Part 1 out of 5
This eBook was produced by Don Lainson [firstname.lastname@example.org]
BACK TO BILLABONG
MARY GRANT BRUCE
"Beyond the distant sky-line
(Now pansy-blue and clear),
We know a land is waiting,
A brown land, very dear:
A land of open spaces,
Gaunt forest, treeless plain:
And if we once have loved it
We must come back again."
I. LANCASTER GATE, LONDON, W
II. THE RAINHAMS
III. PLAYING TRUANT
IV. COMING HOME
V. THE TURN OF FORTUNE'S WHEEL
VI. SAILING ORDERS
VII. THE WATCH DOGS
VIII. HOW TOMMY BOARDED A STRANGE TAXI
IX. THE WELCOME OF AUSTRALIA
XI. COLONIAL EXPERIENCES
XII. ON INFLUENZA AND FURNITURE
XIII. THE HOME ON THE CREEK
XIV. THE CUNJEE RACES
XV. HOW WALLY RODE A RACE
XVI. BUILDING UP AGAIN
BACK TO BILLABONG
LANCASTER GATE, LONDON, W
"Do the beastly old map yourself, if you want it. I shan't,
"Aw, Wil-fred!" The boy at the end of the schoolroom table, red-
haired, snub-nosed and defiant, mimicked the protesting tone.
"I've done it once, and I'm blessed if I do it again."
"No one would dream that it was ever meant for Africa." The young
teacher glanced at the scrawled and blotted map before her. "It--
it doesn't look like anything earthly. You must do it again,
"Don't you, Wilf." Wilfred's sister leaned back in her chair,
tilting it on its hind legs.
"You have nothing to do with Wilfred's work, Avice. Go on with
"Done it, thanks," said Avice. "And I suppose I can speak to my
own brother if I like."
"No, you can't--in lesson time," said the teacher.
"Who's going to stop me?"
Cecilia Rainham controlled herself with an effort.
"Bring me your work," she said.
She went over the untidy French exercise with a quick eye. When
she had finished it resembled a stormy sky--a groundwork of blue-
black, blotted writing, lit by innumerable dashes of red. Cecilia
put down her red pencil.
"It's hopeless, Avice. You haven't tried a bit. And you know it
isn't hard--you did a far more difficult piece of translation
without a mistake last Friday."
"Yes, but the pantomime was coming off on Saturday," said Wilfred,
with a grin. "Jolly little chance of tickets from Bob if she
"You shut up!" said Avice.
"Be quiet, both of you," Cecilia ordered, a spot of red in each
pale cheek. "Remember, there will be other Saturdays. Bob will do
nothing for you if I can't give him a decent report of you." It
was the threat she hated using, but without it she was helpless.
And the red-haired pair before her knew to a fraction the extent of
For the moment the threat was effective. Avice went back to her
seat, taking with her the excited-looking French exercise, while
Wilfred sullenly recommenced a dispirited attack upon the African
coastline. Cecilia leaned back in her chair, and took up a half-
knitted sock--to drop it hastily, as a long-drawn howl came from a
low chair by the window.
"Whatever is the matter, Queenie?"
"I per-ricked my finger," sobbed the youngest Miss Rainham. She
stood up, tears raining down her plump cheeks. No one, Cecilia
thought, ever cried so easily, so copiously, and so frequently as
Queenie. As she stood holding out a very grubby forefinger, on
which appeared a minute spot of blood, great tears fell in splashes
on the dark green linoleum, while others ran down her face to join
them, and others trembled on her lower eyelids, propelled from some
artesian fount within.
"Oh, dry up, Queenie!" said Wilfred irritably. "Anyone 'ud think
you'd cut your silly finger off!"
"Well--it'th bleed-in'!" wailed Queenie. She dabbed the injured
member with the pillow case she was hemming, adding a scarlet touch
in pleasant contrast to its prevailing grime.
"Well--you're too big a girl to cry for a prick," said Cecilia
wearily. "People who are nearly seven really don't cry except for
something awfully bad."
"There--I'll tell the mater you said awfully!" Avice jeered. "Who
bites our heads off for using slang, I'd like to know?"
"You wouldn't have much head left if I bit for every slang word you
use," retorted her half-sister. "Do get on with your French,
Avice--it's nearly half-past twelve, and you know Eliza will want
to lay the table presently. Come here, Queenie." She took the
pillow case, and unpicked a few stitches, which clearly indicated
that the needle had been taking giant strides. "Just hem that last
inch or two again, and see if you can't make it look nice. I
believe the needle only stuck into your finger because you were
making it sew so badly. Have you got a handkerchief?--but, of
course, you haven't." She polished the fat, tear-stained cheek
with her own. "Now run and sit down again."
Queenie turned to go obediently enough--she was too young, and
possibly too fat, to plan, as yet, the deliberate malice in which
her brother and sister took their chief pleasure. Unfortunately,
Wilfred arrived at the end of Africa at the wrong moment for her.
He pushed the atlas away from him with a jerk that overturned the
ink bottle, sending a stream of ink towards Avice--who, shoving her
chair backwards to escape the deluge, cannoned into Queenie, and
brought her headlong to the floor. Howls broke out anew, mingled
with a crisp interchange of abuse between the elder pair, while
Cecilia vainly sought to lessen the inky flood with a duster. Upon
this pleasant scene the door opened sharply.
"A nice way you keep order at lessons," said Mrs. Mark Rainham
acidly. "And the ink all over the cloth. Well, all I can say is,
you'll pay for a new one, Cecilia."
"I did not knock it over," said Cecilia, in a low tone.
"It's your business to look after the children, and see that they
do not destroy things," said her stepmother.
"The children will not obey me."
"Pouf!" said Mrs. Rainham. "A mere question of management. High-
spirited children want tact in dealing with them, that is all. You
never trouble to exercise any tact whatever." Her eyes dwelt
fondly on her high-spirited son, whose red head was bent
attentively over Africa while he traced a mighty mountain range
along the course of the Nile. "Wilfred, have you nearly finished
"Nearly, Mater," said the industrious Wilfred, manufacturing
mountains tirelessly. "Just got to stick in a few more things."
"Say 'put,' darling, not 'stick.' Cecilia, you might point out
those little details--that is, if you took any interest in their
"Thethilia thaid 'awfully' jutht now," said Queenie, in a shrill
"I don't doubt it," said Mrs. Rainham, bitterly. "Of course,
anyone brought up in Paris is too grand to trouble about English--
but we think a good deal of these things in London." A little
smile hovered on her thin lips, as Cecilia flushed, and Avice and
her brother grinned broadly. The Mater could always make old
Cecilia go as red as a beetroot, but it was fun to watch,
especially when the sport beguiled the tedium of lessons.
A clatter of dishes on a tray heralded the approach of Eliza.
"It is time the table was clear," Mrs. Rainham said. "Wilfred,
darling, I want you to post a letter. Put up your work and get
your cap. Cecilia, you had better try to clean the cloth before
lunch; it is ruined, of course, but do what you can with it. I
will choose another the next time I am in London. And just make
sure that the children's things are all in order for the dancing
lesson this afternoon. Avice, did you put out your slippers to be
"Forgot all about it, Mater," said Avice cheerfully.
"Silly child--and it is Jackson's day off. Just brush them up for
her, Cecilia. When the children have gone this afternoon, I want
you to see to the drawing-room; some people are coming in to-night,
and there are fresh flowers from Brown's to arrange."
Cecilia looked up, with a sudden flush of dismay. The children's
dancing lesson gave her one free afternoon during the week.
"But--but I am going to meet Bob," she stammered.
"Oh, Bob will wait, no doubt; you need not keep him long, if you
hasten yourself. Yes, Eliza, you can have the table." Mrs.
Rainham left the room, with the children at her heels.
Cecilia whisked the lesson books hastily away; Eliza was waiting
with a lowering brow, and Eliza was by no means a person to be
offended. Maids were scarce enough in England in the months after
the end of the war; and, even in easier times, there had been a
dreary procession of arriving and departing servants in the Rainham
household--the high-spirited characteristics of the children being
apt to pall quickly upon anyone but their mother. In days when
there happened to be no Eliza, it was Cecilia who naturally
inherited the vacant place, adding the duties of house-maid to
those of nurse, governess, companion and general factotum; all
exacting posts, and all of them unpaid. As Mrs. Rainham gracefully
remarked, when a girl was not earning her own living, as so many
were, but was enjoying the comfort of home, the least she could do
was to make herself useful.
"Half a minute, Eliza." She smiled at the slatternly girl. "Sorry
to keep you waiting; there's a river of ink gone astray here." She
placed the soaked cloth on the waste-paper basket and polished the
top of the table vigorously.
"I'll bet it worn't you wot spilt it--but it's you wot 'as the
cleanin' up," muttered Eliza. "Lemme rub that up now, Miss." She
put down her tray and took the cloth from Cecilia's hand.
"Thanks, ever so, Eliza--but you've got plenty to do yourself."
"Well, if I 'ave, I ain't the on'y one wot 'as," said Eliza darkly.
Her wizened little face suddenly flushed. "Lor, Miss," she said
confidentially, "you doan't know wot a success that 'at you trimmed
for me is. It's a fair scream. I wore it larst night, an' me
young man--'im wot's in the Royal Irish--well, it fair knocked 'im!
An' 'e wants me to go out wiv 'im next Benk 'Oliday--out to
'Ampstead 'Eath. 'E never got as far as arstin' me that before.
I know it was that 'at wot done it."
"Not it, Eliza," Cecilia laughed. "It was just your hair under the
hat. I told you how pretty it would be, if you would only brush it
"Well, I never 'ad no brush till you give me your old one," said
Eliza practically. "I did brush it, though, a nundred times every
night, till Cook reckoned I was fair cracked. But 'air's on'y
'air, an' anyone 'as it--it's not every one 'as an 'at like that."
She clattered plates upon the table violently. "You goin' out this
"As soon as I can, Eliza." Cecilia's face fell. "I must arrange
"I'll 'ave the vawses all ready wiv clean water for you," said
Eliza. "An' don't you worry about the drorin'-room--I'll see as
"Oh, you can't, Eliza--you have no time. I know it's silver-
"Aw, I'll squeeze it in some'ow." Eliza stopped suddenly, at a
decided footstep in the passage, and began to rattle spoons and
forks with a vigour born of long practice. Cecilia picked up the
inky cloth, and went out.
Her stepmother was standing by the hall-stand, apparently intent on
examining Wilfred's straw hat. She spoke in a low tone as the girl
"I wish you did not find so much pleasure in gossiping with
servants, Cecilia. It is such a bad example for Avice. I have
spoken about it to you before."
Cecilia did not answer. She went upstairs with flaming cheeks, and
draped the cloth across the hand basin in the bathroom, turning the
tap vengefully. A stream of water flowed through the wide stain.
"There's more real kindness in that poor little Cockney's finger
than there is in your whole body!" Cecilia whispered, apparently
addressing the unoffending cloth--which, having begun life as a
dingy green and black, did not seem greatly the worse for its new
decoration. "Hateful old thing!" A smile suddenly twitched the
corners of her mouth. "Well, she can't stop the money for a new
cloth out of this quarter's allowance, because I've just got it.
That's luck, anyhow. I'll give it to Bob to keep, in case she goes
through my desk again." She poured some ammonia upon the stain,
and rubbed gingerly, surveying the result with a tilted nose. It
was not successful. "Shall I try petrol? But petrol's an awful
price, and I've only got the little bottle I use for my gloves.
Anyhow, the horrible old cloth is so old and thin that it will fall
to pieces if I rub it. Oh, it's no use bothering about it--nothing
will make it better." She squeezed the water from the cloth and
spread the stained area over a chair to dry, looking disgustedly at
her own dyed finger-nails. "Now for Avice's shoes before I scrub
Avice's shoes proved a lengthy task, since the younger Miss Rainham
had apparently discovered some clay to walk through in Regent's
Park on her way home from the last dancing lesson; and well-
hardened clay resists ordinary cleaning methods, and demands edged
tools. The luncheon bell rang loudly before Cecilia had finished.
She gave the shoes a final hurried rub, and then fell to cleansing
her hands; arriving in the dining-room, pink and breathless, some
minutes later, to find a dreary piece of tepid mutton rapidly
congealing on her plate.
"I think you might manage to be down in time for meals, Cecilia,"
was Mrs. Rainham's chilly greeting.
Cecilia said nothing. She had long realized the uselessness of any
excuses. To be answered merely gave her stepmother occasion for
further fault-finding--you might, as Cecilia told Bob, have a
flawless defence for the sin of the moment, but in that case Mrs.
Rainham merely changed her ground, and waxed eloquent about the sin
of yesterday, or of last Friday week, for which there might happen
to be no defence at all. It was so difficult to avoid being a
criminal in Mrs. Rainham's eyes that Cecilia had almost given up
the attempt. She attacked her greasy mutton and sloppy cabbage in
silence, unpleasantly conscious of her stepmother's freezing
Mrs. Rainham was a short, stout woman, with colourless, rather
pinched features, and a wealth of glorious red hair. Some one had
once told her that her profile was classic, and she still rejoiced
in believing it, was always photographed from a side view, and wore
in the house loose and flowing garments of strange tints,
calculated to bring out the colour of her glowing tresses.
Cecilia, who worshipped colour with every bit of her artist soul,
adored her stepmother's hair as thoroughly as she detested her
dresses. Bob, who was blunt and inartistic, merely detested her
from every point of view. "Don't see what you find to rave about
in it," he said. "All the warmth of her disposition has simply
gone to her head."
There was certainly little warmth in Mrs. Rainham's heart, where
her stepdaughter was concerned. She disapproved very thoroughly of
Cecilia in every detail--of her pretty face and delicate colouring,
of the fair hair that rippled and curled and gleamed in a manner so
light-hearted as to seem distinctly out of place in the dingy room,
of the slender grace that was in vivid contrast to her own
stoutness. She resented the very way Cecilia put on her clothes--
simple clothes, but worn with an air that made her own elaborate
dresses cheap and common by comparison. It was so easy for her to
look well turned out; and it would never be easy to dress Avice,
who bade fair to resemble her mother in build, and had already a
passion for frills and trimmings, and a contempt for plain things.
Mrs. Rainham had an uneasy conviction that the girl who bore all
her scathing comments in silence actually dared to criticize her in
her own mind--perhaps openly to Bob, whose blue eyes held many
unspoken things as he looked at her. Once she had overheard him
say to Cecilia: "She looks like an over-ornamented pie!" Cecilia
had laughed, and Mrs. Rainham had passed on, unsuspected, her mind
full of a wild surmise. They would never dare to mean her--and
yet--that new dress of hers was plastered with queer little bits of
purposeless trimmings. She never again wore it without that
terrible sentence creeping into her mind. And she had been so
pleased with it, too! An over-ornamented pie. If she could only
have been sure they meant her!
She thought of it again as she sat looking at Cecilia. The new
dress was lying on her bed, ready to be worn that afternoon; and
Cecilia was going to meet Bob--Bob, who had uttered the horrible
remark. Well, at least there should be no haste about the meeting.
It would do Bob no harm to cool his heels for a little. She set
her thin lips tightly together, as she helped the rice pudding.
The meal ended, amidst loud grumbles from Wilfred that the pudding
was rice; and Cecilia hurried off to find the flowers and arrange
them. The florist's box was near the vases left ready by the
faithful Eliza; she cut the string with a happy exclamation of
"Daffodils!" as she lifted the lid. Daffodils were always a joy;
this afternoon they were doubly welcome, because easy to arrange.
She sorted them into long-necked vases swiftly, carrying each vase,
when filled, to the drawing-room--a painful apartment, crowded with
knick-knacks until it resembled a bazaar stall, with knobby and
unsteady bamboo furniture and much drapery of a would-be artistic
nature. It was stuffy and airless. Cecilia wrinkled her pretty
nose as she entered. Mrs. Rainham held pronounced views on the
subject of what she termed the "fresh-air fad," and declined to let
London air--a smoky commodity at best--attack her cherished
carpets; with the result that Cecilia breathed freely only in her
little attic, which had no carpet at all.
The lady of the house rustled in, in her flowing robe, as Cecilia
put the last vase into position on the piano--finding room for it
with difficulty amid a collection of photograph frames and china
ornaments. She carried some music, and cast a critical eye round
"This place looks as if it had not been properly dusted for a
week," she remarked. "See to it before you go, Cecilia." She
opened the piano. "Just come and try the accompaniment to this
song--it's rather difficult, and I want to sing it to-night."
Cecilia sat down before the piano, with woe in her heart. Her
stepmother's delusion that she could sing was one of the minor
trials of her life. She had been thoroughly trained in Paris,
under a master who had prophesied great things for her; now her
hours at the Rainhams' tinkly piano, playing dreary accompaniments
to sentimental songs with Mrs. Rainham's weak soprano wobbling and
flattening on the high notes, were hours of real distress, from
which she would escape feeling her teeth on edge. Her stepmother,
however, had thoroughly enjoyed herself since the discovery that no
accompaniment presented any difficulty to Cecilia. It saved her a
world of trouble in practising; moreover, when standing, it was far
easier to let herself go in the affecting passages, which always
suffered from scantiness of breath when she was sitting down.
Therefore she would stand beside Cecilia, pouring forth song after
song, with her head slightly on one side, and one hand resting
lightly on the piano--an attitude which, after experiment with a
mirror, she had decided upon as especially becoming.
The song of the moment did make some demands upon her attention.
It had a disconcerting way of changing from sharps to flats;
trouble being caused by the singer failing to change also. Cecilia
took her through it patiently, going over and over again the tricky
passages, and devoutly wishing that Providence in supplying her
stepmother with boundless energy, a tireless voice and an enormous
stock of songs, had also equipped her with an ear for music. At
length the lady desisted from her efforts.
"That's quite all right," she said, with satisfaction. "I'll sing
it to-night. The Simons will be here, and they do like to hear
what's new. Go on with your dusting; I'll just run through a few
pieces, and you can tell me if I go wrong."
Cecilia hesitated, glancing at the clock.
"It is getting very late," she said. "Eliza told me she could dust
"Eliza!" said Mrs. Rainham. "Why, it's her silver day; she had no
business to tell you anything of the sort--and neither had you, to
ask her to do it. Goodness knows it's hard enough to make the lazy
thing do her own work. Just get your duster, and make sure as you
come down that the children are properly dressed for the dancing
class." She broke into a waltz.
Cecilia ran. Sounds of woe greeted her as she neared Avice's room,
and she entered, to find that damsel plunged in despair over a
"It was on all right last time I wore the beastly dress," wailed
she. "If you'd look after my clothes like Mater said you had to, I
wouldn't be late. Whatever am I to do? I can't make the old dress
shut with a safety pin."
"No, you certainly can't," said her half-sister. "Never mind;
there are spare buttons for that frock, and I can sew one on." She
accomplished the task with difficulty, since Avice appeared quite
unable to stand still.
"Now, are you ready, Avice? Shoes, hat, gloves--where are your
gloves? How do you ever manage to find anything in that drawer?"
She rooted swiftly in a wild chaos, and finally unearthed the
gloves. "Yes, you'll do. Now, where's Wilfred?" Search revealed
Wilfred, who hated dancing, reading a "penny dreadful" in his room--
ready to start, save for the trifling detail of having neglected
to wash an extremely dirty face. Cecilia managed to make him
repair the omission, after a struggle, and saw them off with a
thankful heart--which sank anew as she heard a neighbouring clock
strike three. Three--and already she should be meeting Bob in Hyde
Park. She fled for a duster, and hurried to the drawing-room.
Eliza encountered her on the way.
"Now, wotcher goin' to do wiv that duster, Miss?" she inquired.
"I told yer I'd do it for yer."
"Mrs. Rainham is waiting for me to do it, Eliza. I'm sorry."
"Ow!" Eliza's expression and her tilted nose spoke volumes.
"Suppose she finks I wouldn't clean 'er old silver proper. Silver,
indeed!--'lectrer-plyte, an' common at that. Just you cut and run
as soon as she's out of the 'ouse, Miss; I know she's goin', 'cause
'er green and yaller dress is a-airin' on 'er bed."
"It's not much good, Eliza. I ought to be in the Park now."
Cecilia knew she should not allow the girl to speak of her mistress
so contemptuously. But she was disheartened enough at the moment
not to care.
"Lor!" said Eliza. "A bloomin' shyme, I calls it!"
Cecilia found her stepmother happily engaged upon a succession of
wrong notes that made her wince. She dusted the room swiftly,
aware all the time of a watchful eye. Occasionally came a crisp
comment: "You didn't dust that window-sill." "Cecilia, that table
has four legs--did you only notice two?"--the effort to speak while
playing generally bringing the performer with vigour upon a wrong
chord. The so-called music became almost a physical torment to the
"If she would only stop--if she would only go away!" she found
herself murmuring, over and over. Even the thought of Bob waiting
in Hyde Park in the chill east wind became dim beside that horrible
piano, banging and tinkling in her ear. She dusted mechanically,
picking up one cheap ornament after another--leaving the collection
upon the piano until the last, in the hope that by the time she
reached it the thirst for music would have departed from the
performer. But Mrs. Rainham's tea appointment was not yet; she was
thoroughly enjoying herself, the charm of her own execution added
to the knowledge that Cecilia was miserable, and Bob waiting
somewhere, with what patience he might. She held on to the bitter
end, while the girl dusted the piano's burden with a set face.
Then she finished a long and painful run, and shut the piano with a
"There--I've had quite a nice practice, and it isn't often the
drawing-room gets really decently dusted," she remarked. "Nothing
like the eye of the mistress; I think I must practise every day
while you are dusting, Cecilia. Oh, and, Cecilia, give the legs of
the piano a good rubbing. Dear me, I must go and dress."
Cecilia dragged herself upstairs a few minutes later. All the
spring was gone out of her; it really did not seem to matter much
now whether she met Bob or not; she was too tired to care. This
was only a sample of many days; so it had been for two years--so it
would be for two more, until she was twenty-one, and her own
mistress. But it did not seem possible that she could endure
through another two years.
She reached her own room, and was about to shut the door, when the
harsh voice rasped upwards.
"Cecilia! Cecilia! Come here a minute."
The girl went down slowly. Mrs. Rainham was standing before her
"Just come and hook my dress, Cecilia. This new dressmaker has a
knack of making everything hard to fasten. There--see that you
start with the right hook and eye."
At the moment, physical contact with her stepmother was almost the
last straw for the girl. She obeyed in silence, shrinking back as
far as she could from the stout, over-scented body and the powdered
face with the thin lips. Mrs. Rainham watched her with a little
"Yes, that's all right," she said. "Now, my hat, Cecilia--it's in
the bandbox under the bed. I can't stoop in this dress, that's the
worst of it. And my gloves are in that box on the chest of
drawers--the white pair. Hurry, Cecilia, my appointment is for
"Mine was for three o'clock," said the girl in a low voice.
"Oh, well, you should manage your work better. I always tell you
that. Nothing like method in getting through every day. However,
Bob is only your brother--it would be more serious if it was a
young man you were meeting. Brothers don't matter much."
Cecilia flamed round upon her.
"Bob is more to me than anyone in the world," she cried. "And I
would rather keep any other man waiting."
"Really? But I shouldn't think it very likely that you'll ever
have to trouble about other young men, Cecilia; you're not the
sort. Too thin and scraggy." Mrs. Rainham surveyed her own
generous proportions in the glass, and gathered up her gloves with
a pleased air. For the moment she could not possibly believe that
anyone could have referred to her as "an over-ornamented pie."
"Good-bye, Cecilia; don't be late for tea." She sailed down the
Even the bang of the hall door failed to convey any relief to
Cecilia. For the second time she toiled upstairs, to the bare
freshness of her little room. Generally, it had a tonic effect
upon her; to-day it seemed that nothing could help her. She leaned
her head against the window, a wave of homesick loneliness flooding
all her soul. So deep were its waters that she did not hear the
hall door open and close again, and presently swift feet pounding
up the stairs. Someone battered on her door.
"Cecilia! Are you there?"
She ran to open the door. Bob stood there, a short, muscular
fellow, in Air Force blue, with twinkling eyes. She put out her
hands to him with a little pitiful gesture.
"Don't say that horrible name again," she whispered. "If anyone
else calls me Cecilia I'll just go mad."
Bob came in, and flung a brotherly arm round her shoulders.
"Has it been so beastly?" he said. "Poor little Tommy. Oh, Tommy,
I saw the over-ornamented pie sailing down the street, and I dived
into a side alley until she'd gone out of range. I guessed from
her proud and happy face that you'd been scarified."
"Scarified!" murmured Cecilia. But Bob was not listening. His
face was radiant.
"I couldn't wait in the park any longer," he said. "I had to come
and tell you. Tommy, old thing--I'm demobilized!"
It was one of Mrs. Mark Rainham's grievances that, comparatively
late in her married life, she should suddenly find herself brought
into association with the children of her husband's first marriage.
They were problems that Fate had previously removed from her path;
she found it extremely annoying--at first--that Fate should cease
to be so tactful, casting upon her a burden long borne by other
shoulders. It was not until she had accepted Mark Rainham, eleven
years before, that she found out the very existence of Bob and
Cecilia; she resented the manner of the discovery, even as she
resented the children themselves. Not that she ever dreamed of
breaking off her engagement on their account. She was a milliner
in a Kensington shop, and to marry Mark Rainham, who was vaguely
"something in the city," and belonged to a good club, and dressed
well, was a distinct step in the social scale, and two unknown
children were not going to make her draw back. But to mother them
was quite another question.
Luckily, Fate had a compassionate eye upon the young Rainhams, and
was quite willing to second their stepmother's resolve that they
should come into her life as little as possible. Their father had
never concerned himself greatly about them. A lazy and selfish
man, he had always been willing to shelve the care of his small son
and daughter--babies were not in his line, and the aunt who had
brought up their mother was only too anxious to take Bob and
Cecilia when that girl-mother had slipped away from life, leaving a
week-old Cecilia and a sturdy, solemn Bob of three.
The arrangement suited Mark Rainham very well. Aunt Margaret's
house at Twickenham was big enough for half a dozen babies; the
children went there, with their nurse, and he was free to slip back
into bachelor ways, living in comfortable chambers within easy
reach of his club and not too far, with a good train service, from
a golf links. The regular week-end visits to the babies suffered
occasional interruptions, and gradually grew fewer and fewer, until
he became to the children a vague and mysterious person named Papa,
who dropped from the skies now and then, asked them a number of
silly questions, talked with great politeness to Aunt Margaret--
who, they instinctively felt, liked him no better than they did--
and then disappeared, whereupon every one was immensely relieved.
Even the fact that he generally brought them a packet of expensive
sweets was as nothing beside the harrowing knowledge that they must
kiss him, thereby having their faces brushed with a large and
scrubby moustache. Aunt Margaret and nurse did not have to endure
this infliction--which seemed to Bob and Cecilia obviously unfair.
But the visits did not often happen--not enough to disturb
seriously an existence crammed with interesting things like puppies
and kittens, the pony cart, boats on the river that ran just beyond
the lawn, occasional trips to London and the Zoo, and delirious
fortnights at the seaside or on Devonshire moors. Cecilia had
never known even Bobby's shadowy memories of their own mother.
Aunt Margaret was everything that mattered, and the person called
Papa was merely an unpleasant incident. Other little boys and
girls whom they knew owned, in their houses, delightful people
named Daddy and Mother; but Cecilia and Bob quite understood that
every one could not have the same things, for possibly these
fortunate children had no puppies or pony carts. Nurse had pointed
out this, so that it was perfectly clear.
It was when Cecilia was eight and Bob eleven, that their father
married again. To the children it meant nothing; to Aunt Margaret
it was a bomb. If Mark Rainham had happened to die, or go to the
North Pole, she would have borne the occurrence calmly; but that he
should take a step which might mean separating her from her beloved
babies shook her to her foundations. Even when she was assured
that the new Mrs. Rainham disliked children, and had not the
slightest intention of adding Bob and Cecilia to her household,
Aunt Margaret remained uneasy. The red-haired person, as she
mentally labelled her, might change her mind. Mark Rainham was wax
in her hands, and would always do as he was told. Aunt Margaret,
goaded by fear, became heroic. She let the beloved house at
Twickenham while Mr. and Mrs. Rainham were still on their
honeymoon; packed up the children, her maids, nurse, the parrot and
most of the puppies; and kept all her plans a profound secret until
she was safely established in Paris.
To the average Londoner, Paris is very far off. There are, of
course, very many people who run across the Channel as easily as a
Melbourne man may week-end in Gippsland or Bendigo, but the
suburban section of London is not fond of voyaging across a strip
of water with unpleasant possibilities in the way of choppiness, to
a strange country where most of the inhabitants have the bad taste
not to speak English. Neither Mark Rainham nor his new wife had
ever been in France, and to them it seemed, as Aunt Margaret had
shrewdly hoped it would, almost as though the Twickenham household
had gone to the North Pole. A great relief fell upon them, since
there could now be no question of assuming duties when those duties
were suddenly beyond their reach. And Aunt Margaret's letter was
convincing--such a good offer, suddenly, for the Twickenham house;
such excellent educational opportunities for the children, in the
shape of semi-English schools, where Bob and Cecilia might mix with
English children and retain their nationality while acquiring
Parisian French. If Mark Rainham felt any inward resentment at the
summary disposal of his son and daughter, he did not show it; as of
old, it was easier to let things slide. Aunt Margaret was given a
free hand, save that at fourteen Bob returned to school in England;
an arrangement that mattered little, since all his holidays were
spent at the new home at Fontainebleau--a house which, even to the
parrot, was highly reminiscent of Twickenham.
Bob and Cecilia found life extremely interesting. They were
cheery, happy-go-lucky youngsters, with an immense capacity for
enjoyment; and Aunt Margaret, while much too shrewd an old lady to
spoil children, delighted in giving them a good time. They found
plenty of friends in the little English community in Paris, as well
as among their French neighbours. Paris itself was full of
fascination; then there were wonderful excursions far afield--
holidays in Brussels, in the South of France, even winter sporting
in Switzerland. Aunt Margaret was determined that her nurselings
should miss nothing that she could give them. The duty letters
which she insisted on their writing, once a month, to their father
told of happenings that seemed strangely remote from the humdrum
life of London. "By Jove, the old lady gives those youngsters a
good time!" Mark Rainham would comment, tossing them across the
table to his wife. He did not guess at the dull rage that filled
her as she read them--the unreasoning jealousy that these children
should have opportunities so far beyond any that were likely to
occur for her own, who squabbled angrily over their breakfast while
"She seems to have any amount of money to spend on gadding about,"
she would say unpleasantly.
"Oh, pots of money. Wish to goodness I had some of it," her
husband would answer. Money was always scarce in the Rainham
When the thunderbolt of war fell upon the world, Aunt Margaret,
after the first pangs of panic, stiffened her back, and declined to
leave France. England, she declared, was not much safer than
anywhere else; and was it likely that she and Cecilia would run
away when Bob was coming back? Bob, just eighteen, captain of his
school training corps, stroke of its racing boat, and a mighty man
of valour at football, slid naturally into khaki within a month of
the outbreak of war, putting aside toys, with all the glad company
of boys of the Empire, until such time as the Hun should be taught
that he had no place among white men. Aunt Margaret and Cecilia,
knitting frantically at socks and mufflers and Balaclava helmets,
were desperately proud of him, and compared his photograph, in
uniform, with all the pictures of Etienne and Henri and Armand, and
other French boys who had played with him under the trees at
Fontainebleau, and had now marched away to join him at the greater
game. It was difficult to realize that they were not still little
boys in blouses and knickerbockers--difficult even when they
swooped down from time to time on short leave, filling the quiet
houses with pranks and laughter that were wholly boyish. Even when
Bob had two stars on his cuff, and wore the ribbon of the Military
Cross, it would have astonished Aunt Margaret and Cecilia very much
had anyone suggested that he was grown up.
Indeed, Aunt Margaret was never to think of him as anything but
"one of the children." Illness, sudden and fierce, fell upon her
after a long spell of duty at the hospital where she worked from
the first few months of the war--working as cook, since she had no
nursing experience, and was, she remarked, too old to learn a new
trade. Brave as she was, there was no battling for her against the
new foe; she faded out of life after a few days, holding Cecilia's
hand very tightly until the end.
Bob, obtaining leave with much difficulty, arrived a few days
later, to find a piteous Cecilia, white-faced, stunned and
bewildered. She pleaded desperately against leaving France; amidst
all the horror and chaos that had fallen upon her, it seemed
unthinkable that she should put the sea between herself and Bob.
But to remain was impossible. Aunt Margaret's English maids wanted
to go back to their friends, and a girl of seventeen could scarcely
stay alone in a country torn by two years of war. Besides, Aunt
Margaret's affairs were queerly indefinite; there seemed very
little money where there had formerly been plenty. There was no
alternative for Cecilia but England--and England meant the Rainham
household, and such welcome as it might choose to give her.
She was still bewildered when they made the brief journey across
the Channel--a new Channel, peopled only with war-ships of every
kind, from grim Dreadnoughts to submarines; with aircraft, bearing
the red, white and blue circles of Britain, floating and circling
overhead. Last time Cecilia had crossed, it had been with Aunt
Margaret on a big turbine mail boat; they had reached Calais just
as an excursion steamer from Margate came up, gay with flags and
light dresses, with a band playing ragtime on the well-deck, and
people dancing to a concertina at the stern. Now they zig-zagged
across, sometimes at full speed, sometimes stopping dead or
altering their course in obedience to the destroyer nosing ahead of
them through the Channel mist; and she could see the face of the
captain on the bridge, strained and anxious. There were so few
civilians on board that Cecilia and the two old servants were
greeted with curious stares; nearly all the passengers were in
uniform, their boots caked with the mud of the trenches, their
khaki soiled with the grime of war. It was all rather dream-like
to Cecilia; and London itself was a very bad dream; darkened and
silent, with the great beams of searchlights playing back and forth
over the black skies in search of marauding Zeppelins. And then
came her father's stiff greeting, and the silent drive to the tall,
narrow house in Lancaster Gate, where Mrs. Rainham met her coldly.
In after years Cecilia never could think without a shudder of that
first meal in her father's house--the struggle to eat, the lagging
talk round the table, with Avice and Wilfred, frankly hostile,
staring at her in silence, and her stepmother's pale eyes
appraising every detail of her dress. It was almost like happiness
again to find herself alone, later; in a dingy little attic bedroom
that smelt as though it had never known an open window--a sorry
little hole, but still, out of the reach of those unblinking eyes.
For the first year Cecilia had struggled to get away to earn her
own living. But a very few weeks served to show Mrs. Rainham that
chance had sent her, in the person of the girl whose coming she had
sullenly resented, a very useful buffer against any period of
domestic stress. Aunt Margaret had trained Cecilia thoroughly in
all housewifely virtues, and her half-French education had given
her much that was lacking in the stodgy damsels of Mrs. Rainham's
acquaintance. She was quick and courteous and willing; responding,
moreover, to the lash of the tongue--after her first wide-eyed
stare of utter amazement--exactly as a well-bred colt responds to a
deftly-used whip. "I'll keep her," was Mrs. Rainham's inward
resolve. "And she'll earn her keep too!"
There was no doubt that Cecilia did that. Wilfred and Avice saw to
it, even had not their mother been fully capable of exacting the
last ounce from the only helper she had ever had who had not the
power to give her a week's notice. Cecilia's first requests to be
allowed to take up work outside had been shelved vaguely. "We'll
find some nice war-work for you presently". . . and meanwhile, the
household was short-handed, Mrs. Rainham was overstrained--Cecilia
found later that her stepmother was always "overstrained" whenever
she spoke of leaving home--and duties multiplied about her and
hemmed her in. Mrs. Rainham was clever; the net closed round the
girl so gradually that she scarcely realized its meshes until they
were drawn tightly. Even Bob helped. "You're awfully young to
start work on your own account," he wrote. "Can't you stick it for
a bit, if they are decent to you?" And, rather than cause him any
extra worry, Cecilia decided that she must "stick it."
Of her father she saw little. He was, just as she remembered him
in her far-back childhood at Twickenham, vague and colourless.
Rather to her horror, she found that the ordeal of being kissed by
his large and scrubby moustache was just as unpleasant as ever.
Cecilia had no idea of how he earned his living--he ate his
breakfast hurriedly, concealed behind the Daily Mail, and then
disappeared, bound for some mysterious place in the city--the part
of London that was always full of mystery to Cecilia. Golf was the
one thing that roused him to any enthusiasm, and golf was even more
of a mystery than the city. Cecilia knew that it was played with
assorted weapons, kept in a bag, and used for smiting a small ball
over great expanses of country, but beyond these facts her
knowledge stopped. Mrs. Rainham had set her to clean the clubs one
day, but her father, appearing unexpectedly, had taken them from
her hands with something like roughness. "No, by Jove!" he said.
"You do a good many odd jobs in this house, but I'm hanged if you
shall clean my golf sticks." Cecilia did not realize that the
assumed roughness covered something very like shame.
Money matters were rather confusing. A lawyer--also in the city--
paid her a small sum quarterly--enough to dress on, and for minor
expenses. Bob wrote that Aunt Margaret's affairs were in a beastly
tangle. An annuity had died with her, and many of her investments
had been hit by the war, and had ceased to pay dividends--had even,
it seemed, ceased to be valuable at all. There was a small
allowance for Bob also, and some day, if luck should turn, there
might be a little more. Bob did not say that his own allowance was
being hoarded for Cecilia, in case he "went west." He lived on his
pay, and even managed to save something out of that, being a youth
of simple tastes. His battalion had been practically wiped out of
existence in the third year of the war, and after a peaceful month
in a north country hospital, near an aerodrome, the call of the air
was too much for him--he joined the cheerful band of flying men,
and soon filled his letters to Cecilia with a bewildering mixture
of technicalities and aviation slang that left her gasping. But he
got his wings in a very short time, and she was prouder of him than
ever--and more than ever desperately afraid for him.
The children's daily governess, a down-trodden person, left after
Cecilia had been in England for a few months, and the girl stepped
naturally into the vacant position until some one else should be
found. She had no idea that Mrs. Rainham made no effort at all to
discover any other successor to Miss Simpkins. Where, indeed, Mrs.
Rainham demanded of herself, would she be likely to find anyone
with such qualifications--young, docile, with every advantage of a
modern education, speaking French like a native, and above and
beyond all else, requiring no pay? It would be flying in the face
of Providence to ignore such a chance. Wherefore Cecilia continued
to lead her step-sisters and brother in the paths of learning, and
life became a thing of utter weariness. For Mrs. Rainham, though
shrewd enough to get what she wanted, in the main was not a far-
sighted woman; and in her unreasoning dislike and jealousy of
Cecilia she failed to see that she defeated her own ends by making
her a drudge. Whatever benefit the girl might have given the
children was lost in their contempt for her. She had no authority,
no power to enforce a command, or to give a punishment, and the
children quickly discovered that, so long as they gave her the
merest show of obedience in their mother's presence, any
shortcomings in education would be laid at Cecilia's door. Lesson
time became a period of rare sport for the young Rainhams; it was
so easy to bait the new sister with cheap taunts, to watch the
quick blood mount to the very roots of her fair hair, to do just as
little as possible, and then to see her blamed for the result.
Mrs. Rainham's bitter tongue grew more and more uncontrolled as
time went on and she felt the girl more fully in her power. And
Cecilia lived through each day with tight-shut lips, conscious of
one clear thing in her mist of unhappy bewilderment--that Bob must
not know: Bob, who would probably leave his job of skimming through
the air of her beloved France after the Hun, and snatch an hour to
fly to England and annihilate the entire Rainham household,
returning with Cecilia tucked away somewhere in his aeroplane. It
was a pleasant dream, and served to carry her through more than one
hard moment. But it did not always serve; and there were nights
when Cecilia mounted to her attic with dragging footsteps, to sit
by her window in the darkness, gripping her courage with both
hands, afraid to let herself think of the dear, happy past; of Aunt
Margaret, whose very voice was love; least of all of Bob, perhaps
even now flying in the dark over the German lines. There was but
one thing that she could hold to: she voiced it to herself, over
and over with clenched hands, "It can't last for ever! It can't
last for ever!"
And then, after the long years of clutching anxiety, came the
Armistice, and Cecilia forgot all her troubles in its overwhelming
relief. No one would shoot at Bob any longer; there were no more
hideous, squat guns, with muzzles yawning skywards, ready to shell
him as he skimmed high overhead, like a swallow in the blue.
Therefore she sang as she went about her work, undismayed by the
laboured witticisms of Avice and Wilfred, or by Mrs. Rainham's
venom, which increased with the realization that her victim might
possibly slip from her grasp, since Bob would come home, and Bob
was a person to be reckoned with. Certainly Bob had scarcely any
money; moreover, Cecilia was not of age, and, therefore, still
under her father's control. But Mrs. Rainham felt vaguely uneasy,
and visions floated before her of the old days when governesses and
maids had departed with unpleasant frequency, leaving her to face
all sorts of disagreeable consequences. She set her thin lips,
vowing inwardly that Cecilia should remain.
Nevertheless it was a relief to her that early demobilization did
not come for Bob. At the time of the Armistice he was attached to
an Australian flying squadron, and for some months remained abroad;
then he was sent back to England, and employed in training younger
fliers at a Surrey aerodrome. This had its drawbacks in Mrs.
Rainham's eyes, since he was often able to run up to London, and,
to Bob, London merely meant Cecilia. It was only a question of
time before he discovered something of what life at Lancaster Gate
meant--his enlightenment beginning upon an afternoon when, arriving
unexpectedly, and being left by Eliza to find Cecilia for himself,
he had the good fortune to overhear Mrs. Rainham in one of her best
efforts--a "wigging" to which Avice and Wilfred were listening
delightedly, and which included not only Cecilia's sin of the
moment, but her upbringing, her French education, her "foreign
fashion of speaking," and her sinful extravagance in shoes. These,
and other matters, were furnishing Mrs. Rainham with ample material
for a bitter discourse when she became aware of another presence in
the room, and her eloquence faltered at the sight of Bob's
Mrs. Rainham did not recall with any enjoyment the interview which
followed--Cecilia and the children having been brushed out of the
way by the indignant soldier. Things which had been puzzling to
Bob were suddenly made clear--traces of distress which Cecilia had
often explained away vaguely, the children's half-contemptuous
manner towards her, even Eliza's tone in speaking of her--a queer
blend of anger and pity. Mrs. Rainham held her ground to some
extent, but the brother's questions were hard to parry, and some of
his comments stung.
"Well, I'll take her away," he stormed at length. "It's evident
that she does not give you satisfaction, and she certainly isn't
happy. She had better come away with me to-day."
"Ah," said his stepmother freezingly, "and where will you take
"There are plenty of places--" he began.
"Not for a young girl alone. Cecilia is very ignorant of England;
you could not be with her. Your father would not hear of it. You
must remember that Cecilia is under his control until she is
"My father has never bothered about either of us," Bob said
bitterly. "He surely won't object if I take her off your hands."
"He will certainly not permit any such thing. Whatever arrangement
he made during your aunt's lifetime was quite a different matter.
If you attempt to take Cecilia from his control you commit an
illegal action," said Mrs. Rainham--hoping she was on safe ground.
To her relief Bob did not contradict her. English law and its
mysteries were beyond him.
"I don't see that that matters," he began doubtfully. His
stepmother cut him short.
"You would very soon find that it matters a good deal," she said
coldly. "It would be quite simple for your father to get some kind
of legal injunction, forbidding you to interfere with your sister.
Home training is what she needs, and we are determined that she
shall get it. You will only unsettle and injure her by trying to
induce her to disobey us."
The hard voice fell like lead on the boy's ears. He felt very
helpless; if he did indeed snatch his sister away from this
extremely unpleasant home, and their father had only to stretch out
a long, legal tentacle and claw her back, it was clear that her
position would be harder than ever. He could only give in, at any
rate, for the present, and in his anxiety for the little sister
whom Aunt Margaret had always trained him to protect, he humbled
himself to beg for better treatment for her. "No one ever was
angry with her," he said. "She'll do anything for you if you're
decent to her."
"She might give less cause for annoyance if she had had a little
more severity," said Mrs. Rainham with an unspoken sneer at poor
Aunt Margaret. "You had better advise her to do her best in return
for the very comfortable home we give her." With which Bob had to
endeavour to be content, for the present. He went off to find
Cecilia, with a lowering brow, leaving his stepmother not nearly so
easy in her mind as she seemed. For Bob had a square jaw, and was
apt to talk little and do a good deal; and his affection for
Cecilia was, in Mrs. Rainham's eyes, little short of ridiculous.
Thereafter, the brother and sister took counsel together and made
great plans for the future, when once the Air Force should decide
that it had no further wish to keep Captain Robert Rainham from
earning his living on terra firma. What that future was to be for
Bob was very difficult to plan. Aunt Margaret had intended him for
a profession; but the time for that had gone by, even had the money
been still available. "I'm half glad that it isn't," Bob said; "I
don't see how a fellow could go back to swotting over books after
being really alive for nearly five years." There seemed nothing
but "the land" in some shape or form; they were not very clear
about it, but Bob was strenuously "keeping his ears open"--like so
many lads of his rank in the early months of 1919, when the future
that had seemed so indefinite during the years of war suddenly
loomed up, very large and menacing. Cecilia had less anxiety; she
had a cheerful faith that Bob would manage something--a three-
roomed cottage somewhere in the country, where he could look after
sheep, or crops, or something of the kind, while she cooked and
mended for him, and grew such flowers as had bloomed in the dear
garden at Fontainebleau. Sheep and crops, she was convinced, grew
themselves, in the main; a person of Bob's ability would surely
find little difficulty in superintending the process. And,
whatever happened, nothing could be worse than life in Lancaster
Neither of them ever thought of appealing to their father, either
for advice or for help. He remained, as he had always been to
them, utterly colourless; a kind of well-bred shadow of his wife,
taking no part in her hard treatment of Cecilia, but lifting not a
finger to save her. He did not look happy; indeed, he seldom
spoke--it was not necessary, when Mrs. Rainham held the floor. He
had a tiny den which he used as a smoking-room, and there he spent
most of his time when at home, being blessed in the fact that his
wife disliked the smell of smoke, and refused to allow it in her
drawing-room. Nobody took much notice of him. The younger
children treated him with cool indifference; Bob met him with a
kind of strained and uncomfortable civility.
Curiously enough, it was only Eliza who divined in him a secret
hankering after his eldest daughter--Cecilia, who would have been
very much astonished had anyone hinted at such a thing to her. The
sharp eyes of the little Cockney were not to be deceived in any
matter concerning the only person in the house who treated her as
if she were a human being and not a grate-cleaning automaton.
"You see 'im foller 'er wiv 'is eyes, that's all," said Eliza to
Cook, in the privacy of their joint bedroom. "Fair 'ungry he
"No need for 'im to be 'ungry, if 'e 'ad the sperrit of a man,"
said Cook practically. "Ain't she 'is daughter?"
"Well, yes, in a manner of speakin'," said Eliza doubtfully. "But
there ain't much of father an' daughter about them two. I'd ruther
'ave my ole man, down W'itechapel way; 'e can belt yer a fair
terror, w'en 'e's drunk, but 'e'll allers tike yer out an' buy yer
a kipper arterwards. Thet's on'y decent, fatherly feelin'."
"Well, Master don't belt 'er, does 'e?"
"No; but 'e don't buy 'er the kipper, neither. An' I'd ruther 'ave
the beltin' from my ole man, even wivout no kipper, than 'ave us
allers lookin' at each other as if we was wooden images. Even a
beltin' shows as 'ow a man 'as some regard for 'is daughter."
"It do," said Cook. "Pity is, you ain't 'ad more of it, that's the
"Demobilized! Oh, Bob--truly?"
"Truly and really," said Bob. "At least, I shall be in twenty-
seven days. Got my orders. Show up for the last time on the
fifteenth of next month. Get patted on the head, and told to run
away and play. That's the programme, I believe, Tommy. The
question is--What shall we play at?"
Cecilia brushed the hair from her brow.
"I don't know," she said vaguely. "It's too big to think of; and I
can't think in this awful house, anyhow. Take me out, quick,
"Sure," said Bob, regarding her with an understanding eye. "But
you want to change or something, don't you, old girl?"
"Why, yes, I suppose I do," said Cecilia, with a watery smile,
looking at her schoolroom overall. "I forgot clothes. I've had a
somewhat packed morning."
"You look as if this had been your busy day," remarked Bob.
"Right-oh, old girl; jump into your things, and I'll wait on the
mat. Any chance of the she-dragon coming back?"
"No; she's gone out to tea."
"More power to her," said Bob cheerfully. "And the dragon
"Oh, they're safely out of the way. I won't be five minutes, Bob.
Don't shut the door tight--you might disappear before I opened it."
"Not much," said Bob, through the crack of the door. "I'm a
fixture. Want any shoes cleaned?"
"No, thanks, Bobby dear. I have everything ready."
"From what the other fellows say about their sisters, I'm inclined
to believe that you're an ornament to your sex," remarked Bob.
"When you say five minutes, it really does mean not more than five
and a half, as a rule; other girls seem to mean three-quarters of
"I get all my things ready the night before when I'm going to meet
you," said Cecilia. "Catch me losing any time on my one day out.
You can come back again--my coat's on the hanger there, Bobby." He
put her into it deftly, and she leaned back against him. "If you
knew how good it is to see you again--and you smell of clean fresh
air and good tobacco and Russia leather, and all sorts of nice
"Good gracious, I'll excite attention in the street!" grinned Bob.
"I didn't imagine I was a walking scent-factory!"
"Neither you are--but everything in this house smells of coal-smoke
and cabbage-water and general fustiness, and you're a nice change,
that's all," said Cecilia. They ran downstairs together light-
heartedly, and let themselves out into the street.
"Do we catch a train or a 'bus?"
"Oh, can't we walk?" Cecilia said. "I think if I walked hard I
might forget Mrs. Rainham."
"I'd hate you to remember her," Bob said. "Tell me what she has
been doing, anyhow, and then we won't think of her any more."
"It doesn't sound much," Cecilia said. "There never is anything
very much. Only it goes on all the time." She told him the story
of her day, and managed to make herself laugh now and then over it.
But Bob did not laugh. His good-humoured young face was set and
"There isn't a whole lot in it, is there?" Cecilia finished. "And
no one would think I was badly off--especially when the thing that
hit me hardest of all was just dusting that awful drawing-room
while she plays her awful tunes. Yes, I know I shouldn't say
awful, and that no lady says it--that must be true because Mrs.
Rainham frequently tells me so--but it's such a relief to say
whatever I feel like."
"You can say what you jolly well please," said Bob wrathfully.
"Who's she, I'd like to know, to tell us what to say? And she kept
you there all the afternoon, when she knew you were due to meet
me!--my hat, she is a venomous old bird! And now it's half-past
four, and what time does she expect you back?"
"Oh--the usual thing; the children's tea-time at six. She told me
not to be late."
Bob set his jaw.
"Well, you won't be late, because you won't be there," he said.
"No going back to tea for you. We'll have dinner at the Petit
Riche in Soho, and then we'll do a theatre, and then I'll take you
home and we'll face the music. Are you game?"
"Game? Why, of course--but there will be awful scenes, Bobby."
"Well, what can she do to you?" asked Bob practically. "You're too
big to beat, or she'd certainly do it; she can't stop your pay,
because you don't get any; and as you have your meals with the
youngsters, she can't dock your rations. That doesn't leave her
much beside her tongue. Of course, she can do a good deal with
that; do you think you can stand it?"
"Oh, yes," said Cecilia. "You see, I generally have it, so it
really doesn't matter much. But if she forbids me to go out with
you again, Bobby?"
"Well--you're nineteen," he said. "And the very first minute I
can, I'm going to take you away from her altogether. If you were a
kid I wouldn't let you defy her. But, hang it all, Tommy, I'm not
going to let her punish you as though you were ten. If she forbids
you to meet me--well, you must just take French leave, that's all."
"Oh, Bob, you are a satisfying person!" said Cecilia, with a sigh.
"Well, I don't know--it's you who will have to stand the racket,"
said Bob. "I only wish I could take my share, old girl. But,
please goodness, it won't be for long."
"Bob," said Cecilia, and paused. "What about that statement of
hers--that it would be illegal for you to take me away? Do you
think it's true?"
"I've asked our Major, and he's a bit doubtful," said Bob. "All
the other fellows say it's utter nonsense. But I'm going to ask
the old lawyer chap who has charge of Aunt Margaret's money--he'll
tell me. We won't bother about it, Tommy; if I can't get you
politely, I'll steal you. Just forget the she-dragon and all her
"But have you thought about what you are going to do?"
"I don't think of much else, and that's the truth, Tommy," said her
brother ruefully. "You see, there's mighty little in sight. I
could get a clerkship, I suppose. I could certainly get work as a
day labourer. But I don't see much in either of those possibilities
towards a little home with you, which is what I want. I'm going to
answer every advertisement I can find for fellows wanted on farms."
He straightened his square shoulders. "Tommy, there must be plenty
of work for any chap as strong as an ox, as I am."
"I'm sure there's work," said Cecilia. "But the men who want jobs
don't generally advertise themselves as 'complete with sister.'
I'm what's technically known as an encumbrance, Bob."
"You!" said Bob. "You're just part of the firm, so don't you
forget it. Didn't we always arrange that we should stick
"We did--but it may not be easy to manage," Cecilia said,
doubtfully. "Perhaps we could get some job together; I could do
inside work, or teach, or sew."
"No!" said Bob explosively. "If I can't earn enough for us both, I
ought to be shot, Aunt Margaret didn't bring you up to work."
"But the world has turned upside down since Aunt Margaret died,"
said Cecilia. "And I have worked pretty hard for the last two
years, Bob; and it hasn't hurt me."
"It has made you older--and you ought to be only a kid yet," said
Bob wistfully. "You haven't had any of the fun girls naturally
ought to have. I don't want you to slave all your time, Tommy."
"Bless you!" said his sister. "But I wouldn't care a bit, as long
as it was near you--and not in Lancaster Gate."
They had turned across Hyde Park, where a big company of girl
guides was drilling, watched by a crowd of curious on-lookers.
Across a belt of grass some boy scouts were performing similar
evolutions, marching with all the extra polish and swagger they
could command, just to show the guides that girls were all very
well in their way, but that no one with skirts could really hope to
do credit to a uniform. Cecilia paused to watch them.
"Thank goodness, the children can come and drill in the park
again!" she said. "I hated to come here before the armistice--
soldiers, soldiers, drilling everywhere, and guns and searchlight
fixings. Whenever I saw a squad drilling it made me think of you,
and of course I felt sure you'd be killed!"
"I do like people who look on the bright side of life!" said Bob
laughing. "And whenever you saw an aeroplane I suppose you made
sure I was crashing somewhere?"
"Certainly I did," said his sister with dignity.
"Women are queer things," Bob remarked. "If you had these
unpleasant beliefs, how did you manage to write as cheerfully as
you did? Your letters were a scream--I used to read bits of 'em
out to the fellows."
"You had no business to do any such thing," said Cecilia, blushing.
"Well, I did, anyhow. They used to make 'em yell. How did you
"Well, it was no good assuring you you'd be killed," said Cecilia
practically. "I thought it was more sensible to try to make you
"You certainly did that," said Bob. "I fancied from your letters
that life with the she-dragon was one huge joke, and that Papa was
nice and companionable, and the kids, sweet little darlings who ate
from your hand. And all the time you were just the poor old toad
under the harrow!"
"I'm not a toad!" rejoined his sister indignantly. "Don't you
think you could find pleasanter things to compare me to?"
"Toads aren't bad," said Bob, laughing. "Ever seen the nice old
fellow in the Zoo who shoots out a tongue a yard long and picks up
a grub every time? He's quite interesting."
"I certainly never had any inclination to do any such thing,"
They had turned into Piccadilly and were walking down, watching the
crowded motor traffic racing north and south. Suddenly Bob
straightened up and saluted smartly, as a tall staff officer,
wearing a general's badges, ran down the steps of a big club, and
nearly cannoned into Cecilia.
"I beg your pardon!" he said--and then, noticing Bob--"How are you,
Rainham?" He dived into a waiting taxi, and was whisked away.
"Did he bump you?" inquired Bob.
"No--though it would be almost a privilege to be bumped by anyone
as splendid as that!" Cecilia answered. "He knows you, too!--who
is he, Bobby?"
"That's General Harran, the Australian," said Bob proudly. "He's a
great man. I've run into him occasionally since I've been with the
Australians in France."
"He looks nice."
"He is nice," replied Bob. "Awful martinet about duty, but he
treats every one under him jolly well. Never forgets a face or a
name, and he's always got a decent word for everybody. He's had
some quite long talks to me, when we were waiting for some 'plane
or other to come back."
"Why wouldn't he?" asked Cecilia, who considered it a privilege for
anyone to talk to her brother.
Bob regarded her in amazement.
"Good gracious!" he ejaculated. "Why, he's a major-general; I can
tell you, most men of his rank haven't any use for small fry like
me--to talk to, that is."
Cecilia had a flash of memory.
"Isn't he the general who was close by when you brought that German
aeroplane down behind our lines? Didn't he say nice things to you
"Oh, that was only in the way of business," said Bob somewhat
confused. "The whole thing was only a bit of luck--and, of course,
it was luck, too, that he was there. But he is just as nice to
fellows who haven't had a chance like that."
Out of the crowd two more figures in Air Force uniform came,
charging at Bob with outstretched hands.
"By Jove, old chap! What luck to meet you!"
They shook hands tumultuously, and Bob made them known to Cecilia--
comrades he had not seen for months, but with whom he had shared
many strange experiences in the years of war. They fell into quick
talk, full of the queer jargon of the air. The newcomers, it
appeared, had been with the army of occupation in Germany; there
seemed a thousand things they urgently desired to tell Bob within
the next few minutes. One turned to Cecilia, presently, with a
laughing interpretation of some highly technical bit of slang.
"Oh, you needn't bother to translate to Tommy," Bob said. "She
knows all about it."
The other boys suddenly gave her all their attention.
"Are you Tommy? But we know you awfully well."
"Me?" Cecilia turned pink.
"Rather. We used to hear your letters."
The pink deepened to a fine scarlet.
"Bob!" said his sister reproachfully. "You really shouldn't."
"Oh, don't say that," said the taller boy, by name Harrison. "They
were a godsend--there used to be jolly little to laugh about,
pretty often, and your letters made us all yell. Didn't they,
"They did," said Billy, who was small and curly-haired--and
incidentally a captain, with a little row of medal ribbons.
"Jolliest letters ever. We passed a vote of thanks to you in the
mess, Miss Tommy, after old Bob here had gone. Some one was to
write and tell him about it, but I don't believe anyone ever did.
I say, you must have had a cheery time--all the funny things that
ever happened seemed to come your way."
Cecilia stammered something, her scarlet confusion deepening. A
rather grim vision of the war years swept across her mind--of the
ceaseless quest in papers and journals, and wherever people talked,
for "funny things" to tell Bob; and of how, when fact and rumour
gave out, she used to sit by her attic window at night, deliberately
inventing merry jests. It had closely resembled a job of hard work
at the time; but apparently it had served its purpose well. She
had made them laugh; and some one had told her that no greater
service could be rendered to the boys who risked death, and worse
than death, during every hour of the day and night. But it was
extremely difficult to talk about it afterwards.
Bob took pity on her.
"I'll tell you just what sort of a cheery time she had, some time
or other," he remarked. "What are you fellows doing this evening?"
"We were just going to ask you the same thing," declared Billy.
"Can't we all go and play about somewhere? We've just landed, and
we want to be looked after. Any theatres in this little town
"Cheer-oh!" ejaculated Billy. "Let's all go and find out."
So they went, and managed very successfully to forget war and even
stepmothers. They were all little more than children in enjoyment
of simple pleasures still, since war had fallen upon them at the
very threshold of life, cutting them off from all the cheery
happenings that are the natural inheritance of all young things.
The years that would ordinarily have seen them growing tired of
play had been spent in grim tasks; now they were children again,
clamouring for the playtime they had lost. They found enormous
pleasure in the funny little French restaurant, where Madame, a
lady whose sympathies were as boundless as her waist, welcomed them
with wide smiles, delighting in the broken French of Billy and
Harrison, and deftly tempting them to fresh excursions in her
language. She put a question in infantile French to Bob presently,
whereupon that guileless youth, with a childlike smile, answered
her with a flood of idiomatic phrases, in an accent purer than her
own--collapsing with helpless laughter at her amazed face. After
which, Madame neglected her other patrons to hover about their
table like a stout, presiding goddess, guiding them gently to the
best dishes on the menu, and occasionally putting aside their own
selection with a hasty, "Mon-non; you vill not like that one to-
day." She patted Cecilia in a motherly fashion at parting, and
their bill was only about half what it should have been.
They found a musical comedy, and laughed their way through it--
Billy and Harrison had apparently no cares in the world, and Bob
and Cecilia were caught up in the whirl of their high spirits, so
that anything became a huge joke. The evening flew by on airy
wings, when Billy insisted on taking them to supper after the
theatre. Cecilia allowed herself a fleeting vision of Mrs.
Rainham, and then, deciding that she might as well be hanged for a
sheep as a lamb, followed gaily. And supper was so cheery a meal
that she forgot all about time--until, just at the end, she caught
sight of the restaurant clock.
"Half-past eleven! Oh, Bobby!"
"Well, if it is--you poor little old Cinderella," said Bob.
But he hurried her away, for all that, amid a chorus of farewells
and efforts, on the part of Billy and Harrison, to arrange further
meetings. They ran to the nearest tube station, and dived into its
depths; and, after being whisked underground for a few minutes,
emerged into the cool night. Cecilia slipped her arm through her
brother's as they hurried along the empty street.
"Now, you keep your nose in the air," Bobby told her. "You aren't
exactly a kid now, and she can't really do anything to you. Oh, by
Jove--I was thinking, in the theatre, she might interfere with our
"She's quite equal to it," said Cecilia.
"Just what she'd revel in doing. Well, you can easily find out.
I'll write to you to-morrow, and again the next day--just ordinary
letters, with nothing particular in them except an arrangement to
meet next Saturday. If you don't get them you'll know she's
getting at the mail first."
"What shall I do, then?"
"Drop me a line--or, better still, wire to me," said Bob. "Just
say, 'Address elsewhere.' Then I'll write to you at Mr.
M'Clinton's; the old solicitor chap in Lincoln's Inn; and you'll
have to go there and get the letters. You know his address, don't
"Oh, yes. I have to write to him every quarter when he sends me my
allowance. You'll explain to him, then, Bob, or he'll simply
redirect your letters here."
"Oh, of course. I want to go and see the old chap, anyhow, to talk
over Aunt Margaret's affairs. I might as well know a little more
about them. Tommy, the she-dragon can't actually lock you up, can
"No--it couldn't be done," said Cecilia. "Modern houses aren't
built with dungeons and things. Moreover, if she tried to keep me
in the house she would have to take the children out for their
walks herself; and she simply hates walking."
"Then you can certainly post to me, and get my letters, and I'll be
up again as soon as ever I can. Buck up, old girl--it can't be for
They turned in at the Rainhams' front gate, and Cecilia glanced up
apprehensively. All the windows were in darkness; the grey front
of the house loomed forbiddingly in the faint moonlight.
"You're coming in, aren't you?" she asked, her hand tightening on
"Rather--we'll take the edge off her tongue together." Bob rang
the bell. "Wonder if they have all gone to bed. The place looks
"She's probably in the little room at the back--the one she calls
"Horrible little den, full of bamboo and draperies and pampas
grass--I know," nodded Bob. "Well, either she's asleep or she
thinks it's fun to keep us on the mat. I'll try her again." He
pressed the bell, and the sound of its whirring echoed through the
The bolt grated, as if grudgingly, and slowly the door opened as
far as the limits of its chain would permit, and Mrs. Rainham's
face appeared in the aperture. She glared at them for a minute
"So you have come home?" she said at last. The chain fell, and the
door opened. "I wonder you trouble to come home at all. May I ask
where you have been?"
"She has been with me, Mrs. Rainham," Bob said cheerfully. "May I
Mrs. Rainham did not move. She held the door half open, blocking
"It is far too late for me to ask you in," she answered frigidly.
"Cecilia can explain her conduct, I presume."
"Oh, there's really nothing to explain," Bob answered. "It was so
late when she got out this afternoon that I kept her--why, it was
after half-past four before she was dressed."
"I told her to be in for tea."
"Yes; but I felt sure you couldn't realize how late she was in
getting out," said Bob in a voice of honey.
"That was entirely her own mismanagement--" began the hard tones.
"Oh, no, Mrs. Rainham; really it wasn't," said Cecilia mildly.
"Your accompaniments, you remember--your dress--your music," she
stopped, in amazement at herself. It was rarely indeed that she
answered any accusation of her stepmother's. But to be on the mat
at midnight, with Bob in support, seemed to give her extraordinary
"You see, Mrs. Rainham, there seems to have been quite a number of
little details that Cecilia couldn't mismanage," said Bob,
following up the advantage. It was happily evident that his
stepmother's rage was preventing her from speaking, and, as he
remarked later, there was no knowing when he would ever get such a
chance again. "She really needed rest. I'm sure you'll agree that
every one is entitled to some free time. Of course, you couldn't
possibly have realized that it was a week since she had been off
"It's her business to do what I tell her," said Mrs. Rainham,
finding her voice, in an explosive fashion that made a passing
policeman glance up curiously. "She knew I had company, and
expected her help. I had to see to the children's tea myself. And
how do I know where she's been?--gallivanting round to all sorts of
places! I tell you, young lady, you needn't think you're going to
walk in here at midnight as if nothing was the matter."
"I never expected to," said Cecilia cheerfully. "But it was worth
Bob regarded her in solemn admiration.
"I don't think we gallivanted at all reprehensibly," he said.
"Just dinner and a theatre. I haven't made much claim to her time
during the last four years, Mrs. Rainham; surely I'm entitled to a
little of it now."
"You!" Mrs. Rainham's tone was vicious. "You don't give her a
home, do you? And as long as I do, she'll do what I tell her."
"No; I don't give her a home--yet," said Bob very quietly. "But I
very soon will, I assure you; and meanwhile, she earns a good deal
more than her keep in her father's house. You can't treat her
worse than your servants--"
Cecilia suddenly turned to him.
"Ah, don't, Bob darling. It doesn't matter--truly--not a bit."
With the end of the long penance before her, it seemed beyond the
power of the angry woman in the doorway to hurt her much. What she
could not bear was that their happy evening should be spoiled by
hard and cruel words at its close. Bob's face, that had been so
merry, was sterner than she had ever seen it, all its boyishness
gone. She put up her own face, and kissed him.
"Good night--you mustn't stay any longer. I'll be all right." She
whispered a few quick words of French, begging him to go, and Bob,
though unwillingly, gave in.
"All right," he said. "Go to bed, little 'un. I'll do as I
promised about writing." He saluted Mrs. Rainham stiffly. "You'll
remember, Mrs. Rainham, that she stayed out solely at my wish--I
take full responsibility, and I'll be ready to tell my father so."
The door closed behind Cecilia, and he strode away down the street,
biting his lip. He felt abominably as though he had deserted the
little sister--and yet, what else could he do? One could not
remain for ever, brawling on a doorstep at midnight--and Tommy had
begged him to go. Still--
"Hang it!" he said viciously. "If she were only a decent Hun to
In the grim house in Lancaster Gate Cecilia was facing the music
alone. She listened unmoved, as she had listened many times
before, to the catalogue of her sins and misdeeds--only she had
never seen her stepmother quite so angry. Finally, a door above
opened, and Mark Rainham looked out, his dull, colourless face
"I wish you'd stop that noise, and let the girl go to bed," he
said. "Come here, Cecilia."
She went to him hesitating, and he looked at her with a spark of
compassion. Then he kissed her.
"Good night," he said, as though he had called her to him simply to
say it, and not to separate her from the furious woman who stood
looking at them. "Run off to bed, now--no more talking." Cecilia
ran upstairs obediently. Behind her, as she neared her attic, she
heard her stepmother's voice break out anew.
"Just fancy Papa!" she muttered. Any mother sensations were lost
in wonder at her father's actually having intervened. The
incredible thing had happened. For a moment she felt a wave of
pity for him, left alone to face the shrill voice. Then she
shrugged her shoulders.
"Ah, well--he married her," she said. "I suppose he has had it
many a time. Perhaps he knows how to stop it--I don't!" She
laughed, turning the key in the lock, and sitting down beside the
open window. The glamour of her happy evening was still upon her;
even the scene with her stepmother had not had power to chase it
away. The scene was only to be expected; the laughter of the
evening was worth so every-day a penalty. And the end of Mrs.
Rainham's rule was nearly in sight. Not even to herself for a
moment would she admit that there was any possibility of Bob
failing to "make good" and take her away.
She went downstairs next morning to an atmosphere of sullen
resentment. Her father gave her a brief, abstracted nod, in
response to her greeting, and went on with his bacon and his Daily
Mail; her stepmother's forbidding expression checked any attempt at
conversation. The children stared at her with a kind of malevolent
curiosity; they knew that a storm had been brewing for her the
night before, and longed to know just how thoroughly she had
"caught it." Eliza, bringing in singed and belated toast, looked
at her with pity, tinged with admiration. Cook and she had been
awakened at midnight by what was evidently, in the words of Cook,
"a perfickly 'orrible bust-up," and knowing Cecilia to have been
its object, Eliza looked at her as one may look who expects to see
the scars of battle. Finding none, but receiving instead a
cheerful smile, she returned to the kitchen, and reported to Cook
that Miss Cecilia was "nuffink less than a neroine."
But as that day and the next wore on, Cecilia found it difficult to
be cheerful. That she was in disgrace was very evident, Mrs.
Rainham said no more about her sins of the night before; instead,
she showed her displeasure by a kind of cold rudeness that gave a
subtle insult to her smallest remark. The children were manifestly
delighted. Cecilia was more or less in the position of a beetle on
a pin, and theirs was the precious opportunity of seeing her
wriggle. Wherefore they adopted their mother's tone, openly defied
her, and turned school-hours into a pandemonium.
Cecilia at last gave up the attempt to keep order. She opened her
desk and took out her knitting.
"Well, this is all very pleasant," she said, calmly. "You seem
determined to do no work at all, so I can only hope that in time
you will get tired of being idle. I can't attempt to teach you any
more. I am quite ready, however, if you bring your lessons to me."
"You'll get into a nice row from the Mater," jeered Wilfred.
"Very possibly. She may even punish me by finding another
governess," said Cecilia, with a twinkle. "However that may be, I
do not feel compelled to talk to such rude little children as you
any more. When you are able to speak politely you may come to me
for anything you want; until then, I shall not answer you." She
bent her attention to the mysteries of heel-turning.
The children were taken aback. To pinprick with rudeness a victim
who answered back was entertaining; but there was small fun in
baiting anybody who sat silently knitting with a half-smile of
contempt at the corners of her mouth. They gave it up after a
time, and considered the question of going out; a pleasant thing to
do, only that their mother had laid upon them a special injunction
not to leave Cecilia, and she was in a mood that made disobedience
extremely dangerous. Cecilia quite understood that she was being
watched. No letters had yet come from Bob, and she knew that her
stepmother had been hovering near the letter-box whenever the
postman had called. Mrs. Rainham had accompanied them on their
walk the day before; a remark of Avice's revealed that she meant to
do so again to-day.
"It's all so silly," the girl said to herself. "If I chose to dive
into a tube station or board a motor-bus she couldn't stop me;
and she can't go on watching me and intercepting my letters
indefinitely. I suppose she will get tired of it after a while."
But meanwhile she found the spying rather amusing. Avice popped up
unexpectedly if she went near the front door; Wilfred's bullet head
peeped in through the window whenever she fancied herself alone in
the schoolroom. Only her attic was safe--since to spy upon it
would have required an aeroplane.
The third day brought no letter from Bob. Cecilia asked for her
mail when she went down to breakfast, and was met by a blank stare
from her stepmother--"I suppose if there had been any letters for
you they would be on your plate." She flushed a little under the
girl's direct gaze, and turned her attention to Queenie's table
manners, which were at all times peculiar; and Cecilia sat down
with a faint smile. It was time to obey orders and telegraph to
She planned how to do it, during a long morning when the children
actually did some work--since to be rude or idle meant that their
teacher immediately retired into her shell of silence, and knitted,
and life became too dull. To employ Eliza was her first thought--
rejected, since it seemed unlikely that Eliza would be able to get
time off to go out. If Mrs. Rainham's well-known dislike for
walking proved too strong for her desire to watch her stepdaughter,
it would be easy enough to do it during the afternoon; but this
hope proved vain, for when she appeared in the hall with her
charges at three o'clock the lady of the house sailed from the
drawing-room, ready for the march. They moved off in procession;
Mrs. Rainham leading the way, with Avice and Wilfred, while Cecilia
brought up the rear, holding Queenie's podgy hand.
She had telegraph forms in her desk, and the message, already
written, and even stamped, was in the pocket of her coat. There
was nothing for it but to act boldly, and accordingly, when they
entered a street in which there was a post office, she let Queenie
lag until they were a little distance behind the others. Then, as
they reached the post office, she turned sharply in.
"Wait a minute, Queenie."
She thrust her message across the counter hurriedly. The clerk on
duty was provokingly slow; he finished checking a document, and
then lounged across to the window and took the form, running over
"Oh, you've got the stamps on. All right," he said, and turned
away just as quick steps were heard, and Mrs. Rainham bustled in,
"What are you doing?"
Cecilia met her with steady eyes.
"Nothing wrong, I assure you." She had had visions of covering her
real purpose by buying stamps--but rejected it with a shrug.
"Thethilia gave the man a pieth of paper!" said Queenie shrilly.
"What was it? I demand to know!" cried Mrs. Rainham. She turned
to the clerk, who stood open-mouthed, holding the telegram in his
hand. "Show me that telegram. I am this young lady's guardian."
The clerk grinned broadly. The stout and angry lady made no appeal
to him, and Cecilia was a pretty girl, and moreover her telegram
was for a flying captain. The clerk wore a returned soldier's
badge himself. He fell back on Regulations.
"Can't be done, ma'am. The message is all in order."
"Let me see it."
"Much as my billet's worth, if I did," said the clerk. "Property
of the Postmaster-General now, ma'am. Couldn't even give it back
to the young lady."
"I'll report you!" Mrs. Rainham fumed.
"Do, ma'am. I'll get patted on the head for doin' me duty." The
clerk's grin widened. Cecilia wished him good afternoon gravely,
and slipped out of the office, pursued by her stepmother.
"What was in that telegram?"
"It was to my brother."
"What was in it?"
"It was to Bob, and that is guarantee that there was nothing wrong
in it," Cecilia said steadily. "It was on private business."
"You have no right to have any business that I do not know about."
Cecilia found her temper rising.
"My father may have the power to say that--I do not know," she
said. "But you have none, Mrs. Rainham."
"I'll let you see whether I have the right!" her stepmother blazed.
"For two pins, young lady, I'd lock you up."
Cecilia laughed outright.
"Ah, that's not done now," she said. "You really couldn't, Mrs.
Rainham--especially as I have done nothing wrong." She dropped her
voice--passers-by were looking with interest at the elder woman's
face. "Why not let me go? You do not approve of me--let me find
"You'll stay in your father's house," Mrs. Rainham said. "We'll
see what the law has to say to your leaving with your precious Bob.
Your father's your legal guardian, and in his control you stay
until you're twenty-one, and be very thankful to make yourself
useful. The law will deal with Bob if he tries to take you away--
you're a minor, and it'd be abduction." The word had a pleasantly
legal flavour; she repeated it with emphasis. "Abduction; that's
what it is, and there's a nice penalty for it. Now you know, and
if you don't want to get Bob into trouble, you'd best be careful."
Cecilia had grown rather white. The law was a great and terrible
instrument, of which she knew nothing. It seemed to have swallowed
up Aunt Margaret's money; it might very well have left her
defenceless. Her stepmother seemed familiar with its powers, and
able to evoke them at will; and though she did not trust her, there
was something in her glib utterance that struck fear into the
girl's heart. She did not answer, and Mrs. Rainham followed up her
"We'll go home," she said. "And you make up your mind to tell me
what was in that telegram, and not to have any secrets from me.
One thing I can tell you--until you decide to behave yourself--Bob
shan't show his nose in my house, and you shan't go out to meet
him, either. He only leads you into mischief; I don't consider he
has at all a good influence over you. The sooner he's away
somewhere, earning his own living in a proper manner, the better
for every one; and it'll be many a long day before he can give you
as good a home as you've got now." She paused for breath.
"Anyhow, he's not going to have the chance," she finished grimly.
THE TURN OF FORTUNE'S WHEEL
"Is Mr. M'Clinton in?"
The clerk, in a species of rabbit hutch, glanced out curiously at
the young flying officer.
"Yes; but he's very busy. Have you an appointment?"
"No--I got leave unexpectedly. Just take him my card, will you?"
The clerk handed the card to another clerk, who passed it to an
office-boy, who disappeared with it behind a heavy oaken door. He
came back presently.
"Mr. M'Clinton will see you in ten minutes, if you can wait, sir."
"I'll wait," said Bob, sitting down upon a high stool. "Got a
"To-day's Times is here, sir." He whisked off, to return in a
moment with the paper, neatly folded.
"You'll find a more comfortable seat behind the screen, sir."
"Thanks," said Bob, regarding him with interest--he was so dapper,
so alert, so all that an office-boy in a staid lawyer's
establishment ought to be. "How old might you be?"
"And are you going to grow into a lawyer?"
"I'm afraid I'll never do that, sir," said the office-boy gravely.
"I may be head clerk, perhaps. But--" he stopped, confused.
"I'd rather fly, sir, than anything in the world!" He looked
worshippingly at Bob's uniform. "If the war had only not stopped
before I was old enough, I might have had a chance!"
"Oh, you'll have plenty of chances," Bob told him consolingly. "In
five years' time you'll be taking Mr. M'Clinton's confidential
papers across to Paris in an aeroplane--and bringing him back a
reply before lunch!"
"Do you think so, sir?" The office-boy's eyes danced. Suddenly he
resumed his professional gravity.
"I must get back to my work, sir." He disappeared behind another
partition; the office seemed to Bob to be divided into water-tight
compartments, in each of which he imagined that a budding lawyer or
head clerk was being brought up by hand. It was all rather grim
and solid and forbidding. To Bob the law had always been full of
mystery; this grey, silent office, in the heart of the city, was a
fitting place for it. He felt a little chill at his heart, a
foreboding that no comfort could come of his mission there.
The inner door opened, after a little while, and a woman in black
came out. She passed hurriedly through the outer office, pulling
down her veil over a face that showed traces of tears. Bob looked
after her compassionately.