THE REBELLION OF MARGARET
BY GERALDINE MOCKLER
AUTHOR OF "THE GIRLS OF ST. BEDE'S," ETC.
ILLUSTRATED BY ARTHUR TWIDLE
LONDON JARROLD & SONS, 10 & 11, Warwick Lane, E.C.
I. Margaret's Dream Friend
II. Margaret overhears a Conversation
III. Margaret starts on a Journey
IV. Margaret makes a Friend
V. Eleanor Carson
VI. Margaret and Eleanor change Names
VII. Mrs. Murray meets the Train
VIII. Maud Danvers
IX. The Danvers Family
X. Eleanor at Windy Gap
XI. A Practical Joke
XII. Eleanor meets Margaret's Aunt
XIII. Hilary turns Detective
XIV. The Hour of Reckoning
XV. An Unexpected Visitor
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Margaret!" said the Old Man, breaking into speech at last, and in a very harsh voice: "What Folly is this?"
"I am going for a Walk into the Town," she said, shyly
Maud swung round and saw Margaret standing with a Pile of Letters by her Mother's Chair
Eleanor turned to the Piano, and ran her Fingers Lightly over the Keys
"That Girl," pointing a lean, accusing Finger at Eleanor, "is not my Granddaughter Margaret"
MARGARET'S DREAM FRIEND
"Margaret Anstruther! Margaret Anstruther! Margaret Anstruther!"
It was a sultry afternoon in early July. The sun was shining out of a cloudless blue sky, the air was so still and so overpoweringly hot that it seemed to have sent every living creature, save the owner of the voice that was calling upon Margaret Anstruther, to sleep, for no answer was returned to the thrice repeated call, and the silence which the summons had broken settled once more over the garden. Not a leaf on even one of the topmost twigs of the huge old elms from underneath which that insistent voice had come was stirring, not an insect chirped, and the birds who held morning and evening concerts among the branches were silent now.
"Margaret Anstruther, will you come and play tennis? My brothers Reginald and Lionel want a game, and if you will play we shall be four, and because you have not had much practice lately you shall play with Reginald, for he plays better than Lionel."
Greystones was noted for its elm-trees. The grounds, indeed, contained little else in the shape of flowers or trees but elms. For a few brief weeks in spring when they were dressed in the tenderest of greens they were lovely, and in the autumn, if the leaves were not stripped off by gales before they had a chance to turn golden, their hues could vie with those flaunted by any other trees, but in the summer their dull, uniform green was apt to become monotonous, and Margaret Anstruther was then wont to declare that she could cheerfully have rooted up every one of them.
But as the remark never reached any one else's ears but her own, no one's feelings were hurt. A chance visitor to Greystones, regular visitors were not encouraged, had once observed that the entire grounds, some thirty or forty acres in extent, which comprised the domain must have been an elm wood originally, and that a space just sufficient on which to erect a house of moderate dimensions had been cleared in the heart of it, Greystones had been built, a way cut through the trees to form a drive to the road a quarter of a mile distant from the house, and the rest of the wood left undisturbed to be called a garden or not as the owner pleased.
Certainly the present owner had made no attempt to form a garden, but had allowed the elms to grow right up to the walls of the house and to darken the windows of the gloomily situated dwelling as much as they pleased.
"Margaret Anstruther, if you will not come and play tennis, will you come for a ride upon your bicycle—that nice new one that you received as a present from—from your grandfather." Here the speaker paused and laughed as if the idea of Margaret Anstruther getting a bicycle from her grandfather was a distinctly amusing idea. "We will go far, far along to the blue distance—much farther than you ever went with Miss Bidwell—and we will have tea at the inn down by the river and come home by moonlight. We shall be quite safe, for Reginald and Lionel will be with us, and they will take care of us."
The part of the grounds in which this so far one-sided conversation was taking place was at some considerable distance from the house, in fact it was right on the confines of the wood and as far from the house as possible. Beyond the wood flat, green fields stretched on all sides undiversified by as much as a copse or a hill. Even a bare, ploughed field would have been a welcome relief to the landscape, while a yellow cornfield would have imparted a positively gay appearance to it; but year in year out those green fields wore always the same aspect.
But dull though the view might be, it was at least a wide one, and there were the sheep and the cows that grazed in them to look at. Occasionally, too, a stray passer-by, under the erroneous impression that in crossing them he was taking a short cut, would venture into them, only to turn back discomfited when confronted with padlocked gates and hedges threaded with barbed wire, to say nothing of notice boards warning trespassers to beware.
For the man who owned Greystones and those densely wooded grounds also owned the fields that surrounded them, and his hatred of intruders was well known in the immediate neighbourhood. It was a brave child who crept through his hedges or climbed over his gates to pick primroses or blackberries, and the urchin that was unlucky enough to encounter old Mr. Anstruther while so engaged never ventured to trespass on his property again.
"Margaret Anstruther! Margaret Anstruther! are you going to sit under that tree all the afternoon? If you are too lazy to play tennis or to come for a ride, will you come with me to Lady Barchester's garden party? She has invited two hundred guests, and you must wear that lovely white muslin dress with the little frills all up the skirt, and the big white hat with the pink roses, and do not forget to take the pink chiffon parasol that was sent you from Paris last week. We have been asked to remain to dinner there, you may remember, for there will be a dance afterwards. And the moon will be shining, and will it not be very pleasant to sit out in the garden between the dances! Will you come, Margaret Anstruther?"
That proposal was surely one that ought to have been tempting enough to have called forth an answer of some sort from the girl to whom it was addressed, but it was met by the same dead silence that had followed the other suggestions.
Then somewhere near at hand a gate creaked loudly, there was the sound of a key being turned in a padlock, and with his back towards the sunlit fields from which he had come some ten minutes previously, the tall, thin figure of an old man with a flowing white beard and with an Inverness cloak hanging from his spare shoulders strode over the grass in the direction of the thick clump of trees from which the unseen voice had proceeded.
Though he took no pains to render them inaudible, his footsteps made no sound on the grass, and as he approached the same voice spoke again, unconscious of his near presence.
"Margaret Anstruther," it went on, "do you not then wish to do any of the nice things I have told you about? Do you like sitting here by yourself, when outside in the world real things are happening, and there are real people to whom you might be talking, and whom you might know? Are you happy? Tell me that."
The old man came to a pause, as abrupt as it was involuntary. Had any one been there to see his face at that moment they would have perceived that he was finding it difficult to believe the evidence of his ears. Almost against his will it seemed he waited to hear the answer to that question, for his obvious impulse had been to stride on and confront the speaker, on whom his cold blue eyes, lightened now with a gleam of anger, rested. She was sitting at the foot of a big elm-tree, with her back resting against its trunk and her hands loosely clasped round her knees. She was very young, and the forlorn droop of her figure and the pathetic expression that was at that moment depicted upon her face made her look even younger than her years, which numbered barely eighteen.
"Oh, Eleanor Humphreys!" she said, and her clear hazel eyes brimmed over with tears as she spoke. "I am very, very miserable. Nobody loves me, and I have nobody to love except you, of course, Eleanor Humphreys, and sometimes I cannot make believe that you are real at all."
"Margaret!" said the old man, breaking into speech at last, and in a very harsh voice. "What folly is this? To whom are you talking? Who is this Eleanor Humphreys? Where is she?"
And with both hands resting on his stick, which was planted firmly on the ground in front of him, he darted suspicious searching glances among the surrounding trees.
At the sound of her name uttered in those hard tones Margaret had sprung to her feet; her face, pale before, had turned yet paler, and her big hazel eyes fastened themselves with a terror-stricken expression on her grandfather's face.
"How dare you encourage people to come into my grounds and talk to you without my permission? Have I not expressly forbidden you to make acquaintances without my knowledge. Who is this Eleanor Humphreys? Where is she hiding? What does she mean by coming here and asking you to accompany her to tennis parties and dances? Answer me. Tell me who she is, and how she comes to be here without my knowledge."
"She is nobody; she—she is nowhere," stammered Margaret, whose trembling lips could scarcely frame the words.
"Nobody, nowhere," thundered the old man. "Don't dare to trifle with me, Margaret. Show her to me immediately, and I will tell her, whoever she may be, what I think of her for presuming to come here without my leave."
Margaret's lips gave a sudden little twitch, which showed that, badly frightened as she was, a hint of the humour of the situation had dawned upon her mind.
"You—you can't scold her, grandfather. She—she isn't real. She is my dream friend."
There was a momentary silence, during which Margaret, glancing timidly at her grandfather's stern and angry face and reading there the contemptuous scorn which he felt for her unworthy self, wished that the earth might open and swallow her up. But as it remained unyieldingly firm she had perforce to remain above ground and endure to the full his prolonged scrutiny.
"So," he said at length, and if anything had been wanting to complete her discomfiture and to drive away any lingering feeling of mirth, his tone would have been more than sufficient for that purpose, "so this is the manner in which you pass your time. In dreaming about imaginary people, and in holding conversations remarkable for their utter inanity with them, about tennis parties and dances and pink chiffon parasols."
Failing a yawning chasm at her feet, Margaret would have been thankful if that same pink parasol had been a reality at that moment, and in her hand, so that she could have held it as a screen between her crimsoning face and his pitiless old eyes. She writhed inwardly to think that all the idle fancies in which she had been indulging during the afternoon had been poured into her grandfather's angry ears. And it was positive agony to her shy nature to know that her shadowy friend was no longer her own secret.
"Kindly have the goodness to answer my question. Seeing that but a few minutes have elapsed since you were proving yourself capable of sustaining both sides of a conversation, I think that it cannot be too great a strain upon you to reply to my question now. Do you hear me?"
All trace of anger had vanished now both from Mr. Anstruther's face and from his manner, and he spoke in the cold, precise tones, and framed his sentences in the rather stilted manner habitual to him.
"Yes, grandfather," Margaret gasped in a very small voice. She was rarely at ease with her grandfather—he had never taken any pains to render her so—and when he addressed her in tones of semi-sarcasm she grew so disconcerted that she could not answer him coherently. And, as the more confused she became the more caustic his tongue waxed; their interviews, brief though they were, often concluded with anger on his part and with tears on hers.
"Then I should be obliged if you would have the kindness to answer me."
"I—I forget what it was that you asked me," stammered Margaret.
"Oh, I do not flatter myself that my questions can vie in interest with those addressed to you by your imaginary friend. Nevertheless, I should be glad if you will kindly pay attention to them. I asked you if it was in this profitable manner that you usually passed your afternoons now."
"Then I will find you something else to do. What is it that you ought to be doing at this hour?"
"Three to four. Take exercise," said Margaret in the tone of a child repeating a lesson.
"And this is the way in which you take it? By sitting and dreaming away your time in nonsense and folly and in making up silly, idle conversations with idiotic creatures of your own imagination. I gave even you, Margaret, credit for more sense. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
Now, if Margaret had murmured the meek affirmative reply that was obviously expected of her, the whole course of her life might have been different. Her grandfather would probably have delivered himself of a few more harsh strictures, and then Margaret would have been dismissed to the house, with orders to double her morrow's lessons.
But though she winced at the scorn with which he spoke to her, it did not cut so deep as the ridicule he poured on what he contemptuously termed the idiotic creatures of her own imagination, and oddly enough, though she would never have summoned up enough courage to justify her own actions to him, she could not remain silent when the intelligence of her shadowy friend was derided.
"No;" she said slowly, thoughtfully, and quite as much amazed at her own temerity as Mr. Anstruther was; "I don't think I am ashamed, grandfather. You see, I am very fond of Eleanor Humphreys. She has been a very great comfort to me."
Sheer amazement held Mr. Anstruther silent. He would probably have been less surprised if the kitchen cat had entered into conversation with him.
"When I am lonely she comes and talks to me. She is not always alone, like me, but is one of a large family of brothers and sisters. They have such good times together. They play tennis, and go to parties and dances, and sometimes I go with them; but when I cannot go Eleanor comes here afterwards and tells me all she has been doing, and then it is just as though I had been to the parties also."
But at that point Margaret pulled herself up in a sudden breathless manner. It was always like that she thought confusedly. Either she had not courage to open her lips to her grandfather, or else she was led into saying all manner of things which a moment's calm reflection would have told her must on no account pass her lips.
But at any rate, as she realised with a queer little thrill of excitement, she had not been disloyal enough to say that she was ashamed of her affection for Eleanor. And she had had to derive as much comfort from that thought as possible, for it required no great discernment to see that her grandfather was terribly angry with her. Yet, when he spoke, his voice was as cold and as even, his diction as precise, as usual.
"I wonder, Margaret," he said, "if you are mad, or merely pretending to be mad. In either case, I have listened to you long enough. Kindly go into the house, seat yourself at the piano, and practise scales for two hours. The sound at this hour of the day will not be a pleasing one; but hearing it I shall trust that the manual exercise is keeping your mind from dwelling further on this folly."
Margaret required no second bidding to leave him, but retreated from the spot at the fastest walk she could manage. To have run from his presence would have been considered both disrespectful and unlady-like, and would not have been permitted for a moment.
When the trees had swallowed her up from his sight, Mr. Anstruther turned and walked in the other direction. And there was a perturbed look on his face.
MARGARET OVERHEARS A CONVERSATION
Margaret's parents had died when she was in her infancy, and she had been brought up entirely by her grandfather. As far as she knew, she had no other relatives. Certainly he had never spoken to her of any. When she grew old enough to begin lessons, Mr. Anstruther had engaged an excellent governess to reside at Greystones, and at her hands Margaret had received a careful, sound education. No nun in a convent ever led a more regular existence than Margaret had led from the time she was five years old until a few weeks before this story opens. Certainly no girl was ever expected to lead so quiet and monotonous an existence.
Every morning, winter and summer alike, she entered the schoolroom punctually at seven and practised on the piano for an hour and a half. At half-past eight she and Miss Bidwell breakfasted together. Nine to eleven were lesson hours. Eleven to one were exercise hours. At 1.30 they dined. The afternoon programme varied according to the seasons and the weather. In summer they worked from three to five and went out afterwards, while in winter the order of things was reversed and they went out first and worked afterwards. After tea Margaret practised again, prepared her lessons for the next day, and went to bed at nine.
And that had been her daily life year in year out until a few months before the day on which this story opens. And then, greatly to Mr. Anstruther's annoyance, an event had occurred which upset all his carefully laid plans. Miss Bidwell, whose sight had never been very strong, was threatened with cataract in both eyes, and acting on the advice of a clever little doctor who had lately come to the neighbourhood, she had decided to go to her mother's relatives in France and to take a complete rest until her eyes should be ready for operation. The news that Miss Bidwell's sight had been failing for some time came as no surprise to her pupil, who had perceived for some time past that her governess could scarcely see to read even with the aid of her strongest glasses, and Margaret, without allowing her to know that she knew—for she divined that Miss Bidwell had striven desperately to conceal the truth not only from those around her, but from herself too—had done the little that lay in her power to save her governess's eyes as much as possible.
But to Mr. Anstruther the news came as a very disagreeable shock. He had not intended to part with Miss Bidwell for at least three or four years to come. Other people might perhaps have considered that Margaret was already growing too old to be subject to the control of a governess, and that if her character were to be properly developed she must now be allowed to think and act independently. But if any one had ventured to express these sentiments to Mr. Anstruther, they would have been requested, not over politely, to mind their own business. He had grown used to Miss Bidwell, and he disliked the idea either of replacing her by a stranger, or of letting Margaret do without another governess.
Margaret parted with her governess with very real regret. Although through all the years they had been together their relations had always been those of mistress and pupil only, never that of friends and companions, still in losing her Margaret at least lost the company of another fellow-being. For Mr. Anstruther had decided not to engage another governess, at any rate not until he saw if he could possibly do without one. His dislike for his fellow creatures became intensified every year, and had it not been that his occupation of farming took him out of doors all day long and brought him into contact with all sorts and conditions of people, he would long ago have turned into the recluse that he wished his granddaughter to be.
For the existence that he planned for her now was one of the most extraordinary that a girl of her age was ever called upon to live. She was, he decreed, to go on exactly as if her governess was still with her, to read for so many hours a day, to practise for so many more, and to take regular exercise in the garden. For out of the confines of the grounds she was now strictly forbidden to go. But as Margaret listened to the rules that were being laid down for her she never dreamed of questioning them, but in the shy voice that was habitual to her in her grandfather's presence promised obedience to them. And as she left the room her grandfather looked after her with an expression of great satisfaction on his face. But the satisfaction was for himself, and not for her. How well he had brought her up! How wise his treatment of her had been! What a commendable difference between her manner to him, and her mother's! He had vowed that he would bring up Margaret's daughter to respect and obey him in the smallest particular, and he had accomplished the task he had set himself.
It had, after all, been quite an easy one. The great secret was, he reflected to maintain an attitude of judicious firmness, and never to relax it. Not once had Margaret ever ventured to argue with him or to question his right to order her every action. And so very well pleased with himself Mr. Anstruther dismissed her from his mind and went about his own affairs. It had been a matter of some surprise to Margaret to find how soon she not only got accustomed to Miss Bidwell's absence, but ceased to miss her. Naturally she felt a little lonely at first, and it was rather strange to look up from her work and not see the thin, angular form of her governess seated at the head of the table with a book, at the pages of which she had latterly, at least, not looked much, open before her, nor to hear the ceaseless click click of her steel knitting needles. But as soon as the feeling of loneliness and the sense of almost oppressive silence that now surrounded her wore off Margaret grew to like her hours of solitary study. The hours that she found most irksome were those that she was compelled to spend taking exercise in the grounds. For though she liked being out in the open air, she soon grew heartily tired of walking about under the shade of the densely growing elms, and she missed the long country walks with Miss Bidwell to which she had been accustomed.
Gradually the monotony and exceeding loneliness of her life began to tell upon her spirits, her appetite failed, she grew paler and thinner, and her step as she roamed aimlessly about the grounds grew daily more languid.
But still no thought of rebelling against the queer existence she was leading entered her mind, for as yet she had scarcely realised how unhappy she was. It was an intensely hot summer, and she thought that the unusual heat was responsible for the lack of interest she felt in all her usual occupations, and for the tired feeling which made her now, instead of obeying her grandfather's orders to take exercise, deliberately seek out the shadiest spot among the trees and sit quietly there the whole afternoon. It was probably the very first deliberate act of disobedience of which she had ever of set purpose been guilty in her life, and it was to have consequences of which she little dreamed.
One afternoon, some two or three weeks before the day on which her grandfather was to come so unexpectedly upon her, she was sitting there half asleep when the unusual sound of footsteps and voices in the field below her startled her into complete wakefulness.
Though she was close to the hedge that divided the fields from the woods, she was so well screened from observation, not only by the hedge but by a clump of intervening young trees, that she was able to rise to her feet and look at the speakers as they passed without fear of detection.
For strangers to be trespassing in her grandfather's fields was an event rare enough to excite her curiosity, and she was eager to know who the intrepid people might be.
Somewhat to her surprise, she recognised in one of them the clergyman of the church five miles distant, to which they always drove every Sunday morning. It was not their own parish church, for with the rector of that Mr. Anstruther had quarrelled many years ago, not for any particular reason except that he was the clergyman of the parish and therefore to be kept at a distance.
He was walking with a middle-aged little man of kindly aspect in whom Margaret recognised Dr. Knowles, the doctor who had lately bought old Dr. Carter's practice, and who had advised Miss Bidwell to go abroad for her eyesight.
Though nothing was further from Margaret's mind than any intention of eaves-dropping, she could not help overhearing every word that was spoken as they passed the spot where she was standing. Mr. Summers, the clergyman, was speaking.
"Yes, poor girl. It is a great shame. Her grandfather keeps her cooped up in that gloomy old place and never lets her see a soul. She has passed a lonely, unloved youth, for I am sure her grandfather has never shown her any affection, and I am equally sure that her dry stick of a governess did not, and, poor child, she has never been allowed to associate with any one else. She has never been allowed to have a friend or to go to a party or a dance in her life. And she must be nearly eighteen now. It really is a shame, for youth only comes once."
"What a queer life! What a queer life for a girl to lead!" said the little doctor in jerky tones. "And is she contented with it?"
"Yes, I think so; but, then, she has no idea what she is missing."
With that reply the two voices passed out of hearing, leaving Margaret standing motionless under the tree. Of course it was she of whom they were talking. Was she, then, so greatly to be pitied? The idea was such a novel one that she could not take it in all at once, but gradually the truth of what they had said dawned with overwhelming force upon her mind.
"A lonely, unloved youth." Yes, such a youth had certainly been hers. Of course her grandfather had never loved her. In the bewildered state of her mind she hardly knew whether she had always realised that fact, or whether she had taken his affection for her for granted. And he had allowed her no friends, no parties, no dances. Why had she thus been brought up aloof from every one? Certainly, as Mr. Summers had said in reply to Dr. Knowles' question as to whether she was content with her existence, she was content simply because she knew no better one. She had not realised before in what a very different fashion other girls were brought up. But now her eyes were open. That simple phrase, "She does not know, poor child, what she is missing," had told her more than many lengthy explanations could have done.
Looking back afterwards on those moments during which she had stood gazing with unseeing eyes after the departing figures of the two men, they seemed to her to make a dividing line between all her previous and her after life. She had thought that the departure of Miss Bidwell had been an epoch in it; now that sank into comparative insignificance, for after all her departure had left her, Margaret, unchanged.
But the same could not be said of this event. Hitherto she had blindly, unquestioningly accepted her grandfather's right to order every detail of her life, and if she had thought about the matter at all she had doubtless supposed that his authority over her would always be as absolute as it was now.
However, it was one thing to discover that her childhood had missed, and her girlhood was losing, many of the pleasures that should rightly belong to them, but to remedy this state of affairs was quite another. Although the idea that her grandfather had been unduly strict with her had been thus suddenly brought home to her, it did not in the least lesson the habitual awe in which she stood of him, and as she was obliged to continue to adhere to the rules he had laid down for her, she began to wonder whether she had not been happier when she had not dreamed of questioning his right to exact such unquestioning obedience from her.
"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," she quoted to herself, and what was the good of knowing that her life was so dull if she dared not do anything to make it less so. Since Miss Bidwell's departure she had fallen into the habit of talking aloud to herself, for she found that during her many long, lonely hours the sound even of her own voice made some companionship for her, and her conversations with Eleanor Humphreys were now no longer carried on in the recesses of her mind but out loud.
It was a dangerous habit, as she was to discover ere long, especially as Eleanor had of late, since in fact the seeds of discontent had been sown in Margaret's mind, not stopped at describing her gaieties to her friend, but tried to persuade her to break bounds and to come and join in the revels.
And that was what had brought Margaret into such serious trouble with her grandfather.
MARGARET STARTS ON A JOURNEY
The immediate result of the conversation that Mr. Anstruther had overheard between his granddaughter and her imaginary friend was a visit from the doctor to Margaret. Mr. Anstruther was sure that Margaret would never have dreamed of rebelling against him even in her thoughts had she not been ill, and within an hour from the time he had dispatched his granddaughter in disgrace to the house, Mr. Anstruther followed her there accompanied by Dr. Knowles. Dr. Knowles it was whose conversation with the clergyman Margaret had in her turn overheard from behind the hedge, and if he had pitied Margaret before, his pity increased tenfold, when by a series of skilfully put questions he had drawn from her a description of her daily life. But he smiled reassuringly at her as he bade her good-bye, and promised to send her a prescription that he knew she would like.
But though, when she came to hear of it, Margaret approved this prescription, her grandfather strongly objected to it when it was first mooted to him. For it was change of air that the doctor prescribed—change of air immediate and complete.
"If you could fill this house with young people, and let her lead a gay, lively life here, I don't say that it might not do her as much good as a change of climate, but," perceiving that Mr. Anstruther's face was set like a flint at a mere suggestion of such a thing, "a change would be better still. She has been too long in this flat, low-lying district; Brighton or Eastbourne, or any part of the Sussex Downs, would be of immense benefit to her."
"And if I follow neither of these alternatives," said Mr. Anstruther harshly, "if I let her go on as she is doing now, what then?"
"Then I think you will run a great risk of having a morbid, melancholy young lady on your hands—a delicate one too—for she is in danger of becoming anemic, unless her health improves."
Dr. Knowles spoke so emphatically that, averse though he was to the idea of letting his granddaughter go away, Mr. Anstruther dared not disregard his warning. Nothing, he told himself obstinately, would have induced him to accept the alternative proposal and fill his house with young people for her sake. That would have been denying the very principles on which she had been brought up. But the change was another matter altogether. The next point to be considered was where he should send her; the doctor had specified the Sussex downs, and that brought to Mr. Anstruther's mind the fact that he had a friend who lived in a village high up on those same downs. Many years ago he had visited her in the breezy place in which she had chosen to make her home, and if his memory served him rightly, and he had no doubt on that point, Windy Gap, as the village was called, would be bracing enough to please the doctor, and quiet enough to satisfy him. To the best of his belief there was scarcely another house within three or four miles, and even if she had possessed near neighbours Mrs. Murray would not have been likely to hold much intercourse with them, for she was very deaf, and, as when he had known her, at least, she had objected strongly to using an ear-trumpet, and few people had sufficient lung power to make her hear without it, she had been quite content not to hear them at all. Mr. Anstruther smiled rather grimly as he reflected that Margaret's stay at Windy Gap was not likely to make her own home seem dull by contrast when she returned to it.
Although he had held no correspondence with Mrs. Murray for many years, they had in the days of their youth been such very good friends that Mr. Anstruther had no scruples at all in writing to ask her if she would be willing to consent to receive his granddaughter on a long visit. An answer came by return of post to say that Mrs. Murray would be delighted to have her, but that as she was totally unused to young people and would be at a loss to know how to entertain a young girl, George must give her some idea of what amusements she would need.
"My dear Julia," wrote Mr. Anstruther by the very next post, "Margaret requires no amusement of any sort whatever. I particularly wish her to make no friends and to pay no visits. You will find her obedient and quiet, respectful towards her elders, to whose opinion she has been taught to defer implicitly on every point. You, I think, were among those who remonstrated with me when fourteen years ago I sketched to you the lines on which I intended to bring up my granddaughter. When you see the result of my training, however, you will admit that your remonstrances were misplaced. I will not, however, disguise from you that during the last few days her conduct has not been altogether satisfactory, but suspecting that a grave act of disobedience of which she had been guilty arose from the fact that she was not quite in her usual health, I called in a doctor, and he confirmed me in this opinion and recommended change of air. Of course, you are aware that when Margaret comes of age or when she marries, if she marries before she is twenty-one, she inherits a fortune of about L2,000 a year. Her mother inherited nearly double this sum, but she and her husband—she married her second cousin and did not change her name—between them reduced the capital by considerably more than half. But I have brought Margaret up in utter ignorance of the fact that she is an heiress, and have always taken pains to prevent her from coming into contact with any one who might inform her of it. And this I have done to guard her from being married merely for the sake of her money. Let her lead while with you the same simple life that she has led hitherto. Make her study for five or six hours daily and spend the rest of the time in your lovely garden. If she goes out for walks, which seems to me unnecessary, for she can surely take all the exercise needful to her health in your garden, pray see that she is attended by a maid whom you can trust. I also particularly wish her to take up the study of a new language. It will give her something definite to work at, and will drive from her thoughts sundry silly fancies and whims to which of late she has given way. She already talks French and German very well indeed, thanks to a most painstaking governess who has helped me to bring her up, and now she might with advantage take up Italian. You are so close to Seabourne, which place is, I know, a great educational centre, that you will have no difficulty in getting teachers. Pray spare no expense and get the very best. Perhaps you might also arrange for a competent singing mistress to come out to Windy Gap two or three times during the week, for Margaret has a nice little voice—not strong, but sweet and true—and singing, when not displayed in public, is a becoming accomplishment for a woman to have."
Could Mr. Anstruther have heard the running fire of exclamations expressive of amazement, amusement, and pity with which Mrs. Murray punctuated the reading of this letter, Margaret would never have been permitted to go to Windy Gap.
But Mrs. Murray's reply gave no hint of the feelings with which she had read his long letter of instructions; she merely promised to take every care of his granddaughter and to keep her well occupied.
"I am delighted to hear," she wrote, "that you particularly wish her to take Italian and singing lessons, for as it happens she will enjoy an unique opportunity of studying both those things. For living in this village is an Italian lady, a certain Madame Margherita Martelli, who was once a famous operatic singer, but who lost her voice after a very short career. She lives here so as to be near her only daughter, who married a clergyman in Chailfield. She is by no means well off, and will be very glad to make a little money by teaching Margaret singing and Italian. I have heard she is a splendid teacher. As for Margaret forming any intimate friendships while with me, you can set your mind at rest on that point, for my deafness has increased so much since I last saw you that I do no visiting in the ordinary sense of the word, but am quite happy with my books and my garden. Then, too, I have a large acquaintance with my poorer neighbours in the surrounding villages, and though my lameness prevents me from walking to see them, I have a sturdy little pair of ponies who take me everywhere, and I am looking forward to having Margaret as a companion on my daily drives."
When Margaret heard, as she did four or five days after the doctor's visit, that she was to go away from Greystones for a prolonged period, her amazement was only equalled by her delight. She had known that some change was impending for her, for the day after his visit she had been ordered to spend all her time out of doors, and, as long, of course, as she did not go out of the wood, to do exactly as she pleased. So she had taken out the lightest books the schoolroom shelves contained and had spent the long, hot days lying under the shade of the trees. The state of suspense in which she had lived during those days gave ample support to the doctor's verdict that a change of some sort had become necessary to her. She grew even paler than was her wont, and a succession of two or three wakeful nights brought dark circles under her eyes, making them look almost unnaturally large and bright.
"So," said her grandfather, who had called her into his study to acquaint her with the plans he had made for her, and who had had no difficulty in reading on her tell-tale face the delight the news had given her, "you are pleased to be going away even before I have informed you what your destination is?"
"And you feel no regret in leaving Greystones?"
Mr. Anstruther suppressed with some difficulty the strong feeling of irritation that seized him at these monosyllabic answers. He knew that it would have been highly unreasonable on his part to have displayed annoyance, for had he not himself taught her to give a simple "Yes" and "No" when possible to his questions?
"Or in leaving me?"
For a brief instant Margaret hesitated the while her clear, candid eyes were fixed thoughtfully on his face. Her natural politeness forbade her to give the negative reply which her innate truthfulness also demanded. He saved her from the necessity of making a reply at all.
"I am answered," he said in the sarcastic tones which never failed to bring the colour to her face. "Pray did you think my feelings would be wounded if you had told me that you felt no regret at leaving me?"
"I—I do not know," stammered Margaret uneasily.
"Well, as it is my desire that you go it would not be of much use discussing your feelings or wishes on the matter. This is Thursday; you will go next Tuesday."
This time Mr. Anstruther could not restrain the impatient glance he threw at her pale face and downcast eyes.
"Yes, grandfather! no, grandfather! I do not know, grandfather!" Was that really all she felt capable of saying in his presence? A few days ago he could have believed that to be the case, but now he was conscious for the first time of a baffled sense that he really knew nothing whatever of the real character of this granddaughter of his. She was obedient, yes, but that was after all a matter of conduct rather than of character, and he found himself wondering what traits might be hidden away under the quiet reserve of her manner. But again with an effort he suppressed his irritation and proceeded to describe to her the place to which she was going and the life she would lead there. "For if you imagine that the senseless delights I overheard you picturing to yourself the other day are to be yours you may as well disabuse yourself of the notion at once. Nor will you have the opportunity of making the acquaintance of a number of giddy young people. You will lead a life of as strict retirement there as here. My friend, Mrs. Murray, who has so kindly consented to take you for a time, is about my age; she will have the additional drawback in your eyes of being very deaf. She lives quite alone in a little village on the Sussex Downs and sees no one. But you will have plenty to do. I have made arrangements for you to begin the study of Italian. It is time you learned another language, and fortunately there is an Italian lady, a Madame Margherita Martelli, once a famous singer, resident in the village, who will instruct you in her language and also give you singing lessons. She will also, perhaps, accompany you on your daily walk."
A curious light flashed suddenly into Margaret's down-drooped hazel eyes. Her daily lessons! Her daily walk! And one deaf old lady for company! For one wild minute she felt inclined to rebel, to tell her grandfather that she was tired of being treated as a child, and that she had a right, at eighteen, to have some voice in the disposition of her own time.
If she had raised her eyes then, he must have seen the mutinous look in them, and then, whatever else had happened, or whatever the doctor had said at his advice being set at nought, it would have been quite certain that Margaret would not have been permitted to leave Greystones that summer.
But that desire to rebel vanished as suddenly as it had come, leaving Mr. Anstruther as unaware as he had been before of all that his granddaughter's quiet, almost indifferent manner concealed.
"After all," she told herself afterwards, "there will be the downs and the sea to look at. And it will be a change from this."
So she held fast to those two thoughts, and did not permit herself to be dismayed by the picture her grandfather had drawn of the life that awaited her at Windy Gap.
Of course, it was out of the question that Margaret should travel alone, and Mr. Anstruther made arrangements for his housekeeper and cook to escort her to her journey's end. The almost childish delight that Margaret felt at the thought of the actual journey itself was somewhat damped by the news that Mrs. Parkes was to accompany her. For her grandfather's estimable cook and housekeeper was a grim old woman who ruled the maids with a rod of iron, and who, even in the days of her childhood, had never had a kind look or a smile for Margaret. That, however, in Mr. Anstruther's opinion, had added to her recommendations, for it had been one of his rules that his granddaughter should have nothing whatever to say to any of his servants. But though the news that Mrs. Parkes was to be her escort lessened the pleasure that she was feeling at the thought of the long railway journey that lay before her, it could not by any means wholly destroy it. After all, they could sit at opposite ends of the carriage, and Margaret knew that, except when they changed trains, which they had to do once, she would be tolerably certain to forget Mrs. Parkes' presence altogether.
As soon as she had heard where she was to go, Margaret looked her destination up on the map. But Windy Gap was too small a place to be marked. Chailfield, however, was the nearest station, and that was on the map, as was also Seabourne. The latter place was a large and fashionable watering town renowned for its schools, in one of which Miss Bidwell had been a governess for some years. Many were the dictations in English, French, and German, descriptive of the town and the surrounding downs which Margaret had written, and it was strange to think that she was now about to see these places for herself.
The few days that intervened between the Thursday on which she had heard that she was to go away and the following Tuesday could not pass too quickly for Margaret, and when Monday dawned and the actual packing of her trunk could begin, she was in a high, though carefully repressed state of excitement. Lizzie, the housemaid, who had been getting her clothes ready during the last few days, fully sympathised with the eager impatience which Margaret showed that everything should be ready in time.
"For if I had had the dull time that Miss Margaret has had ever since Miss Bidwell went away, not that she was very gay company, I should be off my head with joy too."
"Is Miss Margaret off her head with joy, then?" said the kitchen-maid, to whom the remark had been addressed.
"Well, in a quiet way of her own she is," said Lizzie. "She don't sing nor dance like other young ladies would, but her eyes shine like stars, and now and again she smiles quiet to herself."
But, after all, Margaret did not have Mrs. Parkes as a travelling companion. The day before they were to start for Chailfield two things happened. Scarlet fever broke out in Clayton, and Mrs. Parkes fell down the cellar stairs and broke her leg.
"The departure of my granddaughter, who was to have left to-morrow morning by the nine-thirty train, must therefore be delayed," said Mr. Anstruther, "until I can procure for her a suitable escort."
This was said to Dr. Knowles, who had been summoned to set the broken leg.
"Departure delayed! Escort! Fiddlesticks!" said Dr. Knowles in his most staccato manner. "Don't keep her an hour longer here than necessary. In her run-down state she would be just the sort of person to go down with fever. The sooner she is away from here the better."
"But I hardly like the idea of her travelling alone," said Mr. Anstruther, who saw the reason of what the doctor said far too clearly to resent his manner. "I would have taken her myself, but it is quite impossible for me to leave home for several days——"
"Then send her alone. What on earth can happen to her? Put her in charge of the guard, engine-driver, inspector, every official on the line, but don't keep her here another day. It would be wicked to let her run unnecessary risks."
As it was then ten o'clock at night, and Margaret was to start so early the next morning, it was impossible to find any one to go with her, especially as Dr. Knowles had warned her grandfather against bringing her in contact with any one in the infected village. After all, he thought, Dr. Knowles was right, and no harm could come to her through travelling alone. It was not even as though she were going through London. The journey was a perfectly simple one, and involved only one change at a place called Carden Junction. If he spoke to the guard at Clayton, and told him to put the young lady into the Southern Express at the junction, she would be well looked after the whole way.
MARGARET MAKES A FRIEND
But in making this arrangement the next morning, Mr. Anstruther, as did the guard also, reckoned without the train being delayed for over an hour when some fifteen miles from Carden Junction, and consequently missing the connection with the Southern Express at the latter station.
"I am sorry to say, Miss, you will have to wait here for two hours and a half," said the guard, as he helped the young lady who had been given into his charge to alight. "I will carry your bag for you to the waiting-room. It's a slow one, too, the next train, and don't get into Seabourne until 7.10, whereas the express you have just missed would have got you there at 3.45."
"I do not mind at all, thank you," said Margaret blithely, as she walked down the platform beside him with light steps. "I really think it's great fun missing a train, and having to wait for the next."
"Then, Miss, you're the first passenger I ever met who looked at it in that way," said the guard in some astonishment. "Well, I must be going on, for, as we're late already, we don't stop any time here. Good morning, Miss, sorry I couldn't have done more for you, and put you in charge of the next guard, as the gentleman asked. But you will be all right in the waiting-room. Your train leaves at 2.17."
"Thank you," said Margaret. "I will not forget. Good morning."
She was delighted to see him go, and when the train steamed out of the station, which it did a few minutes later, a sense of freedom, as novel as it was delightful, took possession of her. For a few hours, at least, she was absolutely her own mistress. There was no one to tell her to do this, when she would rather have done the other, no one even to tell her to remain where she was if she wished to go for a walk. And to go for a walk was just what she intended to do. She certainly did not intend to spend the next two hours in this stuffy little waiting-room, whose one window commanded a view of nothing more exciting than the station yard. She would go into the town and look at the shops.
It was true that the sky seemed rather overcast, but the clouds were probably only passing ones, and the sun would shine out again in a few minutes. Turning abruptly from the window she was hurrying towards the door, when a voice close beside her remarked that she was leaving her bag behind. Swinging round in amazement, for she had thought that she was alone, she perceived that the room now contained another occupant who must have entered it while she was staring out of the window. A girl of about her own age was seated at the table with a couple of books and an exercise book spread out before her, and as Margaret looked at her she just pointed with her pencil at the dressing bag which the guard had placed on a chair, and went on writing again immediately.
Margaret thought her one of the prettiest girls she ever seen, and though that would have been saying a great deal less for her than Margaret realised, for after all she had not seen many girls pretty or otherwise, this girl was undoubtedly exceedingly good-looking. She had masses of wavy chestnut hair, red-brown eyes, and a clear, pale skin.
Arrested thus suddenly on her way to the door by this unexpected remark, Margaret halted rather awkwardly in the middle of the room uncertain what to do about her bag.
"I am going for a walk into the town," she said shyly, "and my bag is too heavy for me to carry with me. May I not leave it here?"
The girl raised her eyes again with some impatience. She had obviously thought the incident closed, and she made reply as shortly as she could that it was not usually considered safe to leave luggage in waiting-rooms.
"Then what ought I to do with it, please?" said Margaret.
"Why, put it in the cloakroom of course," returned the other, and this time her irritation at this continued interruption was so unmistakable that Margaret, blushing crimson, grasped the unlucky bag and fairly fled out of the waiting-room, without, as she contritely remarked afterwards, a word of thanks or apology.
Having safely deposited the bag in the cloakroom, she set out for her walk. As she passed the window of the waiting-room she could see the girl she had left there sitting at the table turning the leaves of a book with one hand and scribbling hurriedly with the other.
"She's looking up words in a dictionary," Margaret said to herself, who knew the signs of the occupation only too well. "And that is what I shall be doing to-morrow. But I am not going to think of that now."
The walk on the whole was not fraught with much enjoyment. Carden, though a junction of some importance, was nothing much in the way of a town, the streets near the station were narrow and crowded, the shops poor, and Margaret was not sorry when her stroll was cut short by a few heavy drops of rain. It would be much more interesting, she thought, to go back to the waiting-room and look at the girl who was doing exercises there. Perhaps, though on that point Margaret was not very hopeful, she might even talk to her presently. So she hurried back and reached the shelter of the station only just in time to escape a heavy shower.
The girl was still seated at the table, and she did not even raise her head as Margaret entered. With a fresh access of shyness Margaret avoided looking at her, but walking to the window stared out at the rain. But as a shower was a phenomenon with which she was familiar, and the near presence of another girl was not, Margaret very soon shifted her position so that she could without turning her head, and unobserved as she thought, study the girl at her leisure.
She was wearing a skirt of some rough frieze, and the colour, a sort of dull turquoise, suited her admirably. A white cotton shirt with a collar and tie completed her attire, while a short coat of the same material as her skirt was flung carelessly over the back of her chair. As Margaret looked at her she became absorbed in speculation as to who the girl might be, and where she was going. Was she on her way home, or was she going to stay with friends? Then Margaret fell to admiring the vivid colour of her hair, which was full of lights and shades. Just above her ears and her temples it shone like vivid gold, but the coils behind were of a deep, rich chestnut colour, with an inclination to merge into gold at their tips. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were just a couple of tones deeper than the darkest shade of her hair, and Margaret felt glad of that as their owner doubtless was also. She liked her nose, too—it was short and straight.
"Do you think you will know me again?"
The girl had not raised her head or even lifted her eyes from the pages of the dictionary she was fluttering with her left hand, while the other, poised over the book, was held in readiness to pounce down on the right page directly it came uppermost.
Margaret gave a great start as the nonchalantly uttered question broke the silence of the room, and she looked round to see if there was any one else present, for the question seemed to be addressed to no one in particular, certainly not to her. And yet as there was no one else in the room, of course the question must have been meant for her.
"Oh, yes, I am sure I shall," she answered in a tone of such pleased conviction that the girl looked up and gave her a quick, puzzled glance. But no one could meet Margaret's candid eyes and suspect her of wishing to be rude, and after a moment's scrutiny the girl's frowning brows relaxed and she smiled—such a merry, amused smile, that the last vestige of Margaret's shyness disappeared on the spot.
"You see," she said, "you are the first girl I have ever spoken to in all my life, and so, of course, I should always remember you."
"The first girl you have ever spoken to!" ejaculated the other, her eyes opening to their fullest width. "Oh, come, I can't believe that."
"But you are, that is to say, the very, very first real girl."
The emphasis Margaret laid on the word "real" did not at the moment strike the other, who was now quite as interested in Margaret as the latter was in her.
"Look here," she said, "I don't think I can do any more exercises at present, though it seems wicked waste of time to be talking when I might be learning something. But my poor brain has taken in all it can at present, and I am willing to rest it awhile by talking to you. Come here and sit down, and we'll talk."
"I have been desirous of talking to you some moments past," said Margaret, flushing with pleasure at the suggestion. "But you looked so busy that I did not venture to interrupt you."
An involuntary smile crossed the other girl's face as she listened to Margaret's prim little way of speaking.
"I know, and I was rather cross about the bag, wasn't I? but I had just got hold of the tail of a rather difficult sentence and it gave a wriggle and vanished when you spoke. However, please don't look so dreadfully sorry. I made a successful grab at it a few minutes afterwards. Now shall we tell each other our names. Mine is Eleanor——"
She stopped short in amazement, for Margaret had sprung to her feet and was gazing at her with eyes that fairly shone with excitement.
"Eleanor!" she cried, "Eleanor! Oh, no, not really and truly!"
"Why not? Don't you like the name?"
"Like it! Why, of course I am very, very fond of it. It is the name of some one I love very much. I suppose your other name is not Humphreys, is it? But it would be really too much if it were."
"It's not. Eleanor Kathleen Carson is my full name."
"Eleanor Kathleen Carson," repeated Margaret when her excitement had calmed somewhat.
"It's a lovely name, though, of course, it ought by rights to have been Eleanor Humphreys. I know now the reason why I liked you so much the moment I saw you."
"Not the first moment," said Eleanor, with twinkling eyes. "You thought me horrid the first moment you saw me, and scuttled from the room as hard as you could."
"No, I liked you from the first," Margaret repeated firmly. "Only I was shy. It was very stupid of me," she added, partly to herself, "to be shy of you when your name was Eleanor all the time."
"And who is this Eleanor of whom you appear so fond?" demanded Miss Carson. "To begin with, you tell me that I am the very first girl you have ever spoken to, and then that you have a friend called Eleanor. Pray explain the discrepancy in these statements."
But Margaret, looking at the laughing light in the curious red-brown eyes bent upon her, shook her head.
"I believe you would laugh at the other Eleanor," she said, "so I don't think I shall tell you. But I will tell you my name. It is Margaret Anstruther."
"And where do you live, Margaret Anstruther?"
"At Clayton, in Flatshire, with my grandfather."
"And have you any brothers and sisters, Margaret Anstruther?"
"And no friends, you said?"
"Where were you educated, Margaret Anstruther?"
"At home, with a governess. Her name was Miss Bidwell. She went away to Germany three months ago, because her eyes were causing her grave trouble, and it may be necessary for her to have an operation."
"Since when you have been alone with your grandfather?"
"You seem to have led a very quiet life. Was your governess clever, and were you an industrious child, and loved your lessons?"
"She was very clever, and I was very industrious," smiled Margaret, who was thoroughly enjoying this string of half banteringly put questions. "But I did not love my lessons."
"Lazy, Margaret Anstruther? Why not?"
"I do not know; I do not think I was lazy. Miss Bidwell would not have permitted me to be so, but she made everything seem rather dull."
"What did that matter? You had a chance of learning things," said Eleanor. The mocking note had gone from her voice, which had become very earnest. "Apparently you had nothing to do all day long but learn, learn, learn. Lucky, lucky girl, and yet you say everything seemed dull. Would that I could have changed places with you sometimes."
"I am sure the arrangement would have pleased me also," said Margaret. "But I do not think you would have liked it. As soon as Miss Bidwell saw that I was growing too fond of one subject it was her habit to discontinue my study of it, until she saw that my interest in it was less strong."
"But what an extraordinary governess!" exclaimed Eleanor. "What on earth made her behave like that?"
"My grandfather had given strict orders that I was not to be allowed to become too absorbed in any particular study. He did not want me to neglect one thing in favour of another."
"But just to take a nice, lukewarm, lady-like interest in all of them," said Eleanor. "I see. But please go on, and tell me some more about yourself. Where are you off to now, and why?"
"I am going to a place called Windy Gap, near Chailfield. At least Chailfield is the name of the station. Windy Gap is a little village four or five miles off, and right on the top of the downs."
"And I am going to Seabourne, which is about three or four miles away from Windy Gap, on the other side," said Eleanor. "How very funny!"
"I think it is very pleasant to hear that you are going to be so close to me," said Margaret rather shyly. "Perhaps we shall see each other sometimes."
Eleanor shook her head. "I, for one, shall have no time for visiting," she said, "as you will understand when it comes to my turn to tell you about myself. But we will finish with you first. Why are you going to Windy Gap?"
"My grandfather thought I was not very well, for one day he found me talking in the wood to myself and wishing for all sorts of parties, and so he sent for a doctor, who said I must go away for a long change; and so grandfather wrote to Mrs. Murray, an old friend of his who lives at Windy Gap, and asked her if she would have me on a visit."
"And didn't you nearly go off your head with delight when she said she would?"
"No," said Margaret, with a little sigh, "for my mode of life there will be very much the same as it has always been at home. Lessons all day long, and no one to speak to."
"But there will be your hostess at least," said Eleanor encouragingly. "Come, Margaret, do not despair."
"But she is deaf," said Margaret, in the same melancholy tone. "And I believe she is also very severe. But," brightening, "I am not going to think about her now, for I have got you to talk to for another hour. It's just one o'clock, and my train does not go until seventeen minutes past two."
"The 2.17 is my train too," said Eleanor. "But what do you say to having lunch now. I am getting hungry."
She produced a little paper bag from the basket in which she carried her books, and offered one of the two buns the bag contained to Margaret. But the latter suddenly remembered that the housemaid Lizzie, in spite of the confusion that had reigned in the kitchen regions since Mrs. Parkes had been laid low, had found time to pack up an excellent little lunch for her.
"It is in the bag you told me to put in the cloakroom," she said. "If you do not mind very much, would you be so kind as to come and help me to get it out. I do not like going there alone."
"What! are you shy?" said Eleanor, with considerable amusement, and to herself she wondered why her grandfather had let such a very inexperienced girl as this travel alone. But in spite of Margaret's shyness Miss Carson felt quite interested in her new acquaintance. There was a serious, old-fashioned air about her that made her unlike any other girl that Miss Carson had ever met, and, as it was shortly to transpire, she had known a great many, and was therefore competent to give an opinion on that point. Margaret's very speech was different to that of other girls. It was so slow and careful, and she appeared to phrase her sentence with a deliberation that Miss Carson found both quaint and pleasing. Decidedly, she thought, this chance acquaintance was worth passing the next hour or so with, if only for the sake of the secret amusement she was affording her, and so, at Margaret's timid request, she rose willingly enough and accompanied her to the cloakroom. Then, having recovered the bag, they returned to the waiting-room, which they were glad to find was still unoccupied by any one else.
Inside the bag there was a tin biscuit-box, the contents of which, when spread out on the table, made quite a tempting-looking lunch. There were chicken and tongue sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, covered jam puffs, grapes, raisins, and almonds, and a bottle of delicious home-made lemonade.
In her determination that Miss Margaret's holiday should begin pleasantly with a good luncheon on the journey, Lizzie had put up enough for two persons at least.
"Perhaps," said Margaret gleefully, when she had persuaded Eleanor to abandon her buns and to share this sumptuous meal, "she knew that I should meet a friend. Do you know," she added, "that this is the very first picnic I have ever attended in my life, though I have read of them, of course, in books."
A picnic! Eleanor was conscious of a sudden feeling of pity for her newly made acquaintance. She called this meal, partaken of in the dusty, dingy little waiting-room of a noisy junction in company with a girl whom an hour ago she had never met, a picnic.
Memories of gay, delightful river picnics, of mountain picnics, of picnics in ruined castles shared with numerous boy and girl friends flashed through Eleanor's mind. And this girl whose lot she had found it in her heart to envy a short time back had known none of these things.
"And had I not met you," Margaret was saying confidingly when Eleanor came out of the sombre mood into which she had suddenly fallen, "I should never have had the courage even to open my lunch, at least I could not have eaten it in a railway carriage with every one staring at me. Could you have eaten your lunch under such circumstances?"
"Oh, yes, I think I could," Eleanor returned with some amusement.
Probably their ages were very much the same, but what a child Margaret was compared to her! To make up for that, however, she certainly used much longer words.
"How did your grandfather come to allow you to travel alone?" she asked suddenly. "From what you have told me about him I should have thought it was the very last thing he should have allowed you to do."
"He was very reluctant to give me permission to travel without an escort," Margaret answered, "but he was unable to avoid doing so." And then she related how the housekeeper who was to have brought her had broken her leg, and how a sudden epidemic of scarlet fever in the village had made it advisable for her departure not to be delayed.
"Of course," she added, "my grandfather was not aware that I should miss the train and be obliged to wait here, or else I am quite sure he would not have allowed me to come by myself. But please, please do not let us talk about me any longer. I want to hear about you now and, except that your name is Eleanor Kathleen Carson, I do not know anything at all about you."
"There is not much to tell," returned Eleanor; "and what there is is not particularly interesting; but fair is fair, as the children say. Know, then, to begin with, that I have even fewer relations in the world than you, for I have none at all."
"None!" Margaret exclaimed incredulously. "Then with whom do you live? Where is your home?"
"I have no home. I have been earning my living for the last three years," Eleanor answered.
"Earning your own living. But are you not too young to do that? In what manner do you earn it?"
"As a governess. I have been an instructor of the young for the last four years," Eleanor said, laughing a little at the expression of boundless amazement which this statement brought to Margaret's face. Indeed, for a moment the latter suspected her new acquaintance of joking. She found it hard to believe that a girl of her own age should actually be a governess. She had thought that all governesses were of Miss Bidwell's age, and like her, too, in appearance.
"I wish you had been my governess, then," she said earnestly.
"It would have been rather a farce if I had been," Eleanor retorted, "for I have an idea that you know very much more than I do; not that that would be difficult, for I know nothing. Listen, now, and I will tell you all about myself. I am Irish. My father died when I was four, and two years later my mother married again."
"Oh!" said Margaret, with intense interest and sympathy in her voice; "and then they cast you adrift to earn your own living?"
"No," said Eleanor, with some amusement in her voice, "they did nothing of the sort. Besides, you can't very well cast a small person of six adrift, as you call it, to earn her own living. On the contrary, my stepfather was as kind to me as if I had been his own child, and I could not have loved him more if he had been my own father whom I scarcely remember. We were so happy together, we three. My stepfather just adored my mother, she worshipped him, and they both spoiled and petted me. My stepfather was a very rich man. He was English, I must tell you, but he had come to Ireland on a visit, and there it was he met my mother; and to please her when they were married he bought a lovely estate in Kerry, which was her county, and became an Irishman, as he used to say. Until I was fifteen I did exactly as I liked all day. I rode, of course, and hunted, and lived an outdoor life, and though I had a governess and was supposed to do lessons occasionally, it was only very occasionally that I showed my nose in the schoolroom. And then, when I was fifteen, our happy life came to an end. One morning my stepfather got a letter at breakfast to say that the solicitor who had charge of all his money had committed suicide two or three days before, and that it had been found that he had made away with huge sums belonging to his clients. We were absolutely ruined.
"The news was such an awful shock to my stepfather that it brought on an attack of the heart, to which he was subject, and he died that night; and my mother died a few weeks later. She could not, she told me, face life without him, and she pined away and died simply of a broken heart."
Eleanor's voice had become rather husky as she spoke the last few sentences, but she did not cry, she only sat and stared rather fixedly at the various timetables with which the table was strewn.
Margaret put out her hand and touched her timidly on the arm, and the silent token of sympathy pleased Eleanor who could not have borne her to have spoken just then.
There was a moment or two of silence, during which the rain splashed steadily, drearily against the dusty window panes. It had settled now into a thoroughly wet afternoon, and there seemed very little prospect of its clearing before nightfall.
"I have often wondered since what would have become of me then," Eleanor resumed after those few moments of silence, "had it not been for Miss McDonald. She was an old governess of my mother's and had a girls' school in Hampstead, and when she heard how I was left she wrote and offered me a home with her until I was old enough to earn my own living. I was to be a sort of pupil teacher, if you know what that means—to do lessons with the elder girls and to teach the younger ones—and in that way my services were supposed to pay for my board and teaching. But I am quite sure that at first, at any rate, Miss McDonald was a loser by the transaction. I was woefully ignorant to begin with, and knew scarcely more than a child of nine, and I was so miserable that I did not care what became of me or what I did. Looking back now on that time I see that Miss McDonald was wonderfully kind and patient, and that it was for my own good that she insisted upon my working. But for a long time I don't suppose there was a more unhappy girl in the whole of England than myself. I hated England and the school and everything, and, of course, it was a tremendous contrast to my former life, for it wasn't even as though the school were a good school; it was quite second class, and the girls were hopelessly common. And then all of a sudden consolation came to me, and poor little drudge of a pupil teacher that I was, snubbed by the elder girls and bored to death by the younger ones, I became happy again, though in quite a different way to any happiness I had ever known before."
"How?" said Margaret, who had been listening to this narrative with parted lips and eager eyes.
After this, Eleanor Humphreys' conversation would seem tame indeed, for at the bottom of her heart Margaret knew that, pretend to the contrary as much as she liked, nothing that Eleanor Humphreys said ever came as a surprise to her! But conversation with this Eleanor was quite another matter. It was impossible to have the least idea beforehand of what she was going to say.
"How?" she asked again, quivering with impatience, for Eleanor, instead of answering her immediately, was looking at her with a teasing smile on her lips evidently enjoying the prospect of keeping her for a moment or two longer on the tip-toe of expectation.
"Well, before I tell you," she said, "I will give you three guesses. Now, put yourself in my place and think what you would have liked to have had happen to you if you had been me."
"I should have liked some kind, lovely lady to have come and adopted me, and taken me away to a beautiful home in the country, where I should have had lots and lots of brothers and sisters," said Margaret, faithful to the idea that the companionship of other young people was the greatest delight a girl of her age could enjoy.
But Eleanor shook her head. "I shouldn't have liked that a bit," she said. "I should have been sure to have quarrelled with a whole ready-made family of brothers and sisters, and they would not have loved me at all, and the kind, lovely lady would have been jolly sorry she ever adopted me, and would have turned me out of her lovely home pretty smartly. Guess again. I can tell you that the good fortune that came to me was ever so much more worth having than being adopted."
"I cannot imagine any occurrence that would have caused me more pleasure," said Margaret in a hesitating fashion. "Was it, perhaps, discovered that the solicitor who lost your stepfather's money had not lost it quite all, and that there was some left for you?
"Better than that," said Eleanor; "much better. Guess again. I forgot to mention that I do get a little money from the wreck of our fortunes, about twenty pounds a year, but I shall never get more than that, and I know it."
"Did some one fall in love with you, then?" said Margaret rather shyly.
"Gracious, no!" said Eleanor. "No men except one or two old professors were ever allowed inside Waterloo House. And if a prince on a coal-black horse, as handsome and as rich as a prince in a fairy tale, had come riding up to the front door, and begged for my hand on bended knee, I would have said 'No, thank you' if by saying 'Yes, please,' I must have lost this wonderful thing that is mine. Have you ever heard of Melba or Patti?"
"Certainly," answered Margaret, rather wondering at the apparently irrelevant turn the conversation had suddenly taken.
"Well, then, in me you behold a future Melba and a Patti rolled into one."
"Do you mean that you are a singer?" asked Margaret.
"A future Melba—Patti—Tetrazzini, I should have said," Eleanor returned gravely. "But I see from your bewildered expression that you haven't very much idea what I am talking about, so I will explain. As a child at home I did not care much about music, chiefly, I think, because I did not want to be made to practice too much, and when I first went to Waterloo House I felt I liked it still less. The pianos there were mostly cracked and old, the girls, very few of whom had a note of music in their composition, thumped them all day long until I grew fairly sick of the sound, and as I had to superintend the practising of the younger ones, you may guess how much I enjoyed myself. But last Christmas holidays, during which I was left by myself as usual, for Miss McDonald always went away for a change, and she was so delicate, poor thing, that unless she had gone away to the country or to the seaside two or three times a year she could never have got through the terms, I took to practising a good deal. It may sound horribly conceited, but I fell in love with my own voice on the spot, and there, in the cold drawing-room, I used to sit and sing all sorts of rubbishy, sentimental songs until my voice was husky with mingled emotion and fatigue. Then I thought I would go to a few concerts and find out if any of the great singers had such a lovely voice as mine."
"And had they?" queried Margaret, as Eleanor, who had been talking at a great rate, paused for breath.
"Had they?" repeated Eleanor with a little laugh. "They had. I came home that evening quite out of love with my own voice, and before those holidays were over I spent my half-yearly allowance, which I had only just got, as well as my last quarter's salary, in tickets for concerts and operas. It was the best time I had had since I left Ireland. In the afternoons and evenings I used to go to concerts, and the mornings I spent practising. But I gave up the songs and went in for scales only, and I could hear my voice improving every day. I longed for some one who really knew to tell me if my voice was any good, but I didn't know who to ask. Miss Marvel, the school singing mistress, had no more voice than a mouse, and what was worse, no ear. She would let a whole class sing out of tune and never turn a hair. She did not like me because I had once pointed this out to her, and I knew that if I asked for her opinion of my voice she would only run it down. Then a daring idea came to me. Can you guess what it was?"
"No, I cannot," said Margaret quickly, warned by her last experiment, "I have never been taught to guess. Please continue."
"Very well," said Eleanor, smiling a well-pleased smile, for Margaret's impatience was a tribute to the interest she was imparting to her tale. "Have you ever heard of Signor Vanucci? No," as Margaret shook her head. "He was one of the greatest singing masters in London, and a professor of I don't know how many academies and schools of music in London. My great idea was to go straight to him and to ask him if he would hear my voice, and tell me if it was worth training. And on the very last day of the holidays, when I had only about enough money left to pay my fare into town and back, I went to his house. The servant didn't want to admit me when she heard I had no appointment, but I told her what I wanted, and begged so hard that she hadn't the heart to refuse, although she told me that she would be pretty sure to get into trouble afterwards with her master. But I don't believe he was cross with her, for he was a dear old man, and didn't look as though he could be angry with any one. Of course, I began by apologising for having ventured to come, and said I was afraid he must be very much astonished at my having dared to do such a thing as to force my way into his house. He looked at me quite gravely, and said, did I think, then, that I was the first young lady who had conceived the idea of coming to him to be told whether her voice was most like Patti's or Melba's. I said I had thought so; and then he said that I was the nine-hundredth-and-thirty-seventh that week. 'And Martha lets them all in, every one,' he said, with such a comical look of despair that I could not help laughing outright. 'And she thinks that I have only to hear them sing, and they straightway become famous on the spot. Well, well,' he went on, 'you did not come here to hear me talk, but to listen to yourself singing, is it not so? There is the piano. Take your seat. Where are your songs?'"
"And then he yawned, and walked away to the window, and stood there humming a little tune. I could see that he was already getting tired of me, and sorry that he had let me in, and though the thought that he was looking upon me as an awful nuisance would have made me awfully nervous if I had let it, I just said to myself, 'here is your opportunity, seize it. What does it matter about any one else?' And I sat down and sang a scale, beginning with the lowest note I could manage, and going up, up, up, and ending with a long shake on the two top notes."
"Bravo! bravo!" he said when I had finished, and he was no longer standing at the window humming a tune, but he was at my side clapping his hands and patting my shoulder. "Do you know," Eleanor said, her eyes aglow with triumph at the recollection of that moment, "I had come in hoping that he would give me five minutes of his time, and he kept me for an hour, although two pupils were waiting for him in the ante-room."
"And what did he say?" queried Margaret, with an interest that was positively breathless.
Eleanor suddenly sprang to her feet and began restlessly to pace the room. The glow of triumph had faded from her face, and had been replaced by a look of impatient despair that was almost fierce in its intensity.
"Oh, I can't bear to think of what he said!" she burst out. "I feel as though I should go wild sometimes when I remember, when I know that I have a gift which is given to few, and that it is wasted on me, locked away, unless—for do you know what Signor Vanucini said to me?" she asked, coming to an abrupt pause by the table. "He told me that I ought to be the greatest singer of my generation, that he foresaw a splendid future before me, that my voice had infinite possibilities, but that, of course, it was utterly untrained, and that years of hard work and study lay in front of me. That I must work, and work, and learn, and learn, and above all have the best training from the first. And then he said that I had better enter my name as a student at one of the colleges where he was a professor, and that he himself would give me lessons. And, oh! the bitterness of the moment when I had to say that I had no money, no friends to pay for my education, and that I was earning my living as a pupil teacher in a third-rate school in the suburbs. Do you know he seemed almost as much upset as I was. He said it was a great pity, that a voice like mine ought not to be thrown away, and he asked me a lot of questions about Miss McDonald and the school. Did I think she would continue to let me live with her, and come up to town three or four times a week, and he would give me lessons for nothing. I said I was afraid not, for I knew the school was in rather low water, and that Miss McDonald, so far from being able to keep me for nothing, had dismissed the junior governess, and that I was to fill the vacant post.
"'Nevare mind,' he said, 'we vill find ze way. I, Giorgi Vanucci, to you make ze assurance.'
"Then he took down my name and address very carefully in a note-book and sent me away. I was so excited that I walked the whole way from Berners Street to Hampstead, and felt all the time not as though I were walking on hard pavement, but as though I were treading on air. I knew from his manner that Signor Vanucci meant to help me, and that it would be all right for me to accept his kindness, for I could pay him back afterwards when I became a famous singer. The next day Miss McDonald came back, and the day after the girls returned, and the old, dull, insufferably stupid round began again. But all the time I was thinking, 'This won't last long for me; in a few days Signor Vanucci will write and tell her the wonderful news about me.' Miss McDonald noticed how happy I was, and told me that she was glad that I was at last showing more interest in my work as a teacher. 'For, my dear,' she said, rather sadly, 'it is no use your quarrelling with your bread-and-butter. You may not like teaching, but it appears to me the only opening possible to you.' I only laughed and danced about the room and hugged her. Wait, I thought, until that letter comes from Signor Vanucci, and you will see that you will be nothing to the man who cut bread-and-butter with a razor, for you will have been guilty of the enormity of setting a Melba and a Patti down to teach children their Sol-re-fa.
"But that letter never came; and about ten days later I knew why, for I saw in the papers that the famous musician, Signor Vanucci, had been knocked down by a motor-car when crossing a street near his house, and though not much injured, had died a few hours after from the shock."
"And what did you do?" asked Margaret, feeling very much inclined to cry when she heard how Eleanor's high hopes had thus been laid low.
"Do?" said Eleanor sadly; "there was nothing to be done. I grieved for the dreadfully sudden death of the old man, and I shall never forget his kindness, and I shall always feel as grateful to him as though he had lived to carry out his generous intentions towards me. But, of course, his death was an awful disappointment.
"All my hopes of getting my voice trained vanished, and it seems as if what Miss McDonald said were true, and that I have no chance of being anything but a teacher all my life. To have had so much almost in my grasp, and then to have had it snatched away, was rather hard luck," she ended gloomily. "However, I simply would not let myself despond. For one thing, I hadn't time; I was being worked to death. One or two of the governesses were down with influenza, including the music mistress, and I took her singing class, and, I promise you, I made them sit up. I told them I had never yet heard them sing five consecutive bars in tune, and then I imitated them in rather an exaggerated way, and even the big ones who adored Miss Marvel and detested me could not help laughing. But on the whole I was glad when Miss Marvel was well again and could take over her own class, and within two days they were singing as flat as ever. Then I filled up any spare moments I had during the day by studying on my own account. One of the things Signor Vanucci had impressed on me was that if I wanted to be a great artist instead of merely being a great singer, I must not be content with training my voice only, but must educate my mind, and that nothing in the way of learning would ever come amiss, for I could put it all in my music. So though I could not get the singing lessons I pined for, I remembered his advice and set to work to learn all I could. Among other things, he had asked me if I knew Italian, and had seemed sorry when I said 'No, and very little French or German either.' So as a beginning I bought an Italian grammar and a dictionary, and started to study the language. There they are now," she said, nodding towards the two books with which she had been so busy a short time before. "It is wonderful what a lot one can get done in odd moments, if," she added with a smile, "one is not led away to waste one's time, and other people's too, by detailing to them at great length one's life's history."
"You know you are not wasting my time," Margaret replied with great earnestness, "and I am most grateful to you for telling me about yourself. I shall never, never forget it or you," she added wistfully; "but I shall remember every word you have said, long after you have forgotten you ever met me."
"But I am not going to forget you either," Eleanor said, and was touched to see the quick look of almost pathetic gratitude that sprang to Margaret's face at this answer. "You mustn't go away with the idea that I tell everybody I meet about myself. You may not believe it after the way I have taken you into my confidence, but you are the very first person to whom I have ever mentioned my home or my parents since I said good-bye to Ireland six years ago, and that you are the only person in the whole wide world who knows of my visit to Signor Vanucci and what he told me, for I have kept that a secret from every one. I could not even bring myself to tell Miss McDonald about it—not that she would have been unsympathetic, but simply because it was such a bitter disappointment that I could not have borne to hear it discussed. Besides, she could not, however willing to do so, have helped me in any way. I told you the school was in low water. It had not been paying properly for some time, and that term Miss McDonald decided that unless she got a great many more pupils at Easter she would give it up altogether at the end of the summer term.
"Well, at Easter no fresh pupils applied to come, and so many left that scarcely any remained in the school. I don't know what poor Miss McDonald would have done, for I don't think she had saved much money, if a brother that she had not seen for years had not written from Australia to say that after many years of struggling he was now a rich man, and that he hoped she would go out there and make her home with him. And she sailed for Melbourne last week."
MARGARET AND ELEANOR CHANGE PLACES
"Miss McDonald sailed for Australia last week!" ejaculated Margaret in the utmost astonishment. "But what is to become of you, then? Are you quite alone?"
"Quite," responded Eleanor, for whom her solitary state evidently possessed no terrors, for she smiled at Margaret's horrified tone. "Dear old Miss McDonald! If I would have consented, she would have taken me with her, I think, and chanced her brother's dismay when we got there. She was dreadfully distressed at the idea of leaving me behind; but what could she have done for me if she had remained? As I told her, she had done more for me than any one could possibly have expected of her, in keeping me, and giving me what education I possess, during the last six years. And it is not as if I had lost my situation through her going away either, for I have been left as a legacy to Miss Marvel. Miss Marvel bought the goodwill of the school," she added, seeing that Margaret had not quite understood her last remark, "and she has promised to keep me on as junior governess, as long as I do my work well, of course, and wish to stay."
"And do you wish to stay there?" Margaret asked.
"Did you ever hear that beggars can't be choosers?" Eleanor said, with rather a wry little smile. "I should not wish to stay in any school as a teacher if I could avoid such a fate, but I can't; and I am at least sensible enough to be thankful that my bread-and-butter, and a roof over my head, and a bed, and a few other little trifles of that sort are provided for me. And before she went, Miss McDonald did me another kind turn. Up to the present I have always spent my holidays in Hampstead, but this year she wrote to a cousin of hers who lives in Seabourne and asked her if she would have me down on a visit, and the cousin wrote back such a nice letter, saying she had just been on the point of advertising for some one who would come to her for the whole of the summer holidays, and make herself useful and help look after the children, and have a good time with the elder ones. The letter was a little vague, and so Miss McDonald thought as she read it out to me, for it did not give me much idea of what I was to do. But probably she wants some one to arrange the flowers, and write notes, and so on, and take the children down on the beach and that sort of thing."
"Oh, but how lovely for you!" Margaret said, with a touch of envy in her voice. "I wonder how many children there will be, and if there will be any nice girls of your own age among them. And what delightful picnics, and tennis parties, and excursions you will enjoy!"
"Yes, I suppose so," said Eleanor, without the slightest enthusiasm in her voice. "But Mrs. Danvers, for that is the name of the lady, said I must be prepared to find my days fairly well occupied, and must not mind having scarcely any time to myself."
"Why, it is just the kind of life that I should have enjoyed so much," Margaret said, with a tremendous sigh. "People to talk to and to play with all day long. It does seem odd that you are not anticipating it with any pleasure, Eleanor."
"It is not only funny, it is, I know, very ungrateful," Eleanor said, with sudden energy. "But, oh!" she added, "I don't want to play or to talk. I want to work, work, work, and become great and famous. But at least I can get up early. The morning hours, the ones before breakfast, will at least be my own, and I can study for three or four hours every morning before I go down to breakfast."
"Yes, and you could practice your singing then," said Margaret.
"What! and wake the whole family up. I expect that would be as much as my place was worth," laughed Eleanor. She paused and sighed, while a shadow chased the brightness from her face. "I try and cheat myself into the belief that I am going to enjoy myself at Seabourne," she broke out as she resumed her restless march up and down the room; "and that I shall love being near the sea and near real country again. And so I shall enjoy that part. But all the time deep down inside me I am just miserable at the thought that I am wasting time that can never, never come back to me. It does seem hard to think that there are hundreds and hundreds of girls all over England who are getting splendid musical educations that will never be the least little bit of use to them, while my voice is being thrown away for want of training. I tell you, Margaret, I feel sometimes as if it simply did not bear thinking about. A splendid, interesting career, bringing fame and fortune with it, lies waiting for me on the other side, as it were, of a deep gulf. The gulf can only be crossed by the bridge of training, and I haven't the money to pay the toll."
She flung herself with an air of gloomy impatience on the nearest chair, and, putting her elbows on the table, propped her chin on her palms and stared with a frown at the empty fireplace opposite to her.
For a moment or two Margaret did not speak, but stole anxious glances at the sad face of her new acquaintance, whose rapid changes of mood she found it exceedingly difficult to keep pace with. For Eleanor certainly passed with startling quickness from grave to gay, and now, after having dwelt only a few seconds back with obvious delight on the thought of her sojourn by the sea, she was plunged in the blackest depths of despair again. But the truth was that the thought of the glorious gift she so confidently believed was hers, and of which she could make no use, was never absent from Eleanor's mind, and though her natural gaiety and pluck combined enabled her to laugh and talk as though she had not a care in the world, a chance word could always bring the sadness and longing that underlay her laughter to the surface.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" sighed Margaret at last, when the silence had lasted so long that she began to fear that Eleanor had forgotten her presence altogether, and would not rouse herself from her reverie until it was time for their train to go. "Oh, dear! what a pity it is that we cannot change our identities! To stay in a big house with people is just what I should like to do, and I believe you would really like staying at Windy Gap and having Italian and singing lessons all day long with an Italian lady."
"Really like," said Eleanor; "that is a mild way of putting it. Why, there is nothing that I should like better, provided, of course, that the Italian lady is a good teacher."