her?"
"Oh, no!" said Denys shrinkingly, "she would not like it."
Harry was off with his little petticoats flying, and was back again like a flash.
"She wants you," he said triumphantly, "she's been a-listening to your voice!"
He seized her hand, and led her into a little room behind the parlour, and on a low bed by the open window Denys saw a young woman with a pretty face, so like Harry's as to proclaim her his mother at once.
She looked up at Denys with a smile.
"Harry told me about you this morning," she said. "Won't you sit down, Miss? It is very kind of you to come in."
Denys sat down. The window commanded a view of the garden gate, so she was in no danger of missing Gertrude. She wondered whatever had become of her.
She found Mrs. Lyon very easy to talk to—and while Denys and his mother chatted, Harry climbed into the bed and fell fast asleep.
Mrs. Lyon looked down at him tenderly.
"It's hard to leave him," she said softly, "oh, so hard! My brother, Jim, who lives at Mixham Junction, has promised to take him, but I don't know what his wife is like. Jim don't never say much about her, and he'd be sure to if she was the right one for him, but Jim will be good to him, I know, and the Lord Jesus is our best Friend and He is the Good Shepherd. I often have to say that to myself to comfort myself."
"Yes!" said Denys, sympathetically, her eyes on the almost baby face nestled on the pillow, her thoughts busy with wondering whether she could have left Jerry so trustingly in God's care. And Jerry had been her brother, not her child. She felt she could more willingly have had Jerry die, than have died herself and left him to other people to care for.
Her thoughts came back to the present with a start. "Mixham Junction!" she said, "that is only five miles from my home in Old Keston!"
The sick woman's face flushed and she laid her hand beseechingly on Denys's.
"Oh, Miss!" she said, "would you—would you sometimes—just sometimes go and see my Harry, just to let them know there is somebody as takes an interest, that he isn't quite friendless, and you could remind him of Jesus? I'm not sure about Jim's doing that. Would you, Miss?"
Once more Denys looked at the little face, and thought of Jerry.
"Yes!" she said, "while I am in Old Keston or going there to see mother, and while Harry is in Mixham, I certainly will."
Nellie Lyon's eyes filled with tears.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," she said.
Denys rose. A glance at her watch had told her it was getting very late. What could have become of Gertrude?
She went out once more. No one at all like the missing couple had come. Indeed she herself had been sitting in full view of the gate for more than an hour. Already the sun was sinking and the air was growing chill, and a mist was gathering under the trees in the Landslip. If she waited much longer she would have a dreary enough walk under those trees in the dusk. It was not a cheerful prospect, and what would Charlie think if she were not at the station to meet him?
That and the growing darkness decided her. Hastily scribbling a note to be left with the woman in case Gertrude and Cecil turned up, she hurried away.
It was not a pleasant walk. The sea sounded mournfully at the foot of the rocks below her, and the darkness under the trees was not reassuring, and seemed to fall deeper each moment. She wished she had taken the upper, though much longer road, or that she had started half an hour earlier and left Gertrude and Cecil to their own devices. Even when the moon, the great round moon, came up out of the sea and shone through the trees upon her path, it only seemed to make the shadows blacker and more eerie, till she remembered that it was the Easter moon, and thought of Him who had knelt beneath the trees of Gethsemane under that moon, on this night of His agony.
After that, thinking of Him, she did not feel afraid, and at last she rang at Mrs. Henchman's door.
Audrey ran out to open it.
"Well! I thought you were never coming! Where are the others?"
"I don't know," said Denys, "I can't think."
A TICKET FOR ONE.
As Cecil very justly observed to Gertrude, it was a perfect afternoon for a ride, and the two went gaily along the upper road to the Landslip, till they came to a sign-post in a place where four roads met.
Gertrude jumped off her machine and stood gazing up at the directions indicated.
"You see!" she observed, "we have lots of time before that slow donkey gets there. We might make a detour and get into the road again later on. We don't want to sit staring down the Landslip till they arrive. Besides, we've seen it all yesterday, haven't we?"
Cecil acquiesced. It amused him to see Gertrude's cool way of arranging matters, and it was certainly less trouble to be entertained and directed hither and thither than to take the initiative and entertain. At any rate it was a change.
But bicycles, like donkeys, are not always satisfactory means of locomotion. The pair had not gone much further when Gertrude's tyre punctured, and a halt was called while Cecil repaired it.
Cecil was not a good workman; he made a long job of it, and when at last they started again, time was getting on and they had but reached a small colony of houses when Gertrude exclaimed that her tyre was down again.
She glanced round at the little cluster of houses. "There's a cycle shop," she said, "and a tea shop next door. How convenient. We had better have the punctured tyre mended for us and we can have tea while we wait!"
Cecil obediently wheeled her cycle into one shop and followed her into the second.
He found her seated at a little table, examining the watch on her wrist.
"Guess what the time is," she said laughing. "Let us hope they won't wait tea for us at the Landslip, for I am sure we shall never get there! The woman here says there is no way of getting there except by going back to the cross-road!"
Cecil looked rather blank. He had not at all counted on failing to keep the appointment at the cottage, or on running the risk of thereby offending Mrs. Henchman, and where would be his promise to himself of making it up to Audrey at tea-time?
However, the tea was already being placed on the table, a plate of cakes was at his elbow, and Gertrude was asking if he took milk and sugar.
He shrugged his shoulders mentally. "In for a penny, in for a pound," he said to himself, "here I am and I may as well enjoy myself."
So while Denys waited and watched for them in the Landslip cottage, these two laughed and ate and chatted and at last mounted their bicycles and rode off back to Whitecliff in a leisurely manner, arriving five minutes after Audrey, dressed in her very best white frock, had departed to her breaking-up school concert, leaving Denys to hastily change her dress, eat a much-needed tea and rush up to the station to meet Charlie.
Gertrude came in with her usual easy manner.
"Well!" she said, "here we are! Where is everybody? Did you think we were lost?"
"I am awfully sorry we missed," said Cecil quickly. "The fact is we got into a road that did not go there at all, and then Miss Gertrude had a puncture, and then a second, and by the time we got back to the right road we knew it was too late to do anything."
Gertrude looked at the tea-table approvingly.
"I will ask you to tea, Cecil, as Denys does not. Where is Mrs. Henchman, Denys? You don't seem very communicative to-night."
"She is lying down till Charlie comes," said Denys. "We had a bother with the donkey and it upset her. Audrey had to come back with her and I went on to the Landslip to find you. I have only just got back. Audrey has gone to her concert; she was able to get a ticket for you after all, and she said she was sorry she could not wait for you, as she was playing, but she would come and speak to you in the interval."
Gertrude glanced at the ticket and tossed it on to the table.
"I shan't go all by myself," she said, "I shall go and hear the Stainer. I shall like it much better; it is too utterly dull to sit by one's self."
Denys's heart sank. She had so counted on this treat alone with Charlie, and had secretly been much pleased when Audrey and Gertrude had planned to go to the concert together, and now here she was saddled with Gertrude's company. Besides, what would Audrey say?
She poured out the tea and as she put milk into the third cup, she almost smiled.
She had forgotten Cecil! Of course, though there was but one ticket for the concert, there were no tickets needed for the Church!
But she herself must start for the station almost immediately, and the Service of Song was not till eight o'clock. She must leave the couple behind her, and then if Gertrude changed her mind again and stayed at home after all, what would Mrs. Henchman think when she came downstairs and found them amusing themselves over the drawing-room fire?
Somehow since she came to Whitecliff, Denys had felt bewildered and out of touch with God, and had forgotten her usual habit of praying about the little everyday worries and perplexities; but now suddenly, fresh from the walk under the moonlit trees which had reminded her of Gethsemane, as she stood with the teapot in her hand, she bethought her of the words, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," and with the remembrance of Him, came the suggestion of what she had better do.
She would run up and say good-bye to Mrs. Henchman and tell her what they were all planning for the evening, and then the responsibility would be no longer on her shoulders.
And even as she decided this, Cecil looked up from a perusal of Audrey's concert ticket.
"If neither of you want this ticket," he said, "I think I will take it. I would like to hear Audrey play, and she will feel it dull if there is nobody there that she knows."
Denys looked up gratefully.
"Oh, I am so glad!" she said. "I was afraid she would be very disappointed to see no one. That is really kind."
Gertrude pouted openly.
"Look here, Denys!" she said, "mind you and Charlie look out for me!"
That little touch of God's hand had made all the difference to Denys.
"All right," she said cheerfully, "we will do our best."
She ran lightly upstairs and knocked softly at Mrs. Henchman's door.
She found Mrs. Henchman lying on her sofa beside a bright little fire, and after telling her their plans, she bent down and kissed her affectionately.
"Shall you be lonely with us all out?" she asked solicitously.
"I daresay I shall be all right, my dear," Mrs. Henchman replied, a little grudgingly. This weakness which had come upon her in the last few months was a sore trial—not an accepted trial—under which she chafed and fretted day by day.
Denys longed to be able to say, "I will gladly stay and keep you company," but then Charlie had arranged this evening's engagement and she knew Mrs. Henchman would not allow it to be altered.
Instead, she said, "Will Mary come up, and see if you want anything?"
"I really can't say, my dear. Mary is a funny person. Run along now or you will be late for Charlie."
Denys left her, but as she passed down the stairs she saw the kitchen door ajar, and with a sudden impulse she tapped at it.
"Mary!" she said, "we are all going out. You will take care of Mrs. Henchman, won't you?"
"Well, Miss!" Mary's tone and face were indignant. "I always do take care of Mrs. Henchman."
"Oh, dear!" she said to herself as she closed the front door behind her. "I am afraid I have made a mistake."
HEIGHTS AND DEPTHS.
It seemed to Denys as if she had never felt so absolutely happy, so blissfully content, as she did when with Charlie's arm tucked into hers, they left the station together and made their way down the steep hill to the church.
All the worries of the day and the worries of the yesterdays had slipped from her, and not even the thought of Gertrude, awaiting them in the church porch, had power to disturb her.
Charlie and she were together, and before them stretched the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds of a whole week! A whole, long, lovely week, of which only five minutes had already gone! Charlie's voice, his dear, familiar voice, though it only spoke of the trivialities of his journey, seemed like music to her. She did not know how her heart had hungered for him, till she felt how satisfied she was now in his presence.
They reached the church before she thought it possible; Gertrude was not in the porch, and Denys paused a moment in the doorway and glanced about for her. Yes! there she was, some distance down the aisle, comfortably ensconced between Mrs. Henchman's medical man, Dr. Wyatt, and his sister, and as Denys descried her, she turned her pretty face to answer some remark of the doctor's and caught sight of Denys and Charlie, and her smile and shake of the head were easily translated.
"She is not going to sit with us," said Charlie, "so that's all right."
It was nearly eight o'clock, and Denys, full of her happy thoughts, let her eyes wander round the church, noting its pillars, its high arched roof, its electric lights, and the ever-increasing crowd which moved softly up the aisle till every seat that she could see was occupied.
And then came the choir. She watched their faces eagerly. Would she recognise Billy Burr? And which was Dickie Lowe? Ah! those two must be the golden-haired twins about whom Mr. Owen had told her and Charlie three years ago, now no longer the foremost in the little procession, but as unknowable apart as ever, as they preceded the tenors. And there, behind all, was Mr. Owen's familiar face! Denys knelt with all the congregation, waiting and longing to hear his deep, strong voice in the collects which began the service. But it was a curate who read the prayers, and the words passed unheeded over Denys's head, for her heart was back in Saltmarsh among the days when she had first known Mr. Owen and Charlie.
So the music began and a voice rose plaintively—
"And they came to a place called Gethsemane."
The words came into the midst of Denys's wandering thoughts with a startling suddenness. She saw again the darkness gathering under the trees, the black shadows of the bushes and the Easter moon above!
"Could ye not watch with Me one brief hour?"
How the voice rang down the church!
What had she come there for?
To think of Charlie—of her happiness? She could have stayed at home to do that.
Was it for the music she had come? No, for mere music she would not have come out on this first evening of Charlie's return.
For what had she come then?
"Could ye not watch with Me one brief hour?"
The tender words stole down into the depths of her heart and stirred it to a tenderness that she had never felt for her Saviour before. She seemed, as the organ sounded out the Processional to Calvary, to be one of the crowd gathering round the lonely figure in the Via Dolorosa, and to be passing out through the gates of the city with the triumphant song—
Fling wide the Gates! Fling wide the Gates! For the Saviour waits To tread in His royal way! He has come from above In His power and love, To die on this Passion Day.
The triumph of it, and the humiliation of it engrossed her.
How sweet is the grace of His sacred face, And lovely beyond compare!
So with her eyes on His face, her feet following His pathway of sorrow, forgetful of all else, she went on with Him to the end.
It was over!
The congregation passed out again under the starlit, moonlit sky, and left the church with the words—
All for Jesus, all for Jesus!
still echoing softly amid the arches of the roof.
* * * * *
It was a very bright and lively party that sat round Mrs. Henchman's supper-table that night. Mrs. Henchman, with Charlie beside her, seemed brightest of all, and yet Denys fancied—was it only fancy?—that when her hostess spoke to her or glanced at her, there was a coldness in her voice and glance that she had not seen before. Audrey divided her attentions between her brother and Cecil Greyburne, with whose appearance at the concert she had been much gratified; but as the meal progressed, Denys began to notice that Audrey did not by any chance speak to her, and kept her eyes studiously in another direction.
A shadow fell over Denys's happiness, but she drove it away with her usual good-tempered large-mindedness. This was the first time that Mrs. Henchman and Audrey had had to realise that Charlie was no longer exclusively their own, and of course they felt that she was the cause! They would be all right to-morrow.
But when Mary came in to clear the supper, Denys began to think that there might be something more than that the matter, for Mary's indignant and lowering look at her suddenly reminded her of that unfortunate moment in the kitchen before she started out to meet Charlie. She grew hot all over. Surely Mary could not have taken serious offence at what she had said!
She had no opportunity to do more than think of the possibility, before she found herself politely but unceremoniously hustled off to bed, and as she and Gertrude left the drawing-room, an unconscious backward glance showed her Mrs. Henchman cosily pulling forward a couple of armchairs to the fireside.
Well! it was natural, of course.
Up in her room she began laying away her hat and jacket and putting out the dress she would need in the morning, when, after a hasty knock, Audrey entered, and carefully closed the door behind her.
"Look here, Denys," she said, a little breathlessly, "I have come up to say that I do think it is too bad of you to go upsetting our servant. When I came home I found mother in an awful state—perfectly awful—and all through your interfering with Mary, and telling her to take care of mother! Of course, Mary did not like it, and poor mother had to bear it all alone. It is a shame."
So Mary had not taken care of Mrs. Henchman, but had gone up and complained of Denys. That much was clear!
It did not help Denys that she could see Gertrude, as she brushed out her long, dark hair, shaking with suppressed laughter, but before she could think of anything to say to defend herself, Audrey had begun again.
"I never thought we should have an interfering daughter-in-law," she said. "You are not Mrs. Henchman yet to give orders to our servant! Mother is awfully annoyed, and as to Charlie——!"
Denys drew herself up a little.
"I think, Audrey," she said coldly, "that quite enough has been said about this. I had not the faintest thought of being interfering. I only spoke to Mary as I should have thought any visitor in my home might speak to our maid, if mother were alone and ill. And I think that it would have been more suitable if your mother or Charlie had spoken to me themselves about it. I will tell them to-morrow how very, very sorry I am your mother has been upset."
"Oh, I hope you will do nothing of the kind," cried Audrey. "Do let her forget it, if possible, poor thing! And as for Charlie, of course, mother does not annoy him with worries the first five minutes he is in the house, and why should he be made angry? as he would be if he knew. Pray let the whole matter drop."
Denys was silent, and Audrey went away, shutting the door noisily.
"Well!" said Gertrude, when her footsteps had died away, "now I may laugh in peace! I don't congratulate you on the tempers of your future relations, Denys." But Denys was too utterly overset to attempt defence or condemnation. Great tears welled up into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks as fast as she wiped them away. She was glad that Gertrude took her side, but she felt that Gertrude's own vagaries had helped not a little, in the avalanche of blame which had fallen upon her head.
She could not go to sleep. She lay in the darkness, her pillow wet with those great tears which she could not seem to stop, her mind going backwards and forwards over it all unceasingly, in a maze of useless regrets and annoyance, until suddenly a melody she had heard that evening seemed to float into her mind.
Oh, come unto Me! Oh, come unto Me! Oh, come unto Me!
Ah, there was rest there!
To the rhythm of the soft, soothing melody she fell asleep.
Denys rose the next morning pale and heavy-eyed. Charlie and she had arranged overnight to be out at seven to take an early stroll on the sea front, and as she dressed, Denys's thoughts were busy with how she should meet everybody, and how much or how little it was best to say about last night's cause of offence.
She was somewhat startled to find Gertrude's bright eyes fixed upon her.
"My dear Denys!" said she, "if you don't want to be the first to tell Charlie of this ridiculous affair, don't go down with that face! Look as happy as you did last night, or he will be asking questions."
Denys coloured faintly.
"I don't know what to do about it," she sighed.
"If you don't want a thing talked about, don't talk about it," answered Gertrude sagely. "If ever I am engaged and my fiance's relations try sitting on me, I shall soon show them that it is a game two can play."
She stopped to laugh at some secret remembrance, and Denys's thoughts flew once again to that far-off Scotch town and the dark-haired boy with merry, twinkling eyes. Not a very auspicious remark for Reggie, who had neither father nor mother, sister nor brother!
"I'll tell you what I was laughing at," pursued Gertrude, who was most wonderfully wide awake and talkative this morning. "Do you remember Reggie's getting me a ticket to see the King give the medals for the South African War, at the Horse Guards? Reggie's cousin had a medal, you know. It was rather a crush, and of course Reggie wanted us to be in a good place, and we certainly were. Well, behind me there was a big stout woman, and oh! how she leant on me—just on my shoulders! I shall never forget the feel of it! At last I got perfectly tired of it and I thought of a plan. She was stout and soft and broad, and I just leant right back on her—on her chest. It was simply restful. After a bit, of course, I stood up properly, when I had got over the tiredness a little!"
"My dear Gertrude." Denys's laugh rang out involuntarily.
"She did not try that little dodge again," said Gertrude, laughing too. "Denys, don't put on that horrid red blouse."
"But I've nothing else!" objected Denys.
"Nothing else! Why, there's that sweet white nun's veiling. I've wanted 'the fellow to it,' as Grandma used to say when she did not wish to covet her neighbour's goods, ever since you made it. Put that on and astonish the natives and be done with it!"
Denys lifted out the white blouse obediently. It certainly suited her, and her laugh at Gertrude had brought a colour into her cheeks. She suddenly guessed that Gertrude had waked herself up on purpose to amuse her and change her thoughts and she bent quickly over the pillow and gave Gertrude's soft cheek a grateful sisterly kiss.
"Now shall I do?" she asked, straightening herself up.
"Ar," said Gertrude emphatically. "Now!" mimicking Denys's own tone, "don't be late for breakfast, my dear."
And Denys ran downstairs smiling! Gertrude had got pretty, entertaining ways. It was no wonder people liked her.
Charlie was waiting for her in the hall.
"You look as bright as the morning," he said; "isn't it delicious to be out so early?"
They strolled up and down the empty parade, enjoying themselves immensely, though every now and then a sickening fear of what the approaching breakfast hour might bring, swept over Denys. But she determined to stick to Gertrude's advice and say nothing to anyone unless positively obliged.
They turned homeward at last, and as they caught sight of the church tower, Charlie said,
"What did you think of doing this morning?"
Denys's eyes looked eager, but she thought of Mrs. Henchman and the two armchairs over the fire last night, and she hesitated to produce a plan that would monopolise Charlie for herself.
"What would you like?" she said.
"Well, I thought that you and I, at any rate, would go to church together this morning. The others, of course, must choose for themselves, but I should not feel happy to do anything else myself."
Denys's eyes lighted up.
"I am so glad," she said, "that is just what I wished."
"Mother told me about the donkey," pursued Charlie. "Poor mother, it quite put her about! So I told her I should hire a nice little wicker bath chair and I should push her, and we would all go to the Landslip this afternoon and have a nice walk together. Only we'll start at two, while the sunshine lasts, and we can get Cecil and one or two more to join us."
"That will be lovely!" said Denys, "and I will see that poor Mrs. Lyon and little Harry. Oh, I wish I had bought some grapes yesterday. I absolutely forgot that the shops would be shut."
"Oh! I'll get you some," said Charlie. "I know the back door of a greengrocer's shop, and I'll go and thump till he opens it."
They were in excellent time for breakfast, and so was Gertrude; but Denys found the meeting of her offended friends was to be an agony long drawn out, for Mrs. Henchman had sent down word that she should breakfast in bed, and that Charlie might wait upon her. Audrey was already seated behind the teapot with an aggressive little air which seemed to say, "Behold the daughter of the house," but with Charlie's eyes upon her she greeted Denys at least civilly, and she and Gertrude appeared to be on the best of terms.
By-and-by Cecil Greyburne turned up, and Denys left the three deep in discussion over the morning's plans, and went to get ready for church, calling in on Mrs. Henchman on her way upstairs.
She found her dressed on her sofa, with Charlie in an arm-chair on the opposite side of the fire; she stayed a minute or two with them and went on to her room, feeling glad that the first meeting with Mrs. Henchman was over and nothing had been said. Oh, if she could only know that nothing more would be said! Then she could try and go on cheerfully and endeavour to forget that anything disagreeable had happened.
She and Charlie found All Saints' far more crowded than they had anticipated, the result being, that as they waited with many others in the aisle, Denys found herself put into a row where there was but one seat, and she could only look helplessly on while Charlie was marched by the verger, who knew him but did not know Denys, right up to the front.
Yet, after the first moment of chagrin, Denys felt a vague relief in being alone. Alone, in a crowd, with no eyes upon her that knew her, alone with herself and God.
The prayers, the familiar Sunday prayers seemed to have a new significance on this day, under the very shadow of the cross on which He hung, for Whose Name's sake she asked forgiveness and blessing.
The Psalms, the anguished cry of the Crucified, sounded solemnly out, the very words of His lips, the awful loneliness of His heart, the unshaken faith in His God.
The lessons, the hymns, all told the same story, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, that now once in the end of the world, hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
The text, again so familiar, so significant on this day, floated out through the church. This was the way—the truth—the life—indeed.
"He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed."
It seemed as if the sermon, so gentle, so simple, so tender, held in it no human words and yet it was not a mere repetition of verse upon verse of Scripture.
As Denys sat with her eyes rivetted on Mr. Owen's face, she felt as if she had never even guessed before at the depth of Christ's salvation, that she had only touched the fringe of the knowledge of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
When I survey the wondrous Cross On which the Prince of Glory died.
She rose with the congregation and sang it with her whole heart, sang it through its verses till they came to the fourth verse, and she sang that, too, thinking not so much of its words as of the love she felt for that Prince of Glory—
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small, Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Her soul—her life—how gladly she gave them once more to Him for his service!
And then—in one instant—she came back to the things of earth, and so to another thought—her all! A movement about her had brought Charlie into her view. She saw him before her with a ray of sunlight resting across his fair head.
Her all! The whole realm of nature, in her eyes! She remembered again the blissful content, the undreamed of happiness, his presence had brought to her yesterday. She remembered with a shiver how that perfection of joy, which had seemed so unassailable, had been shattered in a moment by a word of her own, which had given offence where none was meant, by a care for others which had been resented.
She knew in a flash that the cause of her unending tears, of her heart-sickness ever since, had been the fear of Charlie's anger, the fear that, be the reason great or small, she should forfeit his affection and cease to be all the world to him.
She did not stop to think how much she was wronging Charlie's faithful love. She was oblivious for the moment of everything but this fear. She had been fighting fiercely since last night against the bare thought of the possibility of losing Charlie's love; she had been holding on to that love as for her life, and now another love, a love higher, wider, deeper the love that passeth knowledge, had risen up before her and claimed—her all.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small.
The thoughts passed through her mind with the swiftness of a dream, as, instinctively following the movements of those about her, she stood there with her eyes fixed upon Charlie, while the slow procession of the choir filed out and the organ sounded plaintively among the high arches.
She seemed only to see Charlie—her all—the whole realm of nature which at that moment she did possess—how the thought thrilled her—she saw him on one side and her crucified Saviour waiting on the other.
Her soul—her life? She had given them. Ah! for something more—her all! The congregation around her were passing out. She sank slowly on to her knees and hid her face. The Love which had given its all for her had conquered.
With her all, she knelt at His feet, and kneeling there she broke her box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and poured it out.
The church was almost empty when she rose and passed out. Charlie was waiting for her in the porch, and Audrey, Gertrude and Cecil were on the steps. Audrey slipped her arm into Denys's. "Wasn't it nice? Didn't you like it?" she whispered.
"Very much, oh, very much!" Denys answered. "I did not know you were all there."
She gave her arm a little answering pressure. This was the Audrey she had known at Saltmarsh!
"That was Cecil," said Audrey gravely. "He said that when there were so many who didn't care, we, who do care, ought to show that we cared! So, of course, we went."
When the afternoon came, it was a pleasant and united little party which set out for the walk to the Landslip. As Gertrude observed serenely—
"With neither donkeys nor bicycles we ought to do quite nicely!" and quite nicely they did, Mrs. Henchman arriving in such good condition and spirits that she proposed walking a short distance to see the view while tea was being got ready.
Denys held up the little basket of grapes Charlie had given her.
"I will take these in to Mrs. Lyon while you are gone," she said.
She tapped softly at Mrs. Lyon's door, and before any answer came, the woman with whom she had left her note on the previous day, opened her kitchen door with a scared look in her face.
"Oh, Miss!" she said. "Oh, Miss! don't tell any one, but she's gone! Poor dear, she's gone!"
"Gone!" echoed Denys.
The woman burst into low, restrained weeping.
"The visitors mustn't know," she sobbed. "They are afraid of death, but I've been longing and hoping for you all day, Miss. Poor dear, poor dear, she died last night."
The news of his sister Nellie's death came upon Jim Adams with the suddenness of a thunderclap. The weeks had gone by since she wrote to ask him to take Harry, with no further news of her, and after watching every post for a few days in the expectation of a black-edged envelope, he had begun to think that it was only a scare, and that she was not going to die at all, and it was really a pity that he had had all that bother with Jane!
Yet, in spite of this feeling, the incident had done him good in more ways than one.
He had fought for duty instead of running away from it. He had been reminded of things which he had hardly wanted to remember. He had been strengthened for the right by the mere fact that somebody never dreamed but that he would do right.
Also he had taken Tom's advice, and had had what Jane deridingly called "a teetotal spell," the result of which was a respectable banking account which perfectly astonished him. He had no idea small sums could total up so.
The idea of saving a little money had come to him from one of Jane's harangues, in which she informed him that when "that brat" came, she did not intend to spend any of her housekeeping money upon him; Jim would have to give her more. She was quite short enough as it was, especially with a great romping baby of her own, and she supposed that Jim would be sorry to see him getting thin and pale and perhaps dying altogether, because somebody else's child ate the food that ought to have been in his mouth. And then the funeral! Funerals cost a lot!
With this interesting climax Jane went to get the supper beer—out of the housekeeping—and Jim made his cocoa, and thought things over.
Not that he discussed Harry's coming with her. He had never mentioned the subject since that first night. He disliked words, and he found Jane tired of rating more quickly without an answer, though sometimes he could not resist giving one, but he always wished afterwards he had held his tongue.
He determined, as he sipped his cocoa, that he would accept some over-time work, which he had happily not mentioned to Jane, and save up what he earned and add it to his beer-money in the bank. Who could tell when it might be wanted?
So the telegram telling of Nellie's death found him unprepared in one way—prepared in another.
He proposed to go down and attend the funeral and bring Harry back, but Jane was furious. He had promised to take her and the baby down to her mother's for the Easter, and she did not mean to go by herself, as if she had no husband, and if Jim spent the money on train fares to Whitecliff and board and lodging as well, where was the money for going home to come from? Besides, what good would it do? Nellie was dead, and the brat could come up with the guard. Anyhow, Jim had no black clothes!
That last argument was unanswerable. So Jim wrote to Nellie's friends and said he could not come to the funeral, and asked them to arrange for Harry to come up with the guard and to let him know the day and the train, and he would meet him.
Then with a rather heavy heart, he shouldered Jane's parcel and his big baby, and took the Easter excursion train into Suffolk.
It was very late on the Saturday night when they reached their destination, for the train was two hours behind time, but the welcome they received in the tiny cottage had suffered nothing from its delay.
Old Mr. and Mrs. Green's delight over their first grandchild was quite astonishing, and they admired him from the curl on the top of his round head to the sole of his little fat foot.
And there, in the chimney corner, looking thin and worn, sat Tom.
Jim grasped his hand warmly.
"Well! I am glad you're here," said he, "it will be a bit of company." He glanced back at the group round the baby and Tom nodded comprehendingly.
"I had nothing to keep me," he said quietly.
It was a long, long time since Jim had been to church, but he found that on this Easter Sunday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Green expected nothing else. Jane elected to remain at home and mind the baby and cook the dinner, and the old couple, with their stalwart son-in-law on one side and Tom on the other, found themselves places in the old village church.
It was all very quiet and nice, Jim thought.
His heart was sore for his little sister Nellie and he felt alone in the world, cut off from all his childhood, all that they two had shared together.
It had never occurred to Jane to offer him any sympathy in his loss. She had hardly realised the loss, only the coming of a burden. And in not going to the funeral, Jim had an odd feeling of neglecting Nellie, though his common sense told him it could make no difference to her.
The Easter hymns comforted him strangely. His mind seemed to pass from the earthly grave to the heavenly Resurrection with a thrill of hope that matched with the sunshine, the bursting of green leaves, the twitter of the birds and the blue sky above.
On that happy Easter morning, All the graves their dead restore, Father, sister, child, and mother Meet once more.
And so he came to another thought. Was he going to meet Nellie?
He glanced across at Tom. The quiet patience of his face touched him. Tom had lost something too. Something more hopeless, more irremediable than even the death of a sister, and yet there was a strength in his look which seemed to Jim not to be of earth, but from above. Tom and Nellie were on one side, and he, Jim, was on another.
The two young men went for a walk together in the afternoon, and it was like Tom to be the first to touch on Jim's sorrow.
"You're wearing a black tie, Jim," he said.
So Jim told him all about Nellie, his pretty little gentle sister Nellie, and then of her child and of how he had promised to take him, and look after him, but he did not mention Jane. After all, Jane was Tom's sister.
Tom listened gravely. There was sympathy in the very way he listened, and Jim felt it. He longed to ask Tom if he approved of his taking Harry, but some of the strength which had grown in him since his decision, kept him silent. He had decided and what was the use of courting disapproval. But Tom was not one to withhold commendation, of which there is so little in this world's intercourse, and he gave his verdict unasked.
"I'm glad you did," he said heartily, "poor little chap, what else could you do? It's quite right. Mind you, Jim, any time if you are pushed with him, there's always a bed and meal with me. I've more than enough for myself."
That was Jim's opportunity, and he took it.
"You're a good sort, Tom," he said, "I'll not forget. How—how—" he hesitated. "Have you seen Pattie since?"
"Yes," said Tom sadly, "I've seen her."
There was a finality in his answer that Jim did not like to break, and they walked on in silence till Tom spoke again.
"I saw her," he said, "when she didn't see me, and I thought she looked tired-like. She was with some girl, a loud-voiced, gay-looking sort of girl, who must have known me, though I don't know her; and when she saw me, she whispered to Pattie and laughed, and Pattie tossed her head and laughed out loud, as I never heard her laugh before, and she went red, but she never turned her head nor looked, not even when she got to the corner, for I stood and watched. I couldn't turn my back and leave her. I had to look while she was in sight."
"Is there—is there any——?" Jim stopped.
"Is there anybody else?" said Tom in a strangled kind of voice. "They say so. The butcher's man, in that big shop by the Station Hotel. He looks smart and dresses like any gentleman on a Sunday, but he's always popping in and out of the hotel, and if you could hear his language—"
"I shouldn't be too sure of what 'they say'," said Jim, "and as for her laughing and all that—p'r'aps it was just put on because you were looking. It made her feel awkward-like. If she hadn't cared a bit, she'd have gone on without turning a hair."
"I'd wait a bit and take no heed of what folks say about her," went on Jim, "and then if you find you keep on caring, just up and ask her again. You've as much right as any other man. When she gets to know this fellow better, she'll know what she's missed."
Tom smiled faintly and the shadow in his eyes lightened a little at Jim's hopefulness.
"If Jane was to meet her and have words, I don't know what I should do," he said. "It would be best not to remind her of Pattie at all."
"Not me!" answered Jim emphatically.
A MEAN THING.
There was no need to remind Jane of the offending Pattie in words. Tom's face had done that already, and she was meditating vengeance. She and Jim and the baby reached their own home at midnight on Easter Monday, and by nine o'clock on the Tuesday morning she was at the weekly washtub which she superintended in Old Keston, her arms immersed in soap suds, her eyes on the garden fence which cut her off from Pattie's premises.
If she could only catch sight of Pattie hanging out washing, and have a few words with her!
Pattie, however, was not at the wash-tub this week. In Denys's and Gertrude's absence all the washing had been sent out, to leave Pattie more time to help Mrs. Brougham, and at that minute Pattie was busily running round the house tidying up after the holiday, and looking forward to taking little Maud out in the afternoon, a treat which she was beginning to appreciate very highly.
As Tom had said, she looked tired, even though it was so early in the day; but she would not have allowed for an instant that she had anything to trouble her. Why should she have, when she had only to let Sam Willard, the butcher's assistant, know when she would be out for an hour in the evening, and there he would be at the corner waiting for her, with his fine air and his curled moustache and his hair in a curl on his forehead. And he had no end of money, he was always chinking a pocketful, and talking of what he should buy. Only on Saturday he had taken her round to look at the shops, and they had lingered a long time outside a jeweller's, and Sam had pointed out the ring he meant to give his sweetheart some day. Pattie had quite held her breath as she imagined her hand with that ring on it!
Now as she swept up the bedrooms she glanced at her hands and frowned. She was not very clever at keeping her hands nice, but she always excused herself with the plea that grates and wash-tubs and saucepans were to blame.
The hands that wore that ring would not be used for brooms and black-lead brushes! She wondered what furniture would be bought to match that ring!
And then, involuntarily, she thought of another Saturday evening when Tom had taken her to look at the shops, and they had lingered outside, not a jeweller's, but a furniture shop, and Tom had pointed out a tall Windsor arm-chair and said they would have two of those in their home, and she had pictured herself in one of those chairs by a bright fireside in a cosy kitchen with Tom opposite to her, reading his paper, while she had a bit of dainty white needlework in her lap, such as she had seen her last mistress, who was newly married, busy with. She remembered how, as she pictured that happy little fireside, she had made up her mind to keep her hands better, not for the wearing of jewelled rings, but for the accomplishment of that same dainty needlework.
As she thought of all this, Tom's face came back to her memory. She wished, oh, how she wished that she had looked round at him when her friend had whispered that he was on the other side of the road!
What had he looked like? Why should her friend look upon his face and she not see it?
"Oh, Tom! Tom!" she whispered to herself and a sudden hate towards that jewelled ring sprang up in her.
When the afternoon came and she wheeled little Maud out in her mail cart, she turned towards the shops. She felt as if to see that Windsor arm-chair again would be next best to seeing Tom.
But the Windsor arm-chair was gone. Gone, like the dream of the happy little home; gone, as Tom had gone, out of her life.
Its place was filled by an inexpensive plush-covered parlour suite, suitable to the little villa where the wearer of that jewelled ring should take up her abode, but Pattie turned from it petulantly.
"Cheap and nasty!" she said.
Now it so happened that on this afternoon, when Jane Adams came to hang out the last of her washing, she found herself short of pegs. At another time she would have managed with pins or hung the clothes in bunches, but all day the craving for beer had been growing upon her, and she determined to go out and buy pegs and have a drink.
Through force of circumstances she had not tasted a drop since Saturday at dinner-time. Three whole days without a glass of beer! There had been none at her father's home, of course. The old people had been abstainers since she and Tom were babies, and she had not cared to acknowledge to them that she "took a drop now and again." It had been too late when she and Jim reached home last night to fetch any, and she had hurried to her work this morning, and, indeed, had not thought of getting a glass on her way, so full was her mind of Pattie.
But now she meant to have a glass, and pegs she must have!
So having told her lady—about the pegs—she put on her bonnet and hurried out.
She soon found a grocer's and bought her pegs, and then she turned in to the nearest public-house.
Not one glass, nor two, nor three, were sufficient to allay her longing, and the housekeeping money went without a thought; it was only the remembrance of the fleeting time which stayed her. She did not wish her lady to wonder where she was.
When she pushed open the public-house door and emerged into the street again, she was not completely mistress of herself, but just in the state when she would be very affable or very quarrelsome, as circumstances should seem to point.
And as she put her foot upon the threshold, Pattie, wheeling little Maud, and with her heart full of Tom, came along the pavement.
Now Pattie was a staunch little abstainer; all the more staunch because of her childhood's memories. Memories of nights when, piteous and shivering, she had waited outside a public-house door, to lead home her poor sorrowful mother, bound indeed by Satan these many years, by the chain of strong drink. Memories of days when on bended knee she had pleaded with that mother to give up the drink, and had been answered by a shake of the head, and a murmured, "I can't, child, I can't! I would if I could."
And Pattie had known of no remedy, no saving power, till she knew Tom, and Tom had said, "Pray for her, my girl. Christ can save her!"
So Pattie had prayed, not understanding how help could come, but because Tom believed in it, and, strange answer as it seemed, an illness had fallen upon her mother and she had been taken away to the Workhouse Infirmary.
Pattie remembered to this day the very saucepan she was washing when she realized that this was the answer to her prayer, that her poor mother had been saved from herself, and taken to a place where she would be cared for, and kept from the terrible snare of drink.
"And now," Tom had said when she told him, "we must teach her about the love of Jesus."
So month after month since then, Tom had gone regularly to the Infirmary and read the gospel's message to Pattie's mother, for she was still there and never likely to come out, and the poor woman had come to look for him and to love him as her own son. Pattie wondered sometimes whether he still went, but on the one occasion that she had seen her mother since she gave Tom up, she had been too proud to ask.
Pattie never saw a woman come out of a public-house without an involuntary shiver at her heart, and now here, before her very eyes, came Tom's own sister, Jim Adams's wife!
Pattie recognised her in an instant, and she recognised Pattie, and though Pattie would only too willingly have passed on, Jane stood in her path and barred the way.
"Well! Pattie Paul," said she insolently. "I want to know what you mean by it."
"I don't know what you mean," said Pattie, trying to pass her, but Jane dodged her.
"Oh don't you?" she cried. "What do you mean by using my brother like you have, letting him dangle after you, and pretending you was going to marry him, and getting presents out of him?"
Pattie's face flamed.
"It's not true!" she said hotly. "I never got presents out of him, and I always meant to marry him——"
"Very likely!" she said, "he did well enough to play with, till a richer chap came along, and then you remembered Tom was poor! You're a mean thing, Pattie Paul!"
"Let me pass!" cried Pattie vehemently, "you've no right to say such things!"
"No right!" flared Jane, "and me seeing my own brother going thin and a-fretting for a worthless girl like you! No right!"
But Pattie stayed to hear no more. With a sudden turn of the mail-cart, she was past her enemy, and running swiftly down the pavement towards St. Olave's, while little Maud laughed and clapped her hands with delight; she thought the run was all to amuse her.
And Tom was going thin and fretting!
In the midst of her pride, anger and humiliation, that thought came back to Pattie over and over again.
But the anger and the pride predominated, and swept away all tenderer feelings, and she met Sam Willard in the evening with a laugh and a toss of the head, and wished that Jane were there to see.
WITH A PURPOSE.
When Gertrude made up her mind to seek out a marriage-portion for herself, whose chief ingredient should be money, with love as a secondary consideration, she set herself with her usual cool forethought to consider the matter of Reggie Alston.
Reggie was a friend, and a friend only he must remain, and to this end the regular correspondence which he and she had kept up since Reggie left school, must become irregular and fitful. If only he would take his summer holiday in the school holidays, Gertrude thought she could manage somehow to be away when he was at home, and that would break the continuity of other summer holidays when they two had spent much time together, cycling and playing tennis. It was a pity for the boy to set his heart on what could not be. Reggie ought to look out for a girl with money, or at any rate for a girl who—who—liked being poor.
The result of these cogitations was that many a time when Reggie confidently looked for a letter, none came, and when the dulness of a week's work did happen to be enlivened by one of Gertrude's epistles, somehow the letters were short and unsatisfactory and spoke only of the most casual on-the-top-of-things topics. Reggie wondered over it in silence. He hated writing scolding letters, and like Tom Green, he felt that no amount of talking or writing could bring love, and at first he only felt the miss of the regular correspondence, without seeking for a reason other than the excuse that Gertrude must be extra busy at school, or that she had fresh duties laid upon her since Denys's engagement, of which he had heard a full account before Gertrude had thought of reducing her correspondence.
He little dreamed that Gertrude herself missed the writing of those old confidential letters far more than she had expected. She had always saved up all the little experiences and jokes of school and home to tell Reggie, and now it was very dull to be always pulling herself up to remember to make her letters short and few and casual.
But when Easter Monday and his birthday arrived together, without bringing any birthday remembrance other than a letter from his old chum, Charlie Henchman, Reggie's heart went down to a depth for which he had no idea there was room in his mechanism.
He had come down to breakfast in his dull little parlour, confidently expecting to see Gertrude's handwriting on his table, and it was not there.
He sat down mechanically and looked round the dull little room, and the dulness of it, the dinginess, the unhomelikeness of it struck on his heart as it had never done before.
The small horsehair sofa where he sometimes tried to find a resting-place and failed; the tiny chiffonnier, unenlightened by a looking-glass or any ornament save a vase, which had been one of Gertrude's childish birthday presents to him, and which he always kept filled with flowers and called them Gertrude's flowers; the uncomfortable horsehair arm-chair and the bare breakfast table with its coarse cloth and clumsy china, had all been bearable while he looked forward to a dainty and pretty, though tiny, home with Gertrude.
The half loaf of bread and the pat of butter which always tasted of the chiffonnier-cupboard, but had to be kept there because when a piece went out to the larder, none ever returned, filled him with loathing this morning.
Why was there no letter from Gertrude? His landlady bustled in with his tea and a rasher of bacon and a slice of toast, the last item, as she remarked, being for a birthday treat, and he roused himself from his disappointment to thank her for the little attention, and when she was gone he slowly opened Charlie's letter.
It was just a newsy, chatty letter, telling of the pleasures of his holiday at Whitecliff and especially of the pleasure of being with Denys for a whole week, but when he came to one sentence, written only with the thought of giving pleasure to Reggie, Reggie stopped and frowned.
"Gertrude looks awfully well and seems enjoying herself tremendously," wrote Charlie. "She and Audrey are quite friends, which is convenient, and Denys and I don't feel selfish if we walk behind and let Gertrude, Audrey, and Cecil make the pace in front."
So Gertrude was at Whitecliff, and she had never thought it worth while to tell him she was going to have such a nice change!
She was enjoying herself tremendously! Hitherto she had always made him a sharer in her pleasures by her vivacious descriptions of them. Who was Cecil?
He looked across the narrow Scotch street, on to the row of small houses opposite him. The morning sunshine was flooding them, while his room lay in shadow. That was like his life. He was in the shadow and other people were in the sunshine—especially this Cecil.
He ate up his breakfast at last and made a good meal of it too, for he was a healthy fellow, and even stale bread and tasty butter go down when you are hungry, and then he got out his cycle and polished it up, for there was a club run on and he was going to ride part of the way out with them, returning early to attend a wedding in the afternoon.
He decided, as he rubbed away at his machine, that he would not be married on a Bank holiday, when his turn came. He would not like his guests to feel bored at losing one of their precious few-and-far-between holidays. Saturday was a much more sensible day for a wedding.
Bored or not bored, the wedding party was large and cheerful, and being mostly made up of the chief townsfolk and local gentry who banked at the one and only Bank, Reggie knew most of the guests, and was himself, partly owing to his merry, boyish ways, and partly owing to his modesty and readiness to serve anybody in the smallest things, quite a popular person. He enjoyed the first part of the proceedings very much.
It was a lovely day, with brilliant sunshine and a warm air that seemed as if summer had come to surprise the Spring, and directly the bride had cut the cake there was a general exodus to the garden, where camp chairs and rout seats stood invitingly on the lawn, and arbours and sheltered paths waited for visitors to rest or walk beneath their budding loveliness.
And behind the groups of gay dresses, set off by black coats and light trousers, came white aproned waitresses with cakes and champagne. In vain Reggie, who had missed getting a cup of tea indoors, watched for a tray of tea cups. Champagne and ices, cakes and champagne, champagne and sandwiches. There appeared to be nothing else, and everybody seemed to be drinking champagne like so much water. Everybody, that is, but Reggie and the Scotch minister and his wife.