Peggy of the Bartons

Part I — Romance

Chapter I

Waiting for the May Fly

Probably nowhere in the length and breadth of England are there more picturesque and sequestered villages than in Sandshire, although these, it must be admitted, are not easily discerned, save by a practised eye. They shrink from high roads and the neighbourhood of railways, and nestle away in remote valleys and isolated localities, where a full-grown hamlet is the last thing you expect to find. However, when you descry a dip between two hills, and a thick fringe of trees, there you may confidently look for a stumpy church spire, around which are assembled various irregular thatched roofs and venerable black barns. Here, space is of no more moment than time; each cottage is detached, and has its own particular garden or orchard, and thus the village straggles on for a mile, or even farther, until it gradually loses itself among the fields, or melts away into a weather-beaten finger-post.

A Sandshire village (figuratively speaking) is not in one, but three volumes—Upper, Middle, and Nether, and an insignificant hamlet with a solitary policeman and one baker may spread the radiance of its name over an area of several parishes. These secluded villages are generally reached by narrow, high-hedged lanes, winding through a wild and romantic country—lanes where, in the season, you may put up coveys of partridges, scatter a meeting of rabbits, and greatly disconcert a hedgehog or a mole; lanes, well accustomed to gipsy caravans and ancient carriers’ carts, but where the sight of a woman on a bicycle would afford other wayfarers a topic for weeks.

Of all the villages in the west of Sandshire, Lower Barton unconsciously bears the palm for the beauty of its surroundings, the age and irregularity of its buildings, and the primitive simplicity of its inhabitants. It claims, this sleepy hamlet, to have been a royal manor, sitting by its stream, since Saxon times, and widely renowned for its deer park, gingerbread and gallows!

You come upon it suddenly at the end of a narrow road; first a great black barn, then a forge, with huge pile of rusty horse shoes at the entrance, next a venerable red cottage, extremely shy, with its back to the thoroughfare, now widening out to embrace a limpid stream, which trickles down the middle of the tree-shaded High Street, and is crossed in two places by a rustic bridge. Houses become more plentiful, some with clipped yew porches, overhanging eaves, and little windows slyly peeping out high in the thatch—windows, with neat muslin curtains; the Barton folk are particular in this respect. No two dwellings are alike; some are black and white, with timbered gables—such as we copied in water-colours in our early youth, and fondly believed to be imaginary structures! One claims to be a portion of King John’s hunting lodge; next door stands a pert little yellow villa, which shamelessly announces itself as dating from 1872, and looks ridiculously out of place among its venerable companions. Many of these are veiled in creepers, and surrounded by bowery gardens, all ablaze with homely flowers. Meanwhile, the street wanders casually along, its hedges illuminated with lilac and laburnum, with here a field, and there a shop; the very butcher’s premises are overhung with hawthorn; his stall, a mere open veranda, abutting on a paddock—which has, alas! been the scene of many tragedies. At the end of the village is a square brick house, from which a faded sign-board swings to and fro, indicating that it is a hostelry. Otherwise, with its roomy porch and generous garden, it resembles a comfortable private residence. The “Dog and Crook” is the last dwelling in Nether Barton, and bears an expression of extreme complacency on its broad red face, although it is five miles from a railway station, three from a telegraph office, and depends solely (owing to a feud with the butcher) upon an octogenarian carrier for its daily food.

In the coffee-room of the “Dog and Crook” we discover no less than four gentlemen: gentlemen of leisure. One lies asleep on the horse-hair sofa, with a newspaper almost concealing his face, underneath which we catch a glimpse of a luxuriant grey beard. This is General Pollard, who has ventured down to this out-of-the-world spot in anticipation of pursuing his favourite sport, but the May fly has not yet arrived, and he is sleeping off his disappointment—and a heavy lunch.

Next in seniority comes Mr. Wilcox Whiting, a wealthy elderly bachelor, with a white flabby face, a pair of pale round eyes, and ditto short stiff whiskers. Instinctively, he recalls a serious and well-to-do grimalkin, and shares all a cat’s enthusiasm for trout. He is an ardent angler, but at present, knowing indulgence in the princely sport to be hopeless, he has resigned his cumbersome form to two chairs, and his great mind to the Sandshire Herald (aged four days).

The apartment is large, but low; the furniture old, but solid. The walls are panelled with oak, and hung with coloured prints, whose value would amaze their proprietor; there are whitish antimacassars on most of the chairs, a pink lamp upon the sideboard, supported by huge pink bowls, crammed with lilac and hawthorn; these are striving (vainly) to conquer an abiding atmosphere of beer and tobacco.

The two young men looking out of the window are brother officers in the Royal Shetland Rangers, who have contrived to obtain a few days’ leave from Aldershot—Captain Kinloch because he is a keen fisherman, and his friend Mr. Whiting had mentioned Nether Barton as a private paradise for anglers; and Captain Goring because he loathes the drudgery of soldiering, and is thankful to effect his escape from daily parades and dusty field days in the Long Valley and Laffan’s plain.

“Well, I call this pretty slow,” he exclaimed, as he stretched his arms above his head, and concluded a cavernous yawn. “Heat tropical, fish sulky, May fly a myth, no evening paper, and dinner not due for four mortal hours.”

“There is nothing to prevent you having it now if you wish,” remarked Kinloch, who was engrossed in his fly-book.

“Yes, I daresay! and only just swallowed luncheon. Oh, why do I ever drink beer? Why did I ever come here?”

“Why, indeed?” His comrade was not responsible for his advent; in fact, he had (as far as politeness permitted) done his utmost to quench Goring’s desire to “join him for a few jolly days’ fishing on the little-known river Beck.”

“Well, you have only been here twenty-four hours,” he said. “Give the place a chance.”

“Wish I’d gone down to Newmarket instead; only the Colonel would have shied, as I had leave for Punchestown and Liverpool. The old man never refuses fishing leave, as he is mad about it himself. There is nothing to do here,” grumbled Goring; “I never saw such a God-forsaken hole in all my life: nothing to see, unless the village idiot, or,” with a scornful laugh, “the village beauty.”

“Sometimes you discover that they are one and the same person,” remarked Mr. Whiting, as he deliberately turned over the paper. “I have known a pretty girl before now, who has been a most amazing fool.”

“Yes, a silly little ass, who throws away her chances. You don’t often come across such at this time of day. The end of the century girls are up to the whole bag of tricks, and as sharp and as calculating as——”

“Come, come,” expostulated Kinloch, with a bit of gut between his teeth, “leave the girls alone!”

“Oh, worthy St. Anthony, you little know them——”

“I say,” interrupted the other, pointing out of the window, “here you are!”

“Which of them?”

“This fellow, shuffling along with turned in feet, and bits of pink paper in his cap, must be the village idiot! And he is coming straight here with a telegram.”

“Bound to be for me!” cried Goring. “Come out, old man, and hear who has won the Chester cup,” and, nearly falling over Mr. Whiting’s outstretched legs, totally regardless of his smothered imprecation, he burst open the door with a violence that awoke General Pollard, and fluttered the flowers and newspapers as with a gale. “‘Lolly,’ first, ‘After you,’ second, ‘Scarfe-pin,’ third,” he read, when he had snatched at and torn open the envelope. “My luck, dead out. Bang goes a hundred pounds!”

“Eighteen pence for messenger, please,” piped the bearer in a squeaky falsetto.

“Eighteen pence! Get along with you.”

“It’s three mile—sixpence a mile; ask Mrs. Banner.”

“Yes, sir, that is correct,” replied the buxom landlady, who had bustled into the narrow passage. “Sixpence a mile. The needle goes all our messages.”

“All right, I’ll take your word for it, Mrs Banner,” said Goring, counting three sixpences into a broad yellow palm.

These the idiot carefully scrutinized, and subsequently transferred into a well-filled leather purse, and then taking up his stick, he dispensed a wide grin of farewell, and scuffled off towards the village.

“Why ‘needle’?” asked Goring, turning to the hostess.

“Well, sir, because, considering everything, he is rather sharp.”

“Not such a fool as he looks, eh! How old is he?”

“Really, sir, I cannot say,” responded Mrs Banner, seating herself in the porch; “but when I was a little girl, he looked much as he does now.”

“About twenty?”

“Oh, he is a good bit more than that,” said the landlady, who was herself on the shady side of thirty; a personable woman with great dark eyes, wearing a tawdry red blouse, a full-sized cameo brooch, and whose stubby fingers were busily engaged on yet another whitey-brown antimacassar. “I’m sorry you gents has had such poor sport this morning,” she continued, affably, as she twisted the ivory needle in and out. “However, it will be first-rate in a few days, I never knew them flies so late. There are two more gentlemen coming to-morrow.”

“Why, I thought this fishing was a dead, dead, secret,” broke in Goring.

“Oh, dear no, sir. Mr. Whiting and the General, they likes to keep it very quiet, but it’s getting a bit known. I don’t mind myself how many parties come, but their valets, they do worrit, they do.”

“I think Whiting would prefer them to their masters,” remarked Goring, with a knowing glance at his comrade. “Won’t he be wild to-morrow!”

“I don’t expect there will be any fishing before Saturday,” announced Mrs Banner, with staggering nonchalance.

“Saturday!” echoed the young man. “And pray what is to become of us till then!”

“I’m sure I don’t know. Gentlemen that comes down mostly thinks of naught but the river.”

“But is there nothing to see?”

“Oh, yes, heaps. There’s the church, as we set great store by; folks make out it’s hundreds of years old. There’s a queer monument in the wall, and two brass men on the chancel flags, with pointed shoes, and beards, and petticoats.”

“No, no—I don’t want to see the church,” he protested, as he threw away the stump of a cigar. “What else?”

“There’s Mrs Waller’s prize pigs, they are a sight, and John Travenor’s cart horses, are well worth looking at, up at the Hall.”

“Is he the Squire?”

“No, we have no Squire; we does our own squiring; and there’s the old haunted manor house at Summerford, if you happen to have any fancy that ways?”

“No, thank you,” squaring his shoulders comfortably against the porch.

“My tastes don’t lean to bogies, plow horses, or even pigs. Is there such a thing as a beauty in the village?—present company always excepted,” and he looked down into her great gipsy eyes, with a glance of audacious admiration.

Mrs Banner giggled, and accepted the tribute with a coy lowering of her black lashes, thus missing the wink which her flatterer bestowed upon his companion.

“Well, I don’t know; I suppose we have a fair share of good looks between us in the three Bartons. Some fancies Lizzie Gilbert the laundress, some fancies Fanny Lee, and some talk of Peggy Summerhayes, but she is only a young slip of a thing, and too spare and gawky,” casting a smirk of complacency over her own ample proportions. “I believe a painter—I mean a picture painter—was terribly anxious to make a drawing of her; he stayed here, and raved about her. But they are all queer, cracked folk, them artists. He said he was going to do her as a ‘Primrose by the river brim.’ Did ye ever hear of the like? Lord, how we did laugh; Banner and I. However, John Travenor wouldn’t hear of it; he’d ha primrosed him, I can tell you!”

“Why, what had he to say to it?”

“He is her brother-in-law, ye see. She lives with him altogether, now her schooling is done. She is going on for eighteen.”

“Eighteen!” repeated Goring, seating himself opposite to the landlady, and deliberately crossing his legs. “A most interesting age! What is she like?”

“Middling tall, lots of crinkly brown hair, very pretty eyes, and a skin like a lily.”

“Not an orange Lily, I hope?”

“Laws, no,” with a puzzled stare, “nor a tiger lily neither.”

“Well, I must say, that I admire your description. Have I any chance of seeing her?”

“No, not unless you go to church,” with a knowing nod. “She sings in the choir.”

“Yes; but she can’t sing there all the week.”

“Of course not; but she don’t come into the village much, Mrs. Travenor keeps herself to herself, and is mighty uppish; though Travenor is a plain farmer; I’ve seen him myself, milking and thatching; but his wife is a lady by birth, and she don’t forget it; no, nor let you forget it, neither. The Summerhayes of Summerford were grand people once, and there are crowds of their tombs in the churchyard to be seen. Of course folks say Janet Summerhayes only married Travenor to make a home for her little sister, and she sent Peggy to school, and brought her up pretty strict. She won’t let her go about with the village girls, much less,” with an expressive grin, “the young men.”

“Miss Peggy must find it a trifle dull,” remarked Goring, slyly applying the end of his lighted cigar to the inquiring nose of the hotel terrier, who subsequently fled, howling.

“Drat the dog, what ails him!” exclaimed Mrs. Banner. Then continued: “I take it that Peggy is a wild one to handle, and when she wants her own way, she must get it, and does get it;” and she threw back her head, and laughed at some amusing reminiscence.

“Come, what is the joke, Mrs Banner?”

“I was only thinking of the day one of the old work horses got the fret, and they was talking of shooting him, and how Peggy did carry on to be sure! Just like a girl you’d see on the stage, I do declare! her eyes shining, and her voice shaking, and her hands going every way! She got her way, too, then! Aye, she has a rare spirit of her own. There is the Ancient Foresters’ fête next week, and you may happen to see her there, if she takes it into her head to go.”

“It would be an enormous temptation, certainly; but if this unpunctual insect does not appear to-morrow, I shall clear.”

“Oh dear me, sir, I do hope you will stay on. Why, you only came yesterday, we couldn’t let you go just yet,” looking up at him with an expression of genuine regret.

Yes, he was unquestionably pleasing to the eye! Clear-cut features, venturesome blue eyes, with a bold devil-may-care, yet droll expression, and a positively delightful smile, rendered Goring an attractive personality to most men, and to all women. Moreover, he had a pleasant voice, an easy manner, a wonderful faculty for making friends: these, with an irreproachable taste in dress, went far to equip him for the battle of life.

“I say, Goring, what a shameless gossip you are!” exclaimed his brother officer, as he buckled up his fly-book; “your stock of idle curiosity has no limits.”

“Come, I like that! when you have been steadily absorbing all the information Mrs. Banner has so kindly accorded me.”

“Well, I’m going for a stroll before dinner,” Continued Kinloch, in a resolute tone.

“To get an appetite? By the way,” appealing to his hostess, “what is for dinner?”

“Trout, roast lamb, gooseberry pie, and custards,” was her glib reply.

“Oh, then, in that case, I believe I’ll take a walk, too.”

“If you want a real nice one, sir, go across the road, straight up the lane, through the painted gate, and you come out on a cart track that runs past Travenor’s farm, and that will carry you into the Roman Remains.”

“All right, Mrs Banner,” replied Goring, lifting his cap with a sunny smile; “we will do our best to make out the Roman Remains, and mind you don’t forget the mint sauce!”

Chapter II

A Country Heart

“Lord, how that woman does jaw! She would talk the hind leg off an ass,” was Goring’s ungrateful remark, as, with long and steady strides, he and his companion breasted the hill.

“It struck me that you gave her a fair amount of encouragement,” remarked the other.

“Oh, I was only drawing her out about pretty Peggy. By the way, I wonder if she is pretty?”

“Why?—where does your interest come in?”

“If the fish don’t rise, I may be very thankful to fall back on pretty Peggy, pour passer le temps.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Goring,” said his comrade, decapitating a tall weed with a hasty swing of his stick. “You know as well as I do that you don’t mean a word you say, and, anyway, I should think you have quite enough girls on hand——”

“There—there,” interrupted the other, “consider it all taken as said. Rustic beauties are not my style. Give me a young woman who knows her way about, and how to put on her clothes.”

“Very well, then. This Miss Summerhayes is absolutely certain to be a simple little dowdy—and surely you came here to fish, and not to flirt.”

“To fish, yes; but I’m not an enthusiast, you know. It’s the most selfish sport in God’s world.”

“Not half as selfish as some kinds of flirting.”

“Isn’t it, just! A man’s true character comes out when he has a rod in his hand! Your best friend might die for you, but he won’t tell you the likely places, or his pet fly. If you meet a chap with a nice basket of trout, and ask him if he has had good sport, he invariably says, ‘middling; gone off now, though.’ And your own brother would get up at sunrise, and fish a stream before you.”

“He might easily do that, if you had a brother. You never get under way till eleven o’clock.”

“No; I don’t care about dry fly-fishing. Give me Greenwell’s Glory, none of your green drakes, and humbugging may-flies. Talking of fishing; you have never been caught yet?”

“No; and if I were landed, I should be chucked back as under regulation size.”

Goring glanced at his companion. He was six feet in height, his figure was well set up, and admirably proportioned.

“A penniless lad, wi’ a lang pedigree!” he whistled.

“It certainly is the very deuce to be poor.”

“Oh, there are worse things than an empty pocket,” returned Kinloch.

“Yes. Your pocket may be empty, but your head is not. There is no doubt about your brains. I daresay you will be a Commander-in-Chief yet, when you are, I hope you will give me a nice easy billet on the staff.”

“What do you want, Goring? Pray, what can I do for you, now? Whence these compliments?”

“Oh,” with a laugh, “nothing at present; I’m only just keeping my hand in for Peggy Summerhayes!”

Meanwhile, the pair had climbed a long steep hill, sprinkled with pens of black-faced sheep, at the summit was a winding cart track, some farm buildings, and stacks of corn.

“I see no sign of these blessed Roman Remains.”

“No; but there is the river,” exclaimed Kinloch pointing to a shining ribbon, which wandered through a wide green valley directly below them.

“I see. Well, I think I won’t mind exploring any farther. If I go down that hill, the chances are that I shall have to climb up it again. I’ll take your word for the condition of the water, old man.”

“You are a lazy beggar. Why, you have not walked more than a mile. What are you going to do?”

“I’ll go back, and see if the old Whiting will play a game of picquet, and find out if there is any hock in the cellar.”

“Hock at Lower Barton!” repeated Kinloch, bursting into a derisive laugh. “Why not make it iced at once? You may think yourself lucky to get a good glass of draught beer,” and, with a wave of his stick, he hurried down the hill.

*  *  *

Captains Kinloch and Goring were comrades strictly in the military sense (where the terms comrade, and friend, are not necessarily synonymous). It was not a craving for each other’s society which had brought them together in this out of the world spot.

Kinloch was a keen fisherman, and Goring, who had overheard him unfolding his plans to a brother officer, and gathering that there was a little mystery about the locality, and, above all, discovering that his company was not specially desired, became instantly fired with a determination to accompany Kinloch to his haunt, and to discover its attractions for himself.

Besides, three or four days ruralizing in the cool green country, with an inexhaustible supply of cream, butter, eggs, and trout, would be an agreeable variety from the mess ménu. Goring was full of the modern restless spirit, and eager for any change. “Everything in turn,” was his motto, “and nothing long.” He had already served in two other regiments, and only exchanged into the Rangers eighteen months previously. His handsome person, glib tongue, unfailing aplomb, and imperturbable good humour, had gained him a band of friends—amongst whom Geoffrey Kinloch had not enrolled himself.

He was a man with good blood in his veins, and but little money in his pockets; a gallant soldier, whose career had been honourable through and through. Already he had distinguished himself in a short but hard-fought hill campaign, and, at the age of thirty, was entitled to write D.S.O. after his name.

Geoffrey had a clear head, a resolute will, an iron constitution, and a striking face (too tanned and lined to be considered handsome), a square forehead, beneath which a pair of deep-set dark eyes looked out upon the world. A square jaw and a square pair of shoulders corresponded well with their owner’s character, for there was nothing small, mean or crooked about Geoffrey Kinloch. His brother officers voted him a real good sort—a fellow you could depend on: always so “square”—one of the best chaps that ever breathed; in fact, he was immensely popular with men, but ladies, as a rule, found him reserved and silent, and there had never been a woman in his life.

What a contrast to Charlie Goring, whose love affairs were innumerable. Charlie, whom ladies proclaimed to be delightful, and irresistible; and who was even more of a favourite in the boudoir than in the smoking-room. Gambling, flirting, fascinating “Taffy” Goring was well (if not always favourably) known in many quarters. It is enough to add that he and Kinloch had absolutely nothing in common, save the number of their regiment. One was the gay, debonair, spoiled child of society, who took nothing seriously; the other was a hard-headed, hard working, hard living soldier, who took most things seriously—including fishing.

After he had parted from his companion, Kinloch went down the hill, through a big gate leading into the pastures, which were dotted with cows and work horses. Here and there a plover rose from a tuft of rushes, with a curious harsh cry, and the air was laden with the fragrance from trees and hedges, which were powdered with hawthorn. About a quarter of a mile beyond the gate ran the river. Kinloch approached it, stood on a foot bridge and scanned it with a critical eye; over the thick weeds the water was flowing noiselessly and rapidly; occasionally there was a slight splash, occasioned by a plump rat indulging in a swim, or the gentle “thop!” of a trout rising to his supper. It was a lovely evening; the bright orange sunset streamed through some poplar trees, and cast golden bars across the river, and an air of softened splendour over the quiet scene. Far away, faintly in the distance, rose the bleating of lambs, and the voices of children. The intense stillness, the soft reposeful atmosphere, appealed agreeably to Kinloch, after the glare and blare of Aldershot.

At last he moved on, and began to walk along the bank, which was thoughtfully punctuated by wooden benches, supplied for the accommodation of patient anglers; here and there a plank and handrail crossed the stream, which wound itself into the most amazing loops and knots. Whilst Kinloch strolled along, he was vaguely aware of a figure at some distance, on the opposite bank.

As it came towards him, he saw that it was a woman, wearing a pink gown, and something white on her head; she was preceded by a barking black dog.

Nearer to him were two children, evidently bound from a cottage that lay beyond the poplars. They crossed an adjacent footboard, at least the girl did so, the other child pausing open-mouthed to gaze upon the stranger; then, in answer to a shrill summons, turned hastily, caught his shoe in the plank, and, with a piercing scream, and a loud splash, tumbled headlong into the water.

Kinloch ran to the spot, vaguely sensible of a fluttering pink skirt also flying in the same direction. However, he was first upon the scene, plunged into the stream, which was only about three feet deep, and fished out a gasping, spluttering urchin.

Although the boy had been thus promptly rescued, his sister still continued to rend the mild evening air with her shrieks; her cries attracted three or four calves (calves are invariably inquisitive) and an ancient white cart horse, their chaperone.

“Come, come,” said Kinloch, as he put the dripping child upon the bank. “He is all right; only a bit wet. You’d better take him home and dry him.”

But it was not the ugly screaming little brat in the checked pinafore who relieved him of his moist burden, but a startlingly pretty girl in a white sun-bonnet, whom his prophetic soul assured him could be none other than Peggy Summerhayes!

“Dear me, Maggie Jeal! what a tiresome child you are! Why do you not look after your little brother,” said a clear imperious voice. “Do you know that he might have been drowned, and then what would you have done?”

As she spoke, she was rapidly drying the face and hands of the dripping boy in a very small pocket-handkerchief. Maggie’s cries had ceased, and been converted into long-drawn sniffs.

“Now, take him home at once, before he catches his death of cold!”

“I can’t, Miss Peggy.” (So it was Miss Peggy.)

“Mother sent me to the shop for bread for supper. There bain’t none, and father, he’ll carry on like old Billy!” snivelled Maggie.

“Well,” after a reflective pause, “look here; I’ll fetch the bread; give me the basket, and you just go straight home.”

All this time Miss Peggy was on her knees, comforting the boy. She now looked up, and took Kinloch into consideration, and the conversation, for the first time.

“I am sure we are greatly obliged to you,” she said, raising a lovely face to his.

It was a perfect oval, illuminated by a pair of marvellous dark hazel eyes, with delicate black brows. Her nose was straight and fine, the mouth perfect, and what colouring! Often as Kinloch had heard of “a complexion of lilies and roses,” this was the first time he had ever beheld the real embodiment of that poetical idea. He looked down at her gravely, and her glance met his with the expression of a beautiful, fearless child.

The lines: “When youth inexpressibly fair, wakes like a wondering rose,” flashed into his mind, followed by the thought of his little sister, who had died at school. If she had lived, she would have been about the same age as this girl, this exquisite wild flower kneeling beside him.

“A primrose by the river’s brim,” indeed; and who would pluck it?

Peggy Summerhayes, when her first excitement and alarm had subsided, was aware that this tall man in knickerbockers was one of the gentlemen who came fitfully to the “Dog and Crook,” and found such absorbing interest in the fishing. She had never spoken to one of them before. She glanced at the stranger, furtively. He had a keen, decisive profile, a pair of searching but rather interesting eyes, a pleasant voice, and his bearing was soldierly and courteous. He looked as if he were somebody—a lord, perhaps! Lord or commoner, he was dripping like a river-god.

“You are dreadfully wet,” she remarked, springing to her feet. “I think you should follow the example of Tommy Jeal, and go home and change at once.”

“I suppose so, though I am used to wettings. Can you tell me the nearest road to the ‘Dog and Crook?’”

“Yes; I’m going that way myself, and, if you wish, I can take you a short cut through the hall farm. Now, “Maggie, do hurry,” she added authoritatively. “What are you waiting for?” with a little impatient stamp. “Come—run along!”

And Maggie, with reluctant feet, turned homewards, pausing every now and then to look back, and contemplate two figures that were rapidly crossing the pastures. This was the first time that Maggie had ever seen Miss Peggy walking with a gentleman!

As soon as the couple were completely lost to sight, she hastened home at a surprising pace, in order to tell her mother.

Chapter III

Chasing the Black Colt

Captain Kinloch was rather surprised to find himself retracing his steps to Nether Barton, accompanied by a strange girl, who interested him in a surprising degree. She was not garrulous, neither did she giggle, as he had half expected; on the contrary, she appeared to be endowed with a remarkable gift of silence, and walked along beside him, carelessly swinging her little basket (which she had declined to relinquish), seemingly but half conscious of his presence.

“What a pretty old place it is!” he remarked, when at last they reached the top of the hill, and paused for a moment, looking down upon the village.

There, below them, in the hollow, a faint May breeze stirred great masses of lime, elm, and walnut trees, through which peeped the church spire, and various red and black roofs. All around lay low wooded downs, and green pastures; the tinkling of a sheep bell, and the corncrake’s discordant note, were the only sounds that broke a kind of Sabbath silence. Ages of accumulated quiet appeared to rest upon this sequestered spot.

“Yes, it is pretty; all the Bartons are pretty,” rejoined Miss Summerhayes, precisely as if she were sneaking of a family of girls.

“But a little sleepy?” he suggested.

“It does not seem sleepy to me, and,” with a sudden light-hearted laugh, “you may not have heard that the Barton folk have the reputation of being very wide-awake?”

“No; the reputation, I presume, is local?”

“Oh, we are not so dull as you may fancy. We have the Foresters’ flower show and fête on Monday next, and on Friday a dance at the old manor.”

“Are you going to these festivities?”

“To the fête, certainly. I am not so sure about the dance,” and she gave a little involuntary sigh.

“And no doubt you would prefer that of the two? You look as if you liked dancing.”

“Then you don’t think that I look as if I liked looking on, as my sister suggests?”

“I should not think there was much risk of that.”

“Oh, if you mean partners, I can have as many as I want,” she answered carelessly; “but you see it is only a villagers’ dance; my sister does not wish me to pose as a villager. My brother-in-law, on the other hand, is most anxious that I should identify myself with the Barton girls, and there it is,” you see, she concluded, with an expressive shrug.

“And you have the casting vote?”

“I suppose so.”

“And you will go, and dance till daylight?”

“No—o—much as I should like it. No—I think not. No——”

“Oh yes; but you will go. I know you will; I feel it in my bones.”

“Well,” with a dazzling smile, “it is more than I do.”

“If you go you will please two people, your brother-in-law and yourself. If you stay at home, you please but one.”

“Yes, that is true; but I would rather please Janet than all the world.”

After this remark, there was a short silence.

“You must find it rather dull here in winter!”

“I have never spent a whole winter here, as yet, for I have been at school, but I am to hunt this next season. I was out a few times last year, and it was glorious!”

“I suppose you were glad to leave school?”

“No; for I had to leave a good many friends behind me.”

“Were you at school in London?”

“Oh dear, no; at a queer old-fashioned establishment at Bridgeford. I must confess we were well grounded, but some of our subjects were terribly dull.”

“What were the subjects that bored you more especially?”

“Dates, analysis, geology, and fractions. I hate arithmetic; I am hopelessly stupid. I never can take the greater sum from the less in shillings—you know what I mean.”

“I know that I wish I could take a greater sum from a less.”

“I am sure you can. You look as if you could do difficult sums.”

“Thank you,” he laughed, and swept off his cap. “I can do the three first rules, but I cannot subtract a greater sum from a lesser, or expand the impossible, like the lady and her shoe.”

“What was that? The old woman who lived in a shoe.”

“No, only a lady who slipped off her shoe under a dinner table, as it was painfully tight; and, when she was leaving, and hunting for it, a man—an Irishman, I believe—found it, examined it with great amazement, and then gave it to her, saying—’Six into four—won’t go!’”

“How rude of him!” she exclaimed. “Well, he could not say that to me, as I wear fours.”

Then she coloured vividly, and added—

“Dear me, what a silly girl you will think me! I wish I had not said that; please forget it.”

“Certainly, if you desire it; but I do not see the necessity. Tell me some more about your school. What else did you dislike besides sums?”

“I disliked walking two and two; I disliked getting up at six on a bitter winter’s morning; I disliked the dancing mistress; but I loved music and holidays and history. History is like a story.”

“History frequently is a story,” he answered expressively.

She glanced at him sharply from under the edge of her sun-bonnet.

“At any rate, the Bartons are steeped in history,” she remarked—“history that is true, and can be verified in the Domesday Book. Nether Barton was a great place once, and owned a palace, a hunting park, an abbey, and a saint.”

“And now it has no distinction, no saint, and isn’t remarkable in any way?”

“No; excepting that it is remarkably wicked, according to Mrs. Parry. She is a French woman; I go to read and talk French with her once a week. She lives in Middle Barton. She declares that this is such a bad village, where people beat their wives, and drink, and fight, and, in short, that it is quite ‘Zolaesque,’ whatever that may mean?” and she stared at him inquiringly.

“I must confess that you surprise me, or else the French lady is prejudiced,” he rejoined. “I should have said, that it was Arcadia itself!”

They were now descending the hill, passing a number of weather-beaten women, who were picking stones off the land, and who, one and all, straightened their backs, and gazed after the couple with grave-eyed interest.

“So Miss Peggy has gotten a sweetheart, and a fine one to be sure! She wasn’t the sort of girl to lack a lover for long. She was so main pretty, and the man was a lord by his looks, and happen Janet Travenor would be contented at last!”

“You know every one for miles round, I suppose,” remarked Kinloch, as they skirted a fragrant hedgerow.

“Yes, in a way. I have lived in the village since I was six years old, excepting when I was at school. Janet wished me to go to Brussels for the finishing touches and polish, but John, my brother-in-law, objected, and I believe he was right. I doubt if I would ‘take a polish,’ as they say of boots, and— Oh, just look at this!” and she broke off excitedly, and flung herself violently against a low gate, which led into a meadow.

This meadow appeared to run at the back of the village , and was divided into two parts by a stream shaded, with alders, and surrounded by a hedge of hawthorn.

“What! Look at what?” he asked.

“It is that horrid black colt again. Oh, do please try and open this,” shaking the gate impatiently as she spoke.

Kinloch looked, and saw a fine black three-year-old, galloping at full speed round the field, followed by a giddy and delighted foal. In the middle of the meadow stood a well-bred chestnut mare with a pair of rather worn fore legs, neighing in vain for her infatuated offspring.

“Let me in first; I’ll explain afterwards,” panted the girl, throwing all her weight (which was about eight stone) against the gate.

“Oh, I’ll let you in, of course, but——”

But she was already gone, flying across the field, with her sun-bonnet in her hand, and her dog barking at her heels. She made a charming picture: as active and as graceful as the colt, who appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and every now and then paused to deliver in exuberance of spirit half a dozen frantic kicks in dangerous proximity to the foal’s brains. Now the pair raced in one direction, then wheeled about when headed by Peggy and her flying bonnet, and, turning sharply, tore away in the opposite quarter.

“Why doesn’t his mother look after him?” cried Kinloch, as with wide-spread arms, and imperious shouts, he headed off the black—who nevertheless still impudently circled round and round the foal.

“Don’t you notice that she is stone blind! Look at the dumb misery on her poor face;—she is not accustomed to the fields either. Now—now you have him! hustle him across the water, and I will run and put up the bar.”

As she spoke, she sprang over the ditch with the bound of a deer, and, with her dog and her sun-bonnet, drove the intruder back into his own domain.

“Be off!” she cried, shaking her bonnet at the colt, as he stood and craned across the bar, gazing regretfully at his little friend. “I know you do it on purpose! I am sure you think I am crazy,” she gasped out, breathlessly, as she joined her companion, “but that horrid colt of Barker’s works up the bar with his nose, and comes over the stream to tease the mare and to inveigle the foal to amuse him. It’s a disobedient little wretch. Last year her foal was drowned, and this one will certainly come to grief, if it chances in the way of the black’s heels.”

“You take a great interest in animals, I see,” he said, as he held her basket, whilst she knotted up her wonderful locks.

Never in all his life had Kinloch beheld such hair. A woman’s glory, indeed! Or such bewitching lines of cheek and chin and throat. Here, among the meadow-sweet and hawthorn, stood an exquisite, simple-hearted maiden, whose charms were as fresh as a wild rose with the dew on it, and whose beauty eclipsed the rising moon.

In short, so far as her companion was concerned, “to see her was to love her.” This enthusiastic soldier, self-possessed, cool-headed, and aged thirty years, with the little ways and ideas of bachelorhood already beginning to “set” in his character, Kinloch—whose sword was his mistress, Bellona his idol, who had ever held himself aloof from women—here (though he was not aware of it until later) fell headlong and helplessly in love with this village girl, whose lovely face, her sole fortune, was half-concealed by a white cotton sun-bonnet.

“You are fond of animals?” he repeated.

“Yes, I am,” she answered as she resumed her basket, and added, as she walked on: “I love all animals dearly—excepting rats. And in the country one comes across horrible things that make one’s heart ache.”

“As, for instance?” meeting her tragic eyes, and mentally remarking that he hoped she might never experience what it was to feel a real heart-ache.

“Why, for instance, when I walk in the woods and see a rabbit running across a ride, and, two minutes later, a weasel following on its track. Or, when I hear a cry in the fields, and see a poor helpless hare struggling in a snare. And it’s not wild creatures alone. Yesterday morning I was passing the ‘Crown and Cushion’ public, and there, outside, tied in a cart, stood such a pretty white calf, looking so pitiful. I spoke to it, and rubbed its nose, and you should have seen its joy. It had evidently been a pet. A whole hour later it was still waiting, and the horse was fast asleep. Then—then,” and she swallowed something in her throat, “I went a message to the butcher’s after sundown, and there ranged in a row along the wall, were four poor little snow-white feet!”

For the first time in his life Kinloch, who had no sisters, experienced the spell of early girlhood, with its enthusiasm, both unrestrained and guileless. But he merely said:

“Then, I may infer that you did not order veal?”

“Oh, how can you laugh!” she exclaimed, petulantly, with two great tears shining in her eyes. “The world is a cruel place in some ways.”

“And yet, at your age, I should have thought it would have seemed the best of all possible worlds.”

“Oh, for myself, it is a good world, and for Toby too,” indicating the Aberdeen terrier, who, with ears and tail at right angles with his long black body, trotted steadily ahead of them, with an air of indescribable self-assertion. “But others are not so fortunate. Here we are!” she added, as she opened a gate into a large lawn, studded with fine elms and walnut trees.

At the further end stood a large irregular thatched house, covered with creepers; a small gay garden had been railed off in front of it, and there, in a wicker chair, a lady sat reading a paper. Beyond the house rose great black-roofed barns, and an immense range of stabling; the yard gate stood wide, carters and work-horses were coming and going towards the pump; fowl and lambs were rambling aimlessly about, and three red calves rested their heads upon the garden railings and languished for the flowers. Over the entire premises there was an air of bustle and business, which was emphasized by the faint hum of a steam engine.

“This is where I live,” explained Miss Summerhayes, “and if you will cross the lawn, and go out at the avenue gate, you will find that you are close to the Dog and Crook.”

Then she stood still, as if to dismiss him.

“I am greatly obliged to you,” he said, also coming to a halt.

“No, no; it is I who have to thank you for picking our shepherd’s child out of the river, and for chasing away that odious colt.”

“May I tell you my name?” he asked, on a sudden impulse.

She looked up at him with a mixture of simplicity and stateliness.

“It is Kinloch— Captain Kinloch.”

“And mine is Peggy, that is—I mean, Margaret Summerhayes. I hope you won’t get rheumatism. Good-by.” And with a shy little bow, and a vivid blush, she turned directly towards the hall.

Kinloch walked across the lawn, his mind full of his late companion. He recalled, in turn, her graceful activity, as she flew bareheaded round the meadow, her artless confidences, her lovely laughing eyes, her quick impulsive gestures; and wished, not once, but a dozen times, ere he reached the inn, that Goring had never heard of Peggy Summerhayes. Later on, he wished still more devoutly that he himself had never seen her.

Chapter IV

An Important Meeting

The little party at the inn had been reinforced by two enthusiastic anglers, and Kinloch discovered that a leaf had been added to the dinner-table, and Mrs. Banner’s worries and labours vastly increased by the presence of two valets, who appeared to assume that she kept a perennial hot water spring upon the premises! (in other words, a geyser). Dinner was a pleasant and convivial meal; conversation flowed freely, but Kinloch was not called upon to relate his adventures, nor was he suspected of encountering anything more interesting than a rabbit or a lamb.

The subject of dry fly-fishing was loudly and exhaustively discussed, as well as “river-weeds,” “greyling,” and “bailiffs,” also the monstrous iniquity of a man who had been discovered with a nice basket of trout, fishing gravely, sedately, and methodically, with a worm!

Goring did ample justice to the lamb, and its due accompaniment, mint sauce, while Kinloch somewhat curtly refused a dish of veal cutlets.

After the cloth had been removed, Goring and two kindred spirits settled down comfortably to a game of poker; Mr. Whiting and the General repaired to the porch, to further thresh out the vital question of “hair versus gut”; and Captain Kinloch took up Anderson’s “Quiet thoughts on the happy practice of angling.” These proved much too quiet for his present frame of mind, so he turned to a new novel, and, although it happened to be both clever and exciting, he found it utterly powerless to hold his attention; his mind kept wandering away to certain recent scenes in real life. To fall in love with a mere child, a pretty wild flower, like Peggy Summerhayes, would be, he was well aware, an act of bottomless folly! Nevertheless, the memory of her eyes imprisoned his thoughts. A slim girl, with the magical pulse of youth in her veins, and a radiant face glowing at the end of a sun-bonnet, intruded itself between him and his book. At last, he threw it down in despair, and joined the couple in the porch.

They were now discussing a big trout, that General Pollard had nearly landed, and lost.

“Oh, that’s a notorious fellow,” remarked Kinloch. “My gillie says he has enough hooks in him to stock a tackle-shop.”

From tackle-shops, they naturally proceeded to flies. But the rival claims and merits of “blue dun,” “woodcock,” the “soldier palmer,” the “sherry spinner,” and even the “hare’s lug” palled upon Kinloch, and he lit a pipe, and strolled out into the soft May night, heavy with the scent of lilac and elder flowers.

He sauntered along, aimlessly, as he believed, until he came to the great lime trees, embowering the entrance to the Hall farm. Here he leant his elbows upon the swing-gate, and looked up at the house.

The lower windows were alight and wide open; within one, he caught a glimpse of a bent head, and a pink frock. Then he moved away, quickly and guiltily; how dared he spy upon these worthy simple folk. What had come to him?

Another inward voice loudly declared that the glance was without rude intent; that half the cottages had their doors open, and seemed to court inspection. It was evidently a village custom—a pleasant custom, that accorded him a bird’s eye view of a pretty bent head with the lamp-light shining on its bright brown hair. Nevertheless, Kinloch felt profoundly uncomfortable as he walked away; he was conscious of the self-contempt which settles on every action which is out of character. He was a serious person, and had no right to play the fool!

But again, that other clamorous voice, protesting that he was not playing the fool, but the part of a sensible man, whose life is not to be entirely sacrificed to cut and dry military matters, red books, or even promotion.

His evening stroll extended over a distance of five or six miles; he walked mechanically through deep dewy lanes, out upon the high spreading downs, where the solemn beauty of the night seemed to speak to him in a confidential whisper. The companion in his thoughts was the girl who bad walked beside him that same afternoon; was she the one whose advent he had long, and unconsciously, awaited?

It was midnight when Kinloch reached the inn. He discovered the card-players still profoundly engrossed: Goring was evidently losing heavily; his eyes shone, his nostrils worked, his lips were tightly compressed; he was under the influence of his ruling passion—gambling. His comrade recognized the mood; he glanced from one to another of the three intent faces, then quietly closed the door—they had not even noticed his entrance.

*  *  *

“The fly is on the river.” This was the earliest news the following morning; it took the place of “Eight o’clock, sir, your hot water;” and surely few insects (save a swarm of locusts) ever created such commotion. There was a general clamour for baths, boots, breakfast; the little porch was choked with fishing-rods and landing-nets; whilst Mrs. Banner was crimson with the exertion of preparing six separate luncheons.

However, by nine o’clock the tumult had subsided, and the premises were empty. Down by the river, what a contrast to yesterday! Not only had the “Dog and Crook” poured forth its guests and gillies, but seemingly every inn for miles had contributed the same. On each of the wooden benches sat one triumphant figure—first come first served; whilst at short intervals along the banks were others, intent on playing or casting. The heat became oppressive as the day advanced, but the sport was first-rate, the wind southwest, the fish rising freely, good baskets of trout were made, Kinloch being conspicuously successful. However, all things must come to an end, including a day’s good fishing, and by half-past six he and Going turned their sunburnt countenances towards their inn.

They had descended the lane, and were nearing the painted gate, when Kinloch descried two figures approaching, and was it good or bad luck that one of them should be Peggy Summerhayes?—and Peggy looking prettier than ever. She wore a white gown to-day, to match her bonnet; her arms were filled with great branches of pink hawthorn, and she was attended by a well-grown, and truculent, pet lamb. Nor was the lamb her sole companion, for she was accompanied by a tall, ladylike-looking woman, evidently her sister, Mrs. Travenor.

As they came nearer, Peggy’s face brightened with recognition, her eyes shone like jewels, her colour was dazzling; she made a truly beautiful picture of the spring of youth, with her hawthorn and lamb.

A picture deeply appreciated by Kinloch’s companion, who, under his breath, ejaculated an awe-struck, “By Gad!” Next moment he was opening the gate, cap in hand, as if for the admittance of royalty.

His expressive face grew grave with amazement, when the radiant vision in white passed, and turning to Kinloch with a quick responsive smile, said:

“Oh, how do you do? I have not a hand to spare, you see. Janet,” to her companion, “this is the gentleman I told you about who fished Teddy Jeal out of the river yesterday—Captain Kinloch.”

Mrs. Travenor inspected him with a serious air, and bowed, as she said:

“It was most fortunate for Teddy that you happened to be on the spot.”

“Oh, the water was not much more than knee-deep. I believe your sister would have plunged in, if I had not forestalled her.”

Meanwhile, Goring stood aloof and unnoticed—an absolutely novel experience! But if his tongue was inactive, his eyes were busily employed. Here was not the usual type of village belle, but a face sufficiently striking, and of a beauty so rare and delicate, that, if its owner only knew how to wield her power, she had an important future before her. She would go far—far from this drowsy old hamlet, this discontented-looking sister, this sturdy and impatient baa-lamb!

Captain Goring’s greedy gaze was fastened on Peggy’s face ere she was aware of the fact. Suddenly, she glanced up, and their eyes met, then her long dark lashes fell to meet the blushes that raced from chin to brow. Yes, Goring with his cap set jauntily on his sunny brown locks, and his handsome, debonair face was almost as attractive a study as Peggy herself.

For two or three breathless seconds Mrs. Travenor and Captain Kinloch had been spectators of a little drama without words. Did they realize that moments like these may colour life for years? Were they conscious of the elements of a tragedy, should destiny repeat and emphasize this chance encounter between two young people, both so fair to see?

“Mrs. Travenor, may I introduce my brother officer, Captain Goring?” said Kinloch, upon whom the strain of the situation had begun to tell. “He and I are here for the fishing.”

He spoke in abrupt, detached sentences, and his voice was harsh and strange.

Mrs. Travenor smiled faintly, and bowed. She was a slim, dark woman of about thirty, with an expression of weariness and discontent about the corners of her mouth. She wore a shady hat, a neat gingham; in a well-gloved hand she carried a silk parasol, and looked much more like the Squire’s lady, than a farmer’s missus.

“I trust you have had good sport?” she asked, in a cool, polite tone.

“Yes, capital, thank you. The river is in first-rate order now,” replied Goring, in his full, pleasant voice. “I hope you will honour me by accepting some of my catch!” And, quickly twisting round the strap, he opened his basket, and displayed his silver treasures.

“Oh, really,” she began, then glanced furtively at Peggy, and hesitated, “But I am sure you have numbers of friends to whom—”

“Then I may send them over in time for dinner?” he interrupted, with one of his most irresistible smiles.

“Do you fish?” he asked suddenly, turning, to Peggy.

“Oh, no,” colouring violently. “I would not fish for anything. I think it is very cruel.”

“Cruel! Nonsense; why, it is always called the gentle art.”

“It is not gentle to bait the hook with live flies, as you did all to-day,” she retorted, with unexpected warmth.

“Now, there is Peggy started on her hobby,” exclaimed Mrs. Travenor, with a deprecating smile. “She will go on for hours, and we really must be getting home.”

The lamb, too, had repeatedly suggested his wish to resume their journey, by giving Peggy rude butts with his round, woolly head.

“A special pet, I see,” remarked Goring, bestowing an affectionate pat on Charles’ head, and he would probably have added, “what a lucky little beast!” but for Kinloch’s restraining presence.

Mrs. Travenor, having distributed a slight bow between the two men, carried away her pretty sister, and thus the couples parted in different directions. The ladies were barely out of earshot before Goring broke out:

“Well, you are a nice old sinner! A fine crusted hypocrite! To think of your having made the acquaintance of that girl yesterday, and kept it to yourself. And you began it in the proper and romantic fashion, as rescuer from a watery grave. Did such an insignificant incident escape your memory? Or was it not worth recording!”

“Not worth recording,” calmly rejoined Kinloch. “I never expected to see Miss Summerhayes again. I did not suppose the matter would interest you, especially as you told me to-day that you are off to-morrow.”

“Not now, by George!” returned the other, emphatically.

“And why not?”

“Because there is every prospect of first-class sport.”

This remark was open to two constructions, but Kinloch held his peace—argument would but add fuel to the flame.

“I never,” and Goring drew a long breath, “in the whole course of my life, saw such a pretty girl.”

“Can’t you put it a little differently? You say that on an average once a fortnight.”

“What eyes! What expression! I believe, you old muff, you kept it dark, because you are afraid that I should fall in love with her.”

“Or she with you?”

“I hope to goodness she will,” retorted Goring, with a laugh. “I ask for nothing better. I expect the sister is firm about that sun-bonnet; for, ye gods, what a complexion!”

“Yes; not the painted show of beauty, but the honest reality.”

“Not much to say for herself, I bet. More a companion for an afternoon than for all time. A summer girl, in fact, eh?”

“Summer or winter, I should think it was all the same to you.”

Goring made no answer, but began to chant: “Oh, love, for a year, a week, a day,” till the porch of the hotel put an end to his song.

Kinloch noticed that Goring was, for him, quite irritably anxious to despatch the fish to the Hall, and carefully sorted out the best, not merely from his own, but Kinloch’s basket, and that the trout were accompanied by a neat note, addressed in Goring’s bold, attractive hand. Moreover, that, after playing one game of picquet, his comrade appeared to be seized with an unaccountable fit of restlessness, and presently went abroad, to stroll up and down in the moonlit road.

Chapter V

A Sovereign in the Plate

The following morning, a passing carter halted his great team before the “Dog and Crook,” and left a formal little missive from Mrs. Travenor—nothing more! Goring was visibly disappointed. Had he been looking for an invitation to tea? It was plain that his evening ramble had borne no fruit, beyond the tempting glimpse of a tempting interior. Fishing was again prosecuted with ardent zeal, and much success; but immediately after luncheon, Goring, pleading “the heat, and a touch of jungle fever,” set off homewards, to the scornful amazement of Mr. Whiting, who, with a seat, an umbrella, and an assiduous gillie, was enjoying himself prodigiously.

“Jungle fever,” he echoed. “Well, I never saw a man with a touch of fever make a good luncheon. What’s his little game?”

Kinloch contemplated the departing figure thoughtfully. He knew perfectly well that “his little game” was to throw himself in the way of charming Peggy Summerhayes, to ramble about the lanes and meadows in search of her; and the knowledge gave him a sharp pang. However, when he reached the “Dog and Crook,” the first glance at Goring’s expression of sullen boredom, plainly assured him that the quest had been unavailing. (In fact, Peggy was assisting at a children’s school feast in an adjoining parish). Meanwhile, her new admirer was, thanks to the difficulty of the enterprise, more than ever anxious—for him, quite painfully anxious—to improve his acquaintance with Miss Summerhayes. He came into Kinloch’s room, and ranted about her for half an hour.

Yes; here was the one girl in the world for him!—a girl with a simple, sympathetic nature—the face of a flower—the face of Hebe herself! What a figure! What a smile! Quite another thing from grinning society dolls, whose complexions were thick with paint, and their eyes pools of horrors! and so on—and so on—and so on!

Saturday proved to be blank, but on Sunday, remembering that Peggy sang in the choir, Goring expressed his intention of attending public worship. He spent an unusually long time over his toilet, and the result was irresistible. He wore a grey-blue tie—which matched his insidious eyes—a neat serge suit, a straw hat with a black ribbon, and, ere the bells had chimed five minutes, was en route, accompanied by Kinloch and Mr. Whiting—ever a rigid observer of the Sabbath.

The peal of bells was old and musical; they gave importance to the village, and were rung alike for fêtes, funerals, or flower shows. Around about the lych gate hung a number of young men in their Sunday clothes; some who would presently tramp into the service when the bell ceased, others who would slouch across to the “Crown and Cushion.” A silence fell upon the group as they gaped at the new-comers.

It was not often that the fishing gentlemen came to church.

The three strangers entered the cool, dark, old edifice, which was already half-full of farmers and cottagers. There was not one family present who owned a crest, or could even write esquire to their name, though the tombs of their forefathers, dating several hundred years back, dotted the surrounding God’s acre.

The sexton ushered the gentlemen into a front seat, facing the chancel. Here Goring manoeuvred for the corner next the aisle, and then proceeded to stare about him, as if he had never been in church before. Old Norman pillars supported the roof, but the pulpit and reading-desk appeared to be quite modern, also the window of stained glass. They were much too early. He carelessly picked up an old Bible; on the fly-leaf was inscribed “Margaret Summerhayes.” His heart gave a queer little jump. What a coincidence! The date was 1769. A tattered Weyman’s Melodia Sacra also exhibited the Summerhayes crest, and the name J. Summerhayes, Summerford Manor. They were unquestionably in the pew of the Summerhayes family. How he wished that Peggy would sit in it beside him, but, perhaps, after all, he would have a better view of her in the chancel.

And now the church was filling; the five-minute bell was ringing impatiently; the Sunday-school clattered up the aisle, with a deafening noise; young men and maidens of the choir poured in, and took their places one by one; and he was aware of some one waiting beside him, to make room for her to pass.

It proved to be Mrs. Travenor; Mrs. Travenor, wearing a smart little bonnet and veil, a black silk dress, carrying an ivory prayer-book, a parasol and scent bottle. He jumped up, and stepped instantly into the aisle, whilst she made her way up to the far end of the seat, and ruthlessly evicted poor Mr. Whiting from his comfortable corner.

Meanwhile, Peggy had arrived. He knew it—he felt it! She was already devoutly kneeling in the choir; the girl with the large black hat. Presently she rose and collected her books and music, and then glanced down the church with the air of a girl who is among her own friends, and who has faced the same rows of accustomed eyes ever since she was in pinafores.

How different she looked in a young lady’s accoutrements: kid gloves, plumes, ruffles! Her amazed glance fell on him and his companions, and then she studiously averted her gaze, and fixed it with nervous intentness upon the opposite side of the choir, till the end of the sermon. Her voice was treble—a soprano of the utmost clearness and sweetness. It trilled like a lark’s, high above the other voices, and was the proper accompaniment of such a face—young, fresh and beautiful.

The service concluded, the stout old-bachelor rector slowly ascended to the pulpit, flattened his manuscript, looked deliberately over his glasses into every corner of the edifice, and then gave out as his text the one word, “Drunkenness.”

On this fruitful theme, he preached a short, but most admirable and stirring discourse, which riveted the attention, not merely of his own flock, but that of the three strangers. Here, in the opinion of Mr. Whiting and Captain Goring, was an orator with a splendid gift—a quiet, forcible, burning eloquence—absolutely thrown away in his present sphere. Had people to come to a primitive, old-world hamlet to hear real eloquence! and to see real beauty!

Whence then the crowded church, and grave, attentive faces; though one face—that of Captain Goring—strayed frequently to a lovely maiden in the choir seats—and mentally marked her for his own.

At the close, a hymn was sung, whilst the chief elders—robust, well-to-do farmers—handed round six copper plates. Into the one tendered to Goring he dropped a sovereign, with a guilty consciousness that he gave it not to the glory and praise of God, but entirely for the benefit of Mrs. Travenor’s quiet, watching eyes; and that the keen glance of his friend had noted the alms with an all-reading glance of scathing contempt. He had put in one sixpence, his accustomed dole. And now long-imprisoned limbs began to move. The organ pealed out a stirring march; hats were snatched up, books lifted; the duty of the day was over, and boys and girls were free to spend the afternoon with a sense of well-deserved enjoyment.

Mrs. Travenor had risen, and fallen into line with her sister as she passed down; and Goring, who was close by, was determined to gain some footing, or perish in the attempt. Mrs. Travenor waited for a moment to escape the crush in the porch, and here he accosted her. In another moment he was walking to the gate, gallantly carrying her prayer-books, and conversing with anxious fluency.

“Sunday afternoons were deadly in the country for strangers. He and his friends positively did not know what to do with themselves, or how to put in the hours till dinner time.”

And yet, when he took leave of her at her gate, this callous creature spoke no word of five o’clock tea, nor even hinted at a stroll round the grey-walled old garden, but merely dismissed him, with a cool little bow.

Chapter VI

A Remarkable Coincidence

It was certainly a remarkable coincidence that, as Captain Kinloch and his comrade were strolling past the Hall Farm, Mrs. Travenor and her pretty sister happened to be unfastening the gate. The former, who had a scarlet spot on either cheek, greeted them with unexpected vivacity, and said in quite a gracious manner;

“We are just going up to the Manor to see Joe, the caretaker, and his wife. It is rather an interesting old place. Perhaps, if you have nothing better to do, you will accompany us?”

Nothing better to do! What could be better to do? The invitation was seized upon by Goring, who plunged into conversation with ardour and assurance, and then gradually (with an art suggestive of long practice) drew Peggy ahead, and soon placed a considerable distance between himself and his companion and the other couple. In short, to use a slang expression, “He had been there before.”

They walked through a paradise of winding lanes and coy glades, with here a peep of the river, and there a vista of low-lying pastures. Goring did his utmost to charm, and, needless to add, succeeded. To poor unsophisticated Peggy, who had scarcely ever spoken to a man of his class, this was not a mere mortal—a good-looking Captain in a line regiment—but a God-like hero, from the misty lands of Romance!

He talked of his profession, gave picturesque descriptions of India, where he had spent several years; dilated on the beauties of the East—whereas, in truth, the only beauties of the East that had interested him, had been one or two extremely fast married women. He drew smart little caricatures of some of his friends, told her several “chestnuts” of an entertaining character, touched upon the London season, Aldershot, and the impending regimental move, to dear dirty Dublin.

Peggy greedily absorbed, and digested, every syllable. She had a remarkably retentive memory, and could, if required, have repeated each word of that delightful conversation off by heart. Later, when she strolled along that shady romantic road alone, every tree, or gate, or view, seemed to recall some particular sentence.

Yesterday—this morning—Peggy was a happy, heart-whole, careless child. How long would she remain so?

As she listened to Goring’s eloquent description of the Dublin beauties, and the delights of that pleasant capital, a sense of sustained excitement tingled through her veins, and she already felt jealous of those pretty Irish girls, her present companion’s future partners.

It seemed to Kinloch, with his eyes bent upon the couple in advance—and the claws of the wild beast, Jealousy, tearing at his heart—that his own companion purposely lagged behind.

Mrs. Travenor complained of ill health, and specially of cardiac affection, which forbade her to hurry. She discussed the weather, the fishing club, the monotonous village life, and absence of any suitable companions for a girl like her sister Margaret. Then, all at once, she became alarmingly confidential.

“You see how we are situated, Captain Kinloch,” she said. “No squire, no resident gentry. Even the Rector is a bachelor, and a book-worm. My sister and I never come across anyone in our own class of life. Once we were the resident gentry; our people were lords of the manor, but now we are a decayed, and almost extinct race. My father was a poor curate, and left us very badly off. All my life I have struggled to do my best for Peggy, but my husband will not see things from my point of view.”

Her listener began to feel extremely uncomfortable. Was he about to receive the piteous history of an unhappy marriage! No. Probably she divined his thought, for she added, “Oh, please do not imagine that I am complaining, for I am sure that John is very fond of my sister; but, on the subject of her future, we do not agree. I naturally cling to the remnants of the manners and customs of our better days. I was born an aristocrat, just the same as if I were born lame or blind—I cannot help my feelings. I hate going downhill—at least, I hate it for Peggy. I am content to be a yeoman’s wife, but, strange as it may sound, I don’t wish her to be merely a yeoman’s sister. I have striven hard to keep her from associating with her surroundings, and becoming an ordinary village girl.”

She paused and looked at him, and her breath came in short gasps.

Poor Janet Travenor! Hers was a truly emotional spirit, beneath an exterior of calm impassiveness.

“I don’t think you need have any fear of Miss Summerhayes becoming in the least like an ordinary village girl.”

“Well, perhaps not; but she has a strong will, and an affectionate nature, and clings to her old playmates. She has relinquished a friendship with the baker’s children to please me, but she still insists on making a companion of Nannie Belt, the blacksmith’s daughter, who is now, I am thankful to say, about to take a situation in a shop in the Midlands.”

“It is only natural that Miss Summerhayes should like to know some girl of her own age.”

“That is exactly what John says! He insisted on a middle-class education, and sent Peggy to an old-fashioned school, and, now that she is home, he declares that she shall no longer hold aloof from other farmers’ girls, being a farmer’s girl herself, and so—and so—she is to go—to the Foresters’ fête and the manor dance.”

“She will enjoy that.”

“Yes; she enjoys everything. I only hope she will not become a mere vegetable, like the other girls, whose ideas are bounded by the Bartons. She is wonderfully pretty, is she not?” she asked with a quaver in her voice.

“Yes; wonderfully pretty.”

“And it does seem hard that she should be buried alive in this stagnant old village.”

“No doubt Miss Summerhayes will have plenty of opportunities to spread her wings yet.”

Her sister shook her head gloomily, and made no reply. After walking fully a hundred yards in dead silence, she said:

“You must think me a curious sort of woman, and without any sense, or self-restraint, to talk so unreservedly to you, a complete stranger; but I must open my mouth now and then, or perish; and it is such a temptation to say a few words to one of my own class. I know you are a safe listener, and, somehow, you invited my confidence. Now, I should never, in my maddest moments, dream of confiding in him,” indicating Goring with her parasol. “He would stare at me, as if I were some new species of animal, and probably run away. You have stood your ground, like a courteous gentleman, and you will go back into the busy world, and forget that you have ever even heard my name.”

“I am sure I shall not do that, Mrs. Travenor. Do you regret the busy world? Many would be thankful to change places with you—and appreciate your charming home.”

“Yes; but I like an exciting, strenuous sort of life!—always at high pressure, always full-speed ahead. I was teacher in a high school, until my health broke down. Of course I am thankful for my present lot; but mine is not a contented nature. I am satisfied with my own life, but all my cravings and longings are for my sister. I am so anxious about Peggy. Many an hour I lie awake, thinking, and planning, and praying; and wondering what her future will be? And—here is the manor at last,” she added, in a more cheerful and everyday key.

The manor proved to be a great square house, situated as close to the highway as if it were a suburban villa.

“You see,” explained Mrs. Travenor, “the road cuts right across the avenue,” pointing to some ancient trees whose branches made a long green tunnel. “It goes winding over the country for two or three miles, and is used for carting and short cuts. Now, shall we go in?” and she opened a wicket, and walked up to the house through a dense shrubbery. Presently, they came out on a terrace which ran the whole length of the mansion—a mansion that had no claim to admiration beyond its great age. There was a flat roof with a parapet, and many of the upper windows were boarded up. Round at the back was the grand entrance, which commanded a view of an immense stretch of grass, bordered with lines of noble trees, which, history stated, had been either an approach, or a race-course.

“Old Joe is the caretaker, and also a sort of underkeeper,” continued Mrs. Travenor, as she entered the square hall. “Well, Joe,” she said, as a little ugly old man appeared, “I have come to pay you a visit, and to ask after my clocking hens—those I sent you for the partridge eggs. When can you spare them?”

“Oh, any time, thank you, mam; I’ll send them over to-morrow, and much obliged.”

“This gentleman would like to see the house, Joe.”

“And why not, mam, why not? Miss Peggy and the other are gone up-stairs to the gallery. This,” now opening the door of a long, low apartment, “is the grand saloon.”

The grand saloon was empty of furniture, but remarkable for its magnificent carving of fruit and flowers; carvings festooning the doors, windows and fireplaces, carving round panels where pictures once had been. The trace of Grinling Gibbons’ hand was unmistakable, and every inch of wood had been impartially painted white.

“’Tis here we have the dances, and the Foresters’ dinners, and the meetings: it’s a sort of Town Hall for the Bartons, ain’t it, missus?”

“Yes, Joe; and you have a dance next week—we are coming.”

“Be you, indeed!” in a tone of heartfelt surprise. And then, to himself, “Well, well, to think o’ that? Well, well, well.”

“Shall we go up-stairs?” said Mrs. Travenor. “There is a fine staircase; I believe it took seven years to carve the balustrades.”

“Aye, and them not finished,” added Joe. “There’s a cock-pit below, sir; happen you’d like to see it? Many a main was fought there. Last owner, they do say, died there. He was so mortal vexed over a cock, he took a fit o’ apoplexy!”

“How long ago was that?” asked Kinloch.

“Oh, maybe ninety or a hundred year.”

“It is still a fine house,” continued the stranger, as he followed Mrs. Travenor up the shallow oaken stairs. “I wonder it has not been occupied?”

“It bes too far gone now; some of the floors of the third story is rotten; ye can smell the dry rot here.”

“This house dates from the reign of Edward the Fourth,” added Mrs. Travenor, with a touch of the school teacher. “The former Manor was Saxon; the owners fought at Hastings—you can see all about it in the Domesday Book.”

“Oh, indeed, most interesting,” murmured Kinloch, thinking how much the “Domesday Book” was on the tip of people’s tongues in this part of the world!

“Yes,” proceeded his companion; “and, later, it was held from the crown, by finding a knight, with mail, lance, and horse, for forty days service on the Welsh marshes.”


“And Godwin Summerhayes was Lord of one of the Hundreds—but what,” with an impatient sigh, “is the good of all that to us now?” and she entered a panelled gallery, at the end of which she discovered her sister, explaining with animation the lovely prospect to her assiduous companion.

“We have seen the guard room, and Madam’s room,” announced Goring, “and the Diana room, and the Neptune room.”

“And which of them is the haunted room?” asked Kinloch, looking at Peggy, interrogatively.

“Oh, none of those,” she answered, gravely. “It is on the third story.”

“Ah, I should have been greatly surprised if such an old manor did not harbour a rare old ancestral ghost!”

“Please don’t jeer,” said the girl. “It was our ghost, and is almost the only thing that remains to us; a family ghost is the one possession that cannot be mortgaged, or sold, or exchanged—it is the hall-mark of respectability.”

“Then, in that case, I would just as soon be plated goods,” returned Kinloch, with a smile.

“Where is it?” inquired Goring. “Come now,” turning suddenly to old Joe, “have you ever seen ‘anything,’ as they call it! Honour bright.”

“Honour bright, sir; I’ve lived here, man and boy, this forty year——”

“More man than boy,” muttered Goring to Peggy.

“And I’ve never seen aught worse looking than myself.”

“That I can easily understand,” remarked Goring, under his breath.

“But I won’t deny as I’ve heard shocking noises, which my missus says is nought but the wind—she’s a bit hard of hearing—and here she comes,” as a big stout woman, with a large flat face and flaxen hair, arrived upon the scene gasping, and, having executed a lop-sided curtsey to Mrs. Travenor, remarked that “it was a beautiful day.”

“No; it ain’t every one that can see ghosts,” observed her husband, irrelevantly.

“I’m sure I should die if I saw one!” said Mrs. Travenor.

“And I should not,” declared her sister. “I would give anything in reason to meet the lady in velvet and long curls, who paces that corridor. She only sighs; she never kills people, like the thing up-stairs.”

“Kills people, does it?” cried Goring. “No ghost ever did that!”

“Have you not heard of people being found dead, or dying of fright? Old Granny Burton declares that more folk are done away with by evil spirits than any one would believe in daylight. Now, our family ghost is merciless;” and she paused, whilst her long-lashed eyes suggested unspeakable tragedies.

“Really? Would you mind telling us all about it?” boldly demanded Kinloch.

“There is no more implacable or terrible spirit in the South of England. Would you like to hear the tale?” she asked, looking directly at Goring.

“Rather! I should just think so. Let us have it, by all means.”

“Well, once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, the only daughter of this house was a girl of eighteen, and very beautiful.”

And Joe nodded his head up and down, in impressive assent.

“And two young men were desperately in love with her.”

“Aye,” broke in Joe, with a chuckle, “as it might be yourself, Miss Peggy, and these here two gentlemen.”

“Joe!” cried the girl, suddenly, turning upon him with a face of flame, “you are not to interrupt; and you don’t know this story.”

“No, Miss; I don’t want to know no ghosts.”

“Do sit down, Janet,” she said to her sister. “Sit in the window, you look so tired. Well,” she resumed, glancing at her audience, “there had been a dreadful crime committed in the north room, on the third floor—you know it, Joe, the room with the anteroom, and the three big windows?”

“Aye, aye, Miss, I do so.”

“Some one had been put to death there, in a shocking manner, and for years it had been closed.”

Goring and Kinloch leant against the wainscot, whilst Peggy, with gloves in her hands, walked to and fro, as on a stage, and occasionally halted, as she related her tale. She looked most animated and lovely; her eyes shone, her colour was brilliant, and her great black-plumed hat threw a soft shadow over her face.

“Time went on,” she continued, declaiming with one pretty bare hand. “The room was required, but no one ever dared to occupy it, for the sounds and shrieks that came from it were too appalling. However one day there was a heated discussion about this haunted room in the great saloon, which ended in a violent dispute between two young men, and one of them challenged the other, not to a duel, but to pass a night in the north room, and thereby prove his valour. To this he agreed, provided his opponent would follow his example. The challenged happened to be the cavalier the young lady preferred; she did all in her power to dissuade him, but nothing—no not even tears—would induce him to change his mind. He left the company with a jest, and was actually so foolhardy as to bar himself in from the anteroom. About the middle of the night the most heart-rending cries were heard. People rushed to the third floor from all sides, and broke down the anteroom door. It was bright moonlight, clear as day, which showed them the apartment in extraordinary confusion—chairs broken, bed clothes in rags, but not a sign of the man to be seen; the room was empty.” Here she paused dramatically, and gravely faced her audience.

“At last, some one happened to look out of the window, and beheld him lying, far, far below, on the flags of the terrace. He was dying when they reached him; and all that he gasped with his last breath was, ‘Keep—it off—oh, keep it off;’ and then he passed away.”

“A case of first come, first served,” exclaimed Goring. “I suppose the other fellow paid forfeit!”

“Well, to be sure, Miss Peggy!” said old Joe, “you do tell a fine tale, as fine as any play-actress. Deary, deary me!”

“Now, shall I give you my opinion?” said Kinloch. “The other fellow sneaked up-stairs, and chucked his rival out of the window; you see, it simplified the whole business!”

“And what about the door?” asked Peggy, gravely.

“A skeleton-key? How would that be?”

“No; it was barred from inside. Captain Kinloch, why do you smile?”

“Because I don’t believe in any spirit that does not assimilate with soda water. I’d sleep there, in that room, like a shot, if it would gratify you. What do you say?”

The immediate reply to this bold offer was the loud sullen slam of a heavy door in some room overhead. As it happened to be a breathless May afternoon, when the very leaves were still, and the tops of the trees were motionless, Peggy’s listeners looked at one another, interrogatively.

“You hear!” she cried, with an expressive gesture. “Your wish, Captain Kinloch, cannot be gratified, for the floor of that room fell in twenty years ago, and the whole of that suite is unsafe. A slamming door is said to foretell ill-fortune to a Summerhayes, and—oh, what solemn faces! Janet, my dear, you look quite scared! I’m so sorry—” she paused, and, as she surveyed her audience, triumph, and mischief, lurked in her eye. “Why, I made up the whole tale as I went along!”

Then, with a light-hearted laugh, and a toss of her black ostrich feathers, the story-teller vanished down the great staircase, and was instantly followed by Captain Goring.

Chapter VII

Farmer Travenor’s Salt

Mrs. Travenor contrived to walk back most of the way with Captain Goring, whilst Captain Kinloch and her sister brought up the rear. The latter talked to her companion in her usual lively vein; but all the time he, with a love’s intuition, was secretly conscious that conversation was an effort to her—that her thoughts were elsewhere—possibly, probably, with Goring. Yes; unless he was much mistaken, Goring, with his infectious smile, and faithless blue eyes, had captured this country heart! If that were the case, what good for him to build false hopes; if that were the case, well might Janet Travenor plan, and hope, and pray for her sister’s future.

When they arrived at the gate under the limes, Goring had made such excellent use of his time, that Mrs. Travenor invited him and his friend to tea, and to walk round the garden. The Hall was a queer, irregular old house: the entrance low—there was a step down into each room, which rooms opened en suite, and presented a pretty vista, ending in a red-tiled, brass-decorated kitchen, and a blooming orchard, dotted with hens.

John Travenor was absorbed in the Sandshire Weekly Gazette, but, when his wife appeared, heading a small party, he rose at once, and welcomed his guests heartily.

John was a fine, bluff, frank-looking yeoman, wearing his full-skirted Sunday coat of blue cloth, and a pink washing tie with limp ends. He appeared to be about forty-five years of age, and had a pair of keen grey eyes, and a pleasant but somewhat stern countenance. He was a good master, according to his head carter—“A master as would be master, and the men knew it “—though, in the opinion of his wife, John Travenor had a poor spirit, and did not rise to his position and responsibilities as the brother-in-law to the prettiest girl in Sandshire.

“Very pleased to see you, gentlemen, I am sure,” he said, as he bowed awkwardly to the two officers. “I hope you have been having good sport? It has been pretty poor this spring.”

“Yesterday we had a capital day,” replied Kinloch.

“Are you a fisherman?”

“No; it’s too slow. I haven’t the time. I do a bit of hunting, and that’s as much as I can manage. A big farm like this, requires the master’s eye.”

“Have you much land?”

“About eleven hundred acres, some of it very poor. I get good crops of oats and wheat—but turnips are mostly a dead loss.”

The room in which they sat contained various articles of quaint furniture—an oaken chest, some valuable coloured prints (old English engravings after Hopner, Romney, and Morland, and “Miss Ferren,” after Laurence, a set of “The Cries of London,”) several pieces of Bow and Chelsea ware, and two large Lowestoft bowls, crammed with rose-leaves—flotsam that had been collected from the wreck of the Summerhayes’ home—and an ancient bookcase, closely packed with rows of calf-bound tomes.

Tea was served in the dining-room—brown bread, butter, preserves, and plum cake. The cups and saucers were old Lowestoft, so was the teapot; plates were laid on the bright mahogany by a plump girl, who wore no cap, and they all sat round, as at a meal. The farmer hospitable and deferential, as to his betters, his wife stiffly formal and silent. Peggy, in the wildest spirits, the impersonation of girlish happiness and merriment.

Presently, the lamb stumped in, as if it wore boots, and was immediately followed by a pair of spaniel pups, and Rory, gravely sedate, as if responsible for the behaviour of the whole party.

“Oh, do turn them out,” cried Mrs. Travenor, in a voice of despair. “Jessie—Jessie—come and shut the kitchen door.”

“Poor Charles! Why should he miss his tea, Janet? And Rory—but I’ll turn out Ring and Floss,” said Travenor, good-humouredly, dismissing the puppies.

“I think this is a charming part of the world, Mr. Travenor,” said Goring, effusively.

“I am glad to hear it, sir; and I wish more people were of your way of thinking,” he added, significantly.

“This is a delightful old house; it must be so warm in winter, and so cool in summer, thanks to the thatch.”

“Yes; it’s main old—goes back to the days of Queen Bess, they say. I’m afraid you are making a poor tea, sir. Janet, where’s the cold ham? But we are just farmer folk, you see, and live in a very plain way—Janet, the ham!—or maybe these gentlemen would fancy a couple of pork chops?”

“I’m making quite an enormous meal,” protested Goring, crimson with suppressed laughter. “I shall not be able to eat any dinner.”

“Oh, I forgot you hadn’t had your dinner,” said the farmer, apologetically “We village folk dine at one o’clock.”

“I’m glad you admire the thatch, Mr. Goring. I wish I could make it a present to you,” interrupted Mrs. Travenor. “What with insects, and bees’ nests, and birds building in it and littering the thatch all over my garden, I wish it was anywhere else.”

“But the birds pay for their lodging, Janet,” urged her sister. “They make it up in singing. The starlings have a concert every morning.”

To this suggestion Janet merely said, “They wake me—hours too early.”

“Is there any celebrity living here, now that we have seen the sights?” inquired Captain Goring,

“I don’t know what you call a celebrity, sir. We have no book people, or criminals, or that, but there’s a miser in Middle Barton that is a rare object—just skin and bone; and there’s a girl in Upper Barton that brought a breach of promise against a man—a lot of folks used to go to Upper Barton Church a-purpose to have a look at her. He got cast in twenty pounds damages. He gave her some queer presents, he did—a bottle of cod liver oil, and a stuffed mole. They made out that she fretted so much when she looked at the mole, that it had to be kept locked up. Maybe you’d like to walk around the garden and the stables: I’ve got one or two nice nags.”

As he spoke, the farmer rose and led the way out, first into the great yard (where the work-horses lounged about, tired of grass and liberty, and displaying their friendships and enmities, precisely like human beings), into the best stable, the great barn, the rick yard, and, finally, through a little postern into a quaint old garden, with grass walks, plots of vegetables, currant bushes, and enormous rhubarb plants. The walls were entirely covered with fruit trees.

“In the autumn we have a rare show of apricots,” said Travenor; “I only wish we had a few to offer you now. And our asparagus there, it’s like cream and sugar.”

Kinloch walked with the farmer, Goring with Peggy and last came Mrs. Travenor, daintily holding up her skirts, and looking more like some indifferent lady visitor, than the wife and helpmeet of her burly spouse. The old gardener, in his Sunday suit, happened to be also poking round the grassy walks. He was a short, spare man, with a shrewd face, and a pair of humorous grey eyes. To-day he wore a good black coat and waistcoat, and a felt hat; but on week days his attire was a pair of corduroys, a blue flannel shirt, and an old grey cap.

“Well, Jopp,” said the farmer, accosting him, “looking at the fruit, I see.”

“Aye, I be. Them blackbirds do be tarrible; what with them, and the slugs, my heart’s a’most broke.”

“Are you sending anything to the flower show at Upper Barton?” asked Goring, with an air of determined affability.

“No, sir, not now; maybe in August. We do allus have wonderful apricocks, and if the apricocks are let alone, I’ll send a basket, and maybe a few geraniums; but I don’t go in for shows, these times.”

“Then you did once?”

“Oh, aye,” with a condescending grin; “I once took the prize rick thatching, agin eleven parishes!”

“I do hope it will be fine for the show,” said Peggy. “What do you think, Jopp? You are a good weather prophet.”

“Well, Miss Peggy, us could do with a lot o’ rain; we have not had a speck of rain this three weeks. ’Tis welly nigh as bad as last year, when we hadn’t a sprinkle for a month after apple-christening day.”

“Apple-christening day!” exclaimed Goring. “And when does that ceremony come off?”

“The seventeenth o’ July, sir; but when I was up the hill just now, I see’d the sheep a-playing, and shepherds say ’tis a sure sign o’ wet.”

“I hope that the wet will wait, till the day after tomorrow,” said Peggy.

“You would not say that, Peg, if you had forty acres of turnips,” exclaimed Travenor. “However, I see no sign of change. Do you know the village idiot, sir?” he asked, turning to Kinloch.

“By sight, yes.”

“I declare he is the best judge of weather in these parts. He seems to have another sense, and smells rain, or snow, or frost.”

“I can’t bear him,” exclaimed the girl; “he is so cruel. He is always so ready to drown a cat or a dog: and dreadfully disappointed if it has been reprieved,”

“They are always reprieved here,” grunted Travenor, with a laugh.

“And, whenever the butcher is going to kill a cow, or a sheep, you should see him scuffling up the village: he would not miss it for anything; is it not a hideous taste!” And she looked straight at Goring, with her beautiful, eager face.

Bat Captain Goring merely laughed, as if bethought the matter a rather good joke; and her sister said:

“Well, Peggy, you recollect, when a number of town children came here for a day last summer, how our village children took them to see a pig being killed, as the greatest treat they could offer them?”

“Yes, I know; and I fetched them away.”

Kinloch noted that she had grown suddenly white—the memory was evidently an unpleasant one; he also had been watching the sly old countryman stealing long, exhaustive glances, first at Goring, and then at himself; and, hearing the church bell begin to ring, he suddenly suggested that it was time for their departure. In his secret heart, Captain Goring was cherishing a wild hope of being invited to remain to supper; but that hope proved vain, and the whole party commenced a slow but gradual progress towards the gate. Here the farmer bade his guests a courteous farewell, quietly ignoring Goring’s proffered hand; but Goring succeeded in giving the fingers of his pretty sister-in-law a lingering and tender squeeze, as he murmured the words:

“Till tomorrow.”

Chapter VIII

The Forester’s Fête

On Monday morning, Captain Goring made no pretence of fishing; merely announced in a casual way that he had important letters to write, and remained at home; but he divulged to his comrade that he purposed to attend the village sports, and flower show, at Upper Barton.

“You must be short of a job! Or is it to catch a glimpse of the girl who was given the stuffed mole?”

“No—not quite; why don’t you come, instead of grilling on the river, dabbling for green drake? and you’ve had two ripping days.”

“No reason I should not have a third; and I prefer dry fly-fishing to doing gooseberry! In fact, I hereby give notice that I’m not going to chaperone you any longer.”

“You don’t approve?” suggested Goring, with a mocking eye.

“No. Since you ask me, I don’t approve.”

“Well, I hope that at least you will maintain a benevolent neutrality?”

The other merely shouldered his rod, and strode off without any reply.

Very greatly to his own surprise, Kinloch found himself amidst the revels at Upper Barton, that selfsame afternoon.

The fishing was poor, the heat oppressive, and Mr. Whiting and General Pollard, having heard a glowing description of the rural sports from their gillies—who secretly languished to share them—expressed a wish to attend; the former was particularly anxious to see how the natives amused themselves?

The two gentlemen generously offered a seat in their wagonette to Kinloch, which he accepted without question, much less asking himself why he was going. At four in the afternoon they set off, arriving, by narrow roads and sharp turns, at Upper Barton—a smaller edition of Nether Barton, but of visibly greater antiquity. No house there was of more recent date than the reign of good Queen Anne, and the little insignificant looking church claimed to be Saxon.

The fête was held in the local park, by the kind permission of its absent owner, and as the wagonette bowled up the drive, quite a gay scene was disclosed—tents of various shapes, displaying various brilliant banners, “the horses,” and “boats,” two sets of merry-go-rounds (most popular in the neighbourhood), with their accompanying steam organ booming out one of its three maddening and monotonous tunes. The ground was thronged with people in all their best attire—the Foresters wearing their green sashes, and the volunteers their uniforms. The braying of the local band was vainly endeavouring to drown the self-satisfied drone of the steam organ, and close by, in an ecstasy of importance, stood the Needle, with a baton. Aunt Sally appeared to be almost as popular as the refreshment tents, and on all sides there was the sound of revelry, girls’ laughter, merry voices, and general good cheer. The weather—despite the sheep—was perfect.

Mr. Whiting and his companions walked down to look at the merry-go-rounds; they came first to the whirling horses, each provided with a happy rider, and, as they rotated, Captain Kinloch’s eyes fell upon Peggy as she flitted by—Peggy wearing a white dress, her black hat, a bunch of roses at her waist, and an expression of absolute bliss. In short, Peggy in Excelsis. Close behind her followed Goring—undoubtedly enjoying himself much—as he bent forward from time to time, shouting remarks to his fair companion. Round they skimmed, as if they could never tire. Peggy leaning back in an abandonment of enjoyment, tasting simultaneously the charms of childhood and maidenhood; and surely Goring was a schoolboy once more?

“It’s like the wheel of Life,” remarked Mr. Whiting. “I say, what a lovely girl that is with your friend Goring.”

“Yes. She is good-looking.”

“Cold-blooded frog! She is exquisite! Where did she come from?”

“Nether Barton, the Hall Farm.”

“Indeed. Ah, now I understand a few puzzles. Unless I am mistaken, the young lady is what Goring calls ‘Jungle fever,’ and ‘important letters.’ She is certainly a delightful excuse; he appears to be desperately épris!”

“It is. I regret to say, his chronic condition.”

“Ah, yes; out in the world, but not here in Arcadia. That child is not educated to the usual point. She may take him seriously.”

“I trust most devoutly that she will not.”

“He is a good-looking fellow—young, well off: he must succumb some day. Why”—stirred to renewed admiration, as Peggy once more whirled by—“a wife like her would make him famous!”

“I don’t think he would care for that sort of fame. I should not.”

“Well, I’m an old bachelor, and never mean to marry; but if I were a Benedict, I should rather like to be known as the husband of one of the prettiest women in England.”

“Then you admire her?”

“I do. Pray introduce me—when we meet; and, meanwhile, tell me how that clever young dog scraped acquaintance with her?”

“It was I—who, what you called ‘scraped’ acquaintance! One evening I went to inspect the river; a child fell into the water. She and I met upon the scene of rescue.”

“What! both of you in the river!” cried Mr. Whiting.

“No; I took the plunge. We subsequently walked home together. The next day I was with Goring when we met her, and he wanted to be introduced, of course.”

“I see. Precisely my own attitude. However, he has not let the grass grow under his feet. Ah—here they are!”

“Kinloch!” cried his comrade, “is this a dream?” grabbing his eyes.

“No; I am wide awake, at any rate. Good-afternoon, Miss Summerhayes. We have been admiring your performance on horseback. May I introduce Mr. Whiting, a fellow-fisherman?”

Mr. Whiting doffed his cap, and at once commenced to cement the acquaintance by asking “if he might have the honour of procuring Miss Summerhayes tea or other refreshment?” I’m sure you require it after your delightful exertions”—and then and there, actually under the amazed eyes of her cavalier, he walked off with the beauty in his charge.

“Oh, I say, hang these old club fogeys! Why did you introduce him? Why can’t he go back to his trout?”

“Because just now, you see, he has other fish to fry. He admires Miss Summerhayes immensely; he has been watching her for some time, and swears that she is one of the prettiest girls in England.”

“And so she is; but did the old fish really say that!” he asked eagerly.

“Yes; why?”

“Because,” following Peggy with an expression of unqualified elation, “he is a good judge. He sees the pick of the basket. He goes everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Whiting was improving the shining hour, and the occasion, in the tent; waiting assiduously on his fair charge, and making himself acquainted with her smile, her laugh, her voice. She was charming! He felt proud to be her escort. As they slowly promenaded up and down the grass to the combined blare of band and boom of organ, his companion was the cynosure of every eye.

None of the few and far-between neighbouring gentry were present. It was the month of May, and they were all in London. The crowd consisted of real country folk—from the Bartons, and other parishes. The young men admired, the young girls wondered—wondered much—to see Peggy Summerhayes, for all the world like a young lady, with feathers in her hat and six-button kid gloves, walking with first one gentleman, then another, and, when she stopped and seated herself in the shade, they all collected about her, same as flies round a pot of honey. But their mothers and aunts looked on with coldly critical eyes. What did it mean? and where was Janet Travenor?

What was this talk of Travenor’s about rearing the girl—aye, and wedding her—in his own station?

Mrs. Travenor appeared upon the scene in due time, emerging from a tent, daintily dressed in a foularde trimmed with well-mended old lace. She wore her habitual air of discontent—yes! even when her heart beat high, as at the present moment!

She, as she had confessed, was a restless and dissatisfied creature, ever picking holes in herself and her surroundings. A woman who had begun by expecting more from life than life could give her, and was always at war with destiny.

How many weary evenings had she secretly toiled up the hill behind the Hall, and gazed with eyes of aching longing, Londonwards! This fervent desire to be away, and up and doing elsewhere—to cast off the meshes of this clinging, stupefying, dateless life, was a craving that she failed to pacify—that nothing could assuage—although she succeeded in hiding its existence from stolid John Travenor. There was no exultation (the other matrons noted) in Janet Travenor’s air, as she joined the train of triumphant beauty, now swelled by a neighbouring doctor and his brother. Indeed, on the contrary, she wore quite a meek expression, as she was handed into the tax-cart, and driven off at a dashing rate by her pretty sister Peggy, who left behind her a distinctly heightened reputation and a crowd of disconsolate admirers.

The wagonette was not long in following the cart—Goring had secured a seat—he was unusually piano, and Kinloch noticed that he wore a rose in his button-hole, presumably one of Peggy’s, or else why did he place it in a tumbler of water, and carry it carefully up to his room?

He paused on the landing to glance exultantly at Kinloch, and then at the queen of flowers. “I’ve spent a most interesting and romantic day,” he remarked, with a fatuous smile.

“I see,” assented the other, drily. “Yes. I understand; and I think it is an uncommonly good business that your leave is up at ten o’clock to-morrow morning!”

Chapter IX

The First Note

By seven o’clock Captain Goring had departed. “Who would have believed,” he said to himself, as he was carried to the station, through the deep lanes and dew-spangled hedges, “that it would cost him such an awful wrench to tear himself away from a place which at first he bad detested, and that, from first to last, he had only known for five days.”

His departure was a distinct relief to Kinloch; not that he had any idea of profiting by it, as far as Peggy Summerhayes was concerned: it would be, for one thing, useless; any one with a grain of observation could see that she had no eyes or ears but for Goring. And who could wonder? What chance had she against this practised lady-killer, whose victims were as numerous as his change of quarters. Perhaps, in time, she would forget him; but, unless he was mistaken, Goring the irresistible, the insouciant, the gay, had left a mark on her young life. She would never, never, again be the same simple little girl that they had met in the lane, with Charles the lamb, and her armful of hawthorn.

As for himself, though she was the one girl in the world for him, she had, alas! never given him a thought, never would give him a thought; and he sternly repressed every tendency to maudlin self-sympathy, and set himself steadily to fish; and sport repaid him—his heart was in it—not like Goring, who, as Mr. Whiting declared, “could catch trout, but was no fisherman!”

One day business took him to the post-office, where the letters were being doled out; it was nearly ten o’clock, but the postman had come on foot from Metley, a distance of four miles. The shop was crowded with expectant (or idle) villagers, and as he waited whilst the letters were sorted and stamped, Peggy entered, and accosted him with an enchanting smile. He was not the Rose; but he was near the Rose—that is to say, in the same regiment.

Would she ask for Goring? No. She appeared to be as radiant, light-hearted, and careless as ever. After a few words about the weather, she walked over to the counter, and said, in her clear, high-bred voice,

“I will take the letters, Miss Flack, and save Matt the avenue. How is your foot, Matt?” now turning to the postman.

“Bad enough still, Miss Peggy.”

“I wonder you don’t have a bicycle,” suggested Kinloch.

“The hills are too steep, sir; but they are talking of a cart.”

“Oh, they have been talking of that cart, and of a second post, as long as I can remember,” remarked Peggy. “Not that the second post matters to us, we so seldom get letters.”

“Then here are two for you now, Miss,” announced the post-mistress, “as well as the paper, and a card, that looks like photographs—it came open you see; it’s marked Aldershot.”

Peggy stretched out her hand to receive it, and as she did so, a cabinet photograph slipped from between the boards, and fell upon the floor face upwards. It was Captain Goring’s likeness; a flattering portrait, in which he was depicted wearing full uniform, and his best and most alluring expression. Every eye was instantly fastened upon the picture, which remained for a whole minute at Peggy’s feet, amid an awed silence.

Presently, Captain Kinloch stooped, picked it up, and handed it to Miss Summerhayes, who took it with flaming cheeks. She had also received a letter, bearing the regimental crest: he had seen it in spite of himself.

Had this artless little girl come down to the office in order to intercept an expected billet doux? No! She turned her blushing face towards him, as they stepped together into the street, and said:

“I see—and so does the village—that Captain Goring has sent me his photograph. He offered it to me, but I did not think he would remember it. And—I am sure this letter is from him also”; and, as she spoke, she tore it open, with hands that trembled a little.

“Oh, Captain. Kinloch, what do you think?” and her eyes shone out of her sun-bonnet like two stars. “He—Captain Goring—is coming for the dance at the Manor.”

“The dance?” he repeated, stupidly.

“Yes; he says he will get twelve hours’ leave—three to come, three to go, and six to dance. He,” with a queer hysterical little laugh, “must be very fond of dancing.”

“He must be very fond of something, certainly.”

“Peggy—Peggy,” called a loud, hearty voice, “is there no paper this morning, child?” The farmer was standing looking over the gate, with his arms resting on the top bar.

“Yes, here it is; and a letter.”

“What kept you? Oh, good morning, sir,” to Kinloch.

“A fine day.”

“I’ve just had a note from Captain Goring,” volunteered Peggy, with unexpected intrepidity. “He is coming down to the dance at the Manor. What do you think of that?” and she beamed upon her brother-in-law.

“Think, my lass! Why, I think he must be main hard up for something to do.”

“Would you like to read the note?”

“Aye, I may as well, I suppose. You are not used to notes, are you, Peg?” with a comfortable chuckle.

And then, with a friendly nod to Kinloch, the farmer turned about with the note in his hand, and perused it as he slowly strolled up the avenue.

Peggy loitered behind him with lagging steps. (She was studying the photograph, with a beating heart.) Last of all, came Charles Lamb, who pursued his mistress up the gravelled drive, in a series of excited skips.

“I hope to goodness he has not put any of his usual drivel into that letter,” muttered Kinloch, as he made his way back to the inn. “Farmer Travenor does not look like a man that would stand any nonsense.”

Chapter X

Peggy in Excelsis

The slight flavour of rural joys which Mr. Whiting had tasted had merely whetted his appetite for more, and, to the amusement and amazement of Captain Kinloch, he announced his intention of attending the local dance, and ordered the village wagonette, with that project in view.

“And what about tickets?” he demanded of Mrs. Banner; “what is to be done about them?” Tickets were only eighteen pence each, and included refreshments—that was to say, tea, lemonade, and buns in moderation. “Couldn’t you provide something more at my expense, Mrs Banner?” he suggested, coaxingly.

“Certainly, sir; whatever you like.”

“I would not wish to spoil the frugal and Arcadian simplicity of the entertainment, but some large sponge cakes, a few dozen custards, and a little fruit would no doubt be appreciated, eh?”

“Aye, I shouldn’t wonder if they would. Very well, sir, I’ll see what I can manage, and I’ll hire a donkey-cart; but I can’t do a regular supper, for I’m going to the ball myself, you see.”

“Delighted to hear it. I hope you will honour me with a dance. Kinloch, you are coming, of course?”

“I don’t know: I rather think not.”

“Oh, yes, as my guest;” and he burst into a delighted laugh. “Only eighteen pence! Goring and Pollard and you and I will fill the wagonette comfortably. We will dine early, if you please, Mrs. Banner, so that we may have ample time to dress.”

“What a dissipated person you are! Even down here you cannot keep quiet, but throw yourself into the local vortex, and insist on dragging me along with you,” protested Kinloch.

“It will do you good, my dear sir, it will do you good. When you return to the madding crowd, you will look back on this time as a species of delightful dream.”

Kinloch was silent; he was by no means so confident on this head.

The primitive arrangements for the dance were all complete: candles in tin sconces, and branches of hawthorn, were stuck about the carvings in the white saloon; the floor had been swept. The band, accompanied by the Needle, was already established in the hall, and in what was once a library, several tables of refreshments were spread. These displayed pyramids of buns and oranges, tumblers, tea-cups, and saucers; Mr. Whiting’s contribution respectfully arranged on a reserved table; and, in the background, an abundant supply of lemonade, and beer bottles.

The guests were flocking in from all sides, walking or driving through a labyrinth of winding lanes, under the cool glory of the rising moon, passing the heavily-scented hedges, the sleeping cows, and the unmelodious corncrake, as he patrolled the dew-steeped clover.

The company arrived with wonderful punctuality: here, it was not fashionable to come two or three hours after a dance had commenced; and, if any one had attempted the experiment, the chances were that he would find the windows in darkness, the door locked—the ball over. The Barton folks, being farmers, were early birds.

By eight o’clock the saloon was almost full. There were Mr. and Mrs. Travenor and Peggy. She, wearing a high, white dress, with elbow sleeves, her luxuriant hair beautifully dressed, and set off by a bunch of crimson roses, in her gloved hand a posy of the same. There was Mrs. Banner, who “came,” as the society papers say, in a somewhat creased terra-cotta silk, looking excessively pleased with herself, and figuratively rolling her black eyes into every corner.

Mrs. Travenor, who, on the contrary, appeared to be disgusted with society, was attired in black, with a piece of rare old lace arranged upon the body, fastened by an ancient pearl brooch. John Travenor, hearty, loud-voiced, good friends with himself and all the company, wearing a shiny broadcloth Sunday coat, brown tweed trousers, and a white tie. Nan, the blacksmith’s daughter, a tall, excessively plain girl, the humour of whose face made it attractive, conscious of a superb figure, well displayed in a primrose crépon gown—she bore away the palm for dress and style, as did Peggy, for beauty and grace! There was Nan’s fat mamma in a gorgeous plaid, her sisters in green flannel. There were crowds of pretty, rosy girls, in white muslin and blue ribbons, or pink cotton and white lace, according to complexion and taste; rows of eager, honest-faced, sunburnt young men, and a goodly sprinkling of dowagers and old maids, who gladly contributed their eighteen pence, for the pleasure of looking on—and the right of criticism.

Into the middle of all this assemblage, burst, so to speak, a vision of four gentlemen in evening dress clothes. Mr. Whiting, all bland smiles and effrontery, walking boldly in the van, next the eager Goring, followed by the more reluctant Kinloch and General Pollard, who had not been at a dance for twenty years, and had succumbed, grumbling, to the force of example.

The quartette fastened themselves immediately upon the Travenors, and, when the band struck up a quadrille, and the lively “Man from Monte Carlo,” Mr. Whiting and Mrs. Travenor stood up, Peggy and Goring, General Pollard and Mrs. Banner, whilst Captain Kinloch looked on, in company with Miss Summerhayes’ particular friend, Miss Belt.

The quadrilles were succeeded by a waltz, the fun growing fast and furious, the couples twirling and gyrating with extraordinary velocity, and with occasional peals of loud laughter, which threatened to drown the band.

Peggy moved stiffly at first, but, having a good ear, and great love of dancing, soon fell into her partner’s (Goring) easy, gliding step.

Mr. Whiting pranced with Nan in the old quick trois temps. Mrs. Banner bobbed about like a cork, in company with General Pollard, whose martyrdom, as expressed in his face, would have greatly entertained his club friends, had they been there to see. Meanwhile, Kinloch and Mrs. Travenor stood out, and followed Peggy with their eyes.

She looked amazingly beautiful; her colour was marvellous. her eyes danced as well as her feet; her slender, girlish figure, wound in and out, with a sort of childish grace.

“I’m told your friend is a very wealthy man,” began Mrs. Travenor, in her usual abrupt fashion.

“Do you mean Captain Goring?”

“Yes; is he not a friend of yours?”

“Well, he is a brother officer.”

“Oh, the same thing, I suppose! And is he really to rich as they say?” (Her thoughts flew to that sovereign in the alms’ plate).

“Pray do not ask me, Mrs. Travenor,” rejoined Kinloch, with a touch of hauteur.

“And pray why not? Surely you know.”

“I know that he is his own master, and that he never seems to want money.”

“Dear me, how cautious you, are!” she exclaimed scornfully. “Well, I suppose it’s all right!” and she followed the flying couple with a deep sigh of content. Was she going to question him respecting Goring’s intentions? Goring had written, had sent his photograph, and come fifty miles to dance with Peggy.

What were Goring’s intentions? Perhaps he did not know them himself! He escorted Mrs. Travenor into the refreshment-room, and administered a cup of tea, and one of Mr. Whiting’s sponge cakes. The dance over, the dancers poured out on the moonlit terrace, where Travenor and other farmers were loudly discussing road rates. Some of the girls sat upon the stairs, whilst their partners foraged for lemonade and buns.

Peggy was not among these, but a white dress and a black coat were already down at the end of the terrace, and were descending into the park. As Kinloch stood, and looked after them, the lines hardened round his mouth. He danced, in turn, with Miss Flack, the post-mistress, Miss Belt, and with her sister Emmie, he suffered many things of Mrs. Banner in a heated polka, and he had a long conversation with Farmer Travenor on the subject of coveys, pheasant eggs, and rearing. At last it was his turn to dance with Peggy. He met her face to face in the doorway on Goring’s arm—a glorious spectacle of radiant beauty, undefeated hopes, and untarnished youth. As the music had begun, they melted away into the waltz, and he found that, if an anxious, inexperienced partner, Miss Summerhayes was light as a snowflake.

When the very last bar of the music ceased, they drifted out of an open window on to the terrace, from the terrace down to the park, when, in the full view of the moonbeams, Peggy seated herself upon the edge of a fountain. For some seconds there was a dead silence, and then she looked up at him with an expression of exalted ecstasy, and said, in a voice trembling with emotion—

“Oh, Captain Kinloch, I am so happy. What can I do to deserve it? How can I thank God? I would not have believed that such happiness was possible!”

Kinloch gazed down at her in puzzled astonishment. Here was a girl, piously, reverently, thanking the Almighty, because Goring had made love to her? It struck him with a sense of blasphemy, when he thought of Goring—and his life.

“So I see,” he said, huskily—there was a momentary look of pain on his dark face,—“that Captain Goring has-spoken-”

“Yes; and I am telling you first, Captain Kinloch, because only for you I should never, never have known him!”

“Is—is anything definitely arranged?”

“Definite? I don’t know exactly what you mean.”

“Well, Miss Summerhayes, I can only say that I hope with all my heart that you may always be as happy as you are now.”

“Thank you! I don’t think there is much doubt of that!” with a low laugh. “How quickly it has happened! All in ten days!”

“Happy is the wooing that is not long a-doing,” quoted Kinloch, mechanically.

“Yes; that is true. You know at a glance whether you are going to like a person, or not, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure. Sometimes I begin with a little aversion. I suppose you will tell your sister at once?”

“Yes; she will be so pleased. Ah! here he comes.” And Goring appeared, running down the mossy old steps. “My dance, Miss Summerhayes. What are you doing down here?” he asked, with an air of proud proprietorship.

“I came here on purpose—to tell Captain Kinloch,” she answered, in a low voice. A pause of about six heart beats.

“Oh, well, it’s quite safe with him; but why has he been so favoured?” he asked, with a short laugh.

“Because, only for him, we should never have known one another.”

“Oh, if it comes to cause and effect,” broke in Kinloch, “only for Teddy Jeal’s capsize, you and I, Miss Summerhayes, would have been strangers yet.”

“Don’t let it go any further, like a good chap!” muttered Goring, in an aside, as he lit a cigarette.

“All right,” rejoined his comrade; and after one or two commonplace remarks, he hastily withdrew from the presence of the happy pair, where he felt most painfully one too many. So, the declaration is a fait accompli! he said to himself. What will be the next act? Who will act next? and he looked instinctively at the stalwart proportions of John Travenor, who was pacing the terrace with his hands loosely clasped behind his back, discoursing indignantly on the price of lambs at Bridgeford Fair. Little did he dream that his own little ewe lamb was parading the old grass-grown avenue with—for all he knew—an unscrupulous young wolf.

Peggy’s happiness was at the full, like the moon; let her enjoy the one hour of her lifetime.

The four “fishing gentlemen” had made themselves exceedingly popular with the rustics; even Kinloch; who was all the while enacting the desperate part of “Spartan Boy and Fox.” Now, he realized that he loved—hopelessly, wildly—loved Peggy Summerhayes, and that she was out of his reach forever and forever. Nevertheless, he danced!

As for Mr. Whiting, he was amazed at his own activity, and to find himself cantering about the room with his arm half round Mrs. Banner to the thunder of the “Flick and Flock” galop.

Whilst Kinloch waited for his companions, he noticed Miss Nancy Belt standing in the doorway, prepared to depart, with a coquettish little red hood over her head. To his surprise, she sidled closer to him, and said, in a low voice;

“So I see that Peggy has got a sweetheart!” indicating a loitering couple upon the terrace. “Of course, she is far too pretty for us to keep in the Bartons. I always knew that; and she is a dear, good, honest little soul. He is handsome; just like a valentine; but I don’t like his face, and,” with a swift upward glance from under her long eyelashes, “I’d ten times sooner it had been you!”

Before Kinloch could find his tongue, or collect his wits, the audacious damsel was gone. The drive home was a silent affair, as sleep, or their own thoughts, seemed to have absorbed every one; but when they arrived at the inn, Mr. Whiting roused up, and, with renewed vitality, strode into the bar, ordered whiskies and sodas, ham and eggs and grilled bones, and announced his intention of “making a night of it.”

“Don’t know when I’ve danced with such vigour, and enjoyed myself so much. What a contrast this easy-going existence affords to the vertigo and whirl of our brains and life in London. That Nancy Belt, in her yellow dress, has a sense of humour, and a witty tongue, that would do credit to Sheridan! I wish she was a young man, and I’d ask her up to stay with me, like a shot. And as to Miss Summerhayes, she made me feel a mere boy again. I have a humble and holy fear of getting out of my depth with young women, but I must say that I should like to paddle in her smiles! There was a girl, too with flaxen hair, from Upper Barton, that would have made a capital Marguerite, and the post-office clerk had a nimble foot, a tight waist, and an enviable appetite!”

“You seem to have given them all a turn, and, I suppose, next week, at the Duchess of Bolton’s, you will remain all night jammed in a doorway.”

“No doubt. There I am an ancient fogey, and here I am a funny old gentleman! I like the Bartons, and I’ve done a good stroke of business to-night. I had a jaw with Travenor and several other farmers, and I’ve taken a thousand acres of shooting for the 1st of September. Kinloch, I hereby invite you as one gun.”

“Thank you very much.”

“No use to ask you, Goring; you couldn’t hit a haystack in your present condition.”

“I don’t know what you mean by my present condition; I know I’m dog-tired; but I’m a fairly good shot.”

“No, no; you are not a keen sportsman, I can see! However, you have a capital eye for other matters, and here I drink your health, and hers.”

Before Kinloch turned in, Goring drew him out, into the road, ostensibly to have one last cigar, but in reality to relieve his feelings.

“I wish that gabbling old idiot inside would hold his tongue. He will have it all over the place; just give him a hint, will you?”

“But you have asked her to marry you?”

“Well, I’ve told her I’m most desperately, idiotically, wildly, fond of her.”

“Which, I presume, amounts to the same thing?” pausing.

“Yes, you strait-laced, stiff-backed old beggar, it does. I’m even fond of this sleepy village—of the very hedges and meadows and lanes, just because Peggy lives among them. And when I am away from here, I can think of nothing, but when I can come back, I cannot take an interest in a race, or even a game of cards, or any mortal thing. I’m pretty bad, you see!”

“I think you are an uncommonly lucky fellow, and I wish you joy——”

“Lucky! yes—rather! though, of course, it is not anything of a match—no money—no connections——”

“She is too good for you—and you know it.”

“Amen! I’m idiotically fond of my pretty Peggy—I’m immensely proud of her! She will open people’s eyes—eh?—but I don’t want to marry just yet.” Here he heaved a heavy sigh. “A man gives up such a lot when he marries!”

“Some men do,” retorted his listener, sharply. “I sincerely hope you will. She is an innocent, unsophisticated child, and you have it in your power to make her blissfully happy, or absolutely miserable. What a responsibility! Well, I’m off to bed now, I see the waiter looking out for us.”

“Hang the waiter! I want to talk the thing over; but you are so beastly unsympathetic. I shall sit up for a week if I choose.”

“Yes; I am well aware that you may do as you like here, and that Mrs. Banner cannot resist your blandishments, but as I am not a privileged person, and it is two o’clock— Good-night.”

Peggy returned home in beatific silence, and had been instantly despatched to bed. The indescribable glamour of that evening was still upon her. She did not attempt to undress, but sat at her open casement, looking out from high into the park, in a transport of subdued ecstasy—the window was embowered with jessamine and creepers. She heard, far away, a horse stamping in its stall; nearer, a bird stirring in its nest. She gazed down on the great familiar trees—on the church spire above the old walnut. She watched the moon wane, the stars fade, far too happy to rest—too happy to sleep.

Chapter XI

Concerning the Escape of Gassepah

Two days after the manor dance Captain Kinloch’s leave expired, and, although he had enjoyed capital sport, he sincerely wished that he had never taken a rod in the Nether Barton Club. He had gone down there to fish, and had been caught himself! Fallen an easy prey to a child with a pair of lovely hazel eyes who was not even aware of her prowess, and had never made the slightest effort to play, or “land” him. The train which carried him back to Aldershot crossed the river “Beck”—a truly fateful stream to him. He looked down upon its shining, weedy water, its footpath, and encompassing low meadows, with an odd tight feeling in his throat. Was the remembrance of one May evening, to leave such a permanent impression on his life, that ambition, effort, and fame were but dust in the balance? How often had he seen, in his mind’s eye, that entrancing vision on the river bank? Yet what was there to establish her in his thoughts, above hundreds of pretty girls, he had met with—and forgotten?

There is nothing like hard work for mending fractured hearts, and Captain Kinloch found ample employment when he rejoined his regiment. What with field days, district courts martials, regimental duty, musketry and coffee-shop accounts, his hands were full, and he rarely had a moment that he could call his own. He now and then (mentally) contrasted the burning plains of Aldershot, and the bare scorched outlook, the perpetual bugle calls, tramp of hosts, rumble of wagons, shouting of the captains, and all the busy vehemence of military life, with the cool green quiet of Nether Barton, its narrow fragrant lanes, and old-world folks. He saw but little of Taffy Goring—far less than in Sandshire; they were not thrown together, and Kinloch was a busy man and a red-hot soldier, whose only relaxation was a game of cricket, and an occasional run up to Lords, to witness some great match.

Goring, on the other hand, was one of her Majesty’s “bad bargains,” who merely regarded his work as a disagreeable interlude between polo, racing, gambling, and similar distractions. He rarely dined at mess, and it struck Kinloch that, when they did come across one another, Goring appeared anxious to avoid him, with a casual “Hullo—how are you?” or “How goes it, old man?” He had seen him one day at Lords, crossing the ground with an elegantly-attired woman, under whose pink parasol he bent from time to time, with eager eloquence. He had again caught sight of him between the same lady and another, partaking of strawberries and cream at a private table in the big tent, one of a very smart and lively party.

Had he forgotten the village idyll?—or was it to become a village tragedy?

*  *  *

Captain Kinloch was dining at his club—the Rag—his companion (and guest) was a cousin named Tom Somerset, a smart young man in the Indian police with searching black eyes, and an uninterrupted flow of language, who had but recently arrived from the depths of the jungle on three months’ leave. He talked steadily through the courses of a notably good dinner; of relatives, tailors, sport, guns, girls—and promotion.

“And so you say you are looking out for an exchange to your other battalion, Geoff. I should have thought you had enough of India?”

“Oh, no, I don’t mind India; it’s a capital country for enlarging one’s ideas, and a pleasant asylum for a poor man.”

“Who will be a rich man some day!”

“I don’t build upon that. My aunt can leave her money as she chooses, and I abhor the notion of waiting for dead people’s shoes. However, I’ve got enough to rub along with—as a bachelor.”

“I wonder you don’t marry?”

“Why? Do I look like a marrying man?”

“No. I can’t say that you do, but you are getting on. You are past thirty.”

“One would think you were some worldly old woman—harrying a girl who had remained on hand. I don’t intend to marry. Let us talk of something else! Have you ever had any shikar in the shape of hunting dacoits? The Central Provinces are, or were, a well-known cover for them.”

“Not much. I wish I’d had the luck. A friend of mine, called Perry, had a splendid chance, and muffed it! At least, he was swindled out of his catch. I say, that reminds me; is there not a chap called Goring in your regiment?—good-looking fellow, in the ‘Somebody’s darling’ style.”

“Yes; he exchanged to us from the Blunderbores, about eighteen months ago.”

“A friend of yours?”

“No, not particularly. Why?”

“Because he ought to be broke—flogged, and kicked out of the service.”

“Then, evidently, he is not a friend of yours!” exclaimed Kinloch, with a laugh. “There was nothing .against him in his old regiment, or Vallancy would never have sanctioned the exchange.”

“Oh, neither your old man, nor his own chief, knew as much about him as I do! Come, I say, what do you think of him?”

“I think that he is a remarkably good-looking and well set up fellow. He plays a sound rubber of whist, and is one of our crack polo players.”

“Now, shall I tell you what I think?” said Somerset, squaring his elbows on the table, and staring fixedly at his cousin. “That he is a confounded, cheating, gambling rascal; has no more sense of honour than a pickpocket. Will tell a whole string of what the Americans call ‘Flat-footed’ lies, without turning a hair, and do anything to gain his own ends.”

“I see that you have a pretty bad opinion of him; and that he need not apply to you for a character.”

“No, and I’ll give you the reason, it’s rather a yarn, but you really ought to be on your guard against the reptile you are nursing in——”

“Pardon me,” interrupted Kinloch, quickly, “I’ve never attempted to nurse him! Get on with the story.”

“You know in the C. P. we are awfully bothered with dacoits. I can’t think why they flourish there, but it’s a fact that they do. Latterly, we have had a notorious one called Gassepah Jheel. We were all on the look for him, but he was much too sharp for the whole force. He was caught once, and broke out of jail with a more magnificent reputation than ever. He was, and, I regret to say, is, a queer, capricious, theatrical sort of beggar, who plays to the gallery. Sometimes he will commit atrocious murders, and cut off the noses and fingers of women. On other occasions he will hide in a tree and shower down smart sarees and jewels on them as they pass underneath. However, four years ago, he was extremely badly wanted; there was a handsome reward on his head, and whoever had the luck to catch him, was, professionally, ‘a made man!’ We strained every nerve and sinew; would hear of him one day in a certain direction, and start off at express speed to find that he was fifty miles away, in another jungle! ‘Hide and go seek’ was a joke to it, nevertheless, we persevered—faint yet pursuing. A boy called Perry—who was at school with me, and had lately got into the department—had ‘Dacoit ‘ on the brain, and his head Sowar had a private grudge against Jheel, connected with his wife’s former nose. So Perry, who was a wiry, active chap, and as hard as nails, and his Sowars, followed up Gassepah like a whole pack of sleuth-hounds, and by dint of perseverance, information received, and some wonderful forced marches, came upon the great man in one of his lairs. He was so secure, in his own mind, that they actually found him asleep, and unarmed. His satellites fled, and Perry lost no time in putting the darbies on him, and marching him off between two stalwart Sowars. Perry, poor boy, was so elated, that he could hardly contain himself—his future was made. He was beside himself with joy. But both he and his men and horses, were dead beat—this happened in the hot weather, and they could not face a long march without some rest—so he called a halt at an old Dak Bungalow on the Jubbulpore Road, and there established himself for the day, intending to proceed at moonrise. He quartered Gassepah in the back room, put on a sentry, reserved the front for himself, whilst the Sowars had the go-downs and veranda. You follow me? I’m rather a duffer at explaining things?”

“I follow you with the deepest interest!” replied Kinloch, knocking the ash off his cigarette.

“Good! Well, after he had had a meal, and a tub, Perry went and interviewed his prisoner. He found him squatted on the matting, looking exceedingly sorry for himself. Probably he felt that it was a case of alone, and when his wish was granted, proceeded to jabber away to him in Marathi, but Perry could only understand a word here and there. Then the prisoner began to make mysterious signs, holding out his hands, pointing to his handcuffs, and then to a good sized lump under his right arm. He wore a mere Dothi and turban, and was naked to the waist, save for two heavy gold bangles. After a bit, Perry gathered that the fellow was trying to bribe him. I daresay he looked upon this round-faced boy as an easy tool. He pointed significantly to the lump, and said in Hindustani, ‘Fifty thousand rupees.’

“Perry felt strongly inclined to raise him off the floor with a kick, but refrained; called him as many bad names as he could in Hindustani, and so left him.”

“Yes, that is all highly to the credit of your schoolfellow, my dear Tom; but we were talking of Goring, where does he come in?”

“You just wait—he is coming in now,” rejoined Somerset, impressively. “He happened to be out after tiger, and he and his shikari and coolies arrived about nine o’clock that morning, in order to put up at the Dak Bungalow—the last comer has the first claim, as you know; and Perry made him welcome, gave him breakfast, and half his room, and received warm congratulations on his shikar. Goring was uncommonly keen to have a look at the celebrated character, but Perry restricted this to a brief inspection through the window.

“It was May—and you can imagine the heat in the Central Provinces, especially towards one o’clock. Every living creature shelters wherever it can; the hot wind blows like a hurricane from the infernal regions, and drives the roasted leaves before it; and the very crows come hopping in and sit under your water-filter with their beaks agape!”

“Yes; I know it—only too well.”

“And how drowsy you feel, especially after tiffin! Well, all the morning Perry was beguiled into playing écarté with Goring, who, as you may not know, never stirs without a pack of cards—no, not even out tiger shooting! Perry lost one hundred rupees up to tiffin, and, after that, he went and had a look at his sentries and prisoner, and gave orders for a march at eleven o’clock, when the moon rose. At three o’clock, or half-past, he went back and threw himself down on his charpoy and slept the sleep of the deserving, in spite of both heat and mosquitoes.

“When he awoke, it was dusk. Goring was apparently sound on his charpoy; so he got up quietly, and went round to his prisoner. He found the sentry at his post, opened the door, and looked in; the room was empty; there was no sign of Gassepah to he found beyond a pair of open handcuffs and a broken penknife which lay upon the floor. Gassepah had freed his hands, squeezed through the window, when the policeman’s back was turned, climbed the roof, dropped down by the front veranda, and escaped! Escaped on the back of Captain Goring’s best polo pony.

“Well, you can imagine the row and the ructions; the racing and chasing on ‘Cannobie Lea,’ was nothing to what went on. Goring was most sympathetic, and did his level best; but it all was useless—the bird had flown.

“Perry was dreadfully cut up, and his Naik was frantic. Here was a nice story to carry back to headquarters, and, instead of promotion, they might expect disgrace.

“As a matter of fact, Perry was severely reprimanded, and, shortly afterwards, packed off to an outlying district where he had scarcely a soul to speak to, where malaria was pretty bad, and where he literally ate his heart out, and died. I went down to see him for a week once, and found him an emaciated spectre, saturated with fever, his eyes looking like two holes burnt in a blanket. He had always, after the first, suspected Taffy Goring of being the dacoit’s accomplice. It had transpired that Goring had held an interview with Gassepah whilst Perry was asleep—he has a wonderful gift of tongues, and can talk Marathi fluently. Some time after Gassepah’s escape he appeared to be surprisingly flush of coin: he bought several racing ponies, and actually gave six thousand rupees for ‘Tucktoo,’ and ran him in the Civil Service Cup. A notoriously valuable ruby, called the ‘Setting Sun,’ known to have been among the dacoit’s plunder, was mysteriously offered to the Nizam of Hyderabad, and purchased for fifty thousand rupees. It was a three-cornered Burmese stone, of great beauty and fire. Another curious coincidence was that Goring presented his friend, Mrs. Lighthead, with a heavy gold bangle, precisely similar to one worn by the dacoit. These items had been traced by Perry’s detectives—and Perry openly taxed Goring with his perfidy.”

“Yes? And—what then?”

“Well, Goring was furious, swore that he bought his bangle from a hawker—he is so ready of resource, and tells his flat-footed lies with such staggering aplomb. He denied that his shikari had given the policeman drugged opium, or had moved the pickets of his polo pony, and declared that Perry was simply out of his mind with disappointment, and malaria, to dream that a British officer was capable of taking bribes from a butchering dacoit. And Goring is so good-looking, and self-possessed, and plausible, you believe all he says when you are with him; after he departs, you realize that he is nothing but a cold-blooded liar.”

“Pray, speak for yourself, Tom. This is all very fine, but you cannot prove, anything. His being hard up one day, and flush the next, is the condition of all gamblers, and Goring may have bought the bangle.”

“He is not given to buying presents. You little know what a selfish beggar he is.”

“That may be, but your case against him won’t hold water; a fellow may be selfish and untruthful, without being an out-and-out ruffian. Epithets are not arguments. You have no proof.”

“Yes, I have,” cried the policeman, excitedly.

“Come then, let me hear it.”

“Gassepah, who, I told you, is a theatrical sort of beggar—a kind of shoddy Robin Hood—wrote himself to Perry a letter, to brag and crow. He said:

“’Your kind friend the blue-eyed officer, gave me my liberty, and his horse, in exchange for the Setting Sun—which ruby I had concealed under my skin.’ “

“Now you see,” looking straight into his cousin’s eyes, “I have floored you!”

“Where is the letter?”

“I cannot tell you, Perry showed it to me. I have held it in my hand, and seen it with my own eyes. I think I could find it, if necessary.”

“After all, it’s the word of a dacoit against Goring, and I back Goring;” announced Kinloch, after a moment’s silence.

“Well, I’d sooner believe the dacoit! Now, look here, you shall judge. Goring is as cunning as a fox, and as slippery as an eel. Should you ever have occasion to corner him for some reason or other, and make him ‘drop it,’ just try him with Chorbowli Dak Bungalow, the well-known ‘Setting Sun’ ruby, and Gassepah Jheel. It makes me sick,” pursued Somerset, with fierce indignation, “to see such a man, endowed with a handsome face, fascinating manners, and a certain amount of brains, and to know that behind all that, he is an unprincipled brute. I pity the girl he marries. He will grind her spirit into the dust, break her heart with his lies, and bring her to beggary.”

“Rather a blue lookout for her, poor girl!” exclaimed Kinloch.

“Poor girl! You mean rich girl—Goring will make any amount of love to the poor ones if they are pretty—but he means to marry money. I’ve heard him say so fifty times.”

“You are violently prejudiced when you don’t like a person, Tom. You were always that way at school. I believe you would hang, draw, and quarter Taffy Goring this minute, because your friend suspected him. He is no saint, that I grant you, and he is not a particular pal of mine; but he is not as black as you paint him.”

“At any rate, he swindled poor Perry out of his bit of luck, and broke his heart, and if I ever can bring that business home to him, I will. I can follow up this man who sold the ruby, though he has twisted and doubled through the Soucars, and half-castes, and diamond merchants, like any hare. I may nab him yet. I’d far sooner catch him than Gassepah; then you will find that he will be drummed out of the service, and kicked out of society.”

“And all on the word of a dacoit! Come, come, Tom, don’t go too far. Let us make a move on to the billiard room, old man, and forget your little vendetta.”

Chapter XII

At the Painted Gate

August the thirtieth arrived, and Captain Kinloch found himself once more approaching the “Dog and Crook.” The deeply worn old lanes—lanes used by the Saxons—were heavily overhung by nuts, blackberries, and bracken; the corn in the uplands was being cut—it had been a late harvest. Kinloch drove up to the inn on a Saturday afternoon, and found Mr. Whiting already comfortably established and apparently delighted to see him.

“I’m thankful to come here for a change,” he remarked, as they sat over dinner. “I’ve been at Cowes—which is crammed with Hurlingham and Ranelagh—and the river. I was worn out with the London tread-mill—dinners that have nearly been the death of me, plays too lugubrious for words! balls and receptions, at which I’ve been almost asphyxiated, and it has been emphatically the “ugly woman’s” season. I’ve been forced along in the current of society, until I’m just as dead beat as if I were a chaperone, with three plain marketable daughters!”

“Then, why on earth do you go out and suffer all these things?” inquired his amazed companion.

“Well, to tell you the truth, if one goes out at all, one must go out a great deal. If I appear at one place, I am bound to show at another. I know too many people—that’s a fact, and I haven’t the courage yet to drop out and be forgotten. The next century—that is going to do such great things to improve on this generation in all respects—will, I trust, do much by deputy. Now, for instance, why shouldn’t I employ a man—some impecunious gentleman—to pay my calls, and work off a certain number of my heavy dinners, and other distasteful duties? Take country cousins to the Academy and the Row, and escort them to the theatre.”

“And what would you reserve?”

“Don’t ask me, my dear fellow!” with a chuckle. “This quiet—this cool—this fragrant air is a real treat,” throwing himself back in his favourite chair. “To love the country one must live in town.”

“And vice versa—”

“I hope we shall have some good sport on Monday. Burford and Flodden are coming, you know them? I’m in no condition, and I expect the first hour will see me out of it! Farmer Travenor was here this morning, and he tells me that there are twenty-one strong coveys on his land, and that, considering the reaping machines, and the crows, is quite first class.”

“So I should think.”

“By the way. Now we are here alone within four walls, what about that fellow Goring, in your regiment? is he going to marry the girl, or not?”

“Pray, don’t refer to me. I know no more about it than you do yourself,” rejoined Kinloch, rather stiffly.

“Oh! I thought you were likely to know. Honestly, in spite of his good looks and pleasant manners, I don’t care much for your comrade. I’ve seen him knocking about town in remarkable company. I’ve met him out at dinner too, and he strikes me as a selfish, predatory sort of beggar, who takes all he can get from every one, and pays them off with a sweet smile, and a severe handshake! I find,” suddenly lowering his voice, “that he has been here several times; fishing was not the attraction. Mrs. Banner has been dropping some alarming hints about Miss Peggy, but ‘I was deaf in that ear,’ as the French say, although a love of scandal is almost an instinct of the human heart!”

“And what was the drift of Mrs. Banner’s hints?” asked Kinloch, sternly.

“I cannot exactly reproduce them,” was Mr. Whiting’s cautious reply; “but she appeared anxious to know ‘if the captain meant matrimony?’ A significant pause, and then he added: “The most adventurous fancy, can hardly picture Goring as a married man— Eh?”

“He means to marry Miss Summerhayes, of course.”

“Well, I am sure I hope so; I believe she is infatuated about him. It’s wonderful the glamour that a handsome face casts over womenkind! I say, Kinloch, I suppose it’s all on the square? She’s such a pretty, high-bred young creature. Now, you know them both; you are here, and you might—eh?” and he paused, suggestively.

“No,” very sharply; “I might not presume to interfere in Miss Summerhayes’ affairs.”

“You won’t?” removing his cigar, and gazing at him. “Drop a little hint—or ask a question?”

“I should be taking an unwarrantable liberty, if I were to do either. Goring and Miss Summerhayes are engaged, that I know; and I really don’t see where I come into this matter.”

“Kinloch!” exclaimed Mr. Whiting, “I observe that you are a gentleman first, and then a good fellow; I’m not sure that I would not like you better, if you were first a good fellow—and then a gentleman.”

“Well, I am afraid you’ll have to put up with me as you find me; and now, if you don’t mind, I want to go out and look after my dog.”

As he crossed the hall, the other muttered: “Rather touchy about his comrade’s honour, eh? But, in my humble opinion, Goring is neither a gentleman nor a good fellow! and, if what Mrs. Banner says is true, he has made the girl a by-word, within ten parishes!”

Mr. Whiting and Captain Kinloch attended divine service the following morning, but avoided, with one consent, the Summerhayes’ pew. Kinloch discerned Peggy afar off, in the choir. He recognized her chiefly by her big black hat—even at that distance he could not fail to observe how woefully she was changed. As soon as the service was over, and the organ began to peal, he hurried out of church, in order to await Miss Summerhayes and her relatives at the porch. The first to appear was John Travenor, looking big, burly, and glum—rather like some great horned beast that was ready to put down his head and gore something or somebody; Mrs. Travenor followed, paler, and apparently more than ever dissatisfied with her lot. He accosted them cordially, but was merely vouchsafed a surly nod, and a stiff bow. Then came Peggy. She stopped, and shook hands with him, and said:

“Oh, Captain Kinloch, I am very glad to see you.”

“Thank you,” he answered: he positively could find no other words, so appalled was he at the amazing transformation before him. Her bright eyes looked sunken, her face wore a strained expression, and had completely lost its rounded, infantile form; her childish air was gone, her features were pinched and wan, her lovely colour had given place to a delicate pallor. He was looking at a girl who knew the anguish of uncertainty, had sat many an hour with sorrow, and whom he hardly would have recognized as pretty Peggy Summerhayes.

Perhaps his thoughts were unconsciously reflected in his eyes, for, without another syllable, Miss Summerhayes turned sharply round, and hurried away after her relations.

What had happened to Peggy? What had driven all the youth, and beauty, and happiness, out of her face? What had he done to offend the people at the Hall Farm? or was he merely tabooed as being the friend of the faithless Goring?

These were some of the questions that Captain Kinloch asked himself, as he and Mr. Whiting paced slowly back to the inn. The latter put one query to him ere they reached the door.

“Did you ever see any one so shockingly altered in so short a time?”

“Never,” answered Kinloch. He knew that he and his companion were thinking of the same person.

“I declare,” continued Mr. Whiting, “when I looked at her pitiful little white face, and miserable eyes that pretended to smile, it gave me quite a nasty lump in my throat. She might sit for the picture of Mariana in the Moated Grange! No beauty can stand the strain of such a highly-strung, sensitive nature; and when beauty goes out of the door, Goring will fly out of the window. I should not be the least surprised, if she never sees him again.”

Kinloch made no reply; he knew the value of silence.

“Here, in the quiet of the country, one naturally falls into a peace of mind, which refuses to be ruffled—but, I declare to you, that that girl’s eyes positively haunt me; they have such an expression of hope deferred! Upon my soul, I’ve a very good mind to step into the breach myself.”

“It would not be the least use,” replied Kinloch, drily. “You may spare yourself the mortification of a refusal. Miss Summerhayes will never love, or marry any one, but Goring.”

“Why? You seem to know all about it.”

“I know that for a fact, at any rate.”

“Well, the more fool she. The question is—will he marry her? I’ve been re-reading lately my best friend, ‘Charles Lamb,’ her sheep’s namesake. He has a bad opinion of us anglers, and calls us ‘Patient tyrants,’ ‘meek inflictors of pangs intolerable,’ ‘cool devils,’ and, although he is a poor fisherman, all these names fit Goring to a hair!” and, having pronounced this verdict, Mr. Whiting entered “The Crook.”

After lunch, Captain Kinloch was considerably astonished to find “the Needle” awaiting him in the porch; he gave him a broad grin of recognition, and a note. The latter proved to be from Mrs. Travenor, and said:—

“Dear Captain Kinloch,

“Will you meet me at the painted gate at nine o’clock this evening?

“Yours faithfully,
“Janet Travenor.”


He reflected for some seconds; his first impulse was to say “No.” Why should he mix himself up in the affairs of these people? Then he thought of Peggy—her sad little face, her tragic eyes, her cordial welcome; he would serve her if he could. So he turned to the idiot, and said, “The answer is ‘Yes.’”

“And aren’t you going to pay me?” squeaked the Needle.

Kinloch fumbled in his pocket, and threw him sixpence, which he caught, bit, and, as he placed within his well-filled purse, he remarked:

“The other captain allus gives me a shillin’—and sometimes a pot o’ beer,”—then he grinned from ear to ear, and plowed away, through the flowery dust, with his huge, flat feet.

When Kinloch walked up the lane at nine o’clock, he saw at a glance that he was not the first at the rendezvous, for Mrs. Travenor, with a shawl over her head, was awaiting him at the other side of the gate, in an attitude of anxious expectancy.

“One would almost imagine we were lovers!” he said to himself, with a grim smile. “And supposing that John Travenor were to descend upon me with a bludgeon?”

“Oh, Captain Kinloch,” she cried, stretching out her thin hands, “this is very kind of you. I would not have ventured to write, and ask you to meet me in this way, only that I dared not invite you to the house—and I must see you.”

“But why am I to be cut, may I ask?” he inquired.

“Because you are a friend of Captain Goring’s. You introduced him to us, and my husband is furious with him, and won’t even allow his name to be mentioned.”

“And what has he been doing?” he asked, with ill-assumed carelessness.

“It is what he has not been doing! You know that he proposed for Peggy four months ago—since then he writes, he comes to ‘The Crook’ from Saturday till Monday, he brings her books and flowers, but he has never once come to see us, or spoken to John or me, or asked our consent—no more than if we did not exist! It is all so mean, so underhand! He persuades my sister to meet him over at the Manor; they walk in the avenues, the lanes and fields; the country folk see them, and speak out plainly, in their own coarse way—of—my little sister Peggy.” And here Mrs. Travenor suddenly broke down, and leant her head upon her hands, and sobbed so convulsively that her whole frame was shaken by her distress. Presently she recovered, and continued, in a sort of choked voice:

“My husband is a shamed and crushed man. He, who used to hold his head so high. He shrinks from going to fairs and markets, because of the questions, jokes, hints, ay, and jeers. If this goes on, he will turn her out of home—he said so; John is stern—he always keeps his word—and then what shall I do?”

“But why don’t you use your authority, Mrs. Travenor?” demanded Kinloch, who had large ideas on the subject of discipline. “Why do you not forbid the engagement, and keep Miss Summerhayes at home?”

“Authority!” and she gave a short, hard laugh, “I have none. Forbid the engagement, when I don’t believe that such a thing exists. I nearly went on my knees to John, and one day he followed Captain Goring up the fields, and spoke to him quietly and plainly, but he merely laughed in his face, and told him to ‘keep in his station, and to mind his own business.’ So John will never interfere again. The girl is not of his blood, he thanks God.”

“But she is of yours; and surely you can control her. Why, she is barely eighteen!”

“Ah, Captain Kinloch, you don’t know Peggy! When her mind is made up, nothing moves her; she just goes straight over every obstacle. She never argues, or makes a scene; she simply does what she is determined on, whether it is to save a chicken from the knife, a kitten from the river, or to walk with Captain Goring—it comes to the same thing.”

“Well then, if I were you, I’d write to Captain Goring, and say that you cannot allow him to meet your sister, until you know his intentions.”

“I have written—twice—and made copies first. I was so fearful of offending him, and of saying too much—and yet on the other hand, I was afraid of being too indefinite.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“Nothing. He is one of the vast crowd of people who believe that letters answer themselves.”

“Then I should send Miss Summerhayes away.”

“Easier said than done; we have no relations. What else can you suggest?”

“I should keep her with me, if I were you, when he was in the village.”

“I locked her into her room once; but it was all over the place, and I never ventured to do it a second time; the remedy was worse than the disease.”

“How does Goring arrange meetings?”

“He writes, and the Needle brings up the note, then Peggy goes off radiant, as happy as a queen! I can always tell when he has come, by the look in her face. They walk about the lanes together until it is dark—ay, and after it is dark; and I sit at home—powerless.”

Kinloch heard a sudden shrill neigh; close by, in the alder field, was the chestnut and her foal, and the fascinating black colt was just in the act of taking down the bar; there he came—and there went the foal! It was a case of Peggy, Goring, and poor helpless Mrs. Travenor, over again. Goring apparently took a cruel delight in beguiling away Janet’s sole companion.

“I am truly sorry for you, Mrs. Travenor,” he said.

“And what makes matters ten times worse, is, that I have only myself to blame. Captain Kinloch, it was all my own fault,” and she turned away, with a sob.

“I really don’t see how that can be,” he protested.

“No? Well, then, I will tell you. I was always discontented with this dull, monotonous existence; it was not life, but stagnation; and though we have plenty of comforts, and no money anxieties, I wanted something more than ‘a set grey life and apathetic end.’”

“I see,” quoting, in his turn, “better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.”

“Yes, all my own craving and fervent striving had been extinguished by ill-health; but Peggy was growing up so beautiful, I was filled with ambition for her. And yet, how was she ever to be seen, or admired, in a sleepy hollow like this? She would marry a yeoman like Holt or Kerrick, and settle down in the village to the end of her days. The afternoon I met you and Captain Goring at this gate I seemed to get the germ of an idea, which developed and grew to the size of Jack’s beanstalk, in a few hours. In church on Sunday, I noticed that Captain Goring never took his eyes from Peggy. I thought hard. I even prayed on my knees that I might do what was right, and when I left the church, I had made up my mind to leave what, after all, was well, alone.”

“Yes, and so you did.”

“Wait till you hear. All that afternoon, as I sat reading a Sunday at Home, his face rose before me. His deeply disappointed look, as I closed the gate upon him. I thought and thought. Had I closed the gate with my own hands, on Peggy’s chance? What if I had? I dressed in a sort of feverish haste, and I called to Peggy to come and put on her new hat, as I was going out; then I watched till I saw you leave the Crook. I can see it from my bedroom window, and I met you at the gate on purpose.”

“You need not blame yourself, Mrs. Travenor, I do assure you. Goring would probably have made your sister’s acquaintance, somehow.”

“No; I am not so sure of that. Not at the sports, certainly, nor at the dance, for I would have kept at home, and she would never have given him a second thought, and, besides, meeting him at the gate—I encouraged her. I praised him, and it is these very praises that are now her strongest weapon against me. Oh! I have been a foolish woman! I believe I have ruined my sister’s life. She is infatuated about Captain Goring; think of it! A young girl’s first love. She has given him her love, with all her strength. If he forsakes her, it will kill her.”

“My dear Mrs. Travenor, you exaggerate, I trust.”

“No. Have you not noticed the awful, awful, change in her appearance?” A pause, a dead silence, which gave consent. “When she does not hear from him for several days, she looks almost at death’s door; she neither eats, sleeps, nor rests. She walks up and down one green path in the garden, as if she were a sentry or a prisoner, and then, when she does get a letter, oh! her gasp of relief and joy! Is it right,” she demanded fiercely, “that any man should have it in his power to make a girl so wretched, or so happy?”

“Girls have the same power over men, Mrs. Travenor. Sometimes the boot is on the other foot.”

“Ah!” looking at him fixedly. “I don’t believe any girl would have that power over you. I was thinking that perhaps you would speak to Captain Goring? We are only country bumpkins, not worth a word, but he must answer you. Of course, Peggy believes in him as in the Bible. The king can do no wrong, but we can, and, naturally, she has no faith in me, because at first I was his advocate; now I have changed sides. They are to be married some day, she assures me, and that there is plenty of time; but he won’t have anything to say to us, because he does not like us! And this seems to her an unanswerable excuse.” Another long silence, and then she continued, “My husband has heard that Captain Goring gambles and bets, and is the last sort of husband for a little simple village girl!”

“If he really loves her—she may—influence him,” suggested Kinloch, dragging out the words one by one.

“I hope so, and I hope that he is as devoted to her, as she is to him. On this one subject she appears to be under some extraordinary influence; otherwise, she is the same dear, obedient, unselfish, child, as ever. Oh! can you not help me?” and Mrs. Travenor turned her wan face towards Kinloch, and held out her hands with a piteous appeal.

“Mrs. Travenor, you know it is ill meddling in other men’s affairs, and Goring and I are not particular friends. If he really intends to marry your sister, there is nothing to be said or done. She is resolved to be his wife. But”—and he drew his breath sharply, “if he is merely amusing himself, and has no motive in coming here, beyond compromising Miss Summerhayes and annoying you, I will find means to stop him.” After this gallant promise there was a momentary pause. “Good night,” he added, abruptly, then he turned upon his heel, and walked away down the lane.

As Captain Kinloch hurried along, his temper was rising. The recital of Mrs. Travenor’s troubles, of Goring’s scornful indifference, worked him into a sort of slow white rage.

“Yes,” he repeated to himself, as he strode down the lane, stumbling over ruts and stones in the gathering dusk, “I will stop him. I’ll put an end to this state of affairs, if it costs me my commission. If he is playing fast and loose, he shall never come here again.”

The very first person he encountered in the hall of “The Crook” was Captain Goring; who welcomed him effusively, with one of his most winning smiles.

Chapter XIII

High Words

“Hullo, old man! How black you look! What’s up?” inquired Goring, as he divested himself of his coat. “One would imagine from your expression that you had been eating sloes, and that they had not agreed with you.”

“I’ve not been eating anything, but a certain amount of dirt—thanks to having the honour of being your brother officer,” answered Kinloch, with a flash of anger in his eyes. “I have just been having a talk with Mrs. Travenor.”

“Oh, that silly idiot of a woman! And what has she got to say for herself?” inquired Goring carelessly, as he turned to hang up his coat.

“You had better ask her, I think,” replied the other, and he walked away into the coffee-room, which happened to be empty, the pink lamp merely throwing its effulgence over a row of vacant chairs.

“I say,” exclaimed Goring, coming in and closing the door after him and confronting his comrade. “Let’s have this out, old fellow. What the devil has put your back up?”

Kinloch’s face startled him, it was so grave.

“You will say it is no business of mine—you would not listen to Travenor, whose business it was to interfere. I wonder you dared to treat him so.”

“Oh,” with a shrug; “Travenor is only a ‘property Dragon.’ I’m not afraid of him!” and he looked up at his comrade, with a lazy challenge in his eye.

“Then, will you listen to me?”

“All right, say on,” said Goring, flinging himself into an arm-chair (Mr. Whiting’s special favourite), and striking a match and an attitude.

For a moment there was a dead silence, the strange ominous silence that precedes a storm.

“I hear that you have made Miss Summerhayes a by-word in the county—even in the market-towns; that you decline to see her relations, or reply to their letters; and come down here to hold clandestine meetings with the poor ignorant child; and lure her from home, to spend hours in your society.”

“Well summed up, and a true bill, bar the word clandestine. All the world may see us, for what I care! Devilish pleasant hours they have been, and I hope to enjoy many more of them,” throwing himself back in his chair, and contemplating his companion with a broad, but defiant smile.

“Are you aware that the girl is the jest and byword of every low pot-house in the neighbourhood?” continued the other, who was standing with his back to the chimney-piece.

“What? Have you been patronizing them?” drawled Goring, in a tone of lazy insolence.

No reply, for his companion could not trust himself to speak.

“After all, who cares for the gossip in little country pubs—anyhow, in our world!”

Kinloch suddenly sat down at the table, and tried to take a hold of himself. He leant his head on his hand, and, looking out from under it, said:

“I introduced you to the girl; I feel in a way responsible.”

“Oh, pray, don’t let that weigh upon your tender conscience. Once I had seen her I could have easily effected an acquaintance,” he smiled to himself. His thoughts seemed to amuse him, as he added, “That sort of thing is my métier.”

“To go farther back, then, you would never have heard of Nether Barton, nor come here, but for me.”

“True, oh, Captain,” crossing his legs deliberately; “but I cannot say that you were particularly anxious that I should accompany you! So, again, you may consider yourself whitewashed! And the next article? Can I do anything else for you; what is your good pleasure?”

“That you will do either of two things. Marry the girl—or never see her again. Take your choice.”

A momentary silence, and then came the answer, which was a roar of laughter.

“Take my choice. Red or black. Tea or coffee, eh? And supposing that I don’t intend to do either?”

“Meaning give up Miss Summerhayes, or marry her?” inquired Kinloch in a hard voice.

“Just so, what is the alarming alternative?” demanded Goring, with a maddening smile.

His companion remained silent for some seconds. He would like to thrash his gay comrade within an inch of his life, not so much for what he had said, but for what a look had implied; but this would not further the girl’s case, and would lead to disagreeable complications from a commanding officer’s point of view. He thought of Peggy’s pathetic eyes, and worn young face. He thought of Tom Somerset’s story. Yes; he would draw a bow at a venture!

“And supposing that I don’t take my choice?” repeated Goring, impudently. “Supposing that ‘By order of C. E. Kinloch, Captain,’ has no terrors for me?”

“I believe you will attend to the order,” said the other, removing his hand, and looking him steadily in the face. “Because I have it in my power to ruin you.”

“Go on, go on; this is as good as an Adelphi play! What have you got up your sleeve, eh?”

“The ‘Setting Sun’ ruby, that you received from Gassepah Jheel, as the price of his liberty,” replied Kinloch, in a low voice.

Goring’s countenance suddenly became of corpse-like pallor; undoubtedly he had received a shock—of violent surprise! Yes, Somerset was right. Astonishment, horror, and guilt, appeared in his face by turns. The whole story was written in his eyes; but only for one fatal second, when the arrow had gone home, had his expression betrayed him. In another instant, Goring, the ever resourceful, had pulled himself together, and blurted out:—

“I don’t know what damned rot you have got hold of. I never heard of the fellow or his ruby in my life, and that I’ll swear.”

If further proof were needed, this was sufficient; and even Goring the keen-witted saw, that in his desperation and at the first shock, he had gone too far—he had made a false move. Yes, there were plenty of witnesses (in India) to prove that he had been with Perry when the convict escaped.

“You had better not swear any more,” replied Kinloch, grimly. “Do you mean to sit there, and tell me that you were never at Cherbowri Dak Bungalow with a fellow called Perry, who had captured a dacoit—who escaped the same evening on your polo pony.”

For a moment Goring seemed to reflect. “Yes, yes; I do now remember something about it.”

“Was the catching of a notorious robber, and the loss of a pony, an event too insignificant to recall? Or is your memory bad? This happened only four years ago.”

Goring now became violently red.

“You seem to take a great interest in my past.”

“No; I really take no interest in you at all. I came upon this incident by accident.”

“I wonder how? Perry is dead.”

“Ah! I see that you are beginning to remember him! Yes, he is dead, and sometimes dead men do tell tales. They leave letters and clues; Perry received a letter, which is extant—from Gassepah Jheel.”

“From Gassepah—” a pause. “I—I—don’t believe it.”

“There is no occasion to do so, unless you like—but I fancy I can put my hand upon it.”

Goring now stood up. He had aged ten years, his face looked stiff and haggard.

“It was chiefly to thank Perry, for the generous assistance of his friend the officer, who had given him his pony, and his liberty. But I need not quote any more,” said Kinloch, quietly, and looking unflinchingly at the culprit, “as I see that you don’t believe me.”

“What the devil do you propose to do?” asked Goring. “Mind you, it’s all an infernal lie.”

“I? No need to trouble you with particulars, but I propose to trace the man who sold the ruby, and hand him over to the civil authorities.”

“Things may look black against me, but I am perfectly innocent,” blustered the other. “Circumstantial evidence has hanged many an innocent man. Think of the regiment if you rake up this story.”

“Oh, I am not thinking of the regiment—or rather ‘regiments.’”

“Then you are thinking of the girl, and you are putting on the screw for her sake?”

Kinloch got up, and began to pace the room. He had no doubt whatever of Goring’s guilt. Goring’s face had betrayed him. He had fought, and won the fight for Peggy Summerhayes? Was it right to force her as wife on such a man?

But if her very honour and life were at stake! What then? If Goring abandoned her, such was the highly-strung, impassioned nature of the girl, she would undoubtedly break her heart, and die? People would call it consumption, and within a short time poor pretty Peggy would be laid to rest among the vast crowd of Summerhayes in the churchyard. A pretty wild flower thrown away—and dead.

What if, on the other hand, she married her heart’s desire, this handsome and accomplished reprobate? Kinloch stood for a moment, and looked at his companion reflectively. She might be happy, she might influence him and lead him to better ways. A pretty woman who is good, has enormous power—and Peggy was good. Well, they should both have their chance!

Yet it was a curious and uncommon situation. Here was he, compelling a man whom he believed to be without principle—and whom he thoroughly despised—to marry a girl of lofty character; ay, the only girl he had ever cared for.

Yes; but, then, she did not care for him! And he believed that he was bringing her within reach of what she would hail as supreme happiness.

“Yes,” answered Kinloch at last, “it is for the sake of the girl. You have thrown your infernal glamour over her; you have gone to her head, and driven her mad. She believes you are but little lower than the angels!”

“And you?” with a sneer.

“I believe——” he paused—“never mind what. I hope she will not be disillusioned, for she loves you.”

“And, by George, I’m awfully fond of her.”

“So are other people. Her sister is heart-broken; you have stolen her little ewe lamb. You have tarnished the girl’s name; you——”

“She is as pure as snow,” interrupted Goring, passionately.

“Yes, of course, I know that; but the neighbours think otherwise. I believe she may influence you for good—and I hope to God she will!”

“Of course she will. Peggy has enough conscience for two people, she is a little saint, and she can twist me round her finger. By the way, you appear to take a flattering interest in my fiancée.”

“Perhaps I do. Saints are rarities. At any rate, your fiancée does not take the faintest interest in me. And now, Goring, I want to know what you are going to do!”

“Well, then, I’ll tell you,” said Goring, who had recovered his colour and his self-possession, once more seating himself in Mr. Whiting’s chair. “Now that you have had your innings, and made yourself confoundedly unpleasant, meddlesome, and unfriendly, and called me names, and accused me of—crimes— I suppose I may speak? I just gave you rope to see how far you would go——” he paused.

“I would go to the Central Provinces, if it were necessary,” returned the other, expressively.

“Well, you’d have a fool’s errand for your pains! I’ll take my oath I’ve had no more to say to the ‘Setting Sun’ ruby than yourself. Would you, after all this infernal uproar, be surprised to hear, that this time, I have come down on purpose to marry Peggy?”

Dead and incredulous silence. Goring’s eyes fell before the stern intentness of his comrade’s gaze.

“I have been lucky over Goodwood, made a pile on Silverside—she started at fifty to one in the betting. I have got ten days’ leave, and intend to go in for six weeks more. The chief can’t refuse me leave to get married, eh?”

“No, perhaps not; but we are in the reliefs, and move next month.”

“I shall be jolly well out of that— I loathe baggage-guard.”

“And when do you propose to have the wedding?”

“Here—next week. I have it all cut and dried.”

“Rather sudden, is it not?”

“Oh, Peggy knows that a soldier’s wife must be ready to march at a moment’s notice.”

“Then had you not better go up and speak to the Travenors to-morrow?”

“Yes, I suppose I must. I hate them. He with his great solemn bullock eyes, and she with her pinched-up face. Couldn’t you do the heavy father, and the whole bag of tricks, and make it all square?”

“No, thank you.”

“At any rate, you will be my best man?”

“No, I’d rather not.”

“I say, Kinloch, you need not look at me as if I was the scum of the earth! I’ve stood a lot of abuse from you to-night, and all because you have heard, and believed in, a cock-and-bull story about a ruby and a dacoit. The whole thing was got up by Perry’s police, who were in the ‘fake’ themselves; it was very nasty for me, but I was entirely cleared, of course; and I put it out of my head at once. I’ve something else to think of, than Bazaar slander—you know what that is worth! I’ve let you talk, and jaw, and meddle; I’m going to do what you want, and now, by George, you round on me, and treat me as if I was a blackguard! Upon my soul, it’s too bad. You must see me through.”


“Well, because you know them; it will give a bit of éclat to the ceremony to have a brother officer as best man—and I’m not going to ask one of the other fellows—and because she likes you, and will be awfully hurt if you refuse.”

After some hesitation, he said, “All right then. I will be your best man.”

“Now, I think that everything is arranged, and I’m as dry as a lime kiln; I’ll ring for drinks.”

“Not for me, thank you,” said Kinloch, walking towards the door. “Good-night.”

Thus in this tame and commonplace fashion ended an interview, which at one time threatened to be concluded in a totally different manner.

“Now, I wonder how the devil he found out?” said Goring, as he raised the whisky decanter, and poured out it liberal libation.

“I wonder if he was telling the truth, and really mount to marry her?” said the other to his rather stern reflection in the looking-glass, as he took off his collar.

*  *  *

Mr. and Mrs. Travenor were greatly astonished to see Captain Goring, clad in a creaseless grey suit, with a carnation in his buttonhole, walking up to their door, and still more amazed to learn his errand! A request for an immediate marriage with Miss Summerhayes? He preferred this in the dim rose-scented drawing-room, and subsequent conferences were held all over the house—viz. between Janet and her sister in Janet’s bedroom, between Goring and Peggy in the drawing-room, and Travenor and his wife in the dairy, and, subsequently, the garden.

“Wednesday week, he says!” she commenced, in a flutter of joy— Oh, what a true friend was Captain Kinloch! how she honoured him!—“But I’ll make it Saturday, for we never could be ready in ten days, and it would look so odd, so hurried up.”

“Well, if it’s to be, the sooner you get it over the better, same as a dose of medicine,” growled Travenor. “I can’t abide the chap, but it’s Peggy is marrying him, not me. I hope she may never rue the day. He as pleasant spoken enough now, as if he was selling me a horse; but I can’t forget that evening on the hill, and once the wedding is over—he never enters these doors again.”

“No, John; but for Peggy’s sake, and all the talk, you will do it well, won’t you? I’ll ask the Hobsons and Wades, and Herricks and Hills and Knoxes, and send off the notes this morning by the Needle, so that it may not appear to be so dreadfully sudden.”

“Ay, but it is so, and I can’t think why?”

“Because his regiment is going to Ireland next month—a beautiful reason.”

“Ay, a beautiful reason,” he sneered; “there is more than you or I know, at the bottom of his hot haste—not to speak of his civility. Well, Janet, we must make the best of it, and have a smart wedding, as if we were pleased, though I feel more like a funeral, and I suppose, we must have him here every day, for the look of the thing. You can get cake and cards, and I’ll give fifty pounds for the wedding gowns, but if she had married the other fellow, Kinloch, I’d have given her a fortune, and a hundred for her clothes.”

“I’ll do the best I can, John,” said his wife, as she meekly paced beside him, between the narrow box borders. “You may give me a ten pound note for the breakfast, and I have a few pounds of my own, and I daresay we shall make quite a brave show. Oh,” to old Jopp, who had suddenly appeared out of the potting shed, “I have a great piece of news to tell you. Miss Peggy is going to be married to Captain Goring on Saturday week, and going to Ireland. What do you say to that?”

Here was her first slight taste of triumph, for Jopp had often followed Peggy with eyes of gloomy disapproval.

“I say nothing; I never says much, though I sees a good deal. I don’t allus go about with my eyes shut— I ain’t always asleep.”

“You like Captain Goring?”

“Nay, I like t’other; he’s a nice gen’man, he is, and when I sees him at the Crook, he allus asks me to have a pot o’ beer.”

“Oh, and that’s why you like him!”

When Mr. Jopp did not choose to answer a question, he had a curious trick of wandering from the subject.

“Farmer Travenor, I see un working the old grey cart horse cruel hard, can’t ’e give him a couple of days off, and let Barnard’s great fat show beast do a bit o’ work, instead just carting his own grub?”

“Ay, I’ll see.”

“And I see. In this world the work is put on the old,” grumbled Jopp, “that’s wot I see.”

“The young have their burdens too,” was Mrs. Travenor’s mysterious speech, as she turned away. Janet Travenor’s naturally weak heart was beating with violent agitation; she was quite feverishly excited, and her thin hands burned like fire. After the exhausting misery she had endured, the aching suspense, the apprehension, the neighbours’ looks and hints, and, above all, condolences, she had triumphed, and, as far as the public eye was concerned, came out of the affair with flying colours. She was about to marry her sister to a rich, handsome young man—an officer, and gentleman. Ways and means were rapidly thought out, and even before Goring had taken his departure (he remained for three hours, as he really was devoted to his pretty fiancée), she had written and addressed twenty notes, to the most important families, inviting them to be present on the occasion of her sister Margaret’s marriage to Captain C. V. Goring of the Royal Shetland Rangers.

How well it looked! She placed the notes in a basket and despatched them by the Needle. Then she announced the wedding to the cook and housemaid, who were profoundly impressed. She went into the village after dinner, in order to engage the village seamstress from that very hour, and up the street (or road) encountered three friends, who received her news with incredulous gravity; these were the pleasures of the occasion! The drawbacks were Goring’s disagreeable condescension, Travenor’s sulky attitude—and then, she was to lose Peggy.

Captain Goring spent a good deal of his time with his betrothed; she had recovered her looks and her spirits, as by a miracle; he played croquet and tennis at the farm, and even accompanied her and her sister on a shopping expedition to Bridgeford. Captain Kinloch was shooting most of the time, and kept severely aloof. A vague vision of the lovers in the distance, invariably sent him miles in an opposite direction. The day approached; it came; it proved to be cloudless. The church was decorated, the bells pealed long and vigorously, and the greater part of four neighbouring parishes assembled to see Peg Summerhayes wed. And their trouble was generously repaid.

The bride wore a long white satin dress, a white tulle veil, and a little wreath of real clematis, and looked beautiful; but more like a girl in a dream, than an every day maiden. Nan Belt, the only bridesmaid, was particularly smart in green muslin, and Captain Kinloch was best man.

Farmer Travenor (who had not deemed the occasion worthy of any special preparation) was in his usual attire, while Mrs. Travenor, in a becoming bonnet, looked about five and twenty; her eyes were so bright, and she had such a brilliant colour in her cheeks.

The subsequent reception was held at the farm, and the presents were numerous but not costly—save for Mr. Whiting’s watch bracelet, the bridegroom’s pearl necklet, and Captain Kinloch’s dressing bag.

The cake proved to be excellent, so were the “apricocks,” and the whole affair went off with considerable éclat: the wondering, and somewhat envious, guests were both astonished and abashed. Especially when they saw Peggy appear in a fashionable traveling costume (made in Bridgeford), with a pretty London hat and sunshade to correspond, take her seat in an open carriage (also from Bridgeford) and, having dispensed her farewells with a radiant face, drive away with her handsome bridegroom, followed by a shower of slippers.

The smart victoria and pair trotted briskly down the drive, out beneath the big limes, and past the church, finally the “Crook,” then the sound of hoofs and wheels gradually died away, and the great event was over.

Later, when the congratulatory company had dispersed, even to the farm children, who had feasted in the barn, when the cake and silver had been put carefully away, the decorations cleared off, the table laid for tea for two, Mrs. Travenor went up to her own room, threw herself down on her bed, and had an exhaustive cry.

As for Captain Kinloch, he changed his coat, and went for a twenty-mile walk.


Part II — Reality

Chapter XIV

The Bride at Home

The honeymoon was spent partly in Southsea, but chiefly at Bembridge, in the Isle of Wight, where the happy couple occupied cheerful apartments. Goring hired a little five-rater, and they passed a goodly portion of their time upon the ocean wave. Yachting was pain and grief to the young bride; she proved to be a miserable sailor. Moreover, she was desperately afraid of being drowned, but nevertheless bore up bravely for Charles’s sake, daily suffered herself to be victimized, and sat for hours under a wet sheet (at an angle of forty degrees), with a flowing sea beneath her.

Peggy certainly looked rather woebegone in her thin little coat and drenched straw hat, and Goring mentally recalled a brother officer’s remark, that “if you want to make your bride your life-long enemy, and if you wish to establish a good healthy antagonism, not to say hatred, take her yachting for the honeymoon.”

Goring himself, wearing comfortable oilskins, smoking a pipe, and imbibing an occasional “tot” of spirits, was thoroughly happy, and laughed inwardly at the bare idea of Peggy’s ever feeling for him anything less than her present adoration. Poor girl! Despite her qualms and fears, whenever he spoke to her, she answered cheerfully, and endeavoured to wreath her pale little face in smiles. By degrees she became more accustomed to this mode of spending half her day. She picked up some nautical expressions; she knew a pennant from a mainsail, the boom from the bows, and the anchor from the compass! She enjoyed a panoramic view of Ryde, Cowes, the Needles and she won the hearts of all the little crew.

Everything comes to an end, including leave, and far down in her secret heart Peggy was devoutly thankful when the honeymoon was over. Once more she would be always on dry land, able to eat and enjoy life, have a home—her own home at last—and feel in a condition to sit opposite to Charlie at every meal, which, under present circumstances, was frequently out of the question.

One squally, dirty night towards the end of September, the names of Captain and Mrs. C. V. Goring were to be found among the list of passengers to Kingstown by the mail-steamer “Leinster.” Peggy’s experiences of the English Channel had not prepared her, even in an elementary degree, for what the boisterous Irish Sea can do, when it happens to be out of temper. And when they arrived at Kingstown, a more pitiable creature rarely staggered up the companion ladder, endowed the stewardess with half a crown, than Mrs. Charles Goring.

The mail train swiftly conveyed the passengers to Westland Row, and it was in this limp and abject condition that Mrs. Goring was first introduced to a “Jarvey” or outside car. In a very short time she found herself being whirled round corners, and through the rather empty streets at a rattling pace, by a dashing driver and an elderly thoroughbred, clinging on to a rail with set teeth, and finally brought up, with a flourish that almost precipitated her upon the pavement, before the door of her new home—a tall, shallow house in a street not far from one of the fashionable squares. 70 Upper Bourke Street was one of the residences that are invariably “let to the military,” and, as its tenants were mere birds of passage, and anything was good enough for “a married officer,” it was a long time since it had been painted, papered, or overhauled. No. 70 was well situated with regard to the barracks and society, and a convenient size for a small family—a narrow hall and stairs, and two rooms on each floor to the fourth story—therefore the landlady, always confident of securing tenants, spent next to nothing on improvements or repairs. A drugget over a tattered carpet, a couple of hall door-mats, or a crooked wicker chair, were the utmost that an incomer might expect.

Certainly, at that early hour, No. 70 wore a most forbidding exterior, and as she glanced into the deep area, it struck the bride that it was paved with gravestones! After ringing three times, the door was at last cautiously opened by a stout elderly person, wearing a short striped petticoat and a black dolman (presumably to conceal the deficiencies of her toilet), who, modestly hiding her legs behind the door, announced herself as “the cook.”

“Why, I declare to goodness, I thought ye wor the milk, me lady,” she remarked in an affable brogue. “Sure, I’d no notion ye wor coming on the early boat, and the house that through other, and upset! I’m afraid ye will be greatly knocked about. Maybe if you would go round to the Shelbourne, and have breakfast comfortable, it would be better, and we will be ready for you agin dinnertime this evening.”

“Not a little bit of it,” said Goring, thrusting his way in, and flinging his rug on a hall chair. “Why isn’t breakfast ready here, eh? What hour is this for you to come down? Did not Mrs. Catchpool send you word that we were coming? Where the devil are the other servants?’’

“Sure, they were all at a ball last night, Captain, and they are sleeping it out!”

“Then go and rouse them this moment, or I will come. Look sharp!”

The cook stared incredulously, then suddenly scuttled away down the passage like a great fat rabbit.

“Well, this is a pretty home-coming, Peg!” exclaimed Goring, when he had dismissed the car and cab. “Come in here and sit down,’’ leading the way into a small front room and opening the shutters. “However, it will soon be all right, you will see.”

Peggy sank into a chair and made no reply; for, between the crossing, the outside car, and the cook, she was on the verge of hysterics.

“This is not half a bad little room,” he continued, looking round complacently. “It will be the very thing for my snuggery. The dining-room is sure to be here,” and he opened a folding door. “Yes; we can make it all right in less than no time, with a few rugs and curtains and pictures. I mean to give some rattling good dinners in there. The married people in this regiment are a desperately slow set, very different to the Blunderbores; they never entertain, or ask you to put your legs under their mahogany; but we will make a new departure. You will be having them round to ‘vet’ you—at least, Mother Vallancy, I don’t know about Mrs. Hesketh and Mrs. Timmins, as I never left a pasteboard on either of them. Life is too short and too pleasant to bother about calling on stupid, dowdy frumps. Hullo! now, who are you?” as a dark-eyed little woman of about five-and-twenty in a print gown and smart cap and apron looked in interrogatively.

“Please, sir, I am Lizzy Doran, the parlour-maid. I’m very sorry I’m so late; but Mrs. Dogherty said as you wouldn’t be here till the evening, and me and Susan went to a dance, and we kep’ it up till two o’clock.”

“Oh, well, now then, look sharp, and show your mistress her room, and get her some tea at once. She’s half dead; and see the luggage sent up. Collins, my servant, will be round here immediately; and, I say, look here,” and he paused impressively, “no flirting.”

“Is it me flirt, sir?” with an air of outraged virtue. “Do ye think I haven’t something better to do nor spake to a soldier. I know my place, and I hope he knows his, if he’s the fellow that come round here yesterday morning, with a pair of long boots and a grin on him like a boiled haddock, I wouldn’t touch him with a tongs,” said Lizzie, with breathless volubility.

“There, there, that will do. Now, Peggy, shall I give you an arm?”

“No, no, thank you; I can manage.” And she rose and tottered up to the third story, with a little assistance from Lizzie, who seemed a nice, kind girl, and proceeded to help her to take off her hat, removed her cloak and shoes, and then made her lie down, and chafed her ice-cold feet. Presently, she went below, and returned in a surprisingly short time with a cup of tea and some dry toast.

“I know you are not equal to the butter yet, miss, for I’ve been to Liverpool myself; but you will be finely in a few hours, and, if you will allow me, I’ll just pull down the blinds, and leave you to have a good sleep, and Susan and me will get the house redd up and put to rights, and get the Captain his breakfast.”

Peggy merely moaned assent, and this capable handmaiden closed the door very softly, and departed.

The day was far spent when Peggy awoke, immensely refreshed. The invaluable Lizzie had a bowl of hot soup awaiting her, unpacked her box, and prepared her bath. When the young mistress of the house descended to the drawing-room, she was agreeably surprised to find that it was a cheerful room, with two windows; a bright fire, clean curtains, and a few flowers had given it quite a homely aspect. There was a sofa (springless), a couple of deformed-looking basket-chairs, some odd seats, a marble-topped chiffonier, a large mirror, and a number of brilliant chromos. There were also various articles of vertu, dating from the most debased epoch of art, such as bead mats, rare paper weights, wax flowers, etc.—all the worse for the dust of ages.

With a little arrangement, Peggy felt sure that she could make the room very pretty; the photographs and shells from Bembridge, Mrs. Banner’s present of four antimacassars, Charles’s clock, and their little belongings, would go a long way. She explored the entire premises from garret to kitchen, and, not being an experienced housekeeper, nor accustomed to luxuries, was well pleased upon the whole. The stair carpeting was certainly dreadfully faded, and none of the looking-glasses would face right about, but presented their wooden backs, and, when righted by means of a wedge of paper, gave a ghastly idea of what you might become if struck with facial paralysis. The handle of the dining-room door remained in her grasp, and there was neither store-room nor meat-safe. But these were matters of minor importance.

Charles had gone up to barracks to report himself, but would be back to dinner. Their first dinner at home! Peggy flew about, and arranged and re-arranged the flowers and candles, although the capable Lizzie had done her very best with them. She interviewed the cook—a squat, short-necked person, who ran off a glib ménu of clear soup, soles, loin of mutton, and dog in the blanket.

“A dog in the blanket! What do you mean?” asked her mistress with horror.

“Oh, well, mum, some calls it a roly-poly pudding.”

“Yes, I see; and dessert?”

“No; I’m afraid the greengrocer’s is shut now. I’ve never seen dessert in a place where there was less than five servants—and a man.”

“Be sure you send up coffee; a small cup of good black coffee,” after an expressive pause,

“Mr. Towle, me last master, never had coffee.”

“Oh, had he not?” slightly quelled by Mrs. Dogherty’s commanding eye. “But I think Captain Goring will expect it.”

“Blessed are thim that don’t expect,” muttered the cook, as her mistress departed; and, although there was no coffee, the dinner (and the cooking) was a great success.

It was a pleasant novelty to Goring to sit at his own table, with that radiant face smiling at him across the scarlet geraniums.

“Our own little home at last, Peggy! I hope you will be very jolly here,” and he raised his glass of champagne to her good health. Peggy’s eyes filled with happy tears, as she answered:

“You know that I am happy whenever you are; and I mean to do my best to make this the most attractive little home in Dublin.”

“Well, don’t let the cook get the upper hand of you, darling, whatever you do!”

“Oh, no! I am sure I shall be able to manage her, and the parlour maid is a treasure, so quick and smart; but, do you know, she told me that she can neither read nor write.”

“So much the better; your correspondence will be safe, and she won’t burn the house down reading in bed.”

“The housemaid, too, seems quick and obliging; in fact, they are both nice girls.”

“I hope Collins won’t think so.”

“Why have him here at all?”

“To look after my kit, my sword, uniform, and so on. I daresay, if they are pleasant to him, he will clean the knives. By the way, I met a lot of people who are all dying to see you.”

“Oh, no, Charlie,” she protested; “please don’t say that yet.”

?They would not have thought much of you this morning, would they? It was Mrs. Catchpool who engaged the cook. She lives in Dublin, and will be round to see you very soon.”

“Who is she? One of the officer’s wives?”

“No such luck! She is the wife of a nearly stone-deaf fellow, with lots of coin. She entertains a great deal, and goes everywhere. She will show you the ropes, and tell you who to know, and all that, and where to get your frocks. I need not remark that Dublin is a very different place to Nether Barton.”

“Yes; I suppose it is.”

“You will have to get your visiting cards printed at once, and notepaper with your address, and freshen up the drawing-room. We must hire a piano, and get in some good-sized palms.”

“Palms--what for?”

“Why, to put in the drawing-room, of course. You ought to have a silver table.”

“Do you mean made of silver?”

“No, you simple innocent! A little table covered with all sorts of quaint old odds and ends, from a toothpick to a chalice.”

“I have nothing silver but my hair brushes and scent bottles,” cried Peggy, with a laugh. “Will you come out shopping with me tomorrow morning?”

“Not I; I have to be at the orderly room at ten, sharp. There is parade at eleven.”

“What are you going to the orderly room for? To dress for parade?”

“Not quite; though you sometimes get what’s called a ‘dressing’ there. I’m going for the disposal of prisoners, if you must know.”

“Why, I thought the police took them. They do in England.”

“Ah, well, my dear Peggy, you have yet a good deal to learn. I’ll drive you up to the polo in the Phoenix Park to-morrow, at three o’clock, and then people will see you, and come and call.”

Chapter XV

Mrs. Catchpool

The resplendent vision of her husband in full regimentals was a sight which Peggy Goring never forgot; and Charlie certainly looked (what he was not) an exceedingly smart officer. His uniform fitted to perfection, and became him well, his accoutrements shone again, and as he gave his wife a kiss when he passed through the hall, with his sword clanking in a truly martial fashion, she felt the proudest girl in all Great Britain. Goring having flung himself on a car, and seated himself as to the vehicle born, was presently whirled away from Peggy’s rapturous gaze. She waved him a farewell as she stood on the steps, and when he was lost to view noticed that several houses in the same street were also discharging officers in scarlet; but none of these had been sped with kisses like her hero.

The morning was a busy one; the new mistress was determined to begin housekeeping in a thorough fashion. She was, alas, deplorably inexperienced, for Janet had always kept her pretty sister as much aloof as possible from the busy, red-tiled farm kitchen.

Peggy could make butter, bud roses, and help to break in a colt; but she was ignorant of the properties of stock, of the best joints, and of the lore of the store-room. As soon as she appeared in the kitchen, the cook presented her with a pile of red and black books, and a long account written on a sheet of crested notepaper. The items set down were amazing, considering the short time that the household had been established.

“Porter, six bottles,” she read aloud.

“That’s for the charwoman—she had a very heavy job charing—and the sweep.”

“Matches, soap, washing soda,” continued Mrs. Goring. “One glass of gin, one glass of whisky.”

“Yes, ma’am ; the gin was for cleaning the windows, and the whisky for the stair rods and door handles. Sure, ’tis the finest thing in the wide world for brass!”

“And some people has a power of it,” muttered Lizzie, as she laid down the breakfast-tray, and looked at Mrs. Dogherty with deadly significance.

“I’m not very experienced as yet, cook,” admitted her mistress, “and I cannot say anything about these things, or the quantity of supplies which you appear to have ordered in, but I will consult some one.”

“Faix, then, you couldn’t do better nor consult me, me lady ; I’m experienced, and well experienced. I wouldn’t waste the paring of a potato, and I’ve always lived in the fustest families, as my discharges will testify.”

“You never sent up the coffee after all,” remarked Mrs. Goring, with unexpected audacity.

“Well, no; and I’ll tell ye no lie about it: it fell out of me mind.”

“And into her mouth,” murmured Lizzie.

“Well, please, don’t let it happen again. I suppose there is some sort of lock-up: you had better get out the groceries, and I will look over them, and compare the books. Give me the key.”

“Sure there’s no lock-up here!” returned Mrs. Dogherty, in tragic accents. “Besides, I’ve always had everything under my own hand, and I’ve always lived in the fustest families, as me discharges will testify.”

“Perhaps you may as well let me see——”

A violent ring interrupted the remainder of the sentence.

“Glory! I hope it’s no one that’s chased by a mad dog!” exclaimed Lizzie, as she ran out of her pantry, and flew up-stairs. In a few minutes she reappeared to announce,

“Two ladies to call—Mrs. Catchfool and a friend; an’ I’m afther showing them up to the drawing-room.”

“Why, it is only twenty minutes past ten!” ejaculated Peggy, aghast, with her eyes on the kitchen clock.

“Some Dublin ladies does be terribly early callers.”

There was no time for demur or speculation; the visitors were awaiting her appearance. Her first visitors!

Peggy slowly turned the door handle and entered their presence, looking more like a child who expects a flogging than the mistress of the house, and found herself confronted by a tall thin woman of about five-and-thirty, with bright yellow hair, straight jet-black eyebrows, a perfectly chiseled nose, and an exquisite complexion. (Such dazzling beauty almost deprived poor simple Peggy of speech!) She wore a tailor-made gown, a French toque, a white lace veil and sable collarette, and was standing in the middle of the room when Peggy entered. Then she instantly advanced to meet her, with outstretched hands, talking all the time.

“Oh, my dear Mrs. Goring, don’t be horrified at this unearthly hour! I’m a privileged person, an old friend of your husband’s, and I wanted to come and see you before any one, and to ask how I can help you.”

“It is very kind of you,” answered Peggy, “and I shall be most grateful for some hints.”

“Now, I must introduce my cousin, Miss Augusta Little—Little by name and nature, and known by her intimates as ‘Goosie,’ and I warn you that you never see one of us without the other.”

“No, nor never will till you marry me off,” rejoined Miss Goosie, and she squeezed Mrs. Goring’s hand as if it had been shut in a door.

She was a small person, with a pair of large dark eyes, an ugly nose, beautiful teeth, and was the reputed possessor of the loudest laugh in Dublin. Peggy thought her quite bewitching, with her flashing teeth, dancing eyes and smart autumn toilet.

And, whatever Peggy thought of her two visitors, she had made a most favourable impression upon them, with her lovely shy smile, childish simplicity, and rose-leaf complexion. To take this simple Phyllis to their hearts, to pose as the dearest companions of this innocent guileless creature, would do much to brighten their somewhat tarnished past. Mrs. Catchpool was the wife of a wealthy merchant, a man who was fifteen years older than herself, and who was extremely deaf, and devoted most of his time to an absorbing passion for collecting old silver and old prints. She occupied a fine house, entertained a great deal, owned a smart turnout, and dressed extravagantly. She was a clever woman, and had a keen and mocking eye for the infirmities of her acquaintance, and could, if she felt so disposed, keep a whole table in a roar. There was no black mark against her name, and she was received at the Castle; yet she was not in society: and why?

Because she had acquired the reputation of being reckless, rowdy, and rapid; of picking up boys (aye, and men) and making fools of them. Her little suppers were notorious scenes of chaff, bear-fighting, and gambling. She was always supported by one or two aides-de-camps of her own sex, of her own type. They made parties to race meetings, and betted on all the events—a second-rate racing man and his wife were among Mrs. Catchpool’s following. She had (despite her good dinners) seen herself gradually drop down rung after rung of the social ladder, and as a result, was extremely bitter and amusing at the expense of her former friends—for instance, Lady Puffin, who had cut her because she drove home from a fancy ball on an outside car with two officers. Mrs. Fortescue-Murphy had dropped her because she had seen her throw an empty champagne bottle out of her supper-room window, and there was an awful (but unsubstantiated) story of her having, for a bet, driven around to a certain jail disguised in military greatcoat and busby, and turned out the guard! She had believed that any good-looking, wealthy, well-dressed woman could do as she pleased in Dublin, but she soon discovered her mistake. At first people were vastly entertained by her eccentricities, but this attitude soon wore off. Mrs. Catchpool ridiculed important dowagers, and it came to their ears; she betted and flirted, she went to a ball as a cobweb, and in short, strained every nerve to shock people—and succeeded, not in becoming, as she fully anticipated, the queen of a smart set, but out of the whole thing.

After this she became reckless. Whenever there was a noisy group at theatre, race meeting, or ball, Mrs. Catchpool’s yellow locks were certain to be seen in the heart of it. Latterly, she had begun to tire of the situation, and made desperate efforts to retrieve her position, and get back into the “swim.” She made a point of calling indefatigably on all the new people; but subsequently these received a little hint, merely left cards and declined even her longest invitations.

However, this was a new comer, who had received no hint, and who would prove a delightful novelty and attraction for the numerous “dear boys” who were the fair-haired lady’s satellites. Here was Peggy, the timid, unsophisticated village maiden—about to be launched into society, under the patronage of the redoubtable Mrs. Catch-em-Alive.

Chapter XVI

New Friends and a New Hat

“I know this house of old,” remarked Mrs. Catchpool, as she walked about the room. “And the age, and infirmities, of every single one of those chairs. I was often here when the Slappertons had it. What has become of the old screen?”

“Perhaps they took it away with them?” suggested Miss Little, who had established herself in the window, with a roar of laughter.

“My dear little Bride, you must get a couple of screens,” pursued Mrs. Catchpool, gravely nodding her head at Peggy. “And a lamp or two, and some nice pink shades; don’t ever expect to see me of an evening, unless the room is couleur de rose.”

“But, why couleur de rose?” asked Peggy, with a timid smile.

“Because, you sweet little simpleton, it is so delightfully becoming. By the way, are you going out this morning?”

“Yes; but there is no hurry. I have some shopping to do.”

“Then you shall come with us right away, as they say in the States—that is, if you like?”

“Oh, thank you so much, I should like it of all things;” replied Peggy, with heartfelt gratitude.

“Then please consider me your guide, counsellor, and friend. I know Dublin at my fingers’ ends, and can tell you where to deal for everything from a candlestick to a court train; where to go for your hats, and your brooms. Who you may know, and who you may not know; where you may be seen, where you may not be seen!”

“Thank you; it is very good of you to offer to take so much trouble.”

“The trouble is a pleasure, my dear. What are you doing this afternoon? Shall I drive you to the polo?”

“Oh, Charlie is going to take me, thank you.”

“Indeed; I suppose you are a regular pair of turtle doves! The bare notion of Taffy Goring as a married man is a most wildly comic joke. Now, if you will run away, my dear, and put on your hat, we will escort you into town, and show you Grafton Street; where the chances are that you will meet some of the prettiest girls and handsomest men in the wide world!”

“Isn’t she sweet?” exclaimed Miss Little, when the door had barely closed. “Looks about seventeen, and as simple as they make ’em! Holy Moses! what a wife for Charlie. I expect she will have a pretty rough time in the coming by and by, when the gilt is off the gingerbread.”

“The oat-cake you mean; but why?”

“Because he is so desperately selfish and extravagant.”

“Hush, these walls are mere paper. You know you had rather a weakness that way yourself, Gussie!”

“Not I!” again raising her voice; “I would not marry Charles Goring if he had millions. He would spend every penny on himself!”

“He will have to spend some pennies on his pretty little bride; she will want heaps of things, and I intend to select them. She is a dear child, with such a nice, simple, confiding smile. A village violet, transplanted among scarlet poppies, and some rather coarse wild oats. Is not that poetical? I tell you I shall write a book before I die.”

“Do; and put me in it.”

“I mean to choose her clothes,” carelessly ignoring this appeal; “and to be very good to Peggy Goring.”

“Entirely at her own expense! Well, no, Nettie; to give you your due, you are not mean. I wonder what sort of a trousseau the village produced? and whether it was put together by the wife of the blacksmith, or the cobbler?”

“Hush, Gussie, you can be heard all over the house! Here she is.” As she spoke, the door once more opened, and Mrs. Charles Goring made her appearance. She looked bewitchingly pretty and happy, in a blue serge skirt and coat, and a sailor hat with a blue ribbon.

“Come, that’s right! you weren’t long,” said Mrs. Catchpool, approvingly.

“No; not like some people that I could name,” added Miss Little, in her stentorian voice, “who take half an hour to put on a hat or a fringe.”

“Now, my dear child, where do you want to go first?” asked Mrs. Catchpool, in a most business-like manner.

“To hire a piano, please, and to get some palms.”

“Very well, let us start now;” and in a few moments the two visitors, with the bride installed between them, were walking in the direction of the Dublin Bond Street.

It was a fine, bright morning, and, though barely eleven o’clock, Grafton Street was crowded, particularly with lady shoppers, recently home from the Continent or seaside, who were busily selecting their autumn outfit. Mrs. Catchpool marched in the middle of the street, as if it were her own exclusive property, occasionally exchanging nods, or vociferous greetings with acquaintances, chiefly men; whilst Miss Gussie entertained the stranger with loud, and not always good-natured, comments upon the passers-by. She and her friend viewed with complacency the many glances of surprise and admiration that were cast at their protégé and were delighted to observe that so many well-known society people could witness her entrée into Dublin, under their wing.

The piano was duly hired, the palms selected, the cards and stationery put in hand, and then Mrs. Catchpool turned into a smart shop, to inspect the new winter models in hats and costumes.

It was altogether an experience as novel as it was delightful, to Peggy, this tasteful combination of colour and wealth of choice, the bewildering and beautiful costumes, and the crowd of fashionable customers, seated or standing in every department.

“I suppose you have everything you want, and are stocked up for years,” said Mrs. Catchpool, hypocritically, as she tried on a red straw hat, which was a blaze of poppies and corn flowers.

“No, no; I really could not stand that!” to her own reflection.

“I want a great many things,” replied Peggy, “and Charlie said that I was to consult you. You had such good taste.”

“How dear of him! There is nothing I shall enjoy more. Come along now: try on this hat!”

“Oh, no!” shrinking back; “I should look too remarkable.”

“Nonsense! yours is just the face to carry off this style. It suits you to perfection! does it not, Gussie?”

Chorus of rapturous admiration from Miss Little, and two millinery ladies.

It was in vain that the poor little country mouse struggled. She was helpless against Mrs. Catchpool; indeed, few women could resist her when it was a matter of will-power.

In vain she protested that it was “too expensive,” that “she had no money with her.” She might just as well have pleaded with the hat itself!

“She could easily have a bill.” “Mrs. Catchpool was well known”—she was indeed. “The price was nothing, for a Paris model, and if she did not pick it up, some one else would.” How devoutly Peggy wished that this might come to pass.

“You will soon get accustomed to yourself in it,” concluded Mrs. Catchpool, consolingly, and, ordering the hat to be sent off immediately to Mrs. C. Goring, 70 Upper Burke Street, she swept into another department.

“Do you see that nosey old woman over there looking at muffs? That’s Mrs. Robinson Black; she fancies herself enormously. Gives dances and dinners, and toadies to all the best set. I used to know her once, but she is such a sickening old parasite I could not stand her, and she was very rude to me lately about a ball ticket; however, she will find that I have a kick in me yet! That couple looking at house linen are two of the Ranger ladies, Mrs. Hesketh and Mrs. Timmins. Little Timmins is a bride; they are a pair of babies. Mrs. Hesketh gives herself great airs; she is Irish and of very good family, but poor as a rat, and married a wealthy Englishman, an awful noodle.”

Peggy gazed at them afar off with the deepest interest—a tall, slight, dark lady in black, who was evidently throwing her whole soul into the question of tablecloths for the benefit of an appealing little bit of Dresden china, who hung upon her words.

“If I were you, I would not let Mrs. Hesketh run my show as she does the Timmins,” advised Peggy’s guide, counsellor, and friend.

“And the other ladies?”

“Oh yes. The Colonel’s wife, Mammy Vallancy I call her. She is ten years older than he is; has three thousand a year of her own, and won’t let him speak to a woman under sixty.”

“She certainly won’t let him speak to you!” put in Miss Little, with her appalling laugh.

“She looks like an old maid, with her narrow face and pinched lips, and wizened complexion. She dresses well, and makes an amazingly good dragon for what she calls ‘her boys.’ I don’t believe there’s a mother in all Dublin that dare ask one of them alone to an afternoon tea!”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, if Charlie had been one of her boys, which, thank goodness, he was not, she would never have allowed him to marry you. Do you understand?”

Peggy blushed, guiltily.

“She is dead against matrimony; it breaks up her family party. She has the young men of the regiment to dinner on Sundays, and on week-days to tea. She nurses them when they are sick; she invites their mothers and grandmothers to stay, and it’s perfectly absurd to see her at polo or cricket with a swarm of these boys hanging round her victoria, or escorting her about. She goes in for being very exclusive, and attends but few balls, and then she chaperones her dear nursery, and sees that they do not dance more than twice with a girl, or get themselves talked about.”

“She must be a funny old lady.”

“You had better not call her old lady, my dear!”

“Do none of the men she likes ever marry?”

“Never with her consent. I hear that when a girl and a man are getting to care for one another, she sends for the girl, and is so delightfully sympathetic and affectionate, that the poor infatuated creature confides in her. Shows her whole hand, and presently the little affair is nipped in the bud, and ended. Clever, is it not?”

“Horribly deceitful, I call it!” cried Peggy, with flashing eyes.

Before Peggy left the shop she discovered that, in the opinion of her companions, she would not be able to exist without an evening cloak, especially “a dream” in white and yellow, much embroidered with gold, which they vowed was “perfectly sweet,” also a rose-coloured silk evening blouse, and a sable neck-tie—price eight guineas—which was absolutely necessary for her health. With a cheap little pink satin tea-gown and a flounced silk petticoat, such as every one wore, would carry her on nicely for the present.

Mrs. Catchpool had thrown herself into the matter of Peggy’s purchases with great zeal. Here was a fresh subject for her. She was a lady who suffered from an irritating accumulation of unemployed energy. She now suddenly discovered that it was past one o’clock, and declared that they must lunch in town.

“Come along to Mitchell’s,” she said, “and I will treat you to soup, cutlets and a glass of port.”

“Oh, no—no, thank you; I must get home as fast as ever I can,” replied Peggy. “Charlie will be so surprised if he is back before me.”

“And I shall be immensely surprised if he is! He will lunch up at his mess. Come, now, I’ll lay you half-a-crown to sixpence——”

During this discussion the stranger had been led into Mitchell’s, where already the tables where filling fast, and where not a few curious eyes were fixed upon the ‘little group. One so anxious to go, two so determined that she should remain. They were reinforced by a horsey-looking man with a bold, good-looking face, a boisterous brogue, and a “loud” checked suit.

“Well, now, I call this luck!” he exclaimed, striking an attitude. “I was just going round to you, Mrs. Catch, to tell you that I spotted the winner for you as usual, and I’ve pulled off a monkey.”

“Nonsense!” clapping her hands. “Billy, you are a brick.”

“Yes; come along, and I’ll get a table, and you will stand us all champagne, eh?”

“To be sure, I will. And was it Cock-a-Doodle after all?”

“Bedad it was; Sweet Simplicity got a flying start, and made the running; but just inside the bend, the Cock rushed through his horses, and, once alongside of the stand, he got his head in front, and kept it there, A bad day for the bookies! though I must say ‘Catapult’ stripped a very blood-like horse, and as I said——”

“Here, you are blocking up the whole place!” interrupted Miss Little. “Look at all these people wanting to pass. You can tell us all about it at lunch.”

“And, indeed, I really must go,” protested Peggy.

“No, no, no,” objected Mrs. Catchpool, taking her by the arm. “I’ve got you, and I mean to keep you.’

“Thank you, but I really cannot stay,” returned the bride, with a look of unexpected determination about her pretty mouth.

“Well, then, if you must, you must;” said the would-be hostess in a voice that sounded quite harsh and rough. “See what it is to be a bride! You can’t walk back, though. Look here, Billy, put this child on a Jarvey, since she declines our pleasant company. Mind you—” turning to Peggy, “I am very angry with you, remember that.”

“Oh, Mrs. Catchpool, please do forgive me; I cannot really stay. Thank you so much for all your kindness,” and, with an appealing smile, she nodded good-by, was hurried out by Billy, who hoisted her upon a car, and, with a warning “hold tight,” despatched her to her destination.

“What do you think of our Sweet Simplicity?” asked Miss Little, as he seated himself between the ladies.

“That pretty girl?” he rejoined, abstractedly, as he filled Mrs. Catchpool’s glass. “Don’t know her face. Who is she?”

“Mrs. Charles Goring.”

“Not Charlie my darling’s wife?” deliberately setting down the champagne bottle.

“Yes; what do you say to that?”

“Well, I am blowed.”

“Is that all you have got to remark? What is your opinion of the event, the double event?”

“That she looks a well-bred one and a stayer, but I doubt if she will ever get Master Charles over the course. The matrimonial martingale may steady him for the first fence or two, and then——”

“And then?”

“He’ll bolt! You ask for my opinion, and here it is for you.” And Mr. Billy once more filled up a flowing glass.

Whilst these dismal prophecies respecting her future were being enunciated, Mrs. Goring was rattling back to Burke Street with a light and happy heart. But, alas, Charlie was not at home! So his faithful little spouse lunched alone, with a somewhat disconsolate face, upon a glass of milk and two biscuits, and thought the Colonel a very tiresome man!

However, at three o’clock, the recreant husband drove up in a neat ralli car, and told her “he was going to dress, and carry her straight off to the polo. He was awfully sorry he was so late, but the Colonel had kept him.”

“Make yourself smart, my little girl,” he added, “for you will meet all the world and his wife up at the Phoenix, and we will have tea in the Pavilion after the match.”

The new hat had not yet arrived, despite Mrs. Catchpool’s injunctions, but Charlie found no fault with Peggy’s appearance when she tripped down the steps to take her seat in the cart. Oh, she was so happy, and she looked it. Her pretty radiant face attracted many an eye as she sped along towards the park behind a fast trotting cob. The rails round the polo ground were encompassed by coaches, carriages, cars, and pedestrians, for the match was one of the most exciting of the season. Everything was new and delightful to Mrs. Goring—the beautiful park, the polo, the crowds of smart people. She looked about her like a happy child, and many looked at her.

Colonel Vallancy came up, and begged for an introduction. Despite the rumours of a mésalliance, and a village girl, Captain Goring’s bride wore the unmistakable air of birth, and she was wonderfully pretty, even in a crowd where pretty faces were the rule and plain ones the exception. When Colonel Vallancy had “hoped that Mrs. Goring would like Dublin, and trusted that she had a good crossing,” he could not find much to say to her, her simplicity and ignorance positively staggered him. This was the first time she had ever seen polo, or a four-in-hand. She had never witnessed a race, or been to a theatre. What a wife for Goring! Certainly, he would not have found a more complete contrast to himself had he searched the whole of England. But in one solitary respect they were alike—their remarkable good looks. The Gorings were by far the handsomest couple upon the ground. Glasses were put up; whispers went round.

“That girl in the green cart was Mrs. Goring.”

“What a sweet happy face; quite lovely.”

Presently from a well-appointed victoria, not far distant, came a strident female voice, accompanied by a waving parasol.

“Hullo; so there you are! Isn’t this a ripping match? Where’s the new hat?”

Peggy looked round, rather out of countenance, and beheld her two new acquaintances nodding and gesticulating, and smiled and nodded in return. Whereupon they got out of their carriage, and came over to the ralli cart, which was drawn up close to the rails.

People glanced at one another significantly; and one well known society woman remarked to her sister: “Look, there—what a pity!—that dreadful Mrs. Catchpool has got hold of the little bride already.”

Chapter XVII

Peggy’s Début in Society

At last the polo was over, the Sky Blues had won by two goals; the crowd was dispersing in all directions, and Charles Goring, as he drove back the hard pulling cob, was secretly proud of the sensation his wife had created.

His lazy-looking eyes had noticed the many glances focussed upon her; a number of brother officers had pressed round, asking for introductions. Pretty Peggy of Nether Barton (and obscurity) had held quite a notable, largely-attended court.

There had been all sorts of stories afloat about the same pretty Peggy, previous to her arrival at headquarters. She was heralded as a barmaid, a milliner, and a chorus girl; no one would have been surprised had Taffy Goring married one of these damsels. But thanks to a timely letter from Captain Kinloch (who had a temporary staff appointment at Aldershot), the bride’s real position was known. A girl of gentle blood, brought up in a primitive village: Society was amazed—that was the last place in which they had expected Taffy Goring to seek a wife. The ladies of the regiment, although they could not endure her husband, were prepared to accord the new recruit a most hearty welcome. Little did they suspect how scantily it would be appreciated!

“I say, Peg,” said her husband, as they whirled along the park, “you must get a lot of new frocks and hats and coats—whatever is smart—and I’ll pay.”

“I did order some to-day. Mrs. Catchpool said I must have several new things, and she chose them—a mantle, and a tea-gown, and a hat! I’m sure you will be shocked when you see the hat—and the bill.”

“Why? What’s wrong with the hat?”

“It is so startling, something between a danger signal, and a lamp shade.”

“So much the better! Go and order six startling hats, and six gowns, and six mantles of the same class.”

“Oh, no, indeed; that would be too extravagant.”

“But oh, yes, indeed; I mean you to be well turned out. I’m uncommonly proud of my pretty Peg, the prettiest girl in Dublin, and that means a great deal. Your little kit that you got in the village is ridiculous for a girl of your appearance and position.”

“Oh, Charlie, you said it was very nice, and I know Janet has pinched herself dreadfully to get it. Why, my wedding gown cost ten guineas.”

“Well, I don’t care if it cost ten hundred; it looks as dowdy as if it was cut with a pair of shears! People will be asking you to dinners and dances, and all sorts of things.”

“I suppose you mean the ladies of the regiment?”

“No; not they! They are a slow set, and, mind you, the less you see of the regimental women the better. There is Mrs. Vallancy, the Colonel’s wife, who has not asked me inside her doors for months. She thinks,” now mimicking a woman’s voice, “that I am a fascinating reprobate, and exercise a dreadful influence on the boys of the regiment. So, when she comes poking in her long nose to call, mind you don’t forget that. As for Mrs. Timmins, she is a little idiot, and so is Timmins. He hasn’t a single vice; he is mama’s own pet! I believe he has bread and milk for breakfast still in a mug ‘for a good boy.’ Then there is Mrs. Hesketh—Hesketh and Kinloch are cousins, so mind you don’t abuse him to her.”

“Abuse Captain Kinloch, Charlie! Why should I, when I like him very much.”

“Oh, do you? And, I believe he likes you very much; thinks you tons too good for Taffy Goring, so that is all right.”

“But, Charlie, joking apart, tell me more about Mrs. Hesketh.”

“She goes in for being popular, and looking after the Tommies’ wives with Mammy Vallancy, and is the worst of the batch. She goes out of the way to make snubby remarks to me, ever since I kicked her dog and broke its ribs.”

“Oh! Charlie dear, you didn’t!”

“Yes, Peggy dear, I did!” and he laid the whip sharply across the back of the willing cob, who sprang into a gallop.

“Dogs shouldn’t get into the way. And I don’t see what they want with ribs! I’m glad Mrs. Catchpool is disposed to be friendly. You hang on to her, and you will have a rattling good time. She will often give you a lift, too, for, with two polo ponies and a hack, I can’t afford a trapper. I’ll get Hadfield to lend me this turnout as often as possible, but, of course, he will want it himself how and then. However,” with a laugh, “he is my subaltern, and, here we are at No. 70!”

The following afternoon found Mrs. Vallancy in Mrs. Goring’s drawing-room. She was a pale, thin, elegant-looking woman, wearing her hair over a cushion, and a little black French bonnet. Peggy received her stiffly, for was not this the lady who called her darling Charlie “a reprobate, and a bad example?”

Mrs. Vallancy, in all the innocence of a really kind heart, mistook the bride’s hauteur for shyness, and pitied her sincerely, but the warmer her manner became the more the other’s froze. Here is a specimen of the conversation.

“How quickly you have got settled,” and how nice your room looks (the screens, lamps, fans, and cushions had been supplied).

“Do you think so?”

“I am so glad that I happened to find you at home.” This remark being received in dead silence, she hastened to add, “I hope you will like Dublin.”

“Yes; I think I shall, thank you.”

“Do you find your servants satisfactory?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“No doubt you are rather new to housekeeping.”


Then, in sheer desperation, “I hope you and Captain Goring will dine with us on Tuesday next. I had brought a note in case you were out.”

“Thank you; I will tell my husband.”

“Very well. I hope you will be able to come. By the way,” rising as she spoke, “you used to live near Bridgeford, did you not?”

“Yes; at Nether-Barton.”

“Then we come from the same part of the country. My brother lives at Tratton Park,”

“At Tratton Park!” repeated Peggy, reddening. “Where the deer are the same herd as in the time of Edward the Confessor?”

“Yes; have you ever been there?”

“Only once, with a Sunday-school treat. I am sure it is the loveliest place in the world.”

“I am so glad you like it. It is my old home; where I was born. Good-by.”

Peggy was so absolutely dumfounded to find that she had been snubbing the daughter of Tratton—the Windsor of the Bartons—that she entirely forgot to ring the bell, and Mrs. Vallancy had to make her way out of the house as best she could.

Mrs. Hesketh and Mrs. Timmins came together, and failed to find the bride at home; the officers of the Busbys called upon her in twos and threes, and not a few of the married ladies in the garrison left their cards at 70 Upper Bourke Street—and on the prettiest woman in Dublin.

Peggy was a clever and adaptable girl. She quickly noticed that other drawing-rooms were different to hers, that her hair was dressed unfashionably, and that her vocabulary was certainly behind the age, and she speedily picked up the words “awful,” “sweet,” “smart,” “appalling,” “charming,” and “bored.”

She was doing her utmost to improve herself to please Charlie; and Charlie appreciated her efforts, and looked on with indolent amusement.

Mrs. Goring’s first social experience was really a most alarming ordeal—a large dinner which took place at Mrs. Catchpool’s, and was given in her honour. Peggy wore her white satin gown, and Charlie’s pearls; her hair had been beautifully dressed by Prost.

She looked lovely, but felt terrified. However, she borrowed some courage from Captain Goring, who, in glossy linen, perfect tie—in short, a model of what a man should look in evening dress—was affably conversing with three ladies.

Ladies were rather in the minority on this occasion. There was Mrs. “Catch” herself, presenting a remarkably brilliant appearance. She was at her best by candle-light. Peggy had seen her at home of a morning, a haggard and hollow-eyed spectre, with no flattering white veil to conceal the deep lines in her face. She wore a rose-coloured crêpe gown, magnificent, theatrical, and glittering with French paste; the soft folds of the crêpe were artfully draped so as to conceal the defects of her angular form. Diamonds encircled her throat, shone in her yellow hair, and on the front of her corsage. In her own somewhat flamboyant style, Mrs. Catchpool would be hard to rival.

Miss Gussie had attired herself in a tomato-coloured velvet gown, daringly décolleté, and decidedly French. Two Miss Miltons, in white and gold (like two volumes of a dainty poem), pretty English girls whom Mrs. Catchpool had met abroad, a Madame Paradico, a piquant French widow, with a slight cast in one of her dark eyes, a great deal of manner, and an amazing toilette. Then there was Mrs. Sherlock and her daughter, distant country cousins, who appeared rather depressed, and whose dowdy black evening gowns seemed rather out of place amidst the gorgeous plumage of the other ladies.

Mrs. Goring was taken down by her host, to what seemed, to her unaccustomed eyes, a truly royal banquet.

The silver bowls, full of exotic flowers, dazzling display of plate glass, all candelabra with their yellow shades, made a bewildering coup d’oeil, and nearly took away the bride’s breath. She was seated at the foot of the table beside Mr. Catchpool, and glanced in dismay at the array of glasses and forks laid for her use; also the length of the ménu, which her companion handed to her with empressement. It was written in French, and she could not understand more than half of it. What was “fillet a la Ravigotte?” What were “noukles à la Viennoise?” and “Caneton aux Olives?”

It was all most bewildering. However, she was not compelled to eat everything; and, as for the glasses, she was a water-drinker.

Meanwhile, people had unfolded their serviettes, and settled down to discuss the hors d’oeuvres in a businesslike manner. Peggy glanced at her companion, a tall thin man, with a bald head, a pair of beetling brows, and mild brown eyes. His face wore an anxious expression (which some attributed to his responsibilities as the husband of Mrs. “Catch;” others to his ever-increasing deafness and painful efforts to conceal his infirmity). He did not talk much, but his wife amply atoned for his deficiencies, and the conversation at her end of the table was extremely vivacious. Madame, in her excellent English, and the Miss Miltons, played their parts to perfection. Presently the hostess called out, in her ringing voice:

“How dull you are down there. You must poke up my husband, Mrs. Goring, and set him to talk of old prints. If you know anything about them, you will be able to cut me out!”

Miss Gussie, who sat in Peggy’s neighbourhood, discoursed audibly to her partner of the odds on the Manchester Cup and the Liverpool, discussed the merits of Loates, Cannon, and Robinson, gave her opinion frankly on the chances of various well-known stables, and quoted her book on such and such events, whilst her unsophisticated listener stared in stupefied amazement. Then Mr. Gilland, a good-looking, smooth-faced youth, began to talk to her, and asked the usual questions as to how she liked Ireland? what she thought of the people and the brogue? did she act? would she come to their show? Presently she found herself conversing with her host. From the pictures on the ménu, to pictures on the wall, was but a step, and in a few moments they were comfortably launched among old prints. She mentioned those at the Manor Farm, shouting their descriptions, to which her host listened with avidity. It was not often that Nellie’s guests took the trouble to converse with him at all, much less on the subject of his hobby.

He told her, with much exultation, of two valuable Morlands he had picked up out of a box of books and rubbish on Wellington Quay, and a couple of Hogarths he had found in a furniture broker’s in Liffey Street. Her description of “The Seasons” seemed to promote his enthusiasm and to awaken his envy, and he bombarded his pretty guest with hosts of questions.

“Your brother-in-law is a fortunate man! I suppose he must be a well-known connoisseur?” he inquired. “Is he an advanced collector?”

“Oh, no, he does not collect anything; in fact, the prints belong to my sister and me.”

“What did you say?” holding his hand behind an eager ear. “The long shore by the sea.”

“My brother-in-law does not care for prints,” she replied, speaking slowly, and raising her voice. “He is a farmer.”

It happened at the moment that a temporary silence had fallen upon the company, and Peggy’s clear young treble shouting out the words, “He is a farmer,” had a most ludicrous effect. She felt overwhelmed with embarrassment, until Miss Gussie exclaimed, with a laugh, “Is that so?” and began to chant, “My father’s a farmer, sir, she said, sir, she said, sir, she said. My father’s a farmer, sir, she said.”

She might have favoured them with the entire song, but that Captain Goring picked up a flower and threw it at her. She instantly replied with a cracker. He then fired off a bit of bread. She retaliated with a macaroon which hit him neatly on the nose. Others now joined in the engagement, and the fun became fast and furious.

Suddenly, Mrs. Catchpool’s quick eye fell upon the rigid profile of Mrs. Sherlock, and she called out, “Bugler, bugler, sound the cease fire!” and gradually the volleys died away in dropping shots, whilst the conversation burst out with renewed vigour. Evidently, the rival claims of several belles were being canvassed, and Mrs. Catchpool’s voice rose high above the argument.

“Mrs. Hesketh a beauty! Why, she is so delicate, she looks as if she would come to pieces in your hand! As for Miss Jones, how can you ask me to admire a girl with the complexion of a boiled fowl?”

“Now, Mrs. Catchpool, you are not a fair judge,” protested a fat man with a shiny red face and fair moustache. “No woman is ever a good judge of another’s looks,”

“Tastes differ, I admit, Major Gloyne; but thank goodness I have the use of my eyes,” and she glanced significantly at his pince-nez. “By the way, have you read the new book by Brutus—‘Peeping Tom’?”

“No, not yet.”

“Oh, well do get it; it will amuse you enormously.”

“Um, I hear it is very strong! Written by a young lady, of course!”

“Wrong, for once. It was written by a man and I know him. In fact,” with a burst of laughter, “I was thinking of collaborating. I was to do the men, and he the women, but it fell through.”

“I did not know that you had any literary ambitions, or that you wrote.”

“Nor do I, yet,” with an expressive smile. “I am awaiting the development of several interesting affairs.”

“What is ‘Brutus’ like?” asked the youngest Miss Milton, eagerly.

“Like a disreputable character in one of his own novels.”

“Then,” exclaimed Major Gloyne, “I am surprised that you know him!”

“I hear that he is dreadfully down on us,” pouted Miss Little. “So you really must drop him!”

“And that the plot is impossible!” put in Madame Paradiso, with a shrug and a gesture of two little empty hands.

“Very likely,” remarked a quiet-looking, clean-shaven man. “I believe it is all taken from life—a true copy, down to the very kitchen blinds and scraper!”

“Oh, Mr. Lynch, it could not be true. No woman would rush to look at his banker’s book an hour after her husband had shot himself,” protested Miss Gussie.

“Why, I thought you had not read it?” he said, raising his thin expressive brows.

“I—I—was told—the plot,” she stammered, now becoming the colour of her gown.

“The main idea is founded on fact, and fact is, we all know, stranger than fiction. Fiction occasionally hesitates and draws a timid veil; but fact is always quite fearless. Fiction cuts short a story, when events appear to be going too far; but fact resolutely sits tight, and sees the affair through. I’ve come across some queer things in my time;” and he closed his eyes with a reminiscent smile. “Facts.”

“Yes, I daresay,” said his hostess. “You barristers have special opportunities, and we have all heard of Lynch law! I have seen strange things too. Indeed, I’m sure I’ve seen a stranger thing than you have. Come, now!”

“All right. I’ll back my experience against yours, if you like, Mrs. Catchpool. “

“For how much?”

“Half-a-sovereign even.”

“Mrs. Goring, tell my husband to send me up half-a-sovereign,” she called out, “and Major Garnett will hold the stakes.” After a short delay, she said, “Now, Mr. Lynch, you can speak first. What is the most curious thing you ever saw?”

“No, no; after you, please—ladies first.”

“Not at all. Don’t you know that a woman must always have the last word?”

“Right you are, Mrs. Catchpole; and the first blow is half the battle. Well, now, let me consider. I think the most curious thing I ever saw, was a divorced couple sent in to dinner together.”

“Pooh! is that all you can do?” with great contempt. “Well, then, I think I can beat that for I’ve seen—a cherry-coloured cat!”

“A cherry-coloured cat!” repeated the youngest of the Miss Miltons. “Impossible.”

“By no means; and it had two rose-coloured paws. Now, what do you all say to that?”

“It’s a catch,” called out the young man beside Peggy; “it’s not an animal.”

“Yes, it is; and a cat too.”

“Then it’s herself,” screamed Gussie. “Of course it is? she is a cat—it’s a bit of her name, and the whole of her nature. See, she is dressed in cherry colour——”

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. Do you give it up?”

A chorus of assent. “Then you are all very dense. Have none of you good people ever seen a black cherry?” she demanded, complacently, “or a white rose?”

“Oh,” groaned her adversary, “what a take-in. I’ll owe you one for that, Mrs. Catch, and another to the back of it.”

“At any rate, you won’t owe me the half-sovereign,” she said, holding out her hand with a sprightly air. “Cash payment is my rule, Mr. Lynch; we do a ready-money business in this establishment.”

At which remark, there were shouts of laugher, so loud and so prolonged that Peggy assured herself she must be extremely dull-witted to have missed the joke! However, the point of this jest was discovered to her later.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Catchpool, having carefully inserted the half-sovereign in the palm of her glove, stared hard at Mrs. Goring, and then nodded her head.

“You are to depart, I am sorry to say,” explained her neighbour. “Our hostess is signalling to you,” and the bride rose in hasty trepidation, walked to the door (which was held open by Major Gloyne) and passed out. Last of all came Mrs. Catchpool, in her glittering diamonds, and rustling French gown.

She paused dramatically on the threshold, and looked back on the many gazing faces; then she gave a little valedictory wave of her moneyed hand, and said:

“Don’t be long!”

Chapter XVIII

A Little Round Game

“We are going to have some music, and a little round game, presently,” said Mrs. Catchpool, putting her arm round Peggy’s waist, with an air of affectionate familiarity.

What a remarkable contrast they presented, as they stood side by side in the middle of that gorgeous rose-coloured room. The taller, older woman, with her hard expression, false complexion, and smart toilette, the simple, shy girl, with her fresh young face and countryfied gown. They might have stood for examples of the Town Madam and Sophia Primrose.

“I suppose you can play cards?” she continued.

“No, not much; I only know one game.”

“And what is that—anything new or exciting?”

“It’s called ‘Beggar my neighbour.’”

“Oh, that is what we all play here, my dear,” cried Gussie, and she looked significantly at Madam Paradiso, whose sleepy dark eyes suddenly awoke and glittered quite greedily.

The ladies had scattered about the room, and several of them now produced dainty cigarette cases and began to smoke. In fact, Peggy and Mrs. and Miss Sherlock were the sole abstainers.

“Oh, you’ll soon take to it,” cried Mrs. Catchpool. “I couldn’t live without my after-dinner smoke—it’s my pipe of peace! The Spanish and Russian women all smoke, and why should not we? Only, we are so frumpish, and old-fashioned, and prim!”

“Speak for yourself, dear,” screamed Gussie; “I am not old-fashioned, and my worst enemy would not call me prim.”

At this sally there was a burst of laughter, in which neither the Sherlocks nor Peggy joined.

“My dear Mrs. Goring, you look ripping!” continued Mrs. Catchpool; “how I wish I could wear white, but in my opinion only the very young and the aged can stand it. I am so glad you can sing.”

“I sing! Oh—no, indeed!”

“But Charlie says ‘Oh, yes, indeed!’” (who had given her permission to call him Charlie?)

“I only sang in the choir at home.”

“And you need only sing comic opera at my home. No one minds what they do in this house” (which was most true), and, with an encouraging nod, Mrs. Catchpool put her cigarette between her teeth, and sank down on a sofa beside Madam Paradiso; and presently these two matrons began to converse in whispers, accompanied by explosions of low laughter.

Mrs. Goring, thus abandoned to her own devices, began to look about her. There were Mrs. and Miss Sherlock, who stood in a window, now gazing at the clock, now glowering at the door, like two prisoners who were desperately anxious to effect their escape. Peggy went over and joined them, she and they were not smoking, and this, at least, constituted a slender bond of union.

“Isn’t it awful?” whispered the elder lady, as she raised her eyebrows and drew down her sufficiently long upper lip. “She is my late husband’s second cousin, and I came—for blood is thicker than water; I couldn’t have believed it if I had not seen it! Betting and smoking, and throwing things! I declare, I was ashamed to look at the servants! I am just listening for our cab, I ordered it at ten, as my bronchial tubes are so susceptible, I dare not be out late.”

“But don’t you think she is charming!” asked Peggy, in her innocence, with a stare of amazement. “My husband likes her so much.”

“And if your husband is good-looking, you’ll find that she will like him,” retorted Mrs. Sherlock, with deadly significance. “Some men admire these painted creatures: for my own part, I can’t keep Jezebel and the scarlet woman out of my head—and it’s my opinion—”

Coffee, accompanied by two men servants, now interrupted the lady, and her “opinion” was lost to Peggy, who, thankfully effecting her escape, plunged her head into a large book of photographs.

At length the gentlemen came strolling in, minus the host, who was never seen in his wife’s drawing-room, and the affair woke up. The piano was opened, and surrounded; Madam Paradiso sang several French songs (tant soit peu risqué) with immense expression.

Mrs. Catchpool sang “Her golden hair was hanging down her back”—this with a rousing chorus that shook the very chandelier. Then Captain Goring sat down to the piano, and, to his wife’s amazement, accompanied himself by ear to “Vilikins and his Dinah.” And now Mrs. and Miss Sherlock (with an air of relief) the Miss Mitfords (with an air of regret) took departure, and immediately afterwards two nice card tables were set out—one for whist, and the other for poker.

During this process, Mrs. Catchpool turned to Peggy and said: “Did you ever, out of a museum, see such a pair of curiosities as those Sherlocks? They came early, so I had them to myself. The old woman told me all her ailments since she was a child; all her husband’s ailments, and what he died of; the ailments of two children who had gone off in a decline; and the present symptoms of her surviving son.”

“That must have taken a good while to relate,” remarked Peggy.

“It seemed weeks. Now come along, my dear, and play a little round game.”

Peggy begged be excused; she was so stupid at new games, so ignorant of cards, and she really would enjoy looking on, and learning in that way. After a little more pressure, her hostess abandoned her to her choice, saying:

“After all, perhaps it is as well; your husband is quite enough to pay in one family.”

“Pay!” repeated Peggy, incredulously. “Pay money?”

“To be sure I do. You don’t suppose we play for love, do you? Love is much too valuable.”

Peggy saw the table quickly surrounded, and quite a pile of notes and gold being placed in a saucer called “the pool.” Charlie appeared to be in his element, and was most animated and active in advancing all the arrangements. She grasped by degrees the leading features of the game, and followed her husband’s fortunes with breathless interest. How serious they had all become! Madam Paradiso, Miss Gussie, Mrs. Catchpool, the boy who sat next her, Captain Showbridge, Mr. Lynch, and others; and there was really quite a sharp note in Mrs. Catchpool’s voice, and Madam’s black brows were knit most ominously.

This “little round game” was evidently a solemn business.

At one time, Miss Gussie’s face was colourless; with her teeth closed upon her lower lip, she looked positively plain.

And as for Mr. Gilland, great beads of perspiration were standing on his forehead.

So this was pleasure, thought Peggy, as her eyes traveled round the circle of intent and anxious faces.

Captain Goring’s luck was “dead out,” as he expressed it, with a laugh, and he rose from his place at two o’clock, a heavy loser.

As he followed Peggy into the cab, he said, “I believe you brought me bad luck, Peg! I won’t play again when you are watching my cards with your great astonished eyes.”

“Did you lose much?”

“Pretty well—a hundred and twenty pounds; rather an expensive dinner, eh, little girl? Well, I daresay,” in answer to her exclamation of horror, “I’ll pull it all back at the Cruiskeen Club. I must say, I love a rattling good gamble—even if I do lose; it is in my blood; my grandmother staked her wedding-ring, and her garters. Mrs. Catch is tremendously keen, and she has a long head on her shoulders.”

“Did she lose too?”

“No, not to-night: she won a pile. When she loses, she loses like a man, and pays up like a trump. That’s the sort of woman for me!”

A little dinner at the Vallancys’ was naturally but a very tame affair after Mrs. Catchpool’s entertainment. Peggy was stiff and constrained, but quite at her ease at table, thanks to her previous grand rehearsal. The company comprised the Gorings, the Timmins (Mrs.Timmins also in bridal white satin), two of the bachelors—ten in all. It was a refined meal, but dull.

Mrs. Vallancy disapproved of Captain Goring, and he loathed her. This mutual antipathy, though well disguised, cast, as it were, a thin coat of ice over the little festivity. Afterwards, the brides foregathered on an ottoman, there was some classic music, but no other incentive to remain, and Captain Goring, professing himself very solicitous about his wife’s sore throat (the first she had heard of it), hurried her away at ten o’clock, and then set off immediately to finish the night at the Shamrock Club.

“What a good-looking fellow that Goring is,” remarked a guest, after Charlie had smiled himself out of the Vallancys’ drawing-room, “the very model of a smart officer!”

“Yes,” answered another man in a low voice. “But appearances are deceitful. He has a capital manner, and, as you say, extraordinary good looks—but——”

“But—in short, you don’t like him.”

“No; he is a shameless ‘Scrimshanker’ and confirmed gambler.”

“Gambler! ah, that’s a bad look out for that pretty young girl!”

“You may well say so! His father died some years ago, left him a fairly good fortune. I’m afraid he’s getting through it—if he has not got through it—as fast as he can; he will come an awful mucker yet.”

The dinner at the Vallancys was succeeded by a luncheon given by the Timmins. This Peggy enjoyed, but her heart secretly swelled with envy, as she noted the pretty and valuable nick-nacks in Mrs. Timmins little drawing-room, her silver table appointments—all wedding gifts, including a pair of silver fruit dishes to Teddy, from his brother officers. Of this she was furiously jealous; for they had not presented any token of their goodwill to her most deserving Charlie.

All the same, at his suggestion, she invited these unappreciative monsters to small dinners and lunches; but there had been nothing in her simple entertainments to disturb the supremacy of Mrs. Hesketh, whose dinners enjoyed a great reputation for excellence and daintiness—not that half the people knew what they were eating, when they fell under the spell of Kathleen Hesketh’s charm.

So far, she and the bride had never once met. The ladies had visited, and missed one another; and the Gorings pleaded “a previous engagement” when invited to dine. Mrs. Hesketh, not to be baffled, had then written a friendly little note, asking Mrs. Goring to drive with her to the polo, and come back to tea.

“What shall I say?” she asked, showing her missive to Charlie.

“My ponies are both lame— I am not playing. Oh, say you’re engaged. I’ll take you down to Kingstown. If you get intimate with her, she will stuff your head with all sorts of silly nonsense!”

And so Peggy scribbled off a line on her new notepaper, to say that she regretted she was unable to go to the polo, as she had another engagement. At the last moment, Charlie announced that he meant to go to the Park; it was, after all, one of the last and best, and they could take a car (Peggy delighted in an outsider). Flying along en route, they overtook Mrs. Hesketh in her victoria. She bowed, as Goring swept off his cap; but Peggy noticed that her face had become quite pink.

“I wonder if she is offended?” she asked in some alarm. “I do hope not.”

“If she is, so much the better,” was his ruthless reply.

“Oh, Charlie, I can’t bear to do anything rude, or to hurt people’s feelings; and she has such a nice face.”

“Well, if you’d rather be with her than me,” in a huffy tone, “you’ve only to say so! I can put you down, and you can wait for her at the park gates.”

“As if I would dream of comparing you. Please don’t say such things, even in a joke.”

“Well I won’t; I should not wonder if she asked you, because you know such loads of people, and she doesn’t!”

“But mostly men.”

“Well, is not that the crucial test of a woman’s attractiveness?” Charles Goring was sensible that his village bride was noted among “the beauties,” and rather piqued himself on his excellent taste, and the additional lustre added to his own importance.

At the polo match, Peggy, the conscience-stricken, frequently endeavoured to catch Mrs. Hesketh’s eye.

But Mrs. Hesketh’s eye refused to be attracted; evidently Mrs. Hesketh was affronted.

Chapter XIX

Mrs. Goring’s First Dinner Party

“I wonder how many we could dine comfortably at this table?” inquired Captain Goring of his wife, as they sat at breakfast one day. “Two top and bottom, and six at each side, eh?”

“Yes; but wouldn’t it be rather a squeeze?”

“Not a bit of it! We really must begin to ask people back.”

“The Catchpools,” she suggested; “we have dined there three times.”

“No; we will have them later on, when we feel our feet. We had better begin with the Timmins, they gave us a mild little meal, but of course they haven’t a sou, and are not expected to entertain. Then Crampton and Fuller, Captain and Mrs. Powys Beaumont of the Black Dragoons, they gave us a ripping dinner. Lady Sparrow, Mrs. Lime and her daughter, young Dew-Rose, and Colonel and Mrs. Cole-Hole.”

“Very well,” assented Peggy, in a dismal voice.

“That will kill off a good many, and shall we say Thursday week—no, I’m on duty. Well, then, Friday week.”

“Friday is such an unlucky day,” objected Peggy.

“Nonsense. Send out the. invitations this morning, and that will give them ten days; and mind this Peggy, I want it to be thoroughly well done—not too much, but what there is—perfect. I’ll order the wine myself. You must have a printed ménu, and lots of flowers. You had better let me see the bill of fare when you have consulted with the cook.”

“But, Charlie, I don’t think she will be able to manage a really nice dinner.”

“Why not? She has done fairly well, so far.”

“Oh, because she seems so hazy about things, and so dreamy. One night I was dining by myself, and it was Lizzie’s evening out. She sent up such a funny dinner—cabinet pudding with shrimp sauce; and whenever I want her of an afternoon she has always just run round to the green-grocer’s for something she had forgotten.”

“But she has turned out several very decent little plain dinners——”

“Yes; but it’s my opinion that Lizzie has cooked most of them.”

“Oh, you think that nothing can be done without the invaluable. Well, you can talk it over with Mrs. Dogherty; all I ask is, that there is no hitch. And now, I must be off.”

Mrs. Dogherty (who had lived in the fustest families, as her discharges would testify) received the idea of a dinner-party very coldly, but when her mistress timidly suggested a “job-cook,” her soul was instantly in arms.

“No, no; she liked all the work, and all the credit—to herself. Dinner-parties in these days were poor enough affairs. Just little scraps of meat and fowl, and sauces—not maybe a pound’s worth of victuals in the whole thing! And when she was kitchen-maid at Judge Flannigan’s—thim were the dinners! It was then yer might be talking! Four fine joints at laste, a ham, a couple of turkeys, and two pair of ducks.”

But Mrs Goring was far more interested in her own concerns than in the former glories of the Flannigan ménage, and hinted as much; whereupon Mrs. Dogherty rattled off a string of appetizing dishes, and suggestions, and threw herself so warmly into the scheme, that Peggy quitted the lower regions with a light heart. The cook only required to be put upon her mettle.

Every one without exception accepted Mrs. Goring’s kind invitation, and as the dreaded day rapidly approached, Peggy grew more and more apprehensive—her spirits sank to zero, her colour faded.

She, however, spared no pains to make her first party a success; hired extra glass and plate, and spent three hours arranging the dessert and the flowers—receiving much help and sympathy from the “invaluable” Lizzie. Collins, in livery, was to be her coadjutor, and Mrs. Dogherty had “laid in” her own first cousin to wash up, in order that there might be no extra work. Mrs. Goring lunched upon a cup of tea. She made several anxious excursions into the kitchen, where all seemed going well. At length the cook frankly announced that “if she was to do herself justice she must have her own place to herself,” and incontinently banged the door upon both Lizzie and her mistress.

At seven the drawing-room lamps were lit, and Peggy descended, dressed in a new frock, and looking very smart and self-possessed, although the palms of her hands were as ice, and her cheeks were burning like fire. She went to the dining-room to take “one last fond look” at the table. It really was extremely pretty—decorated with scarlet and white geraniums, and maidenhair fern. Just as she was leaving the room, wearing a little complacent smile, Lizzie rushed in with a scared face, nearly the colour of her new cap.

“Oh, ma’am, what do you think!” she burst out. “The cook is sitting in the kitchen, paralyzed drunk!”


“Yes. Collins he come just now, and he would go in. He says she’s snoring; and the saddle of mutton is a cinder; and she have forgot to put on the fish; there’s nothing but hot water in the kettle; and no potatoes cooked; and not a sign of the wine or brandy for the sauces.”

“Oh, Lizzie!” cried Mrs. Goring, with a face of horror, “what am I to do?”

Lizzie considered for a moment.

“Unless you went to bed, ma’am; and I gave out to them, according as they come, as you’ve been took ill.”

“Oh, no, no!” wringing her hands. “Let us go down, and see what we can do.”

The kitchen gas was flaring wildly, and exactly beneath it, sat Mrs. Dogherty in an elbow chair. She looked like a stuffed figure that had been just flung there; her form extended, and the soles of her great list shoes turned up to view, like those of a Crusader on his tomb. Apparently she was enjoying a heavy slumber, and, as far as Mrs. Dogherty was concerned, “all was lost, including honour!” With bated breath, and gathered up skirts, Peggy listened to the awful details, as expounded by Collins—

“We have twenty minutes, ma’am,” he said; “and I’m not too bad a cook. It won’t be the first time I’ve sent up your dinner! I’ll just fry the fish—the soup is all there—cook the vegetables, and, if you will keep the company amused, Miss Doran and I will manage something between us.”

Keep the company amused! “And the sweets, Collins?” she asked, tremulously.

“I’m afraid they will be a little short,” now tearing off his coat; “but we will do all we can.”

The “cousin” fortunately, was sober, and by the united exertions of Collins, Lizzie, and Susan, the operation of cooking the dinner was resumed. Meanwhile, Mrs. Goring went up to “amuse” her guests, in what frame of mind, may be imagined. Alas! they were lamentably punctual. Charlie came in late, and she had not a second in which to share with him her awful secret—namely, that there would probably be no dinner. As its announcement was delayed, he kept looking over at her from time to time, and frowning significantly. At last! oh, moment of mingled agony and relief, came the faithful Collins, very red in the face, to proclaim the fact “that dinner was served.”

If Goring was astonished to find that it was so bad, his wife, who steadily refused to meet his eyes, was equally amazed to find it so good! But what misery and suspense she endured! What gnawing anxiety she experienced, as course after course appeared, or did not appear. It was not a good dinner; but the guests were not as sensitive of its omissions as poor Peggy. No doubt they said to themselves she was merely a beginner, a young housekeeper.

There was no joint, which was rather a severe disappointment to some; however, they made up for deficiencies over the game and sweets.

The following is the ménu, as written out in Peggy’s best hand upon a pretty flowery card, and placed before each guest. A ménu, respecting which there was more than a touch of French “Romance.”

Hors d’oeuvres.
Potage à la Julienne.
Cod and oyster sauce.
Cotelettes a la maintenon.
Filets de pigeon a la genevoise.
Selle de mouton au haricots verts.
Artichauts en coquille.
Pain de Pruneaux.
Apple tart à D’Anglais.
Gélée de marasquin aux fruits.

Here is the plain English reality—

Fried cod; sauce—-nil.
Mutton cutlets, and potatoes.
Pheasant and bread sauce (smoked).
Apple tart—cream nil.
Stewed prunes.

Collins, for his part, had made extraordinary exertions, and Peggy was not behindhand; she became supremely animated. She shone, as she had never yet done in conversation. Started topics, told little anecdotes. Here was Mrs. Goring coming out in quite a new and charming line. Little did her guests imagine, as they watched her gay smiles, the tension of her attitude, and how wildly she was longing to arrive at the end of the situation, and hide herself in the obscurity of her own apartment.

In the drawing-room she ventured to sing, and again surprised every one with her sweet, fresh voice. In short, in quite an unexpected fashion, the little entertainment was quite a success. People actually remained until after eleven. When the last man had been sped, Goring came flying up to the drawing-room, three stairs at a time, and angrily demanded,

“What the devil had happened to the dinner. No sauces; only one entrée; no joint!”

For reply, Peggy, who, but an instant before, had been all bright sallies and smiles, cast herself down upon the sofa, and burst into a long pent-up storm of hysterical tears.

“Oh! Charlie,” she sobbed, “twenty minutes before the people came Mrs. Dogherty was so drunk—fast asleep in the kitchen, and only for Collins and Lizzie there would not have been any dinner at all.”

“Great heavens!” turning pale at this awful idea. “Well, it was bad, but not so bad as deuced scanty; I positively dared not help myself to cutlets; there were not enough to go round.”

“No! And I had ordered in such nice things, and she forgot to cook them.”

“Where is she now?”

“In bed, I suppose.”

“Well, see that she goes the first thing to-morrow.”

“Yes; that she does. Oh! Charlie, this dreadful, dinner has added twenty years to my life. I shall never, never have another.”

(In point of fact, they made but one more effort; but, as on that occasion the kitchen chimney went on fire, the Gorings realized that fate had resolutely set her face against their entertainments.

With a courage born of righteous indignation, Mrs. Goring summoned Mrs. Dogherty into her presence, and sternly gave her notice to depart.

“And for what?” she demanded, squaring her arms truculently, and now looking a respectable person, in a clean pink print and apron.

“For being intoxicated last evening!”

“For being what?” she shrieked.

“Drunk,” repeated her intrepid mistress.

“The Lord forgive ye! Is it me? that never tasted a drop of anything since I was born. I’ll have the law of ye for taking away me character!—me that has always lived in the fustest situations, as me discharges will testify!”

“You ruined the dinner; you forgot to boil the fish or roast the game; at seven o’clock I saw you myself lying in the kitchen sound asleep.”

“Oh! asleep; that is another affair entirely, and I don’t go to denying it. I’d been working like a black nagur all day; I’ve a wake heart. I do git these heavy turns betimes, and most ill convenient that, I’ll allow; but what would make me drunk? I don’t know the taste of spirits, except that stuff that is put in gruel; you know what I mean! what’s this it is, at all! Oh! I have it— Cognac. And’d like to know what Mrs. Catchpool will say when I go round, and tell her the name yer after putting on me?”

“It was a true name,” burst out Peggy, with sudden fury; she had hitherto been speechless at this creature’s brazen audacity.

“Lizzie and Susan and Collins all saw you.”

“Oh; they only told you I was overtook to get shut of me out of the place, and carry on their own little games! Oh, bedad that Collins is a nice lad! but devil a step I’ll go,” and Mrs. Dogherty snapped her fat fingers in Mrs. Goring’s face. “Or, if I do go, I takes me month’s board and wage—and me good character; I’ve always lived till now in the fustest families, and had the best of discharges.

The matter concluded with an armistice, for Mrs. Dogherty completely overpowered her timid mistress, who hysterically requested her to withdraw.

She had hoped that Charlie would come home; but the wary Charlie had anticipated that Mrs. Dogherty would make a scene, and remained comfortably aloof till the evening.

Meanwhile, the outraged cook rendered the house an unpleasant residence for the other inmates. She chased Susan up the area steps, and Lizzie into her pantry; and the latter came with a pale face and bated breath, and said, “Isn’t she a terror, Ma’am? Isn’t she an awful woman? She says she’ll tear the two eyes out of Susan and me, and prevent us ever earning our living, or doing a hand’s turn. She swears she’ll burn the house over you. I wish Collins was here,” she added, tearfully; “but if he put her out, she’d have the law of him, and make a holy show of you in the police court.”

“What can I do?” asked Peggy in despair.

“Faix, then, Ma’am, I think you will find it easier and cheaper to let her go—and pay her.”

“Well, I won’t give her a character—not if she drives me out of the house. I think it is abominable of people to give good characters to dreadful servants, in order to get rid of them quickly—it is the most shameful swindling there is—”

“It makes no odds, Ma’am; for even if one of these low women has no discharge for a year or more, she says she was at home all the time, when maybe ’twas in jail she was!” was Lizzie’s comforting assurance.

Finally, Peggy paid Mrs. Dogherty a month’s full wages, and a month’s board, but sternly refused a discharge, and Mrs. Dogherty having assured her with impassioned gestures that “she was no lady,” and that “Goring was a shocking blackguard,” marched off, with all the honour of war—viz., wages (unearned) much spoil in the shape of spoons and blankets, and all her own belongings, including a large black bottle, which, she said, contained Holy Water!

Chapter XX

Captain Kinloch Pays Two Calls

It was Christmas Eve, and Mrs. Hesketh sat in a low chair, holding a red feather hand-screen between her complexion and the fire. She was dark-haired and fragile, but, in spite of Mrs. Catchpool’s verdict, a remarkably pretty woman. A pair of wonderful grey Irish eyes illumined her small face, which, with a piquant nose and a pointed chin, wore an expression of espieglerie that was irresistibly attractive. Kathleen Hesketh (née Kathleen O’Hara) had, besides these gifts, charming sympathetic manners, and a pretty touch of the brogue. Her drawing-room was decked with holly and mistletoe, the velvet curtains were drawn and the lamps and candles showed that it was the apartment of a lady who had both wealth and taste.

Just now, however, the lady was receiving the reproaches—more in sorrow than in anger—of her cousin, Captain Kinloch, whose straight, athletic figure towered over her upon the hearth-rug.

“You remember, Katie, that I particularly asked you to have an eye on Mrs. Goring when she arrived, and now, when I come over, I find that you don’t even know her to speak to, and that she has been taken up by the rowdiest set in Dublin. I heard all about her from Mrs. Vallancy.”

“I’ll be bound you did,” with a broad smile; “she and Mrs. Catchpool had a dreadful quarrel about a raffle, and Mrs. Goring was dragged into it.”

“I met her driving just now, and I declare I had to look at her twice before I recognized her.”

“Yes; she has shown wonderful adaptability in falling into the ways of her patronesses, and apes their styles of dress and manner. She will soon be as noisy as her friend with the canary-coloured hair—really, sometimes lately, at teas, and at the skating rink, I have felt positively ashamed of her.”

“But such a nice girl and so adaptable and easily influenced, as you say—why did not you get hold of her before Mrs. Catchpool?”

“I expect Mrs. Catchpool was waiting for her at the boat,” she rejoined, with a laugh; “and moreover, Mrs. Goring has not received my timid advances in a friendly spirit. I have never been so snubbed in all my life!”

“Snubbed!—why, that child has not it in her to snub any one.”

“Perhaps I do not know what you call snubbing, but all I can say is, that I really did my best to make friends, and she looked so bewitchingly pretty and simple and innocent, and I always think Captain Goring has such a.cruel face!”

“Yes, yes,” impatiently, “I know; but Mrs. Goring——”

“I called at once, but she was out, and I missed her when she returned my visit. I invited them to dine, but the pleasure was declined. I wrote her a friendly little note, and asked her to drive with me to the polo, and come back to tea, and received a stiff reply that she was engaged, and remained mine faithfully, if you please,” declaiming with an open hand.

“Yes; I have not the smallest objection.”

“That very same afternoon she passed me on a car driving to the polo with her husband. I don’t call that an engagement!”

“Probably she did.”

“I am glad you think so, for I gave her the benefit of the doubt; in fact, I have been quite pushing. Soon afterwards I went to call— I had made up my mind to pit myself against Mrs. Catchpool to please you. Am I not a good cousin?”

“Sometimes; and——!”

“And the maid said ‘not at home,’ as glibly as possible; and yet, as she told this terrible falsehood, we could distinctly hear her mistress singing ‘Come back to Erin,’ in the drawing-room above our heads, and I saw Miss Gussie Little peeping over the stairs. However, if I had been a man, I’m sure I would have been admitted. After that I retired, figuratively, driven off the field. And really, Geoffrey, if you knew the kind of people she goes about with, to teas and subscription dances, I’m sure you would not be so anxious for me to be seen with Mrs. Goring.”

“Of course I don’t know her friends, except by hearsay.”

“No? I believe the infatuated girl imagines herself to be in quite the smart set, though Captain Goring must know better; but I don’t think he minds, as long as he finds a free and easy hostess, and plenty of facilities for playing cards.”

“I am sorry to hear that he has not improved in that respect.”

“He has not improved in any respect,” with a wide wave of her red fan. “They actually give little suppers themselves, just two or three men, and play sometimes till daybreak.”

“You don’t mean to tell me that she plays?”

“I really cannot say; I hope not. Herbert had to speak to him about some duty quite early the other morning, between eight and nine o’clock. He was shown into a stuffy little front room; there, on the table, were the candles burnt down to their sockets, and packs of cards strewn all over the place! Such a rakish-looking scene.”

“So I should think.”

“I wonder what will be the end of it all?”

“A smash, I am afraid,” said Kinloch. “The colonel cannot take steps, or interfere, as long as the mess points are sixpence. He is not supposed to know what goes on outside.”

“But I’m sure he does know, or has an inkling. I believe Captain Goring plays heavily at the Cruiskeen, night after night.”

“Then I am amazed that he has lasted so long.”

“Well, it will be a good thing for the regiments when he has to go; it seems a heartless thing to say, Geoff. But think of that poor boy Lorimer, who disappeared to America; I believe Captain Goring was at the bottom of his troubles.”

“I did not know that. As an officer, Goring will be no loss. He is next door to useless—a mere ‘chocolate-cream soldier’—and his example is very bad. Well, his ruin will, I suppose, be a good thing for the young fellows; but what about his wife?”

“I have told you a number of things, Geoffrey; now, will you kindly tell me one. Why are you so surprisingly interested in this pretty, silly, ill-bred girl?” asked Mrs. Hesketh, lowering her fan, and looking at him fixedly. “I mean to know.”

“And you shall,” he answered, with unexpected promptitude. “It was through me that she indirectly made Goring’s acquaintance; only for that she would be a happy, unsophisticated country girl.”

“Oh, I daresay she is happy enough,” interrupted his cousin.

“I sincerely hope so.”

“But why this sudden philanthropy?” continued Mrs. Hesketh, with smiling persistence.

“Because I like her, and, as I knew her, she was neither silly nor ill-bred.”

“Then I can assure you that she has deteriorated with astounding rapidity, and whatever illusions you have once had respecting her will be effectually dispelled by conversing with her for, say, a quarter of an hour.”

“I shall make a point of calling immediately.”

“Perhaps she will be singing duets with her friends, and will say ‘not at home.’ Well, now, let us talk of something else. I have hidden your delightful presents from Bobbie and Ba-ba till to-morrow morning. I declare, I should like to play with them myself.”

“There is no reason why you shouldn’t; but I have something for your stocking that I hope may please as well.”

“Oh, Geoffrey, how nice of you! I do love a present, if it’s only a penny sugar stick. Is it true that you are negotiating for an exchange into the other battalion?”

“Yes; but I shall not be able to manage it before next September.”

“And Herbert expects to get his majority then; so we shall all be out there together. I wish you would marry and take a wife out with you.”


“Chiefly for a selfish reason. She would be a charming companion for me.”

“And supposing that you did not like her; how would that be?”

“I don’t know a more fastidious person than Geoffrey Kinloch. I am certain to like her. Oh, do tell me all about her; you know I’m so safe. I solemnly promise to keep your secret,” rising to her feet, and surveying him with sparkling eyes.

“That is easily managed—when there is none to keep! If ever I am engaged to be married, I hereby swear to tell you the news before another living soul. Now, are you satisfied?”

“Um”—drawing in her pretty lips with an expression of doubt—“but you might be in love, and not engaged. It is generally the preliminary condition, and sometimes it is protracted. Your confidence at this stage would be far more interesting to me than later—when you will pour all your hopes and fears into her ear, and I shall be, very properly, left out in the cold! It is at this particular juncture that you require a listener, an adviser, a sympathizer, and a confidante. I can most heartily recommend myself for the situation!”

“Kathleen, this strident blast on your own trumpet has nearly broken the drum of my ear! For a young woman of twenty-nine—all right, we are alone—the amount of nonsense you can get through in three seconds is amazing.”

“Now, Geoffrey, you are not going to put me off like that. You are in love with some one.”

“What has put such an unlikely idea into your head? Pray, what are my symptoms?”

“You are silent,” now counting on her fingers; “you are short—I won’t say irritable; you are abstracted; you are sad——”

“Anything else?”

“Oh, yes; I gather two facts. One is, that the girl is some relation to Mrs. Goring,” and she looked at him steadily; “and the other, that the course of true love has not run smoothly. If it had you would never be so keen about going to India! What do you think of my idea?”

“A most gorgeous conception! You ought to write a book, and call it ‘Kathleen’s Suspicions,’ or the ‘Drawing-room Detective,’ price 6d.

“‘There was a young woman
Who lived in a Rue;
She had so many notions
She did not know what to do!’”

“How rude of you, Geoff; I——”

“Here come Herbert and the tormentors,” he interrupted, as the door burst open, and Captain Hesketh admitted two small boys, who instantly precipitated themselves on Cousin Geoffrey, and demanded “what he had brought them?”

“I know it’s boo-ful,” babbled Bobbie, “and funny, for I saw mammy whispering with nurse, and laughing; and there’s two things locked up in her wardrobe.”

*  *  *

Captain Kinloch lost no time in paying his respects to No. 70 Upper Bourke Street.

“Is Mrs. Goring at home?” he asked of Lizzie, as she opened the door.

This question was superfluous, for, as he stood upon the steps, wild screams and shouts of laughter (suggesting the play-hour in a large school, or a severely contested football match) came pealing down the stairs.

“Yes, sir. Mrs. Goring is in, if you will please walk up, she is expecting you.”

This intimation was as flattering as it was surprising. Kinloch ascended to the drawing-room (unaccompanied), turned the handle of the door, and pushed it open with considerable difficulty. As he did so, several books and three or four large cushions tumbled down upon his head, and then he found himself narrowly encompassed within a high screen—which had been brought close up to the door—and, imprisoned along with him, were three tousled and excited-looking ladies. What did it all mean? Had he come by mistake into a private ladies’ asylum?

“We are a deputation,” began a smothered voice, “with a warrant to search—your pockets,” then she stopped, gave a little shriek, pushed back the screen, and called out: “we have got hold of the wrong man!” and then the other two girls knocked over the barrier and decamped—giggling hysterically.

Captain Kinloch found himself in a room with a good many people—chiefly ladies and young men—all in uproarious spirits. The apartment looked as if it had been the scene of some very severe bear-fighting—chairs were upset, cushions were scattered over the floor. One of the curtains had been pulled down, and a bowl of flowers lay on the carpet.

There was a moment’s expectant silence, whilst the visitor’s eye wandered round in search of his hostess. A lady with yellow locks and a remarkably brilliant blue gown, was standing as if to receive him—a girl with a heated face and her hair coming down—who had evidently borne the brunt of some recent fray—a faded woman in an attitude, and a plaid gown. Yes, and here was Peggy at last; she came towards him, with a look of astonishment and discomfiture.

What a changed personality in less than a year. She and the girl who wore the white sun-bonnet were two different people, and belonged to two different worlds. Mrs. Goring’s hair was elaborately dressed, she wore a French, much befrilled, belaced blouse, a string of pearls round her neck; the hand she offered him was covered with rings.

“I’m afraid I have come at an inopportune moment, Mrs. Goring,” he said.

“Oh, not at all. I had no idea you had arrived. Very glad to see you at any time. We were just having some games. Mrs. Catchpool, may I introduce you to Captain Kinloch?”

Mrs. Catchpool, the lady in the bright blue gown, figuratively rose at him like a big salmon, and said:

“Oh, Captain Kinloch, I’ve so often heard of you from Mrs. Goring and Charlie; I’m so pleased to make your acquaintance. We are just amusing ourselves this dull December afternoon.”

“Yes, so I see,” looking about him, and then glancing at the chandelier.

“Oh, quite proper, I do assure you! No mistletoe, I give you my word of honour.”

Kinloch felt inclined to exclaim, “Perhaps it is unnecessary,” and the lady continued, “Tommy and Dan,” addressing herself to two young men, “just tidy this room a bit, will you, and make yourselves useful. Gussie, for goodness’ sake pick up those flowers! the water is soaking the carpet. Now, Captain Kinloch, come over and sit down on this sofa beside me, out of the way, I feel as if I wanted to talk to you for a week.”

But this flattering craving was not mutual. Far from wishing to talk to Mrs. Catchpool for a week, Captain Kinloch had no desire to talk to her at all. He had heard of Mrs. “Catch,” of her sayings, her card parties, and her somewhat battered prestige. He looked at her severely-cut haggard face, with the hard lines about its mouth, the unflinching greenish eyes, that were so eagerly examining him between their thick black lashes. He was of a type that found favour with the lady, and was rare among her surroundings; cool, self-contained, and grave, a distinguished-looking man, with easy manners. The liking was not mutual. He for his part, was anxious to have a few words with Mrs. Goring, who, however, was occupied in receiving a clean-shaven, boisterous, gentleman, who had just arrived, and was evidently the “comic” character of the little coterie.

“I knew you were safe to lay some sort of trap for me, after the way I paid you off yesterday,” he said; “so I saw another fellow coming to call. I lay low and waited. Good idea. Eh, scored again, Mrs. Goring!”

Meanwhile various groups were whispering, and laughing, and sitting behind screens, and in corners. The gas which had been lit, revealed quite a large assemblage of boys, just out of their teens, and women, just out of the twenties.

“I do hope Mrs. Vallancy will allow you to call on me, Captain Kinloch,” said his companion; “I suppose she considers you grown up?”

“I am sorry to say that I have been grown up for years.”

“Sorry! And feel inclined to say, I would I were a child again! In that case, you must join our little games.”

“What is it?” glancing carelessly at the various isolated couples. “Puss in the corner?”

“Now, really, that is very wicked of you,” shaking a finger at him, and giving him a good view of a superb marquise ring. No; I sha’n’t let you guess again. I hear you are very keen about sport, especially hunting, that you dance, and that you have a heart that is armour-plated. So you are bound to enjoy yourself in Dublin.”

“Who has been telling you all this, Mrs. Catchpool?”

“Oh, never mind. I have heard a great deal about you, and you shall be in my set.”

He looked at her with an air of polite interrogation.

“Don’t you know that there are dozens of sets here, as everywhere? There is the college set, the professional set, the military set, the castle set, the hunting set, the second-rate set, and my set.”

“What a number of constellations!”

“Constellations! Oh, thank you! Then mine, in that case, is the ‘Heavenly Twins,’ my cousin Gussie and I are the ruling planets, and you shall join us; but you must not be too superior you know! ‘the soul that’s like a star, and dwells apart’ has a very poor time!”

“But I am afraid your society will be too lofty, and brilliant, for an humble mortal like myself.”

“Not at all. You will find there is a good deal of Mother Earth about us after all, we will soon transform you!”

“I see that you have transformed Mrs. Goring.”

“Yes; doesn’t she do me credit? The dear unsophisticated child! though some of her puritanical ideas are ineradicable. By the way, I hear that you had a good deal to say to that match.”

“I? What do you mean?” becoming suddenly grave.

“Oh—why, I declare, you look quite alarmed. I mean that you did gooseberry, and best man, and all that sort of thing!”

“I was certainly best man,” he admitted, with a short laugh; “and now,” rising, “I see that I am monopolizing you, and that you are wanted to set the ball rolling. I will say good-by,” for he noticed that his presence was evidently a restraint upon the gathering, and that he was involuntarily enacting the part of wet blanket; and in spite of the loud disclaimers of the lady, who was playing the part of his hostess, he was inflexible.

“Good-by, Mrs. Goring,” he said.

Making his way to where she was encompassed by several boys, all talking together, “I shall come another day, when you are not so much engaged.”

“Oh do,” she said, breaking out of her circle eagerly. “And I have not had a word with you. Cannot you stay? We are just going to have blind man’s buff. Well then, mind you do come; there is tea and coffee, and whiskies and sodas in the dining-room; please make yourself at home. Ta-ta.”

As Kinloch bowed to Mrs. Catchpool, and walked towards the door, he found himself confronted by a large mirror, and here he witnessed Miss Little taking him off (as she believed, unknown to him), and taking him off admirably.

She first of all gravely took leave of Peggy, threw a cavalier nod to a subaltern of his acquaintance, and then bowed profoundly to Mrs. Catchpool.

As he closed the door, the performance had evidently come to a conclusion, for there arose a shout of laughter which seemed to follow him, not merely down the stairs, but out into the street.

Chapter XXI

Captain Kinloch Is One Too Many

Captain Kinloch was in no haste to repeat his visit to Upper Burke Street; but one day he encountered Mrs. Goring in St. Stephen’s Green, or rather, he surprised her gazing somewhat wistfully at the ducks in the round pond. She was alone, and not nearly so gorgeously arrayed as on previous occasions, and far more like Peggy Summerhayes than the young lady in the pert red toque, elaborately waved hair, and furs that had flashed by him in Mrs. Catchpool’s carriage, or the fashion-plate figure she had appeared in her own drawing-room.

On the present occasion she seemed unfeignedly glad to see him, and but little changed from the maiden who had chased the black colt with her sun-bonnet in her hand. But, by degrees, he became aware of a smack of fashionable slang and a confidence in herself as a pretty girl, which had been foreign to Peggy of Nether Barton.

“Yes; Dublin is delightful!” she exclaimed. “I have been here since September, and the time has flown.”

“Do you come to see the ducks and be reminded of Nether Barton?”

“You have guessed it! How sharp you are. Yes; I feed them almost every day: that impudent brown duck with the black head is a particular friend of mine.”

“I didn’t know you liked impudence?”

“In ducks—only.”

“And how is your sister? Do you often hear from her?”

“Yes; I write to her twice a week, and send her all the papers I can lay hands on. She has not been very well—she finds it so dull.”

“No stirring events in the village?”

“No; except that Nannie Belt is in a capital place in a large drapery establishment in Barminster, and that John got first prize for his black cart horse—Blackberry Jam—and there is no standing Tom the carter. You remember the blind chestnut mare?—she is dead; she broke her neck trying to jump the stream after the foal.”

“And how is Charles Lamb? Is he mutton yet?”

“Oh, no, and never will be. But he is dreadfully troublesome: he won’t go near the sheep, but herds with the three little bullocks, and ushers them into the house through the kitchen. Janet found them all in the dining-room one day.”

“Quite a surprise party I should think! I hear you have been very gay?”

“Oh yes, delightfully gay; and there will be a great many private balls next month, when the castle season begins. I’ve scarcely been to any private dances yet.”

“And I have not been to any dance since the one at the Manor.”

“That was my first dance; I shall never forget it.’’ (No; considering that it was the occasion of Goring’s declaration.) I was sorry to see nothing of you the afternoon you called, but you see I had a room full.”

“Do you often have these”—significant pause—“receptions?”

“No; but sometimes Mrs. Catchpool brings me round what she calls a surprise party—people that have been lunching with her. Just to make a little change—and—and—”

“And to make hay in your drawing-room;—I see.”

“Well, they do upset the place, I must confess; but Irish people have such wonderful spirits,” she added, apologetically.

“Yes; but half of the people I saw at your house were not Irish.”

“That is true. Mrs. Catchpool herself is not Irish. You have not paid your promised call yet.”

“No; but I hope to do so very shortly.”

“Won’t you come and dine with us? Can you come to-morrow?”

“Thank you— I—I—” and he hesitated, searching for an excuse.

“Do, if you can manage it. You have never been our guest yet, and you were Charlie’s best man.”

“Very well, I will dine with you to-morrow, with pleasure.”

“I suppose you have seen Charlie dozens of times.”

“Only in barracks—once or twice.”

“Poor Charlie! I must say that I think it is a shame that he should be so hard worked. What with route marching, which he hates, and orderly officer, and guards, and courts martial, and commanding officer’s parades, he never has a moment to himself.”

“He can’t be on guard very often?”

“Oh, yes; he is on the bank or the castle guard two or three times a week. Isn’t it abominable?”

“Yes, it is abominable,” he responded, but not in the sense the unsuspicious Peggy meant. If Charlie Goring was on guard once in two weeks it was the outside. His guard was the Cruiskeen Club.

“There is always a good deal of duty in Dublin,” he said, “but at any rate the regiment is not broken up.” All this time they had been walking in the direction of Bourke Street, and when he reached it, he took off his hat, and left her.

The following evening, Captain Kinloch arrived most punctually to dinner, and little did he guess how angrily Goring had upbraided his wife for her invitation!

“You know perfectly well,” he said, “that the Count and Tarr and Shotter are coming to dine quietly, and have a game of poker, and Kinloch will be the odd man out, and most infernally in the way. He expects us to play sixpenny whist; it will be a night lost.”

“I did not know. He is such an old friend of yours. I thought you would like him to dine here,” she faltered. “I am so sorry, I wish I had asked you.”

“Well, it can’t be helped now; you should have kept him for Sunday.”

“It sounds as if he were a joint of meat!” cried Peggy, and she burst into an involuntary laugh.

“Well, at any rate, he turns the cold shoulder on cards! The best thing you can do is to take him up-stairs to the drawing-room, and keep him there.”

Peggy was now a more experienced housekeeper. She read cookery books, and could make little savouries and sweets. Her plain cook (although she did not boast of “the fustest families”), was a steady, respectable person, but stone deaf, and occasionally made unintentional but awkward mistakes. The treasure was her mistress’s right hand, and well accustomed to hasty breakfasts, late hours, and wild departure for morning parade. All this she bore with unruffled good humour, but what she could not endure were the “surprise parties” coming in, and turning the house topsy-turvy, breaking chairs, and upsetting water, and screeching and stamping like wild Indians, and that with sickness in the next house!” As for Mrs. Catchpool—who joked her playfully about her age—she could not endure her, and told Susan and Collins that “Those ladies from the Square was no ladies at all, but just two persecutions.”

Peggy had been married for nearly six months, and was still faithful to her ideal, though one or two crumpled rose leaves had somewhat disturbed her comfort. Her husband was so cruel to dumb creatures—he would wrench a pony’s mouth, and spur it brutally (his animals hated and feared him). A poor starving dog with a sore foot, which she had brought home and befriended, he turned adrift with a savage kick. That same evening, however, the trusty Collins, seeing his mistress’s ill-repressed tears, had taken compassion on the beast, and given it a home in that ever hospitable refuge—barracks.

Another matter that troubled Mrs. Goring was the really painful difficulty she experienced in obtaining even small sums of money for household expenses. Weekly payments were out of the question. For Charlie looked quite alarmingly black when she timidly mentioned “the books.” So the bills ran on and on, and large bills became gigantic, for Captain Goring required to be supplied with the best of everything. Peggy was ashamed to meet the milkman; the thought of the grocer’s bill appalled her. And the extraordinary part of it was, that Charlie had money. She had frequently seen him put his hand in his pocket to pay a cab and bring it out full of sovereigns. Oh! if he would only spare her a few! Another trouble was, that he was able to spend so little time in her society. Parades, hunting, court martial, duty, were the pleas for his absence, and then he was so often on guard. It seemed to poor Peggy, who spent many, many lonely hours, that Charlie bore these separations with far too much fortitude and good-humour.

She would almost have imagined from his gay alacrity that with him the word “Duty” was synonymous with “Pleasure.”

Meanwhile, Captain Kinloch has been kept waiting in the hall.

A lingering smell of cigars in Mrs. Goring’s drawing-room gave it a slightly dissipated atmosphere, which no amount of open windows, or even cut hyacinths, could extinguish. Though it was a warm and comfortable apartment, with rose-petticoated lamps, easy chairs and palms, yet there was a rather pitiful lack of the little personal belongings that are the usual surroundings of a young wife. There were but few photographs, or books, or prized little bits of silver and china, there was no workbag, or scrap of embroidery to be seen; it was more like a man’s den, with Bradshaws, sporting papers, and ash-trays.

The hostess, however, looked amazingly pretty as she came forward to greet her guest. She wore a shy smile of friendly welcome, and a smart pink gown, trimmed with silver and chiffon, a little passée, and well known to her friends, who had become rather tired of “Peggy’s pink,” but to a stranger eye, it was extraordinarily becoming.

Her hair was dressed high upon her well-shaped head, and among her dark locks glittered and twinkled a comb of French diamonds or paste; whatever it was, the effect was almost regal. Here was society Peggy, a different girl from the rather homesick Peggy, the friend of the impudent brown duck!

“I am so glad you have come first!” she remarked naively. “Charlie will be down in a minute; he is a little late (he was always late). “We expect Mr. Tarr and Mr. Shotter, and I don’t know where he came across them, Count Riffi Raffi, and young Mr. Dewrose, of the Fly-by-nights; they call him Poppy-nose, which is rather a shame.”

“No; I don’t think I know any of them; you see I have not been long in the garrison.”

“Oh, here they come!” said Peggy, as four men entered, followed by the master of the house, profuse in his excuses.

Mr. Tarr was a financier (elastic term)—a clean shaven, bald individual, with a blue chin, black eyes, and a self-assertive strut. Mr. Shotter was a heavy-looking young man, with prodigious collars, cuffs, and shoes. Little Poppy-nose was a short loquacious youth, the wealthy son of a millionaire money-lender; and last, not least, the Count Riffi, a dark, hawk-eyed gentleman, with a thin, olive-coloured face and hands, an oily tongue, and (when he considered worth while) most courtly manners. These four new arrivals exchanged bows, and first impressions, with the tall, well set-up, well-groomed officer, who stood by the fire, and surveyed them with grave, steady eyes, and then the party was led down the narrow stairs by the Count and his hostess. Dinner was remarkably well cooked, and well served, the faithful Collins and brisk invaluable were in attendance, and everything with respect to the culinary department was a complete success. On this occasion, there was no disappointment with regard to the joint. Talk—it could scarcely be called conversation—flowed freely, and so did the champagne. Kinloch, who sat at Mrs. Goring’s left hand, noticed how exclusively the discourse was carried on between the other quartette; the topics were events, entries, odds, and the rise and fall of certain investments in South Africa, and whereabouts of certain “good things.”

Mr. Tarr was on the brink of launching into a capital (smoking-room) story, but presumably was restrained by the presence of Mrs. Goring, not to mention the stern eyes of Captain Kinloch.

“I blundered into a little tale by mistake, nothing to speak of, and I remembered myself and company in good time,” he subsequently announced; “but if I had gone on, there was a fellow there with dark eyes and square shoulders, one of the Rangers, and I declare, he looked as if he would think very little of dragging me into the street, and shooting me like a dog! Ha! ha! ha!”

Peggy had made her usual attempts to join in the conversation, but was often brusquely interrupted by Mr. Tarr, or flatly contradicted by her husband listened to her remarks with unrestrained impatience. (Alas! Charlie’s signs of disillusionment had become rudely obtrusive!) The gentlemen followed the hostess to her drawing-room with but little delay, for there they could (and did) smoke. Captain Goring went to the piano and sang a comic song, and played a tune with one finger; whilst Mr. Tarr glanced over the evening paper Mr. Shotter patronized Mrs. Goring at the piano, and the count strolled about smiling at the chromos and humming under his breath.

As for Poppy-Nose, he subsided into an arm-chair and frankly fell asleep.

Kinloch felt a burning desire to thrash Mr. Tarr, especially when he saw him make a gesture of anguish when Peggy sat down to the piano and began to sing.

She sang a Creole love-song, and sang it well. There was no fault to find with the tone of that fresh, true, young voice. As she sang, Captain Kinloch and Mr. Shotter stood beside their hostess, but ere she came to the last chords, her husband and three of his guests had noisily quitted the room, and immediately after the song had concluded, Mr. Shotter, who professed to care for music, and who had received no less than twelve lessons on the banjo, slinked out after them.

Kinloch looked his surprise, and Mrs. Goring said:

“They have all gone down-stairs to play cards, they do not care for music; and I know you don’t play for money, so I hope you will not mind keeping me company.”

“I shall be delighted,” he muttered, as he turned away ostensibly looking over some songs. “So this was Goring’s reformation!” he said to himself; “slighting his wife, deceiving her with lying excuses, bringing blacklegs to her drawing-room, and inaugurating a little private hell, under his own roof! Why had he meddled? Would it not have been better for Peggy Summerhayes to have broken her heart and died, than lived to face the future, which in his mind’s eye he saw stretching before her—neglect, poverty, desperate shifts, misery and ruin?”

He glanced furtively at her, as she stood by the piano, in the soft rose-shaded light. How young she looked, radiant and innocent; and his mind was suddenly peopled with a vast surging crowd of reminiscences, associations, emotions, all awakened into life; all clamouring and crying out what might have been, had this girl been Mrs. Kinloch—instead of Mrs. Goring!

One thing was certain—he was powerless to help her; the best thing he could do for her, and himself, was to go away. His good intentions had failed, and he had not the fortitude to stand by and witness the impending catastrophe. Meanwhile, Captain Goring and his guests had seated themselves at the card-table.

“I say, where’s the other Johnnie?” asked Mr. Tarr; “doesn’t he play?”

“Not he!” answered his host, scornfully. “He is one of your milk-and-water chaps.”

“Oh, I see,” said the count with an evil leer. “Prefers a tête-à-tête with madame, to playing cards with monsieur. And I’m not sure that he hasn’t the best of it. Eh, Charlie, my boy?” with a dig in the ribs.

“You are rather wide of the mark this time, count,” burst out Poppy-Nose. “Captain Kinloch is not a ladies’ man—all the world knows that, and as for milk-and-water, some fellows would want a good whiskey and water before they could follow him to hounds! Ay, or in the field. He has been twice mentioned in despatches, and if you had been out with the Meath on Tuesday, you’d have confessed that he was the hardest rider in the whole hunt. He has a big black horse——”

“True, oh Poppy!” interrupted Charlie, impatiently. “That will do; you’ve had too much soda water—don’t excite yourself, my son; every one knows that Kinloch can ride and fight, yes, and fight his own battles. Now, let us set to work—or rather to play.”

Chapter XXII

Mrs. Goring Declares that She “Is Only Pretty”

“Will you sing something more, Mrs. Goring?” asked her sole remaining guest, as he turned from examining a pile of music-hall songs.

“Ah, those are what Charlie likes,” she remarked; “and some are really very taking. I love ‘The Little Tin Gee-gee,’ don’t you?”

However, it was not the accompaniment of “The Little Tin Gee-gee” into which her fingers wandered, but a song of an entirely different description, “All Souls’ Eve,” by Lassen. This she sang in a manner that surprised Captain Kinloch. Her clear, sweet, girlish soprano seemed suddenly to have developed an unexpected depth. There was a wistful, regretful, almost despairing note in her voice that sounded like the pathos of a sad heart, and left her listener dumb.

When the last chord had died away into the farthest corner of the room, he merely inclined his head in eloquent silence, than which, at times, no speech is more expressive.

As Mrs. Goring rose from the piano, and walked across towards the fire, she said, as she spread her hands to the blaze, “I don’t feel inclined to sing tonight; I am far more inclined to cry. Do you believe in presentiments, Captain Kinloch?”

(He sincerely hoped that his own most lugubrious presentiments respecting her would never be fulfilled.)

“No, I am not superstitious,” he answered; “but I believe in the east wind.”

“Ah! And probably I am getting a cold! A cold always reduces me to the verge of melancholia.”

“I hope your fears are ill-founded,” he replied, stooping to pick up a book which lay upon the floor. As he glanced at its title, his face grew grave.

“‘The Scavenger.’ Are you reading this?” he inquired, holding it towards her.

“I am going to begin it when I have time. Mrs. Catchpool gave it to me at Christmas.”

“Does she cater for your literary fare?”

“No. To confess the truth, I read but little. I have not much time between housekeeping, practising, shopping, and arranging flowers; and I read slowly— I take days over a book.”

“Then you are not like the man who declared that he could get through any volume in a hour, reading two pages simultaneously, an eye on each.”

“How ridiculous! Then he must have had two brains.”

“I wish you would promise me something,” said Kinloch, suddenly.

“Yes!, if it’s not the name of my dressmaker,” she answered, flippantly.

“That you will not read this book.”

“Certainly not, if you specially desire it; but why? Have you read it?”

“No; but a man I know told me that he had done so, and was ashamed to look any one in the face for a week.”

“Oh, Captain Kinloch!” and her cheeks became as pink as her gown, and tears actually stood in her eyes. “What shall I do with it?” Her gaze wandered towards the window; his surveyed the fire: in another moment it was among the flames. Fie! what a smell of burning cardboard!

“The best place for it; it can do no harm now.”

“No; and there is something else that I should like to burn,” she said—“all those horrid wicked packs of cards down-stairs.”

“Well, yes; I would join you in that bonfire with pleasure.”

“I cannot imagine what Charlie sees in them,” she continued, as she moved about the cheap little chimney ornaments with restless fingers. “He will sit playing for hours and hours. It’s a dreadful waste of time.”

“And money,” suggested her companion.

“He says his grandmother gambled, and that I should blame her, not him; it’s in his blood, and he must go on playing: and the more he plays, the more he wants to play. And oh, Captain Kinloch,” suddenly raising her eyes to his, “you are an old friend of Charlie’s, and I may speak to you.” Her voice dropped almost to a whisper as she said : “I’m afraid the craze is growing on him.”

“Then cannot you stop it, Mrs. Goring? I am sure you must have influence.”

She made no reply, but turned her attention once more to a little china figure, which she took up, carefully scanned, and slowly replaced.

“I am sorry to say that the craze, as you call it, is not only hereditary, but infectious,” continued Kinloch. “For a man, with a large fortune, it entails a pitiable waste of money—money spent on mere excitement, a sort of momentary madness. For a poor man it means, sooner or later, ruin. However, Goring is not a poor man.”

Peggy made no reply. She thought of the hosts of unpaid bills, and clamorous creditors.

“Listen to me, Mrs. Goring,” continued Kinloch, impressively. “I knew a boy, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A good fellow, but weak. The poor woman strained every nerve to get him into the service, for his heart was set upon the army. She denied herself almost the necessaries of life. At last he was gazetted to a regiment. After a time—a short time—he fell into bad company, he began to gamble, first with an odd sovereign or two, then twenty, thirty, fifty. He lost; he took money not his own—the usual wild hope of retrieving his fortune; he lost that, and then——”

“And then?” she repeated, quickly.

“He killed himself. He was barely two-and-twenty.”

“Oh, how terrible! how terrible!” exclaimed Peggy. “His poor mother!”

“Yes; and that is but one case. I am sure you can do much for a good cause. You can persuade Goring to give up gambling: he will do it for your sake.”

If this beautiful young creature standing opposite to him, leaning her hand on the mantelpiece, and gazing at him with tragic eyes, could not influence a man, who could?

“Goring is fairly senior now: he has a wonderfully magnetic personality and charm. His example means much. Do you influence him, and he will influence others.”

“Oh, Captain Kinloch, if I only could! but I’m afraid that I have but little weight with Charlie. You see,” and she hesitated, and looked down at the fire. “I am not clever or strong-minded or amusing.” Then she glanced over at her companion, and there were tears shining in her eyes as she added: “I’m only pretty.”

Dead silence—an expressive affirmative pause—testifying to her listener’s absolute assent. A silence merely broken by a coal which fell violently out of the grate into the fender. And she stood there, in her pink gown and Parisian diamonds, offering timorous confidences, Peggy Goring was not “only pretty,” she was distractingly lovely.

“I do my best to entertain Charlie’s friends, and to make the evenings pleasant,” she resumed. “I read up the papers, and try to understand racing, and odds and weights; I even study the football matches: but it’s all of no use. Strive as I will, they go away just as you have seen them to-night;” her voice trembled as she added, almost under her breath, “the cards are too strong for me!”

“I am truly concerned to hear it,” replied Kinloch, very gravely.

“Oh, but you must not suppose for a moment that I am not happy,” hastily dashing a tear from her eyelash, “Charlie is the best of husbands. He—he—spoils me.” (Mrs. Goring knew that she was not speaking the truth.) Only I cannot bear to see him often so preoccupied and haggard. Sometimes he eats nothing all day; sometimes he comes home so late from that horrid club that he only has time to change his clothes and go off to parade. “

“You must be a good deal alone, or do you see much of the other ladies of the regiment?”

“No; only Mrs. Timmins occasionally.”

“And who are your friends in Dublin?” asked this hypocrite.

“Mrs. Catchpool and Miss Little were my friends, but I think they are getting rather tired of me; they have made some new acquaintances.”

“And you are both disconsolate and envious?” he asked, quietly.

“No; after all I am not very sorry. I’m afraid you will think me a worldly and ungrateful wretch, for when I first came over they were most kind, and took me about with them everywhere. I thought they were the leaders of society—you see I had never been in what is called ‘society.’”

“And what is your opinion now?”

“That I was mistaken. I find that people whom I would like to know avoid me because I am in that set. I made friends with a nice girl at the rink one day, and she said she and her mother were coming to call, but when she met me walking with Miss Little she all but cut me! We are never invited to dances in private houses like other people. I believe Mrs. Timmins asked for a card for me once, and it was refused. Oh! I feel hot when I think of it! Charlie does not mind, for he goes on the officers’ invitation.”

“I wish you knew my cousin, Kathleen Hesketh,” he said, gulping down his wrath against Charlie.

“I wish I did; but I never shall now, because I was so rude to her. Some day I should like her to know how I hate myself for behaving in such a manner—though it was not so bad as it looked.”

“No; I am sure of that. I cannot imagine your being intentionally rude to any one.”

“It happened in this way: I told Lizzie, that is my parlour-maid, to say ‘not at home,’ for Mrs. Catchpool and Miss Little and some others had been lunching here, and the drawing-room was like a bear-garden—you have seen it!” she added, with a deprecating , smile.

“Please, ma’am,” said Lizzie, now entering, “here is a telegram,” handing her a salver, on which lay the usual brick-coloured envelope.

“Oh,” waving it away, “it is not for me; take it to Captain Goring. He,” she explained to her companion, “gets a dozen a day, and sends them. He rarely writes.”

“It has become quite the fashion. Between telegrams, typewriters, and telephones, there will soon be no such thing as handwriting—it will be among the lost arts.”

“And no loss, as far as my writing is concerned,” said Peggy; “I write an awful scrawl.”

“Do you? I must take your word for it, as I don’t think I have ever seen it. And now, as it is getting on for eleven o’clock, I shall say good night.”

At this moment, there ascended a startling uproar from below—the little snuggery was beneath the drawing-room—and a sound arose of the angry muttering of several voices, gradually developing into a kind of simultaneous roar.

Peggy, turning to her companion, with startled eyes and a white face, said:

“Oh, they are quarrelling again!” (Again—tell-tale word). “Please don’t go away just yet; these rows make me so nervous: it’s never Charlie’s fault you know; he is the very soul of good-temper, but——”

The tumult increased; voices became distinct; there was the resounding crash of an overturned chair, then more uproar.

“Shall I go down?” said Kinloch, walking to the door, and opening it wide.

“No—no—no; I beg you will wait.”

At this instant, the door of the snuggery burst open, and there was a babel of tongues, and one voice lifted itself up far above the others, saying:

“You, and your dicky cheques! You shan’t cheat me!” It was the voice of Poppy-Nose. Undoubtedly, the unhappy boy had taken too much soda-water.

The sole reply to his remark appeared to be the forcible one of hurling him out of the house. The hall door slammed violently, and a dead, expressive calm succeeded the storm.

“Charlie will be here presently,” cried Peggy, flying across the room; “I hear him coming.” But it was only Lizzie, who was ascending the stairs with once more a telegram on a salver. She made no remark respecting the recent scene, beyond saying:

“The police is in the kitchen, ma’am.”

“How many?”

“Only one. I told him ’twas a mad gentleman as had to be put out; and cook is giving him a glass of stout, so he will do finely and be well contented; and please, ma’am, here is the telegram; it’s for you, and the boy is waiting. It’s answer prepaid; the captain opened it, and forgot it.”

Her mistress took the message from the envelope and glanced over it.

“Come immediately if you would see Janet alive. Wire train. Will meet you.—Travenor.”

Peggy became ghastly white as she read it a second time, and then handed it to her companion.

“Oh, isn’t it too dreadful!” she moaned; “and what am I to do?”

“I should think,” slowly turning over the paper, “that you had better start at once. Mail boat to-morrow morning gets you to Holyhead at eleven, London at six, and you will be home at Nether Barton, if there is a train”—taking up a Bradshaw—“yes, at ten twenty-five.”

“Shall I fill up the form for you?” he asked, for Peggy stood as if turned to stone.

“Yes, sir, if you please,” answered Lizzie, briskly; “I expect you had better.”

“Oh do—do—and send it off at once, at once,” added her mistress, breathlessly, ere Lizzie left the room.

“There! you see, my presentiment came true,” she exclaimed; “I knew—I felt—that something was going to happen;” and she sat down on the sofa and covered her face in her hands.

“Never see her again alive! Janet—I must, I must. Oh, what shall I do if I am too late!” and she burst into tears, and buried her face in the sofa cushion.

Captain Kinloch, meanwhile, stood in the middle of the room, Bradshaw in hand, looking helplessly at a prone dark head, half hidden in a yellow silk sofa-cushion.

He hated to see a woman crying; this woman’s grief was quiet and subdued, but in her faint gasps, there was a note of heart-sickness, home-sickness—aye, and despair. There was a sharpness in her half-stifled grief which seemed to pierce his very soul. He would have given years of his life to have spared his companion this sorrow: but it was not for him to offer sympathy and consolation to Mrs. Goring.

As she heard him walk across the room, she sat up erect, pushed back her hair and said, as she dried her eyes with a scrap of handkerchief:

“Oh, you don’t know how good Janet has always been to me—both mother and sister—and it’s only now, when I’m so far away from her, that I realize it. I’ve often longed so dreadfully to see her, even for half an hour—my heart just aches to hear her voice.”

There was a tone of suppressed anguish in this cry that thrilled her listener.

“I never was half as nice to her, as I ought to have been. I allowed her to give up everything for me, and I never gave up anything for her.” Was she thinking of Charlie Goring? for a fresh burst of tears followed this confession.

“You see,” continued Peggy, once more drying her eyes, “that I am making no stranger of you, Captain Kinloch. Do please forgive me, I know that men hate scenes! (undoubtedly she now had her husband in her mind). Do you think God will take her before I see her once more?” and she raised her eyes to her companion.

Peggy Goring’s pretty face was not disfigured by tears—a most unusual circumstance—her nose and eyes were not red or swollen: tears in her case but added to her attractions.

“I am sure I hope not,” answered Kinloch, from the hearth-rug afar off. “While there is life there is hope; never say die, nor meet trouble half way,” grinding out these time-worn aphorisms in a deplorably mechanical fashion. “Perhaps the case is not so bad as Mr. Travenor supposes.”

“Oh it must be! or he would never put ‘if you—if you would see her alive.’ How I wish Charlie would come up; I must tell him that I am going.”

“I’ll go and fetch him,” said Kinloch, and he ran down stairs, and entered the little front room. The four players were deeply absorbed, and Goring made a gesture of frantic impatience, as his brother officer appeared. It was the last deal; Kinloch gathered this much, and awaited the end in silence. The only sign of the recent fracas was Goring’s crooked tie, a broken chair, and a handful of cards which lay scattered on the floor. The game was nearly over; evidently the stake was heavy, for the breathing of one or two of the players was laboured and distinct.

Goring lost, and, with an oath, he sprang up and dashed his cards upon the table.

“Well, what is it? Oh!” turning his bloodshot eyes on Kinloch, “I suppose she has sent you about that wire, it came hours ago. I’ll be after you directly.”

But nearly ten minutes elapsed before he appeared, looking somewhat flushed and disheveled.

“Awfully sorry I delayed that wire, Peg—and a bad wire it was. Of course you are not thinking of going?”

“Oh, but of course I am.”

“My dear girl, she is dead long ago; what’s the use?”

“Charlie!” in a tone of anguish. “How can you be so cruel?”

“Cruel, only to be kind. Travenor sent that message to break it to you: it’s the usual thing!”

“But he expects me—he will meet me. Oh, I know she is—is not gone; she would wait to see me. I am crossing by the mail boat in the morning, and will get to Nether Barton by eleven o’clock at night.”

“Well, I can’t go with you, mind that!”

“Oh no. Of course, I shall find my way alone.”

“It will be a beastly expensive journey.”

“I shall travel third class.”

They were speaking eye to eye, as if Kinloch was miles away, and, in fact they had both forgotten him.

“I am awfully hard up; I’ve just lost two hundred to that fellow Tarr.”

“No? Oh, dear Charlie, I wish you wouldn’t gamble.”

“Oh, dear Peggy, I wish you wouldn’t preach! And, upon my word, I don’t think I can let you go. Remember that Villiani and Swindleberg are coming here on Wednesday.”

“Remember that my sister is probably dying,” she retorted, and her whole being suddenly rose up against him in passionate antagonism. “Oh, Charlie, don’t say that I am not to go. I must go, I must.”

“Oh well, if you must— I know you! Hullo, Kinloch, old man, I forgot you! You’ve been listening to a matrimonial duet, eh? I look on this as an utterly mad idea, don’t you?”

“No; I cannot say that.”

“And how are you to get off?” turning to his wife. “Who will see you on board the boat? I can’t, there’s parade at 8.30.”

“I’ll manage that if you like,” said Kinloch. “I’ve got leave for hunting.”

“Oh, will you? good!”

“Yes; I can call for Mrs. Goring at 6.30, and take her down to Kingstown, in time for the boat.”

“Capital! Then it’s all settled, you will be back in a week, Peg—return ticket, you know. Well, now I must go. Tarr and Shotter are waiting to give me my revenge. Ta-ta. No time to cultivate fireside amenities,” and he hurriedly quitted the room.

Chapter XXIII

A Race with Death

Peggy was accompanied to her room by Lizzie, who appeared to be a person who never required any sleep, and who had possibly been born in a smart little white cap, which never left her head.

“You’ll want a couple of hours’ rest, ma’am,” she urged, “and I’ll be packing your things, and get everything ready again’ you wake. I’ll call you at half-past five, and have a nice hot cup of tea waiting on you.”

In the opinion of Lizzie Doran, no undertaking could be properly begun, or concluded, without this indispensable beverage.

Peggy removed her gay gown, and lay down in her clothes. She was aware that she ought to husband her strength, take what rest she could snatch, in order that she might be well and fresh to nurse Janet. It was Janet’s heart, no doubt; more than once that organ had given her friends a great fright. Oh, if this should prove to be merely a fright? and Peggy, who was worn out, fell asleep.

Meanwhile, her husband played heavily through the hours of that winter night; the invaluable Lizzie put out the lights, took forty winks on a sofa, and proceeded to rekindle the kitchen fire, and then to pack a travelling trunk, exercising extraordinary discretion in the selection of the various articles: plain warm gowns, strong boots, no fly-away capes, or gorgeous hats, no evening frocks, no feathers.

Thanks to her forethought, when Captain Kinloch rang, a well wrapped-up girl—who had her baggage all strapped and labeled—was in the hall awaiting him.

It was quite dark as the pair drove to Westland Row—Kinloch disguised in a traveling cap and frieze ulster, with a heavy rug which he shared with Peggy.

There was plenty of time at the booking-office.

“A return ticket—3d on rail, 1st on boat,” said Peggy, handing him her purse.

“Then you must wait for the North Wall boat; the mail has no third class,” he answered.

“Oh, no, has it not? Shall I have long to wait?”

Kinloch made no reply, but in a low tone asked for first return by rail and boat to Euston, took his change, and walked on after her.

What a child she looked still!

Presently the mail train was flying along to Kingstown. It was still pitch dark. What a long night it had been. Peggy strained her eyes; she could not see the sea, but she could hear the wind. How dismally it shrieked. How it rattled the windows; it seemed to threaten to overturn the carriages.

The storm-signals were up; a number of frightened ships had scudded into Kingstown Harbour the previous evening, and at 7.15 it was blowing a whole gale. There were very few passengers—significant fact—not more than a dozen, and they by lamp-light looked sincerely sorry for themselves, as they descended the wet and slippery gangway that led to the out-going mail boat Ireland. Whatever the weather, the mails are bound to go. People who grumble at the post being ten minutes late, little think of the desperate adventures by sea these letters have encountered.

The great white waves were tumbling over the pier, with a sound like the booming of many guns. Even in her berth the Ireland was lively. And in the harbour itself there was a sea; outside the pier, the shelter once abandoned, what a prospect!

Peggy’s trunk was carried below; the pleasant, stout stewardess offered her choice of berths, or state cabins—oh, ominous sign!

“It’s going to be dreadful,” faltered Peggy. “Don’t deceive me, stewardess; I know it is.”

“Well, then, miss, I won’t; we shall have it pretty stiff, the wind being dead against us. After all, it’s only three hours and a half, and what is that?”

“And I see the chairs are all lashed. Not another lady passenger, and I’m such a coward at sea.”

“Maybe, then, if you’d wait in Kingstown till evening—”

“No, no, I must go. I shall start, even if I am to be drowned.”

Kinloch caught these words as he came to her door.

“Are you nervous?” he asked.

“An abject coward at sea; I never can forget that there is only a board between me and the bottom of the ocean.”

“Several boards, I think. The wind has changed a bit; it’s going down.” This was a gross fiction, and he knew it.

“Oh, Captain Kinloch,” she said, coming out into the passage, “I am ashamed to be such a coward, but I can’t help it; my heart goes flutter, flutter even now. I know that I shall nearly die of horror and misery.”

“Then will you wait till evening?”

“Not for anything; I will face it all to see Janet. Imagine if I missed her by my own disgraceful weakness. Oh, there is the bell! Any one for the shore? I really don’t know how to thank you, and I can’t understand why you are so good to me. If—if,” with a watery smile, “I never—”

“Don’t be so silly,” he interposed, impatiently. “Go and put yourself into the hands of the stewardess; she will look after you,” and with a brief nod, he took his departure.

Once out off the “Kish,” and far away from the smallest shelter, the gale received the Ireland as its own particular plaything, and tossed her, and dandled her, and dipped her, and shook her; but still she doggedly held her course in the teeth of it, though she lost a boat, some bulwarks, and the smashes in the saloon were truly heartrending. Miserable Dublin cattle-boats, en route to Liverpool, had reason to remember that tenth of January. Over and over again Peggy believed that each headlong plunge the boat made would be her last; and the roar of the wind was so deafening she could not even hear the consolations of the stout-hearted stewardess of “Only another two hours;” “only another hour.” She sat holding a table most of the time, for the berths were insecure places of repose.

At last, at twelve o’clock, Holyhead Stack was in view! The worst was over. Peggy inwardly offer up a very fervent prayer of thanksgiving, and collected umbrella and hand-bag, and went passage. She dared not venture on deck. In the passage, to her amazement, she caught sight of Captain Kinloch.

“Oh, were you carried away?” she asked.

“No; I came to look after you, and see you through the crossing.”

“How good of you! Was it not terrible? And you will have to go back in a few hours,” and she shuddered.

“Yes; or be run in for absence without leave.”

“I’m so much obliged to you; and yet I am very angry with you.”

“Oh, no, you must not be angry. I’ll see you into the train, and look after your luggage; please consider me as your courier pro tem.”

“It was a bad crossing, was it not? And oh, look at this wreck here on the breakwater—and men in the rigging. Captain Kinloch, is no one going to save them? Look! look!”

“I see, I am truly sorry to say; but here is the lifeboat coming, and a tug. I think you will find they will be all right.”

But, as long as the wreck was in sight, Peggy never opened her lips, or moved, or took her eyes from the wrecked schooner. At last they were alongside in their berth; the train was drawn up, and, in a short time, Peggy found herself in a first-class carriage, well warmed and comfortable.

“But I am not going first,” she protested.

“Oh, yes, you are, time is an object; and, besides, it is so cold, you must. I’ll square it all with Goring, honour bright,” and he put a return first-class ticket into her hand.

Next he supplied a foot-warmer, some papers, his own rug (she had none), to which she offered a severe, but useless, resistance.

“I can easily borrow one on the boat,” he answered; “and I have another in Dublin; please don’t make a fuss, for your dress is very thin, and you must take it. You know your destination: drive to Waterloo, and take the 7.20 slow train, and be sure you have something to eat at Crewe. The guard has promised to look after you.”

“It is no use to try and thank you.”

“There is no occasion to thank me. But I shall be glad if you will send me a line to say how you get on, and how you found your sister, and, if better, please remember me to her very kindly.”

“Yes; good-by.”

The train was gradually dragging its great length out of the station, and soon that pretty pale face was gone. She was far too young and inexperienced to travel alone.

Kinloch had had a word with the guard respecting a certain passenger traveling to Euston. Would he put her into a cab for Waterloo, if possible? and look after her, and see that she had some lunch at Crewe? (a half sovereign tendered and received).

“Yes, sir; I will do what I can, and take care of your young lady to the best of my power.”

His young lady! ha, ha!

Chapter XXIV

Lost Illusions

The following letters traveled over to Ireland in the same mail-bag from Nether Barton Hall Farm, to Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin.

“Dearest Charlie,

“I arrived here quite safely last evening, and I am thankful to tell you that I found Janet better. It was an attack of her heart, and she is not yet out of danger, and will probably be an invalid for some time. I hope you will be able to spare me for a fortnight, or until she can get about again. I had a dreadful passage over, and arrived at eleven o’clock last night, nearly frozen. Captain Kinloch came with me to Holyhead, as it was blowing such a gale. I shall never, never forget his kindness. He insisted on my traveling first-class to London; it was so bitterly cold. I hope you will not be vexed, dear Charlie. I was so upset with the fright and sea-sickness that I could not argue with him—please pay him at once. I came down here third, to make up for such extravagance. This place is just the same; not changed in any way since I left. All the village people are so kind, and seem so glad to see me; most of them have been asking for you.

“I hope you are not missing me very much, though in one way I hope you are. You may be sure that I shall return as soon as Janet can spare me. Lizzie will tell you where things are, and your new socks and jerseys (all marked and aired) are in the top drawer nearest to the window in my room. I hope you don’t go out at night without your top-coat. Be sure you take care of yourself et amusez-vous bien, as Mrs. Taylor would say. Write to me every day, if you can spare time.

“Your loving wife,


The second letter ran as follows:—

“Dear Captain Kinloch,

“I managed to make my way home without adventure, and found my sister much better. She was so glad to see me, and I am so happy to be with her once more. This village is unchanged. I could almost imagine that I had gone to sleep, and dreamed the last few months. The same “new goods” are in Pollmarks, the draper’s, window; the same “auctions of hay” are still posted about the gate piers though it is mid-winter.

“The Needle has got a scarlet Tam O’Shanter, and Charles Lamb is quite a grown-up sheep now, and Jopp (who hates him) says,’fit for the butcher.’ Charles refuses to associate with his own people, and has attached himself to the cows, since the little bullocks were sold. Rory is rheumatic, and has several grey hairs in his head, but carries it as high as ever. He was most demonstrative when I arrived, and barked and scuffled round me in a way that was most undignified for a cur of his age.

“I return your rug by parcel post, with many thanks for it, and all your kindness. My sister desires her kind regards.

“Yours sincerely,

“Margaret Goring.

“The Hall, Nether Barton.”

Mrs. Travenor was indeed delighted to have her little sister with her again, and could not endure her out of her sight. She never wearied of hearing tales of Dublin, and its delights, descriptions of dinners, dances, race meetings, fullest particulars concerning Peggy’s household, clothes, and friends. To talk of Charles Goring without mentioning the word “cards” was a delicate and difficult feat. Peggy assured her sister over and over again that she was very happy, and this repeated untruth afforded Janet profound comfort.

As for Captain Kinloch, she had heard of his gallant conduct, in twice crossing the Irish Channel in a gale for Peggy’s benefit.

“I always liked him,” she gasped out, “and I must say it. I wished it had been him you had chosen.”

Peggy laughed, and said, “But you see it was for him to choose me!”

“Has not he wonderful influence with Captain Goring?”

“Oh no; none whatever.”

Janet smiled to herself, and said, “I think you will find that I am right.”

People came from all sides to welcome Peggy Summerhayes—now Mrs. Goring. She had lost flesh, and colour—aye, and looks—they whispered among themselves, but she knew how to talk, and hold herself, and put on her clothes, and was quite the officer’s lady. On the whole, these kind-hearted, simple folk, were rather proud of Peggy!

Among Mrs. Goring’s visitors was Mrs. Banner, who gave her a pressing invitation to come and see her at the Crook, and the grand improvements she had made for “this fishing gentleman.”

Yes; she had added two rooms—one to be dedicated to smoking.

Whilst Peggy stood looking, and admiring, her hostess suddenly drew out a crumpled envelope, and said:

“I just wanted a word with you in private, it’s”—lowering her voice to a mysterious whisper—“Captain Goring’s bill. He never paid me the last time he was here, and, though we are great friends, business is business, and I know you would not like a wealthy man like him to overlook his debts, now would you?”

“Oh no; no, indeed,” protested his wife, crimson as a peony.

“I wrote to him twice, and got no answer, and so here it is: and if you can settle it, I’ll be able to square my books for last year.”

Nine pounds nineteen and sixpence was the amount.

“Very well, Mrs. Banner. I will see about it,” said the girl, struggling to speak with composure.

“Thank you, Miss Peggy. I know you never could bear to owe a penny.”

Poor Peggy! This bill was a veritable nightmare, and the only way she could devise of settling it, was to sell some of her own belongings; but, first of all, she would appeal to Charlie (which appeal he entirely ignored).

Meanwhile, Mrs. Travenor lingered on, one week better, another week worse. Peggy was much sobered from the Peggy of last year, she was thoughtful, sympathetic, subdued, and the two sisters were drawn to one another as they had never been before. Janet felt that her love and pride were amply returned—Peggy was happy, too, and that meant happiness for her. She rallied a little. She even ventured, one mild February morning, to pace the tiny front garden. But it was really the last flicker. She returned exhausted to the drawing-room, rested in a wicker chair, and closed her eyes. Travenor and Peggy, believing her to be asleep, spoke in low whispers; but they need not have talked together with bated breath, for the soul of poor restless Janet had gone, “to where beyond these voices there is peace.”

*  *  *

Mrs. Travenor was buried in the churchyard under the south wall, where the tombs of the Summerhayes family stand as a legion apart. Her husband gave Peggy her sister’s little family treasures—bits of old lace, some faded miniatures, and ancient rings, and would have endowed her with Rory—though it would have meant the giving away of a dear and valued personal friend, but she declined this sacrifice (Charlie hated dogs), and she accepted instead, a pretty grey kitten, Janet’s last pet, that used to lie upon her lap, or on her bed. On this occasion, when Peggy took leave of her tiny bowered room in the roof, of the garden, the cart-horses, the quiet village, the familiar country, she wept. She pulled down her veil to hide her tears, which were not altogether for the new grave under the shadow of the chancel, although she firmly believed this to be the case. On the occasion of her crossing, the sea was like a mill-pond. The infatuated girl had half expected Charlie to meet her at Kingstown—at Westland Row, no! At home! no; but the invaluable accorded her a rapturous welcome.

Poor Peggy looked very sad, limp, and forlorn, in her ill-made gown, the work of Mrs. Noad, the shepherd’s wife.

“There,” she said to Lizzie, “is a kitten I’ve brought,” holding out a basket. “We want an animal in the house, and Captain Goring dislikes dogs; it is a dear little cat, and belonged to my sister.”

“Well, then, I’ll take it down, and give it a sup of milk,” said Lizzie, briskly, picking it out of the basket.

“Oh, give it to Susan, please!”

“Susan? She’s gone, mum.”

“Gone! Why? who sent her away?”

“She sent herself—anyhow, she wouldn’t stop; she said her wages wasn’t enough (in fact there were none at all). But sure, in this small house, two of us is plenty, and Collins doing the knives and boots, and the door.”

“I daresay you are right,” said Peggy to herself; she was heartsore and tired.

“I’m just bringing you your tea, mum!”

“Always tea!” said Peggy, with a rare smile, “you think it is the cure for everything. If I were to meet you at the other side of the world, in India or China, I’d find you carrying the tea-tray.”

“China! and why not? sure isn’t that where the tay comes from?”

“When do you expect Captain Goring?” she asked, with affected nonchalance.

“I couldn’t rightly say, mum; he generally comes when we don’t expect him, and more times, when we expect him, we don’t see him for a week. He stops up in barracks; he was that lonely here, ye see!”

“God forgive me for all the lies a’m afther telling by raison of that elegant master of yours,” said Lizzie to Collins, as she clattered cups and saucers; “he’s a nice laddo! and she expecting him to be home to meet her. She’s very soft, the poor child; when she saw the empty room, by me faith, she quite filled up!”

It was certainly lonely work for Peggy, as her husband did not appear until three o’clock the following day.

“Hullo, Peg!” he exclaimed, “glad to see you! How black and white you look! And so your sister is dead, eh? She held on a good while. Did she leave you anything?”

“Nothing but a few books, and old lace, and rings, and her kitten.”

“A kitten! I hope to goodness you did not bring the brute here? I can’t stand vermin.”

“Yes, I brought it—it’s a dear little creature, so pretty, and so affectionate. I thought you liked cats.”

“Like cats! I like a cat when it’s tied up in a sack with a stout terrier.”

“Charlie, you only say that to shock me. How have you been getting on?”

“First-rate: won a pot of money on the Chester Cup.”

“I am delighted to hear it. Now, you will be able to pay some of the bills!”

“Oh, bother bills!”

“But, indeed, Charlie—”

“Now, for goodness sake, don’t begin your old song! Bills, bills, bills, the moment you come home!”

“But you forget them, dear; and there are some really alarming letters, threatening to report you to the General.”

Captain Goring’s face became suffused with an angry flush, and he exclaimed: “All right, of course, a married man has the devil’s own expenses, I’m sure your kit has cost the price of a couple of racers, but I’ll give you a cheque to-morrow. I’ve made lots of new friends, Mrs. Kidd, a smart little widow who hunts with the Meath. She and her sister have a nice house in Merrion Square, and we are great pals—”

“And what about your old pals?”

“Oh, if you mean the ‘catch’em alive lot,’ I’ve cut the whole concern—they grew too rowdy; Mrs. Catch and I had a difference about a bet, and we don’t speak.”

“Then I shall know nobody now.”

“Oh, yes. I’ll take you round to see Mrs. Kidd tomorrow.”

“Well, not to-morrow, please, Charlie—I don’t feel up to meeting strangers yet.”

“Oh, bosh! that grief and bereavement business is quite out of date, I do assure you.”

“And aren’t you a little bit glad to see me, Charlie?” she asked, rather timidly.

“Glad? Of course I am. You’ve stayed away a precious long time. Three weeks, wasn’t it,? “

“Oh no, worse than that,” with a little nervous laugh, “nearly six!”

“By Jove!” he exclaimed, “you don’t say so! I shouldn’t have thought it.”

Captain Goring, having glanced over some notes of reminder, was as good as his word, and making a rough estimate, gave Peggy a cheque, but with an air that distinctly implied that it was for her own necessities, and had nothing to do with him.

With a light heart Mrs. Goring went round and paid bill after bill, and Lizzie and cook’s long deferred wages. This performance relieved her mind of a great load; as for herself, she required nothing. Janet had one day given her an old black pocketbook, containing three ten-pound notes, saying: “No matter how rich you are, a little pin money is never amiss. This is my small hoard, my bee and butter money, and it is for you.”

Ten pounds of these savings (the accumulation of years) had gone to pay Mrs. Banner, some Peggy had spent on her journey, some on her mourning (such as it was), but she had still one ten pound note intact in the lining of the old pocket-book.

The kitten made itself not merely at home, but beloved, and was the pet of the household, save the household’s master; he seemed to take a delight in upsetting it out of chairs, teasing it, and pinching its tail or giving it sly kicks, just like some boorish country schoolboy. Peggy was very fond of it, and taught it to beg, and jump through a hoop, and to go dead at her bidding. The little creature with its great earnest eyes, and soft purr, was a companion to Peggy. He slept with Lizzie, who was devoted to him, and decorated him with a brilliant green neck ribbon, and gave him the name of “Patsey.”

One afternoon, as Captain Hesketh and Kinloch were rattling down Bourke Street on an outside car, they witnessed a most peculiar sight, for right ahead of of them, a cat or some small animal was sent whizzing out of a second-floor window with great violence; it executed a kind of parabole in the air, and fell upon the stone pavement, evidently stone dead.

As they whirled past, the door of Number 70 burst open, and a distracted girl in black flew into the street and picked up the murdered corpse. In the background they caught a glimpse of a figure in tweed, with hands in pockets, and the sound of a ribald laugh.

The little tragedy was all over in a moment; but, rapidly as it had been enacted, it told a tale.

Goring had thrown his wife’s kitten into the street, and killed it.

Patsey had been asleep comfortably curled up on a sofa-cushion when Goring entered the drawing-room in a bad humour. Several things had occurred to put him out—a run of bad luck the previous night and morning, a sharp word from the Colonel in the orderly room, and a big bill. He was uncomfortable, and he saw no reason why the sound-asleep and happy kitten should not share his condition. Peggy was sewing, and glanced up with a welcoming smile, but her husband took no notice of her as he walked restlessly about the room. Suddenly, he caught up the kitten by the tail—a liberty no self-respecting cat tolerates—and began to swing it about. The little creature objected, struggled, scratched. He dropped it for a moment to examine the red map outlined on his hand, then, suddenly, made a fierce swoop, seized it by the neck, and flung it with all his force across the room. The window happened to be wide open, but before Peggy could speak, Patsey had vanished, and a thud testified to his arrival upon the pavement, and at the end of his existence.

When Peggy picked up her little cat he was warm, as when he had nestled on the sofa three minutes previously, but he was quite dead—no, not feigning death on this occasion, it was the reality. She laid him out on the table in the front room, and looked up at her laughing husband.

“See,” he said, “how the little devil scratched me?” holding out his hand for sympathy.

“Oh, Charlie; but you have killed my poor little kitten.”

“So it seems. The nine lives’ story has no foundation, heaven be praised! Now, you needn’t pull a long face, or make a scene, all because I got rid of your beastly cat,” he added in a ferocious manner that cowed his listener. Oh no, no; this was not the same Charlie who had wandered by her side through the lanes of Nether Barton and the avenues of Summerford.

“Tell Collins to dig a hole and bury it; we have no cat-a-combs on the premises. Are you going to sulk? Because, if you are, let me know, and I’ll arrange to dine out for a week—or till further orders.”

“Oh, Charlie——”

“Oh, Charlie,” he mimicked. “Oh, Charlie’s Aunt. Oh, my aunt. Oh, don’t be a drivelling idiot all your days,” and he went into the hall, and out of the house humming. “It was—it was—the cat.”

You are right. It was the cat.

Now that she was alone, Peggy gave way to her feelings, and wept and sobbed unrestrainedly over the corpse of her grey kitten. She felt a dreadful aching her heart. Was it the slow perishing of her love? Could her love for Charlie die? This was her ever-haunting terror.

Why did she feel so cowed and frightened by him—she, Peggy Summerhayes, who had once upon a time been renowned for the spirit with which she would and could stand up for, and take the part of dumb animals—aye, and all oppressed creatures!

Alas! she was painfully conscious that before the blank wall of her husband’s hard cruelty (accompanied by puns and songs), she was absolutely disarmed and helpless.

Lizzie Doran, with loud lamentations, laid out the little dead body for burial in a white cardboard box, marked “Cash’s frilling, six dozen,” and tied it up neatly with white tape.

Collins duly dug a hole, and buried Patsey the kitten, born at Nether Barton; killed in Dublin, aged four months. A short life, but a merry one.

As Collins flattened the grave, he muttered his amazement to himself. In all his thirty-two years of existence, he had never heard of a cat falling out of a window!

He subsequently placed a neat wooden headpiece above the tiny mound, this by way of offering respectful consolation to the cat’s mistress.

But it was not alone Patsey, the grey kitten, that was buried there, beneath the hardy old lilac bush; the trivial grave contained Peggy’s deep misgivings, and Peggy’s lost illusions.

Chapter XXV

The Neglected Wife

It was more than a little embarrassing for her former protégée to encounter Mrs. Catchpool face to face in the midst of a crowded shop. Peggy coloured, nervously, and the other lady spoke:

“Oh, so you are back, I see,” she said; “you look awful! Where on earth did you raise the hat? it’s like a hearse! I declare you might hire it out to Nicholls.” A pause; and then she continued: “I may as well give you a tip before I drop you! I’ve nothing against you; but your husband is a cad, and I’ve cut him. I really must draw the line at Taffy Goring, and, of course, I cannot know his wife, much as I may respect her!”

“I don’t wish to know any one who calls my husband a cad,” returned Peggy, with her loftiest air, though her voice seemed tremulous; her heart was beating furiously.

“Then, in that case, my dear, I am afraid that your acquaintance will be rather limited,” and with this parting thrust, and a loud laugh, Mrs. Catchpool nodded a casual farewell, and swaggered out.

Poor Peggy! Sometimes when one door closes, another is opened; and Mrs. Hesketh, seeing a forlorn and parcel-laden figure toiling homewards one wet day, had, with true Irish impulse, stopped her brougham, and accosted her, saying:

“Mrs. Goring, will you allow me to leave those parcels at your house, or better still, may I take you there?”

And from that time forth commenced an acquaintance, which rapidly developed into friendship. This incident was the beginning of a new epoch in Peggy’s life. She lunched with Mrs. Hesketh, was introduced to Bob and Baba, and not alone to them, but, by degrees, to all their mother’s circle. She was made to feel at home, and happy under Kathleen Hesketh’s wing.

Captain Goring had carried his wife to call upon his new friend Mrs. Villiers Kidd, and her sister Miss Skipworth. Mrs. Kidd was wealthy, worldly, and wise in her generation. She claimed to be nearly related to the Duke of Morocco, but this statement was scornfully pooh-poohed by Mrs. Catchpool, who never favoured these “wandering stars,” and vehemently declared, that “the widow Kidd was much more likely to be descended from Kidd the pirate, and that she was possibly drawing her income from his hordes.”

Whether related to the Duke or not, Mrs. Kidd was a pretty little woman, with black hair (Charlie was still constant to dark locks), dark challenging eyes; and fascinating manners, who thoroughly understood the art of dress, and of delicate self-advertisement. Her age was a severely contested question. She had come over to Ireland, accompanied by her sister, and taken a large furnished house in Dublin for six months, ostensibly for the sake of hunting, racing, balls, and other diversions in and around the still lively old city on the Liffey.

Mrs. Kidd received Captain Goring as a familiar and valued friend, accorded his wife a limp hand-shake and a cool stare, which took in all the deficiencies of her toilet, and made her new acquaintance feel that her feathers were out of curl, that there was a hole in her veil, and her gloves a size too large.

This was merely the force of imagination. Mrs. Goring’s toilet was perfectly neat, though not “smart.”

The hostess turned her attention to her husband, and he appeared to be most anxious to induce her to come to various amusements, especially races. The room was filling with other visitors, and Peggy sat aloof in the background completely ignored. Yes; it was all very well for Mrs. Villiers Kidd to know Captain Goring, who was good-looking, and so kind about tickets and flowers and race badges, but she really had not bargained for this dowdy girl, his wife. In fact, he had hitherto led her to believe that his wife was a joke!

Charlie Goring noticed the impression, and took it to heart. As an open-handed agreeable cavalier, he had been petted and made much of; as the husband of a silent and melancholy-looking girl, he was figuratively out of it, and Mrs. Kidd, who had hitherto reserved for him her most encouraging smiles, now bestowed them upon Bertie Lovelace! However, heavily as he was handicapped, he felt confident that in the long run he could easily distance Bertie.

Punchestown races were imminent. Captain Goring had hired a coach and invited a large party to attend the meeting, and insisted that Peggy should be chaperone.

“I don’t want to go,” she confided to Mrs. Hesketh. “It is hardly two months since I lost my sister.”

“I can thoroughly understand your feelings,” responded the other, “but I think you ought to make a struggle and go. Your sister is beyond your reach, you cannot do her any good by remaining away, and you can please Captain Goring. I think a girl should always make a point of going about with her husband, when he wishes it—it’s such a compliment, you see, and shows that you are the one companion in the world for him.”

Kathleen, as she offered this piece of advice and mendacious flattery, was thinking of the various gay and giddy flirtations in which Captain Goring had embarked during his wife’s absence.

The end of April (including Punchestown week) was desperately wet—the mud on the roads and notably in the “Gap” exceed the memory of the oldest habitué. Then came May, and Dublin was gay in every sense of the word. The squares were full of laburnum, lilac, and hawthorn, the town was full of people who had come up from the country in order to kill two birds with one stone—viz. the Fitzwilliam Tournament, and the great Bazaar in aid of a hospital which was to be built at Balls Bridge.

Peggy Goring had put off her heavy crêpe, and appeared in a lighter style of mourning. She was invited out with Mrs Hesketh, and accepted, as it was rather dull work staying at home alone, and though her face was thin, and her lovely colour a little faded, yet Mrs. Goring (who proved to be quite a nice girl after all!) was much admired by Mrs Hesketh’s friends. During the tennis week, she sat out the tournament chiefly beside Mrs. Hesketh and Mrs. Vallancy, but Charlie devoted himself to the little widow, and lay on the grass—in every sense of the word, at her feet! Although he hated bazaars with an almost passionate hatred, yet, to make amends for his defection, Captain Goring actually volunteered to escort his wife to Balls Bridge, on the second and most popular day. She was to meet him just inside the turnstile at three o’clock sharp. Thousands flocked to the fête, for it was as much fête as bazaar, not only were there scores of pretty stalls, and stall-holders, tea gardens and tea girls, in exceedingly becoming caps, dark-eyed fortune tellers in dim retreats, but theatricals, cafés chantants, captive balloons, merry-go-rounds, and raffles.

At a quarter to three o’clock Mrs. Goring had arrived at the rendezvous, and stood watching the gay crowd who kept continuously pouring through the turnstiles. Few of the eager throng noticed the tall pretty girl in white, with black ribbons and a black hat, who remained in one spot, looking so gravely wistful for two mortal hours. People went and people came, but the pale lady still remained at her post.

“Who is the girl in white, who looks as if she were going to faint?” asked Colonel Byng, a spruce old bachelor, who had come to meet Captain Kinloch, a later arrival. “She’s handsome, too. Man not up to time, eh? or is he to be won by waiting?”

“Why, it is Mrs. Goring. I expect she is waiting for him!” returned the other.

“Oh, then, in that case, she may save herself the trouble. I saw Master Charles more than an hour ago in a refreshment garden, making desperate love to a smart little woman in yellow. They were eating ices, and looked like staying. He has evidently forgotten all about madam.”

“Good-afternoon, Mrs Goring,” said Kinloch, accosting her at once, “Are you on duty here?”

“No,” with a faint smile. “I am waiting for Charlie. I expect him every minute.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Since a quarter to three.”

“And it is now a quarter to five. You must be dead tired. Come along with me, and let me get you a cup of tea. May I introduce Colonel Byng?”

Peggy bowed, but looked irresolute.

“Indeed, I think it is time you were relieved Mrs. Goring,” said Colonel Byng. “If you will come inside, we will do our best to help you to find your husband.”

“But he has not arrived yet, and I promised to wait.”

“Surely not the whole day. You shall return here if you wish,” urged Kinloch. “But do come and have some refreshment now.”

And, thus exhorted and escorted, Peggy entered the main building and was momentarily bewildered by the stirring scene—decorations, and animated crowd, so busily absorbed in combining business with pleasure. Her companion piloted her to a tea-garden, which seemed to be all flowers, little tables, and pretty waitresses in pink gowns, and here they encountered Mrs. Hesketh and her two boys, who joined forces and made a small tea-party. By and by, Captain Goring came up smiling, and carrying an enormous bridal bouquet, and closely followed by Mrs. Kidd, who presented a truly charming vision in a pale primrose and white toilet.

His eyes fell suddenly on his wife.

‘‘Oh, so here you are!” he exclaimed. “By Jove! I clean forgot about our assignation. However, you seem to be doing yourself pretty well. I came in with Mrs. Kidd. She’s a stall-holder, and passed me as her assistant.”

“Oh, Mrs. Goring, do take a ticket for this exquisite bouquet,” said the charmer, with her most pleading air, flashing her eyes on Mrs. Goring’s companions, like two searchlights.

“Yes, certainly,” answered Peggy, fumbling for her purse. “Did you say half-a-crown—number thirteen—thank you.”

“Now, Captain Kinloch, I’m not going to let you off. Bachelors are fair game, and you surely cannot resist these flowers?”

“It is far more difficult to resist Mrs. Kidd,” he replied with a bow, as he tendered his money.

“I’m carrying this thing around as a safety guard,” explained Charlie, “a preventive against the other rafflers. When they come charging up to me, and say, ‘Take a ticket,’ I reply, ‘All right, you take one of mine,’ and then they clear.”

Mrs. Hesketh haughtily declined to assist the Charity Bazaar through this particular channel (meaning the bouquet subscription). And looked on with stifled indignation, whilst the brilliant Mrs. Kidd and her handsome attendant fluttered away.

“You are tired,” she said to Peggy. “I suppose you have seen nothing?”

“No, not yet; but I have plenty of time—a whole week.”

“Take a ticket for a grand piano.”

“Take a ticket for a Kerry cow.”

“Take a ticket for a diamond tiara,” shouted the merry venders, as they streamed by.

“I’ve taken tickets for a rocking-horse, a lamp, a polo-cart, a pig, and a yacht,” said Mrs. Hesketh, now standing up and putting on her gloves; “if I win anything, it’s certain to be the yacht or the pig, and what on earth shall I do with them?”

“Sell the yacht, and eat the pig,” suggested Kinloch.

“Oh, give the pig to us, mammy,” cried Baba; “it’s such a nice pig, with long white eyelashes.”

“We will see about him when I win him. This little pig who went to a bazaar; and now” to Peggy, “I must take these chicks home, but to-morrow you and I will come together, and will go to the children’s dances and theatricals, and round the stalls, and have a real good time.”

“I think I shall go back with you now,” replied Mrs. Goring also preparing for departure.

“No, no, stay and amuse yourself a little. Go up in the captive balloon. There you will be safe from the sofa cushion, and the tea-cosey, at least it will raise your spirits.”

“It would be more likely to raise my hair! I would not set foot in the balloon for the diamond tiara, yacht, and piano.”

“Then let me recommend the water shoot. Delightfully exciting, with a really good chance of a ducking, all for sixpence. One boat has capsized just now, and you should have seen the people crawling out like wet flies!” And with a gay little nod, she walked off hand in hand with her boys.

“I know what Mrs. Goring would like,” said Captain Kinloch, “the horses; let us go for a ride? You remember them last year at Middle Barton?”

“I do indeed, and how I enjoyed it!’

“There are a most superior set here, all thoroughbred. Shall we go and make a start at once?”

“Then in that case, my dear fellow, I will take my leave,” said Colonel Byng. “I’m too old for merry-go-rounds, and I have an appointment in town;” and with a bow to Peggy, he took his departure.

“Captain Kinloch, I really cannot allow you to pay for my tea,” protested his companion suddenly, as she saw their attendant arrive with outstretched palm.

“What nonsense, Mrs. Goring.”

“Gentlemen generally pay for the ladies in Ireland,” volunteered a remarkably pretty girl in a cap and apron.

“Oh, Miss Greville! I did not know you,” exclaimed Kinloch, raising his hat. “How do you like your new duties?”

“Immensely. I do not know how I shall ever part with my dear cap and apron. I’m glad the bazaar is going to last a week. I like my situation so much I’m thinking of going into service!”

“The service you mean. Are followers allowed?”

“Stupid questions are not allowed, but you may give me a tip,” she answered, with a demure little smile. Then slipping five shillings into her apron pocket, and rattling her change, she added, “It’s all for the good of the Hospital, and we are doing splendidly.”

“A pretty girl, is she not?” said Captain Kinloch to his companion, as they moved off. “She is engaged to Waller in our regiment, and I have no doubt that she finds him a steady customer.”

Peggy was thankful for her escort’s broad shoulders, which made way for her through the densely-packed crowd, a seething mass of pretty faces crying their wares.

“Puppies, pin-cushions, bon-bons, butter, a brougham (with a smiling pair inside) were all pressed on them in turn. Jokes were exchanged, Irish wit flashed here and there among the charming sellers and their stalwart customers.

There were benevolent old faces, radiant children, smart society people, country cousins, priests, parsons, soldiers, hospital nurses—a pleasant preponderance of pretty girls—all wedged together in a slowly-moving mass. At last Captain Kinloch and his companion emerged into the open space, secured two chargers on the nearest merry-go-round, and were off.

“Just look,” said Captain Goring, to his fair associate, “at that howling idiot, my brother officer, careering round upon the horses like any country bumpkin!”

“And your wife too! Quite a giddy pair!” suggested Mrs. Kidd.

“Ah well, you know she was a country girl.”

“Seems to be rather fun. Do let us have a gallop. Do, Captain Goring.”

And, in another moment, the whirling circle, included Charlie, carrying the great white bouquet, with its waving satin streamers; and the pretty little widow, with her waving feathers, and flying primrose skirts. When Peggy and her escort had alighted, they stood and watched the other couple, still pursuing the fascinating circuit, and as she followed them with her grave eyes, Peggy said to herself:

“And this time last year it was me!”

At length the other pair dismounted and discovered them, and Mrs. Kidd called out, “Captain Kinloch, do you know that you have won this charming bouquet?”

“I? Well, it is the first thing I’ve ever won in a raffle. There is nothing like making a start, and I am in for lots of things. I’m glad it wasn’t the keg of butter!”

“Pray what are you going to do with it?” she asked, archly. She expected that this grave, rather interesting soldier, would say:

“Oh, I hope you will honour me by keeping it,” and she looked up at him with one of her bewildering “stand-and-deliver-your-heart” glances.

“I am going to bestow it,” now taking it from her hands with deliberate respect, “on Mrs. Goring, if she will accept it.”

Mrs. Kidd’s face clouded. She was not accustomed to be thus passed over, or set aside.

“It is very pretty, is it not?” she remarked, in rather a tart voice, “so bridal; but it won’t last, it is every bit wired. Now, Captain Goring, that we have done our duty, won’t you take me up in the balloon? You promised, you know!” And she rustled off, followed by her slave.

“That Captain Kinloch has a personality that grows on one,” she said, “and I can imagine him as a tower of strength if one was in an awkward fix, socially or physically. He has such a strong face and square jaw. He would make an ideal knight. I can see him in my mind’s eye, lance in rest, looking sternly through his visor.”

“My dear lady, for once your lovely eyes are at fault and out of focus. You have got hold of the wrong end of the telescope. Kinloch is not a carpet knight, I do assure you. He will never lay lance in rest for any woman!”

“No?” with an affected little laugh. “Not even for Mrs. Goring? What was that funny story about his going over with her to Holyhead? It sounded almost like a scandal.”

“Then it sounded a false note. As I could not escort her, Kinloch went instead; he took her across in the big gale entirely to oblige me.”

“Dear me! How very good-natured! Do you know that I can imagine a woman falling desperately in love with Captain Kinloch, he has such an air of distinction, he holds himself aloof, and is rather a vague and mysterious personage.”

“There is not an atom of mystery about him. He is the grandson of an old General Kinloch—well known man—he is as poor as a rat, and he has no more sentiment than a ’bus horse. As to being vague, if you ever come to loggerheads with Geoffrey Kinloch, you will find that he errs, if anything, in the opposite direction.”

“He seems to like Mrs. Goring. Are you jealous?”

“I—jealous,” with a fatuous smile. “My dear Mrs. Kidd, Peggy thinks there is no one in the wide world to compare with me. Quite a model wife.”

“Poor Peggy! So you left her to stand at the entrance for two hours. Had she a temper, you would not have ventured to do that; her name should be Griselda”—then, to an attendant, “tickets for the balloon five shillings! Oh, dear, well, I’ve not got my purse. The gentleman will pay.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Griselda was speeding homewards on a car, with her bouquet beside her. She was better pleased with herself than she had been for some time (such little things affect the spirit of us all). She was going to the theatre with Charlie that evening, to see a capital amateur burlesque, and she would have him all to herself for once. But here she was again doomed to disappointment. Captain Goring spent most of the evening in Mrs. Kidd’s box, and his stall beside his wife remained vacant. For two acts she struggled hard to appear amused and at her ease, and to keep the tears out of her eyes, and with but moderate success.

“Just look at Goring and the little widow!” said Lord Bullion of the Green Dragoons to a friend, “and pretty Mrs. Goring all alone. By Gad, if I were her, I’d pay him out, and flirt like old boots!”

“She doesn’t know how to flirt,” drawled his comrade.

“Does she not? So you have been experimenting, I see! Well, at any rate, I’m going down to sit with her myself.”

Such was the nature of Charlie Goring, that when, during the interval, he descried that smart young man, Lord Bullion, and two guardsmen, paying the most flattering attentions to his wife, he immediately abandoned his enchantress, and hurried below to join the little party.

Chapter XXVI

On the Brink

June flower shows, and college races, were events of the past; country houses, the sea-side, and Switzerland, had begun to drain Dublin. The streets were baking hot, the air stifling, the Liffey——! Mrs. Villiers Kidd and her sister had taken their departure to London for the season, well pleased with their sojourn in the Irish capital, whilst Charlie Goring fretted under the yoke of duty, like a dog at the end of a chain. There was a notable alteration in his manner to Peggy. She could no longer shut her eyes to his indifference. He had tired of her already. Oh, so soon! they had not yet been married a year, her heart cried out in its bitterness. As she looked back, she seemed to note the stages at which his love had begun to flag, to fail.

The great change dated from January, when she had been obliged to leave him. Now, he had deserted her, he had obtained leave, on most urgent private affairs, and run over to England in the middle of July for the fag end of what was a very gay season, and Goodwood. Goring appeared in London like a schoolboy let loose. To see him, admirably turned out, promenading the park—of course near Achilles statue—one would suppose that he was one of the most prosperous, as well as the best-looking among that gay parade, and no one who observed him in the company of Mrs. Madam Paradiso, who was turned cap-a-pie by Doucet, would suppose that he was a married man! He gave smart little dinners at the Savoy and Princes, took ladies to Hurlingham and on the river, sat up all night playing poker and baccarat, and never cast a thought to the forlorn girl whom he had left with a sovereign, “to go on with,” in her airless home in Dublin. Few of his associates believed him to be a Benedict; though Mrs. Vallancy (whom he passed on the lawn at Goodwood with a splendid bow) could have enlightened them. Poor Peggy was earnestly endeavouring to save the pence, whilst her husband squandered the pounds. She was so economical and careful, and grudged herself a few flowers, a tram-fare or an ice. The weather was almost tropical, even the little brown duck found it trying, and spent much of his time under water. “No, it was not honest to squander money when they owed such bills,” said Mrs. Goring to herself, as she resisted a leaf of tempting strawberries. She was deplorably ignorant of the condition of her husband’s finances. She had never heard him mention a yearly income, but once he had told her that his father had left him thirty thousand pounds. This sounded in her ears, an inexhaustible store of wealth, and she firmly believed that Charlie could pay their debts, and he would. But she was not aware that speculations on the Stock Exchange and the turf, play, and bad luck, had made appalling inroads on Charlie’s patrimony. Nor that it was ostensibly business with regard to money matters that had procured Charlie his present leave. Charlie had pulled a face and talked to Colonel Vallancy of risky investments and a change of stock-brokers, necessitating his immediate presence in London, and Colonel Vallancy, the most unsuspicious of men, with a mental glance at Mrs. Goring, accorded leave. He liked Peggy, and he hoped that this urgent business to London implied that her husband was going to turn over a new leaf, or pull in his horns.

Since Mrs. Goring had been, so to speak, cast out of Mrs. Catchpool’s set, she had frequently encountered Captain Kinloch, for he was a constant visitor in Herbert Place, where the Heskeths had a house. He had been one of a party who picnicked delightfully at Howth, and he had sat next to her in the coach during a moonlight drive from Greystones through the Glen of the Downs. She felt more at her ease with him than any of the other officers of the regiment. He had known her at home, even before she had met Charlie; and he seemed to be a link between her former life and this. She discoursed to him unconstrainedly, and told various items of domestic news, and some tiny jokes, and she imparted more than was her intention (for she was ever loyal to her home and Charlie), but Captain Kinloch easily read between the lines. He noted her depressed spirits, her economical little shifts, her blushing apologies for her husband’s shortcomings and absence. His patience with respect to the gallant Charles was worn completely threadbare. He never spoke to him except when on duty, he could not trust himself to do so. As for Captain Goring’s pretty, sad-eyed wife, he could not trust himself to speak to her either, and, alas! for a totally different reason. His instinct was to pity her, watch over her, protect her. This, he was aware, was no longer the mere promptings of interest and friendship. It was what is called chivalry, and love. It drove him nearly wild to see her slighted and neglected, and to know that, unconsciously, she was hourly drifting nearer and nearer the whirlpool which would suck down her home. Goring had dissipated two fortunes, and, in spite of hunters and polo ponies, of liberal shillings to car drivers, and his numerous mess guests, it was becoming pretty plain that the end was approaching.

Day by day, Captain Kinloch avoided Mrs. Goring more and more pointedly, though from a distance he would watch a certain piece of water for half-an-hour at a stretch, and subsequently walk away calling himself bad names. He had ceased to drop in to tea with his cousin’s wife, and shunned the remotest chance of meeting her friend.

Kathleen, the impetuous, took him to task one day for his caprice and neglect of his protégée. It was impossible for him to confess to her that he recoiled from a situation which he found destructive to his sense of honour, or that he was running away from the lady lest he should some day find himself urging her to run away with him!

“She doesn’t want me,” said Kinloch, in reply to Mrs. Hesketh’s bantering reproaches. “She has plenty of women friends; you are a host in yourself.”

“Thank you, Geoff; but, since you have introduced Blarney, do you think I can take the place of an old friend like you?”

“Oh yes; there is no such thing as——”

“Well, go on; I’m all attention.”

“As—nothing,” with a short laugh.

“No such thing as nothing! How lucid! is this an epigram, or a riddle, or what?”

“A woman’s best friend is a woman.”

“Meaning herself?”

“No, not,exactly; I mean—if she were in trouble.”

“Poor Peggy; I am afraid her voyage through life will be a stormy one,” sighed Mrs. Hesketh.

“A new version of youth at the prow and pleasure at the helm.”

“Meaning that she is youth and he is pleasure The little bark is likely to be cast away and shipwrecked—on the reef of debt.”

“Precisely; I should not be surprised if some day Mrs. Goring found herself homeless and completely stranded; in which case, Kathleen, will you stand by her?”

“Why, yes, of course! I will gladly do anything short of paying Captain Goring’s debts.”

“But I’m not joking, and I’m not thinking of his debts. I am thinking that she may want to go back to her people.”

“If I had been in her shoes, I should have wanted to go back to my people months ago.”

“Ah, but you are a fiery, hot-headed Celt!”

“Yes; and now, what do you wish me to do if there is a financial crisis?”

“Well, I want you to draw on me at Cox’s.”

“On you, Geoffrey?” opening her eyes to the widest extent.

“Of course; it will be your money, you understand—a loan, and all that sort of thing. You have lots of tact, Katie, and you can easily manage it.”

“She must be a very near and dear relation to the other,’’ said Kathleen Hesketh, softly.

Her companion raised his eyes and looked at her fixedly; whatever he was about to say was cut short by her adding. “It will be all right, Geoff; I am very fond of Peggy. When the crash comes, I shall stand by her; but there may be no crash after all.”

“Perhaps not,” shrugging his shoulders. “Some one may leave Goring another fortune. All sorts of things may happen. The skies may fall——”

*  *  *

Peggy had not the faintest suspicion that Captain Kinloch ever gave her more than a passing thought, so securely had he kept his secret. She knew instinctively that he did not like Charlie, and probably, since man and wife were one, he did not like her. She was sorry.

*  *  *

The Heskeths had taken a country house for August and September—a rambling old place on the banks of the Liffey, some miles out of Dublin. Lakagh had seen better days—aye, glorious days! It had been the rallying point of many notable people in the middle of the eighteenth century, when the Irish nobility resided in and around the capital. When the Irish bar was a blaze of wit, and in the dewy early morning you might happen upon a duel in the Phoenix—or a highwayman might happen upon you by moonlight on the Curragh! The great library and dining-room no longer echoed with the clash of sharp tongues and the names of people who were making history, but with a woman’s laugh and the prattle of two small children. The greenhouses were leased to a nurseryman; the great range of stabling was dilapidated; the path by the Liffey partly grass-grown, and almost disused.

Peggy had received several pressing invitations, to which she had turned a deaf ear; but one morning Mrs. Hesketh arrived in person, and, in spite of her protestations, insisted on carrying her away. Peggy had hitherto refused, because she thought Charlie would not wish her to accept, but now that she had been, so to speak, kidnapped, she gave herself up to the visit with pleasure. To her—a country girl born and bred, gasping for a breath of the fields, the smell of the flowers, the earth, the hay—this sojourn was like a glimpse of some lost paradise!

For hours—halcyon hours—she rambled about the place with the little boys; into the walled garden, among the shrubberies, and down the shady walk by the Liffey. When she had spent three days at Lakagh, Captain Kinloch came out to take leave of his cousins ere he started on leave, en route for India. He arrived on a Saturday, and was to remain till Sunday afternoon. Great was his amazement to discover that Mrs. Goring was a fellow-guest. As he approached the hay-field he beheld her chasing the boys, in order to retaliate for some outrage. In her quick pursuit and streaming white skirts and happy laugh, he seemed to recognize the Peggy of Nether Barton; but no, on closer view, and when she came up and held out her hand, this was another girl, with sunken cheeks and serious eyes, and the cares of all the world upon her shoulders. Both he and Mrs. Goring were vastly popular with the children, who claimed their joint society with clamour; but Captain Kinloch excused himself from making excursions to see the bees, or the puppies. A brother officer of his was also at Lakagh—an invalid, whom the Heskeths had taken in for a change of air—and he spent a goodly portion of his time in the sick-room, endeavouring to entertain the convalescent.

On Sunday afternoon he found himself in charge of the boys on the bank of the river—they were never suffered to be there alone. As he stood, throwing in sticks for Busy, the fox terrier, who swam like an otter, he descried two figures approaching along the bank arm-in-arm—Kathleen wearing a blue, and Mrs. Goring a white dress. They were hatless and gloveless. Soon after they had joined him the hostess went off indoors to visit her patient, and the unavoidable tête-à-tête ensued.

After some very small change in the way of conversation, Captain Kinloch called out: “Baba, take care, or you will be in the water.”

“And you will have to plunge in and pick him out, as you did Teddy Jeal!” said Peggy. “That was the first time we ever met.”

“Yes; and this,” he added to himself, “would be the last.”

“Who would believe that this was the same river as in Dublin—I declare it looks quite tempting,” continued Peggy, as they stood contemplating the clear water that flowed so swiftly and stealthily between its tree-shaded banks.

“No; poor Anna Liffey, as she is called, has to go through many horrors before she reaches the open sea, and that reminds me that I shall be on that same sea in a few hours.”

“You do not sail for India till the 4th of September, do you?”

“No; I’ve to get my kit, and say good-by to my people.”

“And you are glad to go?”

“Yes.” Kinloch thought, as he looked at his companion, as she stood gazing into the water, with its mirror-like reflection of noble trees, that he had never seen a sadder face. “Yes,” he repeated, “for I must go.”

“Is there then a must in the question? A hard, dogged little must, that will have its own way.”

“There is,” he replied, “a must that will have its own way.”

And there was such a fierce recklessness in his tone that she raised her eyes from the river, and looked at him gravely.

“I believe that you are in some trouble,” she said, slowly. “Will you tell me what it is? Perhaps I can help you—like the mouse in the fable.”

No answer. Her companion was struggling with a wild desire to tell her the truth, and deliver his soul from the spell of a reticence no longer to be borne.

“Is—it—money?” she asked, timidly, for it seemed to poor Peggy that money was at the root of most troubles.

He shook his head.

“Oh, then, of course, it is love!” she exclaimed, triumphantly. “Won’t you tell me anything about her; does she not care?”

“No,” he answered, “not that,” jerking a cone into the water.

“Oh,” in a tone of almost incredulous amazement; and after a pause she added: “I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he returned, without raising his eyes, and then, almost under his breath, he added, “it is best so.”

“Does she know?”

Addressing herself to his face, reflected in the water.

“No, and never will!”

“How extraordinary! I cannot understand, Captain Kinloch. I hope you won’t think me dreadfully meddling or officious, but you have been so kind to me—to us. I want to give you a bit of advice, because I think it will bring you happiness. I think you ought to speak!”

“Do you?” The frail screen of his reserve was threatened with imminent destruction. “Well, you are wrong.”

“How strange,” she added, as she twisted a little branch of horse chestnut leaves round and round in her band. “I read somewhere the other day—that the deepest love we receive—we never know of, and that is her case?”

“Yes, that is her case.”

“I suppose she is lovely and young, and I hope she is good.”

“She is lovely and young, and good,” he echoed.

“Well then, at any rate, I shall pray for her and you, that you may be happy yet.”

“No, don’t do that,” he said, so sharply that she coloured vividly, and felt abashed. This was a glimpse of Captain Kinloch’s character that she had never seen. He was brusque, almost rude.

After an astonished silence she resumed: “And you are really going away, for years?”

“For years, yes.”

“Geoffrey—Cousin G.”—screamed Bobby, tearing towards him, greatly excited and out of breath. “William says that father is waiting, and the cart is at the door, and you have not a moment to lose.”

“No,” hurriedly consulting his watch and shutting it with a snap. “I had no idea I had run it so fine.”

“Good-by, old man,” stooping to kiss Bobby’s upturned blackberry-stained visage. “Good-by, Baba. Good-by, Mrs. Goring.”

As he confronted her his face was white and rigid. Yes; he loved Peggy Goring with all his heart and soul and strength, and he never meant to see her again as long as they both should live. She glanced up, and—the intuition of some women is marvellous—read, as she looked at him, that the girl he had alluded to was herself.

The crises of life—the great moments—arrive, and pass like a flash. There is no time to grasp them.

As she gazed at him, with lovely frightened eyes, and the colour slowly fading from her face, he released her hand, and was gone.

“Mind you come back soon, Cousin G.,” cried Baba, following him.

“Send us some Turkish delight!” screamed Bobby. “Hurry, hurry, Mrs. Goring, and we will see Cousin Geoff before he drives away. “

“Come on, come on!”

But whilst the little boys scurried up the path in the wake of their favourite, Mrs. Goring remained on the bank of the river, immovable, and alone.

Tall elm trees and beeches bent their stately heads together, their leaves whispered low confidences, the dew on the grass underfoot glittered like thousands of tears, and, from across the murmuring water a wandering evening breeze contributed a faint sigh.

Chapter XXVII

Peggy Is Set Free

The golden hours and golden money flew with incredible rapidity, as far as Captain Goring was concerned; and on a certain Sunday evening, it was a haggard, dissipated looking man, that alighted at the door of No. 70 Bourke Street. He, who was always so trim and well groomed, looked shabby and unshorn, and as if he were utterly sick of existence.

Peggy had prepared an appetizing little dinner, arranged wild flowers about the rooms, dressed herself in a gown he had once admired, and watched for him at the window for a long time. Dublin was so empty, she would have him all to herself at last. She had been hoping to hear a great deal of news, and to find her husband in high spirits, full of his adventures and experiences, but he proved to be moody, and almost morose.

He found fault with the dinner, with her dress, in short, with everything; and only replied to her timid questions in monosyllables. After he had concluded the meal, he became somewhat more communicative.

“Never had such luck in my life,” he exclaimed. “I lost a lot of money to Cosmo Swindell, and made sure I’d pull it back on Goodwood—Goodwood has always been my lucky course. But I couldn’t touch a winner, and, by Jove, I’m about stone broke.”

But Peggy had heard this so often, that she was not alarmed; it was a case of the Shepherd’s boy and the wolf.

“It’s a true bill this time,” he continued. “I’ve sold out all my shares. I’ve got rid of my house property at Brighton, and if ‘Saturday’s Child’ doesn’t win the Leger, I’m done.”

“What do you mean, Charlie, by done?”

“I’m at the end of my tether. I’ve had my cake—two cakes—and eaten them. No, you don’t understand, I can see, so I’ll put it in plain English. You know that I was an only child; my mother died when I was a small boy; my father always disliked me. He lived abroad, and I lived at school. I went into the Service, and when I was one and twenty, I came in for my mother’s fortune—only ten thousand. It lasted me a couple of years. Then, when my father died, he left me about thirty thousand, as I told you. He left all he could away from me, including ten thousand to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as a sort of insurance against me. He hated me—a jolly sort of parent, eh? Well, the thirty thousand has nearly come to an end; and, when it is gone, I shall have captain’s pay: sixteen pounds a month—eleven and fourpence a day—on which to support myself and you. Then there are debts,” and he paused,”which come to—well, I scarcely know what. I’ll have to clear out—to leave the regiment. I shan’t mind that: it’s a rotten corps—the Colonel’s an old woman, and the fellows a pack of milksops. I shall go to America for a bit,” and he knocked the ash off his cheroot with an air of deliberate finality.

“And what about this house, and the servants?”

“Oh, I’ll owe the rent. I owe money everywhere; but I’ve given a bill to Swindell, and if I don’t land the oof over ‘Saturday’s Child, ‘ I’m broke.”

“Oh, Charlie, dear, is it really so bad as this?” she exclaimed, rising, and putting her hand on his shoulder. “Let us put our heads together, and try and think of something.”

“Much good your head is!” he sneered. “I suppose Travenor would not stump up?”

“I am afraid not,” she faltered.

“No,” savagely. How plain she looked with her white face, and tears rolling down her cheeks. As she stood a sort of fury of hatred possessed him. Only for her, he could marry money. Could marry thousands. She was just a clog! a village girl, without a scrap of good looks, or an ounce of spirit! Not once had she ever reproached him. Perhaps if she had stood up and raged and stormed like other women, he would not have grown so deadly sick of her.

“No; Travenor was always against our love match,” he exclaimed, “and, by George, he showed his sense.”

“Oh! Charlie; are you sorry? Do you regret it?”

“Yes. It was madness; midsummer madness. We are totally unsuited to one another. I should think you knew that by this time. You have no pluck, or brains, or go.”

She made no remonstrance, but drew back her hand from his chair, as if he had struck her, and stood trembling.

“Yes,” he repeated, in a loud, hoarse voice. “I wish to goodness I’d never seen you; it was all the fault of Kinloch.”

“What had he to say to it?” she asked with a face of white bewilderment.

“He and your sister; she ran me in. She went whining to him about you and me. As if every man does not have his flirtations. I never wanted to marry you, but Kinloch made me. He swore that if I didn’t marry you or leave you, he would——” He came to a full stop.

“He would what?” and a light of something like horror woke in Peggy’s eyes.

“Break me! He got hold of some scrape I got into in India, when I was frightfully hard up. He said he’d make the regiment too hot to hold me; and, by Jove, he’d have done it, like a shot.”

“Oh! I never, never dreamt of this,” gasped Peggy. “Of course, I’ve known for a long time that you did not care for me as you once did, but I never, never supposed——”

She choked, then exclaimed, in a voice of despair:

“Oh! if I were only free, or dead!” And she opened the door, and escaped.

All that day, and the next, and, indeed for two seemingly endless weeks, a sense of the overhanging tragedy pervaded No. 70. The relations of Captain and Mrs. Goring were peculiar, not to say strained.

Charlie, who appeared worn and hollow-eyed, swallowed his breakfast in stolid silence, and hurried off to barracks or elsewhere.

Peggy spent the day in tears (restrained before the invaluable), in receiving a number of bills, and even visits, from the tradespeople, and wondering what was to become of her.

The answer was not long delayed. One Wednesday evening early in September she was sitting sewing in the drawing-room. (Charlie’s clothes must be mended whether he loved her or not.) The window was wide open. It was still very close, though nearly six o’clock—and a boy was calling “Special edition—Winners—Winners—” and then the door was opened violently, and Charlie entered, looking white and desperate.

He had a telegram in his hand.

“It’s all up,” he said, in a harsh voice. “The St. Leger is over; the ‘Saturday’s Child’ broke down at the Red House. I am ruined! Yes; it’s been coming on for ages, and I’ve staved it off. That brute Riffi Riffi has had thousands of my money; so has Tarr. Now comes the deluge.”

“I shall send in my papers.” He was pacing restlessly about the room as he spoke. “There will be joy in the mess; they think I’m a bad lot. I shall collar twelve hundred pounds and clear.”

Peggy sat looking at him stupidly, her hands had dropped into her lap.

“My polo ponies and hunters will sell well at Sewell’s. I’ll give up this house on Saturday. Collins is packing my clothes now.”

“And all the money we owe?”

“Oh, a ten pound note will cover the small bills. The others can wait. Debts of honour come first.”

“And”—and her voice gradually sank into a whisper—“what is to become of me?”

“Well—yes—” walking rapidly towards the door and back again. “I’m just coming to that. I’ve something to tell you. Ahem”—clearing his throat, “you said the other day that you wished you were free? Well, you’ll be happy to hear that your wish has come true.” He leant his arms on the back of an easy chair, and, as he gazed at her fixedly, these three deliberate syllables dropped from his lips: “You—are—free.”

“I don’t understand you. How—how can I—be—free?” she asked tremulously.

“Well, because I have another wife living.”

Peggy flung her work on the floor, and sprang to her feet so suddenly that he was momentarily startled, and stepped back.


“Oh, yes, I’ll explain; I’m not an out-and-out ruffian,” he said, and once more resuming his restless pacing of the room. “I thought she was dead. When I was out in India six years ago, at a little God-forsaken station, Satan found some mischief for my idle hands to do. I fell in love with the daughter of an engine-driver on the G. I. P. She had just left school at Mussouri. I met her at a sergeants’ dance—she was sixteen, with glorious eyes, a wonderful smile, and a touch of the tar brush. She had four annas in the rupee, and the temper of a toddy cat, and her fat old Eurasian mother was the devil. She got to the soft side of me, and I married the girl; her name was Fernanda Jenkins. The ceremony was quite private. We kept it dark: the regiment was moved to Burma; of course I could not take her; she stayed at home with her coffee-coloured mamma, and I allowed her fifty rupees a month. Then when my father died, and I came in for what he could not keep me out of, I made an arrangement, and paid her down one thousand pounds—fifteen thousand rupees—on the understanding that I should never hear of her again. I did hear of her again, though, that she had died of cholera at Jubbulpore. This, it now seems, was a mistake. She is alive and kicking. She has heard of you. She threatens to come home. Some rascally native lawyer will run the show, and there will be the deuce to pay. She does not want only my money. I’ve got no money for myself, much less for her; but since she has turned up, she is Mrs. Goring.”

“And what am I?” asked Peggy, in a rapid whisper.

“Of course, I’m immensely sorry,” steadily refusing to meet her eyes, “but it was not my fault. I was quite on the square. I meant to marry you, and it has turned out a bad job for both of us. You are not twenty; you have all the world before you. I’m cutting the service. The story will die out.” He paused.

Peggy tried to speak, her lips only twitched, no sound came from them.

“You—wouldn’t go—back—to——”

A passionate gesture cut short the question.

“Well, I’ll see if I can allow you something weekly for a while. You have good looks, a good voice: you might try the stage. I’ll give you twenty-five pounds, and I’ll let you have ten shillings a week, paid quarterly.”

She stood perfectly still, her face the colour of her gown, gazing at him with a kind of frozen stare. Was it possible that she was going silly? he asked himself, nervously. Aloud he said:

“Well, I’m glad you are taking it so coolly. It’s much the best. The least said, soonest mended. You and I never really pulled together. I was certainly madly, besottedly, in love with you fifteen months ago, but love is a thunderstorm you know, and passes over. Well!” drawing a long breath, “I daresay you will be able to think of some little plan, and let me know to-morrow, you can’t stay on here after Saturday.”

And somewhat overawed by the silent, staring, white figure, he effected his exit with an air of precipitate decision.

When he had departed, Peggy (Summerhayes once more) staggered to the nearest chair, and sat down. The room seemed reeling round her—worse, the world was whirling round her. What was she? who was she? Where could she hide herself? she felt as if the heavens had fallen and crushed her.

She closed her eyes tightly, leant her elbows firmly on the table, and tried hard to think. She had to think for herself now. She had only herself to look to!

First of all, she must firmly grasp the fact that the engine-driver’s black-eyed daughter, and not she, was Mrs. Goring.

And that Charlie was thankful to be rid of her.

She was disgraced—a pariah, not fit to speak to—even Mrs. Catchpool, so liberal in her ideas, would not suffer their skirts to touch.

And yet—and yet, in spite of all this black shame, deep down in her heart of hearts, there was a sense of liberty and relief that actually appalled her!

She had gradually had her eyes opened to Charlie’s selfishness, cruelty, mendacity, and meanness—the death of her kitten (such a trivial matter in itself), had caused the death of that great monarch Love. But oh, if Janet were to know. Could she know? She hoped not. And Travenor? She would never dare to face his stern but honest eyes. And the village? The village that had been so uplifted, and proud of her grand match!

She must go away, and hide herself somewhere—like a stricken animal—where? Her thoughts wandered to the beautiful enticing waters of the Liffey, as they flowed steadily, and serenely, between their green banks at Lakagh. No, no; that would be cowardly, and wicked. Wicked? there was not a word against suicide in the Bible! whispered a little imp who perched upon her shoulder. At any rate, it was cowardly—and people might be sorry. Katie Hesketh, now nursing a sick mother, John Travenor, and, far, far away in that gorgeous, mysterious country—India—Geoffrey Kinloch.

Yes; with a guilty blush, that seemed to rise to her very ears. He cared for her. He would mind!

No, she would not surrender to despair, but would face the future, live out her life, and see what was going to happen. (Much may be in store for a pretty girl of twenty.)

ft was imperative for her to come to some decision, now, at once. She hated having to decide for herself. Yet she must. Hitherto—well, no need to think of that! She could not go to Mrs. Vallancy and say: “I am not Captain Goring’s wife, and I am almost penniless!” She was acquainted with some nice people, but they were not now in Dublin, and why should she trouble them with her cares? She must look to herself, and look across the sea. There was her old friend, Nan Belt. She lived in Barminster, in a large drapery establishment. She would go to her. £10 of Janet’s gift at still remained in her pocket-book in spite of her temptation to divide this sum between the green grocer and coal merchant. It must have been some presentiment of evil that had compelled her to cling to this little spar. She would pack up a few things—her own original property—and take her dressing-bag, and leave the rest. And Charlie?

He was not the Charlie she had known and given her heart to. He had been another Charlie—to have left that Charlie would have broken her heart and killed her. As for this, the real, every-day, gambling, careless, contemptuous Charlie, she would never look upon his face again, and never touch one penny of his money. She sat for hours in the gathering dusk, and the darkness and quiet helped her to pull herself together and recover her mental equilibrium.

About eight o’clock the door opened once more, and Lizzie walked in and lit the gas.

“Laws, ma’am!” she ejaculated, “if I did not take you for a ghost. Are you took bad, or whatever ails ye?” now approaching, anxiously, “you look as if you were in some heavy trouble,” staring into the stricken-looking face.

“I am quite well, thank you, Lizzie,” replied a voice, that sounded strange even to herself. “But I’ve been hearing something”—should she tell Lizzie or not? No!—“that has upset me dreadfully.”

“’Deed, ma’am, I’m sorry to hear that; you’ll be all the better for a good cry,” looking at her steadily. “Take my advice, and cry it out; there is nothing like it for relief.”

“But I cannot what you call ‘cry it out.’ We are going to leave Dublin. Captain Goring intends to send in his papers. We have—I may as well tell you—had—a—difference.”

“Sure, an angel couldn’t live with him!” interrupted Lizzie. “I’ve been in a hotel, and I’ve been in a lodging that took in a circus, but I declare to goodness such goings on I never saw—nor such hours.”

“I am leaving at once, Lizzie.”

“For good, ma’am?”

“For good.”

“Blessed hour!”

“I can’t stay here. There are reasons I cannot explain.”

“Faix, then I can explain them! First and foremost you must have something to eat. “

“No, no, I could not touch a morsel.” And Peggy picked up the smoking jacket she had been repairing, threw it on the sofa, and walked out of the room.

She went straight up-stairs, lit the gas, and set to work. She dragged out her trunk and dressing-bag, and began to pack with feverish haste. No; not any of her gorgeous frocks and tea-gowns, merely mourning, a few other dresses, Janet’s treasures, and some books. She strapped and locked her luggage, dressed herself in a traveling gown and cloak, and went down-stairs. Half way she encountered Lizzie ascending with a tray, which exhibited the inevitable cup of tea.

“If I must, I suppose I must,” she exclaimed. “Please take it to the dining-room.” And she went into the drawing-room and looked round. There was Katie Hesketh’s photo taken with her boys, and Mrs. Vallancy with her poodles, and Captain Yorke with the regimental porcupine, Captain Kinloch with nothing at all. She collected these, and the books that Mrs. Timmins had given her. She looked round the room, the little stage of so many scenes, domestic and dramatic. Then closed the door very gently, as if the dead lay within.

“Is it possible that you are going away now, this blessed minute?” asked Lizzie, incredulously.

“Yes; my box and bag and bonnet-box are ready, and please look out my umbrella from the hall stand. There is a blue serge I have left for you, and here is a sovereign—not wages, but a little present.” Somehow, Peggy felt as if she was listening to another girl who was speaking.

“Oh! ma’am, I’d as soon have your photograph, and divil a lie in it. And I’d follow you to the world’s end.”

“I am very sorry to part with you, Lizzie, but you cannot come with me now.”

“Anyhow you will send me a letter?”

“Yes; and that reminds me, I must write your discharge, and cook’s. Mrs. Hesketh will, I am sure, get you a good place,” sitting down to write.

“Thank you, ma’am; but since you are leaving, I don’t feel as if I’d care to live with another lady after you.”

“And what will you do, Lizzie!”

“Well you must know, then, that I’m thinking of marrying Collins. He’s quiet, and steady, and a good cook.”

“Oh, Lizzie! Well, I hope you will make him comfortable, and that you will be very happy. I shall write to you, and where?”

“Sure, Colour Sergeant Bullens’ wife is his own cousin; and if you send her a line I’ll get it, and what may be your address?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“No know where yer going to. Oh! this is terrible work. I won’t let you out of the place.”

“I shall be all right, Lizzie, thank you. I’ll give you my address later, when I have settled in my new home.”

“Please call a car,” she said presently, “for I really must go.” She felt a wild desire to get out of this murky little house, and escape, and hide herself among strange faces for ever.

The salt tears were coursing down Lizzie’s nose as she stood to watch a car out of the street. (Mrs. Goring was terribly fond of a car.) She gazed after a slim black figure to the very last, a figure which looked back, and waved farewell before she disappeared round a corner. Captain Goring dined at his club, and returned home at an early hour (for him). He had many letters and papers to examine and destroy.

He rang the bell in the smoking-room for candles, and when Lizzie entered he gave her his orders, adding:

“Has your mistress gone to bed?”

“Sure, she’s gone entirely—gone for good.”

“What the devil do you mean?”

“What I say; she went out of this by nine o’clock. She packed her box, and sent me for a car, and she’s gone.”

And the tender-hearted invaluable burst into tears.

“She bid me give you this,” putting an envelope on the table.

He tore it open, and out of it, upon the red cloth, dropped a wedding ring.

Lizzie stood staring at it with open eyes. Goring looked up, and met her gaze of fathomless amazement.

“That’s all,” he said, coolly putting the ring upon his little finger. “You can go.”

And so Peggy had taken it in that spirit. He had anticipated a hurricane; she had made quite a dignified exit.

What a truly blessed relief! If only all women were as easily got rid of! And so she was gone for good!

The next departure, for good or bad, would be his own.


Part III — Refuge

Chapter XXVIII

Grey & Lavender & Co.

The largest drapery and furnishing mart in Barminster bore the name of “Grey & Lavender” (although Messrs. Grey & Lavender had long retired from the firm into idle opulence and suburban mansions). It was now the property of a limited company, who prided themselves on doing a quick trade, and was one of the most prosperous and pushing establishments in a prosperous and pushing town, which hoped some day to call itself a city. Old-fashioned, plodding, slow-coach ideas had been cast to the four winds. The drapery business had spread into boots and shoes, furniture, turnery, lamps, stationery, and books. The greedy company had gradually bought out, undersold, and absorbed, all its smaller neighbours, and continued its career of grabbing and squeezing, until from the original modest-looking little shop, it had become a great bare-faced red building, with a frontage of many yards. Indeed, it was a considerable promenade to walk from one end of the block to the other and a queue of not less than twenty perambulators might be seen any fine afternoon drawn up outside its most attractive windows.

These were tastefully decorated, and rarely twice alike. One day the chief colour would be turquoise blue, the next, primrose, the next, scarlet. “Paris model,” was marked on each costume, and, according to advertisements, “Buyers were continually returning from the markets with the latest fashions.” The gaping crowd were confronted with many pretty articles at alluring prices—the shillings in large figures, and elevenpence three-farthings barely visible to the naked eye. One whole department was devoted to cheap books, labeled to tempt the omnivorous reader—“120,000 words, only sevenpence,” “80,000 words of thrilling adventure, good print, fourpence three-farthings.”

Numbers of carriages were drawn up before the chief entrance, and even extended round the corner half-way down a side street; and a one-armed pensioner, decorated with medals, ceaselessly swung to and fro the heavy brass-plated door. Inside the warehouse all was bustle and activity, the buzz of voices, the clash and rattle of the cash-balls, the shopwalkers were kept busy handing chairs to lady customers, and answering continuous calls of “Sign, please.”

Into the midst of this animated scene came a tired pale girl in a dusty black costume. As she stood hesitating and timidly glancing around, an imposing frock-coated gentleman swooped down upon her.

“What can I do for you, miss?” he asked, briskly. “Which department?”

She coloured faintly, and looked embarrassed, as she faltered out:

“The mantles, please.”

“Then this way,” and he hurried her through four shops, who passed her on with the word “Mantles,” “Mantles.”

The mantle show-room appeared to be as crowded as every other. Several ladies were trying on capes and coats. One was purchasing a waterproof, another an opera cloak. A podgy old matron sat on a sofa with her fat hands crossed on the sealskin bag on her lap, following the movements of an elegant figure wearing a black satin gown and fluffy cape, with every symptom of complacent interest. As she gazed, the tall young lady trailed slowly past in order to give her a fair idea of the charms of the captivating little cloak.

As the stranger stood, taking in the scene, she was briskly accosted by a bald man in a shiny black coat, who said, bending towards her with clasped hands: “Your pleasure, miss?”

Peggy merely stared stupidly.

“Are you being attended to?”


“What can I get you?” handing a chair.

“I wish to see Miss Belt.”

“Miss Belt is engaged just now,” indicating the elegant model in the cape; “but I shall be happy to serve you.”

“No, thank you; I prefer to wait.”

At this moment, the tall girl slowly removed the cape, and turned about, thereby displaying the plain, bright face of Nancy Belt. She did not notice Peggy, who shrank back under the shelter of some waterproofs, and nervously bided her time.

How stately Nan looked, sweeping about like a duchess! What a lovely gown!—what a fit; how beautifully her hair was dressed; and what an air of importance Nan had assumed. How suave, and beguiling, her manner. She was persuading the old woman with the figure of a Hindoo idol that the little frilled “confection” was exactly the article to suit her. “So French, so ‘chic,’ so uncommon, and so cheap! The lace is like real; it is all silk-lined, and from one of our best Paris models. The Countess of Seeweed took the original. She is about your height, madam. I only sold it to her yesterday, and it’s a wonderful bargain; it was marked eleven guineas, but as the season is a little advanced, I can let you have it for eight. You won’t get such a chance again, madam, I do assure you.” And once more Nan drew the cape over her shoulders, turned about, and walked away. It was the ruse of a born strategist, and carried the day. The old lady impulsively exclaimed:

“Oh, well! I really think I must have it! I don’t know what my daughter will say: she generally chooses my things. It’s not too young, eh?”

“Oh, madam!” in a tone of almost tragic reproach.

“It certainly is most elegant. You will send it, please, this afternoon. You have my address.”

“Certainly, madam. Madam may depend on me.”

“Eight guineas, did you say?”

“Yes, madam—thank you, madam. I’ll bring your change in one moment. May I not tempt you with this magnificent sealskin? Such a bargain.”

“No. No, thank you,” with an impatient gesture of two little fins. “Now, are you sure that the cape will become me?”

“Oh, madam! You can wear anything! Your change—one pound twelve. Good afternoon.” And Miss Belt made a graceful inclination to the little tub-like figure who merely clutched her hand-bag and waddled out.

Then as Nancy yawned, stretched her arms, and looked round, her glance fell upon Peggy. She stared for a second, and then rushed up to her.

“Is it really you, Peggy—dear old Peg?”

“Yes,” in a low voice; “it is Peggy.”

“Well; who would have thought of seeing you here? Where is your husband? Is the regiment in England?”

“No; I’ve come on purpose to see you, Nan. I’ve left Captain Goring forever; and I’m all alone in the world.”

“Miss Belt,” interrupted the bald man, in a sharp voice. “Are you serving this lady?”

“No, sir.”

“You are aware that you are not engaged to spend your time receiving visitors?”

“No, sir,” assuming an humble air. “It is only an old friend, who wished to speak to me.” Then to Peggy, “Go over to the confectioner James’s—half-way up the street, other side. Get something to eat; tell them you are waiting for me. I’ll get leave, and be with you at five.”

Peggy nodded. She was tired, hungry, nervously afraid of the man with the bald head and hard eye, and hurriedly endeavoured to effect her escape. But at every yard she was arrested, accosted, and offered some bargain. Now it was a young man with a wonderful line in silk stockings; then a girl with brocaded glove-boxes; and the whole place was so gay and so intricate she felt bewildered and dazzled; every counter filled with silks or velvets and fancy goods; overhead were festoons of delicate ribbons exquisitely blended in fantastic loops, glittering strips of gold and silver trimming, elaborate blouses, laces, fans. She felt like an impostor or thief as she hurried by, resisting the most seductive blandishments. She had an idea that every eye was on her—shopwalkers, assistants, cashboys—as much as to say, “If you don’t come to buy, what brings you here? when time is money and we are all so busy?”

At last she arrived at the chief entrance, and, boldly eluding a girl with French handkerchiefs, and a man selling standard lamps, she escaped, thankful when the great brass barred door swung behind her, shutting in the din of “Sign,” “Sign,” to find herself once more in the street.

Peggy had crossed from Dublin to Holyhead, traveled to Barminster, left her luggage at the station, and set out at once in quest of Nancy. She discovered “James’s” the confectioner without difficulty, ordered tea and bread and butter, and asked permission to wait for Miss Belt.

Mr. James assured her that “Any friend of Miss Belt’s was welcome,” and the waitress conducted her into a little back parlour, less public than the tea-room; and then, despite all her endeavours to the contrary, Peggy fell fast asleep. She was roused from her slumbers by Nancy, who exclaimed,

“Aye, but you are tired, poor child,” and, to herself, “how fearfully changed.”

Her face was pale, her lips pinched and dry, black lines of fatigue made her eyes look hollow.

“Come now, Peg, tell me all about it—that is, if you care to; or would you rather wait?” sitting close beside her, and putting her arm round her waist.

“Oh no, Nan, I must tell you now, when it is all so recent, and my courage is at high tide.”

“Well then, we are quite safe here. Mrs. James will not let any one come in, so let me hear your troubles.”

At first, in a kind of whisper, and then more distinctly, in short, broken, gasping sentences, Peggy related her woeful experience. She did not enter into many details, but gave her listener the bare outlines. Goring’s passion for gambling, his growing coldness, his ruin, and his tale.

“Why, I was at your wedding, and half the countryside,” said Nancy vehemently.

“That makes no difference, when he was already married, and had a wife living.”

“It ought to be looked into. Have you got no one to make inquiries? It seems such a terrible thing to sit down under, without a word. Why not set John Travenor and a lawyer to work?”

“I don’t think it would be of the least use. Such things have happened before, and now it is all over. I cannot tell you what I have suffered. Oh Nan, no one knows”—two tears trickled down her wan cheek; “and though I’m cast off and disgraced, it is best; I was growing to be another creature—a kind of dumb, stupid, frightened thing. I was becoming silly. John was right; but I’ll never go back to John, or bring shame on his house. I’ve come to you, Nan, to help me. I’ve a little money, and some things I could sell—my watch, and dressing-bag. I’m young, and strong, and willing, and I want you to get me something to do; just to keep me from starving, and thinking.”

“Oh, you poor little dear,” said Nan, stooping over her, and raising her small face between her hands, I’ll take care of you. Would you like to come into the shop with me?”

“Yes; indeed I should.”

“It’s not a bed of roses, I warn you—sharp is the word; and we do what is called ‘a pushing trade.’ Still you and I would be together.”

“Perhaps they would not have me, and I’m not clever at accounts, and, oh, what about my character?”

“You’ll soon pick up figures, and they will take you on as a friend of mine, and I’ll get you into my room.”

“The mantle department?”

“Oh, law, no! It’s only fine figures go there, but, I daresay, with your pretty face they will put you at the gentlemen’s gloves counter! I mean my bed-room in the house, there are five of us in it now. There is room for one more.”

“I am sure they won’t have anything to say to me,” said Peggy. “I am inexperienced, and very stupid.”

“Oh, yes; they will; it is getting on for their busy time. They gave several girls the swop last week, and I’ll speak for you; and you must hold up your head and make the most of yourself. And now we had better go off to the station and bring your things, hadn’t we? I know of a very decent little lodging in the neighbourhood where you can stop for a couple of days.” And Nancy Belt, who was decidedly a young woman of action, was soon wending her way into the street. She took the entire charge, claimed luggage, paid porter, engaged room, and ordered supper.

“Now don’t talk or think, or do anything, Peg,” she said, “you just have this cup of good bovril, and get into bed and go to sleep right away. To-morrow is Saturday, I’ll look round at three o’clock, and we will have a consultation on Saturday afternoon.”

Nan, as good as her word, appeared, full of energy and importance.

“I’ve made it all square with the boss!” she announced. “I buttered him up well, said he had grown so thin, he is as fat as a Barton pig! He is to see you on Monday in the counting-house, and, if you suit, as, of course, you will, they will take you on. They want a young lady at the flower and ribbon counter.”

“That sounds easy!”

“Nothing is easy at the shop, so don’t you go and think so; and I’ll tell you the truth, before you make up your mind, and write to farmer Travenor.”

“I shall write and tell him that I have left Charlie, and intend to earn my own bread, or crust, as the case may be.”

“To think of your being barely twenty. No; only last April, and coming through all this; and you’ve got quite an old-fashioned air about you, as if you had all the cares of the world on your shoulders. I never could bear Captain Goring; there was always a sort of mocking look in his eyes, and all the time he was making love to you at that dance, I seemed to see it. Now if it had been the other, the tall one, he was a true gentleman.”

“Don’t let us talk of those days, Nan,” cried her friend. “Tell me about yourself, and the shop.”

“Establishment, if you please. It is not all a bed of roses, I warn you; long hours, hard work, dozens of eyes watching you, and driving you all day. You will get sixteen pounds a year, and your board and lodging, and have to keep yourself in good black gowns and neat collars and cuffs.”

“I have plenty of black gowns.”

“The food is fairly good. Hot joint one day, cold meat and pudding the next, but there is no time to eat it; half-an-hour seems long enough for dinner, but often you are just helped, as the time is up, and you must either bolt it, or starve. Fifty girls dine at a time. There is one carver; and what is one carver? and the food is often badly cooked. The room awfully stuffy: gas, and no window—it is below the street. I assure you that on a hot summer’s day I sometimes come away deadly sick. We breakfast at half-past seven—tea, and bread and butter, marmalade. If you have an egg, it’s a penny. You must be in the shop at eight, or you are fined. Dinner hour, twelve to two. Saturday is a half-holiday, which is all very well for those who have friends; but for the others, it’s a poor affair. You have to be in at eleven, or you are locked out. You get a fortnight’s holiday in the year.”

“I shan’t want that,” remarked Peggy.

“Oh, won’t you! Just you wait! We live in what we call barracks—girls in one house, men in another, very bare rooms, but clean; just so many beds and wash-stands—and there is a housekeeper in charge, who lets you have hot water if she is in a good humour, and a linseed poultice if you are ill. There is a sitting-room with a piano, and a few chairs and tables and books; on wet days it is packed—I mean wet Sundays, and the talk would deafen you.”

“It doesn’t sound very attractive, Nan; why do you remain?”

“Well, for one thing, I’m one of the swells; I’m a good saleswoman and stock-keeper, and first in the mantles—they know my value. I get sixty pounds a year.”


“Yes, dear, and well worth it, indeed. I consider myself very cheap.”

“I am sure you are. I was watching you yesterday. Your dresses must be expensive.”

“They don’t cost me sixpence. That was a business gown I had on, I only wear it in the sale-room. I am allowed two a year; they are made in the work-room at first cost, but Madame Quatre Vent, the head dressmaker, fits me herself.”

“But, Nan, with such discomfort and long hours here, and your knack of selling, would you not get higher wages in London?”

“I might. Indeed, I was offered a first-rate post in a West End shop, as model for trying on their costumes, but on the other hand, you know, or rather you don’t know, that my young man is here. Tom Potts—he is in the carpets.”

“Oh, Nan, I do hope he is nice.”

“Yes, my dear; not much to look at: you shall see him to-morrow. No beauty, but a real good sort. I was to have biked with him, but to-day, you come first. The girls at Green & Lavender’s are not supposed to know the young men, and if two of them happened to be engaged, and it’s found out, they both get the swop; affairs are against the rules, so is talking or laughing or sitting, and you never know when you may be sent for to the counting-house, and then and there your month’s salary is handed out to you, and off you go!”

“And if you and Mr. Potts are found out?”

“No fear, my dear! It would never dawn upon old Shiny—he is our dragon—that an assistant in the carpets would lift his eyes to the mantle department.”

“And how do you meet?”

“Only on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes we slip notes into the great bale of red carpet at the foot of the first-floor stairs. If the shiner finds it out, we’ll certainly be sacked, for he is very jealous of me. Now, I came here to discuss your affairs, and I have done nothing but talk of my own!”

Chapter XXIX

A Haven of Refuge

On Sunday Peggy accompanied her friend to evensong at St. Winifred’s, an ancient church with fine organ, numerous choir, and splendid stained glass windows. Here, as she knelt on a low hassock, absorbing with outward senses the solemn music and the fragrant incense, her thoughts flew back to the previous Sabbath, when, as Mrs. Goring, she had worshiped at St. Ann’s Church, Dublin, and oh what a chasm had opened in her life since then! Last Sunday she was the wife of a captain in a crack regiment, the mistress of a house and servants, respected, and self respected, acquainted with many of her fellow-worshipers. Now she was Peggy Summerhayes, friendless, homeless; whose life had been shipwrecked, and whose only spar was the girl who knelt beside her. She must not look back, but forward, and show a brave front to her new world, and endeavour to earn her own living, in this new state of life.

Immediately after service, “Miss Hayes,” as she elected to call herself, was formally made acquainted with Mr. Potts, who was waiting for his fiancée just outside the gate. He was remarkably spruce, in what Peggy’s eyes told her were cheap imitations of Charlie’s expensive clothes. He wore a tweed suit, brown boots, and a straw hat—not his everyday grey trousers and shiny frock coat. Mr. Potts had a pair of pleasant, brown eyes, no mauvaise honte, and plenty to say for himself, but he looked pale and unhealthy, as though he found the atmosphere of his oriental goods somewhat enervating!

“I’m glad to hear you are coming among us, Miss Hayes,” he said, as he walked along between the two girls. “I hope you will be able to stand the long hours, and the airs of some of the shopwalkers.”

“Don’t you mind him, Peggy, of course you will.”

“Well, I saw Miss Townes getting a fine going over from Harris yesterday, about some gloves she took back. She had to, they were all bursted to bits. She was crying.”

“Oh, Harris is always down on the ugly girls, and Fanny Townes—she is in my room—is so soft. She lets customers choose and talk her over, and return goods; they don’t try it on with me, I tell you! If Peggy gets into the flowers——” she paused.

“She will be the fairest flower of them all,” suggested Mr. Potts, whose idea of conversation with young women was synonymous with wholesale compliments.

“You shut up, Tom,” said his fiancée sharply.

“Miss Hayes will be in Mr. Nixon’s beat,” continued Tom; “he is the flower buyer, and very good looking, and talks just like a gentleman, and is popular with ladies, I’ve seen them downright flirting with him. ‘Mr. Nixon this and that,’ and then he walks them down the shop, and bows them out at the door as if he were a duke.”

“He is terribly hard!” exclaimed Nancy; “it was all through him those two girls in the ribbons got the cask. He misses nothing, he has eyes back and front.”

“If he was slack, he’d lose his place,” said Mr. Potts. “It is the company that is so hard, its cry is get money, get money, get a big dividend! The books are gone over every week, and if there is a falling off in any department—my aunt! don’t they catch it!”

“But how can they drag people into the shop, and make them buy?” asked Peggy.

“They cannot drag people into the shop, the advertisements do that, and the window-dressers; but once in, they must not let customers go without buying—that is their business. If a customer goes off without being suited, the assistant is spoken to; if it happens a second and third time, she is fined, and the fourth time she gets the swop. You see she is no use as a saleswoman; and Green & Lavender do what is called a very pushing business.”

“Oh, and I am not a bit pushing,” cried Peggy; “they won’t keep me a week, no, not a day!”

“If a lady would only buy a reel of cotton it would save the girl—but how is she to know? She is only vexed with the assistant for bothering her to buy, and some girls have not the knack of selling: you want a nice bright manner, and a very firm will; we are making the worst of it for you,” admitted Nan, “but you may not find it so bad at all. Some of the assistants and the young ladies are very pleasant, and its never dull or lonely; there is always a bustle, and you are making your own living and are independent.”

“Yes; that is just what I want to be.”

“And I’ve no doubt before long, that you will cut out Miss Billing, the belle of the house,” said Mr. Potts, with an air of gallantry. “She is in the millinery, and gives herself great airs, but I bet that you, Miss Hayes, will soon have your pick of the nicest beaux in the place, what do you say, Nan?”

Nan, for all reply gave her fiancé a painful nudge, and, as they were on the steps of her lodgings, Peggy made no reply, but, thanking them for their company, wished them good night.

As the pair walked away arm in arm, Miss Belt said.

“Oh Tom, you must never talk of beaux to her whatever you do; she has just had a most awful affair.”

“I see; and so that’s what has brought her here,” and he gave a long whistle.

“Yes. Now tell me what you think of her?”

“She looks delicate, and, unless I’m mistaken, she is a lady.”

“She is, every inch of one. Don’t you think her pretty?”

“No; too tired and pale and anxious-looking. I dare say she has been good-looking.”

“Has been!—why, she is only twenty!”

“Nonsense, Nan; whoever saw a girl of twenty with such hollow eyes, and such lines about her mouth?”

“I can only tell you that eighteen months ago she was the village beauty, and people used to come to our church from quite a distance on purpose to have a look at her.”

“Well, all I can say is that no one would cross the road to see her now.”

On Monday morning, Miss Hayes was shown into the counting house, and there interviewed by the podgy Mr. Preedy, a stout man with prominent eyes, and a splendid watch chain.

“Ah!” he said, looking at her sharply, “Miss Hayes—a friend of Miss Belts?”

Miss Hayes bowed.

“Blest if she isn’t a lady!” he said to himself.

“Wish to be employed in this establishment? “

“Yes,” in a faint voice.

“Any experience?”

“No, sir; but I’ve had a pretty good education.”

“Oh! we don’t want singing and dancing here; what we require is a sharp saleswoman. Have you ever sold?”

“Only at a bazaar.”

“Bah! How old are you?”

“I shall be twenty-one in April.”

“You look every day of twenty-five. Well, I think we will give you a trial. Miss Belt has assured me that you are perfectly respectable.”

Peggy’s face became flame colour. Was she perfectly respectable? Her interlocutor took a mistaken view of her embarrassment, and mistook her confusion for the blush of indignant virtue.

“Well,” in a milder key, “you had better report your name to Miss Scott at the flower counter, and she will take you in hand. I suppose you know that you begin at sixteen pounds a year, all found—I mean board and lodging. Your name is Hayes?”—taking up a pen—“Christian name!” writing as he spoke.

“Margaret. I’m called Peggy.”

“Well, I shouldn’t mind calling you Peggy,” looking up. “Peggy, of where?”

“Nether Barton, Sandshire.”

“That will do; you had better set to work at once. No dawdling, no idling, no flirting. You understand. Good morning.”

Chapter XXX

Behind the Counter

The presiding lady of the flower department (which embraced ribbons, feathers, belts, sashes, and fans) received the young stranger with sufficient affability. Poor harassed Miss Scott, how many new hands had passed through her hands? She was a pleasant woman of forty, with refined tastes, but empty pockets; ever haunted by the fear of being dismissed from her present post, on account of her advancing years, and, once dismissed, where would she find another situation? Time is cruel, especially to shop women, where grey-haired elderly spinsters, no matter how capable, are invariably tabooed. Miss Scott had already received several awful warnings, which had figuratively made her shake in her two-and-ninepenny shoes. Plain Miss Duke, who was really but thirty-eight, and had been in the fancy-work department for years, was one morning suddenly summoned to the counting-house and no more seen. And she was the sole support of a bed-ridden mother. But, on the other hand, Miss Duke never attempted to stave off the evil day. She allowed her hair to become grey, her figure to bulge, her dress to be old-fashioned and dowdy. A grey-haired, frumpish saleswoman who could tolerate? No anxious endeavours to please, no faithful service, could weigh against this one down feather.

True there was Miss Codd in the ladies’ outfitting underclothing department, who was not fair, fat, and forty-four her last birthday, and had made not the smallest efforts to wrestle with Time; but somehow age and grey-hairs do not seem out of place amongst flannels, calicoes, and knitted comforters. But what has age to do with white plumes, and buds, and daisies? Among flowers and feathers, the presiding genius must at least look young!

Therefore Miss Scott struggled vigorously to keep age and grey hairs at bay. She revived her rather scanty locks, and added a toupée. She touched up her sallow cheeks and “did something to her eyes” (so her subordinates in their teens declared). She laced in her waist to the painful circumference of twenty-two inches, and she spent no less than five guineas upon her black gowns. She wore a signet ring, and displayed a gold watch and pencil case, and, so far, had held her own. Still she never knew when the bolt might fall, nor which of her handmaidens was an undeveloped rival. The truth was, that even had she become boldly grey, Miss Scott’s position was assured, her pleasant voice and sympathetic manner were well known to customers, and there would have been quite an outcry among a large circle of ladies had Miss Scott of the flower department been mysteriously spirited away.

And here came another utterly inexperienced girl to be trained by Miss Scott. Oh dear, oh dear, it was a weary and a thankless task!

Miss Hayes—deadly pale, quiet, firmly resolved to succeed—was shown boxes and trade-marks, presented with a book and pencil, and ultimately started in her new career. Dinner was an unsatisfactory experience. Crowds of girls trooped down-stairs, seemingly into the very bowels of the warehouse—plain girls, pretty girls, lively girls, sullen girls, all went flocking to the meal of the day. This was served in a long, low room at two tables; the atmosphere was close, and the sole light was provided by three flaring gas-burners. The ménu—indicated by the smell—was corned beef and cabbage, and one flurried servant-woman carved furiously for all. Plates were rapidly passed along; as for vegetables, girls helped themselves. The new hand’s immediate neighbours had not time to notice her; they were anxiously watching for their share, or eagerly talking “shop.” There remained but five minutes to the hour (one o’clock) when Peggy’s ration reached her; it proved to be terribly tough, so she dined on bread and potatoes, and then followed one of her companions back to her post.

The afternoon happened to be a busy one. The establishment was overflowing. Peggy was conscious of a violent start when an elegant woman sat down over against her, placed her purse on the counter, and asked in a languid voice to see some “corn flowers.”

These were nervously produced, and after some deliberation, disposed of, Peggy entering her first sale as “3s. 11½d.”

The next customer wanted pink and white ribbon to trim a basket of flowers. Then came a tall pretty girl, who bought a black aigrette, which cost 17s. 6d.; she was one of those young women who knew exactly what she wanted, saw it, and took it without delay. She was followed by a cross old dowager, who purchased a yard and a quarter of narrow black velvet ribbon after ransacking three boxes; and haggled and havered over 9¾d, loudly declaring that “it was ridiculously dear, and that things were not half as good, or as cheap, or the attendance as civil, as in the old days, when the place really did belong to Grey & Lavender,” and, so grumbling, departed.

“Come, you haven’t done badly for your first day!” said Miss Scott, with a little nod of encouragement. “You’ve neither let fall a box of ribbons, nor made a mistake in the change.”

(She had take a fancy to the new girl with the pretty teeth and frightened-looking hazel eyes). “I see you are quick and ready, and I think you will do.”

“Oh! I do hope I shall,” replied Peggy, breathlessly. “Thank you so much, Miss Scott.”

The look, the voice—yes; this new recruit, with the enviably slim figure, was a lady, and by no means the only lady serving Green & Lavender.

In a surprisingly short time Miss Hayes had picked up her new trade, and assimilated agreeably with her surroundings. She worked secretly at arithmetic, and succeeded in grasping the great problems that she once found too difficult. She took pains with her writing and her demeanour, and speedily realized the vast gulf that yawned between a mere hand at the flower counter and the head show-girl in the mantles. She was silent, unobtrusive, and obliging; her companions liked sad-faced Miss Hayes, and adopted her into their midst without question; especially as there had come to their ears the whisper of “a love affair.” Miss Hayes was good-natured; she added up tiresome little bills, never grumbled at arranging other folks’ untidy boxes, never told tales, clamoured for her food, or spoke to, or even looked at, the young men!

When Miss Hayes and Miss Belt wished for a good long private talk, they repaired to their bedroom at an early hour, in order to have it to themselves. On one of these occasions, Miss Belt opened the conversation by saying, “Well, Peg, so I hear you are a tremendous success. I’ve been quite complimented upon my friend. So quiet, and so steady, that even Mr. Sharples cannot pick a hole in you. How are you really getting on? If any one is nasty, just let me know, and I’ll come round and stick a bonnet-pin into her.”

“No occasion for such strong measures, thank you; I am all right,” rejoined Peggy, who was brushing her long hair.

“And tell me, how do you like selling?”

“Very much; it interests me. I make up customers’ minds for them; is it not funny? just as, in other days, it was done for me.”

“I am told that Mr. Nixon often looks your way.”

“Does he?” she said, indifferently; “I’ve never noticed it.”

“Well, mind you keep in with him. Tom is going to take us both out for a treat next Saturday night, to the theatre.”

“Not both; why should I go? It is very good of him and you, dear old Nan, but two is company. Don’t bother about me. Shocking as it sounds, I am not unhappy. I read, and I do little sums; I go to church; I take long walks—and what a huge town this is; it seems miles before I get near the fields and country. I have no anxieties about housekeeping, no bills, no one to fear. Of course, in the ordinary way, after such an experience as I’ve come through, I ought to have had brain fever, or some desperate illness, and died; but here I am, perfectly well. I am shamelessly tough, you see, and not very miserable.”

“Then you are easily satisfied!” cried Miss Belt, as she sat on the side of her bed and kicked off her shoes.

“I suppose so; I have plenty to occupy my mind, which is the great thing. No time for thinking or brooding, and when I go to bed, I’m so dog tired that I fall asleep at one. Do you know that the first morning I awoke in this room, and looked round at all you girls asleep, I thought I was back at school.”

“And so you are—the school for scandal,” scoffed Miss Belt.

“I have sufficient to eat and drink; I know some nice girls, who laugh and joke, and give me sweets and call me “dear”; and oh, Nan, I feel as if I had been some wretched moth who had been fluttering about in a blinding light, and had been cruelly burned, and crawled away into darkness and peace.”

“My child you are talking like a book—a book with pictures. However, if you are content, Peg, I am, I’m sure. And, by the way, there is a young man in the linoleums who is madly in love with you, Tom says, and has demanded an immediate introduction.”

“Don’t!” with a frantic gesture, “I’ve done for ever with that sort of thing. Tell your Tom, that if he introduces any one to me, I’ll never speak to him again.”

“Oh, ho!” with a loud, derisive laugh.

“Now, Nan, you should understand.”

“All I can say is, that if it’s known you are a man hater you will be besieged. I’m not sure that the company ought not to show you in the window, ticketed ‘Special model—quite unique.’”

“Can’t you tell them I’ve been in great trouble?”

“Yes, my dear; but that will only do for the present. Peg, you are getting back your colour; your hollow cheeks are filling out. You will soon be making Miss Billing look to her laurels.”

“I don’t wish for those sorts of laurels!” now tossing back a long plaited pig-tail.

“No; you only want to wear the willow.”

“Yes, for my own dense folly and obstinacy.”

“Has no one ever written? No one traced you?”

“No; I wrote at once to Mrs. Hesketh, and told her I was earning my living. I saw—his retirement in the paper, and that the regiment is gone to Athlone. I shall soon be forgotten, I hope.”

“You funny girl! Tell me, how do you get on with Miss Scott: they say she has a terrible tongue.”

“I have never heard it.”

“Poor woman! She is growing such an awful size; and how badly she does her hair. Oh, I hear all the others swarming up to bed, so good-night, dear.”

*  *  *

Six months had elapsed, and Miss Hayes, the quiet, self-possessed girl at the flower and ribbon counter, had begun to make her way. The awful disaster that had befallen her life and darkened her name, seemed to be now the price she had paid for her liberty. The shock of dismay and horror over, she saw herself released from bondage that was hourly becoming more insupportable. Her idol bad been shattered, had partly crumbled away, and finally fallen and crushed her, and it was out of the ruins that she had dragged herself, bruised, but living. Day by day, her vitality was quickening; at twenty, the spirit of youth is not easily stifled.

One afternoon Miss Hayes, who was serving a customer, moved away to seek a particular box of ribbons, and when she returned, and placed it on the counter, she beheld two ladies looking at lace fans, and one of them was Kathleen Hesketh! Kathleen glanced at her casually, then gazed again more fixedly, and exclaimed—“Mrs. Goring! Peggy,” almost under her breath.

Peggy, who was chalk-white, smiled, and assumed a totally wooden expression. Her customer was waiting; how she served her, she never knew. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hesketh having completed her purchase, leaned over, and said—

“I must speak with you alone, for five minutes.”

“Yes,” assented Peggy with her eyes. Then Mrs. Hesketh turned to her companion, and said—

“I am going up to the china and glass department—er—to buy a—a—cushion—while you match that insertion. This young lady will show me the way.”

“Now,” when they had come to a narrow passage on the second floor, lined with jugs and basins. “Now,” she repeated. “Tell me at once, please, why you are here?”

“I am earning my living, as I told you.”

“Come; I know that Captain Goring has left the regiment. Are you separated?”

“Yes; but——” a swift tremor passed over her face.


“I never was his wife at all!”

“What?” with a little stagger, that was nearly the ruin of two toilet sets.

“I never knew till he told me, nor he, till lately, that he had another wife living—an engine-driver’s daughter; he married her in India, and believed that she had died out there. However, he discovered his mistake, and announced the news to me in almost the same breath as the intelligence that he was ruined.”

Mrs. Hesketh gasped; words completely failed her.

“He was thankful that the other was alive,” pursued Peggy, in a shaky voice. “He was tired of me. At first I felt as if I could die of shame, and now you will be horrified to hear that I am thankful—thankful to be free!”

“Did he not offer to provide for you?”

“Yes; ten shillings a week until I went on the stage; but I left the house at once, and here I am. One of my village friends is in this establishment. I had a little money, and I am getting on well.”

“And you only wrote to me once. Oh! Peggy, and gave no address. I don’t think you treated me as a friend; surely you might have trusted me.”

“No. It is best so, dear—dear, kind Mrs. Hesketh; our roads in life are miles apart.”

“And is this to be your life?” waving her hand with a comprehensive gesture, and then gazing into the girl’s face, which had almost recovered its rare and brilliant beauty.

“Yes; is it not better than the other? When I believed him to be my husband, my lips were sealed. Oh, you don’t know what I suffered from indifference, from corroding jealousy, from the miseries of debt and subterfuge, and disgrace, from the feeling that my husband despised me, and that I,” unconsciously lowering her voice, “was ashamed of him!”

“I believe that he invented the other wife! I am of it!” repeated Kathleen.

“Oh! please don’t say so. I hope from my heart that he did not. Mrs. Hesketh, you must go away, and forget that you ever met me. I’m not a proper person for you to know!”

“What rubbish, my dear; as if I shall ever forget you. Was it not strange my coming across you? It was just a toss-up whether we came in here or went over to Smarter & Smarter’s. There is a fate in these things, you see. I am staying with Herbert’s people, and going out to India in ten days.”

“Then you must promise me one thing, before you stir out of this spot,” said Peggy.

“What am I to promise?”

“Never to tell a soul that you have discovered me. Oh, do promise me this little, little thing,” and she looked at her friend with beautiful pleading eyes.

“But, my dear girl, I shall certainly tell Herbert; and I am not sure that it is such a little, little thing.”

“It is—it is. No need for any one to know; I have no friends.”

“And the Vallancys and Captain Kinloch?”

“No. Oh, I should hate him to know.”

“The regiment is at Bogalpore. I shall write to you from there, and you must write to me.”

“I will, if you will promise to keep my secret. Oh, dear Mrs. Hesketh, of all your kind acts this will be the kindest. I wish every one in that life to look upon me as dead, and, indeed, that Peggy is dead.”

“Is she? Well, I must say that this one very much resembles her; and now,” said Mrs. Hesketh, hurriedly unfastening a little turquoise brooch, “let this be a lasting sign and token between us. I may be able to help you; and I am resolved that you are not to remain here.”

“It is a shelter at any rate. I have no worries, no debts. All this precious time I am talking of myself, and where are Baba and Bobby—time for me to ask for them?”

“They are with me—not here, but at my uncle’s, about ten miles away. Oh, Peggy, my heart aches at the thought of leaving them—that is the worst of going to India.”

“Yes, it must be.”

“I suppose you have never heard of Captain Goring?”

“No,” in a constrained voice.

“He left a cloud of debts, and went away to America; and, pray, what do your people say?”

“I have no near relations. I have told my brother-in-law that Captain Goring and I are separated, and that I am getting my own living. I dare not tell him the truth.”

“Miss Hayes, are you serving?” asked a sharp voice, from the middle of a red beard.

Both ladies started violently. There stood Mr. Sharples, the most dreaded of all the shopwalkers.

“I was wishing to buy some jugs and basins,” stammered Mrs. Hesketh, which wish was a pure fabrication. “I mean a coffee service.”

“Oh, this way, madam, this way,” he said, briskly.

“Well, good-by, Peggy dear, keep a stout heart, write to me often—Bogalpore, North-West Provinces,” and she kissed her repeatedly, to the amazement and envy of Mr. Sharples.

It was observed that, when Miss Hayes returned to her post (and well-deserved scolding), she had tears in her eyes, and was wearing a little brooch that no one had ever seen previously.

That evening in the sitting-room there was a good deal of nodding of heads and whispering among the young assistants of the flower counter. The topic was most delightfully mysterious. The lady who had bought the white lace fan had certainly accosted Miss Hayes as Mrs. Somebody.

Chapter XXXI

The Admirers of Miss Hayes

Miss Hayes was a popular girl in her own department. She was a smart (if not pushing) saleswoman, never sneaked, or told tales; was the recipient of many tremendous secrets, though she never revealed her own; did not give herself airs, although she was friends with a lady who had come in a grand carriage, and who had kissed her. Moreover, she was the possessor of a handsome silver-mounted traveling bag, and watch bracelet: these two possessions gave Miss Hayes a high status in the bedroom, and had she been of an ambitious or arrogant nature, she could have easily deposed Miss Belt (although she was in the mantles), and who ruled the room with a rod of iron. There were six occupants in all. Miss Belt, Miss Hayes, Miss Loundes (of the glove counter, and many scoldings), Miss Suett (a laughing fat girl, who abhorred all exertion, especially early rising, and suffered from frequent fines), Miss Hawkins, who wore an engagement ring, and slept with a huge packet of love letters under her head, and Miss Swallow, who was rather pretty, smoked cigarettes, and went to the theatre with a gentleman.

After a time the fame of Miss Hayes ascended to the millinery showrooms, and Miss Billings, the beauty, came down to the flower-counter one day, by way of selecting ostrich tips, but in reality to examine, and extinguish a rising star. She addressed herself and her business exclusively to Peggy; the other girls looking on, and drawing comparisons between the two beauties thus measuring swords across the counter! Miss Billing’s attack fell flat, the enemy had no riposte, but met the lunges of her adversary with extreme dexterity, and was so studiously and exasperatingly polite, that finally Miss Billings was beaten off, and returned with a flushed face, and handful of feathers. One whispered to another with a malicious titter, that she would have been far better pleased with a handful of hair! Peggy by degrees had grown bolder and bolder, she went about the shop at times, and penetrated into the mantle department on wet days, when business was slack.

On Sundays she frequently accompanied Nan and Mr. Potts, and not a few young men would have liked to walk with Miss Hayes, and take her to church or the theatre, but she received all advances with appalling frigidity. Besides the disconsolate swain in the linoleums, she had an ardent admirer in the boot department, and both these were constantly endeavouring to throw themselves in her way; but, alas! the paths of both boots and oil-cloth lay in a different direction to the flower-counter, and, moreover, they had a powerful rival.

It was noted by many curious eyes that Mr. Sharples, with the red beard--the most powerful, most dreaded, a very Berserker of the shop-walkers—constantly came down-stairs in order to have a word with Mr. Nixon or lounge over the counter chaffing Miss Scott. Gradually he made acquaintance with Miss Hayes, who shrank instinctively from his advances and his bold blue eyes. His veiled attentions provoked much lively interest and extensive comment, and Peggy was openly bantered and gravely assured that “she was a lucky girl.” Mr. Sharples drew three hundred a year, and had a cousin in the firm. Moreover, he lived in lodgings, not in the barracks. Week by week his visits to the flower department became more frequent, his cultivation of Miss Hayes more pronounced, his compliments more alarming. He invariably happened to encounter her if she went about from one department to another, and would arrest her, so to speak, and talk to her eagerly, and flatter her unmistakably, far more so than at the counter, when he had half-a-dozen delighted auditors.

Ultimately, it came to this, that Peggy was compelled to remain in her place a close prisoner, and she began to think that Nancy Belt’s silly jest would develop into grim earnest, and that she would either have to marry Mr. Sharples or leave the shop.

Chapter XXXII

The Great Sale

July was always a busy month at Grey & Lavender’s, for, from the 15th to the 31st, a great sale raged within. Bargains, bargains, desperate bargains! The local papers and placards teemed with temptations, varying from 1000 blouses at 4s. 11d. each to a complete bankrupt stock of Sheffield goods, and a special clearance of ladies’ presentation umbrellas. The whole establishment was disorganized. One department invaded another, some were expanded, some closed. The most popular articles were naturally given the most prominent positions for the occasion, and the flower counter had added to itself lamp shades, brocade cushions, work bags, tea cosies, and was the gayest part of the shop. Baskets of fascinating ribbons allured many passers-by, and on these and other reduced goods the assistants received a percentage on the sale, or “P.M.,” as they called it, which, in the hands of a capable saleswoman, swelled into quite a nice little sum.

Peggy, like other girls, enjoyed the bustle; there was more coming and going, and freedom. Mr. Sharples was far too much occupied now, to prosecute his suit; discipline and etiquette were alike relaxed. The glass and crockery girls were mixed with the “remnants,” and even the obscure linoleums had floated up into the fancy goods. The shop was filled with a clamorous mob; and all day long, the counters were besieged, and the incessant cry was: “Sign! Sign! Sign!”

On a certain afternoon Mr. Preedy the manager, and one of the firm, walked around, well pleased. Grey & Lavender were driving a roaring trade in every sense of the word, and there was no doubt now of a ten per cent. dividend.

“We made a good profit on Hobbs’ salvage sale; our head buyer is very sharp,” observed the complacent partner to Mr. Sharples and his cousin, as they stood at the top of the grand staircase, and looked down upon the crowd. “No losses—all profit!”

“There have been some losses,” said Mr. Sharples. “Shop-lifting: a good many things were taken the first two days—gloves, stockings, silk remnants, and even several pieces of good lace.”

“Dear, dear, dear!” ejaculated Mr. Sharples’ cousin, in a tone of genuine dismay.

“Yes; and the crowd is so dense that there is no catching them, and it is mostly the well-dressed people who are the thieves. I always distrust a woman with a long cloak and a bag, no matter who she pretends to be,” said the manager, emphatically.

“Well, I think I’ll go and have a look round,” volunteered Mr. Sharples. “I never saw the place so full,” and, running down-stairs, he plunged into the seething crowd.

Peggy was incessantly engaged. She had suited one girl with sprays of flowers, another with jet butterflies, a third with a feather boa—all within ten minutes. At last it came to the turn of a little shabby old woman, who had been waiting patiently for some time.

She had a small refined face, a pair of wistful blue eyes, a benevolent expression, all framed in a coarse brown front. She wore a shabby cashmere cloak (several sizes too large for her), trimmed, and lined with yellow fur. On her head was a rusty black bonnet, covered with dingy lace, and ornamented by two spikes (once ostrich tips), rising from a bed of faded violets.

“I am anxious to get this bonnet done up,” began the venerable lady, with a confidential air, as she seated herself opposite to Peggy. “It’s an old favourite, and most comfortable. I can’t get any new ones to suit me as well. You see this shape comes so nicely over my ears,” turning her head about, and thus offering a capital view of the bonnet’s deficiencies, and of a mass of her own respectable white hair. (The front being a front in every sense of the word.) “I’ve been listening to you, you took such an interest in the young people. Now, you must take an interest in me.”

“I shall do my best,” answered the girl, with a bright smile.

“Now, my dear, what would you advise?” again turning her head about from side to side.

“Then, madam, as you ask my opinion, I should really advise a new bonnet.”

“But I have half-a-dozen at home, that I can’t possibly wear; you see I am accustomed to this—I’ve had it for years—and am so fond of the shape.”

“If it is really a question of shape, I’m sure our head milliner could copy that exactly. That foundation is worn out. I should recommend a nice black straw, or drawn silk.”

“Well,” as if conceding a great favour, “I wouldn’t mind drawn silk.”

“No; and it would be comfortable over your ears. I’d trim it with black lace, and a few ostrich tips, and a little jet, and line it with pale lilac, and have lilac strings.”

“It sounds nice; but then they all do that, till I see them,” she added, in a plaintive tone.

“I’m sure this one will give you satisfaction, madam.”

“Then will you look after it for me?”

“Yes; with pleasure. Would you wish to select the feathers and ribbon now?”

“I should. The best quality;” and she laid a large battered leather bag upon the counter (it was white with age, and evidently crammed with purchases), and proceeded to inspect with almost girlish interest the different shades of becoming lilac ribbon.

As she sat thus, quietly enjoying herself, and poking her old face over a box of the most delicate tints, Mr. Sharples accosted her, looking rather excited.

“I am sorry to hear, madam, that you have been seen taking things off the counter! We have missed a good many articles during the sale.”

“What do you mean? Do you wish to infer that I’m a thief?” cried the old lady, suddenly sitting erect, and confronting him in a flutter of agitation.

Her shabby clothes, dilapidated bag, and shrivelled green kid gloves, all betokened extreme poverty; and yet the bag was packed to repletion, and she wore the cloak of suspicion.

“I’m afraid there is no doubt of that. I’ve just sent for a policeman.”’

“A policeman!” repeated the old woman, in a shrill falsetto, that penetrated through the surrounding hub-nub like a steam whistle, and instantly a dead silence fell upon her immediate surroundings, the silence of expectation; and people pushed nearer and nearer, in hopes of assisting at “a scene.”

The actors would undoubtedly be the shabby old lady and the shopwalker with the sandy beard and vehement manner.

“Pray, do you know who I am?” demanded the culprit. (The news had gone round that she was a notorious character, a young woman disguised in cloak and wig, but caught red-handed at last.)

“No,” rejoined Mr. Sharples, as his professional eye took in her mantle, shiny with age, the darn on her dress, the pitiful thing she called a bonnet. “No,” he repeated, insolently, “but I have no doubt the police can tell me all about you.”

“I’ve never been subjected to such insolence in all my life;” and she held up her head, and haughtily surveyed the pushing, hurrying, expectant crowd. “Pray, what do you call yourself?”

“Pray, what do you call this?” he retorted, making a sudden swoop, and behold, entangled in the ragged lining of the cloak, was a Honiton lace handkerchief.

“There you are, you see?” holding it aloft in triumph.

“I assure, you, sir, that I never touched it, never saw it before; it caught in my furs,” and her voice became husky and tremulous, as she looked around at the accusing inquisitive eyes, like some poor wild creature caught in a snare.

“You must hand over that bag, and come along with me,” continued Mr Sharples. “You will have to be searched. Come now, old woman; it’s best to go quietly, and make no fuss;” and he put his hand on her shoulder. “You just come along to the office, and don’t give any trouble.”

Suddenly she turned to Peggy, her aged face ghastly white, and wrung with horror and misery. “You don’t believe in this, I’m sure?” she asked, in a quivering voice, and she seized the girl’s hand as it lay on the counter.

“No, no, indeed I don’t, it is all a mistake,” she answered, promptly.

“Miss Hayes!” called out Mr Nixon, “you forget yourself; I’m surprised at you.”

“But indeed, Mr Nixon, and Mr Sharples, I don’t think this lady is what you suppose,” coming out boldly from behind the counter; “she is very old you see, and quite alone.”

“You mean no confederates,” said Mr Sharples; “she is a young woman disguised, for all we know. Now then, ma’am, I’ll thank you to come along with us, at once.”

She stood up, trembling visibly, her poor old lips twitching, and clung tightly to Peggy’s arm.

“Very well then, very well. Yes, yes, I’ll come with you,” said the girl, as if humouring a child, and thus the little procession set forth. First, Mr Sharples, swelling with importance, and carrying the bulging bag. Next, the terrified old woman, leaning on the shop girl, followed by the manager and Mr. Nixon. Lastly, a vast crowd. “What is it? What has happened?” asked customers, craning from a distance.

“Oh, only an old woman taken up for shop-lifting; these old creatures are well-known thieves.”

Once in the counting-house, the accused tottered to a seat; the bag was opened, and the contents arranged upon a table with much deliberation and precision.

First a large carriage sponge; next a shetland shawl. Then “Sandford and Merton,” a smart blonde cap in a paper bag (shockingly tumbled), a pair of housemaid’s gloves, a plated photograph frame, a flannel shirt, three dozen yards of lisse frilling, a small garden trowel, two packs of cards, and a pot of vaseline.

Amazing to relate, these items were all paid for; the crumpled bills were discovered, there was absolutely nothing in the varied incongruous collection that was not the old lady’s own property. Meanwhile she sat holding Peggy’s hand in an iron clutch, and uttering long, gasping sobs at short intervals; and Mr Sharples’ expression of lofty indignation had become conspicuously modified.

“Perhaps, if you will favour us with your address—ahem—ma’am—it will be sufficient,” he said at last.

“Sufficient for what?” she burst out, passionately. “I should think that having disgraced me before hundreds of people, and talked of police and searching, and opened my bag, that that was sufficient. However, I am Miss Sophy—I mean Miss Serle of Serlewood Park, near Goose Green.”

“Pray, how are we to know this?”

“Here is my name,” and to the deep blushes of Mr. Sharples, she deliberately lifted up her gown to the waist, and displayed a black satin-quilted petticoat, and an enormous linen pocket. It appeared to be almost as capacious as the bag, and to contain an equally motley assortment. Three large clean handkerchiefs, a pair of spectacles, a box of lozenges, keys (two bunches), and a letter, which sure enough, was addressed to

Miss Serle,
Serlewood Park,
Goose Green.

Mr. Sharples looked at the manager (a broken reed) who merely toyed thoughtfully with his watch-chain, then at Mr. Nixon, finally at Miss Hayes; for once in his life, he found himself in an awkward predicament!

“I’m afraid I have acted under a wrong impression,” he stammered, “and I am extremely sorry; but we have met with such heavy losses, and, you see, the lace had caught in your cloak. Of course, if I had known I would never have suspected a lady in your position.”

“No; if I had been some poor old woman, who had no Park, you would have packed me off to prison,” she burst out.

“I am really very sorry; I most humbly apologize, and if I had it in my power to repair my mistake in any way, I should be only too delighted.”

“I’ve been terribly upset,” proclaimed Miss Serle. “I’ve never had such an experience. I can scarcely stand. I’m all of a tremble! I was foolish to come alone; my maid was greatly against it. Pray, allow this young person, who did not suspect me, to accompany me home.”

And she rose to her feet the embodiment of tremulous and shabby dignity.

“Certainly, madam; there will be no objection whatever,” said the manager; for Mr. Sharples stood aside, completely crestfallen.

“You will find Miss Hayes most active and obliging, and the company have much pleasure in placing her at your service. Miss Hayes, you had better go and get ready, Miss Serle will await you. Is there anything else we can do for you madam?”

“Yes; put all those things back into my bag exactly as you found them.” Which meant the blonde cap, and trowel at the bottom, and the heavier articles above. This irksome task was accomplished by poor Mr. Sharples with manifest reluctance, and as it was completed Peggy reappeared.

“Here is Miss Hayes, madam, at your service.”

“Very well,” rising to her feet; “kindly call a cab,” and followed by the deferential gentlemen, Sharples carrying the bag (the cause of the commotion), Miss Serle, the rich Miss Serle, effected her exit by a side door with considerable éclat, and was respectfully handed into a four-wheeler, by no less a person than the manager himself.

“You make it all right,” he whispered to Peggy, as she stepped into the vehicle in the wake of the old lady, who, in another moment, was driving away, carrying off with her a sort of hostage, in the shape of one of the assistants from the shop that had ill-used her.

Miss Hayes’ aged companion, after her little outburst, suddenly broke down. She pulled a much-flowered lace veil over her face, produced one of the large pocket handkerchiefs with the dexterity of a conjuror, and gave way to emotion. She was still trembling all over, and insisted that Peggy should sit beside her, and hold her hand; and, with one hand in Peggy’s, and the other at her eyes, she sobbed out.

“It serves me right. Darling begged me not to come, and she has such a cold that I dared not bring her; and yet I could not resist coming. I read the advertisements and felt that I must see the sale. I don’t know how I’m to tell Darling that I had my bag searched”—a fresh burst of hysterical sobs—“and was on the point of being taken up by the police. She will say, it served me right!”

Chapter XXXIII

Miss Serle Disobeys Her Servants

“Yoxby is the station,” stammered Miss Serle, when she descended from the cab, still sniffing, gasping, shaking. “Here, take this and pay him, and get your ticket—first-class,” and she tendered to Peggy a voluminous knitted purse with two silver rings.

The train for Yoxby was not due to start for some time, and as they sat in the waiting-room, Miss Serle gradually recovered her equanimity, and Peggy was rather surprised to observe how greedily the old lady noted everything that surrounded her almost as if she were a child. She stared at the penny-in-the-slot machine, at a smartly-dressed woman, at a clipped black poodle with ribbons and bangle, as if such sights were rare indeed.

At length the train for Yoxby crawled in, and they took their places. It dawdled along, loitering at every obscure country station, and at the end of an hour deposited the ladies at an insignificant little platform named Yoxby—not only on a large board, but also in a bold pattern of white stones in the station-master’s garden. He came to the door of the compartment, and assisted Miss Serle to alight, and proceeded with an air of deep respect to conduct her to her carriage—a great lumbering vehicle, almost like a four-poster on wheels, and weighing at least two tons. The body was canary colour the upper part dark blue. It was drawn by a pair of aged horses and driven by a venerable man with a long white beard.

A brisk young footman opened the door of the chariot, and assisted his mistress and her companion to ascend. He then mounted the box, and they were soon careering away at the deliberate rate of four miles an hour, the horses tittupping along precisely like a pair of sprightly but tottering old gentlemen. The country was looking lovely this warm July afternoon, and the drive was an immense treat to Peggy, who feasted her eyes upon the wild-flowers in the hedges, and sniffed in the pure country air which floated into the musty old carriage, and seemed to be perfumed with a delicate mixture of hay and honeysuckle. What a difference to the close atmosphere of the shop, with its stale essence of dust, gas, woollen goods, and brown paper. The lanes and roads which they threaded led through a peaceful and far-out-of-the-world region, passing old cottages, farms, and rich meadow lands, but only one house of any pretensions, and that turned its shuttered windows on inquiring eyes.

“That is Yoxley Hall, the Giffards’ Place; they are my nearest neighbours, and but rarely at home,” said Miss Serle. “Here we are at Serlewood at last.”

As the carriage came to a halt at an imposing entrance-gate, flanked by two lodges (with a washing fluttering behind each), an old woman limped out of one, curtseying profoundly, and to her Miss Serle accorded a right regal inclination of her shabby bonnet. For some distance the avenue wound through a flat park, studded with clumps of fine timber; and, in about ten minutes, a severely-planned building, with a great pillared portico, came into view; as they approached its immediate vicinity, Peggy observed that each side of the grass bordering the avenue was punctuated, so to speak, with saucers and plates.

“Those are for the out-door cats,” explained her hostess; “the servants object to more than a certain number indoors, though I have no particular cat myself. Mrs. Drummond has three, and Darling has two, so has the head housemaid. The keeper says I should get rid of some of the crowd, as they are all dreadful poachers; but as no one shoots here now, I don’t see that it matters! Now, my dear, will you get out at once. I don’t like to delay, as Pulsifor dislikes standing at the open door.”

Pulsifor was presumably the venerable butler, who confronted them on the steps, a lean, shrunken figure, with long white hair, and a large black cravat. He received his mistress with grave dignity; but when he realized that her companion was also about to enter the house, he stared as blankly as if Miss Serle had imported a live young gorilla or bouncing kangaroo, and stiffened into alarming rigidity.

Then he suddenly remembered his manners, and, shuffling across the great stone hall, threw open a door into a vast dim drawing-room, a pale apartment, containing faded hangings, faded carpets, a quantity of Berlin wool-work in frames, cushions, footstools, old china, old furniture, and a pervading atmosphere of rose-leaves and dust. The four long French windows opened upon a terrace, and a charming, but rather neglected, Italian garden. At present the blinds were down—a case of looking the stable door when the horse was gone—for the sun had stolen all the colour out of the chintz and wall paper.

“I am afraid I am a little late, Pulsifor,” said his mistress, in a tone of apology.

“Yes, Miss Sophy,” slowly producing an enormous pewter watch, almost the size of a Swede turnip. “It is now ten minutes to six; dinner will be dished in five minutes,” and he glanced significantly at Peggy, as much as to say “Depart.”

“This young lady will dine—will, in fact, remain for the night, Pulsifor,” announced Miss Serle, in a key of tremulous deference. “My dear,” turning to Peggy, “What is your name? I heard it, but I’ve forgotten.”

“Hayes. Margaret Hayes.”

Meanwhile, Pulsifor stood in the middle of the room as if turned to stone—he would have made a very ugly statue. At last he gave a quick, short cough, and found speech.

“Miss Serle, ahem I can I speak to you in the hall for one moment?”

“Oh yes; yes, certainly,” she answered, with visible trepidation, now hurrying after him, as he shambled to the door, and carefully closed it behind them.

In a few moments the door once more opened, and revealed Miss Serle, who beckoned to Peggy. She looked a little flushed as she said, in a rather forced voice:

“Dinner is at half-past six; I’ve had it put off. We go up-stairs, and get ready at once;” and she led the way towards a great shallow stairs, whilst Pulsifor went off coughing, and muttering something about “all murdered in our beds.”

Miss Serle ushered her guest into her own room, where a little old woman, wrapped in a large woollen shawl, was waiting to assist her mistress to dress.

“Miss Hayes, Darling, will remain all night.”

CouldJane Darling believe her eyes and ears? She surveyed the intruder in sour silence. There had not been a stranger in the park for twenty years. This young person had suddenly been picked up by Miss Sophy (who was always so foolish and easily taken in). Darling’s expression spoke volumes of grim disapproval as she surveyed Miss Hayes from head to foot. She might be a thief, she might be some poor lady, she might be anything, but she made no remark. When Darling was silent, her mistress knew by years of experience that it was an ill-omened sign, and foretold a period of cold displeasure, stern inquiries as to what “her father would have said and thought?” winding up by passionate scoldings, and later, by an equally-dreaded apology.

It would be a scene of the white stockings over again. When she had left off white stockings and taken to black ones, Darling had not spoken to her kindly for weeks.

“You will give Miss Hayes the oak room, next this,” said Miss Serle, with new-born courage, “and see that she has a brush and comb, and slippers, and one of my night-gowns. I always dress for dinner, my dear,” she added, turning to Peggy, “but as it is out of your power to do so, you may like to go down-stairs into the drawing-room presently and wait for me; I shall not be long.”

Peggy did as she was requested, and descended alone, prowled round the empty drawing-room, examining its many treasures, its great vases, and bowls of Lowestoft and Bow china. Everything was redolent of the last century, yet in all this vast room, which opened into a garden—and a garden in July—there was not one flower.

Peggy wandered about, discovering curiosities at every yard, until at last the gong sounded, and Miss Serle sailed in. She wore a purple velvet, a set of long pink topaz ear-rings, and brooch and bracelets to correspond. and the maltreated blonde cap. In one hand she carried a small ivory fan, and in the other a lace handkerchief.

“Now, my dear, we will go in. I’ll take you in,” and arm in arm the pair proceeded to an immense dining-room, hung with dark and mysterious pictures. A round table (a little speck in the middle of the room) was loaded with splendid plate. Two men waited, the venerable Mr. Pulsifor and a middle-aged man, his slave.

The dinner was eminently suggestive of an invalid’s diet, or of the requirements of old people, and consisted of mutton broth, sole, minced chicken, and sago pudding.

When it was concluded, in almost total silence, Mr. Pulsifor carefully poured out a small glass of port for each lady, and took his leave.

“We are very, very old-fashioned, you see,” said Miss Serle. “I keep the rules and hours of my father and mother. Most of the servants were in their employment—there is nothing young about the place. Pulsifor is over eighty, and Drummond, the coachman, is nearly the same. He is so infirm, that I am obliged to have his grandson as carriage groom in order to assist him up and down from the box,”

“It is a charming old place. Don’t you love it, Miss Serle?”

“Yes, my dear, I do; and I keep it exactly as it was in my father’s time. He died twelve years ago at an advanced age. Shall we go into the drawing-room?”

In the drawing-room she pulled up the blinds, and looked out, and Peggy exclaimed:

“What a delightful old garden!”

“What would you like to do?” looking about. “I generally play patience till tea time. We have tea at eight o’clock, prayers at nine, and go to bed at ten punctually!”

“I should like to go into the garden, this lovely evening. Would you be too tired to come with me? “

“The garden after dinner! My child, think of the dew; I never do such a thing.”

“But this evening is so fine: the grass is quite dry, we can keep to the walks. I am so fond of a garden, and I have not been in one for ages.”

“Well then, my dear, you shall go for half an hour, but you must really wear my goloshes, and a warm muffle.”

“Oh,” protested Peggy, “please let me go as I am?”

“No; I can be very firm—no goloshes, no garden!” and she rose and pulled the bell-rope with vigour. “I am afraid the greenhouse will be locked. Simmons always goes home, and takes the keys; but still you can see the rosery, and the fountain and the maze. It is not kept as it used to be, Simmons says he has no time for cleaning up.”

“I suppose he is old, too, like the others?”

“No; not more than fifty. He came here six years ago. I cannot say that I am fond of Simmons.”

“Darling, my goloshes,” to the shawled figure at the door.

“Miss Sophy, is it possible that you are going out?” in a tone of pious horror.

“No; they are for this lady.”

In a few moments Peggy found herself equipped in a pair of roomy goloshes and a hooded cape, and passed through a French window into the pleasure ground, where she wandered about.

Then she came to a large walled garden, and entered; there were greenhouses, apparently full of grapes, peaches, and tomatoes, all in a forward condition; but the garden itself was weedy and neglected, save for great beds of asparagus. There was not a soul to be seen; and she sniffed the roses and lavender, and kissed them like old friends. She heard a loud bell, and hurried back. After all it was a false alarm, not a summons for her—no, but for the cats’ supper; and as she stood, she watched at least twenty cats come scouring from all directions to where their bread and milk had been prepared.

Then she went in, and discovered the old lady deeply engrossed in a game of patience. After which they two played backgammon until tea time. Tea was brought in with as much solemn pomp as if it had been the regalia: a massive silver equipage, a hissing silver urn, a silver basket containing plum cake, and bread and butter. Quite a meal!

Some time after tea had been removed, the aged butler arranged chairs and pushed forward a little table, a big Bible, and prayer-book.

“My dear,” said Miss Serle, “would you mind reading? My sight is bad, and these spectacles don’t seem to suit my eyes.”

Peggy opened the Bible in silence. She was a little nervous, as she watched the numerous domestics file in. The cook, housekeeper, Darling the maid, two elderly housemaids, another woman, the middle-aged footman, a boy, and Pulsifor.

She began somewhat tremulously, but presently found her voice, and read a chapter well and impressively, then the evening prayers in a very old thumbed book with a shiny black back. She had proceeded most successfully, until she found herself suddenly praying audibly for King George, and Queen Charlotte, and was so embarrassed, that she confused her most gracious Majesty Queen Adelaide, with Queen Victoria. At last it was over, and the servants rose. Pulsifor, she noticed, had to be helped upon his feet, and then he came and tottered away with the books, and all the servants slowly filed forth.

“My dear,” said her hostess, “it is a great pleasure to me to hear a young voice and to see a young face. I confess that I feel drawn to you. I don’t know what would have become of me to-day, but for you. I’m bold enough at home, as you see”—no, Peggy did not see—“but I’m an arrant coward abroad.”

“I’m sure I did very little; and this short trip into the country has been the greatest treat to me. I am a country girl; and I shall think of the garden and the drive here for many a long day. It is like a draught of spring water in a thirsty land.”

“This used to be my hour for reading, but my sight is so bad now, I sit and think. To-night I can sit and talk. Miss Cloke used to say that I talked a great deal too much, but I have not had much chance of late; and you may observe that I never speak before my servants; it was one of my mother’s strictest rules. Now, you have not heard anything about me, have you? and I should like to tell you who I am.”

“Oh! Miss Serle, surely that is unnecessary. I can see who you are; this is your home. It is for me to tell you who I am,” said Peggy, rather tremulously. “And I will.”

“At any rate, seniores priores. It is such a pleasure for me to have a companion, and some one I can talk to; and now take a hand-screen, and draw near the fire; it is getting a little chilly.”

Chapter XXXIV

Miss Serle’s Story

“This place has been in our family for three centuries,” began Miss Serle, as she placed her little satin shoes upon the fender. “My father was an only son—a great book-worm; he almost lived in the library. He married when he was about five and thirty; and I believe, my mother was some years his senior, though she never allowed this subject to be broached. She was an heiress, and a rigid disciplinarian. Her mother had been maid of honour to Queen Charlotte. I remember her when I was a tiny child—a tall woman, with a long thin face, long cold hands and very cold manners—always precise, and silent. She was fond of tent-stitch and Berlin wool work, and Miss Burney’s novels; I believe she knew them by heart; and she had quite a passion for Dutch tulips and Bow china.”

“Yes,” said Peggy, who knew nothing of either, bowing her head in a knowing manner.

“She did not care for society, but, all the same, kept up great state, and had a pair of outriders to her carriage when she went a-visiting. My sister Charlotte was my elder by three years; she was lively and remarkably pretty, and mischievous. She tore her frocks, climbed trees, answered back when reproved, and was constantly on bread and water, and in disgrace. I was always plain, timid, and well behaved. All the same, Charlotte was the favourite. We had a governess called Miss Cloke, who brought us up most rigorously. We saw but little of our parents, excepting at luncheon and prayers; my mother never kissed us, and rarely spoke to us. She was, however, extremely particular about our morals, our manners, and, above all, our carriage; we were never permitted to lean back or loll—I sit erect still by habit; never allowed to pull a flower; and, much as I love flowers, I hardly ever cut one. I suppose it’s habit still; and I have, even now, a fear of being sent to bed in the middle of the day if I gather a bunch of roses! Beside the servants hate flowers in the house; they make trouble and a litter, they declare. But, to return to my mother. When she entered a room, we instantly rose to our feet, and again stood up when she left it. She belonged, you see, to the old school.”

“Yes; how glad I am that I do not!”

“Am I wearying you, my dear?”

“No, indeed; I like to listen to you; it is all most interesting.”

“We led a dull life, and so did my mother, but then she liked it, and we did not. Our lessons began at eight o’clock. At twelve, we took exercise, four times to the park gates and back, no matter what the weather; luncheon at half past one o’clock. More lessons—needlework—calisthenics—bread and milk, and bed at eight. When I was fifteen, we joined a dancing class in Goose Green, but we never spoke to the other pupils. You see, we were the Miss Serles of Serlewood Park, co-heiresses, and really greatly to be pitied, if our partners only knew the truth! We had no young friends, for the Kinlochs who lived three miles away, were of no use to us socially, for General Kinloch and my father had a terrible dispute about a right of way, and were deadly enemies. I can give you no idea of the war that was waged—it was the scandal of the whole parish. The general, a stubborn old Highlander, was a terrible man with his tongue, but my father beat him on paper; he would write the most insolent yet polite letters, that made a person feel as if they had been stung all over with nettles! Of course they went to law, and the general got cast in damages, and had to pay away in costs quite a mint of money. Charlotte and I used to look over at the young Kinlochs in church, and wish that this feud was at the bottom of the sea.

“Our parents posted to London once a year, but we were left at home. Oh, dear, it was a dismal life! We were not allowed to read novels or to ride, or to raise our voices. We were to do nothing, but just exist as two stupid young gentlewomen. Charlotte was always discontented, and beating herself against her cage, and sometimes she used to break out and storm, and declare that she was not a pet rabbit, but a human being, and that she would run away. Then Miss Cloke would lock her up in her room for a whole day.

“At last we were taken to Cheltenham for a season. My mother ordered new frocks for us—organdie muslins, and muslin delaines, satins, and tabinets; and she set up a new carriage—the very one I have now—and took it, and her horses and servants with her. Quite a retinue. We were about to be introduced to the world—and a very stiff world we found it!

“Still, I liked the change, and the dancing, and meeting other girls of our own degree, and comparing notes about Poonah painting and lace work, and young men! Charlotte was in raptures, but then she was one of the season’s beauties, and was openly toasted and complimented by the old Duke of Sedlitz Bad. How she used to laugh at him when we were alone!

“By bad luck, she became acquainted with young Kinloch—he was in the Dragoons—and very handsome. They fell in love on the spot, and when their infatuation became known, our parents were frantic, and we were carried off home at once, back to Serlewood, but not, thank goodness, back to lessons!

“At first Charlotte moped like a sick bird, but soon she recovered. The reason was that she and Philip corresponded and met on the sly; and one fine morning she and he made a runaway match. I shall never forget the commotion and the scenes. All the blinds in the house were drawn down, and Charlotte’s name was formally erased from the family Bible and my father’s will. I was forbidden to see her, and speak to, or visit her. After all, she led a very happy life, according to report. She died at five-and-thirty, leaving three children; but none of us wore mourning, nor were the blinds pulled down the day of the funeral.

“After Charlotte had escaped, I was kept stricter than ever. My father was plunged in his books and correspondence; my mother took me out occasionally to pay formal calls, but my chief companion was Miss Cloke. At twenty years of age, I had to ask permission to walk to the post or the village; and I never ventured to put on a new dress without obtaining leave. All my letters were read. I believe my parents were afraid that I, being a great “catch,” would follow my sister’s example, and the house was something between a nunnery and a school.

“Then my mother took ill, and after a very short time was found dead in her bed. My father, Miss Cloke, and I, were alone. We had scarcely any friends, as there had been great changes in the neighbourhood, and my mother never called on new-comers. Then my father lost his sight, and I became his secretary and reader, whilst Miss Cloke managed the house—and all of us. He survived mother by thirty years, and during all that time, I was his constant companion, I read to him for hours daily. I wrote, and accompanied him in his drives and daily walks on the terrace and avenue; and I never once passed a night from home. He was a mild, lovable man in his old age. I had always been in awe of him whilst my mother lived. She stood between us. She seemed to have imparted some of her own chilly nature to him. Those thirty years I do not regret, for I loved my father dearly; and I became—and much good it has done me—a learned woman! We were taught Latin as girls, and this was a great matter to me later.

“When he died, Miss Cloke took entire command of me. She was a wonderfully clever, domineering woman, tall and erect, and so hardy and active. She always insisted on her old rules being obeyed; and as I had been brought up under them, naturally they were my second nature. I never leave a door open, nor my gloves down-stairs. I never cross my feet. I never have two helps of pudding; and I always cut a book, and cover it neatly in paper, before I read it. Miss Cloke passed away twelve months ago at an advanced age—I have only just left off mourning—and I have been alone ever since.”

“But don’t you find it dreadfully dreary, sitting all by yourself in this great room?” asked her companion.

“I do indeed, my dear; but I’m too old too change—I am nearly seventy. I did think of going away to the seaside for a bit, but the servants would not hear of it.”

“Have you no relations at all?”

“Only very distant ones, and the Kinlochs—Charlotte’s children and grandchildren. My heir is a nice fellow, and has a look of Charlotte; he is in the army, and unmarried. He has been here once or twice, and made the house quite pleasant. He came to shoot once, and brought his cousin Hesketh—another military man, but I’m afraid they had not much sport. The place is so shockingly poached. Higgs says it’s all the cats, but Geoffrey laughed, and said that cats don’t set wire snares, nor use central fire cartridges. Any way I could not ask them to shoot again, for the cook said she could not stand dinner at half-past seven, and so much extra work; and Pulsifor was so fatigued, that he was laid up afterwards for a week, so I really dared not attempt it.”

Peggy was only half attending. She was listening to an inward voice, that was telling her that the world was but a small place. This old lady in purple velvet and pink topazes, sitting bolt upright beside her, was Captain Kinloch’s rich aunt. And she debated within her own mind, whether she should proclaim her acquaintance with him, or not. No—on second thoughts she would be silent.

“But why do you mind what the servants say?” she asked aloud at last.

“From custom, I suppose, my dear. You see, I have always been in subjection to others. I am obedient from the force of habit. Long ago I obeyed my mother, and father and Miss Cloke. Now, I obey Pulsifor (he was my father’s man), and Darling. My day is arranged for me: breakfast at nine; prayers; a walk; correspondence—that is, begging letters to answer; the steward to see. The garden; lunch; a drive—never more than five miles, the horses are so old; one or two calls; dinner; patience; tea; bed. I’m in a groove, and I shall never be able to get out of it.”

“But why not? Why not have friends to stay? Get new books from Mudie’s; get a new pair of horses and a smaller carriage; get a young smart maid, who will make your gowns and bonnets; get rid of the gardener, the keeper, and Pulsifor!”

Miss Serle held up her hands, including handkerchief and handscreen, and turned a pale, dismayed face on this revolutionary girl. If she had jumped up and begun to dance “La Carmignole,” and sing “Ça ira” in the middle of the drawing-room, she could not have looked more aghast.

“Stop, stop, my dear! I cannot have people to stay. Pulsifor is too infirm, and he looks upon this house as his own. You see, he has been here fifty-five years, and habit is second nature. And as to horses, Brownlow could not drive another pair. As for new books, my father always said it was sinful waste to hire books when there are thousands in the library still unread.”

“But they may be dull,” suggested Peggy.

“Dull, my dear! They are mostly in the dead languages. With respect to a smart young maid, Darling has been with me for forty years. She is shockingly ill-tempered, I must allow. As to making anything, she never attempted that, even when I was young. Of late years she has been an invalid, but she is a most confidential servant.”

“And what does she do for you?”

“Oh, well,” pausing to reflect, “she waits in my room, and sometimes she brushes my hair, and folds up my clothes. She generally brings my tea in the morning, and—” with quite a youthful laugh—“she keeps me in order.”

“I should certainly let her go.”

“My dear, she won’t go. She has assured me over and over again that she will die in my service. She has large savings but she has quarrelled with all her relations, and she is really very delicate. She could never live in a damp farmhouse with brick floors. Here she has a south room and fires, chicken broth at noon, and good old port wine. The second housemaid waits on her.”

“And who,” asked Peggy, with a smile, “waits upon the second housemaid who waits upon the delicate Darling?”

“I really don’t know, dear,” replied the old lady, on whom the little touch of satire was lost. “Mrs. Drummond arranges all that sort of thing.”

“Miss Serle, may I make another suggestion? Why don’t you go away and break this routine——”

“I made an effort to-day, and you saw the result for yourself. I had a very narrow escape of spending the night in a lock-up. My dear, I hear Pulsifor with the candles, we must go to bed,” she said, rising with nervous haste, “I’ll show you your room myself.”

Within the next three minutes each lady was formally presented with a massive silver candlestick, and despatched up-stairs by the aged butler, whose expression distinctly said, “Now, no talking; no sitting up; no reading in bed.”

Peggy’s apartment was large, and oval in shape. It was hung with tapestry, and contained a wonderful carved Indian bedstead. Miss Serle remained for some time relating the history of the furniture and the tapestry. Then she said, “I hope you will sleep well. If you are nervous, remember I am next door, and you have only to knock on the wall with the poker. Must you really go back to-morrow?”

“Oh yes; indeed I must. And early, too, please.”

“You will return again. I have a claim on them. I shall enforce it.”

“But, Miss Serle, I am only a shop girl.”

“Shop girl or not, you are a lady, or my name is not Sophy Serle; simple as I am, I know a gentlewoman when I see her. I have taken a fancy to you, Miss Hayes. Now, tell me, child, have you not good blood in your veins?”

“Miss Sophy,” said a squeaky voice, as the door opened two inches, “I don’t think you can be aware that it is a quarter past ten!”

“Oh, dear! then I must go! Kiss me, Peggy. Goodnight, and God bless you,” and Miss Sophy departed, with rather guilty haste.

Peggy found her present bedroom an amazing contrast to her usual quarters, with six iron beds, six deal wash-stands, and hideous striped green wall paper. Thin apartment would have accommodated thirty. The old mirror was framed in silver, the carpet was velvet pile, the furniture Chippendale, and covered with brocade.

On the bed lay a night-gown, much beruffled, also a huge frilled cap, similar to that worn by the wolf in pictures of Red Riding-Hood.

Peggy put it on; she could not resist it, and gravely contemplated herself in the old spotted mirror. She did not remain grave for long, but burst into peals of merriment.

“Dear me; what is that noise, Darling?” asked her mistress, with a frightened face.

“I’m sure, ma’am, I cannot say for certain,” she answered, stiffly. “Sounds as if the young person had forgotten herself somewhat, and was laughing fit to split her sides!”

No wonder Miss Sophy was startled at the unfamiliar sound, for it was many and many a year since a girl’s gay laugh had re-echoed through the old walls of Serlewood.

Chapter XXXV

Au Revoir

Peggy, in the carved Indian bedstead, slept like the proverbial top (though why a top should sleep I have never yet discovered), and had no occasion for the poker.

After breakfast and prayers the next morning, Miss Serle conducted her young visitor into the garden, and, as they paced along, between a guard of honour consisting of tall hollyhocks and gigantic sunflowers, she became confidential.

“I declare I cannot think what becomes of the fruit and vegetables that are grown. I never seem to have enough, and what I have is unripe or stale. Simmons declares the birds are to blame.”

“The birds and the cats have much to answer for here,” remarked Peggy, “but what about all the fruit and flowers in the green-houses? They must be marvellously clever cats and birds to get in there. One thing is certain, they don’t make a party and go together.”

Miss Serle shook her head, mournfully, and said: “I’m afraid Simmons sells it. Mrs. Lumley of the Grange, says I am fearfully deceived. Are you fond of green figs, my dear?”

“I am indeed. I love them,”

“So do I. Well, I shall see that there are some saved for us for the next time you come. “

“But, dear Miss Serle, I am afraid I cannot return here, much as I should like to do so.”

“And pray why not?”

“Because, when you know more about me, I don’t think you will wish to invite me.”

“You have good blood in your veins, child?”

“Yes. But, Miss Serle, I should tell you that I am not going by my real name. I—I—I have a history.”

“A history!” The old lady paused on the gravel walk, and gazed at her companion with startled eyes, and a faint tinge of colour in her cheeks. This shabby old woman, in a preposterous garden hat, drew herself up, and confronted her pale companion in grave silence.

“Never mind,” she said at last, “I like you for yourself. I don’t want to know your history.”

“But I wish you to know it, Miss Serle,” rejoined the girl, steadily. “Then you will be able to judge whether you would like to have me here again, or not. I will not come under false pretences.”

“Oh, very well,” she retorted, rather peevishly, “if you must, you must! Come into this old summerhouse, and we shall have no interruptions. Now, sit down there in that chair, and tell me all about it;” and, as she spoke, Miss Serle herself stiffly subsided into a seat, but Peggy preferred to remain standing. She began hurriedly, in a low, monotonous voice, to relate the story of the fallen fortunes of her family, of Nether Barton, and then, gradually becoming more animated, at Goring her lover, her husband, her career in Dublin, enlightenment and disgrace, her escape to her humbler life in Barminster, and her sincere thankfulness for small mercies—and complete oblivion.

“A Summerhayes of Summerford is as good as a Serle any day,” broke in her listener, with a little stamp of her goloshed foot. “As to Goring, he is a rascal. He ought to be whipped at the cart’s tail, and hanged. And to think of a child like you having such experiences. You have had a lover, a husband, a house of your own. You are earning your living, and barely twenty years of age. And look at me. I am seventy, and I have never had any events in my life but deaths.”

“I don’t think you need envy me my experiences, Miss Serle,” said the girl, gravely.

“Well, at least you have lived, and been in the world; you have loved, and perhaps hated. You have been, I am sure, admired and fêted, have tasted the keenness of joy and grief. Now, I have only half lived. I’ve never had a lover, or a husband, or a child, or even a keen-witted enemy, or a close friend. My life has been like a dull book in a very dull binding; and what a story is yours.”

“Yes; and now you know it you——”

“I like you twice as well as ever,” she interrupted, impetuously. “But is that all?”

“All there is about myself.” Peggy had kept something back. She had not told Miss Serle that her nephew had taken a rather prominent part in her affairs. “And now I must be thinking of going. I heard the stable clock strike eleven. I can easily walk to Yoxley station.”

“You easily can do no such thing. I mean to drive you there after lunch myself. We will lunch at half-past twelve. I wish you had not to go away, child,” rising, and taking her arm as she left the summer-house, “but you will come back again soon, and stay a week or more. Don’t you have holidays?”

“Yes, I believe so. In August.”

“And you shall spend your holidays here. Pray consider that arranged.”

The ancient chariot duly conveyed Peggy to the station, where Miss Serle introduced her to Mrs. Lumley, a fashionable lady in a magnificent silk dust cloak, who was travelling by the same train.

“You will come again soon, and I’ll write,” said the old lady, ere they parted, as she kissed her guest affectionately on both cheeks.

“It is not often that Miss Serle has friends with her, much less a young lady,” remarked Mrs. Lumley, as she put up her feet on the opposite cushion. “Are you a connection of hers?”

“No; none whatever.”

“Have you made a long visit?”

“I only arrived yesterday afternoon.”

“Oh, really!” with raised brows; “but, I believe, the servants won’t tolerate visitors. It’s an odd ménage, is it not?”

“Yes; I suppose it is.”

“What struck you as the strangest thing?”

“The cats’ dinner bell, I think,” with a broad smile.

“Well, she is a dear old thing, enormously rich, and charitable; spends nothing on herself, as you may see, and remains at the Park solely in order to please, and look after her domestics. Really, the place is nothing more or less than a “home of rest for servants,” a sort of luxurious almshouse. I don’t believe she has one attendant under seventy!”

“It must be a very lonely life.”

“I fancy she is used to it, she has lived that sort of existence ever since she was born; and she was born to be ruled, first by her parents, then by her companion, now by her servants. She would have made an ideal grandmother, so simple-minded, indulgent, and rich! By the way, are you staying in Barminster?”


“I’m going on for an afternoon’s shopping; sales, you know; there is a great one at Grey & Lavender’s—enormous reductions, and so on. Have you been to it?”

“Yes; in one way. I am an assistant in the shop.”

“An ass—is—tant! do you mean that you sell over the counter?” asked Mrs. Lumley, in a voice that was almost tragic.

“Yes; over the counter—flowers and ribbons. I shall be very pleased to serve you.”

Mrs. Lumley made no further remark, beyond an expressive “Oh!” but reached for the World newspaper, and buried herself in its contents. She did not deign to glance at her companion again; no, not even when they arrived at their journey’s end.

The sale was still at its height, and Peggy had the greatest difficulty in making her way into Grey & Lavender’s, when, as soon as possible, she hastened to her post. Mr. Sharples instantly came up—it really almost looked as if he had been watching for her—and inquired how she had got on? and how she had left the old lady? and many other questions.

“A carriage and horses, men-servants, a great house, and park. Yes; I hear she is immensely rich.”

“It was rather an awkward mistake of mine; but of course, one must go by appearances. Has she invited you to return?”

“Yes; next month, for my holiday.”

“Upon my word! That is something like! I expect she has taken a fancy to you;” and then, under his breath, he added, “and who wouldn’t? Velvet heartsease, madam? Yes, this counter; take a chair. Miss Hayes’ velvet flowers.”

In the bedroom Peggy was closely examined by her companions respecting her recent visit. Nan Belt sat on her bed, with her long arms coiled round her knees, and held a sort of court of inquiry. Peggy told them all about Serlewood Park, described the horses and cats, gave a spirited representation of Darling, with her shawl, and squeak, and shuffled about the room like old Pulsifor, handing candlesticks—which performance elicited shrieks of laughter. Then, with a pair of scissors and a newspaper, she made herself a nightcap, and altogether threw her audience into convulsions of giggling delight—so much so, that they one and all suggested like Captain Goring, that Peggy “should go upon the stage!”

Finally, when she came to tell them about the poor lonely old lady, in that great empty house, lost in a vast drawing-room, sitting all alone evening after evening, without a soul to speak to, and no friends, they were almost touched to tears; and when she painted her kindness and simplicity, they one and all vowed that in future, they would make much of every shabby old woman; for who could tell but that she might be another Miss Serle in disguise?

Week succeeded week, yet there was no sign from Serlewood. The heat and dust of the town, the long hours and solid unappetizing food, began to tell upon Peggy. People’s tempers seemed to become a little warped, girls were fagged after the sale, they were snappish and irritable; a collision of two boxes at a corner led to red cheeks and hot words, a quarrel over a dinner hour separated chief friends.

Mr. Sharples continued to haunt the flower-counter, and to force his hateful attentions upon Peggy, who dared not snub him too severely, lest she should lose her place; he had so much in his power, but his open compliments and low asides threw her into a fever of impatience. As for the young man over the linoleum—he had made an offer of his hand and heart, in writing—and had received his answer, and quietus.

At last a note arrived at the end of August, inviting Peggy to Serlewood for ten days. It said:

“Dear Peggy,

“I have been hoping to see you long before this, but Pulsifor’s assistant has been laid up with lumbago and obliged to leave, and he has had some difficulty in procuring a successor, a young, reliable and active person. We have been most fortunate at last; then Pulsifor himself has had a severe attack of gout, but is about again, and although Darling is still very poorly, and complains of her legs and her chest, I hasten to write, and ask you to come to me on Wednesday for your holidays. If necessary, I shall write to the manager, but pray give him a message, and ask him if he will oblige me in this matter. I hope you can come on Wednesday, so as to be here for the Sunday school treat on Thursday. I shall look for you in the two o’clock train.

“Yours very truly,

“Sophia Amelia Serle.”

Mr. Sharples coolly held his hand out for the letter, digested it slowly, and was undeniably impressed. “Of course you can go,” he said, “I see she calls you by your Christian name. Eh? you’ve found the way to her heart too. I shouldn’t wonder if she adopted you.”

“I should, very much. She has her own relations.”

“Well, we will see; she will certainly put you down in her will for a thumping legacy. Ahem, I hope you won’t be too grand for us all when you come back?”

“Pray, was I too grand before?” she asked, airily.

“No; and I say, look here. I—I shall want to have a quiet little talk with you, all by our two selves, when you return;” and he leaned his elbow on the counter and devoured her with his eyes.

Peggy became excessively pale, and dived hastily for a box that was not required. This hint added an unexpected terror to her return to work after her holiday. However, the holiday was still before her, and half the evils in this world are those which have not happened.

Chapter XXXVI

“Bravo, Peggy!”

Yes, there was the yellow chariot, and the dear old bonnet peeping out of the window, and inside the old bonnet a smiling venerable face, awaiting Peggy at Yoxley Station. Miss Serle hailed her with joy, and accepted two magazines and a picture paper with the glee of a six-year-old child; and as they jogged along she imparted all her news—viz. that the figs were ripe and fairly abundant, that Darling was rather out of sorts, and the new footman, Robert, whom Pulsifor himself had discovered, was a treasure.

“But he is so broad-shouldered and tall that I’ve had to get him new livery. Mrs. Lumly declares that I spoil my servants. By the way, she came to see me, to hear all about you. She was shocked to find you were a shop-girl.”

“Yes, so I saw. The shock deprived her of speech. I hope she is not coming to see you this week, for if she is I cannot answer for her reason.”

The hall door at the Park was opened by the recent acquisition in all his finery of new livery—canary coloured waistcoat and blue coat and trousers, after the pattern of the chariot. He was a smart, well-trained, but supercilious servant, and Peggy felt that, although Pulsifor beamed benignly from the sideboard, this Leary waited upon her under impatient protest (possibly discerning that she was but a shop-assistant,) and that her place, in his opinion, was in the servants’ hall or “the room.” At least, he gave her that impression as he thrust down or snatched away her plate and haughtily offered her rice pudding or “plum tart.”

The school treat was an immense success. The day was fine, the refreshments were good and satisfying. Peggy Hayes flung herself into all the games with the ardour and abandon of a village girl of twenty, and Miss Serle was warmly complimented by the Vicar on the aid and exertions of her pretty friend.

On Sunday Miss Serle and her guest went twice to the Parish Church, where they occupied a vast pew that smelt of mushrooms. Miss Serle put a sovereign in the plate—her invariable contribution—and sang hymns in a sweet, thin old treble. And day by day she and Peggy became greater friends. Their natural positions were reversed, for it was the younger who imparted many novel ideas to the elder. She urged her to get modern books and magazines, to have her spectacles altered to suit her sight. She tempted her to cut flowers, which she arranged in great bowls of priceless china; she taught her bezique, and trimmed her two caps, and “did up” her bonnet, and was unconsciously making herself indispensable to her old new friend. Peggy still adhered to her after-dinner stroll—in the indispensable goloshes—and one quiet evening, as she wandered between the high hedges of the maze, her heart nearly leapt into her mouth at hearing a voice close beside her. She looked about, there was no one in sight, but peeping cautiously through a screen of laurels, there, in the next turning, she beheld two men. They were standing with their backs to her, talking earnestly.

“They go to bed at ten, so we will get it over early.” It was the voice of Leary.

“Yes, it’s a darkish night—the moon rises late.”

“Oh, hang the moon; they are mostly deaf and blind. There isn’t a man in the house under eighty; it will be a soft job,” replied Leary, scornfully.

“Aye, and a first-rate one,” growled the other. “I believe there is £6000 worth of silver on the premises, and the old girl has some fine family diamonds and pearls. It was an A1 business your coming after the place.”

“Yes. There is nothing like being on the spot. I know where the swag is. I’ve got all the keys. I’ll let you in along with Bull’s-eye Bill, and Dandy Joe, and give you a slap-up supper.”

“What do you say to salmon and champagne?”

“Garn! I say tripe and old Tom. The spring cart will be here about eleven. I suppose it can take all the swag.”

“Yes,” with a laugh. “We don’t want no furniture; but there’s some rare china. We may as well collar that. There’s a stranger in the house—a damned pretty girl.”

Peggy bent down and listened breathlessly, her heart was thumping, her very goloshes seemed to squeak!

“She’s in the next room to the old woman, and if the old party makes a noise, she will be in like a shot. What’s to be done?”

“Why, if she won’t hold her row, do for her. We’re not going to lose a matter of ten thousand for a squawking fool!”

“The old lady has the keys of the diamonds under her pillow, they are in a safe in the wall. If she makes a row?”

“Just ram something down her throat, and if that won’t do, twist her scraggy neck. But don’t let’s have any mess about, you know. Let’s do the thing genteel.”

“Well, eleven is the hour. I’ll let you in at the back-door, and if any one asks who you are I’ll swear you’re my twin brothers, eh? Now, I must be off; it’s getting on for tea. Where is the road out of this confounded place?”

Peggy knelt on the damp ground, her heart nearly choking her. If they turned to the right, they must discover her, and she could never escape from two men in the intricacies of this horrible maze. What a moment of agonizing suspense! It passed; she heard them stealing away cautiously, in the opposite direction. Presently she rose, and crept out, trembling. What was she to do? It was nearly eight o’clock, the burglar was among them—they were a set of feeble folk and powerless. She must think of something—and think of something soon—and she walked up and down the terrace in a sort of frenzy of anxiety. She must endeavour to act, so as to protect and defend all the old people who were under the roof. It was for her to save them—it seemed to her as if their lives were in her hands. She endeavoured to collect her ideas, to steady her leaping pulses and think hard. Should she run down to the lodge gates, and send me for the police? The gates were nearly a mile off. No, she would be missed, and when Leary brought in tea, he might be suspicious.

Also the inmates of the lodge were old people and young children. There was one youth on the premises. A boy who cleaned the knives and boots, she had seen him once or twice at prayers—he might go for the police, the police barrack was in Goose Green three miles away—ride one of the carriage horses? No! he could walk faster; and how was she to get hold of him? As she stood looking at the stars, an idea flashed upon her. She turned it over carefully in her mind, and then a sudden calm, and settled resolve succeeded to the wild whirl of her thoughts, and she entered the drawing-room through the French window, which she closed and bolted carefully.

“I do believe I’ve been having forty winks!” cried Miss Serle, rousing herself in surprise (as if she did not have forty hundred every evening!) “And I declare, it must be close on tea time. Dear me, Peggy, how white you look! and how your eyes shine! I should not wonder if you have caught cold? these fine evenings are so treacherous. Did you wear my goloshes?”

“Oh, yes! I was only on the terrace”—a lie for the benefit of Leary, who had entered with the tea things. Then she added, as she walked over to the writing table, “I’d better just send a line to Grey & Lavender about that silk you want, or it will all be gone. Am I too late for the post?” and she divided her question between Miss Serle and the footman, as she seized a pen. “Not if I send specially, the boot-boy can run to the village, eh, Robert?”

“Yes’m; but I think he is out just now. I’ll see.”

Meanwhile Peggy wrote:

“To the Police Sergeant, Goose Green. Urgent.

“A party of burglars intend to rob Serlewood to-night at eleven o’clock. Robert Leary, the new footman, will admit them by the kitchen door; there will be four at least. Please send help at once; there is not a moment to lose. No men, or arms here. Written for Miss Serle by M. Hayes, eight o’clock.”

As she crammed this into an envelope, Leary entered with the hissing tea-urn, and said:

“William has gone down to Mr. Higgs, ma’am, but will be back in half-an-hour.”

“Oh, dear! what a pity—too late for the mail.”

“I—ah—suppose you could not manage to take it yourself, Robert. You might run down before prayers?” suggested his mistress, insinuatingly.

“Very sorry, ma’am, but I really could not spare time. I’ve a lot of plate cleaned, that I must put away to-night, and I’m rather pressed this evening.”

Peggy’s tea was the merest pretence, though she cleverly concealed the fact, and hid her untouched bread and butter in her pocket.

When Robert returned Miss Serle said :—

“I’ve been thinking that I’d like to have a look at the old George the Second tray. I’ve been telling Miss Hayes about it, and I’ve a fancy to compare it with this, and maybe take it into use.”

“Now, ma’am?” in a tone of unfeigned remonstrance.

“Well, since you are going to the plate-closet to-night you may as well bring it up. It is on the top shelf, in a baize bag.”

“Very well, ma’am,” he assented. (After all, this getting out of plate would subsequently economize time and trouble.)

“And you might as well fetch it at once, before you remove the other,” continued the old lady, who had had all these notions dextrously put into her head by the pale girl, who was pretending to examine a sugar-bowl.

“Very well, ma’am.”

“Oh—” said Miss Hayes, suddenly raising her head—“I’ve never seen a plate-closet. I’ve no idea what it’s like—whether it’s in the wall, or stands on legs. May I go too?”

Robert looked at her sharply. She was stifling an enormous yawn. Well, it was sleepy work sitting all day with a half-silly old woman. Maybe she had taken a fancy to him—such things had occurred, and she was devilish handsome. Yes, certainly she might come.

“Very well, miss, if you wish,” and he held open the door for her to pass out—Robert was a well-trained servant—and then briskly preceded her down the kitchen stairs.

“She was very handsome; pity she had not more colour,” he said to himself, as he lit a candle, and once more confronted the steady glance of this heroic girl. She had a curious hard, bright look in her eyes: perhaps she had not taken a fancy to him, after all. Anyhow, he must humour the old woman, and keep the keys from Pulsifor, who was fast asleep in his armchair in the servants’ hall. He turned the key and unlocked the door of the plate-closet, a snug little room, close to the kitchen. The tray was on a top shelf, and whilst Leary was reaching it, the girl stepped suddenly back. He must have guessed her intention, for he instantly jumped off the steps; but she had already slammed the door, and locked it. If the key had been rusty, she was lost; but, fortunately, it had recently been well oiled. She went into the “room,” and told the horrified housekeeper her tale, in a few words, and desired that the knife-and-boot boy should be ready to carry a note to the police immediately. She next informed the trembling and tottering Pulsifor, and, having despatched the messenger, with the butler and the two housemaids went round the house, and made fast every single bar and bolt with her own hands.

When she had accomplished this, Peggy went up-stairs, and broke the news as carefully as she could to the old lady, who was not half as much frightened as she had anticipated, and valiantly referred to her father’s blunderbuss, which was still over the mantlepiece in the library.

Then they both went into the hall, and listened to the appalling noise in the plate room—the shouts, oaths, and door bangings of Leary the footman were positively blood-curdling. Fortunately, the door was stout oak. Nevertheless, though palsied with terror, Pulsifor went; and sat down over against it, on the kitchen stairs, armed with the said blunderbuss, the discharge of which would have undoubtedly been fatal to the old man.

It might have been half-past twelve, but it was really half-past nine, when the boy returned breathless. It was all right; he brought two police from Goose Green, and several others had crept into hiding in the shrubbery. Later on they caught the party in the act of forcing a passage window. There was a violent struggle, two shots were fired, but no harm ensued. The burglars were secured, as well as Mr. Leary, a notorious adept at “cracking a crib,” and who had been badly wanted for some time. The spring cart the gang had so thoughtfully provided to carry their booty, proved very convenient for their own transport to Goose Green police station.

Miss Serle, Darling, and, indeed, all the household, had figuratively hung upon brave Miss Hayes; who kept up their courage by her wonderful nerve and admirable example.

“Oh, Peggy, Peggy,” said Miss Serle, embracing her at a late hour, in her own room. “Only for you, we would all have been murdered. You have as much courage as a man.”

“You will have to get a real man to sleep here in future, and you ought to send your diamonds and silver to the bank. This affair will become known, and other burglars will probably try, in hopes of being successful.”

“I shall have a body-guard of some sort,” acquiesced Miss Serle. “I could not have a better one than you, Peggy, you have saved our lives by your coolness and courage, and I shall never let you out of my sight as long as I live.”

“Oh, Miss Serle, that is impossible!”

“No; you shall leave that horrid shop, and take another situation. Geoffrey always said I ought to have a companion, but Darling strongly objected. How would you like to be my companion?”

“Of all things in the world, only I am not suitable.”

“Not suitable? Why, what do you mean? You can write my letters, read to me, amuse me, protect me. Come! you must say yes.”

“Yes, dear Miss Serle, with pleasure; but what will the firm say?”

“I neither know or care,” was the reckless answer; “I will gladly pay for a substitute for you, if required. I am a lonely old woman, and I want you. And you must come and sleep in my room to-night on a stretcher bed.”

“Well, Miss Serle,” said Peggy, as she tucked her up and kissed her. “You can no longer complain that there are no events in your life. It is not every one who has a burglar as a footman!”

*  *  *

The story of housebreakers at Serlewood, and the valiant young lady who locked up the burglar, was in all the local papers, and in everyone’s mouth, and, needless to say, much commented upon among the assistants at Grey & Lavender’s. The flower-counter held up its head, and Miss Scott was boastful of “one of my girls,” and several people asked to have Miss Hayes pointed out to them, but, Miss Hayes, who was still absent, was not on view.

“She has made her fortune, unless I’m mistaken, whispered Nan to Mr. Potts, as they snatched a few sweet moments on the grand staircase. “We will never see her here again.”

But Miss Belt was wrong, for the very next morning the heroine appeared among them, merely, however, to take her congé, and to say good-by. As she walked up to her own department, it seemed to her if last ten days had been a dream. Here was Mr. Nixon, bullying a child, who had come to match a pattern. There was Miss Scott, with her most seductive air, leaning over the counter, and testing a certain shade against a customer’s cheek. Miss Gosse, with her plump little figure, and curl on her forehead—the best of all the business girls—persuading a lady, who had come merely to buy a ribbon belt, into purchasing a white feather fan, price five guineas. Mr. Sharples was absent at the markets, which was a prodigious relief to Miss Hayes, who took leave of the manager, paying him a month’s salary in lieu of a month’s notice.

Mr. Preedy was profusely polite and complimentary, and said, had he himself only to consider, he would waive the money, especially under the circumstances; “but you see, Miss Hayes,” he added, in a burst of confidence, “there is the firm! There is no sentiment about the firm”—and Mr. Preedy never spoke a truer word. “We shall always take an interest in you, Miss Hayes,” he continued, twiddling his chain; “and though you will no longer be one of our most charming assistants, I trust that we may often see you as a customer,” and he bowed her out.

Peggy entertained her friend Nan to a recherché tea at James’s, and there they enjoyed a good comfortable talk.

“Just about a year ago you had your first tea here,” remarked Miss Belt; “and now this is your last! what a contrast! Then you were a miserable, haggard, woebegone creature, without an ounce of spirit, or a scrap of good looks! Now, you are Pretty Peggy again—the heroine of a sensational burglary case, the pet of the shop-walkers, the adopted daughter of a sort of fairy godmother. By the way, dear, you must bring the fairy to the shop and get her a new mantle! She needs it badly.”

Peggy laughed, as she said, “I am merely her companion; and she is going to give me fifty pounds a year. Still, I am very lucky; and a great share of my good luck is due to you, Nan. You took me up and set me on my feet when I was sinking, and I shall never forget it. Some day I hope I may be able to give you deeds, not words!”

“Nonsense, Peggy; your luck was of your own making. But in one way you were too successful; I mean Sharples. If you had stayed, you’d have had to marry him.”

“Then, I should certainly have left.”

“I don’t envy his department, when he returns and finds that you have got another situation! I expect he will write to you.”

“I sincerely hope not, Nan; but I shall write to you, and you will write to me constantly. And now, I must be off.”

Peggy took up her post at once, arrived at Serlewood with all her belongings, and entered fully into her new life. By gradual degrees wonderful changes came to pass. Old Pulsifor was prevailed upon to retire on a fine pension. Darling, between dread of burglars, jealousy of the interloper, whom she denounced with hysterical violence, and what she called “her bronchitis,” threw up her situation. The aged coachman, and his horses, were comfortably provided for. A neat brougham took the place of the yellow chariot (sold for old iron), and a pair of fine cobs superseded the ancient chestnuts. These cobs were chosen by John Travenor, to whom Peggy wrote and explained that she had found a settled home, and was very happy. To this he replied, that he was glad to hear her news, and that he himself was about to be married to Jessy Compton, of Upper Barton, a smart, good-looking girl, who would make a capital farmer’s wife.

Peggy introduced various innovations at Serlewood—papers, magazines, new novels, afternoon tea, and a later dinner hour. She taught Miss Serle crochet and piquet. She sang to her, read to her, amused her, and finally prevailed upon her to come to London to see an oculist. This was a great move—a prodigious occasion. The two ladies, accompanied by Jackson—the new maid, an experienced person of thirty—repaired to an hotel, where the old lady’s sensations in the lift were overwhelming. She was also much impressed by the table d’hôte and the string band. Altogether it was a new world. A celebrated oculist provided her with spectacles, and declared that for her years Miss Serle’s sight was in remarkably good case.

Miss Serle and her companion slowly promenaded Piccadilly and Bond Street, drinking in, so to speak, the contents of the shop windows. Miss Serle launched out into bonnets, mantles, and gowns, fired to emulation by the fashionable appearance presented by various old ladies she saw at her hotel. She purchased new chintz, carpets, a five o’clock tea-table, and couple of standard lamps.

The pair of harmless adventuresses went to picture galleries, concerts, to a matinee at the Lyceum, and to another at the Criterion. They drove round the park, they attended service at the Abbey, and, at the end of three weeks, Miss Serle returned home a new woman. She had entered on a fresh lease of life; her young companion had imparted to her some of her own vitality, and Miss Serle expressed a desire, nay, a determination, at the age of seventy, “to see the world!” (Her motto was undoubtedly, “Better late than never”). Even her appearance had been transformed: she no longer wore open bell sleeves and full skirts (as in the sixties), but well-made rich gowns, and smart caps and bonnets. The last struggle with the past, was embodied in her front.

“Your own beautiful, thick, white hair, is far nicer than this,” said Peggy, pointing to the front with the finger of scorn. “Do let me burn it!”

“Burn it, you profane girl! My mother always wore one, and a little brown silk skull cap over her own hair.”

“Perhaps she had not much hair. You have a quantity. Come, come—do—please allow me,” looking eagerly towards the fire, “I will dress your hair, and you won’t know yourself!”

“No one will know me. Peggy, I dare not do it—unless I went abroad.”

“Excellent idea!” clapping her hands. “You have never been abroad. Let us go on the Continent, for the purpose of getting rid of your front. By and by you shall reappear with your own nice white curls, and every one will say: ‘It is the effect of the climate!’”

“Or that my reckless young friend had turned my hair grey?”

“I don’t mind in the least; put it all down to me; but think of seeing Paris, Rome, Naples, Switzerland—Oh, Miss Serle!—and Jackson is a splendid courier maid; and you can put the cobs out at grass, and Mrs. Riggs will feed the cats. Oh, dear Miss Serle, do let us go, like people in a fairy tale, ‘out to see the great world, and seek our fortunes.’”

“Seek your fortune, you mean, Peggy! Mine is over and done with years ago?”

“At any rate, it would give you great pleasure to visit places you have only read about, to see mountains, pictures, lakes, and cathedrals with your own eyes.”

“Yes; it would indeed, my dear.”

“Then let us start off, if we must have an excuse, to seek your pleasures, and my fortune!”

And they went.


Part IV — Recompense

Chapter XXXVII

The English Mail

Captain Kinloch sat in a white-washed, thatched bungalow, which he shared with Mr. York of his regiment. His elbows were resting on a square teak writing-table, his head rested on his hands, his eyes on vacancy. Certainly, he was not contemplating the prospect which faced him through the open glass door—a pink-pillared veranda, palms in pots, and a great clump of feathery bamboos. Nor did he notice the silver squirrels who chased one another up and down the latticed-worked porch, or the trio of men who rode by the compound wall loudly discussing polo.

A fortnight previously he had joined the second battalion of the Rangers, and found himself at a delightful station, not far from the foot of the Himalayas. It was just the beginning of the cold weather, when prudent people in the hills provide themselves with wraps, and there is a nip in the air after sundown; and when those who have suffered from the burthen and heat of the day upon the plains, awaken from the enervating effects of the steamy rains, and realize that once more life is worth living.

Kinloch had settled down immediately, with the ease of a seasoned Anglo-Indian, engaged servants (indeed, his former bearer had met and engaged him at Bombay), had bought his necessary chairs and tables from the local parsee, also a smart waiter and a couple of country-bred ponies, and accepted a fox-terrier pup.

As the most recent arrival, he was looked to for all the latest European social and regimental news. Now the English mail was just in, and the letters on the table before him had brought him some unexpected intelligence. As he sat thus gazing presumably into the past in another hemisphere, the purdah (curtain) between two rooms was raised, and a tall young man, in breeches and polo boots, stood in the doorway with an alert air.

“Hullo!” he exclaimed, then glanced sharply at Kinloch’s face and the open letter spread before him. “Bad news, eh?”

The other merely nodded.

“Awfully sorry, old man.” A dead silence. Somehow, much as he liked his comrade, Kinloch was not a man to whom it was easy to offer pity or sympathy; and, after a moment’s rather embarrassed pause, he let fall the curtain quietly, and vanished. He would have been considerably astonished (not to say scandalized) had he glanced over Kinloch’s shoulder and read the epistle which had evidently cut him up so. It was from Captain Hesketh, and this was the particular paragraph.

“Goring’s smash has come at last, and he has gone. No one is sorry. He never took anything seriously but the pleasures of life; and he was always mixed up with a bad set—utterly unscrupulous. The Leger was to him the last straw, and immediately after it he sent in his papers. His horses and effects sold well by auction, and his mess bill at any rate has been defrayed, but he has left not a few anxious creditors behind him; they are the only people who regret his departure. But we are much concerned about his wife, who disappeared most mysteriously one evening without leaving a trace, or writing a line even to Kathleen. The wildest conjectures are afloat. It has been ascertained that Mrs. Goring has not returned to her own people; her servants can throw no light upon her whereabouts, and there is a general, but unspoken impression, that the unhappy girl has found a refuge from all her troubles in the Liffey.”

“And why not?” he asked himself; with his own ears he had heard her apostrophize it as “a tempting river.”

It was noised abroad in the regiment that Kinloch had received bad news from home; he seemed very sick about something. It was not the loss of a relative, for his left arm displayed no band of crape. It might have to do with promotion or investments, or—no, he was not a lady’s man.

The following mail brought Captain Kinloch a note from Mrs. Hesketh—a hasty scrawl, dashed off to catch the post.

The purport of it was to engage a former butler and ayah, who had been in their service, as she announced that they might be ordered to India immediately.

His eyes traveled anxiously over the paper—not a word of Mrs. Goring, till the very last sheet, here it is:

“I told Herbert to be sure and ask you to be so good as to see about Abdul, Mindoo, Munia, and the others; but he was so immensely exercised about the Goring affair (and, to be candid, so was I), that I believe he forgot my instructions. As she was rather a friend of yours, I daresay you may be interested to hear that Mrs. Goring is all right. The waters of the Liffey have not closed over her; and, indeed, I was never a believer in that scare. She is a religious girl, for one thing, and for another, I never yet heard of a would-be suicide taking luggage with her!

“I sent for, and personally interviewed the Gorings’ domestics; and the parlour-maid, in floods of tears, admitted that Mrs. Goring ‘had taken a box with her, and drove away clean and clever on a jarvey. She didn’t know where! and Mrs. Goring herself couldn’t rightly tell where she was going. She looked very white and upset.’

“At any rate, she stole from Dublin like a thief in the night—not a word, or hint, or line, much less a P.P.C. card to any one. To-day she sent me what we call a ‘bit of a note,’ posted in London, to say that she has parted with Captain Goring forever (I wonder what she has found out now?) and that she will never forget me as long as she lives, but implores me to forget her, thanks me a thousand times for all my kindness, and remains mine, ever gratefully, Peggy—simply Peggy! So I conclude that she has dropped the man and his name simultaneously. I am highly incensed, in fact, furious, with Peggy. I was at home when the Gorings came to grief, but she knew my address, and I’d have come up to her by the first train. What is the good of friends, if you don’t make use of them when you are in trouble? He has gone to America to open ‘on dit’, a gambling saloon in San Francisco!—a congenial business; there he will be thoroughly in his element. I hope something may happen to detain us at home till February, for it will be such a wretch leaving the boys. However, Herbert has been told to hold himself in readiness; and will you please pass on this order to our native suite.

“Your affectionate cousin,

“K. H.”

Major and Mrs. Hesketh did not arrive at Bogalpore till quite the end of the cold weather. The station had enjoyed an unusually gay season. A camp of exercise had been held in the neighbourhood—there were sham fights, marchings, excursions, and alarms; this represented work. Play, on the other hand, consists of pig-sticking, pony-racing, snipe-shooting in the big jheels, and, besides all this, there were balls, and picnics, and theatricals, and the hills had rained down a shower of pretty girls upon the station.

Captain Kinloch entered into both work and play, con amore. The days and weeks appeared to fly. He found the cold weather manoeuvres extremely interesting; and he also did his best to interest himself in some of the cold weather girls.

There was a tall fair maiden, with sleepy grey eyes, who danced divinely, and talked the most delicious nonsense—aye, and invited him out into a moonlit garden to inhale the scent of the orange blossoms. There was a pretty little dark-eyed Amazon, whom he escorted round the race-course early on Thursday mornings, when the air was crisp; and a plump laughing damsel, who kept four dances for him at the fancy ball.

He liked them all, and they liked him—he was always so cheery, and chivalrous, and so charming! But when he went away to a staff appointment in the spring, merely leaving the retinue to receive the Heskeths, these three fair ladies, or graces, soon faded from his mind. In six months he had forgotten their appearance. In a year, their very identity and names. Yet strange to say—for love is a power no will can control—and much as he desired it, he could not contrive to forget Peggy Goring.


Mrs. Hesketh Kisses Her Cousin

The North-West frontier, which had been smouldering for some time, at last burst into flames, and one of its periodical little wars. Wars which are soon forgotten, and lose their names, dates, and identities in busy Europe, and yet are, in their own way, the most arduous of campaigns. Our forces have to deal with a desolate, arid country, almost inaccessible passes, a fanatical ruthless enemy who is no mean foe, being well armed, enduring, and elusive.

The Rangers were in the first fighting line, therefore, promptly ordered to the front; and Captain Kinloch, abandoning the so-called “Capuan Ease” of a hill staff appointment, hurried down in order to join his regiment, and have what he called “a look in at the Afridis.”

There was the usual first act. The weary train journey to Rawal Pindi; the carriages crammed with cheerful clamorous Tommies, clad in Kharki, singing and joking. The long lines of wagons, loaded with foreign mules and querulous camels, whose bones were destined to strew the line of many a toilsome mile.

Then the arrival at the point at which the rail ended, the marching away of a long brown line of men and mules, gradually disappearing towards the horizon. This was act two.

Act the third was the ensuing campaign, which proved to be one of desperate hardships, serious losses, and not a few actions, in which there was scope for daring deeds of solitary heroism. Deeds impossible in more civilized machine-made warfare; deeds resembling the single combats of the Middle Ages, where breathless spectators looking on, powerless to interfere, watched a life and death encounter. Or a brave man carrying his life in his hand, and throwing it away, in order to rescue a comrade.

After a time, the tribesmen were reduced to submission. Money, and Martini and Mitford rifles (of mysterious abstraction) were handed over, the power of the empire had been asserted; but the loss had been heavy. Nothing is so expensive as glory.

Many, many of that long brown line, who had marched away so gallantly, returned no more. Mute, inglorious heroes, who fought, and fell, and were rolled in a blanket, and buried without funeral note, or beat of drum.

Captain Kinloch survived, to be carried in a jolting doolie to the base of operations—survived, to the amazement of the medical staff. According to all theories and precedents, a man with such a wound in his shoulder, and a bullet in his chest, ought to have died; but this fellow’s hold on life (a joyless life, too, had they but known) appeared to be relentless.

*  *  *

It was five o’clock on a January evening, in Lucknow, the voice of the “Muezzin” was calling the faithful to prayer, a regimental string band was playing “La Paloma,” and the faint evening breeze carried the two sounds into a wide verandah, where Geoffrey Kinloch lay propped up in a long chair, at the very gates of death. He was alone, for his cousin Herbert Hesketh had gone down to the railway station, in order to meet his wife, who was coming from Bogalpore to take leave of Geoffrey, before he went home. The question was, which home? His long home? or England? He was fearfully wasted, though his wounds had healed; in spite of all that could be done, a merciless fever was licking up his life like a flame. His hands were skeleton, his eyes were sunken, and bore traces of acute suffering, but they revealed also a steadfast soul, strong to withstand pain, yea, and death. At present, these eyes rested rather wistfully upon a half-naked Mallie, who, with two chatties, and the ever-useful kerosine tin, was busily engaged in watering some beds of purple heartsease, which, in their setting of green velvet turf, looked entirely English, and out of place against their background of bamboos, cacti, and palms. These fenced the garden from the public road, a road from which arose great volumes of reddish brown dust, as jingling ekkas, lumbering bullock carts, and strings of soft-footed camels drifted by.

“You will see him fearfully changed, Katie,” said Major Hesketh, as he drove his wife from the station in a dog-cart. “So be prepared, and don’t look shocked. I daresay he will say more to you than to me about his affairs. A man turns naturally to a woman when he is dying. Oh, well,” in answer to her startled eyes, “I mean, seriously ill.”

“I don’t believe he is dying. I can’t imagine Geoffrey’s funeral,” said Kathleen, recklessly.

“Then, I can,” rejoined his cousin, “and the band playing Beethoven’s ‘Funeral March’ on the death of a hero, and half the soldiers in the province following the gun-carriage. You could, too, if you once saw him; he insists on sitting up and being dressed,which makes him look far more ghastly than if he would stay quietly in bed. However, the Kinlochs are a hardy race: the old General had as many lives as a cat, and was covered with wounds; and Geoff has an iron constitution, so we may pull him through yet, please God; but I must say the regiment is excessively anxious, I am pestered with wires and chits. Hullo, Marsh!” As a spruce little elderly man cantered by on a polo pony.

“Why, Hesketh, and Mrs. Hesketh,” pulling up, “this is a most unexpected pleasure. When did you arrive?”

“I arrived on Monday week. My wife half-an-hour ago.”

“I’ve come over to see Captain Kinloch,” explained Kathleen; “my husband is taking him down to Bombay.”

“Oh!” and the other man’s face grew grave; “I’m afraid that’s a bad business. It does seem hard lines that we should lose so many fine fellows in these hole and corner wars, when they are just singled out and potted from behind a rock, as if it was deer-stalking.”

“At any rate, Kinloch afforded a noble example, and gave his life for his friend,” said his cousin.

“Yes; his going back alone in the dark, after the column had retired, in order to seek for Yorke, beating off these tribesmen, and rescuing him single-handed, was an act of splendid courage and daring; and which especially appeals to those who know the foul, fanatical Afridi, as he is at home, and how he treats our wounded!”

“Yorke will soon be as fit as possible, and Kinloch’s case is not hopeless,” said Major Hesketh. “The voyage home may set him up!”

“It would, if he could stand it; but I’m afraid, from what I hear, that like many another gallant fellow, he will be buried in the Red Sea.”

“Oh, please, don’t say that!” cried Mrs. Hesketh; “of course I know the superstition that the Red Sea claims a victim from every troop.”

“Half-a-dozen sometimes! However, we must hope for the best. I’ll come and call to-morrow, if I may. I see I’m detaining you now. I’m just going on to the band. Good-bye,” and as his impatient pony darted off and clattered noisily down the wide white road, Mrs. Hesketh burst into tears.

“Come, come, Katie, little Marsh is always burying every one; don’t let Geoff see you with red eyes,” said her husband, as they went spinning up a gravelled drive. “Go and make yourself presentable, before you come into the west verandah.”

Whatever Kathleen Hesketh thought when she first saw Geoffrey Kinloch (after a period of two and a half years), she did her utmost to be composed and cheerful, and as she poured out tea, chatted away about her recent journey, and the children, she struggled hard to smile, and to keep her voice steady. Red Sea! he would not live to reach Bombay! His bones were almost through his skin, and his skin looked like parchment. The following afternoon, as she sat with him reading the boys’ letters, talking and knitting, the conversation naturally turned upon home.

“I wonder if I shall ever see the white cliffs of England again?” he said, in a weary voice.

Kathleen made no immediate reply. She was keeping down a lump in her throat, and mustering up her courage. At last she said, “Why not? I believe you will; but it is always best to be prepared. I’ve made a kind of little will myself, in case of cholera, or sudden death, leaving my personal belongings to different dear friends. Of course, in your case, it is different.”

“Yes. Kenneth is my heir. I should like him to have my sword and medals, and Herbert my guns and the ponies, and you, my watch for Baba, and the money I leave—the loose cash, at Cox’s—to go to the wives of the poor fellows who were killed; and any things you like to select—I haven’t much—give to Aunt Sophy and Tom and his wife, and the others.”

Kathleen sat very still for some moments. At last she whispered,

“And the girl. What am I to give her?”

“Girl? what do you mean? “

“Is there no one you care for? No one to whom you would wish me to—to—send a message—or a remembrance?”

“No; no one,” he answered, in a low, measured voice.

A little squirrel ran along the veranda, and peeped in at them, its beady black eyes surveyed the lady in a white serge with the anxious face, the shattered invalid in his long chair. A pair of hoopoos began to dust themselves vigorously in the soft sand of the avenue, and the notorious “brain-fever bird,” established among the bamboos, emitted at least half-a-dozen of his maddening notes, before either of the two spoke again.

“Aunt Sophy has been very anxious, Katie, she has telegraphed twice. I wish you would write to her for me.”

“Yes, of course. Where is she now?”

“On the Riviera. She has been traveling about a great deal. What a changed life!”

“I believe she has got rid of all her old tyrants the servants, and carried out the most sweeping reforms, and has an indefatigable companion. I wonder where she picked her up?”

“In a shop, I believe,” he answered, with a faint smile.

“By all accounts she is a perfect treasure: young, beautiful, amiable and accomplished.”

“Did she mention her name?”

“I really forget; you can see her last letter, I was not desperately interested; Kathleen, why are you looking so eager, and round-eyed? Positively the image of Baba, when he is expecting a gift.”

“I am trying to put two and two together. I was thinking of some one. You remember Mrs. Goring?”

“Remember Mrs. Goring?” he repeated, and he laughed in a low weak voice, “My dear Katie, is it only my body that is weak, not my mind. I thought she was in your black books—a defaulter, in short?”

“No, no; not now!”

“And may I ask, what has she done to reinstate herself in your good graces?”

“Just before I came out, I met her face to face quite accidentally. She gave me her reasons for her silence.”

“Sound ones?”

Mrs. Hesketh nodded.

“And where is she? Why did she leave Goring?”

“She told me. She implored me not to tell any one, especially, above all, not to tell you.”

A silence—a deliberate, quiet, tell-tale silence that proclaimed the truth to Mrs. Hesketh. Ah, she has divined Geoffrey’s secret at last, and no thanks to him. She read the whole story with the quick wit of a woman—and an Irish woman. Geoff had been in love with Peggy; Captain Goring had supplanted him. Now, she understood his broken hints, his generous offers, his absence, his craving for foreign service, his stern denial that there was any girl to whom, as a dying man, he wished to send a message or a token.

“It was nothing to her discredit,” said Mrs. Hesketh, speaking at last, “Captain Goring was to blame.”

“From what I know of him, I can readily believe that. How is she?”

“Well and brave and earning her own living.”

“And where—?”

Kathleen looked fixedly at her questioner—his ashen face, his skeleton hands. After all, why should she not tell him? It would do him no harm. Peggy would pardon her, under the circumstances, and he, judging by his expression, was desperately interested in this question.

“She is in a shop at Barminster. I happened to be in Grey and Lavender’s one day—you know Grey and Lavender’s?—and the girl next to the one serving me was Peggy. I nearly screamed out, I was so surprised. I managed to have a few words with her alone. She told me she had left Captain Goring because she was not his wife?”

Her listener started so violently that he overturned the little table at his elbow with a crash, and the squirrels who were sitting close to the chair, whispering, fled; the hoopoos ceased to scuffle in the dust, and ran in among the creepers. The brain-fever bird—no—nothing ever alarms or silences him!

“Oh, Geoff, please keep quiet!” cried Kathleen in a tone of despair, “here is your orderly coming; he looks as if he thinks I ought to be whipped.”

“It’s all right, Hogan, all right!” said the invalid, impatiently. “Just pick up the pieces. No, no! No more chicken broth. You can go; I don’t want anything!”

As soon as Hogan had departed, carrying off the broken cup and saucer, he looked at her eagerly, and said.

“Go on—go on.”

“Geoff, did you ever hear that Captain Goring had a former wife in India?”

“Do you think I would have been his best man if I had?”

“An engine-driver’s daughter that he married in Jhansi, about six years before he met Peggy.”

“Never heard of her.”

“Well, it is true. She was supposed to be dead—you know the sort of story?”

“You mean lie—yes!”

“At any rate, Peggy believes that he had told her the truth, she left him that hour, and went away to an old schoolfellow, who got her into a shop in which she was herself employed; and there she is—unless she is your aunt’s companion.”

He shook his head impatiently.

“She appeared to be quite at home behind the counter, though of course, an attractive girl is at home anywhere. She was so pretty and quick, I looked at her twice, and recognized Peggy.”

“Peggy what?”

“She calls herself Hayes. She wrote to me twice afterwards, and then, you see, I left England. One is always so slack about letters out here: I wrote to her for Christmas, and got no answer, but a card on my birthday, so she has not forgotten me. Honestly, Geoffrey, it would never surprise me, if she and your aunt’s treasure were one and the same person.”

“Kathleen, how Irish of you, to go flying off with this idea,” he exclaimed, with a smile, “there are many large shops in Barminster.”

“Yes; but not many Peggies. Geoffrey,” she said, suddenly, rising to her feet, “where is your Aunt Sophy’s last letter?”

“Let me see,—it’s in my despatch box, and where is my despatch box?” and he put his hands to his head.

“Now please don’t excite yourself, I’ll call the bearer, he always knows where to find everything,” and she flitted out of the veranda.

In a very short time, the bearer and box were produced, the box was opened, and hastily ransacked, and from a narrow envelope addressed in a scratchy hand, a very much crossed letter—a regular bit of lattice work—was drawn out.

“I can’t think why my aunt will cross her letters!” he said, “paper and postage are cheap enough now! Here, Katie!” and Katie, as she took it from him, noticed how his hand was trembling; was it all from sheer physical weakness?

“Yes, here it is,” she said, after a short silence: “My companion and I spent a most delightful month in Rome, where we stayed at the Hotel Quirinale. We are both most ardent sightseers, she is the brightest, and best of girls, her only fault is that she is so pretty as to be quite remarkable wherever we go; but she has, thank goodness, an old head on young shoulders—I have a young head on old shoulders. I think I mentioned that her name is Hayes—Margaret Hayes.”

Kinloch gave a little quick gasp, and held out his hand to verify this extraordinary coincidence.

“She has been with her for nearly two years, and it is Peggy who has carried out all these reforms,” said Mrs. Hesketh, slowly.

Captain Kinloch lay back in his chair, and closed his eyes as if exhausted.

“What a piece of luck for Peggy! and your aunt and for you, Geoffrey,” said Kathleen, greatly daring. “I know all about it now.”

“Who told you?” . . . Opening his eyes, and looking at her fixedly.

“No one; my own wits, and your silence. You and Captain Goring both fell in love with the same girl.”

He nodded.

“And she chose the wrong man—to her cost. I understand many things, Geoff. That time in Dublin when he ill-treated her, and neglected her so shame fully. What an opportunity for you—and the devil! I never cared much for goody-goody people; those who could be bad if they liked—such as you—and are good are far more interesting and sympathetic.”

“In other words, I am not a scoundrel.”

“No, Geoffrey; you are—a brick!” and as she spoke she stooped down and pushed back his hair and kissed him on the forehead.

Chapter XXXIX

Miss Seele’s Pretty Companion

It had not been a difficult matter to persuade Miss Serle to leave England, but it was a herculean task to prevail upon her to return home! Paris, Florence, Rome, Naples were no longer mere names to her. She could not make up her mind which she preferred, or in which city she would wish to end her days and lay her bones, so impartially did she love them all. She was in raptures with everything. A young head on old shoulders, indeed! One would have almost supposed that she was a girl of twenty instead of an old lady of seventy—an old lady who was fortunate in having a capital courier maid, a congenial companion, and plenty of money. Miss Serle was a favourite, and made numerous friends; she was so sweet-tempered, charitable (alike with tongue and purse); so good to all sick persons, children, and animals; and such a gentlewoman. During most of her life she had been alienated from her generation, now she was making up for lost time. A few months of the year were conscientiously spent at Serlewood, but long before the swallows migrated, its mistress once more took wing for other and milder climes.

When the Rector solemnly remonstrated against her long absences, Miss Serle boldly replies:

“I have spent sixty-nine long years at Serlewood, and I really think I can afford myself a holiday.”

“A holiday!” he gasped. The idea of a woman of seventy requiring a holiday was now presented to him for the first time. “But surely you have duties, my dear Miss Serle?”

“I accomplish them by deputy. As long as my charities are maintained, and flowers and fruit and game sent to the hospitals (and to the flower department of a certain shop) I don’t think it matters one straw whether I am at home or not! If I were to send a stuffed figure driving about the county in my carriage it would really be all the same to most people! You see, from my bringing up and other circumstances, I have hardly any acquaintances at home, and I have many abroad.”

And the Rector had no more arrows in his quiver, and was both silenced—and scandalized.

Miss Serle was devoted to Peggy, and continually entreated her to call her “Aunt Sophy.” “Miss Serle sounds so formal,” she would declare, “and you could not be more to me if you were my niece;” but to this suggestion Peggy steadily refused to lend an ear.

The happy couple went abroad in the Autumn, first to Switzerland, then to the Riviera, and finally settled down in the Hotel des Quatre Vents, in Mentone. What would the dignified Pulsifor, and Darling the delicate, have said, if they had known that their once respected mistress sat up till all hours looking on at dances—the first she had seen for fifty years, and a truly amazing novelty,—and actually rode upon a hired ass? No; the Miss Serle of the south of France was not the the Miss Serle of Serlewood Park, near Goose Green, though she exhibited some of her attributes: for instance, her tender compassion for animals—she could not endure to see them ill-used, and the stout girl who led her donkey carried no stick. Once she was discovered with a soap dish smuggled in her reticule, and humbly confessed that she had taken it full of milk (from her afternoon tea) to a forlorn cat in an empty villa. And on the subscription lists which were opened in the hotel for local charities, the initials S. A. S. were invariably set down before a handsome sum.

After the excitements and excursions of the day it was the custom of Miss Serle to withdraw to her private sitting-room in order, as she expressed it, “to rest her old bones before dinner.” She was reposing thus one evening, with her feet up, engrossed in knitting a pair of scarlet reins for a little boy in the same corridor, whilst Peggy read aloud interesting items from the Times in due turn. First births, marriages, and deaths, then anything about the health or movements of the Queen, next the war news, and the leading article. On this particular evening Peggy had arrived at part three, and glanced over “Intelligence from the Front,” and read aloud a few paragraphs. Suddenly she stopped.

Miss Serle knitted on, then glanced up at her companion. Was it the light, or was her face really white?

“What is the matter?” she asked, at last.

“I—I—am afraid I have some bad news to tell you, dear Miss Serle,” she answered, gently.

“Then, it’s Geoffrey! Of course it’s about Geoffrey,” throwing down her knitting.

“Yes; he has been wounded.”

“Show me— What does it say? Where are my specs?” fumbling feverishly, and then snatching the paper.

“The Rangers. Killed, 3394, Private Maxwell.” Then followed a dozen other Privates.

“Wounded dangerously, Captain G. E. Kinloch.”

“Severely, Lieutenant Vincent Yorke.”

“There now!” dashing down the paper and removing her glasses. “I always knew that that would be the end of Geoffrey.”

“Yes,” she continued tearfully, “I’m sure he will die,” and two tears began to trickle down her old face.

“Oh, no, I hope not, dear Miss Serle. He is strong, and young and brave; he has a splendid constitution.”

“Why, how can you tell, my dear?”

“I’ve heard people say so, and I know him. I have often intended to tell you; I know him very well. He and Captain Goring were in the same regiment.”

“Oh—no——” gasped Miss Serle.

“Yes; he was even Captain Goring’s best man; I did not wish him to hear of me again. I want to hide from every one who knew me when—when—I was—not Captain Goring’s wife.”

“And if Geoffrey comes home, as please God he will, what will you do? You would surely not desert me because I am his aunt? You would have to face him.”

“Yes I must—some day.”

“Has he affronted you in any way?”

“No, indeed; on the contrary, he always was most kind—he has befriended me repeatedly.”

“How I wish you had married him, instead of that runagate Goring; but, then—then—if you were his wife you’d be—as—unhappy as I am now,” and the old lady lifted up her voice, and wept.

“Dear Miss Serle,” said Peggy, kneeling beside her, and putting her arm round her, “don’t grieve like this: he is not dead, he may not die; let us hope for the best. Shall I go down and send a telegram from the post-office? I’ll send it in your name to the War Office, asking for the latest news.”

“And one to India, too, my dear,” drying her eyes. “What business had he to go back there again, when he had already had his share of service and sickness and fighting? and barely home two years! What possessed him to go and exchange from his regiment? He, a man of family, and prospects. I can’t think what he did it for! Eh? Can you?”

Peggy shook her head, as she stooped and gathered up Miss Serle’s scattered knitting.

“Kathleen Hesketh hinted at some girl; some love affair, she declared, was at the bottom of the whole business.”

Peggy rose up, looking very white, as she confronted the old lady’s agitated gaze. She thought guiltily of that silent farewell by the river; was she the girl?

“I only wish I had the young woman here,” cried Miss Serle, with one of her little gusts of passion. “I’d give her a piece of my mind, I can tell you, Peggy. Girls that make fools of honest men, deserve to be whipped at the cart’s tail.”

(Whipping at the cart’s tail was Miss Serle’s favourite form of chastisement for all evil doers, of either sex.)

The girl, the cause of all this violent outbreak, went and stood in the window, with her back to her companion.

For some moments she was silent, but she was holding a conversation with her own heart.

What did this mean?—this news that thrilled her, as she had believed no ill news had in its power to do; those who care for few are safe from many agonies. All this time, unknown to herself, had she been in love with Geoffrey Kinloch? The idea clothed her with shame from head to foot; and now this wild inmate of her heart had leaped out, showed itself, faced her. No, no, no. It was not love, it was friendship, which had pointed her thoughts to him, friendship which had recalled the colour of his eyes; friendship which had whispered in her ear, What would Captain Kinloch think of this or that? Peggy, though the dinner gong was actually sounding, hurried into town, and despatched two telegrams, and— Oh! let not Miss Serle sink in people’s good opinion—went to table arm in arm with Mrs. Van Rosens, another old lady, whose grandson was also on the frontier, and dined pretty well, though every now and then she sighed and fell into a muse, as she glanced at the vacant chair beside her.

As days went by Miss Serle apologized to Peggy and her own soft heart for her enjoyment of the passing hour.

“I can do no good to poor Geoff by going without sleep, or peace, or food. Now, can I? I would gladly fast if it could benefit him one pin’s point, but my span of life is but short now; many years were spent in the shade. I am thankful to enjoy this beautiful sunny world, and God’s wonderful works, before I go hence, and am no more seen,” and she accompanied Madame Rosens for a long drive to Sospello.

Nevertheless Miss Hayes, who was no relation—no, nor even a distant cousin—to Captain Kinloch, spent hours upon her knees in church; went without sleep, or food, or peace of mind; became so thin and pale that Mrs. Peregrine and other ladies of Miss Serle’s acquaintance pointed out to her, that “Mentone was too enervating a climate for her pretty companion.”

*  *  *

One evening early in March, in the entrance hall of the Hotel des Quatre Vents, a number of people sat about on lounges or divans, or stood near the great fireplace, waiting for the dinner gong. Two girls were slowly descending the white, crimson-carpeted, staircase side by side.

One of them—tall, slender, and dark-eyed, a perfect vision of grace—was listening, with smiles, to a tale that the other was relating with much animation.

Just at this moment the big door was swung open, and a tall, sun-browned traveler entered. He removed his cap, and stood for a moment gazing about, as if in search of some one (whilst the porter carried off his much-labelled portmanteaux), and people stared at him. He made rather a striking picture, in his long, furred traveling coat, and there was a soldierly air about the set of his shoulders. Suddenly, he raised his eyes. They were met and greeted by a pair upon the stairs, and the pretty dark girl interrupted the story by running lightly down to meet him. It was as it should be—she was the first to welcome him home!

Peggy came forward towards this tall stranger with eager eyes and outstretched hands. They met. Really, it was quite a charming picture!

For once the greedy early birds were well repaid.

“Oh, Captain Kinloch, I am glad to see you,” she said, “Your aunt did not expect you till to-morrow.”

“No; I am a day too soon.”

“Not too soon; she has been counting the very hours (so had Peggy). She is in her sitting-room. If you will follow me, I’ll just run up and prepare her;” and she preceded him lightly up the stairs, and at the second landing they were lost to sight.

At first Geoffrey Kinloch totally failed to recognize as his Aunt Sophy, the pretty little old lady with silver curls and a smart purple gown who trotted up to him and flung her arms as far as she could towards his neck.

What had she done to herself? It was his aunt! for there was no mistaking her sob of joy as she said, “Geoffrey! Geoffrey!”

Peggy kept aloof; she was not related to these people; why should she intrude? She gave Miss Sophy ample time for her first transports to subside, and leisure to cross-examine her hero. Miss Serle’s pride was boundless. All the other old ladies in the hotel—aye, and young ones, too—were soon made acquainted with “my nephew, who had been recommended for the V.C.”

He was promptly known by the name of “the Hero,” and some sly wit named Miss Hayes “the Heroine,”—not that they were ever conspicuously together.

Indeed, it was some days before they happened to find themselves alone. One afternoon Kinloch came into the long veranda—a veranda facing westward, and furnished with a number of pretty parti-coloured cane tables and chairs, and entirely empty, save for Peggy.

“I’ve been looking for you all over the place, he said. “My aunt has gone out driving with Lady Miniver, and desired me to say that she left me in your charge.”

“I thought you had gone with her,” said Peggy, laying down her book.

“No; I preferred to remain at home this afternoon. What have you been doing with yourself, Mrs. Gor——”

“Not Mrs. Goring,” she said, becoming very red.

“No,” seating himself in a chair at the other side of the table; “I know.”

“Miss Serle wrote and told you? I—I asked her to do so.”

“She did; but I had already heard all about you from Kathleen. Please don’t be vexed with her. She saw that I was anxious, and just then it really seemed to make no odds whether I knew or not, as I would not have many hours in which to keep any secret.”

“You must have been dreadfully ill, and not so long ago.”

No; not so long ago his eyes had rested upon a very different scene, upon another blue sky, where the sun blazed down mercilessly; not, as here, upon palms and rich tropical colouring, but on brick-coloured plains, stony hills, frowning passes—a far-away land, where the white puffs in the azure were not harmless cloudlets, but bursting shells; where the atmosphere was not laden with the perfume of violets, carnations and orange flowers, but reeked of carrion; where the mules carried dead bodies roped across them, instead of gay picnickers; where, in lieu of a string band and rippling guitars, the suck of the bullet as it struck the earth, shrill cries of exultation from the Sikhs and Goorkhas, hoarse words of command, or a wild death scream.

“Did you make any inquiries?” he asked, as if coming out of a dream.

“You mean,” colouring to the roots of her hair, “about the other. No.”

“Am I to understand that you accepted his bald statement without proofs or details?”

“I accepted it exactly as he told me.”

“And did not require to see letters, or certificate. Never attempted to consult with John Travenor, or even a lawyer?”

“No: never.”

“And may I ask the reason of this unusual attitude?”

“Because I was afraid that,” and although she changed colour, she raised her eyes and looked at him steadily, “that his story might not be true.”

“An extraordinary reason, I must say.”

“A shameful reason, you would like to say!”

“If I had liked to say it, I should have done so,” he rejoined, quietly.

“Do you always say what you like?”


“And do what you like?”

“Scarcely ever. But, to return to your affairs, I think you should have this story thoroughly sifted and examined. At present you don’t know what you are. Will you allow me to write out, on your behalf, to my cousin, young Chichester in the police. He will look into the whole thing. I will send the approximate date, the place, and the name. You had really better allow me to do this.”

“Very well,” she answered, tremulously; “if you think it best, and right.”

“Of course, I think it right. You may not be free. Again, you may be free and you may marry again.”

“I will never marry. I am very happy as I am.”

“I am delighted to hear it. As happy as that evening at the Manor, when you assured me that you were too happy?”

“Please don’t talk of that time. It was,” she exclaimed, with a quick jerk of her head, “it was all a sort of mirage!”

“I know. The Fata Morgana that the heart pursues in vain, and yet believes in. Many people have shared your experience.”

“It is an experience that I am doing my utmost to forget,” she rejoined, with much emphasis.

“I thought women never forgot, or forgave,” he said, as if speaking to himself.

“Some do. There is one thing for which, had it been true, I would never have forgiven you; but I know it was a false accusation.”

“May I hear it?”

“Captain Goring declared that he would not have made me his wife but for you and Janet; and that you compelled him to marry me!”

She glanced across at him with flaming cheeks, and he looked at her in silence.

“Well,” she said, sharply, “I am waiting for you to deny it.”

“I am afraid that I cannot.”

“How—how dared you?”

“Dare?” and he laughed. “I did dare.” His thoughts recalled his venturous experiment in the inn parlour. “I would have dared my life for your happiness.”

“Please explain to me what you mean?”

“Well, yes; it is time that I came to an understanding with you,” he answered, quietly, as he leaned his elbow on the table. “Your sister sent for me the last time I was at the Bartons. She was dreadfully distressed; she declared that Goring was playing fast and loose with you, that if he deserted you—you would die. I saw myself how awfully changed you were; how you had given him the very heart out of your body. I had influence with him. I used it for your sake, and told him he must either leave you then, or marry you.”

“And why did you do this?”

“You know you are asking a question that you can answer as well as I can. What do men do these mad things for, but for love? I have loved you, ever since I met you that evening in the meadows, with a love that grew stronger every hour. I saw—for I was not totally blind—that every thought of your heart was given to Goring. I knew you could never be mine, and I did all I could to ensure your future—even though I extinguished my hopes with my own hand.”

Yes; he had attempted to play the part of Providence to Peggy, and failed. He had hoped too much—from the influence of her fresh young beauty, and unworn, undebased soul—but Charles Goring was beyond her timid reach—beneath it.

Peggy, who was now extremely pale, sat looking at him in blank silence.

“My matchmaking turned out badly. I had been too sanguine. I had hoped that you would influence him for good, and that he would make you happy. I made a terrible mistake! I have sometimes thought that if I had entered the lists against Goring it would have been better.”

“Anything would have been better than what you did,” she said with passion.

“Ah, yes; so you say now. Better to have broken your heart! Tell me one thing, would I have had any chance of winning you in those days?”

Peggy sat in silence, with downcast eyes, and then shook her head.

“Have I,” he continued, suddenly leaning across the table, and lowering his voice to a whisper, “any chance now?”

“No,” she answered, also in a whisper. Kinloch instantly sat erect, his face had grown suddenly white and rigid.

He had evidently just received a blow, which was but ill-suited to an invalid who had so lately eluded the arms of death. Peggy glanced at him stealthily, then she pushed back her chair and rose to her feet.

“Captain Kinloch, please don’t think me a heartless, ungrateful wretch. It is not that I do not like you——”

“Oh, don’t!” he interrupted, vehemently. “Spare me the old sealed pattern form!”

“Well, then,” bending towards him, “I honour you, I respect you, I—” Here he cut short her sentence with a gesture of ungrateful repudiation; and leaning his arms upon the table, buried his face in them. She stooped over and said in a low voice, “But I am afraid to love anyone again.”

When he looked up, she was gone.

Chapter XL


Most large hotels have among their clientèle at least one established gossip and newsmonger—if not more. In the case of Les Quatre Vents, this post was adequately filled by a Mrs. Peregrine, a faded widow lady, with small means, ample time, and unlimited curiosity—a delicate woman, who lived abroad, and led a migratory life, wandering from pension to hotel, and hotel to pension. She was the embodiment of a walking continental directory, and was well acquainted with many family skeletons, that their relatives foolishly supposed to be decently interred in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Although her mind was active, her health was infirm; she could not join the merry picnics. Le promenade aux anes was not for her. She could not afford a carriage, so she pervaded the garden on fine mornings, and the rest of the day might be seen sitting in the hall, on a particularly comfortable sofa, which was close to the fire, commanding an uninterrupted view of door and staircase, and was known as “the seat of the scornful.” Here sat Mrs. Peregrine reviewing with critical, and ofttimes haughty eye, all passers to and fro. To a friend she had indiscreetly imparted that “she did not care to join the out-of-door gaieties, or regret bands, promenades, parties to Monte Carlo, or excursions into Italy, for the ever ebbing and flowing crowd afforded her cheap and unlimited entertainments, and some of the scenes and conversations were ten times more interesting than any novel!” Indeed, the good lady represented an excellent private inquiry office in her own person. If any one desired particular facts respecting a fellow inmate, they were promptly referred to Mrs. Peregrine, the delicate, ladylike widow, with a quiet manner and a low voice, whose pale face, lean figure, and black toilette was identified with one special seat.

She could tell why Miss Swadling came abroad with her aunt instead of her mother; what the Highflyers paid for their rooms; how much Lady Barbarossa had lost at roulette; and the real reason why Lady Miniver’s maid was leaving her. Next to a thoroughgoing and exciting scandal Mrs. Peregrine delighted in a love affair; but love affairs, alas! were rare in her sphere. Miss Serle had been as wax in the widow’s hands, and had artlessly divulged many items of her family affairs. She was truly kind to this rather desolate woman, and frequently took her for an afternoon drive (Miss Serle had hired a well-appointed carriage for the season), and gave her various pleasures, such as books, papers, flowers, concert tickets. In return for this benevolence Mrs. Peregrine informed all who cared to know that this Miss Serle was a rich eccentric old maid, a Bohemian at heart, who, late in life, had found her liberty, and had abandoned a fine place in the Midlands in order to roam about Europe with a young companion, a girl to whom, although she was devoted, she only paid fifty pounds a year (merely because Peggy would not accept more). A woman nearer her own age (such as Mrs. Peregrine herself) would be far more suitable and respectable. Miss Hayes had been with Miss Serle for two years; but to further queries regarding Miss Hayes’ antecedents, the old lady had been deaf, inattentive, or obtrusively stupid.

And then came Miss Serle’s nephew, and heir, a soldier mentioned in the newspapers, a hero from the wars (and modest as a hero should be). Mrs. Peregrine had witnessed his meeting—his welcome by Miss Hayes. Yes; these two were not strangers. She had noted from the garden, a long and serious conversation held in the veranda, and anxiously awaited further developments. But nothing happened!

Captain Kinloch was an invalid for some time: his outings were confined to drives in a landau along the Corniche road, to walks in the lovely grounds of the hotel, and on both of these occasions his companion was merely his aunt. As he grew stronger, he joined excursions to St. Agnes, Roque Brune, Castilione, Las Martola, up the Primrose Valley, and the Borrigo Valley. He was not only popular in the hotel, but out of it, for he seemed to receive many invitations. His attention to his aunt was most charming to witness: he abandoned his own plans to drive with her, he played bezique with her of an evening instead of billiards with the men. At picnics he walked beside her, and carefully led her donkey over all the rough parts; he brought her flowers; he brought her smiles, and happiness; in short, no son could have been more devoted to a mother than the Hero to his old maiden aunt.

Mrs. Peregrine, to tell the plain truth, would have preferred to have seen him devoted to his aunt’s pretty companion, but although he sat at table opposite to her, and carried her books to church, and her novels from the library, and occasionally sat beside her of an evening in the hall listening to the string band smoking and drinking coffee, yet, as far as Mrs Peregrine was able to fathom, and she was a capital judge, he paid no more attention to her than to the various other pretty girls who swarmed in the hotel. Had she listened, she would have discovered that the, letter “I” was occasionally the backbone of their conversation, and have drawn some small consolation from this fact, although they were never permitted to enjoy an undisturbed conversation. The invariable third party was a thin, narrow-chested youth, who wore pronounced collars and cuffs, whose fingers were rarely free from the stump of a cigarette, and who followed Kinloch like his shadow. It was an exaggerated case of hero-worship. No two people could have presented a sharper contrast, than this effeminate boy, with his perfumed handkerchiefs, his critical taste in ladies’ dress, his cheap cynicism, his feeble frame, his garrulous vanity; and the spare, manly, rather simple-minded soldier, with his scars and sinews; yet, within the precincts of the hotel, they were rarely to be seen apart.

This youth, whose name was Mordaunt Fogg, proved a terrible incubus to Kinloch. Whenever he had secured, as he fondly imagined, a brief tête-à-tête with Peggy, he invariably arrived, as if by instinct, and made a third party. He pestered him with batteries of questions; the word “appreciation” with him meant “butter”; he flattered Kinloch till he writhed again, and yet he had not the heart to snub the poor boy, upon whom consumption had set its deadly seal.

One evening, as they were sitting in the hall, young Fogg approached, cigarette in fingers, and subsided into the seat just vacated by Miss Serle.

“What’s that big envelope you’ve got here?” he asked Kinloch. “Despatches?”

“No, you young duffer; it’s an official from the War Office. The ‘likes of me,’ as they say in Ireland, don’t get despatches.”

“No,” blowing a cloud, he drawled out, “The likes of you are only mentioned in them.”

“Oh, for that matter, most men on active service are mentioned.”

“Well, most men don’t get recommended for the V. C. Eh! had you there?”

Kinloch shifted uneasily under the gaze of his idolater, who lay back, blowing clouds, and contemplating him with lazy admiration.

“So you did not go to the theatre, to-night,” said Peggy.

“No; too damp. I’ve got rather a cold.” (He had got what is commonly called his death.) “And the show here would be rather poor fun after London and Paris. Eh, Kinloch?”

“Pray, don’t ask me; I don’t often have a chance of going to the theatres!”

“No; the world is your stage!—the theatre of war; and there you play a big part.”

“Not I,” with an uneasy laugh.

“To be sure, you will make a great name for yourself.”

“I am afraid not. It is not so easy to cut one’s initials above the flood-mark of time. If I have great luck I may some day be able to scratch C.B. or K.C.B. after Geoffrey Kinloch.”

“But surely you have some great aim, some ambition, some goal, you are striving for?”

“Yes;” and his eyes rested for a stealthy second upon Peggy.

“Miss Hayes, may I come and sit here?” asked Mrs. Peregrine, in her clear, thin voice.

“Of course; please take this arm-chair. May I give you some coffee?”

“No, thanks, I never touch it; it keeps me awake. Well, Mr. Fogg, I’ve found out all you wanted to know about the lady with the fox terrier.”

“Have you? And who is she?”

“She is a Mrs. Hodson, separated from her husband. He treated her brutally, and yet people are quite shy of her, because she could not bear her life with this monster.”

“Rather hard lines; well, I, for one, am not shy of her!”

“I heard all about her from Mrs. Montserrat, who was calling on me yesterday, and that just reminds me,” turning suddenly to Peggy, “Have you any relation of the name of Goring?”

The question was so utterly unexpected, that Peggy was for a moment speechless.

“Why do you ask?” she inquired, faintly.

“Merely because Mrs. Montserrat noticed you, and was immensely struck with your likeness to a pretty Mrs. Goring, whom she saw in Dublin two or three years ago. She says you might be twin sisters.”

“I have no sisters.”

“Then it stands to reason that you cannot be Mrs. Goring’s twin?” rejoined Mrs. Peregrine, with a laugh.

“By the way,” said Fogg, “was not Goring a good-looking chap, and a frightful gambler? I met him once or twice. What has become of him, do you know? He was in the army, I know.”

“He has left the service, and gone off to America, I believe,” replied Kinloch, with absolute composure.

“And Mrs. Goring?” continued Mrs. Peregrine. “He used her shamefully, and she was so pretty. What has become of her?”

“Well, really, Mrs. Peregrine,” said Kinloch, standing up as he spoke, “I’m afraid you give me credit for almost as large an acquaintance as your own. You said you would like to see some photographs of Simla and Cashmere. If you will come into the little drawing-room, where there is a good light, I shall be happy to show them to you at once.”

“Thank you so much, so very kind of you. I should like it immensely,” she murmured, effusively, and they walked away.

“I say, Miss Hayes,” said Mr. Fogg, “didn’t it strike you that Captain Kinloch knows something about Mrs. G—, eh? Did you notice how cleverly he threw the old lady off the scent? Believe me, he could tell us a thing or two about this pretty Mrs. Goring if he liked, but he is a man that knows how to hold his tongue.”

To all this Miss Hayes made no reply, beyond a faint, fixed smile. She was busily occupied in collecting her work, and stuffing it into a brocaded bag, then, murmuring the words “letters,” she also rose from her place, and hastily departed.

“It would never surprise me if she knew that Mrs. Goring, too,” muttered Mr. Fogg, as he slowly selected yet another cigarette.

Geoffrey Kinloch was for once, a wise man in his generation. He never, by word or look, referred to a certain momentous conversation, no more than if it had never taken place. He was always polite, pleasant, self-contained, and Peggy began to ask herself if this was the same individual whom she had quitted in the veranda—a man who had buried his head in his arms in a passion of despair; began to wonder, and (such is the contrariness of woman’s nature) to love him. Some characters (like paintings and landscapes) look best at a distance, and cannot bear the close scrutiny of intimate daily life. Others, on the contrary, the nearer you examine them, the more you discern their good qualities, and Kinloch was one of these. From the early breakfast hour (why is breakfast such a much more intimate meal than lunch?), when they met over rolls and coffee, to the last bar of the last waltz in the ball-room, Peggy had an opportunity of studying her would-be lover from every point of view! As a man’s man, when he discoursed of grave affairs with other men in the hall; as a “child’s” man, when he rigged boats for little Jack Thornbull, and solemnly interred for his sisters their broken doll; as an old lady’s man, when he waited assiduously upon his aunt; as a middle-aged lady’s man, when he rode all the way back to St. Agnes to find Mrs. Constantine’s parasol; as a young lady’s man, when he walked every step of the long stony road to Monte Bellinda beside Miss Gilray’s donkey, simply because she was so dreadfully frightened, and Captain Kinloch must not leave her.

Miss Gilray—a pretty little girl, with a lisp, and a pair of most tenderly beseeching eyes, always exquisitely dressed, as behoved the daughter of a millionaire—roused (yes, roused is the word) the long slumbering passion of jealousy in Peggy’s breast—aye, and as Mrs. Kidd had never roused it! What did that mean? she demanded of her swelling heart. She must have it out with herself; and she sat with folded arms, her hair flowing over her shoulders, confronting her face in the looking-glass.

Did it mean that she was jealous of Captain Kinloch’s attentions to Miss Gilray. Did she care for him so much?

Her own racing blushes answered her “Yes.”

He was a man worthy of love. Honourable and high-minded, unselfish, good, faithful, true. Yes; but she was not worthy of him! Such a man must marry a girl who was, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion—-who had no ugly, squalid, shameful past. A girl such as Miss Armantine Gilray. And Peggy, in her mind’s eye, nobly handed Geoffrey Kinloch over to her rival—why not? (had he not danced with her three times that night?)—attended at the wedding as the bridegroom’s friend—his aunt’s companion—and cried herself to sleep. After all, she was only twenty-three!

Chapter XLI

Peggy Says “Perhaps”

It was the second week in April, and the Riviera was at its best: the weather faultless, the sky of a soft turquoise blue; flowers were unusually abundant; crowned heads and celebrities were almost as plentiful as primroses; and every hotel was crammed to the roof. Miss Serle and her companion had almost exhausted the local excursions, and one fine afternoon they set out with a large party to visit the Annunciade for the second time; some went on foot, some rode. Miss Serle, on her own special donkey, was escorted by a bishop; Peggy, who walked, was accompanied by a handsome Russian officer of the Imperial Guard; and Captain Kinloch fell to the share of a tall, bright American girl, who cross-examined him severely about India, especially with respect to flirting and fighting. The ascent was at first by a footpath, enclosed within a high wall festooned with maiden hair, over which orange and lemon trees nodded to one another, then up a steep paved track, marked by stations in fifteen places. At last they reached the summit, and from the terrace of the chapel looked down into two deep valleys, and a truly lovely prospect. Some sat still, and absorbed the view and the keen hill air. Others wandered away to pick wild flowers, and somehow or other Peggy found herself with Geoffrey Kinloch.

Later, as they walked briskly down, with the joyful energy born of physical exertion, he said: “And so Miss Nancy Belt is married.”

“Yes, last week, to Mr. Potts. They have bought the goodwill of a draper’s shop in Bridgeford.”

“That must have cost a great deal.”

“Not so very much; and their friends helped them,” and she coloured (all her savings were invested in the showroom of “Madame Potts”). “I have no doubt that Nan will make it a success. She will have all the Barton business, and will educate the taste of the farmers’ wives. Your aunt, too, will be a customer, and so will I.”

“You don’t mean to say that you will get your frocks and hats at a place like Bridgeford?”

“No; perhaps, not our best ones,” with a smile.

“I should like to deal there also, but not in ready-made coats. How can I support Mr. and Mrs. Potts? I want to do something substantial.”

“You can send a substantial wedding present. I will give you their address. Mr. Whiting, perhaps, would join you: he was always a friend of Nan’s.”

“Certainly; he shall contribute on his own behalf; and, by the way, he has never turned up to-day. This climb would have done him no end of good. He is getting quite fat and lazy.”

“I suppose he could not tear himself away from Monte Carlo,” she suggested.

“I see no sign of the others,” observed Kinloch, looking back. “Shall we sit down here and wait a bit? It’s a shame to hurry home at the rate of five miles and hour this delicious evening.”

“Yes, indeed it is,” assented Peggy, seating herself on a broad stone parapet, which commanded, on one side, a full view of a winding staircase-like path, up which laden mules were slowly toiling. Just opposite, perched on an elbow of the hill, was a tiny red-roofed house. Its little melon garden was enclosed with wire netting, the gate was merely an old window sash, the door of the abode was made of packing cases—a cheap little home, but it looked bright, and its mistress, a dark girl, with brilliant teeth, sang as she washed her pots and pipkins. Directly below the parapet lay a valley full of orange groves; beyond it, the town of Mentone, the coast line, and, far away, as a speck on the horizon, Corsica, the cradle of the great adventurer. The sea was like a shining jewel, with shifting shades of green and blue, deepening into sapphire.

“Is not it lovely?” exclaimed Peggy, drawing a deep breath.

“Lovely, indeed,” responded her companion, who stood looking straight before him. “And the day after to-morrow I shall have to, as you would say, ‘tear myself away’ from it all.”

“I suppose you must go to London?”

“Yes; I have to appear before a board.”

“And when shall we see you again?”

“That,” he said, sitting down beside her, “is for you to decide.”

She turned her face away, and gazed towards the sea, against the blue of which her perfect profile was as sharply cut as a cameo. The corners of her mouth twitched a little, as she exclaimed:

“Then you are of the same mind still?”

“Yes—always. Are you? Are you still afraid to give your love to me?”

“No,” she answered, almost in a whisper; “but you must not marry a woman like me.”

“She must be as like you as life, or I will die a bachelor.”

She coloured deeply, and said:

“What would people say?”

“You know as well as I do, that my aunt adores you.”

“But she is so unworldly, and utterly different to other people, that she is no criterion.”

“And Kathleen Hesketh—who, by the way, sails from Bombay to-day—is she very different to other people? Are you only thinking of what people will say? Won’t you think of me a little?”

“It is for your sake,” she said, in a choked voice. “And it is so soon—so sudden!”

“If I were to wait? I will wait——”

“If you waited twenty years I shall still be the same—unsuitable.”

“Am I not the best judge of that?”

No answer. She was still gazing out over the sea. He looked steadily at the half-averted profile.

“Everything comes to him who waits. Would you come, Peggy?”

No answer.

“Peggy,” he repeated, insistently.

Then she slowly turned her face towards him—it very pale—and faltered out the word, “Perhaps.”

“Give me your hand on that,” he said. She held it out in a half-hearted fashion. He seized it, took off his cap, and cap, stooped and carried it to his lips.

A stout Capuchin monk, in a brown habit, with white cord and sandals, was ponderously descending the steps. His movements, as he caught sight of the couple, became more and yet more languid. They made a charming picture against the deep azure background, this man (who looked like a soldier) kissing the hand of the girl in white. It was an act of homage and adoration, such as might be offered to a queen or saint.

His little old eyes twinkled merrily as he approached the pair; the man glanced up at him unabashed, and coolly resumed his cap, but the girl never lifted her eyes. As he passed by, the holy father raised his hand with pious deliberation. Was it a mere salutation? or was it a benediction?

It was a very remarkable fact, that during the space of one whole hour, it never once dawned on Captain Kinloch that the rest of the party had descended by another route—as was the case.

Chapter XLII


Among the crowd of cosmopolitans that a severe winter had driven to the Riviera was Mr. Whiting—not that he required any pressure from his native climate, for he was a regular habitué of Monte Carlo, and patronized each season the same hotel and bedroom. He had seen his connection, Captain Kinloch, repeatedly, as well as his old cousin, Miss Serle. (Miss Serle’s grandmother had been Lady Laura Whiting. The Whitings were people of ancient family and high degree closely related to the White-Baits of Richmond). Then there was Miss Serle’s lovely companion, Miss Hayes—late Mrs. Goring. What did this complication signify? Mr. Whiting proved to be persistent and inquisitive, and his curiosity at last became so irritating, that Kinloch, (with Peggy’s permission) was compelled to divulge the truth.

On learning which, Mr. Whiting sat back in his arm-chair, and gasped, positively like a real fish. At last he found his voice, and said, “It may not be true. I’d never trust Goring further than I would throw him. He was always a man of extravagant assertion, and amazingly bold expedients. Has the matter never been seriously looked into?”

“Never till now. I wrote to Tom Chichester of the police, and asked him to search the registers at Jhansi, and to cause all inquiries to be made, regardless of expense.”

“And the result?”

“No time for results as yet.”

“I wish I’d married her myself,” burst out Mr. Whiting after a silence. “Or you. Now, why on earth didn’t you marry her? She was your discovery.”

“It takes two people to marry. Miss Summerhayes never cast a thought to me then, as you know.”

“I conclude,” said Mr. Whiting, after a long reflection, “that you secured for her her present agreeable post?”

“No; I had no more to say to it than you had. I was astonished to discover that my aunt’s companion was Miss Summerhayes.”

“Um; what a fortunate concatenation of events!”

“May I ask what you mean?”

“I mean that fate has been effusively kind to you. She never gave me a lift like that!”

“I am still completely at sea——”

“You may be at sea,” returned Mr. Whiting, “but unless I’m a born idiot, you’re in love with Peggy—well, at any rate for the present—Summerhayes.”

“I am—yes,” rejoined Kinloch, in a dogged tone.

“And it’s an old story: you need not blush.”

“No, I need not blush, as you kindly declare. And it is an old story.”

“I hope it will end, ‘And they lived happy ever after.’”

“Thank you. But everything is extremely vague and indefinite just now.”

“Why don’t you come over here? I’d like to have you all under my own eye, and I might be of use.”

“Thank you again, but only a Monte Christo can afford to live at Monte Carlo, and I am not rich.”

“No; you’re only in love!”

This conversation took place almost immediately after Captain Kinloch’s arrival on the Riviera. The day before his departure there was a flower fête and grand concert at Monte Carlo, to which he and his aunt and Peggy repaired, as well as the whole of Mentone. Miss Serle and another old lady, a kindred spirit, had gone to the grand afternoon concert in the Casino, whilst her nephew, companion, and cousin, Mr. Whiting, remained out of doors, and paced that attractively situated terrace, known as the British Quarter Deck. It was a light-hearted, sunny afternoon, when the air seemed full of palms and music. They beheld not a few familiar faces—peers, politicians, actors, authors, and no less a person than Mrs. Catchpool, promenading with a stout old woman, clad in a blue velvet pelisse, a hat covered with branches of lilacs, crowning her chalk-white face and glaring red hair. Evidently “Goosie” was married at last.

Meanwhile Mr. Whiting was conversing with Peggy, who walked between her two cavaliers, the embodiment of animation and radiant grace, the cynosure of many eyes. This, Mr. Whiting noted with a sense of swelling satisfaction, and his mind recalled a similar promenade, amidst far different spectators and surroundings—the Foresters’ fête at Middle Barton. Then plowman and dairymaids had gazed upon Peggy open-mouthed. Here, princes and ambassadors scanned her admiringly.

“I’m going to Nether Barton next month,” he said. “Rather a contrast to this gay scene.”

“Yes; and won’t you find it very dull?”

“I am never dull, my dear young lady. My mind to me a kingdom is; a little plain food, and a philosophic temperament, are the only necessaries of life.”

“But the plain food must be dressed by a French cook,” suggested Geoffrey.

“Which, alas, our mutual friend, Mrs. Banner, is not,” admitted Mr. Whiting.

“That is the Duchess of Pantalleria,” he added. “A reckless gambler. She spends many hours, and many thousands, at the tables. Why, who have we here?” as Mrs. Catchpool swept down upon the little party full sail.

“Well, Peggy,” she exclaimed, with an effrontery which was peculiarly her own. “I never expected to meet you in this part of the wicked world!” and she scanned Peggy’s charming costume and dainty French hat. “Now, please don’t look so blank; you know I always liked you! and oh, I declare, Captain Kinloch!” opening her eyes very wide, “covered with wounds and glory: who never liked me! I really think, Peggy that this sort of thing won’t do. I must put myself on duty again as chaperone!”

“Surely, madam,” interposed Mr. Whiting, with an elaborate bow, “you would not oust me? I am thoroughly qualified for the post, as an old, and privileged friend.”

“Old, yes,” was her ruthless retort; “privileged, I’ve only your own word for that! Are you going to have a gamble, Peg, for the sake of old times? By the way, you never played. I won eighty napoleons last night at trente et quarante. I’m always lucky after dinner.”

“Oh, Mrs. Catchpool, can you tell me where papa is?” interrupted a melodious brogue, and a tall fair girl breathlessly accosted the lady. “Have you seen him anywhere?”

“No; but I met him yesterday, looking for you. Hasn’t he found you yet?” was the flippant answer. “Why on earth don’t you have him on a string?”

But the tall girl make no reply. With an impatient gesture she passed on, and had already button-holed a more sympathetic acquaintance.

“Where are you staying, Peg?” continued Mrs. Catchpool.

“At ‘Les Quatres Vents,’ at Mentone.”

“I am at the ‘Paris,’ with Lady Barbarossa. Gussie, as you may suppose, is married.”

“Who did she marry?”

“Billy. A wretched match—a regular lucifer match.”

Meanwhile Mr. Whiting was steadily contemplating Peggy’s acquaintance between his light eyelashes—an emaciated, animated, haggard lady, dressed in a costume that was conspicuous even at Monte Carlo, a woman with hollow, painted cheeks and hard eyes. It was not easy to classify her.

“Just look at Lady Giltspoon,” she cried, “coming down the steps. Did you ever see such feet? We can’t say ‘All’s well that ends well’ in her case. Eh? Well, Lady B. is waiting, and I must fly. Drop me a line, and fix your own day to come and dine, and we will go into the rooms afterwards and have a little flutter. You’d better bring a toothbrush, and arrange to stay all night: I can put you up. Ta, ta,” and she hurried away.

Mr. Whiting (whom, I regret to state, was also fond of “a little flutter”) presently abandoned his companions on the terrace, and made his way into the rooms, and to the trente et quarante tables. They, as well as every roulette table were surrounded by a circle of anxious sitters and a crowd nowhere less than three deep. At last Mr. Whiting came to his own pet table, and, being short, stood on tip-toes, and gradually by slow degrees insinuated himself into a station immediately behind a lady’s chair. She was seated with her elbows on the green cloth, and a pile of gold hundred franc pieces between them. She wore long white gloves, and held a jewelled pencil between two fingers. As Mr. Whiting bent forward to place his stake, he saw that her complexion was artificial, and that she was unashamed. The lady was French, and dressed in an amazing toilet. She wore a gold belt, studded with precious stones, round her neck a diamond collet, and on her head a marvellous erection (hat or toque) which was a perfect forest of blue and lilac feathers. Yes, she was French; but her companion, a stout bloated-looking man, with his arm in a sling, was English, and there was something familiar in his voice, his air. Mr. Whiting glanced at him again, and nearly dropped his stake, as he recognized Charlie Goring. Charlie Goring so shockingly altered as to be almost another man. His features were red and swollen, his eyelids puffy, his face coarse. Had he added drunkenness to his other vices?

He and the lady (Mademoiselle Zo-Zo of the Casse Cou Theatre) were evidently on the best of terms, and occasionally she stretched over her gloved white hand and helped herself to his winnings, with a playful air, or some sprightly Parisian jest.

And the couple outside? Supposing they were to meet these. He would go immediately and look for Kinloch and Peggy, and prepare them. When Mr. Whiting scoured the terrace, and searched for them, they were nowhere to be found. Well, they must only take their chance, and trust to luck. Goring would probably remain in his place until dinner-time—or dawn!

Meanwhile, Captain Kinloch and his companion had gone up to the place, where the band was playing, and entered the Café de Paris.

“Aunt Sophy and her pal will soon be coming out,” he said, “and I promised to give them tea. They think it so delightfully fast, to have tea over here, and out of doors. We had better go and secure a table as there is generally a tremendous rush for them about five o’clock.”

After a little search they found a table unoccupied, and he proceeded to order tea, fruit, and ices, whilst Peggy looked about at the gay crowd, and slowly removed her gloves.

“Don’t you think you had better go and bring your aunt here,” she said. “She always loses her way in a crowd.”

“Yes; but I don’t like leaving you alone, and yet, if I take you with me, we shall lose our table.”

“And if you keep the table, and I were to go and fetch the old ladies,” she suggested, “I might never see any of you again; it’s a case of the ferry and fox, goose, and corn, and which am I, the fox or the goose?” she asked, with a laugh.

As she spoke, a woman with vivid hair and complexion, and a wonderful feathered hat, turned and stared at her, and then drew the attention of the man beside her, saying:

“There is the girl the Archduke was raving about. I suppose that is her husband.”

A sudden noisy scraping of a chair. Peggy looked up quickly, Charlie Goring was standing beside her.

“Hullo, Peg! I say, I didn’t know you at first. How are you, old woman?”

After a short but expressive silence, Captain Kinloch spoke.

“Let me recommend you to return to your friend.”

“Oh! so you are here! By Gad, I call this a first-class joke. I find a man hob-nobbing with my wife, and he has the cheek to tell me to clear!”

Peggy, white as her gown, now reached hastily for her gloves, and was about to rise.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” said Goring, laying a heavy hand upon her arm, and sinking into a vacant seat. “I’m coming to tea with you, my love. Ain’t you glad to see me again?”

“No. I hoped I might never see you again. Let me go.”

“Take your hand away,” added Kinloch, in a low, dangerous voice.

“I’m her legal lord and master,” cried Goring. “It’s a true Bill, I’ll take my dying oath.”

People were beginning to stare at the dissipated Englishman in grey tweed, who was talking so excitedly to the pretty frightened girl; and presently the woman with the diamonds and the blue feathers made a fourth in the little quartette.

“This is no place for a scene,” said Kinloch, hoarsely.

“Whatever you’ve got to say, say it to me. Come into the gardens, and send that woman away.”

“All right; but Peggy must come, too.”

The feathered lady laughed—a shrill little mocking laugh—as she watched her friend walking off in the wake of the two English. When they arrived at an unfrequented path, Kinloch wheeled about and said:

“Now, what have you got to say? Look sharp, and get it over.”

“She,” pointing to Peggy, who felt that this was surely some hideous dream, from which she must awake, “is my wife.”

There was a moment of breathless silence.

“You said otherwise, two and a half years ago,” returned Kinloch.

“Only because I was a desperate man. I had not enough for one, much less for two, so I just slipped off her head collar, and turned her loose. I knew she would find friends. It was all a plant. You are my lawful wife, Peg, the other—was—not.”

“How are we to know this?” demanded Kinloch’s full, steady voice.

“We! So you are interested, are you? I’ll answer as many questions as you like. You can make enquiries. I’m on the square this time. I’ve made a pot of money—thanks to Tarr, who had a lot of my coin—and now, I’ve plenty for two. You’ve grown uncommonly handsome, Peggy—quite a celebrity! I scarcely recognized my own wife, that I picked up in a village street. I am staying at the ‘Paris.’ You may as well come along now, and send for your kit.”

Captain Goring made this long speech uninterrupted by his listeners. They were too paralyzed to frame a word.

At last Peggy found her voice.

“Even if I am your wife—which you will have to prove—I will never go back to you—alive.”

“Meanwhile, you are mine, till death us do part. As to proving our marriage, that is rot. Kinloch was present, I was present, you were present. No one heard me tell that yarn about Fernanda, but yourself. I might say that when I got into difficulties, and was ruined, instead of remaining to be my faithful support, and devoted comforter, you heartlessly abandoned me to my fate! You ran away. All the world knows that; and my word, is as good as yours, in a court of law.”

“You hound,” said Kinloch, between his teeth.

“Ah, Kinloch?” flinching from the stern anger of the others eyes, “you never had a high opinion of me! Well, we can’t all be Knight Templars like you! I am a rich man now, and I don’t want your esteem. I broke the bank last night; I’ve discovered my wife today. Altogether, my luck is dead in.”

Peggy looked wildly about her: her eyes were wide with horror, her face white to her lips.

“So, here you are,” cried a thin old voice. “I’ve had such a search for you. Mrs. Van Rosen could not wait, and I am dying for my tea.”

“A friend of yours, Peggy?” glancing at Captain Goring.

He bowed, and said, “Yes; a very great friend.”

“We are staying at Les Quatre Vents in Mentone, and I shall be pleased to see any friend of Miss Hayes.”

“Thank you, madam. I shall be delighted, and I will do myself the honour of calling on you—and—Miss Hayes—to-morrow;” and, with a quick bow, he walked rapidly away.

“Why, what’s the matter? Who was that? What are you all looking so strange about?”

“Oh, Miss Serle,” said Peggy, in a broken voice, “that man was—Captain Goring. He says he is my husband, and that the story he told me was an excuse to get rid of me. Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?” and she put out her hands, clutched blindly at a rustic seat, and fainted.

People coming down en route to the train noticed a little group at a distance: some one running with water, two ladies, and two or three men.

“Only a girl overcome by the heat of the concert-room,” said one.

“No, no. It is a woman who has been gambling, and who has lost everything she possessed in the wide world,” returned another. “I saw her; she looks like death.”

Chapter XLIII

Mr. Whiting into the Breach

And once more Mr. Whiting found himself entangled in the affairs of Miss Summerhayes!

When Geoffrey Kinloch had escorted the ladies home, he returned directly to Monte Carlo, sought out his cousin, and related to him the stupendous experience of the afternoon; then peremptorily requested to hear his opinion of the case, from the “man of the world’s” point of view?

Mr. Whiting, who had dined successfully, and was in a serene frame of mind—especially with respect to other people’s misfortunes—gave his attention to this question with an expression of owl-like gravity.

“Yes; I know,” he began. “I saw Goring at the tables just after I left you. I scarcely recognized him, he has so completely gone to the dogs. I went out at once to warn you, but my good intentions missed fire!”

“And I am obliged to go to London to-morrow. I must go; and here is this ruffian, who swears, by all his gods—such as they are—that his own story was a lie, prepared to descend on my aunt, by her special invitation, and claim his wife.”

“It is a certain fact that it is around women—young women—that most human struggles in the end revolve! And so you want me to step into the breach in your absence, Geoffrey, and do battle?”

“Yes, if you will?”

Mr. Whiting put the tips of his fingers very carefully together, and smiled, as he said: “Positively, if I had been the young lady’s legal guardian, I could not have been more implicated in her concerns from first to last! I mean, from the day that Goring proposed, to the time we were mutually afraid that he would never claim her as his wife, until now, when we are resolved that he shall not claim her as his wife.”

“She swears that she will never go back to him.”

“And what about the arm of the law?”

“She defies the arm of the law!”

“Ah, she is one of those who think the law is merely an instrument for the protection of the wicked—and I believe there is something in it!”

“Well, we won’t go into abstract questions just now!” exclaimed Kinloch, impatiently. “Will you stand by them—I mean Miss Hayes and my aunt—whilst I am away? I’ll be back in a week.”

“Yes; I will stand by them—or, rather, by the young lady—and do my best to see her through this business. As for you, Geoffrey, I’ve always admired the faultless discretion of your attitude, but the less you are on the stage in this little piece, the better. Now, I,” tapping his shirt front with his pince nez, “am an old fogey, and of course, merely actuated by a spirit of the purest benevolence: in short, in me you see a man after Mrs. Grundy’s own heart!”

“I congratulate you! But at present, as far as I am concerned, Mrs. Grundy may be hanged. I did not come here to talk of her, but of Miss Summerhayes.”

“Summerhayes, Hayes, or Goring, eh? She will have as many names as the moon! Seriously! I believe that if she is Mrs. Goring, she can get a separation—always supposing that the matter is put into proper hands. I can recall Goring as amazingly indiscreet in his choice of acquaintance, and I doubt if his past would stand a powerful moral searchlight. Now, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go over to-morrow, and take rooms at Les Quatre Vents—I believe the cook there is fairly intelligent—and I’ll become père de famille, and watch-dog, the champion of beauty in distress; in short, whatever you please!”

“This is really very good of you.”

“And I’ll give you my lawyers’ address in town: I think you will find them useful people—youngish, up-to-date, smart; none of the old leaden-footed law about them. Here it is,” scribbling, and handing a card. “Well, good-by, Geoff.”

All the long, endless day succeeding the fête at Monte Carlo, Peggy remained secluded in her own room; she had a distracting headache, and had not slept all night, but she sat hour after hour in a chair by the window, expecting every moment to be informed that:

“Il y a un Monsieur, que desire voir Mademoiselle.” But no; hours came and went, evening fell; dinnertime arrived and passed, and then Miss Serle (who had been continually in and out) came, and said:

“Peggy, Geoffrey is going away now, and he wants to know if you will see him for a few minutes. Here, take my shawl; he is in the garden. Be quick, be quick!”

Peggy descended the stairs, minus the proffered shawl (for it was a warm April night), looking like a phantom of herself. Out in the garden, under the stars, stood a man, bareheaded, awaiting her. At first they did not utter a single word, but merely stood staring into one another’s eyes. For some moments they remained thus, as silent as two stone statues. It appeared as if they were never going to speak, and the only sound in that sweet garden was the trickling of a little mountain stream, which had lost its way through the orange groves, and wandered among the flowers: this, and some one singing in a large lighted room with open windows, was all that broke the stillness of the perfumed air. It was an air sung by a rich, full tenor, in the private apartments of a Prince—a sad, wild, despairing Russian love song.

What need for these two to speak, when that song poured forth all that was in their hearts? A song without words.

“I waited to see you,” began Kinloch, at last, “to tell you that you may rely on me to do everything in my power. I believe you can get a separation from Goring.” (And they were separated forever.)

“Yes,” she assented, in a faint voice.

“Mr. Whiting is coming over to-morrow; he will remain here till you leave, and will see Captain Goring, and undertake all personal interviews. The sooner you return to England, the better.”

“Yes,” she assented, almost inaudibly.

“And this is good-by. You know what I mean,” he added, in a low, suppressed voice, as he took her hand.

“Good-by,” she repeated, as if in a sort of dream. He felt her fingers tighten on his hand, and then she suddenly broke down, and wept.

“For God’s sake, don’t make it worse for us both, Peggy,” he said, huskily. “If I loved you less, I would not part with you—like this.”

And here was a little figure approaching, with a white shawl over her head, and—oh! if Darling had but known it—in her evening shoes!

“Geoffrey, my dear boy, the omnibus has gone to the station, and if you intend to walk to the train, you have not a second to lose.”

“All right, Aunt Sophy. Good-by,” kissing her; and he turned, and hurried from the garden, out on the drive, and down the road. As Peggy stood, almost holding her breath, and listened to those rapidly receding footsteps, it seemed to her that with them all hope, and happiness, was passing out of her life.

Mr. Whiting duly established himself at Les Quatre Vents, and mounted guard in the great hall, a truly formidable rival to Mrs. Peregrine, who was much exercised in her mind by his odd behaviour. He looked so fierce, as he pulled his short white whiskers through his fingers; and as he paced the veranda, she could see his lips moving, as if taking to himself. Was the poor gentleman insane? Where was his keeper? No! He was merely rehearsing telling speeches, and holding animated and imaginary conversations, with Goring.

And still Goring came not. Still the sword of suspense hung by a hair!

On the afternoon of the fifth day, a messenger arrived with the band of the “Hotel Mistral Monte Carlo” on his cap. He came into the hall with a letter in his hand, looking about for the concierge. He glanced interrogatively at Mrs. Peregrine, who beckoned to him at once.

“Mrs. Goring, care of Miss Serle,” she read aloud. “No such lady here,” she said, returning it to him. Nevertheless, the note ultimately found its way into Peggy’s possession.

It was from the proprietor of the “Hotel Mitral,” and said, “Captain Goring, who is very ill, begs that Mrs. Goring will come immediately.”

In less than ten minutes, Mrs. Peregrine beheld filing rapidly through the hall, Miss Serle, Miss Hayes, and Mr. Whiting. Where was Mrs. Goring? It was altogether most mysterious! She must sound little Miss Serle on her return—at present she seemed greatly pressed for time.

“Mrs. Goring, I presume,” said the hotel proprietor to Peggy, as he received the little party. “Captain Goring came here: he was suffering from blood-poisoning, the result of the bite of a monkey. I believe he came against the special order of his doctors. It is a—I should prepare Madame—a serious case. He has been delirious for three days. Will Madame go up in the ascenseur?”

Madame found herself, in a short time, in Goring’s sick room—a typical Riviera bed-room: Swiss, lace curtains, grey marble-topped tables, a walnut-wood bed, elaborate candlesticks, and gilt clock.

The invalid was propped up by pillows, a pillow supported his arm, swollen to a great size; he looked very flushed and ill, and a Sister of Charity was in attendance.

“So you have come,” he said. “Send the nurse away, take off your hat, and sit down.”

When Peggy had done as he desired, he said:

“I’ve been awfully seedy since I saw you. I had no business to leave the doctor’s hands in London, my arm was so bad—blood-poisoning, the bite of a devil of a monkey. I killed it, so we are quits, for it has killed me! But I thought I’d get all right here, so I gave the doctors the slip; and now the doctors here have given me up. Marching orders. I declare you look quite shocked! Well, at any rate, you will be a very pretty widow. I am sorry I shall not see you.”

“Oh, Charlie!” she expostulated, in a strangled voice.

“Yes; that’s just like old times! I am sorry for myself. Tarr put me on some good things, and I thought, when I saw you, how we would start again afresh, and have a jolly little flat in London, and spend the winters here, but it is not to be. Anyway, I’ve been a brute to you, and you can’t pretend to be distressed.”

“But I am,” she said, in a tremulous voice.

“You know you’d be just as sorry for a sick dog! Still, you may as well stay, and see the last of me. Sit with your face to the light, where I can look at you.”

“I am sure you ought not to talk so much.”

“Why not? I must talk whilst I can. I was always fond of you, Peggy. You were so odd, and different to other girls; I meant to marry you—though your sister and Travenor thought otherwise. I only liked to torment them a bit, and do things my own way. It would have been far better for you, if you had not been so fond of me, not shown your hand—thirteen hearts. Don’t make that mistake again. If you had been cool, and stand-off and exacting, I believe I’d have gone on adoring you until the end; but you were so simple, and so sweet, I got as tired of you as if you’d been new milk. Dry champagne, with a little sting in it, never palls. Where is Kinloch? is he here?”

“No; he is in London.”

“There is a man, who could not tell a lie if he tried. He never took to me. Scotch caution: and yet he is not very Scotch—his great-grandfather was Scotch, and there is more English blood than Scotch in his veins—for he lent me two hundred pounds when we were in Dublin, and I’ve owed to him ever since.”

“I’m sure you ought not to talk, and worry about money.”

“No; I need not worry about money. I’ve left you every penny I have in the world.”

“Oh, no, no! I could not take it!”

“I am afraid you are too late; I made my will just now. You can pay my debts, give the money in charity, build a cat’s home, do whatever you please—it’s restitution!”

Captain Goring lingered in a more or less comatose condition for five days, and during those five days Peggy scarcely quitted his room. If he had been the best of husbands, that death was dragging inch by inch from her arms, she could not have nursed him more tenderly.

After the funeral Miss Serle and her companion returned to England, and Peggy retired to Serlewood, and seclusion.

Chapter XLIV

At The “Dog And Crook” Once More

“And so you are sorry!” exclaimed Kathleen Hesketh, as she and Peggy strolled down the avenue at Serlewood, one lovely June evening.

“Yes, I am, indeed.”

“You know that I am naturally inquisitive, so would you mind telling me why?”

“Because—” and the pretty young widow came to a standstill, and looked appealingly at her friend. “Oh, Kathleen, how implacable you could be!”

“I could—yes,” nodding her head impressively; “it’s my nature.”

“Well, then, because no one is sorry but myself. Is it not pitiful?”

“It is, indeed. What a wasted existence!”

“And—once—I would have gladly laid down my life for Charlie.”

“But of late you would not even live with him!”

“No!” with an involuntary shudder.

“And yet you are determined to make Geoffrey wait twelve long months, whilst you wear this,” and she gave Peggy’s black gown a little impatient flick. “I don’t call you consistent.”

“Perhaps I am not; but who is?”

“Aunt Sophy is dying for you to qualify as her own niece. She declares that there is no one so well fitted to wear her shoes as Peggy: Peggy will look after her poor, and her pets; Peggy will wear her lace and diamonds—more betoken she has never worn them herself.”

“More betoken! How Irish you are, Katie. I suppose you saw Mr. Chichester’s letter?”

“Yes; which clears up all doubts respecting Fernanda Jenkins. That was an abominable invention, if ever there was one; and——”

“Oh, Kathleen, he is dead.”

“And he left you every penny he had in the world! I hear you have paid all his debts; that must have been a troublesome business.”

“It is not troublesome when you have the money,” replied the other, with a constrained smile. “I had plenty, and the surplus went to the London hospitals.”

“Pray, who is that at the gate lodge?” exclaimed Mrs. Hesketh. “Surely I know her face.”

“Surely you do. She is Lizzie, my old parlour-maid, now Mrs. Collins. Geoffrey suggested this arrangement when the lame woman died. Collins is one of the keepers.”

“A gamekeeper! why, he used to be an officer’s servant, and a very smart one, too.”

“Yes; and by no means a bad cook, and quite handy with his needle. Soldiers are so adaptable.”

“I think your Lizzie has made an excellent match, in securing a Jack of all trades who can both cook and sew! Oh, Mrs. Collins, how are you?”

“Finely, thank God. I hope your ladyship is getting good health?”

“Very good health, indeed. You and I are fellow-country-women, Mrs. Collins.”

“Faix, and sure don’t I know that well, ma’am?” and Lizzie dropped a curtsey. “A Miss O’Hara of Clane Castle couldn’t be anything but Irish, if she tried her big best.”

“And so you have a baby, I see,” glancing at an open door, which afforded a glimpse of the cradle.

“Yes, ma’am, I have so. She is asleep now. She is called Margaret Sophia, after my mistress here, and Miss Serle; the two young gentlemen was down this morning taking great stock of her.”

“Do not allow them to touch her, whatever you do, Mrs. Collins, for I will not be responsible,” said their parent, with a gesture of both hands.

“No fear, ma’am; sure don’t I know them by this time!”

“And how have the fowls answered?” inquired Peggy. “Those you had leave to keep at the home farm?”

“Faix, they are making me fortune, thanks be to Miss Serle. Sure, I had hens laying all through the winter, even when they were mother naked, and hadn’t a feather on them! I suppose you didn’t hear tell of Mrs. Dogherty, ma’am?”

“Mrs. Dogherty?” she repeated, with a puzzled air.

“Why, the cook; an’ it’s like your own soft, kind heart, to forgive and forget her, after the way she disgraced ye.”

“Oh, yes, I recollect Mrs. Dogherty perfectly. What about her?”

“Sure, wasn’t she run in for giving a lady an awful wooling, not to speak of thievery and perjury; and although she had a friend on the jury as was took with a fit, still and all, they have her snugly jailed up in Kilmainham.”

“I’m rather sorry for the other people in Kilmainham,” replied Peggy, with a smile; “and now, we must be returning. I hear the big bell.”

“Perhaps it is merely the cats’ bell?” asked Kathleen, as she took her arm, and, with a farewell nod to Mrs. Collins, they departed. As the latter stood with her hands on her hips looking after the pair, she exclaimed aloud, to the great amazement of the dog: “Well, well, well, to be sure! An’ she’s to marry a rale gentleman this time, at any rate. Glory be to God, she got shut of the other!”

Meanwhile the two ladies were slowly retracing their steps, and Mrs. Hesketh said:

“I must confess that I would never have known Serlewood! Your improvements resemble the work of a magician’s wand!”

“Oh, nonsense—blarney!” protested her companion.

“Yes! You have changed Aunt Sophy from a torpid septuagenarian, in a woollen shawl and a front, into a sprightly, happy, young old lady, full of life and fun, with the keenest enjoyment of other people’s pleasures, and real appreciation of the beautiful. The gardens, instead of being Symon’s private property, with locked gates and weedy walks, are now thrown open to the public!—that is to say, the family. There are two smart carriages, instead of the old catafalque, and the ancient suite have disappeared—melted away like snow before the sun. You are the sun, Peggy—or sunbeam!”

“Kathleen, if you expect any return in kind——”

“But I don’t,” she interrupted. “Those grim old tyrants, Pope and Pagan—I mean Pulsifor and Darling—have disappeared. By the way, what has become of him?”

“He is pretty well, thank you, though rather troubled with the gout. He lives in a nice cottage with his grand-niece, and on fine days he is trundled up to the house in a bath chair that once belonged to Mr. Serle. Then he pokes about with a stick, and holds a kind of semi-official inspection of the silver and the servants.”

“He must be a great age.”

“Yes, he is. He nearly expired one day last summer, when he happened to come up in what your irreverent boys call his ‘pram,’ and discovered Bobby and Baba, the two little Giffards, playing croquet in the hall! It was a wet afternoon, and we made hoops of old music books; the floor is stone, and so we did no harm beyond making an outrageous noise. Your aunt and I played too! Wasn’t it shocking! I believe Pulsifor was taken away, and restored with brandy and burnt feathers, and he was heard to declare that after that, it would never surprise him to see Miss Serle on a bicycle!”

*  *  *

Mt. Whiting, General Pollard, and Major Kinloch, are once more established for the May fly fishing at the “Dog and Crook.” It is five years since we first came upon them in that Inn parlour, and although some of the party have seen various vicissitudes since that period, the parlour itself remains precisely the same. There are the two hideous pink vases still intact, the great stuffed trout in its glass case, Mr. Whiting’s chair, the coloured prints.

Outside, we observe the Needle in a faded Tam o’ Shanter blundering past, with a cudgel in one hand, and a telegram in the other. There goes John Travenor’s fine team, headed by “Blackberry Jam,” embellished with self-esteem, brass, and scarlet woollen tassels.

Mrs. Banner does not pretend to cater for ladies, she infinitely prefers gentlemen—and makes no secret of the fact; but on the present occasion she has opened her doors to Peggy Summerhayes (as she still persists in calling her), as well as to Miss Serle, and Miss Serle’s bustling maid, who however, has her uses, as she has assumed complete control of the two valets.

Nether Barton is at its best on this soft May evening. The hedges in new green suits, are covered with hawthorns, the lilac bushes are in flower, the golden chains of the laburnums swing languorously to and fro, and the air is filled with the voices of children, the bleating of lambs, and the insidious perfume of clover and May. Otherwise, the old hamlet continues to look as if it had fallen into profound sleep, and was still dreaming of its plumed knights, its lost greatness, and medieval magnificence.

Miss Serle, in a middle-aged hat, and Peggy in no hat at all, have been taking tea at the farm; sitting out under the big walnut tree in the little gay garden, with Janet’s successor, a pleasant buxom young woman, who had some money of her own, and makes an ideal yeoman’s wife. She has carried off Miss Serle to inspect the dairy and greenhouse. The old lady is enchanted with all she sees. Surely this is the real, true and only country life! But the farm sights were no novelty to Peggy, and presently she wandered off through the park, accompanied by Rory (muzzled and melancholy), and climbed the hill behind the Hall, shading her eyes with her hand, and gazing down upon the white chalk road leading to the river. “Sister Peggy, sister Peggy, do you see any one coming?”

Yes; she sees three figures, mere specks in the distance, and waits. Standing in relief, a pretty, slender object, on the shoulder of a steep rise, overlooking the valley of the Beck, surveying the once familiar landscape with affectionate gaze. It was not long before she was joined by her husband, but the General and Mr. Whiting (who have had a capital day) went steadily forward, engrossed in discussing fish and flies.

There in the porch lounged Mrs. Banner, wearing her favourite red-brick blouse, and holding the inevitable bit of dingy crotchet in her fingers.

She had come out for a little fresh air and a look around, after the heat and anxiety attendant on making custards. The approaching couple naturally caught her eye, and far beyond, away up on the crest of the hill, two other figures—Major Kinloch and Peggy—loitering for all the world like lovers, and it is just on the dinner hour! Certainly they made a handsome pair, though as far as looks went she preferred Captain Goring to the Major. Captain Goring’s eyes were just a wonder, and, as she wistfully recalled them, Mrs. Banner contributed a heavy sigh to his memory. But Major Kinloch paid his bills to the day, gave no trouble, and took no liberties; on the whole, she liked him the best. And now that she came to think of it, it was she herself in that very porch, who had first introduced the name of Peggy Summerhayes to the two gentlemen, and, actually since that day, Peggy had become the widow of one, and the wife of the other! Truly Peggy was heavily in her debt.

Meanwhile, Major and Mrs. Kinloch lingered, looking back upon the sunset, and the scenes of their first meeting, then reluctantly descended the lane between fragrant hedges, to the painted gate—that scene of critical interviews! As they paused by this mental landmark, a tall girl of seventeen came flying by, basket in hand. She gave them a broad stare, which gradually widened into a significant grin, as she flung open the gate and hurried onwards.

“Why, it is Maggie Jeal,” exclaimed Peggy. “How she has grown.”

“And going for the bread. One evening, five years ago, you undertook that very message.”

“Yes; but not in such hot haste,” protested Peggy with a laugh.

“No; I am glad to say that you did not exactly run her errand,” returned Kinloch. “I owe Maggie unbounded gratitude. She was the unconscious means of my making your acquaintance.”

“Yes; if she had been looking after her little brother, instead of gaping at you, I should never have known you Geoffrey, and I would in all probability have missed my chance——”

She hesitated for a second.

“Your chance—of what?” he asked suddenly, taking her hand in his.

Peggy, blue-gowned and bonnet-less, looked back at him with beautiful steadfast eyes, and her smiling lips let fall the word, “Happiness.”

The End