THE PRINCESS OF THE SCHOOL ================================== By ANGELA BRAZIL —————————————————
"The Luckiest Girl in the School," "The Harum-Scarum Schoolgirl," "A Popular Schoolgirl," "The Head Girl at the Gables."
Illustrated by Frank Wiles. ================================== A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with Frederick A. Stokes Company
Printed in U. S. A.
Copyright, 1920, by FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
All rights reserved
First published in the United States of America, 1921
I THE INGLETON FAMILY 1
II A STOLEN JOY-RIDE 15
III A VALENTINE PARTY 33
IV DISINHERITED 50
V THE NEW OWNER 61
VI PRINCESS CARMEL 73
VII AN OLD GREEK IDYLL 88
VIII WOOD NYMPHS 100
IX THE OPEN ROAD 114
X A MEETING 129
XI A SECRET SOCIETY 145
XII WHITE MAGIC 157
XIII THE MONEY-MAKERS 171
XIV ALL IN A MIST 190
XV ON THE HIGH SEAS 201
XVI THE CASA BIANCA 215
XVII SICILIAN COUSINS 229
XVIII A NIGHT OF ADVENTURE 242
XIX AT PALERMO 261
XX OLD ENGLAND 271
XXI CARMEL'S KINGDOM 283
THE PRINCESS OF THE SCHOOL
The Ingleton Family
On a certain morning, just a week before Christmas, the little world of school at Chilcombe Hall was awake and stirring at an unusually early hour. Long before the slightest hint of dawn showed in the sky the lamps were lighted in the corridors, maids were scuttling about, bringing in breakfast, and Jones, the gardener, assisted by his eldest boy, a sturdy grinning urchin of twelve, was beginning the process of carrying down piles of hand-bags and hold-alls, and stacking them on a cart which was waiting in the drive outside.
Miss Walters, dreading the Christmas rush on the railway, had determined to take time by the forelock, and meant to pack off her pupils by the first available trains, trusting they would most of them reach their destinations before the overcrowding became a serious problem in the traffic. The pupils themselves offered no objections to this early start. The sooner they reached home and began the holidays, so much the better from their point of view. It was fun to get up by lamp-light, when the stars were still shining in the sky; fun to find that rules were relaxed, and for once they might chatter and talk as they pleased; fun to run unreproved along the passages, sing on the stairs, and twirl one another round in an impromptu dance in the hall.
The particular occupants of the Blue Bedroom had been astir even before the big bell clanged for rising, so they stole a march over rival dormitories, performed their toilets, packed their hand-bags, strapped their wraps, and proceeded downstairs to the dining-hall, where cups and plates were just being laid upon the breakfast-table. It was quite superfluous energy on the part of Lilias, Dulcie, Gowan, and Bertha, for as a matter of fact not one of them was on the list of earliest departures, but the excitement of the general exodus had awakened them as absolutely as the advent of Santa Claus on Christmas mornings. They stood round the newly-lighted fire, warming their hands, chatting, and hailing fresh arrivals who hurried into the hall.
"You going by the 6.30, Edith? You lucker! My train doesn't start till ten! I begged and implored Miss Walters to let me leave by the early one, and wait at the junction, but she would not hear of it, so I've got to stop here kicking my heels, and watch you others whisked away. Isn't it a grisly shame?"
Gowan's round rosy face was drawn into a decided pout, and her blue eyes were full of self-pity. She had to be sorry for her own grievance, because nobody else had either time or much inclination to sympathize; they were all far too much excited about their own concerns.
"Well, you'll get off sometime, I suppose," returned Edith airily. "There are twelve of us, all going together as far as Colminster. We mean to cram into one carriage if we can. Don't suppose the train will be full, as it's so early. I thought you were coming with us, Bertha, but Miss Hardy says you're not!"
"Dad changed his mind at the last minute, and promised to send the car to fetch me. It's only forty miles by road, you know, though it takes hours by the train. He seemed to think I should lose either myself or my luggage at Sheasby Junction, and it is a horrid place to change. You never can get hold of a porter, and you don't know which platform you'll start from."
"How are you going home, Lilias?" asked Noreen, who with several other girls had joined the group at the fire.
Lilias, squatting on the fender, stretching two cold hands towards the blazing sticks, looked up brightly.
"We're riding! Astley and Elton are to fetch Rajah and Peri over for us. Grandfather said they needed exercise. I don't suppose he'd have thought of it, only Dulcie wrote to Cousin Clare and begged her to ask him. Won't it be just splendiferous? We haven't had a ride the whole term, and I'm pining to see Rajah!"
"Grandfather had promised to let us ride to school in September," put in Dulcie, "but Everard and a friend of his commandeered the horses and went to Rasebury, so we couldn't have them, and we were so disappointed. I do hope nothing will happen to stop them this time! Everard was to arrive home yesterday, so he'll be before us. I shan't ever be friends with him again if he plays us such a mean trick!"
"It's 'coach—carriage—wheelbarrow—truck,' it seems to me, the way we're all trotting home!" laughed Edith. "If I could have my choice, I'd sprint on a scooter!"
"Next term we'll travel by private aeroplane, specially chartered!" scoffed Noreen.
"I don't mind how I go, so long as I get off somehow!" chirped Truie. "Thank goodness, here come the urns at last! I began to think breakfast would never be ready. We want to have time to eat something before we start."
Miss Walters' excellent arrangements had left ample time for the healthy young appetites to be satisfied before the taxis arrived at the door to convey the first contingent of pupils to the station. Sixteen girls, under the escort of a mistress, took their departure in the highest of spirits, packed as tightly as sardines, but managing to wave good-bys. Their boxes had been dispatched the previous day, their hand-bags had gone on by cart before breakfast and would be waiting for them at the station, where Jones, that most useful factotum, would, by special arrangement with the station-master, be taking their tickets before the ordinary opening of the booking-office.
Though the departure of sixteen girls made somewhat of a clearance at Chilcombe Hall, Miss Walters' labors were not yet over. There was a train at eight and a train at ten, and the young people who had to wait for these found it difficult to know how to employ the interval until it was their turn to enter the taxis. By nine o'clock Lilias and Dulcie, ready in their riding habits, were looking eagerly out of the dining-hall window along the drive which led to the gate.
"I know Elton would be early," said Dulcie. "It's always Astley who stops and fusses. It was the same when Everard went cub-hunting. You don't think there's a hitch, do you?" (uneasily). "Shall we get a horrid yellow envelope and a message to say 'Come by train'? It would be too bad, and yet, it's as likely as not!"
Dulcie's fears, which in the course of twenty minutes' waiting and watching had almost conjured up the telegraph boy with his scarlet bicycle and brown leather wallet, were suddenly dispelled, however, by a brisk sound of trotting, and a moment later appeared the welcome sight of her grandfather's two grooms riding up to the house, each leading a spare horse by the rein. Those schoolfellows who had not yet departed to the station came to the door to witness the interesting start. A sleek, well-groomed horse is always a beautiful object, and the girls decided unanimously that Lilias and Dulcie were lucky to be carried home in so delightful a fashion. They watched them admiringly as they mounted. Edith stroked Rajah's smooth neck as she said good-by to her friends.
"Riding beats motoring in my opinion," she vouchsafed, "though of course you can go farther in a car. Perhaps I shall pass you on the road."
"No, you won't, for we're taking a short cut across country. We always choose by-lanes if we can. Write and tell me if you get a motor-scooter. They sound fearfully thrillsome. Good-by, see you again in January!"
"Good-by! and a merry Christmas to everybody!" added Dulcie, turning on her saddle to wave a parting salute to those who were left behind on the doorstep.
The two girls walked their horses down the drive, but once out on the level road they trotted on briskly, with the grooms riding behind. They formed quite a little cavalcade as they turned from the hard motor track down the grassy lane where a dilapidated sign-post pointed to Ringfield and Cheverley. It was a distance of seven good country miles from Chilcombe Hall to Cheverley Chase, and, as the events of this story center largely round Lilias and Dulcie, there will be ample time to describe them while they are wending their way through the damp of the misty December morning, up from the low-lying river level to the hill country that stretched beyond.
Lilias was just sixteen, and very pretty, with gray eyes, fair hair, a straight nose, and two bewitching dimples when she smiled. These dimples were rather misleading, for they gave strangers the impression that Lilias was humorous, which was entirely a mistake: it was Dulcie who was the humorist in reality, Dulcie whose long lashes dropped over her shy eyes, and who never could say a word for herself in public, though in the society of intimate friends she could be amusing enough. Dulcie, at fourteen, seemed years younger than Lilias; she did not wish to grow up too soon, and thankfully tipped all responsibilities on to her elder sister. Cousin Clare always said there were undiscovered depths in Dulcie's character, but they were slow in development, and at present she was a childish little person with a pink baby face, an affection for fairy tales, and even a sneaking weakness for her discarded dolls. Life, that to Lilias seemed a serious business, was a joyous venture to Dulcie; she had a happy knack of shaking off the unpleasant things, and throwing the utmost possible power of enjoyment into the nice ones. If innocent happiness is the birthright of childhood, she clung to it steadfastly, and had not yet exchanged it for the red pottage of worldly wisdom.
Ever since Father and Mother, in the great disaster of the wreck of the Titanic, had gone down together into the gray waters of the Atlantic, the Ingleton children had lived with their grandfather, Mr. Leslie Ingleton, at Cheverley Chase. There were six of them, Everard, Lilias, Dulcie, Roland, Bevis, and Clifford, and as time passed on, and the memory of that tragedy in mid-ocean grew faint, the Chase seemed as entirely their home as if they had been born there. In Everard's opinion, at any rate, it belonged to them, as it had always belonged to the prospective heirs of the Ingleton family. And that family could trace back through many centuries to days of civil wars and service for king and country, to crusades and deeds of chivalry, and even to far-away ancestors who gave counsel at Saxon Witenagemots. Norman keep had succeeded wooden manor, and that in its turn had given place to a Tudor dwelling, and both had finally merged into a long Georgian mansion, with straight rows of windows and a classic porch, not so picturesque as the older buildings, but very convenient and comfortable from a modern point of view. The lovely gardens, with their clipped yew hedges, were one of the sights of the neighborhood, and it was a family satisfaction that the view from the terrace over park, wood, and stream showed not a single acre of land that was not their own.
Mr. Leslie Ingleton, a fine type of the old-fashioned, kindly, but autocratic English squire, belonged to a bygone generation, and found it difficult to move with the march of the times. Because he had spent his seventy-four years of life on the soil of Cheverley, the people tolerated in "the ould squire" many things that they would not have passed over in a younger man or a stranger. They shrugged their shoulders and gave way to his well-meant tyranny, for man and boy, everybody on the estate had experienced his kindness and realized his good intentions towards his tenants.
"If he does fly off at a tangent, ten to one Miss Clare'll be down the next day and set all straight again," was the general verdict on his frequent outbursts.
Cheverley Chase would have been quite incomplete without Cousin Clare. She was a second cousin of the Ingletons, who had come to tend Grandmother in her last illness, and after her death had remained to take charge of the household and the newly-arrived family of grandchildren. She was one of those calm, quiet, big-souled women who in the early centuries would have been a saint, and in mediaeval times the abbess of a nunnery, but happening to be born in the nineteenth century, her mental outlook had a modern bias, and both her philanthropy and her religious instincts had developed along the latest lines of thought. She had schemes of her own for work in the world, but at present she was doing the task that was nearest in helping to bring up the motherless children who had been placed temporarily in her care. To manage this rather turbulent crew, soothe the irascible old Squire, and keep the general household in unity was a task that required unusual powers of tact, and a capacity for administration and organization that was worthy of a wider sphere. She might be described as the axle of the family wheel, for she was the unobtrusive center around which everything unconsciously revolved.
But by this time Lilias and Dulcie will have ridden up hill and down dale, and will be turning Rajah and Peri in at the great wrought-iron gates of Cheverley Chase, and trotting through the park, and up the laurel-bordered carriage drive to the house. There was quite a big welcome for them when they arrived. Everard had returned the day before from Harrow, Roland was back from his preparatory school, and the two little ones, Bevis and Clifford, had just said good-by for three weeks to their nursery governess, and in consequence were in the wildest of holiday spirits. There was a general family pilgrimage round the premises to look at all the most cherished treasures, the horses, the pigeons, the pet rabbits, the new puppies, the garden, and the woods beyond the park; there were talks with the grooms and the keepers, and plans for cutting evergreens and decorating both the house and the village church in orthodox Christmas fashion.
"It's lovely to be at home again," sighed Lilias with satisfaction, as the three elder ones sauntered back through the winding paths of the terraced vegetable garden.
"And such a home, too!" exulted Dulcie.
"Rather!" agreed Everard. "That was exactly what was in my mind. The first thing I thought when I looked out of the window this morning was: 'What a ripping place it is, and some day it will be all mine.'"
"Why, of course. Who's else should it be? The Chase has always gone strictly in the male line, and I'm the oldest grandson, so naturally I'm the heir. It goes without saying!"
Dulcie's pink face was looking puzzled.
"Do you mean to say if Grandfather were to die, that everything would be yours?" she asked. "Would you be the Squire?"
"I believe I'm called 'the young squire' already," replied Everard airily.
"But what about the rest of us?" objected Dulcie.
"Oh, I'd look after you, of course! The heir always does something for the younger ones. You needn't be afraid on that score!"
Everard's tone was magnanimous and patronizing in the extreme. He was gazing at the house with an air of evident proprietorship. Dulcie, who had never considered the question before, revolved it carefully in her youthful brain for a moment or two; then she ventured a comment.
"Wouldn't it be fairer to divide it?"
"Nonsense, Dulcie!" put in Lilias. "You don't understand. Properties like this are never divided. They always go, just as they are, to the eldest son. You couldn't chop them up into pieces, or there'd be no estate left."
"Couldn't one have the house and the other the wood, and another the park?"
"Much good the house would do anybody without the estate to keep it up!" grunted Everard. "Dulcie, you're an utter baby. I don't believe you ever see farther than the end of your silly little nose. You may be glad you've got a brother to take care of you."
"But haven't I as much right here as you?" persisted Dulcie obstinately.
"No, you haven't; the heir always has the best right to everything. Cheer up! When the place is mine, I mean to have a ripping time here! I'll make things hum, I can tell you—ask my friends down, and you girls shall help to entertain. I've planned it all out. I suppose I shall have to go to Cambridge first, but I'll enjoy myself there too—you bet! On the whole I think I was born under a lucky star! Hallo! there goes Astley; I want to speak to him."
Everard whistled to the groom, and ran down the garden, leaving his sisters to return to the house. At seventeen he was a fair, handsome, dashing sort of boy, of a type more common thirty years ago than at present. He held closely to the old-fashioned ideas of privileges of birth, and, according to modern notions, had contracted some false ideals of life. He had lounged through school without attempting to work, and was depending for all his future upon what should be left him by the industry of others. All the same, in spite of his attitude of "top dog" in the family, he was attractive, and inclined to be generous. Like most boys of seventeen, he had reached the "swollen head" stage, and imagined himself of vastly greater importance than he really was. The sobriquet of "the young squire" pleased his fancy, and he meant to live up to what he considered were the traditions of so distinguished a title.
A Stolen Joy-ride
Christmas passed over at Cheverley Chase in good old-fashioned orthodox mode. The young Ingletons, with plenty of evergreens to work upon, performed prodigies in the way of decorations at church and home. They distributed presents at a Christmas-tree for the children of tenants, and turned up in a body to occupy the front seats at the annual New Year's concert in the village. When the usual festivities were finished, however, time hung a little heavy on their hands, and one particular morning found them lounging about the breakfast-room in the especially aggravating situation of not quite knowing what to do with themselves.
"It's too bad we can't have the horses to-day!" groused Dulcie. "I'd set my heart on a ride, and I can't get on with my fancy work till I can go to Balderton for some more silks."
"And I want some wool," proclaimed Lilias, stopping from a rather unnecessary onslaught of poking at the fire. "There's never anything fit to buy at this wretched little shop in the village!"
"Except bacon and kippers!" grinned Roland.
"I can't knit with kippers!"
"Fact is, we're all bored stiff!" drawled Everard from the sofa, flinging away the book he was reading, and stretching his arms in the luxury of a long-drawn yawn. "What should you say to a turn in the car? Wouldn't it be rather sport, don't you think?"
"If Grandfather would spare Milner to take us!" said Lilias doubtfully.
"We don't want Milner. I'll drive you! I can manage a car as well as he can, any day. Don't get excited, you kids! No, Bevis, I shall certainly not allow you to try to drive! There's only going to be one man at that job, and that's myself!"
"Shall we go and ask Grandfather?" suggested Dulcie.
"Right you are! No, not the whole of us," (as there was a general family move). "Three's enough!"
So a deputation, consisting of Everard, Lilias, and Dulcie, promptly presented themselves at the study door and tapped for admission. As there was no reply to a second rap, they opened the door and walked into the room. Grandfather was rather deaf, and sometimes, when he had ignored a summons, he would say: "Well, why didn't you come in?" He was generally to be found writing letters at this hour in the morning, but to-day the revolving chair was empty. He had apparently begun his usual correspondence, for his desk was littered with papers. Leaning up against the ink-pot there was a photograph. The young people, who had walked across the room towards the window, could not fail to notice it, for it was tilted in such a prominent place that it at once attracted their attention. It represented a very pretty dark-eyed young lady, holding a baby on her lap, with a slight background of Greek columns. The decidedly foreign look about it was justified by the photographer's name in the corner: "Carlo Salviati, Palermo." Over the top was written in ink, in a man's handwriting: "My wife and Leslie, from Tristram."
"Who is it?" asked Everard, gazing at the portrait with curiosity. "She's rather decent looking. Never seen her here, though, that I can remember!"
"It's a ducky little baby! But who is Tristram?" said Dulcie.
"We had an Uncle Tristram once," answered Lilias doubtfully.
"Why, but he died years and years ago, when we were all kids!" returned Everard.
"I know. He was the only Tristram in the family, though. I can't imagine who these two can be. Leslie, too! Why, that's Grandfather's name! Was the baby christened after him?"
"We'll ask Cousin Clare sometime," said Dulcie, so interested that she could scarcely tear herself away. "I really want to know most fearfully who they are."
"Oh, don't bother about photos at present! Let's find Grandfather!" urged Everard. "Perhaps he's gone down to the stables, or he may be in the gun-room."
On further inquiry, however, they ascertained that a telegram had arrived for Mr. Ingleton, on the receipt of which he had consulted Miss Clare, had ordered the smaller car, and they had both been driven away by Milner, the chauffeur, and were not expected back until seven or eight o'clock in the evening. This was news indeed. For a whole day the heads of the establishment would be absent, and the younger generation had the place to themselves. For the next eight hours they could do practically as they pleased.
Everard stood for a moment thinking. He did not reveal quite all that passed through his mind, but the first instalment was sufficient for the family.
"We'll get out the touring car, take some lunch with us, and have a joy-ride."
Five delighted faces smiled their appreciation.
"Oh, Everard! Dare we?" Dulcie's objection was consciously faint.
"Why not? When Grandfather's away, I consider I've a right to take his place and use the car if I want. I'm master here in his absence! I'll make it all right with him; don't you girls alarm yourselves! Tear off and put on your coats, and tell Atkins to pack us a basket of lunch, and to put some coffee in the thermos flasks."
With Everard willing to assume the full responsibility the girls could not resist such a tempting offer, while the younger boys were, of course, only too ready to follow where their elders led. Elton, the groom, made some slight demur when Everard went down to the motor-house and began to get out the big touring-car, but the boy behaved with such assurance that he concluded he must be acting with his grandfather's permission. Moreover, Elton was in charge of the horses, and not the cars, and Milner, the chauffeur, who might reasonably have raised objections, was away driving his master.
The cook, who perhaps considered it was no business of hers to offer remonstrances, and that the house would be quieter without the young folks, hastily packed a picnic hamper and filled the thermos flasks. A rejoicing crew carried them outside and stowed them in the car.
It seemed a delightful adventure to go off in this way entirely on their own. There was some slight wrangling over seats, but Everard settled it in his lofty fashion.
"You'll sit where I tell you. I'll have Lilias in front, and the rest of you may pack in behind. If you don't like it, you can stop at home. No, I'm not going to have you kids interfering here, so you needn't think it."
Everard had been taught by the chauffeur to drive, and could manage a car quite tolerably well. He possessed any amount of confidence, which is a good or bad quality according to circumstances. He ran the large touring "Daimler" successfully through the park, and turned her out at the great iron gateway on to the highroad. Everybody was in the keenest spirits. It was a lovely day, wonderfully mild for January, and the sunshine was so pleasant that they hardly needed the thick fur rugs. There seemed a hint of spring in the air; already hazel catkins hung here and there in the hedgerows, thrushes and robins were singing cheerily, and wayside cottages were covered with the blossom of the yellow jessamine. It was a joy to spin along the good smooth highroad in the luxurious car. Everard was a quick driver, and kept a pace which sometimes exceeded the speed limit. Fortunately his brothers and sisters were not nervous, or they might have held their breath as he dashed round corners without sounding his horn, pelted down hills, and on several occasions narrowly avoided colliding with farm carts. A reckless boy of seventeen, without much previous experience, does not make the most careful of motorists. As a matter of fact it was the first time Master Everard had driven without the chauffeur at his elbow, and, though he got on very well, his performance was not unattended with risks.
Towards one o'clock the crew at the back began to clamor for lunch, and to suggest a halt when some suitable spot should be reached. The difficulty was to find a place, for they were driving so fast that by the time the younger boys had called out the possibilities of some wood or small quarry, the car had flown past, and, sooner than turn back, Everard would say: "Oh, we'll stop somewhere else!"
By unanimous urging, however, he was at last persuaded to halt at a picturesque little bridge in a sheltered hollow, where they had the benefit of the sunshine and escaped the wind. A small brook wandered below between green banks where autumn brambles still showed brown leaves, and actually a shriveled blackberry or two remained. There was a patch of grass by the roadside, and here Everard put the car, to be out of reach of passing traffic, while its occupants spread the rugs on the low wall of the bridge, and began to unpack their picnic baskets. Cook had certainly done her best for them: there were ham sandwiches and pieces of cold pie, and jam turnovers, and slices of cake, and some apples and oranges, and plenty of hot coffee in the thermos flasks.
"It's ever so much nicer to have one's meals out-of-doors, even in January!" declared Bevis, munching a damson tartlet, and dropping stones into the brook below. "I believe it's warm enough to wade. That water doesn't look cold, somehow!"
"No, you don't!" said Lilias briskly. "You needn't think, just because Miss Mason isn't here, you can do all the mad things you like. It's no use beginning to unlace your boots, for I shan't let you wade, or Clifford either! The idea! In January!"
"Why not?" sulked Bevis. "I didn't ask you, Lilias. Everard won't say no!"
"You can please yourselves," answered his eldest brother, "but I'm going to take the car on now. If you stay and wade, you'll have to walk home, that's all! I certainly shan't came back for you."
At so awful a threat the youngsters, who had really meant business where the water was concerned, hurriedly relaced their boots, and ran to take their places in the car; the girls finished packing the remains of the picnic in the basket, and followed, and soon the engine was started again, and they were once more flying along the road.
Everard had brought out the family for a joy-ride without any very particular idea of where they were going, though he was steering generally in the direction of the Cleland Hills. To his mind the chief fun of the expedition lay in simply taking any road that looked interesting, without regard to sign-posts. The others trusted implicitly to his powers of path-finding, and had really not the slightest idea in what part of the country they were traveling. After quite a long time, however, it occurred to Lilias to ask where they were, and how long it would take them to get home again.
"We've come such a roundabout route, I scarcely know," replied Everard. "Those are the Cleland Hills in front of us, though, and if we bowl straight ahead, and go over them, we shall get to Clacton Bridge; then we can get the straight highroad back to Cheverley."
"We shan't be home before it's dark, though?"
"Well, no! But the head lights are working all right—I tried them before we started."
"It will be fun to drive in the dark!" chuckled the boys behind.
"I hope we shall be back before Grandfather and Cousin Clare, though," said Dulcie a little uneasily.
The road over the Cleland Hills was much wilder than they expected, and it was very stony and bad. Up and up they went till walls, hedges and farms had disappeared, and only the lonely moor lay on either side of the rough track. It was a place where no motorist in his senses would have ventured to take a car, the extreme roughness of the road made steering difficult, and the strain on the tires was enormous. Instead of driving cautiously, Everard plunged along with all the hardihood of youth, bumping anyhow over ruts and stones. They were just beyond the brow of the hill when a loud bang, followed by a grinding sensation, announced the bad news that one of their tires had burst.
"What beastly bad luck!" lamented Everard, getting out to inspect the injured cover. "It might have had the decency to keep up till we had reached civilization! Well, there's nothing for it but to put on the spare tire. I've helped Milner to do it before, so I can manage. It's a bother we left the spare wheel at home. I shall want some of you to help me, though."
Everard had indeed rendered some assistance to the chauffeur on various occasions, but it was quite another matter to perform the troublesome operation of changing the tire with only two girls and three young brothers to lend a hand. In their inexperienced enthusiasm, they did all the wrong things, very nearly nipped the tube, mislaid the tools, and pulled where they should have pushed. It was only after nearly an hour's work that Everard at last managed to get the business finished. The family, warm and excited, packed once more into the car.
"Well, I hope we shall have no more troubles now!" exclaimed Lilias, who was growing tired and longing for home and tea. "What's the matter, Everard?"
"Matter! Why, she won't start, that's all!"
Here was a predicament! Whether the bumping up the rough road had thrown some delicate piece of mechanism out of gear, or the waiting in the cold had cooled the engine, it was impossible to say, but nothing that Everard could do would induce the car to start. He examined everything which his rather limited knowledge of motorology suggested might be the cause of the stoppage, but with no result. After half an hour's tinkering, he was obliged ruefully to acknowledge himself utterly baffled.
They were indeed in an extremely awkward situation, stranded on a wild moor, probably sixty miles from home, and with the short winter's day closing rapidly in.
"What are we to do?" gasped Lilias, half-crying.
"We can't stay here all night!"
"Finish our prog and sleep in the car," suggested Roland.
"No, no! We should be frozen before morning."
"I think we'd better walk on while it's light enough to see," said Everard. "We shall probably strike a highroad soon, and we'll stop some motorist, ask for a lift to the nearest town, and stay all night at a hotel."
"But what about the car?"
"We must just leave her to her fate. There's nothing else for it. I don't suppose anybody will touch her up here. It can't be helped, any way."
"Let's finish our prog before we set off!" persisted Roland, opening the picnic basket.
The family was hungry again, so they readily set to work to dispose of the remains of their lunch. It might be a long time before they were within reach of their next meal, and they blessed Cook for having packed a plentiful supply. Everard would not let them linger for more than a few minutes.
"Hurry up, you kids!" he urged. "We don't know how far we may have to go, and it will be getting dark soon. Thank goodness we shall be walking down hill, at any rate."
After whisking along in the car, "Shanks's pony" seemed a very slow mode of progress; their breakdown had happened in an out-of-the-way spot, and it was more than an hour before they reached a highroad. It was almost dark by that time, and matters seemed so desperate that Everard determined to hail the very first passing motorist who seemed to be able to help them. Fate brought along no handsome tourist car, but a rattling motor-lorry, the driver of which stopped in answer to their united shouts, and, after hearing of the difficulty they were in, consented to give them a lift to the town, five miles away, for which he was bound. Fortunately the lorry was empty, so the family thankfully climbed in, and squatted on the floor, while Everard sat in front with the driver.
It was not a very aristocratic mode of conveyance for the heir of Cheverley Chase, but Everard was in no mood to pick and choose just then, and would have accepted a seat in a coal truck if necessary. As for the younger ones, they enjoyed the fun of it. It was a very bumpy performance to sit on the floor of the jolting wagon, but at any rate infinitely preferable to walking.
Arrived in Bilstone, their cicerone drove them to a Commercial Hotel with whose landlady he had some acquaintance, and that good dame, after eyeing the party curiously, consented to make up beds for them for the night.
"I've no private sitting-room to put you in, and I can't show these young ladies into the commercial room," she objected; "but I'll have a fire lighted in one of the bedrooms, and you can all have some tea up there. Will that suit you?"
Lilias and Dulcie, catching a glimpse through an open door of the company smoking in the commercial room, agreed thankfully, glad to find some safe haven to which they could beat a retreat.
"I wonder what Cousin Clare would say?" they asked each other.
It was indeed an urgent matter to send some news of their whereabouts to Cheverley Chase, where their absence must be causing much alarm. While the landlady, therefore, ordered the tea, Everard went out to the public telephone, asked for a trunk call, and rang up No. 169 Balderton. He could hear relief in the voice of old Winder, who answered the telephone. Everard was not anxious to enter into too many explanations, so he simply said that they had had a breakdown, told the name of the town and the hotel where they were staying, and suggested that Milner should come over next morning to the rescue. On hearing his Grandfather's voice, he promptly rang off. To-morrow would be quite time enough, so he felt, for giving the history of their adventure. The unpleasant interview might just as well be deferred, and he had no wish to listen to explosions of anger over the telephone.
Tea, tinned salmon, plum and apple jam, and very indifferent bedrooms were the best that the Commercial Hotel had to offer, but it was infinitely better than being benighted on the moor. In spite of lack of all toilet necessaries, the Ingletons slept peacefully, worn out with their long day in the fresh air. Milner, the chauffeur, must have made an early start, for he arrived at eleven o'clock next morning in the small car, armed with his master's instructions. He paid the hotel bill, chartered a taxi, in which he dispatched Lilias, Dulcie, Roland, Bevis and Clifford, straight for home, then, engaging a mechanic from a garage, and taking Everard as guide, he started up the hill in the pouring rain to find the abandoned car. It needed several hours' attention before it could be induced to start, and it was not until evening that he was able to place it safely back in the motor-house at Cheverley Chase.
Everard had expected his peppery grandfather to be angry, but he was quite unprepared for the intensity of the storm which burst over his head on his return.
"Your insolence goes beyond all bounds!" thundered Mr. Ingleton. "To borrow my car without leave! And to take your sisters without a chaperon to a fifth-rate public-house! You deserve horsewhipping for it! You think yourself the young Squire, do you? And imagine you can do just what you like here? While I'm above ground I'll have you to know I'm master, and nobody else in this place!"
"I can't see it was anything so out of the way to take the kids a run in the car, and I never meant to keep the girls out all night," replied Everard defiantly. He had a temper as well as his grandfather, and the pair had often been at loggerheads before.
"Indeed! There are ways of making people see! You can just go a little too far sometimes!" declared the old gentleman sarcastically. "I've given orders that you don't take either car out again unless Milner is with you. So you understand?"
"I suppose I do," grunted Everard, turning sulkily away.
It was only a few days after this that Everard, Lilias, and Dulcie, returning home across the park from a walk in the woods, met Mr. Bowden, the family solicitor, who was riding down the drive from the Chase. He stopped his motor-bicycle and got off to speak to them. They knew him well, for he often came to the house to conduct their grandfather's business, and he was indeed quite a favorite with them all. He looked at Everard keenly when the first greetings were over.
"Been getting yourself into considerable hot water just lately, haven't you?" he remarked.
Everard colored and frowned, then burst forth.
"Grandfather's quite too ridiculous! Why shouldn't I take out the car if I want to? I can drive as well as Milner! He behaved as if I were a kid! It's more than a fellow can stand sometimes! He likes to keep everything tight in his own hands; at his age it's time he began to stand aside a little and let me look after things! I shall have to take charge of the whole property some day, I suppose!"
Mr. Bowden was gazing at Everard with the noncommittal air often assumed by lawyers.
"I wouldn't make too sure about that," he said slowly. "I suppose you know your Uncle Tristram left a child? No! Well, he did, at any rate. I must hurry on now. I've an appointment to keep at my office. A happy New Year to you all. Good-by!"
And, starting his engine, he was off before they had time to reply.
"What does he mean?" asked Lilias, watching the retreating bicycle. "Uncle Tristram has been dead for thirteen years! We never seem to have heard anything about him!"
"What was that photo we saw on the study table?" queried Dulcie. "Don't you remember—the lady and the baby, and it had written on it: 'My wife and Leslie, from Tristram.'"
"I suppose it was Uncle Tristram's wife and child," replied Everard thoughtfully. "He must have called the kid 'Leslie' after Grandfather. They ought to have christened me 'Leslie.' I can't think why they didn't."
"Have we a cousin Leslie, then, whom we don't know?"
"I suppose we must have, somewhere!"
"How fearfully thrilling!"
"Um! I don't know that it's thrilling at all. It's the first I've heard of it until to-day. I wish our father had been the eldest son, instead of Uncle Tristram!"
"Why? What does it matter?"
"It may matter more than you think. You're a silly little goose, Dulcie, and, as I often tell you, you never see farther than the end of your own nose. Surely, after all these years, though, Grandfather must——"
"Must what?" asked Lilias curiously.
"Never you mind! Girls can't know everything!" snapped Everard, walking on in front of his sisters with a look of unwonted worry upon his usually careless and handsome young face.
A Valentine Party
Chilcombe Hall, where Lilias and Dulcie had been boarders for the last two years, was an exceedingly nice school. It stood on a hill-side well raised above the river, and behind it there was a little wood where bulbs had been naturalized, and where, in their season, you might find clumps of pure white snowdrops, sheets of glorious daffodils, and later on lovely masses of the lily of the valley. In the garden all kinds of sweet things seemed to be blooming the whole year round. Golden aconite buds opened with the January term, and in a wild patch above the rockery the delicious heliotrope-scented Petasites fragrans blossomed to tempt the bees which an hour's sunshine would bring forth from the hives, scarlet Pyrus japanica was trained along the wall under the front windows, and early flowering cherry and almond blossoms made delicate pink patches of color long before leaves were showing on the trees.
Beautiful surroundings in a school can be quite as important a part of our education as the textbooks through which we toil. We are made up of body, mind, and spirit, and the developing soul needs satisfying as much as the physical or mental part of us. Long years afterwards, though we utterly forget the lessons we may have learnt as children, we can still vividly recall the effect of the afternoon sun streaming through the fuchsia bush outside the open French window where we sat conning those unremembered tasks. The lovely things of nature, assimilated half unconsciously when we are young, equip us with a purity of heart and a refinement of taste that should safeguard us later, and keep our thoughts at a lofty level.
The "beauty cult" was a decided feature of Chilcombe Hall. Miss Walters was extremely artistic; she painted well in water-colors and had exquisite taste. Many of the charming decorations in the house had been done by herself; she had designed and stencilled the frieze of drooping clusters of wistaria that decorated the dining-hall wall; the framed landscapes in the drawing-room were her own work, and she herself always superintended the arrangement of the bowls of flowers that gave such brightness to the schoolrooms.
Her twenty pupils had on the whole a decidedly pleasant time. There were just enough of them to develop the community spirit, but not too many to obliterate the individual, or, as Ida Spenser put it: "You can get up a play, or a dance, or any other sort of fun, and yet we all know each other like a kind of big family."
"Divided up into small families according to bedrooms!" added Hester Wilson.
The bedrooms at Chilcombe Hall were rather a speciality. They were large, and were furnished partly as studies, and girls had their own bookcases, knick-knacks, and pretty things there. As the house was provided with central heating, they were warmed, and a certain amount of preparation was done in them each afternoon. Miss Walters' artistic faculty had decorated them in schemes of various colors, so that they were known respectively as The Rose, The Gold, The Green, The Brown, and The Blue Bedrooms. Lilias and Dulcie Ingleton, Gowan Barbour, and Bertha Chesters, who occupied the last-named, considered it quite the choicest of all. They had each made important contributions to its furniture, had clubbed together to buy a Liberty table-cloth, had provided vases in lovely shades of turquoise blue, and had worked toilet-mats, nightdress cases and other accessories to accord with the prevailing tone. "The Blue Grotto," as they named their dormitory, certainly had points over rival bedrooms, for it looked down the garden towards the river, and had the best view of the sunset. Moreover, it was at the very end of the corridor, so that sudden outbursts of laughter did not meet the ears of Miss Hardy quite so easily as from the Rose or the Brown room.
The work of the spring term had been in full swing for nearly a month, when Gowan Barbour, looking at the calendar—hand-painted, with blue cranesbill geraniums—suddenly discovered that next morning would be the festival of St. Valentine.
"Could anything be better?" she exulted. "We've won the record for tidiness three weeks running, so we're entitled to a special indulgence. I vote we ask to bring tea up here, and have a Valentine party. Don't you think it would be rather scrumptious? I've all sorts of ideas in my head."
"Topping!" agreed Dulcie, pausing in the act of tying her hair ribbon to consider the important question, "specially if we could get Miss Walters to let us send to Glazebrook for a few cakes. I believe she would, if we wheedled!"
"What about visitors?" asked Lilias. "It would be much more of a party if we had a few of the others in."
"We don't want a crowd, or we might as well be in the dining-hall," objected Bertha.
"Well, of course we shouldn't ask the whole school, naturally, but perhaps just Noreen and Phillida!"
"We must get at the soft spot in Miss Walters' heart," decided Gowan. "Pick a bunch of early violets if you can find them, lay them on her study table, talk about flowers and nature for a little while, then ask if we may have a quiet little party in our bedroom to-morrow afternoon, with cakes at our own expense."
"Quiet?" queried Lilias.
"Well, of course you couldn't call it rowdy, could you? We'll send you to do the asking. Those dimples of yours generally get what you want, and on the whole I think you're the pattern one of us, and the most likely to be listened to."
Tea at Chilcombe Hall was a quite informal meal. It partook, indeed more of the nature of a canteen. The urns were what the girls called "on tap" from four to four-thirty, and during summer any one might take cup, saucer, and plate into the garden, provided she duly brought them back afterwards to the dining-hall. Special permission for a bedroom feast was therefore not very difficult to obtain, and Lilias returned from her interview in the study with her dimples conspicuously in evidence.
"Well?" asked the interested circle in the Blue bedroom.
"Sweet as honey!" reported Lilias. "She said 'Certainly, my dear!' We may each ask one friend, and we may spend two shillings amongst us on cakes, if we give the money and the list of what we want to Jones this afternoon, because he's going into Glazebrook first thing to-morrow morning."
"Only two shillings!" commented Gowan.
"It will go no way!" pouted Bertha.
"Well, I can't help it. Miss Walters said 'Two shillings' most emphatically."
"You might have stuck out for more! Those iced cakes are always half a crown!"
"I didn't dare to stick out for anything. I was so afraid she'd change her mind, and say 'There's good plain home-made cake with your schoolroom tea, and you must be content with that,' like she did to Nona and Muriel."
"We could get twelve twopenny cakes for two shillings," calculated Dulcie; "but if there are eight of us, that's only one and a half apiece."
"Best get eight twopenny iced cakes, and eight penny buns," suggested Bertha, taking pencil and paper to write the important order.
"Right-o! Only be sure you put pink iced cakes, they are so much the nicest."
"Whom shall we ask? It won't be much of a beano on two shillings. Still, they'll be keen on coming, I expect."
Noreen, Phillida, Prissie, and Edith, the four finally selected favorites, accepted the invitation with alacrity. Bedroom tea-parties were indulgences only given to winners of three weeks' dormitory records, so the less fortunate occupants of the Brown and Rose rooms were really profiting by the tidiness of their hostesses. The Blue Grotto was placed in apple-pie order on the afternoon of the fourteenth of February. A white hemstitched cloth and a bowl of snowdrops adorned the center table, and the cakes were set out on paper doilies. Both hostesses and guests were in the dining-hall by four o'clock, awaiting the appearance of the urns, and each bore her cup of tea and a portion of bread and butter and scones upstairs with her.
It was a jolly party round the square table, and if the cakes were not too plentiful, they were at least voted delicious. The girls carried down the cups when they had finished, shook the table-cloth out of the window, carefully collected crumbs from the floor, so as to preserve their record for neatness, then gathered round the table again for an hour's fun before the bell should ring for prep.
"It's a Valentine party, and I've got a ripping idea," said Gowan. "We'll put our names on pieces of paper, fold them up, shuffle them and draw them; then each of us must write a valentine to the one we've drawn. We'll shuffle these, and one of us must read them all out. Then we must each guess who's written our valentines."
"Sounds rather brainy, doesn't it?" objected Noreen. "I don't think I'm any hand at poetry!"
"Oh! you can make up something if you try. Valentines are generally doggerel."
"Need it be quite original?" asked Edith.
"Well, if you really can't compose anything, we'll allow quotations."
"Cracker mottoes?" suggested Dulcie.
"Exactly. They're just about in the right style."
"Are you all getting into a sentimental vein?" giggled Bertha. "Remember 'Love' rhymes with 'Dove,' and Cupid with—with—"
"Stupid," supplied Dulcie laconically.
"I'm not going to give my rhymes away beforehand," said Phillida. "Is that shuffling business finished, Gowan? Then bags me first draw."
Each girl, having been apportioned the name of her valentine, set to work to compose a suitable ode in her honor. There was much knitting of brows and nibbling of pencils, and demands for a few minutes longer, when Gowan called "Time!" At last, however, the effusions were all finished, folded, shuffled, and laid in a pile. Gowan, as the originator of the game, was unanimously elected president. She drew one at a venture, opened it, and read:
"Fair maiden, who in ancient song Was wont to flout her swain, I prithee be not always coy, But turn your face again. My heart is true, and it will rue, That ever you should doubt me, So sweet, be kind, and change your mind, And don't for ever flout me."
"Who wrote that?" asked Phillida, glancing keenly round the circle. "Noreen, I believe you're looking conscious! I always suspect people who say they can't write."
"I! No, indeed!" declared Noreen.
"You may make guesses, but nobody's to confess or deny authorship till the end," put in Gowan hastily. "Remember, valentines are always supposed to be anonymous. Now I'm going to read another.
"Cupid with his fatal dart Shot me through and made me smart, So I pray, before we part, Kiss me once, and heal my heart!"
"Short and sweet!" commented Edith.
"Very sweet—quite sugary, in fact," agreed Lilias. "It's the sort of motto you get out of a superior cracker with gelatine paper on the outside, and trinkets inside. There ought to be a ring with all that. I believe it's Prissie's, but I'm not sure it isn't by Bertha."
"You mayn't have two guesses!" reminded Gowan, reaching for another paper. "Hallo! this actually to me! I feel quite shy!"
"Go on! You're not usually afflicted with shyness," urged the others.
"Wee modest, crimson-tipped flower, Thou'st met me in an evil hour; For I maun gang far frae thy bower, And leave thee greeting 'mang the stour. But lassie, thou art no thy lane, This heart is also brak in twain, And like to burst with grief and pain To think I'll see thee ne'er again."
"H'm! He might have signed 'Robbie Burns' at the end of it!" commented Gowan. "Seems to take it for granted I'm doing half of the grieving. No, thanks! I prefer to 'flout them' like Phillida. He may go away with his old broken heart if he likes. That's not my idea of a valentine."
"There were bad valentines as well as good ones, weren't there?" twinkled Dulcie.
"Certainly; and if I set this down to you, perhaps I'll not be far out. Who comes next? Oh! Bertha.
"I have a little heart to let, As nice as nice can be; It's vacant just at present, On a yearly tenancy. It's quite completely furnished With affection's choicest store, Sweet nothings by the bushel, And kisses by the score. It sadly wants a tenant, This little heart of mine, So I beg that you will take it, And be my Valentine!"
"Edith! Dulcie! Phillida!—Oh! I can't guess!" laughed Bertha. "There's not the least clue! Go on, Gowan! I'll plump for Phillida."
The next on the list was—
"Cupid on his rosy wing Flits to offer you a ring: Take it, dear, and happy make One who'd die for your sweet sake!"
"That's the sugary type again, and suggests a cracker!" decided Noreen. "You feel there ought to be a big dish of trifle somewhere near."
"I wish there were!" chirped Edith. "You haven't guessed yet!"
"Oh, well, I guess you!"
"I hope it's my turn next," said Prissie.
"No, it happens to be Dulcie," retorted Gowan. "You'll probably be the last of all.
"Oh, lady fair from Cheverley Chase, The day when first I saw your face Put me in such a fearful flutter I could do naught but moan and mutter. Whether I'm standing on my head, Or if I'm on my heels instead, I scarce can tell, for Cupid's arrows Have made my brain like any sparrow's. When you come near, my foolish heart Goes pit-a-pat with throb and start, And when I try my love to utter, My fairest speech is but a stutter. How to propose is all my task, Whether to write or just to ask, And ere I solve the problem knotty I really fear I shall go dotty. Oh, lady fair, in pity stop And list while I the question pop. 'Tis here on paper; think it over, And let me be your humble lover."
"Quite the longest of them all!" smiled Dulcie complacently.
"But not as poetical as mine!" contended Noreen.
"Oh, go on!" said Edith. "I'm sure I'm next!"
And so she was.
"Maiden of the swan-like neck, I am at your call and beck; If you will but wave a finger, In your neighborhood I'll linger, Praise your eyes, and cheeks of roses, Bring you presents of sweet posies, Sweetheart, if you will be mine, Let me be your Valentine!"
"I haven't got a swan neck! It's no longer than other people's, I'm sure!" protested Edith indignantly, looking round the circle for the offender. "Who wrote such stuff?"
"There, don't get excited, child!" soothed Gowan. "'Edith of the Swan Neck' was a historical character. Don't you remember? She ought to have married King Harold, only she didn't, somehow. It's meant as a compliment, no doubt!"
"I believe you wrote it yourself!"
"No, I didn't. At least I mustn't tell just yet. I'm going to read the last one now.
"I am not sentimental, please, I cannot write in rhyme, I beg you'll all ecstatics leave Until another time.
"But if I'm lacking in romance, At least my heart is true, And in its own prosaic way, It only beats for you.
"'Mong damsels all I think you are The nicest little Missie, And beg to have for Valentine That sweetest maid, Miss Prissie."
"Author! Author!" cried Prissie. "It's Lilias, I do believe!"
"Guessing's been horribly wrong!" said Gowan. "Only about one of you was right. Shall I read the list?
"To Phillida by Dulcie. To Lilias by Noreen. To Gowan by myself. To Bertha by Phillida. To Noreen by Prissie. To Dulcie by Bertha. To Edith by Lilias. To Prissie by Edith."
"So you wrote your own, Gowan! What a humbug you are! You quite put us off the scent!"
"Well, I drew my own name, you see. I had to write something! Bertha ought to have a prize for guessing right, only we've nothing to give her. Shall we play something else?"
"Prissie's brought a pack of cards, and she says she'll tell our fortunes," proclaimed Edith.
"I learnt how in the holidays," confessed Prissie. "A girl was staying with us who had a book about it. We used to have ripping fun every evening over it. Whose fortune shall I tell first? Oh, don't all speak at once! Look here, you'd better each cut, and the lowest shall win."
Dulcie, who turned up an ace, was the lucky one, and was therefore elected as the first to consult the oracle. By Prissie's orders she shuffled the cards, then handed them back to the sorceress, who laid them out face upward in rows, and after a few moments' meditation began her prophecies.
"You're fair, and therefore the Queen of Diamonds is your representative card—all the luck's behind you instead of facing you. I see a disappointment and great changes. A dark woman is coming into your life. She's connected somehow with money, but there are hearts behind her. You'll take a journey by land, and find trouble and perplexity."
"Haven't you anything nicer to tell me than that?" pouted Dulcie. "Who's the dark woman?"
"She seems to be a relation, by the way the cards are placed."
"I haven't any dark relations. They're all as fair as fair—the whole family."
"It's silly nonsense! I don't believe in it!" declared Lilias emphatically.
"I dare say it is, but it's fun, all the same. Do tell mine now, Prissie!" urged Noreen, gathering up the cards and reshuffling them.
Before the fates could be further consulted, however, the big bell clanged for preparation, and the magician was obliged to pocket her cards, hurry downstairs, get out her lesson books, and write a piece of French translation, while the inquirers into her mysteries also separated, some to practise piano or violin, and some to study.
"A dark woman!" scoffed Dulcie, spilling the ink in her scorn as she filled her fountain pen. "Any gypsy would have told me a fortune like that. I'll let you know when she comes along, Prissie!"
"All serene! Bring her to school if you like!" laughed Prissie. "You didn't let me finish, or I might have gone on to something nicer. There were other things on the cards as well as those."
"Oh, I shan't tell you now, when you only make fun of them! Sh! sh! Here's Miss Herbert!"
And Prissie, turning away from her comrade, opened her French dictionary and plunged into the difficulties of her page of translation from Racine.
Valentine's Day had brought early flowers, and the song of the thrush and glints of golden sunshine, but the bright weather was too good to last, and winter again stretched out an icy hand to check the advance of spring. Green daffodil buds peeped through a covering of snow, and the yellow jessamine blossom fell sodden in the rain. The playing-field was a quagmire, and the girls had to depend upon walking for their daily exercise. Their tramps were somewhat of an adventure, for in places the swollen brooks were washing over the tops of their bridges, and they would be obliged to turn back, or go round by devious ways. The river in the valley had overflowed its banks and spread over the low-lying meadows like a lake. Tops of gates and hedges appeared above the flood, and sea-gulls, driven inland by the gales, swam over the pastures. Flocks of peewits, starlings, and red-wings collected on the uplands, and an occasional heron might be seen flitting majestically across the storm-flecked sky.
As a rule the school sallied forth in waterproofs and thick boots, regardless of drizzle or slight snow, but on days of blizzard there was Swedish drill or dancing in the big class-room, to work off the superfluous energy accumulated during hours of sitting still at lessons.
One afternoon, when driving sleet and showers swept past the house, and an inclement sky hid every hint of sunshine, the twenty girls, clad in their gymnasium costumes, were hard at work doing Indian club exercises. Dulcie, who stood in the vicinity of the window, could watch the raindrops splashing on the pane, and see the wet tree-tops waving about in the wind, and runnels of water coursing down the drive like little rivulets. It was the sort of afternoon when nobody who could help it would choose to be out, and a visitor to the Hall seemed about the most unlikely event on the face of the earth. Judge her surprise, therefore, when she heard the hoot of a motor-horn, and the next instant saw, coming up the drive, the well-known Daimler touring car from Cheverley Chase. In her excitement she almost dropped her clubs. Had Cousin Clare come over to see them? Or had Everard a holiday? She longed to communicate the thrilling news to Lilias, but the music was still going on, and her arms must move in time to it. She waited in a flutter of expectation, revolving all kinds of delightful possibilities that might occur. Cousin Clare would surely send a cake and a box of chocolates, even if she had not come herself. Five minutes passed, then Davis, the parlor-maid, opened the door, and whispered a brief message to Miss Perkins. The mistress held up her hand and stopped the exercises.
"Lilias and Dulcie are wanted at once in the study," she said.
Amid the astonished looks of their companions, the two girls put down their clubs and left the room, Dulcie hastily telling her sister, as they hurried down the passage, how she had seen the car from the window. They tapped at the study door, and entered full of pleasant anticipation. Miss Walters was standing by the fire, with a letter in her hand.
"Come in, girls," she said gravely. "I've sent for you because I have something very sad to tell you. Can you prepare your minds for a great shock? Your Grandfather was taken ill suddenly last night, and passed away this morning. Your cousin has sent the car to fetch you both home. Go at once and change your dresses, and Miss Harvey will help you to pack a few clothes. The chauffeur is having some tea, but you must not keep him waiting very long. I can't tell you how grieved I am. You must be brave girls and try to comfort every one else at home. It will be a sad loss for you all."
Lilias and Dulcie went upstairs almost dazed with the unexpected bad news. They could hardly believe that their grandfather, whom they had left apparently in the best of health and spirits, could have gone away into that other world where Father and Mother and a little sister had already passed over before. They packed in a sort of dream, drank the cups of tea which Miss Walters, full of kind sympathy, pressed upon them in the hall, greeted Milner, who was starting his engine, and entered the waiting car. Owing to the floods, they took a roundabout route, but half an hour's drive through sleet and rain brought them to Cheverley Chase. It was strange to see the blinds all down as they drew up at the house. As they ran indoors, Winder, the old butler, came from his pantry into the hall. They questioned him eagerly. He shook his head as he replied:
"It's a sad business, Miss Lilias and Miss Dulcie. He was just as usual yesterday, then about nine o'clock Miss Clare rang the bell violently, and when I came into the drawing-room, there was Master lying on the floor in a kind of fit. I telephoned to the doctor, and we got him to bed, but he never recovered consciousness. He went at eleven this morning, as you'll see by the clock there. I stopped all the clocks at once. It's the right thing to do in a house when the master dies. Miss Clare's in her room. I'll let her know you've arrived."
"We'll go and find her, thank you," said Lilias, walking quietly upstairs.
The Ingleton children were truly grieved at the loss of the grandfather who, for so many years, had stood to them in the place of a parent. They went softly about the house and spoke in hushed voices. Everything seemed strange and unusual. A dressmaker came from London with boxes of mourning for Cousin Clare and the girls; beautiful wreaths and crosses of flowers kept arriving and were carried upstairs. Mr. Bowden, the lawyer, was constantly in and out, making arrangements for the funeral; neighbors left cards with "Kind sympathy" written across the corner. Everard, who had arrived home shortly after his sisters, seemed to have grown years older. He walked with a new dignity, as of one who is suddenly called to fill a high position.
"I'll be a good brother to you all," he said to the younger ones. "You must always look upon the Chase as your home, of course. I'll do everything for you that Grandfather ever did, and more!"
"Will the Chase be yours now, then, Everard?" asked Bevis.
"I suppose so. I'm the eldest son, you see, and the property has always gone in the direct line. It was entailed until fifty years ago. I shan't make any changes. I've told the servants so, and they all said they wished to stay on. I wouldn't part with Winder or Milner for the world! They're part of the establishment."
"I couldn't imagine the place without them," agreed Dulcie.
On the afternoon before the funeral, Mr. Bowden, who had motored over to make some final arrangements, concluded his business, drank a cup of tea in the drawing-room, and was escorted by Everard and Lilias through the hall.
"The passing of the Squire is a sad loss to the neighborhood," he remarked. "He was a true type of the good old school of country gentlemen, and most of us feel 'we shall not look upon his like again.'"
"No," replied Everard. "It will be very hard to succeed him, I know, but I shall try to do my best."
Mr. Bowden started, looked at him musingly for a moment, knitted his brows, then apparently came to a decision. Instead of taking his hat and coat from Winder, he waved the two young people into the study, followed them, and shut the door.
"I want a word with you in private," he began. "I'm going to do a very unprofessional thing, but, as I've known you for years, I feel the case justifies me. I can't let you come into the dining-room to-morrow, after the funeral, and hear your grandfather's will read aloud, without giving you some warning beforehand of its contents. I hinted to you, Everard, at Christmas-time, not to count too much upon expectations."
"Why, but surely I am the heir?" burst out Everard with white lips.
"My poor boy, you are nothing of the sort. Your grandfather has willed the property to the child of his elder son, Tristram."
At that critical moment there was a rap at the door, and Winder, the butler, entered, respectfully apologetic, to summon Mr. Bowden to the telephone. The lawyer answered the call, which was apparently a very urgent one, for, without another word to Everard and Lilias, he took hat and coat, hurried from the house, mounted his motor-cycle, and was gone. He left utter consternation behind him. The two young people, returning to the study, tried to face the disastrous news. He had indeed told them no details, but the main outline was quite sufficient. They could scarcely accustom themselves to believe it for a moment or two.
"To bring me up as the heir, and then disinherit me!" gasped Everard.
"Why, everybody called you 'the young squire'!" exclaimed Lilias. "It's unthinkable!"
"Unthinkable or not, I'm afraid it's true," said Everard bitterly. "Bowden wouldn't have told me otherwise. I suppose he drew up the will, so he knows what's in it. Nice position to be in, isn't it? Turned out to make room for some other chap!"
"Who is this child of Uncle Tristram's? We've never heard of him."
"It'll be the kid who is in that photo, I suppose—Leslie. He looked about a year old in the portrait, and it's thirteen years since Uncle Tristram died, so he's probably fourteen or so now. To think of a kid of fourteen taking my place here! It's monstrous!"
"Oh, Everard, what shall we do?"
"I don't know. I'm going out to think it over. Don't say a word about it to anybody yet. Promise me you won't!"
Everard seized his cap and waterproof, and plunged out-of-doors into the rain. He did not return till dinner-time. If he was silent and preoccupied at that meal, both Cousin Clare and Dulcie set it down as natural to his new sense of responsibility. Lilias looked at him uneasily. There was a hardness in his face which she had never seen there before. She longed to catch him alone and question him, but after dinner he purposely avoided her, and left a message that he had gone to the stables. She would have liked to confide in Cousin Clare, but she had given her promise to keep the secret, and even Dulcie must not share it yet. The girls slept in separate rooms at home, so that when Lilias had said good night to the family she was alone. She went to bed, as a matter of course, but tossed about with throbbing heart and whirling brain. Mr. Bowden's information had effectually banished sleep. In about an hour, when the house was absolutely quiet, came a soft tap at her door. She jumped up hastily, threw on her dressing-gown, and opened it. Everard stood in the passage outside.
"May I come in? I want to speak to you, Sissy! It's important," he whispered.
"I thought you had gone to bed," said Lilias, admitting him, and dragging forward two basket chairs. "What is it, Everard? Don't look like that—you frighten me!"
Her brother had seated himself wearily, and buried his head in his hands. He raised two haggard eyes at her words.
"I've come to say good-by to you, Sis. I'm going away to-night! Don't speak to me, for I'm not in a mood for argument! Do you think that I could stand by Grandfather's grave to-morrow, when I know he has disinherited me? I tell you, I can't. I'm not going to stay and hear the will read! If I'm kicked out of the property, at least I'll keep my dignity. Why, everybody on the estate believed I was the heir! Only this afternoon, Rogerson, the new under-gardener, asked me to keep him on, and Hicks said he'd serve me as faithfully as he'd served the old Squire. How could I face the servants when they knew the Chase wasn't mine after all! The humiliation would be intolerable! No! I've all the Ingleton pride in me, and if I'm not to be master here, I'll shake the dust of the place off my feet for ever. Grandfather will have made some provisions for you younger ones; he always promised to do that, and it's right you should take it, but as for me, if he's left me anything, I don't mean to touch a penny of it—it must be all or nothing! You others are welcome to my share, whatever it is. I'm going out into the world to earn my own living."
He spoke forcibly, and with desperate earnestness. To Lilias, watching him anxiously, he seemed in these few hours to have changed from a boy into a man. Eager words rose to her lips, but he stood up and stopped her.
"I've told you it's no use arguing! My mind's absolutely made up. I've ordered Elton to have the small car ready, and to drive me to Balderton to catch the midnight express to town. It's the last order I shall give in this house. He looked surprised, but he didn't dare to question me. To-morrow everybody will know that I've no more authority here than the kids. I'll be far away by then, thank goodness."
"But, Everard, what are you going to do in London? How can you earn your own living?" pressed Lilias.
"Sweep a crossing, or go to sea! I don't care two-pence what happens to me. Good-by, Sis, I'm off! You may tell the others to-morrow, if you like. No, I won't promise to write! You'll be better without me. I've closed this chapter of my life completely, and I'm going to begin a different one. The two won't bear mixing up."
Giving his sister a hasty kiss, Everard left the room and walked softly away down the passage. A few minutes later, Lilias heard the sound of wheels, and, looking through the window, saw the rear lights of the car disappearing down the drive, and away across the park. She went back to bed, sobbing.
The New Owner
The wild wind and rain, which for some weeks had blown from the north, changed suddenly to a southerly breeze, and the sun shone out in all its spring glory on the day of Mr. Ingleton's funeral. Half the country-side came to do honor to "the old Squire." He had been a favorite in the neighborhood, and people forgot his autocratic ways and remembered now only his many kindnesses. The absence of Everard, who should have been the chief representative of the family, caused universal comment, and some rumor of the state of affairs began to be passed round among the servants and guests. Cousin Clare, to whom Lilias had confided the secret of her brother's flight, shook her head.
"He might at least have shown his grandfather the respect of following him to his grave!" she commented. "He owed that to him, at any rate. I thought Everard would have realized such an obvious duty. Whatever comes or does not come to us in the way of legacies cannot free us from our obligations to the dead. It seems to me hardly decent to be thinking about the disposal of the property while its late owner is still unburied."
Lilias crept away, crying. She knew there was justice in Cousin Clare's scathing judgment, but she was sure the latter did not, could not, understand the extent of Everard's bitter disappointment. She did not care to say any more, or ask questions, and could only wait until the whole sad, miserable affair was over. Some of the guests returned to the house after the funeral, and these, with the family, were present when Mr. Bowden read aloud the will of the late Squire of Cheverley Chase. Like most testamentary documents, it was couched in legal terms, but Lilias and Dulcie, sitting in their black dresses beside Cousin Clare, grasped the main features. There were certain legacies to servants and friends, a provision for each of the grandchildren and for Cousin Clare, then the entire residue of the estate was bequeathed to "Leslie, only child of my elder son, Tristram."
All, except the few who had known the secret beforehand, were filled with surprise that Everard, who had always been regarded in the neighborhood as "the young squire" should have been passed over in favor of another heir. The guests, however, after a word or two of sympathy, took their departure, and went away to spread the news, leaving the family alone to discuss matters among themselves.
"So I suppose the Chase isn't our home any longer?" asked Dulcie, as the young Ingletons clustered round their cousin for explanations. "Who is this Leslie? We've never heard anything of him before."
"I didn't know Uncle Tristram had a son!" said Roland.
"Will everything be his instead of Everard's?" asked Bevis pitifully.
"No, and yes," replied Cousin Clare. "The estate is certainly left to Leslie, but, as it happens, she is a daughter, and not a son."
Here was a surprise indeed!
"A daughter!" echoed Lilias. "The Chase left to a girl!"
"Remember, she is the daughter of the elder son, so that in your grandfather's opinion she was the lawful heiress."
"But where does she live?"
"How old is she?"
"Why have we never seen her?"
"It's a long story," said Cousin Clare. "But, without going into any details, I can tell you briefly that years ago your grandfather and your Uncle Tristram had a serious quarrel. It was about a lady whom your grandfather thought his elder son loved, and whom he very much wished him to marry. Well, we can't love to order, and, though Tristram liked and respected the prospective bride whom his father had chosen for him, he had given his heart to a beautiful Italian girl, and he insisted upon marrying her. The affair caused a complete breach between them, but shortly before Tristram's death he patched up a half reconciliation, and sent home a photograph of his wife and little daughter, whom he named 'Leslie' after her grandfather. I believe some years ago an effort was made to bring the child over to England to be educated, but her mother, who by that time was married again and living in Sicily, refused to give her up to her English relations. I have never seen her myself, but she must be quite fourteen years old by now. It will be a great surprise to her to learn that she succeeds to the property."
"And a great disappointment to us," said Lilias bitterly. "It seems most unfair, when we've lived at the Chase all these years, that this interloper should step in and turn us out of our home."
"I hate her!" declared Clifford, clenching his little fists.
"No, no, dears! Don't take it in that way!" begged Cousin Clare. "Remember that, after all, the Chase was Grandfather's property, and he had absolute right to leave it to whom he pleased. He stood in the place of parents to you all, but that did not mean that he must will the estate to Everard. Leslie is also his grandchild, and belongs to the elder branch of the family. He has left you each a most generous legacy, so that there is plenty for your education. I don't know what arrangements will be made for you, but Mr. Bowden is one of your guardians, and he is such a kind friend that I am sure he can be thoroughly trusted to take good care of your affairs. Try to look on the bright side of things. Matters might be so much worse."
In Lilias's opinion, at any rate, matters were quite bad enough. As Everard's particular chum, she took his disinheritance more hardly than Dulcie. She wondered what he was doing in London, and if he would send her his address. It angered her that Mr. Bowden took his departure quite calmly, and seemed to think he would turn up again in a few days, when he had spent the money he had taken with him. She knew her brother too well for that, and was sure that his pride would not allow him to return either to Cheverley or to Harrow in the character of a disappointed heir. In that respect she could entirely sympathize with him. She and Dulcie went back to Chilcombe Hall at the beginning of the next week, and, though all their companions were very kind and sympathetic, it was humiliating to be obliged to acknowledge that the Chase was no longer virtually their home. For the present, as the heiress was a minor, the estate was in the hands of the executors. Mr. Bowden decided to send Bevis and Clifford to the same preparatory school as Roland, and Cousin Clare, after various letters and telegrams, departed on a mission to Sicily, to interview Leslie's mother and stepfather. What the purport of her visit might be, the girls had as yet no hint.
The weeks dragged wearily on towards Easter. Though Dulcie might throw herself into hockey or basket ball, to Lilias school interests seemed to have lost their former zest. She wondered where they were to spend their holidays. Various friends had extended invitations, but Mr. Bowden, to whom everything must now be referred, had not yet written to consent. At last came his reply.
"I have arranged for you and your sister to spend your holidays as usual at the Chase. Miss Clare will be arriving back from Sicily, and will bring your cousin Leslie with her. They would like you to be at home to receive them."
Lilias, showing the letter to Dulcie in the privacy of the Blue bedroom, simply raged.
"It's too bad! When we were so keen to go to London, too! Why should we be there to receive Madame Leslie, I should like to know. I don't want to see her!"
"Neither do I, only I do wonder what she's like, all the same," ventured Dulcie. "Can she speak English? And will she take over the whole place, and make us feel it's hers?"
"No doubt she will. We shall have to take very back seats indeed! It's just too disgusting for words. I really think Mr. Bowden needn't have forced this upon us."
"The girls will be ever so sorry for us!"
"I know; and that's just what I hate. I can't bear to be pitied."
The Easter exodus seemed very different indeed from the happy breaking up of last Christmas. No "Rajah" and "Peri" with glossy coats and arching necks came to take Lilias and Dulcie from school, and give them the delight of a ride over the hills, though Milner arrived with the car, and told them that he was to fetch their three younger brothers on the following morning. The Chase seemed lonely and deserted with nobody to welcome them except the servants. It brought back vividly those few sad days of drawn blinds, and the memory of the long black line slowly disappearing down the drive. They had supper by themselves, and spent a very quiet evening reading in the drawing-room. The advent next day of Roland, Bevis, and Clifford certainly enlivened the atmosphere, and things would have felt like old times again had it not been for the shadow of the arrival of the heiress. A telegram had been received from Cousin Clare announcing the train, and the car was to meet them at the station on that same evening. Winder and the other servants were bustling about getting the house in order for its new mistress. A log fire was lighted in the hall, and plants in pots were carried in from the conservatory. The Union Jack fluttered from over the porch, and the gardener had put up some decorations with the word "Welcome."
Five very sober young people stood in the drawing-room and watched as the car came up the drive to the front door. Next minute they heard Cousin Clare's cheerful voice calling to them, and they came shyly forth into the hall.
Standing on the Persian rug in front of the log fire was a girl of about fourteen, an erect, slender, graceful little figure, with dark silky hair hanging in loose curls, and wonderful bright eyes that were dark and yet full of light and seemed to shine like stars. For an instant she included the Ingletons in one comprehensive glance, then her whole face broke into eager smiles.
"I know which of you is which! Lilias, Dulcie, Roland, Bevis, Clifford!" she declared, shaking hands with each. "I'm very rich to have five new cousins all at once! To-morrow you must show me everything, the rabbits and the dogs, and the tame jackdaw! Oh yes! I've been hearing about them and about you! Cousin Clare told me just what you would be like. I kept asking her questions the whole way!"
She spoke prettily, and without a trace of a foreign accent; her manner was warm and friendly. She looked, indeed, as if she would like to kiss her new relations. She was so entirely different from what the Ingletons had expected, that in their utter amazement they could think of nothing to say in reply, and stood gazing at her in embarrassed silence. Cousin Clare saved the situation.
"Carmel, child, you're tired out!" she decreed. "I'm going to take you straight upstairs and put you to bed. Thirty-six hours of traveling is too much for anybody, and you never slept in the train. Come along! You must make friends with your cousins to-morrow."
Long afterwards, when Dulcie tried to analyze her first impressions of the new-comer, she realized that what struck her most was the extreme charm of her personality. We have all possibly gone through a similar psychic experience of meeting somebody against whom we had conceived a bitter prejudice, and finding our intended hatred suddenly veer round into love. The effect is like stepping out into what you imagine will be a blizzard, and finding warm sunshine. The little mistress of the Chase was very weary with her long journey, but, when at last she was sufficiently rested to be shown round her demesne, she made her royal progress with an escort of half-fascinated cousins.
"You'll like to see your property," Lilias began shyly, leading the way into the garden.
"Please don't call it mine. I want you all to understand, at the very beginning, that it's still your home, and I don't wish to take it from you. I have my own dear home in Sicily, and I hope to go back there some day. While I'm in England, let me be your visitor. That's all I want. I can't bear to think that I'm taking anybody's place, or anything that ought to belong to some one else. If only Mother were here, she'd explain properly."
"But it is yours, Leslie!" objected Dulcie.
"In a way yes, but in another way, no! It can be mine and yours at the same time. And please will you call me Carmel? Leslie is a boy's name, not a girl's. I'm always Carmel at home. I didn't want to leave home at all, but Mother and Daddy said I must go with Cousin Clare when she had come all the way to Sicily to fetch me. They promised it should be only a visit."
Lilias and Dulcie could hardly believe the evidence of their ears. They had expected Carmel to be appraising her new property with keen satisfaction, instead of which she appeared to be suffering from a bad attack of homesickness. She looked at the gardens, the stables, and all the pets with interest, but without any apparent sense of proprietorship. Her behavior was exactly that of an ordinary visitor who admires a friend's possessions. In her talk she referred constantly to her home in Sicily, to her stepfather and her younger brothers and sisters. They and her mother were evidently the supreme center of her life.