[Frontispiece: "The vicar's wife would have a fit if I lounged like this." See page 4]
BEGIN TO SING.
"ON THE DOWN GRADE," &c., &c.
WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HAROLD PIFFARD.
C. ARTHUR PEARSON LTD.,
HENRIETTA STREET, W.C.
I. AND WHEN LOVE SPEAKS
II. "IMPARADIS'D IN ONE ANOTHER'S ARMS."—Milton
III. "GOD MADE THE WOMAN FOR THE MAN."—Tennyson
IV. LIFE IS A JEST
V. "THE FLY THAT SIPS TREACLE IS LOST IN THE SWEETS"
VI. LIKE ONE THAT ON A LONESOME ROAD DOST WALK IN FEAR AND DREAD
VII. THE SHADOWS RISE AND FALL
VIII. KIND HEARTS ARE MORE THAN CORONETS.
IX. HEART SICK AND WEARY WITH THE JOURNEY'S FRET
X. FALSER THAN ALL FANCY FATHOMS
XI. IF WE ONLY KNOW! IF WE ONLY KNOW!
XII. "TO-MORROW, AND TO-MORROW, AND TO-MORROW."—Shakespeare
XIII. "IF NEED, TO DIE—NOT LIVE."—Charles Kingsley
XIV. IN CLOUDS OF SILENCE FOLDED OUT OF SIGHT
XV. "AH, FOR SOME RETREAT DEEP IN YONDER SHINING ORIENT."—Tennyson
XVI. OH, LOVE! IN SUCH A WILDERNESS AS THIS
XVII. "WHERE THERE AIN'T NO TEN COMMANDMENTS."—Rudyard Kipling
XVIII. LET US BE OPEN AS THE DAY
XIX. THE IDEAL! DIM VANITIES OF DREAMS BY NIGHT
XX. LIFE IS THORNY, AND YOUTH IS VAIN
XXI. "BY A ROUTE OBSCURE AND LONELY, HAUNTED BY ILL ANGELS ONLY."—E. A. Poe.
XXII. "NO FOOTSTEP STIRRED—THE HATED WORLD ALL SLEPT, SAVE ONLY THEE AND ME. (OH, HEAVEN! OH, GOD!)"
XXIII. "OH, I DEFY THEE, HELL, TO SHOW, ON BEDS OF FIRE THAT BURN BELOW, A DEEPER WOE."—E. A. Poe
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"THE VICAR'S WIFE WOULD HAVE A FIT IF I LOUNGED LIKE THIS" . . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
"LOOK! THERE IT GOES."
SALUTING THE OLD PICTURES ON THE WALL WITH MOCK COURTESY
THE DINING-ROOM DOOR OPENS, AND PHILIP ROCHE STANDS BEFORE THEM
"MR. AND MRS. GREBBY!"
SHE COVERS HER FACE WITH HER HANDS
"MAY I SEE THAT PHOTOGRAPH?"
"WHY, IT'S NEVER MR. ROCHE!" SHE EXCLAIMS
SHE RUSHES TO THE DOOR WITH A WILD CRY
ELEANOR STAGGERS ON BREATHLESSLY UP THE HILL
THE CRUEL FINGERS PRESS WITH DEADLY FORCE
BIG TOMBO BOWS ASSENT
BEARING TENDERLY THE LIMP BODY OF THE TERRIER
"WHAT VILLAIN HAS KILLED MY HORSE?"
SHE STEALS INTO THE VERANDAH AND WATCHES
PHILIP THROWS BACK HIS COAT, AND SHE SEES THE SHIRT BENEATH IT IS SPLASHED WITH BLOOD
WHEN THE BIRDS BEGIN TO SING.
AND WHEN LOVE SPEAKS.
She was certainly very pretty, and just then she looked prettier than usual, for the sharp run had brought a more vivid colour to the cheek, and an added sparkle to the eye. She was laughing, too—the rogue—as well she might, for had she not brought her right hand swiftly down upon his left ear when he had chased her, caught her, and deliberately and maliciously kissed her, and did he not now look red and foolish, and apparently repentant?
But let me start from the beginning, and tell you how it all came about.
* * * * *
Eleanor, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, is as fresh and beautiful in the eyes of Philip Roche as the field flowers whose heads fall fading beneath his tread while he follows her through the long grass. He has watched her playing with the innocent school children—little more than a child herself—and then, with the calm assurance that to him is second nature, joins the merry throng unasked. The children greet him eagerly, after scrambling for a handful of silver from the stranger's pocket, for is it not the great, grand treat of all the year?
"Come and play wif us," lisps a little maiden of five summers, whom Philip tosses on his shoulder with good-natured ease. He has a way of winning the confidence of children.
"What is the game?"
"Kiss in the ring!" cries a small boyish voice at his elbow.
The stranger's eyes twinkle as he watches the lovely unknown Eleanor arranging a circle. Placing his tiny friend again on her feet, and taking her brother's grimy hand, Philip Roche joins the hilarious pastime.
Eleanor glances across the ring well-pleasedly, guessing that her dainty figure and deep-fringed eyes have attracted him thither.
A moment later she trips lightly round the chain of children, her heart beating higher as her feet approach the man's tall figure. Shall she? Shall she? No time to consider, as the handkerchief falls from her hand upon Philip's shoulder.
Quick as lightning she flies away—faster—faster—through the buttercups, while he pursues, nearer—nearer—and then the strong arms arrest her career, and the inevitable kiss occurs.
Eleanor, her cheeks aflame, frees herself from his audacious caress, and half laughing, half indignant, walks hastily away. But after their unconventional introduction Philip is not easily to be foiled.
"You are offended," he cries penitently. "It was only the game; won't you forgive me, Miss——?"
"Grebby," raising her eyes and pausing. "Eleanor Grebby," she continues with a prim little air that is quite unnatural, then laughing spontaneously:
"You see, I was rather taken aback at first, Mr.——"
"Roche—Philip Roche, at your service."
"So now we know each other," holding out her hand.
He grasps it eagerly—such a warm slim hand!
"It was rather a nice introduction, wasn't it?"
Philip thinks how amazingly pretty Eleanor is, as she assents with deepening colour.
"There! I knew it would come!" she cries, with a thought for her new poppy-bedizened hat.
"What?" asks Philip, still feasting his eyes on the girl's fair physique, and unobservant of the gathering darkness overhead.
"Why, the rain, of course. We shall get wet."
"Only a summer shower."
"Yes, but as disastrous in its effects as any other downpour. I shall make for that barn in the next field; the children have all mysteriously vanished."
"I am dreadfully afraid of the wet," declares Philip, pretending to shiver. "May I accompany you?"
He is still retaining her hand as they run together towards the haven of "shelter.
"How nice of it to rain!" he gasps, applauding the accommodating skies. "Let me make you comfortable," heaping together a pile of hay for her to sit upon. "Now tell me all about yourself."
Eleanor sinks down on the soft couch, looking somewhat wistfully through the open door of the barn.
"I am easily explained. I live here always. My father is a farmer, and I feed the chickens, dust the house, and teach in the Sunday-school. Only fancy what an exciting life, Mr. Roche. Doesn't it take your breath away?"
At the thought of her own humdrum existence Eleanor laughs again with a return of that superabundant vitality which is hers by nature.
"Then once or perhaps twice a year I am invited to tea at the Vicarage, and I sit up straight in a high-backed chair and say 'Yes' and 'No' when I am spoken to, and answer prettily—like a schoolgirl. The vicar's wife would have a fit if I lounged like this," flinging herself back with an air of abandon on the hay. "Once she asked me to sing (I play the harmonium in church). My cousin Joe had brought me a comic song from town, and I couldn't help, for the life of me, getting up and giving her a verse."
"Of course it was wrong, and she looked frightfully shocked. I have certainly never been invited to tea since. Oh, how I should like to sing at concerts and halls—I mean the sort of places where you have an eyeglass, and walk round with a hat and stick!"
Her face beamed as she delivered this sentence—involuntarily the little hands clasped themselves together in excitement.
"Be thankful that such an ambition is ungratified," declares Philip, speaking seriously for the first time. "You do not know the fate that you are coveting. Best contented, child, to remain your own sweet self. Your country life is ideal compared with—that!"
Eleanor shakes her head.
"It doesn't seem like it," she declares.
"No, I dare say not. Duty is sometimes heroism in its noblest form."
"Then are all the people wicked that go to London, and sing, act, and enjoy themselves?"
"Indeed I trust not. We should have a pretty bad time of it if they were. Yet I don't know that you're far wrong. Few are guileless. But why talk of it? Time enough to warn you of the pitfalls when you are on your road to the great city."
"What is your life?" asks Eleanor curiously, drawing the long ends of hay through her teeth with a meditative smile.
"Scarcely less monotonous than yours, Miss Grebby"—an amused look in his eyes. "Instead of feeding chickens I feed my friends—lunches, dinners, midnight suppers—all of which pall terribly after a time. Instead of dusting my house I leave it to accumulate dust, while I wander abroad. A home is a dull place for one man."
"You have no wife or mother?"
"But you must have lots of money. Why, only think of all the silver you threw to the children this afternoon! I do not believe they had ever seen so many shillings and sixpences before."
"Money will not buy a mother or——" He was going to say "a wife," but checked himself. Philip Roche was an accurate man.
"Poor Mr. Roche, it must be very lonely," says Eleanor, with genuine sympathy in her tone.
He smiles enigmatically. It is strange to him to be pitied by the little farmer's daughter when so many have envied his happy-go-lucky existence ere now.
"The rain clouds are dispersing," he murmurs, as a stray ray of sunlight wanders through the barn door to mingle its glory with Eleanor's hair. How gold those tender silken threads appear under its burnishing hand!
"What a pity! It has been such a refreshing shower!"
"I feel quite young again," he declares, "young enough to play with the children for hours. What do you say to kiss in the ring again?"
He presses her hand gently.
She lifts her eyes to his with a slow shake of her head.
"There is the vicar's wife to be considered."
"Good gracious!" he laughs. "You don't mean I should have to kiss her?"
Eleanor's face dimples all over in delightful smiles.
"What an absurd idea!" she gasps gleefully. "I should just like to see you!"
"I don't think it has quite stopped," murmurs Philip, holding up his hands to the sky, and pretending the drops from the barn are rain themselves.
"How silly you are!" cries Eleanor, mockingly, gathering up her skirts and revealing a well-turned ankle. "But, oh, isn't the grass soaking?" as Philip takes her arm and guides her to a narrow path. "The children will ruin their boots, and all go home with colds. Look, they are tearing about like mad things. How they will sleep to-night!"
"I wonder what will become of them all in the years to follow, and why they have any existence whatsoever beneath the glimpses of the moon?"
"One will reap," replies Eleanor, wisely, "and another will sow. Some may slay oxen and wring the fowls' necks, and perhaps for all we know murder each other. It is a horrible thought, isn't it? They look so thoroughly innocent, these country children. Do you see that little boy crying because he was knocked down in the three-legged steeplechase. His life race is only just beginning. His father is in gaol for theft, his mother incurable in a Samaritan infirmary, yet he is only crying because he grazed his knee and did not win a packet of bull's-eyes."
Eleanor's voice is low and expressive as her deep sapphire eyes—fascinating the man by their changeful beauty—one moment light and dancing like the sunbeams in the branches, the next overflowing with pity for a pauper child.
The little ones gather round, clinging to her skirts. She is tender and kind to all, though her gaze rests chiefly on the tall, sunburnt stranger making himself popular with the youngsters in her class.
"Look, teacher," cries the same wee maiden who is responsible for Philip's first appearance in their games. "I won 'er, 'opping along o' Margery in the big race," holding aloft a doll with great staring glass eyes and brilliantly rouged cheeks. "Ain't she beautiful?"
"What will you name her?" asks the Sunday-school teacher sweetly.
"Don't know," sighs the child perplexedly.
"Eleanor," suggests Philip.
"We 'ad a little sister named Eleanor, but she 'adn't got enough blood in her, so she died."
"Then you must call your doll by another name," says Miss Grebby decidedly.
But the small girl shakes her head, and announces with precision:
"I'll call 'er Eleanor!" and marches away well satisfied, to re-open a half-closed wound in her mother's breast.
"I hit on an unfortunate suggestion," whispers Philip, while the ever energetic Miss Grebby initiates him into the mysteries of "Nuts in May," "Poor Mary sits a-weeping," and "I have a little dog."
The soft twilight gradually creeps over this summer world, and the great red sun sinks down in its sea of fire behind the trees.
The birds chirp a good-night song, till their piping is drowned by the hearty cheers of the happy children ringing out stirringly on the still damp air.
"And now—home!" sighs Eleanor, with a little grimace, as Philip bends down to fasten a spray of wild honeysuckle in her belt.
"May I see you back?" he asks eagerly, noting the bright smile that flits across her lips at the suggestion.
"Could you walk a mile?" questions Eleanor in mock astonishment. "I thought London people always drove. The vicar's wife had some friends from South Kensington who were positively lame if they went any distance on foot. They said our country roads were a disgrace—no asphalte, no hansom cabs."
"Come along," murmurs Philip, whose long strides are not easy to keep pace with. They walk more slowly when out of sight. Oh, the delightful dawdle back through the vague shadows of evening in sweetly scented lanes! How merrily she prattles with charming ingenuousness, while he watches her expressive features, a new strange thrill at his heart.
What if on this summer holiday, among the clover and the daisies, he has discovered the one spotless soul of his life—a fresh, unsophisticated creature of Nature's noblest and purest art!
At last they are in sight of the old farmhouse which Eleanor calls home. It is a picturesque spot, and Philip stops admiringly to take in the beauty of the rural scene.
"So you live there in that quiet abode?" he said thoughtfully.
"Yes. I am sorry to-day is over. It has not only been a holiday for the children, but half the village. The labourers are to have a dinner to-night and——"
She paused. The labourers and the children are so far from her mind at this moment.
"I shall see you again," he whispers.
"Where and when?" asks Eleanor, feigning surprise.
"To-morrow in this cornfield on our left. I shall walk past."
"Like Boaz, and Ruth will be gleaning," she replies coyly.
"What will Boaz do?" he murmurs.
Eleanor lowers her eyes, and interlaces her fingers.
"I know," she replies confidently.
In the dim light Philip fancies that Eleanor is weaving some strange witchcraft. He is drawn involuntarily nearer and snatching her hand detains it a moment in both his. She is more beautiful than ever now in the dim solitude of the deserted road. The simplicity of her daily routine in the country farmhouse appeals to this man of the world, who yearns for something different, something better in his aimless, empty life—aimless because he has no one to work for, empty because there is no one to love.
Eleanor's gentle presence in the gathering gloom quickens his imagination. A picture wonderful and hitherto undreamed rises like a sudden mirage before Philip's eyes.
He seems lost in contemplation.
"I have found her at last," he says, speaking his thoughts aloud.
"Who?" asks Eleanor under her breath.
"The Ideal Woman!" he replies.
The girl looks perplexed—she does not understand the phrase. New Women and rational costumes have not yet penetrated to the depths of Copthorne, so their counter-poising ideal is to her an unknown quantity.
Eleanor's ignorance of modernity constitutes a special charm in his eyes. How sweet a privilege to build up this uncultured soul, to mould her impressionable spirit! Philip is enamoured of the idea, he sees such vast possibilities stretching out before him. Eleanor differed so widely from the women of his set. Perhaps the weaker sex are made variously that the mind of desultory man, studious of change, and pleased with novelty, may be indulged.
"How long have we known each other?" he asks.
"About three hours," she answers promptly.
"How deep can one go below the surface in one hundred and eighty minutes?"
Eleanor seems bewildered; she is at a loss for words.
"Have I only been with you so short a time?" he says incredulously. "Can it be possible?"
"Does it seem long?" she asks looking down shyly. "Have I wearied you, Mr. Roche?"
His smile reassures her.
"It does not seem long, only full to the brim. To every second a fresh thought, an inch deeper into the unknown."
"I have never met anyone before," she declares frankly, "who spoke to me like that."
Then with a swift "Good night" Eleanor breaks away and vanishes among the shadows.
"A wife," says Philip to himself, "is something between a hindrance and a help. Is this the turn of the tide?"
A nightingale broke into song. "Yes!" it cried; "yes—yes—yes!"
"IMPARADIS'D IN ONE ANOTHER'S ARMS."—Milton.
Eleanor is busy in the morning sunlight, brightening the pewter dinner service, the pride of the Grebby family, passed down from generation to generation, and priceless in her eyes. She can hear the preparations without for an early start to the neighbouring market. Her mother is loading a cart of vegetables, while her father "shoos" the cackling geese into wicker pens, and harnesses "Black Bess" the steady old mare, who is almost one of themselves. And Eleanor is glad that the market (a weekly centre of attraction to the old village) will leave her in peaceful solitude.
She breaks out into a glad song, which mingles with the twittering of birds:
"There was a jolly miller once, Lived on the River Dee."
"Eleanor, Eleanor, give me a hand with these vegetables," cries her mother's voice. There is a thud, and a whole sack of potatoes fall pell-mell into the yard, still muddy from yesterday's rain.
Eleanor gathers them up, indulging the same tuneful mood:
"He worked and sang from morn till night. No lark more blithe than he!"
She has a strong, sweet-toned voice, and "Black Bess" turns her head sleepily at the sound, whisking the tiresome flies with her tail. So often Eleanor's tread at the door of her shed has meant apples and carrots and sugar.
She wipes the potatoes clean with her apron, replacing them carefully at the back of the cart.
Mrs. Grebby takes the reins, while Mr. Grebby follows on foot, driving a few specially honoured sheep, who frequently serve him for conversation throughout an entire evening spent smoking with neighbouring farmers.
Eleanor watches them out of sight, her hand over her brow to shade the dazzling sunlight from her eyes. A group of chickens congregate around her with mute inquiry in their beaky faces. She fetches a handful of grain from the barn, flings it into their midst, and returns singing to her pewter polishing:
"And this the burden of his song For ever used to be:
"How dull this soup tureen is, to be sure!" pausing in her verse to rub it with extra vigour:
"I care for nobody, no not I, If no one cares for me!"
The delinquencies of the dimmed soup tureen are forgotten as these last words ring out in the quiet parlour. "Surely," thinks Eleanor, "there is hidden pathos in the Jolly Miller of Dee's reckless assertion! To care for nobody! What a horrible thought—a whole life's tragedy lies in the closing verse. If no one cares for me!"
Eleanor sighs and leans her chin on her hands, kneeling before the wooden table on which the dinner service is spread. What if nobody cared for her! How vast and miserable a wilderness this world would be! Why, even the dumb animals love her.
The little goat she called Nelly, who fell ill the week before, and gasped out its breath in her arms on a dry heap of hay, gave all the love of its disputed soul to Eleanor. Of course, it had a soul; she made up her mind long ago on this point. How can a creature with such mysteriously human eyes as Nelly possessed be less human than the great plodding, loose-mouthed ploughboy, who only gapes when he is spoken to, and contains what Mr. Grebby is pleased to call, "only half a intellec'!"
Eleanor glances at the old-fashioned clock in the corner, decorated by grotesque pottery dogs and four-legged creatures with horns, and faces resembling tigers or cats. She has been up since five, for besides market day it is churning morning, and she and her mother have worked for hours in the dairy.
"It is time," she says at last, washing her small hands under the scullery tap, and then reaching for a hat hanging on the kitchen dresser.
"I wish I had something pretty to wear," she sighs, glancing at her reflection in a cracked glass. "Laces and ribbons, beautiful blue ribbons with pink spots, like the Squire's nieces wore last Sunday. The tall girl was dreadfully plain, and I should have looked so well in her silk gown, with the shorter sister's chiffon fichu."
Eleanor's face brightens at the recollection of those costumes in the Manor House pew, which appeared so lovely in her eyes while she played the Magnificat. Dreams of dainty dresses are dear to her heart as the occasional thoughts of love which steal over her at times. "If the two could be combined," she thinks, "love and wealth."
It is amazing this new and sudden desire for something better, which all but stops the beating of Eleanor's heart.
"If he loved me," she gasps "if—" she staggers back against the half-closed door, her fingers clenched and pressed to her temples, throbbing with intense excitement. All the thoughts that crowd to her brain are offsprings of that improbable "if," each moment growing more dazzling!
She hastens with light footsteps to an old cupboard in which her mother has treasured some hand-made lace left in her aunt's will to the Grebbys of Copthorne Farm.
She turns down her collar to reveal a shapely throat, pearly white, and hidden usually from the sun's scorching power, round which the soft folds of lace fall entrancingly.
What would Eleanor's mother say could she see her precious heirloom donned hastily on this busy market morning, to adorn her daughter's neck for a stroll through the fields! It is sacrilege surely, but the prize!
The girl closes the cupboard noiselessly, creeping away like a criminal out into the glaring day. Her eyes dance, her cheeks are flushed, and her hair escaping (as if by accident) from its neat braids, waves in dainty tendrils round her ears.
"I am beautiful," she murmurs to herself, "why not? Stranger things have happened—Eleanor Roche, the wife of a rich man—oh!"
The last is a gasp of hitherto unexpressed surprise at the audacity of her day dreams.
Philip is waiting by the barley field, watching for her. As she sees him she slackens her steps, not wishing to appear over anxious for the rendezvous. He advances eagerly, grasps her hands, and devours her with his eyes.
"So we meet again, Eleanor," he whispers. "I must call you Eleanor; you don't mind?"
A bold answer that inwardly makes her tremble enters the girl's head. Why not place herself on an equality with him at once? She nerves herself to reply:
"Not if I may call you Philip?"
A look of amused surprise flits over Mr. Roche's features. What a naive, childlike manner Eleanor possesses!
"Of course," he replies, pulling the small hand through his arm, and turning out of the public thoroughfare.
"I wonder what you think of me?" asks Eleanor unhesitatingly.
The great sparkling eyes are raised to his with genuine curiosity in their depths. She is not seeking a compliment; far from it, she really wants to know, and is waiting for the truth.
He looks from the blue eyes of the girl to the little blue bird's-eye growing on a bank of clover. She pauses while he stoops to gather the tiny flower.
"You see this," he says.
"It is only a field blossom blooming unnoticed in this sweet country atmosphere, yet to me a thousand times fairer than the exotics and hot-house plants which naturally demand admiration. I love this little flower," pressing the tender blue to his lips, "because it is wild and untrained. It appeals to me. It is like you, Eleanor!"
A flush of offence arises to her cheeks.
"Wild!" "Untrained!" the words sting Miss Grebby's pride.
"I did not think you would compare me to a weed!" she retorts, tossing her head proudly.
But Philip will not see he has offended, and continues in the same strain.
"Don't despise the weeds, Eleanor; they were placed in their uncultivated beds by Nature's hand, and have as much right to be called beautiful as any other creation."
He speaks to her authoritatively, and she looks at his strong, masterful expression with a gradual sense of awe.
"I should not have thought you would care for flowers."
"Why not? Does it seem childish in your eyes to soliloquise over a wayside 'weed,' as you call it?"
His questions perplex her. She is silent.
"You do not appreciate your beautiful country," he continues, "from living in it always. Wait till you have tasted the deadly dust of the town before you curl your lip at a blue bird's-eye, or pass judgment on the unbroken quiet of sinless Copthorne. Since I came here for rest and holiday leisure I seem to have grasped the whole history and charm of the place. It contains endless interest in its Godlike simplicity to the recluse or the reader. Look what fields for the naturalist or botanist! Think, too, of an artist here for the first time—what sketches to be made at sunrise and sunset! You may call your little world dull, monotonous, uneventful, since, reared in the green landscape with farmlands and woods around, you are bound through custom to neglect the pleasures of imagination, and see it only without observing."
"I am glad you are so enthusiastic over Copthorne," replies Eleanor, catching at the meadow-sweet, and crumbling it between her fingers. "I suppose you have been living a very different life in London?"
"It is a great change," he replies, "from the bustle of fashion to the unbroken quiet. But I must own I didn't enjoy so completely all the beauty of this glad country scene till you came, Eleanor, happy in the rich possession of youth and lightheartedness."
Now his conversation grows interesting, the perfect smile with which she is naturally blessed creeps through her lips to her eyes, illuminating her whole countenance. In the distance the regular click of a reaping machine falls on the breeze.
"You must see more of our life," she says impetuously. "Next week all our labourers will be reaping, and our barns are ready for the first loads of harvest. Do not go till it is gathered in!"
"Shall I promise? Would it give you pleasure?"
A pause, during which an old horse puts his nose over the gate of an adjacent field, regarding Philip and Eleanor complacently.
"Then it's a bargain! If you will be pleased, I will stay; but not unless."
A little gasp escapes her lips.
"Can you doubt it, Philip?" she murmurs.
He is satisfied by the earnest tone, gratified by her humility and undisguised devotion.
"Would you like to see my home?" she asks, for their steps are nearing the quaint farmhouse.
"Indeed, I should."
She takes him from the sloping cornfield, topped by a windmill, to where the path joins a kitchen garden—a perfect holiday ground for bees. The vegetables seem in perfect harmony with yellow marigolds and calceolaria. The house is divided from the road by palings richly covered by Virginia creepers, and as they approach Philip pauses to lean on the wicket gate and view the peaceful homestead silently. The drone of bees and busy presence of insect toil is soothing and melodious. He takes Eleanor's hand and kisses it in the full glare of the mid-day sun under the heavily laden fruit trees. Then they pass by the brilliant flower-beds to the rustic porch, through which is visible the Grebbys' twelve o'clock repast spread on a clean white linen cloth, a vase of wild flowers for simple decoration. There are bright-coloured texts on the walls, and an old Family Bible under a glass case.
"My mother will be back from the market directly," says Eleanor; "would you do us the honour of stopping to dinner?"
The tone became a supplication, mingled with smiles.
"You are too kind," declares Philip, touched by the unostentatious hospitality of his newly found friend. "I shall be most delighted."
"Come and let us watch for the return of Black Bess," she cries, leading the way out into the garden again. Philip thinks he has never spent a more delightful morning.
To have missed it would have been to lose one of the sweetest episodes of his life. The intense restfulness of Copthorne Farm, the fragrance of the air, the softness of the carpet beneath his feet, the cattle browsing in verdant pastures, and the murmur of those winged and drowsy honey-laden workers from the meadows, make a picture which will never pass from his mind. For the moment, while basking in the harvest sun, a scene which must some day be only a faded pleasure left to recollection, is Paradise!
Then the Grebbys' return from their marketing, to welcome the stranger whom Eleanor proudly introduces. Hospitality is a creed with them, and renewing their daughter's invitation, they place the choicest their home affords before the unexpected guest. Thus it is that Philip Roche finds himself in Eleanor's family circle, discussing the crops and weather with her father, a rubicund, hale old man, whose life is centred in bucolic pursuits.
* * * * *
The harvest is over, the wheat and barley are garnered, but still Philip lingers, chained by that mysterious agent the world calls—Love!
He sees the embodiment of all he most admires in Eleanor, the sweet domesticated country maiden, pure as the health-laden breezes sighing through the trees. His love ennobles his being, he is surprised at this inexplicable and unfathomable passion.
"Eleanor," he says, "I am going away—I want to take you with me. Will you be my wife?"
It is more a command than a question. He cannot do without her. She must consent.
The girl's breath comes and goes swiftly; for a moment he fears she will faint.
The future dances before her swimming brain, the alluring prospect of money, position, pleasure, whisper like fiends in Eleanor's ears. Love is forgotten; she only remembers the vague unsatisfied ambitions of her young dreams. She lets him kiss her lips again and again, she is clasped in his arms, yet feels them not; her mind fixed on the dazzling picture of "what is to be!"
"Your answer, Eleanor, darling—love!" he gasps, watching the glorious colour mount to her face, the marvellous radiance fill her eyes.
"Yes, Philip, your wife always!" Her head is on his shoulder, he has gathered her hands about his neck. The brief midday hours fly as she yields to the tender wooing.
"Soon," he whispers, "autumn's fingers of decay will creep over Copthorne, while leaves must fall damp and dead in the country lanes. Marry me, Eleanor, now the summer is here."
She starts back, a deadly fear knocking at her heart. She laughs, apparently frivolous and light-hearted.
"Yes, in the summer, sometime next year."
"Next year!" his face falling. "But when? Next year has three hundred and sixty-five long days!"
She smiles entrancingly, shrugging her shoulders.
"Oh! well—when the birds begin to sing."
"No," he cries, drawing her to him, "before they are silent, Eleanor, before the light of summer goes out of the heavens, and the blue sky fades to grey!"
Her eyes droop, her cheek is pale.
GOD MADE THE WOMAN FOR THE MAN.—Tennyson.
"Oh, do stop and take me to tea in that lovely confectioner's shop!" cries a pleading voice, while an eager hand flourishes a parasol which pokes the driver in the back. "Oh, I wish I could speak the horrid language."
"But, my dear," replies the man at her side, "you have only just had your coffee and unlimited bon-bons. I want to show you Brussels thoroughly. It is a most interesting town."
Eleanor Roche sighs. To her uncultivated mind the magnificent Hotel de Ville, the Roman Catholic Churches, galleries, picturesque towers, gables, and doorways of ancient buildings, hold but little charm.
She is madly excited about the bonnet and boot shops, the lace fans and collars, chocolates, and ice creams.
Philip is bent on enlarging his wife's mind, and hopes to awake in her his fervent love for art. Surely in time she will learn to appreciate it. At present she is decidedly slow of comprehension. Though looking lovelier than ever in her new Parisian toilettes, Eleanor disappoints him. She talks perpetually of her appearance, dresses three or four times a day, revels in admiring glances from male tourists, and displays strange apathy when sight-seeing.
"How ugly the foreign women are!" exclaims Eleanor, "so short, plump, and round. Why, even our miller's daughters could lick them into fits."
Her slang jars on him; but Eleanor is so sublimely unconscious of offence and childishly contented with herself, that he has not the heart to murmur.
Besides, even the touch of her small hand thrills him with the old pleasure.
She surveys her feet admiringly.
"Did you ever see such lovely shoes? The points are like needles. It would be wicked to walk in them. Oh, dear, where are we stopping now?"
"At the Church of St. Gudule. You must see it before we go. The pulpit is wonderful."
Eleanor gathers up her silken skirts and steps lightly to the pavement.
She thinks this part of the honeymoon very dry, when there are cafes, music, and shops at hand.
"Isn't the carving beautiful?" murmurs her husband, examining the pulpit with fresh interest, from the fact that Eleanor is visiting his favourite places.
"You see, dear," taking her arm, "it is supported on the Tree of Knowledge and of Life. Adam and Eve are being driven out of Paradise on one side by the Angel, while Death is gliding round with his dart."
"Ugh!" says Eleanor, shivering slightly, "what a nasty subject to choose. If you had been Adam at Copthorne, and thought you would gain anything by eating our apples, wouldn't you have devoured the lot?—that is to say, if I, as Eve, had been unselfish enough to leave any!"
She laughs at her own humour.
"It is scarcely a subject to jest upon," whispers Philip.
Eleanor's bright eyes sadden instinctively.
How has she displeased him?
"It is a marvellous piece of workmanship," he murmurs, as they move away.
He wonders if Eleanor, who has never even heard of "Rubens," feels her ignorance; but his thought is unconsciously answered by her careless, yet happy, air when he imparts his wisdom. Her great, expressive eyes seem to say: "I have no doubt it is very interesting to you, but I have so much else to think of."
Having escaped from the bewildering pulpit out into the fresh air, her spirits rise, while her fancy turns to the tempting pastry in the shop windows.
She catches sight of her face and form in a mirror as they pass to one of the small round tables, ordering coffee and cakes. Her heart kindles with love for her own beautiful being. It is not actual conceit, but genuine unbiassed admiration for Mother Nature's handiwork.
A young Englishman of insipid appearance is seated opposite, enjoying the mild pleasure of an ice a la panache. He puts up his eyeglass and stares at Eleanor. She returns the look frankly, taking in his narrow forehead, ginger hair, and elongated neck.
"Newly married," thinks the man, noting the fresh lustre of her jewellery.
"English," mentally ejaculates Eleanor, eyeing his scrupulously clean linen.
"A woman to be loved and hated in the same breath," so runs his masculine meditation. "Tantalising open eyes, without a blush in them, and a face like the bust of Clytie."
"What is engrossing your attention, dearest?" whispers Philip, seeing her pre-occupied.
"I am wondering if that young man's mother ever thought him handsome. The nose might have been promising once, before the last half inch grew, and his hair was gold when she first cut his ringlets."
Philip looks at the stranger's dissipated eyes, and despite the apparent innocence which the hallowing presence of a guileless ice-cream will temporarily shed over Lothario himself, sees the general demoralisation that has set in.
"He is young to be blunted and coarsened," thinks Philip. Annoyed by the impudent stare which possibly amuses rather than displeases his wife, he tells Eleanor she has had enough, and rises to signify departure. Lothario is still covering Clytie with his gaze. She pauses to caress a lean black cat with hungry eyes, that has crept in unobserved from the street. Hurriedly emptying a jug of cream in her saucer, Eleanor is about to present it to the plaintiff stranger. Tom, however, scents the cream, springs on his hind legs, and upsets the liquid over her Parisian skirt.
The insipid young man starts forward, for Philip is paying at the counter, and kneels at her feet to repair the damage with his handkerchief.
Mrs. Roche stands watching helplessly, her lips curving into smiles.
"You are very kind," she murmurs, as his eyeglass falls amongst her chiffons. "The cat was hungry, and now he won't get anything. Philip will not stay and——"
She breaks off shortly, for her husband has turned and discovered the youth on his knees before Eleanor, who, as he rises, slips his card into her hand.
"I will see the cat is fed," he whispers.
She gives him a grateful glance, and explaining the incident to Philip, hurries away, with the stranger's card hidden in her pale kid glove.
When she is back in the hotel, Eleanor looks at the name.
HERBERT DALLISON. Junior Conservative Club.
"I don't suppose we shall ever meet again," she says to herself reflectively. "But he must so kindhearted, or he wouldn't have troubled about my dress or the cat."
Though Eleanor Roche is so in love with her own lustrous eyes, she does not yet realise how much goodwill they can win her. She has yet to learn that the dangerous gift of a subtle charm may make or mar its owner's life.
"We have only one more day here," says Philip, who had mapped out their tour, "and I want you to see 'Waterloo,' dearest."
"Is it amusing?" asks Eleanor.
"Well, interesting is more the word,"
"Then I probably shall not care for it. The places you call interesting are so dull!"
However, Philip carries out his plan, and takes her to the little straggling village of Brane l'Alleud. The churchyard full of English graves and monuments quite distresses Eleanor.
"To think of all these brave men dying nobly for their country, and then being buried in this out-of-the-way place!" she exclaims.
"I suppose it is all the same to them," replies Philip.
"But I don't like the idea, nor am I fond of the sight of graves, and the thought of death. Oh, Philip! what is that fat old man saying to you?"
"He wants to show us a grave over the Marquis of Anglesea's leg, and is the proud possessor of the house where it was amputated. It was buried in a polished coffin, and has a monument erected to its memory. But who are you eyeing so intently, Eleanor?" turning as he speaks. "Why! If it isn't that impudent young puppy again, who mopped up the milk!"
"Cream, Philip, cream."
"Well! don't look at him, darling," putting his arm through hers to draw her gently away. "We will escape from the voluble Belgian with the leg story. He wants to show us the boot that once cased the foot. Such a fuss about nothing!"
Eleanor returns to the carriage, but, as they drive to the huge mound with the Belgic Lion on the summit, she is conscious that Herbert Dallison is following.
For the rest of the day he always seems only a yard from her, as they examine the red walls pitted by bullets, and wander round the Museum. He has a party of friends with him—Eleanor can hear them chaffing the guide, and ridiculing everything. Their absurd remarks amuse her, from time to time she laughs for no apparent reason.
At last she owns to fatigue, and Philip leaves her, while he goes in search of their carriage.
"Would you like some relics?" says a voice at her elbow.
Eleanor knows who is speaking before she looks round. Herbert Dallison stands besides her, holding out a French forage cap, a bullet, and a rusty sword broken off in the middle.
She seizes them delightedly.
"Thank you, thank you, but please go away," as Philip's figure looms in sight.
She does not need to ask twice. Herbert Dallison seems to vanish into thin air.
"You silly child!" cries Philip laughingly, "to spend your money on those so-called 'relics' manufactured at Birmingham or Brussels to beguile innocent tourists. A fresh crop of bullets and swords, I'm told, is sown every year, that you may have the pleasure of seeing them turned up yourself."
Eleanor smiles a little nervously. She is beginning to wish she had not taken the presents. What would Philip say if he knew?
He helps her into the carriage with her spoil, the giver following with his party in the rear.
Eleanor becomes momentarily more conscience-stricken; the sight of the "relics" are hateful to her.
"I want to throw all this rubbish away," she cries at last. "It will only be a worry to me."
"Very true," replies her husband.
"I know," a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "Let me shy them out on the road, and someone will think they have discovered real curiosities."
She stands up in childish glee, casting back a mocking smile at Herbert Dallison. One by one she flings his gifts from her, with an expressive look signifying second thoughts are best. He has taken his friends into his confidence, and is horrified at the hilarious laughter which breaks from them at Eleanor's act.
"Hang it all," he mutters, "it's beastly ungrateful; can't buy that sort of rot for nothing."
But he is too proud to stop and recover his property; so a bullet, a cap, and a sword are left by the wayside like the seed that was not good, to pass into strange hands.
"Moral," cries Bertie's pal, slapping him on the back, "don't interfere with honeymoon couples, they're abominably slow. Stick to widows, old man, for the future."
At the word "widow" Bertie actually blushes. There is more sting in this light chaff than his comrades suppose, for the vision of a villa at Richmond with its dark-haired divinity rises between the dust of the two carriages, soothing his ruffled feelings and drowning Eleanor's fair form in the seas of forgetfulness.
The honeymoon slips by pleasantly.
Mrs. Roche enjoys the long railway journeys above everything, which astonishes Philip, who thinks them the worst part of the trip.
"You see I so seldom go in trains," Eleanor says when he expresses surprise. "I love to listen to the whizz of the engine, and see the rushing, panting people on the stations worrying the grand officials in their smart uniforms. Then it is so nice to be first-class, and lean back on the cushions and cock up your feet if you wish. Besides, it is awfully jolly just now to look out of the window and think."
"What do you think of?" asks her husband.
"All the beautiful presents you have given me, and the lovely house on the terrace at Richmond where I am to live."
The pleasure she takes in little things is a daily marvel to Philip. In the train, for instance, every moment she opens her dressing-bag, to shake scent from a silver bottle over her hands or peep in a dainty glass at her complexion. Each time they stop something fresh must be bought—a bunch of grapes, a bag of red plums, flowers, and unwholesome-looking tarts.
She actually purchases a tumbler of lager beer, drinking it with relish, declaring it quite home-like and jolly.
Eleanor never worries about anything. Should the train be missed or the luggage stray, it is all the same to her. An hour's wait on a dull little platform is never grumbled at. "We'll just have to sit and whistle," she declares, and amuses herself mimicking the porters, which she succeeds in doing wonderfully well, while Philip, in spite of numerous eccentricities, forgives her everything, and worships her devotedly.
"Alas! that we have to return," he sighs, as they glide in a small boat on the Lake of Geneva. "I must be back in the city this week."
"And you will make me lots of money?" expanding her eyes and showing her beautiful teeth.
"Won't you be contented with a little?"
"Oh, no. I want to entertain. You must bring your friends from London, and the house you have so long neglected shall be packed with guests."
"We'll see about that," says Philip, not liking to damp her ardour. "YOU must remember, though, that I am not a walking gold mine, little wife."
"Can the boatman understand what we say?"
"He only knows a smattering of English. What a strong, steady stroke he pulls!"
Eleanor leans over the side, gazing down the clear depths. "I never saw such wonderful water," she says, "you can see ever so far below. How amusing it would be to drop pebbles in and watch them sink."
"Here is a stray one on the seat," said Philip, throwing it overboard. Eleanor watches the descent with sparkling eyes.
"It is still in sight," she cries, "whirling through the water! My word! how clear the lake is. I must see it again."
She glances round, but there are no more stones.
Before Philip has time to stop her she opens her purse and drops a coin over the side of the boat.
"Look! there it goes," laughing lightly. "Isn't it fascinating?"
The rower has stopped, and with eager, covetous eyes watches the wilful waste. Those coins would mean bread to him and his children, while she throws them to feed the deep! Another and yet another fall from her slim hands.
Philip has turned quite pale with auger.
"Stop! Eleanor," he says, sternly, "you do not realise what you are doing. It is wicked."
But she shrugs her shoulders and drops another.
"Do you hear what I say?" he mutters, grasping her wrist. "I'll have no more of this. Look at that poor fellow's eyes; why, he would like to murder you. It is enough to call down the judgment of Heaven upon us."
"Just one more, only five centimes, Philip, and the man shall have all that is left in my purse."
"No," he replies, still retaining her arm in an iron grip.
"Don't; you hurt me."
He removes his hand, and with a defiant look Eleanor flings the coin into the lake, watching it whirl below with redoubled interest.
"Gott!" mutters the boatman under his breath, "what tevilry."
Then, without a sign of shame, Eleanor passes a handful of money to the sunburnt fellow, casting a smile of ineffable sweetness upon him.
"For the little ones," she says.
But Philip's brow is still black.
"It was wicked," he repeats.
Eleanor only laughs.
"You deserve to want in the future."
"The future," she replies lightly, "who thinks of the future? It may be dark enough to frighten the very life out of you—a thing to make you scream——"
Philip shudders. Storm clouds are gathering overhead. This is the last day of his honeymoon.
LIFE IS A JEST.
A great red sun that is warm and kind sinks behind the golden trees, rich with autumnal tints, as Philip and Eleanor drive up to "Lyndhurst," on Richmond Terrace.
"So this is your home—my home?" she cries, her eyes sparkling with delight as they rest on her new abode. "Ring very loud and long, Philip; I am dying to be in!"
The door is almost immediately opened by a buxom maiden with rosy cheeks and a lenient smile, which alights on the youthful mistress. Eleanor bounds into the hall, and waves a feather boa joyfully over her head.
"Hurrah! Ancestors," she cries, saluting the old pictures on the wall with mock courtesy. "Real dead ancestors in wigs, and you never told me, Philip!"
She is standing, gazing on them joyfully as the luggage is brought in, pointing with her umbrella at a wrinkled judge.
"They have seldom received such admiration," he says gently. "Poor old things, they disfigure the walls sadly with their grim faces."
"The lady on the left is simpering; and, oh! here is a tiger rug," stumbling over a head on the ground. "I caught my heel on his nose," as Philip prevents her falling by seizing her elbow.
"Show me which is my room. I am longing to see it," she continues, taking two steps at a time in her eager ascent. "Sarah," calling to her maid, "bring those three hat boxes and my cloak, there's a good soul! Come on, Philip, I'll race you to the top."
He feels as if he is playing with a child, as he rushes over the house after Eleanor. The day of the school treat returns to his mind, he fancies he sees her still, running through the long grass.
"Everything is beautiful," she gasps, clasping her hands. "There's a room to be frivolous and lazy in, a study for book learning (I'm going to read no end) and, oh! if you want to sing——"
She draws a deep breath at the remembrance of the grand piano in the drawing-room. "It is ever so much bigger than the one at the vicarage, which was always out of tune. I'll get my cousin Joe to send me a list of songs, and we will buy a harmonium, too, Philip. I can play the harmonium splendidly."
"I am glad you are pleased, Eleanor," ha replies, kissing her upturned face.
"And now, I am going to dress, for I feel horrible after my journey. May I ring for Sarah?"
"Of course. What a question! Do exactly as you like with your own servants."
She finds Sarah in her room busily unpacking.
"Oh! there you are," cries Eleanor. "I forgot I had given you my keys. It is such a blessing to be able to talk in English, that foreign stuff was awful, I could not speak a word! Yes, I will wear my lovely pink tea-gown—did you ever see anything so pretty, Sarah? I must make you put it on some day, just to see how it looks on another person. You are a bit stouter than I am though, but perhaps you could pull in——"
And so Eleanor rattles on, just as if Sarah were one of the farm-servants at home, and she the same unaffected light-hearted Miss Grebby.
"Do you come from the country, Sarah?" she asks at last.
"Yes, ma'am. My father's a grocer, and mother keeps house for the doctor's children in our next village."
"Then they don't live together?"
"No, ma'am, it's father's temper. We none of us can't live at home, he is that hasty! It ain't safe, ma'am, it ain't really!"
"How dreadful," sighs Eleanor. "Doesn't it frighten you?"
"Lor! yes, ma'am. I have seen him grow purple round the eyes, and crimson in the cheeks, and throve a whole sack of flour through the window."
Eleanor receives the information with an expressive "Oh!" as she shakes down her hair, and tells Sarah to brush it.
"How many servants have I got?" gazing at her face in the mirror contentedly.
"Three, ma'am. There's me, and Judith, and cook."
"Do you like Richmond?"
"Well enough, ma'am, thank you, but Judith would have rather been in London, and cook has always set her face against the suburbs."
"Then why did they come?"
"Well, you see, ma'am, the gentleman engaged them, and he seemed that put about they hadn't the heart to refuse."
"Good gracious! whatever is that noise?"
"The dinner gong. Judith is very strong in the arms, and she do make it sound, ma'am!"
"Light a few more candles; I want to have a good look at myself."
Eleanor walks up and down before the glass, with spasmodic gasps of satisfaction, till Philip comes to the door to see if she is ready.
Eleanor is brimming over with conversation during the evening meal; she has something to say about everything, and her ideas seem to expand over each fresh course. At the soup she wants a pony cart, but over the fish decides on a brougham and victoria. The entree introduces a pair of prancing chestnuts, and Philip is quite afraid that the arrival of the meat will suggest powdered footmen in silk stockings.
"You see, dear," he explains at dessert, when Sarah and Judith have left the room, "I have a very comfortable income to live in a fairly luxurious style without undue extravagance. We can easily keep one horse and man, which I have waited to choose with you."
"I see," replies Eleanor, peeling a banana. There is a pause, then she looks up and repeats uncertainly: "I see, Philip."
"You will try and make a good little housekeeper and manage everything splendidly. I often think of you, Eleanor, in your peaceful domesticity at Copthorne. How quiet it was, and——"
"How dull!" (sighing).
It all comes back with a rush—the pewter dinner service, and spotless parlour, smelling of lavender and soap, the cackle of hens and lowing of cows. Eleanor pushes aside the dish of bananas, "Let us go out in the moonlight," she says. "It is lovely in the garden, and you can smoke. Let me light your cigar?" striking a match on the sole of her velvet slipper, and narrowly escaping burning her pink silk train.
"You must not do that, dear, it is dangerous," remonstrates Philip.
"Oh, no! not if you put up your foot so," illustrating her meaning by striking another. "What is that pretty yellow stuff you are drinking?"
Eleanor kneels down by his side and sips out of his glass. "What queer tasting stuff, not half as nice as elderberry wine!"
"Don't you like it?"
"No; it's almost as nasty as the cowslip tea I used to make. But do come for a stroll; I like wandering about in this long silk gown, it feels so grand."
"What myriads of stars!" exclaims Philip, who is well versed in astronomy. "Don't they make you feel like a mere atom, Eleanor, when you think they are all worlds?"
"No, I never bother my head about stars. I like moonlight, it's so pretty, and the moonbeams look ghostly and fairylike. But isn't it cold in the garden? I only just realise that summer is over, and what an eventful summer it has been for me! The other girls at Copthorne were mad with jealousy at my wedding. They all want to marry gentlemen now, and come to London. Do you remember the schoolchildren, Philip? How they scattered flowers and crowded round to kiss me. I gave them my wedding cake (or rather what was left of it) when we went, and the three cheers for 'Teacher' is quite the nicest recollection." Eleanor's passionate love for children pleases her husband, it shows that her nature is good. He puts his arm lovingly round her as they return to the house.
"Are you happy, Eleanor?" he whispers. A soft brightness creeps into her eyes.
"Yes, Philip, there isn't a lighter heart in Richmond!"
* * * * *
"Oh! dear, more cards! I returned the doctors' wives' visits yesterday, three of them, Philip—each intent on her husband's business, I suppose. Two were at home, and I looked so aggravatingly healthy. I could not think what to talk about, having never done that sort of thing before. The first mercifully had a dog, which I admired for a quarter of an hour, the second showed me her pigeons. I knew all about them."
Philip looked at the latest cards which Eleanor handed him.
"Mrs. Mounteagle," he read, "why she is the lady next door. I don't want you to know her, Eleanor. She has not the best of names in Richmond; this place teems with scandal! I am acquainted with half-a-dozen people who positively cram it down your throat whenever you are unfortunate enough to meet them."
"And what have they against Mrs. Mounteagle?"
"Well, my dear, nothing alarmingly serious, only she is rather a fast widow, and not a nice companion for you. She has a queer set at her house, and is almost too 'up-to-date' even for Richmond society."
"But since she has called, Philip, and we live next door, what am I to do?"
"It is awkward, certainly. I should leave cards, and not ask if she is in. That is about the best hint if you don't desire her acquaintance."
"She will think me so horrid," sighs Eleanor, "but I will do as you wish."
The following afternoon Eleanor, card-case in hand, rings at Mrs. Mounteagle's, prepared to carry out her husband's suggestion.
A soft voice singing in the garden arrests her attention. It is the sweetest sound Eleanor has ever heard. Light footsteps crunch the gravel, and a slim, dark woman approaches with slumbrous eyes, which look at the visitor dreamily. A smile, like a fitful name, flickers over Mrs. Mounteagle's face, suddenly bursting into a bright expression of ill-concealed amusement at Eleanor's nervous demeanour.
"Mrs. Roche," she exclaims, holding out a welcoming hand. "You see, being such near neighbours, I know you already by sight. I am sure, if you are only just married, you must find first calls most boring and tedious. But I am very glad you selected this afternoon to return mine, for I am simply pining to talk to someone. The dead leaves and general decay out here give one the blues. Come in, and help me to appreciate my first fire."
Eleanor has utterly forgotten her husband's wishes, till she finds herself in a softly cushioned rocking chair, with her feet on Mrs. Mounteagle's brightly-polished fender. Then she remembers—and ignores.
Never has any woman fascinated her as the lovely widow she is asked not to know. What sparkling conversation! and, oh, what a dainty tea service and piping hot cakes the footman places between them as they talk.
The room is far prettier than Eleanor's boudoir which she has hitherto considered such a dream of beauty. More than once Mrs. Roche suggests going, but the widow intreats her to remain.
"It is so delightful to have you!" she declares, with exuberant cordiality. "I have done nothing all the afternoon but lie on this sofa and yawn over a novel. I could have written it better myself, and that foolish librarian at Mudie's recommended it. I drive to town nearly every afternoon—there is always something to buy or something to see. Are you fond of London, Mrs. Roche?"
"I hardly know, I have been there so little. I lived in the country before my marriage, and was positively buried."
"It is a mercy then that Mr. Roche found you, and dug you up."
"Yes. I like married life much better."
"Spinsterhood is a mistake," retorts Mrs. Mounteagle. "If you have the misfortune to be thrown back upon yourself—widowed in your prime—take my advice and marry again. We poor weak little women were not made to take care of ourselves. We want a stronger arm to lean on—someone who will think for us, anticipate our every wish, load us with all the good things of this earth, and kiss us to sleep when we die!"
Eleanor listens admiringly to this superior mind.
"I shall re-marry," continues Mrs. Mounteagle, "but not immediately. I am practically 'growing my husband.' He is still young in years, though old in frivolity, or vice, whichever you like to call it. He must have his fling before he settles down, or I shall only be binding a burden on my shoulders."
Eleanor attends with deepening interest.
"I married very young," continues Mrs. Mounteagle, "and my husband was nearly eighty. Yes," noting her visitor's surprise, "rather a difference in our ages, wasn't there?
"Love, my dear Mrs. Roche, is a science; you can learn it with careful study, and make it always accommodating, pleasant, and never vulgarly effusive. Do not imagine that the first bloom of youth gleans all the peaches, leaving only apples for after years. A clever woman seldom grows old. She erases Time with the same nimble fingers with which she creates her boudoir, and makes it appear part of her being. You admire my sanctum, and small wonder. It has cost me sleepless nights as long as the furniture bills. I invented it. These chairs for instance were not arranged, they occurred. The minutest detail has positively been prayed over. Look at my quaint treasures! If other hands had placed them they might appear ignoble, debased. You see the curve of this pillowed couch, the tint of the curtains, it is Art, Mrs. Roche, Art with a big A."
"I am dreadfully envious," cries Eleanor, "there is no artistic genius in me."
"It must be born in the blood, but if you like I will 'compose' you a room. It shall be like a melody (if you can grasp the comparison)—subtle, entrancing."
"You are wonderful!" says Eleanor solemnly. "It is all so like a fairy palace, and you are the fairy, Mrs. Mounteagle."
"Then, in the guise of a mysterious gnome, let me give you a word of warning. You are a stranger in Richmond; pray take care not to get into a clique. They are so numerous and unhealthy, so full of civil wars and petty strife, that existence becomes poisoned, and all the romance of life is swept aside, seared, wasted!"
"Thank you," replies Eleanor, rising reluctantly and giving Mrs. Mounteagle both her hands. "How good you have been to me to-day!"
"I hope we shall see a great deal of each other," answers the widow softly, "and be very great friends."
"It shan't be my fault if we are not," responds Mrs. Roche.
"Oh, ma'am! Master's been home an hour, and he's frightened to death about you."
Thus Sarah greets her on her return.
"THE FLY THAT SIPS TREACLE IS LOST IN THE SWEETS."
"I am tired of arguing the subject," declares Philip hotly, rising from his chair and pacing the room. "If you will disregard my wishes and go your own way, well——"
"Let me, that's all!" retorts Eleanor.
"No wonder you have hardly a single friend in Richmond, if your whole time is spent with Mrs. Mounteagle," he replied.
"I don't want other friends—I dislike them, Philip, and what is the good of pretending friendship for people you don't care a button about? There is not a woman in the place that can hold a candle to Giddy."
"Oh, it's 'Giddy' now, is it?"
"Why not? I have known her nearly three months."
"Yes; and every month has been one too many. Do you think I cannot see the harm she is doing you? We might have led a happy, contented life it she were not here to poison it. What did you think of your home—before you met her? Everything was perfect! What did you say of it after?"
"Dowdy—old-fashioned—run to seed. Look at the transformation! Isn't my drawing-room a poem? Has not 'Liberty' descended like the goddess of Beauty on our abode, and made it the envy of our neighbours? Giddy has practically built me up, Philip. I owe her my dress-maker, my tailor, my style, my hats, my——"
"Oh! spare me," he interrupts, "I have heard it so often."
"Dear old fellow, don't be angry," coaxes Eleanor, with her old cajoling manner. "It is very hard for a poor little woman to be left alone all day, while her better half is frivoling in the City with stocks and shares, and all sorts of nice amusing things. There really is no harm in Giddy, and she is so awfully clever and entertaining."
"But I do not approve of the people you meet at her house, nor your frequent visits to town together. I don't wish my wife to be constantly seen with a woman of doubtful reputation."
"Nonsense about her reputation, it's all bosh! People are jealous of her beauty that say nasty things. She told me so herself. Besides, we only do a little shopping, and it is so dull going all by oneself."
Eleanor has crept into his arms, and is soothing his ruffled feeling with caresses.
"It is only because I love you, Eleanor," he says, with more passionately, hungering devotion than of yore. "Her companionship is not good for you, and she is always taking you away from me. That sounds selfish, doesn't it?"
"Well, I forgive you," she whispers, "if you will be less ferocious in the future. I declare, when you walk up and down—like this," imitating his stride, "and show the whites of your eyes—so! I want to hide under the sofa, and scream."
"Oh! Eleanor, was I such a bear?"
"Much worse than a bear; he is in a cage, and cannot get out. You just stand and laugh at him, and please him with a biscuit, or tease him with a feather."
"I didn't want to quarrel before going, only you started the subject of Mrs. Mounteagle, and it is rather a red rag, you know, Eleanor, since I objected from the first."
"But I am so wickedly wilful," she sighs, peeping through her eyelashes coquettishly. She has caught the "eye-lash" trick from her next-door neighbour.
"I am sorry, dear, to have to stay in town to-night, but it is most important. You won't give up your party at Hillier's?"
"Oh! no. I shall go alone. It is only one of their deadly musical evenings, with about three second-rate professionals, and a sprinkling of local talent. The Misses Hillier play the harp and violin, with particularly red arms and bony elbows, their sister-in-law sings in a throaty contralto, and the ices run out before ten."
"Is Mrs. Mounteagle asked?"
"They don't know each other, and Giddy is so glad. It gives her nearly a fit to look at them."
"Ah! yes, I remember Mrs. Hillier telling me she had not called."
"Now you are beginning again. And just as we had made it up, too," putting her hand over Philip's mouth.
"Well, I'll say no more. At least, I shall have the satisfaction of knowing you won't be with her to-night."
"Poor Giddy!" sighs Eleanor as he leaves; "how she is misjudged!"
"Mrs. Mounteagle," announces Sarah.
"How do, dear?" cries the widow sweetly, pressing Eleanor's cheek.
Then, as the door closes: "I don't like that maid of yours, she shows one in as if one were a dressmaker or sister of mercy, and always looks at me as if my bonnet were crooked. You really ought to get a man, it gives such a much better appearance to the place."
"I do not believe Philip would have one."
"My dear, a man is the last subject I should ever think of consulting my husband on. By-the-way, Eleanor, my fiance has turned up again. You know he went abroad to grow, and was not to come back for six months, but three seem to have nearly killed him. He has had typhoid fever in Antwerp, and then took a trip to New York, where he got jaundice. I must introduce you next Sunday, he is going to drive down."
"You never told me his name."
"Didn't I? Bertie—Herbert Dallison."
"Oh!" with an expressive intonation. "Is he fond of ices?"
"Yes. How did you know?"
"They are very unwholesome, and—and you said he had been ill."
"You are going to the Hilliers' to-night," Mrs. Mounteagle says, unfolding a parcel on her lap. "You intend wearing your white silk, I believe."
"Yes. It is good enough for them."
"I should think so, the cut of the skirt is lovely, but I am not altogether satisfied with the severe bodice. I want you to wear this fichu of mine, it is a perfect gem."
She holds out a cloud of spangled gauze.
"How lovely!" cries Eleanor, flinging her arms round the widow's neck.
"You're very welcome to it."
"Philip is deserting me to-night," continues Eleanor—"business in London."
"How dull you will be going and returning to your party alone. I know!" (her face lightening up as with some magic inspiration) "I'll come and stay the night with you, dear, see you dressed, and have a real good gossip up in your room about those stupid Hilliers afterwards."
Philip's words return to Eleanor: "At least you will not be together this evening." Yet what can she do? Besides it will be such fun to have Giddy.
So the plan is settled, and that evening Mrs. Mounteagle arrives in a flowing tea-gown, her maid unpacking a dainty dressing-bag with gold-topped ornaments, and hanging up a dress for the morning. Giddy sits in a low arm-chair watching Eleanor's toilette.
"Sarah is doing your hair abominably!" she exclaims. "You will look a fright. Here, let me show you, my good girl," addressing the maid in the superior drawl she adopts towards menials. "Twist the coil at the top—so, like a teapot handle, and let the side pieces wave loosely over the ears. You don't want to make a guy of your mistress, do you?"
Sarah resents the interference, but between them Eleanor's coiffure is eventually arranged.
"Now you are lovely; a sight for sore eyes," declares Giddy Mounteagle. "Yet what is the good after all in being beautiful for such a dowdy set? They will only hate you for it, as they hate me, the fools! We cannot help being well favoured."
"And she calls 'erself a lady!" says Sarah, scoffingly, to Judith later on. "She's as different to our young mistress as chalk to cheese."
"I don't like leaving you alone," declares Eleanor after dinner.
"Afraid I shall steal something?" asks Giddy, laughing. "Don't fret, my dear, I shall be quite happy in this glorious bookland. Mr. Roche has a most enviable collection. I have rather a headache, and shall go to bed early and read. I never sleep before two or three in the morning; so don't ring, but just throw a stone at my window. I should love to let you in."
"Just as you please, dear. It is all the same to me."
"You need not sit up for Mrs. Roche," says Mrs. Mounteagle, when she goes to her room, "and, Sarah! bring me coffee in the morning, my nerves will not stand tea."
Flinging open her window, Giddy lets the chilly night air mingle with the fumes of her cigarette, as she lies on a sofa before the fire.
In the meanwhile the beautiful Mrs. Roche is causing quite a sensation at the Hilliers', who are not so dowdy after all. The smartest Richmond girls arrive on this occasion, yet the men crowd round Eleanor, who, elated by success, converses in a most effervescing style.
She finds herself using Giddy's expressions, stealing Giddy's ideas, remembering her droll sayings, and repeating them second-hand.
They seem to go down, and amuse Eleanor as much as her listeners. She has just told a smart story (rather too smart for the occasion), when her glance falls on a man in the doorway. He is looking straight across at her with strangely magnetic eyes. He is tall, slim, handsome. She stops speaking. The stranger awakes a new interest; she forgets the others, she wants him.
He seeks out the youngest Miss Hillier, and asks for an introduction.
"Mrs. Roche—Mr. Quinton."
Two magic words make them friends. He takes the seat of honour by her side, monopolises the conversation, and eventually disperses her admiring circle.
Eleanor is glad. She is fascinated by the profound interest he displays when she speaks of herself. Besides, from what he tells her she gathers he is a man of genius, destroyed by pessimism, given to analyse human hearts and discover their misery, to look deeply into the lives of his fellow creatures, below the platitudes and conventionalities. He is richly endowed with the divine gift of sympathy, the supreme art of discrimination, yet occasionally reveals the witty spirits of the cynic, who is cynical to please.
He sees through Eleanor's society prattle, the guileless mind, the childish innocence. He recognises that as yet she is undeveloped—he mentally reviews her. She is absurd, improbable, and therefore fascinating. She is like a book with the best chapters torn out—you long to find them, and never rest till you succeed.
Palmists or clairvoyants would prophesy a future for her, simply through looking in her eyes; but whether notoriety is to be won by downfalling or uprising were better left unstated. Eleanor, he decides, is neither highly-strung nor excitable, but outspoken, fresh, and conscious of her beauty, without conceit. He thinks he loves her at first sight, the lukewarm love arising from admiration, which a man may feel towards a married woman, without blame, but at the close of the evening he is certain of it.
"What have we been talking about all to-night?" asks Eleanor, with a puzzled frown, and a smile which counteracts it. "So much was frivolous and foolish I cannot remember."
"Yet every word is hidden in some secret cell of your brain. Oh, that the secret cells could be opened and revealed to our nearest and dearest. What countless forgotten treasures might be restored."
"Or what ill-spoken words and evil quarrels revived," adds Eleanor wisely.
"Thus speaks a guilty conscience," he retorts. "I could sum up my life on a sheet of foolscap. 'Preface; apparent folly, covering intents and purposes. A boyhood of ambition, a manhood of misfortune.'"
"Yes, since I grew to realise facts, to see men and women as they are, not as they appear! Sometimes the bare word 'reality' fills me with such loathing for this paltry world, with its pigmy minds and soulless bodies, that I can hardly control my contempt. I pull myself together, and pray for a new set of nerves, a stronger heart, and a better flow of healthy blood to the brain."
"What a pity that nerves cannot be purchased like false teeth," says Eleanor laughing.
"Nerves are the finest satire on our human organisation, and our bodies, each a theatre of perpetual activity, the most confusing mystery of all. I believe in a dual nature existing in men and women, but the difficulties which bar our progress to perfect knowledge of each other cannot be overcome."
"Things that can't be understood are invariably irritating," sighs Eleanor.
"Some day we will think it out together," he whispers, waving her fan gently. "We shall meet again, Mrs. Roche"—speaking confidently—"for have we not a mutual friend in Mrs. Mounteagle, whom I regret is not here to-night?"
"Yes. It is strange that we should both know her."
Eleanor has risen, and is holding out her hand for the fan.
"You are not going?"
"Look at the hour! I shall be disgraced if I stay longer."
She leaves him, and bids her hostess good-night, but finds he is waiting in the hall for a last word.
"May I call your carriage?"
"I did not order it, as I only live three doors off."
"Then may I escort you?"
Eleanor glances at him confidently with her large innocent eyes.
"Yes; I mean you to."
Mr. Quinton smiles, and takes her arm as they step out into the darkness.
"I knew somebody would see me home," she says, the old, childish Eleanor breaking through the "Giddy" manner. "I thought it would be much more fun than driving this step."
"Then it was premeditated."
She laughs softly.
"I wish it were not so near," murmurs Mr. Quinton.
"Mrs. Mounteagle wanted to let me in—I believe out of simple curiosity. I am to throw stones at her window. Quite romantic, isn't it?"
"May I have a shot?" he asks. "Which is the pane of beauty's shrine?"
"There, on the left of my room," pointing upwards.
A handful of gravel flies through the air. Rattle, rattle on the glass.
Then Giddy appears in a white robe de chambre, her dark hair falling in waves about her shoulders.
"All right, I am coming down."
A moment later she stands before them, laughing and shaking hands with Carol Quinton, two small, bare feet peeping from under her airy garb, her hair still unfettered.
"It is a delightful surprise to see you, Carol," she cries. "I have sent all the servants to bed, Eleanor, but told them to leave out some aspic and champagne, as I know the Hilliers starve their guests. What do you say to an impromptu supper party? It would be so delightfully unconventional."
She has dragged Carol into the hall and closed the door.
"Yes, do come in," echoes Eleanor feebly, pleased and yet awed by Giddy's suggestion. She is looking somewhat blankly at those delicate pink toes, and the dark mane falling over the white gown.
"Shall I get you some shoes?" she whispers.
"No, dear; Nature is better than leather, and more neglige."
She speaks in a tone that silences Eleanor, who feels she has been dense and awkward.
"Come along," says Giddy, leading the way, and lighting the silver candelabra in the dining-room. "Do make Eleanor take off that heavy fur cloak, Carol. Oh! isn't this nice?" as he fills her glass with champagne. "Was there ever a jollier little trio?" leaning back in her chair and surveying the other two complacently. "Pass me a brown sandwich; I am hungry if you are not, and the stuff inside them gives you an appetite. What do you call it?—something beginning with an 'L.'"
The nectar of the gods puts a bright sparkle into Eleanor's eyes, their lustrous beauty gleams on Giddy and Carol Quinton in luxurious contentment. She permits her guests to smoke, and tries a whiff from Mrs. Mounteagle's cigarette, finally lighting one on her own behalf.
She dislikes smoking in reality, but considers it smart to imitate the widow.
"Have you really missed hearing Kitty Bell at the 'Frivolity'?" asks Mrs. Mounteagle, giving Carol a light from her cigarette. "My dear boy, she is perfectly charming, the most piquante little singer of the day. Why, the chorus of her last song has haunted me ever since—the tune, not the words. It went something like this, as far as I can remember:
"Poor little Flo, How should she know? A simple country maiden From the wilds of Pimlico."
As Giddy Mounteagle sings the lines a latchkey turns in the hall lock, footsteps advance down the passage, the dining-room door opens, and Philip Roche stands before them!
LIKE ONE THAT ON A LONESOME ROAD DOST WALK IN FEAR AND DREAD.
Eleanor's blood runs cold at the sight of her husband. She knows well what he will think of this impromptu, supper-party. Giddy's feet for the moment are mercifully concealed by the table-cloth. She half rises, however, and stretches out her hand to Mr. Roche.
"Eleanor was just wishing you would come back," she murmurs sweetly.
"I returned quite by chance," he answers coldly, knowing her words to be untrue. "Brown could not put me up after all," turning to his wife, "so I drove down."
"Philip, this is Mr. Quinton; he kindly saw me home, and—and——"
"We persuaded him to come in," adds Giddy, as Carol, grasping the situation, says pleasantly:
"Delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Roche."
But, though Philip is far too gentlemanly to show his disapproval, all the hilarity has gone from the evening. Perhaps it is due to Eleanor's sudden tranquillity, the pallor of her face, and nervous hesitating speech. She is no adept at concealing her emotions or "passing things off" like Giddy and Carol. She leaves the rest of the conversation to them, and while Philip is seeing Mr. Quinton out slips upstairs for Giddy's shoes and beseeches her to put them on.
"My husband will think it so odd," she whispers. "I saw him looking at your hair."
"Yes," replies Mrs. Mounteagle, "men always admire it. But don't be alarmed, dear; I am far too fond of you to care about making a friend of your husband." Then she saunters up to bed, with a glance at Eleanor's pretty, troubled face.
"I wonder if she'll have sense enough to hold her own," thinks Giddy. "Poor little fool, to be sat upon already!" She hears them come up, and creeping from her room steals on tip-toe to their door, with her ear to the keyhole.
There are high words within, and some unpleasant allusions to herself in distinctly masculine tones. Eleanor is heard crying, but her tears do not hasten a reconciliation. Giddy goes quietly back.
"Bah!" she exclaims, stretching out her hands to the fire. "What rot! As if there was any harm!"
She stirs up the blaze and laughs. "I shall breakfast in bed," she says to herself.
* * * * *
"He doesn't understand me. He wants me to be so good, so uninteresting, so domesticated! I believe he married me for that. Oh! oh! oh!"
Mrs. Roche is wringing her hands and sobbing on the sofa.
"Another quarrel?" sighs Giddy, stroking Eleanor's soft hair. "Come, come, this won't do. Pluck up your courage, go your own way, act as you like, and laugh at your husband. He can't scold you if you laugh! Tears will only gratify his vanity, besides they are disastrous to beauty. Once your eyes become swollen, and your nose red, you can no longer hold your own. Your sense of superiority is gone, you are undone!"
"How awful I look!" sighs Eleanor, rising and facing the glass. "I hope Sarah will say 'not at home' if anybody calls."
"I am not going to let you stay in and mope, just because Mr. Roche happened to leave in a lecturing mood this morning. I have arranged a little tea in town at my club."
"Your club? I did not know you had one."
"Oh! yes, and I am on the committee. Nearly all the artists and literary women have their clubs nowadays, so I and some friends started one for people who do absolutely nothing. It is very useful to members with jealous husbands. We call it the 'Butterflies' Club,' a land of cosy corners and rendezvous. You really will have to join it, Eleanor, if Philip goes on like this. I will put you up at our next meeting. It is rather an expensive luxury, ten guineas a year, and a Turkish bath attached."
Giddy places her arm affectionately through Eleanor's and leads her to the door.
"Come up and dress, dear; my carriage will be here in half an hour, and I don't intend going without you."
Eleanor cheers up at the prospect. She is like an April day.
Giddy fans her friend's flushed face, rubs some powder gently with her fingers round the swollen eyes, and showers eau-de-Cologne on the burning forehead.
"Do not throw yourself into any more fevers," she says; "life is too short, and sorrow too long."
Eleanor is soon attired in green velvet and fur, for Mrs. Mounteagle declares it is necessary to be smart at the Butterflies' Club.
They drive away together in the widow's snug little brougham.
Herbert Dallison is waiting outside the club door to receive them; he starts, colours, and stares at Eleanor as Giddy introduces him.
"Say 'how do you do?' prettily," she cries in a bantering tone, "and don't gape like an overgrown school-boy, if you love me, Bertie!"
Mr. Dallison holds out a limp hand in a grey glove, smiles feebly, and thinks of the "relics" and the cat!
"Why are you not at the Junior Conservative?" murmurs Eleanor, laughing softly, "instead of dangling round the 'Butterflies'?"
"Ah! you remember my card."
"Yes, I have it still. I hope you will make Giddy a good husband," speaking demurely.
"I ought to, after all I've gone through for her sake. It is a mercy I have come back alive after my illnesses, and the dangerous young people I met on the Continent."
"Let me introduce you to our coming member, the Butterfly that is to be," says Giddy, and Eleanor turns to face Carol Quinton.
Mrs. Mounteagle laughs merrily at her astonished look.
"I did not tell you he was coming, but now we are just a cosy quartette."
"I am afraid," murmurs Mr. Quinton, "that my visit to your charming home the other evening was ill-timed. Mr. Roche seemed somewhat taken aback by my presence."
"Yes," stammers Eleanor, growing red.
"I was so vexed you should be annoyed," he replies, "that I could not go home, but paced the pavement for an hour, watching the light in your window."
Eleanor's eyes expand. She has a way of looking "surprise" without saying it, and the look lasts quite a long while, during which an ordinary person would have expressed their feelings several times over. Then the wonderment fades like a magic-lantern slide, and she talks of something else.
"Have you ever seen the sun burst suddenly through a fog? It is like your smile," says Carol, gazing into Eleanor's face. "Why don't you always smile?"
"Because I am not always happy," she responds quietly.
A pained expression steals into the man's eyes, and Eleanor flushes rosy under his look. It is deep, searching, admiring; it confuses her. She wants to push it away like something oppressive, a funeral veil dark and heavy, or a chloroformed handkerchief, stifling breath!
The words break from him with bitter irony.
"You have youth, beauty, personal magnetism, the power to charm, eyes that might wreck a life every day in the year. You need not scheme for love nor demand it. It is yours by natural right. Why is not your life one of wildest exhilaration, conquests, pleasures? Who could deny you anything, Mrs. Roche?"
Eleanor knows well, but is too loyal to say. She would sooner bite out her tongue than answer "Philip!" Yet he would rob her of the companionship of her dearest friend, would deny her intercourse with Carol Quinton, could he hear these low-whispered words of adulation! As she thinks of it, her husband takes the form of some heartless monster, sapping her youth's freedom, fettering her down to his side like a dragon-fly on a pin, she can only flap her wings faintly and gasp in vain.
"Were you sorry to see me to-day?" asks Mr. Quinton, watching the firelight playing on Eleanor's figure.
"No, I was very miserable this afternoon; I had been crying. I like meeting you, it does me good."
As she speaks the electric light is turned up, and a little groan issues from Giddy.
"Just as we were all so comfortable in the gloaming!" pulling her hand from Bertie's with a pout.
"Butterflies should like light better than darkness," he drawls.
"I want to look round now," cries Eleanor, enthusiastically viewing the beautiful room. "Anyone could see that Giddy had something to do with this."
"Here is a pretty little writing-table behind a screen, with a rose-coloured lamp," says Carol. "When you are a member, Mrs. Roche, will you sometimes write to me?"
"What should I have to say?" she asks innocently, surprised at the suggestion.
"Tell me about yourself, if only in one line: 'I live—I breathe—I have my being.'"
"What an odd letter!"
"I like odd things, I like odd people; I hate conventionality, and scorn the commonplace. I know a girl who always speaks the truth, and everybody hates her. She glories in it."
"How splendid to be hated for such a cause!" declares Eleanor.
"She never will embrace a woman she dislikes, so many people think it is necessary, and the kiss of detestation is more fashionable in Society than that of real affection. For myself, I think a kiss is overrated. It should be looked on in the light of a hand-shake—harmless and agreeable, a mark of courtesy, endearment or respect."
"Then you would have to explain it," says Eleanor. "'I kiss you because I idolise you;' 'I kiss you because you are estimable;' 'I kiss you because you are rich and entertain me.' No, it would never answer."
She is fingering the delicate, scented writing paper.
"How nice this address is in gold, with a big butterfly in the corner. I have some invitations to answer, and I should like to do it here—it looks so well."
Eleanor seats herself, and draws the paper towards her. "Mrs. Roche regrets that, owing to no previous engagement, she is unable to accept Mrs. B's dull invitation for Thursday!"
"Have you an 'At home' on Thursday week?"
"Yes, but I shall decline it."
"Don't," he whispers. "Accept—let them expect you—and fail to turn up. Come and meet me instead."
Eleanor trembles suddenly and grows pale. She feels herself face to face with temptation.
"No," she replies faintly. "But I shall be in, and if you call——"
"'If'! there is no 'if' in the matter. I would come every day if you let me."
"Every day!" Oh! how alluring it sounds.
She twists her wedding ring round and round, looking down on the carpet. She remembers the pattern that night in her dreams, a red Maltese cross on a blue ground. The blue and red swim before her eyes now like the colours in a kaleidoscope. A solitary tear rises in her left eye and falls on the blotter.
"If only I might do as I like!" she murmurs.
"'Might' is a word you could blot from your vocabulary. Why not?"
"Oh! don't—don't—don't," as he lays his hand on hers, and the touch thrills her with bewildering emotion.
"Where is Giddy? Oh! Giddy, take me home; it is nearly half-past five, and Philip will be back."
Mrs. Mounteagle raises her eyebrows at Eleanor's agitated tones.
"You told me he would be late this evening."
"Did I?" easing on her gloves.
Carol is standing behind with her cloak. His hands linger a moment as they fall on her shoulder, and he turns up the warm fur collar about her ears.
"My mite of a brougham only holds two," says Giddy, "and Bertie is coming with me, so I dare say Mr. Quinton will see you home in a hansom."
The suggestion amazes Eleanor. Really Giddy has the most delightful ideas, and as to Philip's prejudices——well her thoughts on this subject are better not divulged.
One moment she is a panic-stricken girl, afraid as the very word "flirtation", the next, inconsistent, susceptible, a slave to Giddy's whims, easily led, easily beguiled.
She can hear her heart beating, as Carol helps her into the hansom. It is dark already, dark as the unknown future, while they whirl away in the gloom.