Part 10 out of 10
patience is tried. It was easy to see that he was not happy, and that the
cause of it was the coldness of one Mary Starbrow."
"Why not _your_ coldness, or Fan's coldness?" snapped the other.
"I was not, and could not, be cold to him, and as to Fan----"
"Why, he was constantly with me; we were the best of friends, as you know
very well, Mary."
"So handsome too, and he has such a fine voice," continued Constance.
"Sometimes when he and Mary sang duets together, and when he seemed so
grateful for her graciousness, I thought what a splendid couple they
would make. Didn't you think the same, Fan?"
"Yes," she replied a little doubtfully.
"Yes!" mocked Mary. "It would be a great pleasure to me to duck you in
the sea for slavishly echoing everything Constance says."
"Thank you, Mary, but I'm not so fond of getting wet as you are," said
Fan, with a somewhat troubled smile.
Constance went on pitilessly:
Oh, he was the half part of a better man
Left to be finished by such as she;
And she a fair divided excellence
Whose fullness of perfection was in him.
"And pray what are you, Constance?" retorted the other. "A fair divided
excellence or an excellence all by yourself, or what? If you find
pleasure in contemplating a deep romantic attachment, think a little more
of Mr. Northcott. He is the type of a gentleman, if you like--brave and
gentle, and without stain. And how was _he_ rewarded for his
devotion? At all events he did not look quite like a conquering hero when
he went away."
Constance reddened. "He is everything you say, Mary--you can't say more
in praise of him than he deserves; but you have no right to assume what
you do, and if you can't keep such absurd fancies out of your head, I
think you might refrain from expressing them."
"But, Constance dear, what harm can there be in expressing them?" said
Fan. "They are not absurd fancies any more than what you were saying just
now. I am quite sure that Mr. Northcott is very fond of you."
"That is your opinion, Fan; but I would rather you found some other
subject of conversation."
"No doubt," said Mary, not disposed to let her off so easily; "but let me
warn you first that unless you treat Mr. Northcott better in future there
will be a split in the Cabinet, and Fan, I think, will be on my side."
"I certainly shall," said Fan.
"In that case," said Constance with dignity, "I shall try to bear it."
"We'll boycott you," said Mary.
"And refuse to read your books," said Fan.
"And tell everyone that the creator of tender-hearted heroines is
anything but tender-hearted herself."
"This amuses you, Mary," said Constance, "but you don't seem to reflect
that it gives me pain."
"I'm sorry, Constance, if anything I have said has given you pain," spoke
Fan. "At the same time I can't understand why it should: it must surely
be a good thing to be--loved by a good man."
"Then, Fan, you must feel very happy," retorted the other, suddenly
changing her tactics.
"I don't know what you mean, Constance."
"What sweet simplicity! Do you imagine that we are so blind, Fan, as not
to see how devoted Mr. Starbrow is to you?"
The girl reddened and darted a look at Mary, who only smiled, observing
"You are wrong, Constance, and most unkind to say such a thing. You say
it only to turn the conversation from yourself. No one noticed such a
thing; but about Mr. Northcott it was quite different--everybody saw it."
"I beg you will not allude to that subject again. When I have distinctly
told you that it is annoying--that it is painful to me, you should have a
little more consideration."
"This grows interesting," broke in Mary. "The conspirators have
quarrelled among themselves, and I shall now perhaps discover in whose
breast the evil thought was first hatched."
The others were silent, a little abashed; Fan still blushing and agitated
after her hot protest, fearing perhaps that it had failed of its effect.
Mary went on: "Are we then to hear no more of these delightful
revelations? Considering that the Mr. Starbrow whose name has been
brought into the case happens to be my brother--"
She said no more, for just then Fan burst into tears.
"Oh, you are unkind, both of you, to say such things, when you know--when
"That there is no truth in them?" interrupted Mary. "Then, my dear girl,
why take it to heart?"
"You brought it on yourself, Fan," said Constance.
"No, Constance, it was all your doing. Even Mary never said a word till
you began it."
"_Even_ Mary--who is not as a rule responsible for her words," said
that lady vindictively.
"I shall not stay here any longer," exclaimed Fan, picking up her book
and attempting to rise.
But the others put out their arms and prevented her.
"Dear Fan," said Constance, "let us say no more to vex each other; the
remark I made was a very harmless one. And you forget, dear, that I am
different to you and Mary--that words about some things, though spoken in
jest, may hurt me very much." After a while she continued hesitatingly--
"I am sure that neither of you will return to the subject when you know
how I feel about it. I shall never love again. To others my husband is
dead, but not to me; his place can be taken by no other."
Fan, who had recovered her composure, although still a little "teary
about the lashes," answered:
"And I am equally sure that I shall never want to--change my name. I have
Arthur to love and--and to think of, and that will be enough to make me
"And I shall get a cat," said Mary, in a broken voice, and ostentatiously
wiping her eyes, "and devote myself to it, and love it with all the
strength of my ardent nature, and that will be enough to make _me_
happy. I shall name it Constance Fan, out of compliment to you two, and
feed it on the most expensive canaries. Of course it will be a very
beautiful cat and very intelligent, with opinions of its own about the
sense of humour and other deep questions."
Constance looked offended, while Fan laughed uncomfortably. Mary was
satisfied; she had turned the tables on her persecutor and provoked a
little tempest to vary the monotony of life at the seaside. Without
saying more they got up and moved towards the town, it being near their
luncheon hour. Fan lagged behind reading, or pretending to read, as she
"Oh, let's stay and see this race," said Mary, pausing beside a bench on
the beach near an excited group of idlers, mostly boys, with one white-
headed old man in the midst, who was arranging a racing contest between
one youngster mounted on a small, sleepy-looking, longhaired donkey, and
his opponent, dirty as to his face and argumentative, seated on one of
those archaeological curiosities commonly called "bone-shakers," which
are occasionally to be seen at remote country places. But the
preliminaries were not easily settled, and Constance grew impatient.
"I can't stay," she said. "I have a letter to write before lunch."
"All right, go on," said Mary, "and I'll wait for that lazy-bones Fan."
As soon as Constance had gone Fan quickened her steps.
"Mary," she spoke, coming to the other's side, "will you promise me
"What is it, dear?" said her friend, looking into her face, surprised to
see how flushed it was.
"I suppose that Constance was only joking when she said that to me; but
promise, Mary, that you will never speak to Mr. Starbrow about such a
"Promise, Mary--do promise," pleaded the girl.
"But, Fan, I have already talked to him more than once on that same
"Oh, how could you do it, Mary! You had no right to speak to him of such
"You must not blame me, Fan. He spoke to me first about it."
"He did! I can hardly believe it. Was it right of him to speak of such a
thing to you?"
"And not to you first, Fan? Poor Tom spoke to me because he was afraid to
speak to you--afraid that you had no such feeling for him as he wished
you to have. He wanted sympathy and advice, and so the poor fellow came
"And what did you say, Mary?"
"Of course I told him the simple truth about you. I said that you were
cold and stern in disposition, very strong-minded and despotic; but that
at some future time, if he would wait patiently, you might perhaps
condescend to make him happy and take him just for the pleasure of
possessing a man to tyrannise over."
Fan did not laugh nor reply. Her face was bent down, and when the other
stooped and looked into it, there were tears in her eyes.
"Crying! Oh, you foolish, sensitive child! Was it true, then, that you
did not know--never even suspected that Tom loved you?"
"No; I think I have known it for some time. But it was so hard to hear it
spoken of in that way. I have felt so sorry; I thought it would never be
noticed--never be known--that he would see that it could never be, and
forget it. Why did you say that to him, Mary--that some day I might feel
as he wished? Don't you know that it can never be?"
"But why can't it be, Fan? You are so young, and your feelings may
change. And he is my brother--would you not like to have me for a
"You _are_ my sister, Mary--more than a sister. If Arthur had had
sisters it would have made no difference. But about Tom, you must believe
me, Mary; he is just like a brother to me, and I know I shall never
change about that."
"Ah, yes; we are all so wise about such things," returned the other with
a slight laugh, and then a long silence followed.
There was excuse for it, for just then, the arguments about the
conditions of the race had waxed loud, degenerating into mere clamour. It
almost looked as if the more excited ones were about to settle their
differences with their flourishing fists. But Mary was scarcely conscious
of what was passing before her; she was mentally occupied recalling
certain things which she had heard two or three days ago; also things she
had seen without attention. Fan, Tom, and Arthur had told her about that
day spent in Exeter. At their destination their party had been increased
to four by Arthur's clerical friend, Frank Arnold. This young gentleman
had acted as guide to the cathedral, and had also entertained them at
luncheon, which proved a very magnificent repast to be given by a young
curate in apartments. It was all a dull wretched affair, according to
Tom; the young fellow had never left off making himself agreeable to Fan
until she had got into her carriage to return to Sidmouth. And yet Fan
had scarcely mentioned Mr. Arnold, only saying that she had passed a
happy day. How happy it must have been, thought Mary, a new light dawning
on her mind, for the sparkle of it to have lasted so long!
"Shall you meet your brother's friend, Mr. Arnold, again?" she asked a
"I--I think so--yes," returned Fan, a little confused. "He is coming to
London next month, and will be a great deal with Arthur, and--of course I
shall see him. Why do you ask, Mary?"
But Mary was revolving many things in her mind, and kept silent.
"What are you thinking about, Mary?" persisted the other.
"Oh, about all kinds of things; mysteries, for instance, and about how
little we know of what's going on in each other's minds. You are about as
transparent a person as one could have, and yet half the time, now I come
to think of it, I don't seem to know what you would be at. A little while
ago you joined with Constance in that attack on me. I am just asking
myself, 'Would it have been pleasant to you if Jack had gone away
yesterday happy and triumphant--if I had promised him my hand?'"
"Your hand, Mary--how can you ask such a question? How could you imagine
such a thing?"
"Does it seem so dreadful a thing? Have you not worked on me to make me
forgive and think well of him? You do not think his repentance all a
sham; you have forgotten the past, are his friend, and trust him. Do you,
in spite of it all, still think evil of him and separate him from other
men? Was the thief on the cross who repented a less welcome guest at that
supper he was invited to because of his evil deeds? And is this man, in
whose repentance you really believe, less a child of God than other men,
that you make this strange distinction?"
The girl cast down her eyes and was silent for some time.
"Mary," she spoke at length, "I can't explain it, but I do feel that
there is a difference--that it is not wrong to make such a distinction.
It is in us already made, and we can't unmake it. I know that I feel
everything you have said about him, and I am very, very glad that you too
have forgiven him and are his friend. But it would have been horrible if
you had felt for him again as you did once."
Mary turned her face away, her eyes growing dim with tears of mingled
pain and happiness; for how long it had taken her to read the soul that
was so easy to read, so crystalline, and how much it would have helped
her if she could have understood it sooner! But now the shameful cup had
passed for ever from her, and the loved girl at her side had never
discovered, never suspected, how near to her lips it had been.
And while she stood thus, while Fan waited for her to turn her face, hard
by there sounded a great clatter and rattling of the old ramshackle
machine, and pounding of the donkey's hoofs on the gravel, and vigorous
thwacks from sticks and hands and hats on his rump by his backers,
accompanied with much noise of cheering and shouting.
"Oh, look; it is all over!" cried Mary. "What a shame to miss it after
all--what could we have been thinking about! Come, let's go and find out
who won. I shall give sixpence to the winner, just to encourage local
"And I," said Fan, "shall give a shilling to the loser--to encourage--"
In her haste she did not say what.