Part 2 out of 5
As regarded Lionel Varick, the second day of his house-party at Wyndfell
Hall opened most inauspiciously, for, when approaching the dining-room,
he became aware that the door was not really closed, and that Mr.
Burnaby and his niece were having what seemed to be an animated and even
"I don't like this place, and I don't care for your fine friend, Mr.
Varick--" Such was the very unpleasant observation which the speaker's
unlucky host overheard.
There came instant silence when he pushed open the door, and Helen with
heightened colour looked up, and exclaimed: "My uncle has to go back to
London this morning. Isn't it unfortunate? He's had a letter from an old
friend who hasn't been in England for some years, and he feels he must
go up and spend Christmas with _him_, instead of staying with us here."
Varick was much taken aback. He didn't believe in the old friend. His
mind at once reverted to what had happened the night before. It was the
seance which had upset Mr. Burnaby--not a doubt of it! Without being
exactly unpleasant, the guest's manner this morning was cold, very
cold--and Varick himself was hard put to it to hide his annoyance.
He had taken a great deal of trouble in the last few months to
conciliate this queer, disagreeable, rather suspicious old gentleman,
and he had thought he had succeeded. The words he had overheard when
approaching the dining-room showed how completely he had failed. And now
Bubbles Dunster, with her stupid tomfoolery, was actually driving Mr.
But Mr. Burnaby's host was far too well used to conceal his thoughts,
and to command his emotions, to do more than gravely assent, with an
expression of regret. Nay more, as some of the others gradually lounged
in, and as the meal became a trifle more animated, he told himself that
after all Mr. Burnaby might have turned out a spoil-sport, especially
with regard to a secret, all-important matter which he, the convener of
this curiously assorted Christmas party, had very much at heart.
Even so, for the first time in their long friendship, he felt at odds
with Blanche Farrow. She ought to have stopped the seance the moment she
saw whither it was tending! His own experience of Bubbles' peculiar gift
had been very far from agreeable, and had given him a thoroughly bad
night. That strange, sinister evocation of his long-dead mother had
stirred embers Varick had believed to be long dead--embers he had done
his best, as it were, to stamp out from his memory.
Another thing which added to his ill-humour was the fact that Bubbles,
alone of the party, had not come down to breakfast. In such matters she
was an absolute law unto herself; but whereas during the first two days
of the girl's stay at Wyndfell Hall her host had been rather glad to
miss her at breakfast--it had been a cosy little meal shared by him and
Blanche--he now resented her absence. He told himself angrily that she
ought to have been there to help to entertain everybody, and to cheer up
sulky James Tapster. The latter had asked: "Where's Miss Bubbles?" with
an injured air--as if he thought she ought to be forming part of the
Mr. Burnaby was determined to get away from Wyndfell Hall as soon as
possible, and by eleven o'clock the whole party, excepting Bubbles, was
in the hall, bidding him good-bye. And then it was that Varick suddenly
realized with satisfaction that both Miss Burnaby and Helen regarded the
departure of their kinsman with perfect equanimity. Was it possible that
Helen was _glad_ her uncle and guardian was leaving her alone--for once?
The thought was a very pleasant one to her present entertainer and host.
Even so, after he and Blanche Farrow turned away from the porch where
they had been speeding the parting guest, she noticed that Varick looked
more annoyed, more thoroughly put out, than she had ever seen him--and
she had seen him through some rather bad moments in the long course of
"I hope Bubbles won't try on any more of her thought-reading
tomfoolery," he said disagreeably. "What happened last night has driven
Mr. Burnaby away."
"I think you're wrong," said Blanche quickly. "I'm certain he received
the letter of which he spoke."
"I don't agree with you"; and it was with difficulty that Varick
restrained himself from telling her what he had overheard the unpleasant
old man say to his niece.
"I think we shall get on all the better without him," said Blanche
She vaguely resented the way in which Varick spoke of Bubbles. After
all, the girl had come to Wyndfell Hall out of the purest good
nature--in order to help them through with their party.
"Oh, well, I daresay you're right." (He couldn't afford to quarrel with
Blanche.) "And I forgot one thing. I've heard from Panton--"
"You mean your doctor friend?" she said coldly.
"Yes, and he hopes to be here sooner than he thought he could be. He's a
good chap, Blanche"--there came a note of real feeling into Varick's
voice--"awfully hard-worked! I hope we'll be able to give him a good
"He'll have to sleep in the haunted room."
"That won't matter. He wouldn't believe in a ghost, even if he saw one!
Be nice to him, for my sake; he was awfully good to me, Blanche."
And Blanche Farrow softened. There was a very good side to her friend
Lionel. He was one of those rare human beings who are, in a moral sense,
greatly benefited by prosperity. In old days, though his attractive,
dominant personality had brought him much kindness, and even friendship,
of a useful kind, his hand had always been, as Blanche Farrow knew well,
more or less against every man. But now?--now he seemed to look at the
world through rose-coloured glasses.
He glanced at the still very attractive woman standing by his side, his
good-humour quite restored. "A penny for your thoughts!" he said
Blanche shook her head, smiling. Not for very much more than a penny
would she have told him the thought that had suddenly come, as such
thoughts will do, into her mind. That thought was, how extraordinary had
been Varick's transformation from what a censorious world might have
called an unscrupulous adventurer into a generous man of position and
substance--all owing to the fact that some two years ago he had drifted
across an unknown woman in a foreign hotel!
Even to Blanche there was something pathetic in the thought of "poor
Milly," whose birthplace and home this beautiful and strangely perfect
old house had been. It was Milly--not that sinister figure that Pegler
thought she had seen--whose form ought to haunt Wyndfell Hall. But there
survived no trace, no trifling memento even, of the dead woman's
evidently colourless personality.
And as if Varick had guessed part of what was passing through her mind,
"Any news of the ghost, Blanche?" he asked jokingly. "How's my friend
Pegler this morning?"
"Pegler's quite all right! I'm the person who ought to have seen the
ghost--but of course I neither saw nor heard anything."
As they came through into the hall where the rest of the party were
gathered together, Blanche heard Helen Brabazon exclaim: "This is a most
wonderful old book, Mr. Varick! It gives such a curious account of a
ghost who is supposed to haunt this house--the ghost of a most awfully
wicked woman who killed her stepson by throwing him into the moat, and
then drowned herself--"
Mr. Tapster, who seldom contributed anything worth hearing to the
conversation, suddenly remarked: "The ghost has been seen within the
last two days by one of the servants here."
"Who told you that?" asked Varick sharply.
"My valet; I always hear all the news from him."
Helen clapped her hands. "How splendid!" she cried. "That makes
everything simply perfect!" She turned her eager, smiling face on
Lionel Varick, "I've always longed to stay in a haunted house. I wish
the ghost would appear to me!"
"Don't wish that, Miss Brabazon."
It was Sir Lyon's quiet voice which uttered those five words very
Sir Lyon liked Helen Brabazon. She was the only one of the party, with
the exception of Bill Donnington, whom he did like. He was puzzled,
however, by her apparent intimacy with their attractive host. How and
where could Varick have come across the Burnabys and their niece? They
had nothing in common with his usual associates and surroundings. In
their several ways they were like beings from different planets.
Sir Lyon knew a great deal about Lionel Varick, though he had seen
nothing of him during the few months Varick's married life had lasted.
Like Miss Farrow, Sir Lyon was honestly glad that his present host,
after turning some dangerous corners, had drifted, by an amazing series
of lucky bumps, into so safe and pleasant a haven. There are certain
people, who, when unsatisfied, and baulked of whatever may be their
hidden desires, are dangerous to their fellows. Such a man, Sir Lyon was
secretly convinced, had been Lionel Varick. Such, evidently, was he no
"Would you like to see the haunted room?" He heard Varick ask the
question in that deep, musical voice which many people found so
attractive. Helen eagerly assented, and they disappeared together.
Sir Lyon and Bill Donnington went off to the library, and for a few
moments Blanche Farrow and Miss Burnaby were alone together in the hall.
"Your niece seems to have very remarkable psychic gifts," said the old
And Blanche suddenly remembered--Why, of course! Miss Burnaby had been
one of the people most strongly affected by what had happened the night
before; she must choose her words carefully. So, "Bubbles has a
remarkable gift of thought-reading," she answered quietly. "Personally I
am quite convinced that it's not anything more."
"Are you?" There was a curious, questioning look on Miss Burnaby's
usually placid face. "D'you think then, that what happened last night
was _all_ thought-reading?"
"Certainly I think so! But I admit that perhaps I am not a fair judge,
for I haven't the slightest belief in what Bubbles would call
"I know a lady who goes in for all that sort of thing," said Miss
Burnaby slowly. "My brother disapproves of my acquaintance with her. She
once took me to what is called a Circle, and, of course, I could not
help feeling interested. But the medium who was there was not nearly as
remarkable as Miss Dunster seems to be; I mean she did not get the same
results--at any rate, not in my case."
"I'm afraid what happened last night rather upset you," said Blanche
uncomfortably. "I know it would have annoyed me very much if the same
thing had happened to me."
"It is true that I was, as a girl, engaged to an Austrian officer. We
were very devoted to one another, but my dear father refused his
consent. So what occurred last night brought back many painful
Miss Burnaby spoke very simply, but there was a note of deep sadness in
her voice, and Blanche told herself that she had been wrong in regarding
her as simply a dull, conventional, greedy old woman.
"I'm very sorry now that I allowed Bubbles to do it," she exclaimed.
"I'm afraid it upset your brother, too, very much?"
Again there came a curious change over Miss Burnaby's face. She
hesitated perceptibly--and then answered: "I would not say so to any of
the younger people here, of course. But, as a matter of fact, my brother
had a very unpleasant experience as a young man. He fell in love, or
thought he fell in love, with a young woman. It was a very unfortunate
and tragic affair--for, Miss Farrow, the unhappy young person killed
herself! I was very young at the time, and I was not supposed to know
anything about it. But of course I did know. Poor Ted had to give
evidence at the inquest. It was dreadful, _dreadful_! We have never
spoken of it all these many years we have lived together. You realize,
Miss Farrow, that the young person was not in our class of life?"--the
old lady drew herself up stiffly.
Blanche felt much relieved when, at that moment Bubbles appeared. She
made a delightful, brilliant, Goya-like picture, in her yellow jumper
and long chain of coral beads. But she looked very tired.
"Have all the others gone out?" she asked languidly. And before Blanche
could answer, Miss Burnaby, murmuring something about having letters to
write, quickly left the room. The sight of the girl affected her
painfully; but it also intensified her longing for what she had heard
called "a private sitting."
"Lionel is showing Miss Brabazon over the house. She's very much
thrilled over Pegler's experience. I can't make that girl out--can you,
Miss Farrow drew nearer to the fire. "She's such a queer mixture of
shrewdness and simplicity," she went on. "She doesn't seem ever to have
gone anywhere, or seen anyone, and yet she's so--so mature! I believe
she's exactly your age."
"I feel about a hundred to-day," said Bubbles wearily.
Blanche was wondering how she could open on the subject about which
she'd promised to speak to the girl. Somehow she always very much
disliked speaking to Bubbles of what she called, in her own mind, "all
that unhealthy rot and nonsense!" And yet she must say something--she
had promised Lionel Varick to do so.
Bubbles' next words gave her no opening.
"I have no use for Helen Brabazon," she said pettishly. "A very little
of her would bore me to death. But still, I amused myself at dinner last
night thinking what I should do if I had all her money."
"All her money?" repeated Blanche, puzzled.
"Don't you know that she's one of the richest girls in England?"
"Is that really true?"--Blanche felt surprised, and more than surprised,
keenly interested. "How d'you know, Bubbles? Lionel never told me--."
Bubbles gave a quick, queer look at her aunt. "Mr. Tapster told me all
about her last night," she answered. "I suppose because he's so rich
himself he takes a kind of morbid interest in other rich people. He said
that she's the owner of one of the biggest metal-broking
businesses--whatever that may mean--in the world. But her uncle and
aunt have never allowed her to know anyone or to see anyone outside
their own tiresome, fuggy old lot. They've a perfect terror of
fortune-hunters, it seems. The poor girl's hardly ever spoken to a
man--not to what _I_ should call a man! I'm surprised they allowed her
to come here. I heard her tell Sir Lyon last night at dinner that this
was the first time she'd ever paid what she called a country visit.
Apparently Harrogate or Brighton is those awful old people's idea of a
pleasant change. Up to now Miss Helen's own idea of heaven seems to have
"How very strange!" But Blanche Farrow was not thinking of Helen
Brabazon's possible idea of heaven as she uttered the three words.
Bubbles chuckled. "I touched the old gentleman up a bit yesterday,
didn't I, Blanche?"
This gave her aunt the opportunity for which she was seeking. "You did!
And as a result he made up some cock-and-bull excuse and went back to
London this morning. Lionel is very much put out about it."
"I should have thought Lionel would have been glad," said Bubbles, and
there came into her voice the touch of slight, almost insolent, contempt
with which she generally spoke of Lionel Varick.
"He was very far from glad; he was furious," said Blanche gravely.
"I only did it because he said he wanted his guests entertained," said
And then, after there had been a rather long silence between them, she
asked: "What did _you_ think of it, Blanche? You'd never been at a
seance before, had you?"
Miss Farrow hesitated. "Of course I was impressed," she acknowledged.
"I kept wondering how you did it. I mean that I kept wondering how those
people's thoughts were conveyed to your brain."
"Then you didn't believe that I saw anything of the things I said I
saw?" said Bubbles slowly. "You thought it was all fudge on my part?"
Her aunt reddened. "I don't quite know what you mean by saying that. Of
course I don't believe you saw the--the figures you described so
clearly. But I realized that in some queer way you must have got hold of
_the memory_ of your victims. Lionel admits that you did so in his
"Does he indeed?" Bubbles spoke with sharp sarcasm.
There rose before her a vision of her host's pale, startled face. In
some ways he had been the most inwardly perturbed of her last night's
sitters, and she, the medium, had been well aware of it.
"I wonder," she said suddenly and inconsequently, "if Lionel has some
enemy--I mean a woman--in his life, of whom his friends know nothing?"
Blanche looked dubiously at the girl. "That's the sort of thing one can
never know about a man," she said slowly.
"The woman I mean"--Bubbles was going on rather quickly and breathlessly
now--"is not a young woman. She's about sixty, I should think. She has a
plain, powerful face, with a lot of grey hair turned off her forehead."
"Have you ever seen such a person with Lionel?" asked Miss Farrow.
"No, not exactly."
"What _do_ you mean, Bubbles?"
"I can't quite explain what I mean. Even before the seance I seemed to
_feel_ her last night. I suppose _you_ would say I saw her in his
mind--in what some people would call his inner consciousness."
Blanche stared at the girl uncomfortably. "D'you mean you can always see
what people are thinking of?" she exclaimed.
Bubbles burst out laughing. "Of course I can't! You needn't feel
nervous." She went up to her aunt, and thrust her hand through the
other's arm. "Don't be worried, old thing"--she spoke very
affectionately. "I've promised Bill that I'll put everything of the kind
he and father disapprove of away--just while I'm here! But still,
Miss Farrow had never seen the girl in this serious, thoughtful mood
before. "Yes," she said. "Yes, Bubbles?"
"Oh, well, I only just wanted to quote something to you that's rather
"Hackneyed?" repeated Miss Farrow.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, my dear, than are dreamt of
in _your_ philosophy."
Blanche Farrow felt a little piqued. "I've never doubted that," she said
Meanwhile, one of the subjects of their discussion was thoroughly
enjoying her tour of Wyndfell Hall; and as she entered each of the
curious, stately rooms upstairs and down, Helen Brabazon uttered an
exclamation of pleasure and rather naive admiration. Not a corner or a
passage-way but had some fine piece of old furniture, some exquisite
needle-picture or panel of tapestry, in keeping with the general
character of the ancient dwelling place.
Her cicerone would have enjoyed their progress more had it not been that
his companion frequently referred to his late wife. "How strange that
Milly did not love this wonderful old house!" she exclaimed. And then,
when they had gone a little further on, she suddenly asked: "I wish
you'd tell me which was Milly's room? Surely she must have been happy
But the new master of Wyndfell Hall had never even thought of asking
which had been his wife's room. And, on seeing the troubled, embarrassed
look which crossed his face while he confessed his ignorance, Helen felt
sharply sorry that she had asked the question. To his relief, she spoke
no more of Milly, and of Milly's association with the house which so
charmed and attracted her.
One of the strangest, most disturbing facts about our complex human
nature is how very little we know of what is passing in another's mind.
Helen Brabazon would have been amazed indeed had she seen even only a
very little way into her present companion's secret thoughts. How
surprised she would have been, for instance, to know that the only thing
about herself Varick would have liked altered was her association with
that part of his life to which he never willingly returned, even in his
thoughts. The part of his life, that is, which had been spent by his
dying wife and himself at Redsands. It was with nervous horror that he
unwillingly recalled any incident, however slight, connected with those
tragic weeks. And yet Helen, had she been asked, would have said that he
must often dwell on them in loving retrospect. She honestly believed
that the link between them, even now, was a survival of what had been
their mutual affection for the then dying woman, and the touching
dependence that same woman had shown on their joint love and care.
As they wandered on together, apparently on the most happily intimate
terms of liking and of friendship, about the delightful old house, there
was scarce a thought in Lionel Varick's mind that would not have
surprised, disturbed, and puzzled his companion.
For one thing, he was looking at Helen Brabazon far more critically than
he had looked at any woman for a very long time, telling himself, rather
ruefully the while, that she was not the type of girl that at any time
of his life would have naturally attracted him. But he was well aware
that this was his misfortune, not his fault; and he did like her--he did
How strange it was to know that in her well-shaped little hand there lay
such immense potential power! Varick fully intended that that little
hand should one day, sooner rather than later, lie, confidingly, in
his. And when that happened he intended to behave very well. He would
"make good," as our American cousins call it; he would go into public
life, maybe, and make a big name for himself, and, incidentally, for
her. What might he not do, indeed--with Helen Brabazon's vast fortune
joined to her impeccable good name! He did not wish to give up his own
old family name; but why should they not become the Brabazon-Varicks? So
far had he actually travelled in his own mind, as he escorted his young
lady guest about the upper rooms and corridors of Wyndfell Hall.
As he glanced, now and again, at the girl walking composedly by his
side, he felt he would have given anything--_anything_--to have known
what was behind those candid hazel eyes, that broad white brow. Again he
was playing for a great stake, and playing, this time, more or less in
His mind and memory swung back, in spite of himself, to his late wife.
Milly Fauncey had liked him almost from the first day they had met. It
had been like the attraction--but of course that was the very last
simile that would have occurred to Varick himself--of a rabbit for a
cobra. He had had but to look at the self-absorbed, shy, diffident human
being, to fascinate and draw her to himself. The task would have been
almost too easy, but for the dominant personality of poor Milly's
companion, Julia Pigchalke. She had fought against him, tooth and claw;
but, cunning old Dame Nature had been on his side in the fight, and, of
course, Nature had won.
Miss Pigchalke had always made the fatal mistake of keeping her ex-pupil
too much to herself. And during a certain fatal three days when the
companion had been confined to her hotel bedroom by a bad cold, the
friendship of shy, nervous Milly Fauncey, and of bold, confident Lionel
Varick, had fast ripened, fostered by the romantic Italian atmosphere.
During these three days Varick, almost without trying to do so, had
learnt all there was to learn of the simple-minded spinster and of her
financial circumstances. But he was not the man to take any risk, and he
had actually paid a flying visit to London--a visit of which he had
later had the grace to feel secretly ashamed--for it had had for object
that of making quite sure, at Somerset House, that Miss Fauncey's
account of herself was absolutely correct.
Yes, the wooing of Milly Fauncey had been almost too easy, and he knew
that he was not likely to be so fortunate this time. But now the prize
to be won was such an infinitely greater prize!
He told himself that he mustn't be impatient. This, after all, was only
the second day of Helen Brabazon's stay at Wyndfell Hall. Perhaps it was
a good thing that her cantankerous old uncle had betaken himself off.
Misfortune had a way of turning itself into good fortune where Lionel
Varick was concerned; for he was bold and brave, as well as always ready
to seize opportunity at the flood.
When, at last, they had almost finished their tour of the house, and he
was showing her into the haunted room, she clapped her hands
delightedly. "This is exactly the sort of room in which one would expect
to meet a ghost!" she exclaimed.
The room into which she had just been ushered had, in very truth, a
strange, unused, haunted look. Very different from that into which Helen
had just peeped. For Miss Farrow's present bed-chamber, with its
tapestried and panelled walls, its red brocaded curtains, and carved oak
furniture, the whole lit up by a bright, cheerful fire, was very cosy.
But here, in the haunted room next door, the fire was only lit at night,
and now one of the windows over the moat was open, and it was very cold.
Helen went over to the open window. She leant over and stared down into
the dark, sullen-looking water.
"How beautiful this place must be in summer!" she exclaimed.
"I hope you will come and see it, this next summer."
Varick spoke in measured tones, but deep in his heart he not only hoped,
but he was determined on something very different--namely, that the girl
now turning her bright, guileless, eager face to his would then be
installed at Wyndfell Hall as his wife, and therefore as mistress of the
wonderful old house. And this hope, this imperious determination, turned
his mind suddenly to a less agreeable subject of thought--that is, to
Had he known what he now knew about Bubbles' curious gift, he would not
have included her in his Christmas party. He felt that she might become
a disturbing element in the pleasant gathering. Also he was beginning to
suspect that she did not like him, and it was a disagreeable, unnerving
suspicion in his present mood.
"What do you think of Bubbles Dunster?" he asked.
"Oh, I like her!" cried Helen. "I think she's a wonderful girl!" And
then her voice took on a graver tinge: "I couldn't help being very much
impressed last night, Mr. Varick. You see, my father, who died when I
was only eight years old, always called me 'Girlie.' Somehow that made
me feel as if _he was really there_."
"And yet," said Varick slowly, "Bubbles told you nothing that you didn't
know? To my mind what happened last night was simply a clever exhibition
of thought-reading. She's always had the gift."
"The odd thing was," said Helen, after a moment's hesitation, "that she
said my father didn't like my being here. _That_ wasn't
"There's something a little queer--a little tricky and malicious
sometimes--about Bubbles," he said meaningly.
Helen looked at him, startled. "Is there really? How--how horrid!" she
"Yes, you mustn't take everything Bubbles says as gospel truth," he
observed, lighting a cigarette. "Still, she's a very good sort in her
As he looked at her now puzzled, bewildered face, he realized that he
had produced on Helen's mind exactly the impression he had meant to do.
If Bubbles said anything about him which--well, which he would rather
was left unsaid--Helen would take no notice of it.
The party spent the rest of the morning in making friends with one
another. Mr. Tapster had already singled out Bubbles Dunster at dinner
the night before. He was one of those men--there are many such--who,
while professing to despise women, yet devote a great deal of not very
profitable thought to them, and to their singular, unexpected, and often
As for Sir Lyon Dilsford, he was amused and touched to discover that, as
is so often the case with a young and generous-hearted human being,
Helen Brabazon had a sincere, if somewhat vague, desire to use her money
for the good of humanity. He was also touched and amused to find how
ignorant she was of life, and how really child-like, under her staid and
sensible appearance. Of what she called "society" she cherished an utter
contempt, convinced that it consisted of frivolous women and idle
men--in a word, of heartless coquettes and of fortune-hunters. To Helen
Brabazon the world of men and women was still all white and all black.
Sir Lyon, who, like most intelligent men, enjoyed few things more than
playing schoolmaster to an attractive young woman, found the hour that
he and Miss Brabazon spent together in the library of Wyndfell Hall
speed by all too quickly. They were both sorry when the gong summoned
them to luncheon.
After a while Varick had persuaded Miss Burnaby to put on a hat and
jacket, and go for a little walk alone with him, while Blanche Farrow
went off for a talk with young Donnington. Bubbles was the subject of
their conversation, and different as were the ingenuous young man and
his somewhat cynical and worldly companion, they found that they were
cordially agreed as to the desirability of Bubbles abandoning the
practices which had led to Mr. Burnaby's abrupt departure that morning.
"Of course, I think them simply an extension of the extraordinary
thought-reading gifts she had as a small child," observed Blanche.
"I wish I could think it was only that--I'm afraid it's a good deal more
than mere thought-reading," Donnington said reluctantly.
* * * * *
Luncheon was a pleasant, lively meal; and after they had all had coffee
and cigarettes, Bubbles managed to press almost the whole party into the
business of decorating the church. Their host entered into the scheme
with seeming heartiness; but at the last moment he and Blanche Farrow
elected to stay at home with Miss Burnaby.
The younger folk started off, a cheerful party--James Tapster, who, as
the others realized by something he said, hadn't been into a church for
years (he said he hated weddings, and, on principle, never attended
funerals); Sir Lyon, who was always at anyone's disposal when a bit of
work had to be done; Helen Brabazon, who declared joyfully that she had
always longed to decorate a country church; Bubbles herself, who drove
the donkey-cart piled high with holly and with mistletoe; and
Donnington, who pulled the donkey along.
Suffolk is a county of noble village churches; but of the lively group
of young people who approached it on this particular Christmas Eve, only
Donnington understood what a rare and perfect ecclesiastical building
stood before them. He had inherited from a scholarly father a keen
interest in church architecture, and he had read an account of Darnaston
church the night before in the book which dealt with Wyndfell Hall and
They were met in the porch by the bachelor rector. "This is really
kind!" he exclaimed. "And it will be of the greatest help, for I've been
sent for to a neighbouring parish unexpectedly, and I'm afraid that I
can't stop and help you."
As the little party passed through into the church, more than one of
them was impressed by its lofty beauty. Indeed, the word which rose to
both Sir Lyon's and Donnington's lips was the word "impressive." Neither
of them had ever seen so impressive a country church.
When lifted from the donkey-cart the little heap of holly and other
greenery looked pitifully small lying on the stone floor of the central
aisle; and though everyone worked with a will, there wasn't very much to
show for it when Mr. Tapster declared, in a cross tone, that it must be
getting near tea-time.
"It's much more nearly finished than any of you realize," said Bubbles
good-humouredly. "I've done this sort of thing every year since I was
quite a kid. Bill and I will come down after tea and finish it up. We
shan't want _you_."
"I shouldn't mind coming back," exclaimed Helen Brabazon. "I've enjoyed
every minute of the time here!"
But Bubbles declared that she didn't want any of them but Bill. All she
would ask the other men to do would be to cut down some trails of ivy.
She explained that she always avoided the use of ivy unless, as in this
case, quantity rather than quality was required.
So they all tramped cheerfully back to Wyndfell Hall.
Tea was served in the library, and the host looked on with benign
satisfaction at the lively scene, though Blanche Farrow saw his face
change and stiffen, when his penetrating eyes rested in turn for a long
moment on Bubbles' now laughing little face. Perhaps because of that
frowning look, she drew the girl after her into the hall. "Come in here
for a moment, Bubbles--I want to speak to you. I've just heard Helen
Brabazon say something about raising the ghost. No more seances while
I'm in command here--is that understood?"
And Bubbles looked up with an injured, innocent expression. "Of course
it's understood! Though, as a matter of fact, Miss Burnaby has already
asked me to give her a private sitting."
"You must promise me to refuse, Bubbles--" Miss Farrow spoke very
decidedly. "I don't know how you do what you did last night, and, to
tell you the truth, I don't care--for it's none of my business. But
there was one moment this morning when I feared that horrid Mr. Burnaby
was going to take his sister and his niece away--and that really would
have been serious!"
"Serious?" queried Bubbles. "Why serious, Blanche? We should have got on
very well without them."
Her aunt looked round. They were quite alone, standing, for the moment,
in a far corner of the great room, near the finely carved confessional
box, which seemed, even to Blanche Farrow, an incongruous addition to
"You're very much mistaken, Bubbles! Lionel would have never forgiven
you--or me. He attaches great importance to these people; Helen Brabazon
was a great friend of his poor wife's." She hesitated, and then said
rather awkwardly: "I sometimes wish you liked him better; he's a good
"I should think more a bad enemy than a good friend," muttered the girl,
in so low a voice that her aunt hardly caught the ungracious words.
That was all--but that was enough. Blanche told herself that she had now
amply fulfilled the promise she had made to Lionel Varick when the two
had stood speeding their parting guest this morning from Wyndfell Hall.
Even quite at the end Mr. Burnaby had been barely civil. He seemed to
think that there had been some kind of conspiracy against him the night
before; and as they watched the car go over the moat bridge, Varick had
muttered: "I wouldn't have had this happen for a thousand pounds!" But
he had recovered his good temper, and even apologized to Blanche for
having felt so much put out by the action of a cantankerous old man.
The others were now all streaming into the hall, and Bubbles would
hardly allow the good-natured Sir Lyon and Bill Donnington to finish
their cigarettes before she shooed them out to cut down some ivy. Varick
looked annoyed when he heard that the decorations in the church were not
yet finished. "Can't we bribe some of the servants to go down and do
them?" he asked. "It seems a shame that you and Donnington should have
to go off there again in the cold and darkness."
But in her own way Bubbles had almost as strong a will as had her host.
She always knew what she wanted to do, and generally managed to do it.
"I would much rather finish the work myself, and I think Bill would
rather come too," she said coolly.
So once more the little donkey-cart was loaded up with holly and trails
of ivy, and the two set off amid the good-natured comments and chaff of
the rest of the party. James Tapster alone looked sulky and annoyed. He
wondered how a bright, amusing girl like Bubbles Dunster could stand the
company of such a commonplace young man as was Bill Donnington.
As they reached the short stretch of open road which separated Wyndfell
Hall from the church, Bubbles felt suddenly how cold it was.
"I think we shall have snow to-morrow," said Donnington, looking round
at his companion. He could only just see her little face in the
twilight, and when they finally passed through the porch in the glorious
old church, it seemed, for the first few moments, pitch-dark.
"I'll tell you what I like best about this church," said the girl
"For my part," said Donnington simply, "I like everything about it."
He struck a match, and after a few minutes of hard work, managed to
light several of the hanging oil lamps.
"What I like best," went on Bubbles, "are the animals up there."
She pointed to where, just under the cambered oak roof, there ran a
dado, on which, carved in white bas-relief, lions, hares, stags, dogs,
cats, crocodiles, and birds, formed a singular procession, which was
continued round the nave and choir.
"Yes, I like them too," assented Donnington slowly. "Though somehow I
did feel this afternoon that they were out of place in a church."
"Oh, how can you say that?" cried the girl. "I love to think of them
here! I'm sure that at night they leap joyfully down, and skip about the
church, praising the Lord."
"Bubbles!" he exclaimed reprovingly.
"Almost any animal," she said, with a touch of seriousness, "is nicer,
taking it all in all, than almost any human being." And then she quoted
in the deep throaty voice which was one of her greatest charms:
"A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all Heaven in a rage."
"The one _I_ should like to see put over every manger is:
"A horse misus'd upon the road
Calls to Heaven for human blood,"
"Oh!" she cried, "and Bill, surely the best of all is:
"A skylark wounded on the wing,
A cherubim doth cease to sing."
Donnington smiled. "I suppose I'm more practical than you are," he said.
"If I were a schoolmaster, I'd have inscribed on the walls of every
"Kill not the moth or butterfly,
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh."
They worked very hard during the half-hour that followed, though only
the finishing touches remained to be done. Still, it meant moving a
ladder about, and stretching one's arms a good deal, and Bubbles
insisted on doing her full share of everything.
"Let's rest a few minutes," she said at last, and leading the way up the
central aisle, she sat down wearily in one of the carved choir stalls.
Then she lifted her arms, and putting her hands behind her neck, she
tipped her head back.
The young man came and sat down in the next stall. Bubbles was leaning
back more comfortably now, her red cap almost off her head. There was a
great look of restfulness on her pale, sensitive face.
She put out her hand and felt for his; after a moment of hesitation he
slid down and knelt close to her.
"Bubbles," he whispered, "my darling--darling Bubbles. I wish that here
and now you would make up your mind to give up everything--" He stopped
speaking, and bending, kissed her hand.
"Yes," she said dreamily. "Give up everything, Bill? Perhaps I will. But
what do you mean by everything?"
There was a self-pitying note in her low, vibrant voice. "You know it is
given to people, sometimes, to choose between good and evil. I'm
afraid"--she leant forward, and passed her right hand, with a touch of
tenderness most unusual with her, over his upturned face and curly
hair--"I'm afraid, Bill, that, almost without knowing it, I chose evil,
'Evil, be thou my good.' Isn't that what the wicked old Satanists used
"Don't you say it too!" he exclaimed, sharply distressed.
"I know I acted stupidly--in fact, as we're in a church I don't mind
saying I acted very wrongly last night."
Bubbles spoke in a serious tone--more seriously, indeed, than she had
ever yet spoken to her faithful, long-suffering friend. "But a great
deal of what happens to me and round me, Bill, I can't help--I wish I
could," she said slowly.
"I don't quite understand." There was a painful choking feeling in his
throat. "Try and tell me what you mean, Bubbles."
"What I mean is clear enough"--she now spoke with a touch of impatience.
"I mean that wherever I am, _They_ come too, and gather about me. It
wasn't my fault that that horrible Thing appeared to Pegler as soon as I
entered the house."
"But why should you think the ghost Pegler saw--if she did see it--had
anything to do with you? Wyndfell Hall has been haunted for over a
hundred years--so the village people say."
"Pegler saw nothing till I came. And though I struggle against the
belief, and though I very seldom admit it, even to myself, I know quite
well, Bill, that I'm never really alone--never free of Them
unless--unless, Bill, I'm in a holy place, when they don't dare to
There was a tone of fear, of awful dread, in her voice. In spite of
himself he felt impressed.
"But why should they come specially round _you_?" he asked uneasily.
"You know as well as I do that I'm a strong medium. But I'll tell you,
Bill, something which I've never told you before."
"Yes," he said, with a strange sinking of the heart. "What's that,
"You know that Persian magician, or Wise Man, whom certain people in
London went cracked over last spring?"
"The man you _would_ go and see?"
"Yes, of course I mean that man. Well, when he saw me he made his
interpreter tell me that he had a special message for me--"
Bubbles was leaning forward now, her hands resting on Bill's shoulders.
"I wonder if I ought to tell you all he said," she whispered. "Perhaps I
ought to keep it secret."
"Of course you ought to tell me! What was the message?"
"He said that I had rent the veil, wilfully, and that I was often
surrounded by the evil demons who had come rushing through; that only by
fasting and praying could I hope to drive them back, and close the rent
which I had made."
"I shouldn't allow myself to think too much of what he said," said Bill
hoarsely. "And yet--and yet, Bubbles? There may have been something in
He spoke very earnestly, poor boy.
"Of course there was a great deal in it. But they're not always demons,"
she said slowly. "Now, for instance, as I sit here, where good, simple
people have been praying together for hundreds of years, the atmosphere
is kind and holy, not wicked and malignant, as it was last night."
She waited a moment, then began again, "I remember going into a cottage
not long ago, where an old man holds a prayer meeting every Wednesday
evening--he's a Dissenter--you know the sort of man I mean? Well, I felt
extraordinarily comforted, and _left alone_."
Her voice sank to a low whisper. "I suppose"--there came a little catch
in her voice--"I suppose, Bill, that I am what people used to call
'possessed.' In old days I should have been burnt as a witch. Sometimes
I feel as if a battle were going on round me and for me--a battle
between good and evil spirits. That was what I was feeling last night,
before you came up. I couldn't rest--I couldn't stay in bed. I felt as
if I must move about to avoid--"
"To avoid what?" he asked.
Her voice dropped. "I've been in old houses where I seemed to know
everything about every ghost!"--she tried to smile. "People don't change
when they what we call die. If they're dull and stupid, they remain dull
and stupid. But here in Wyndfell Hall, I'm frightened. I'm frightened of
Varick--I feel as if there were something secret, secret and sinister,
about him. I seem to hear the words, 'Beware--beware,' when he is
standing by me. What do _you_ think about him, Bill? There are a lot of
lying spirits about."
"I haven't thought much about Varick one way or the other," said
Donnington reluctantly. "But I should have thought he was a good
chap. See how fond Miss Farrow is of him?"
"That doesn't mean much," she said dreamily. "Blanche doesn't know
anything about human nature--she only thinks she does. She's no
spiritual vision left at all."
"I'm sorry you have that feeling about Varick," said Bill uncomfortably.
"Varick is never alone," said Bubbles slowly. "When I first arrived, and
he came out to the porch to meet me, there was Something standing by
him, which looked so real, Bill, that I thought it really was a woman of
flesh and blood. I nearly said to him, 'Who's that? Introduce me.'"
"D'you mean you think you actually see spirits, even when you're not
setting out to do so, Bubbles?" asked. Bill.
She had never said that to him before. But then this was the first time
she had ever talked to him as freely and as frankly as she was talking
"Yes, that's exactly what I do mean," she said. "It's a sort of power
that grows--and oh, Bill, I'd do anything in the world to get rid of it!
But this woman whom I saw standing by Lionel Varick in the porch was not
a spirit. She was an astral body; that is, she was alive somewhere else:
it was her thoughts--her vengeful, malicious thoughts--which brought her
"I can't believe that!" he exclaimed.
"It's true, Bill. Though I never saw an astral body before, I knew that
Thing to be one--as soon as I realized it wasn't a real woman standing
"What was she like?" he asked, impressed against his will.
"An ugly, commonplace-looking woman. But she had a powerful, determined
sort of face, and she was staring up at him with a horrible expression:
I could see that she hated him, and wished him ill--"
"Have you ever seen the--the Thing again?"
Yes, of course I have. The same astral body was there last night. It was
from her that his mother was trying to shield him."
"But you've never seen this astral body--as you call it--excepting on
those two occasions?"
Bubbles hesitated. "I've only seen her clearly twice. But during the
week that I've been here, I've often felt that she was close to Lionel
"And what's your theory about her? Why does she hate him, I mean?"
"My theory--?" the girl hesitated again. "I should think it's someone he
was fond of when he was a young man, and whom he treated badly. She's
ugly enough now--but then women do change so."
"Bubbles," he uttered her name very seriously.
"Surely you can stop yourself seeing these kind of strange, dreadful,
Bubbles did not answer all at once. And then she said: "Yes--and no,
Bill! It sometimes happens that I see what you would call a ghost
without wishing to see it; yet I confess that sometimes I _could_ stop
myself. But it excites and stimulates me! I feel a sort of longing to be
in touch with what no one else is in touch with. But I'll tell you one
thing"--she was pressing up closer to him now, and his heart was
beating.... If only this enchanted hour could go on--if only Bubbles
would continue in this gentle, sincere, confiding mood--
"Yes," he said hoarsely, "what will you tell me?"
"I never see anything bad when I'm with you. I think I saw your Guardian
Angel the other day, Bill."
He tried to laugh.
"Indeed I did! Though you are so tiresome and priggish," she whispered,
"though often, as you know, I should like to shake you, still, I know
that you've chosen the good way; that's why our ways lie so apart,
As she uttered the strange words, she had slid down, and was now lying
in his arms, her face turned up to his in the dim light....
Their ways apart? Ah, no! He caught her fiercely to his heart, and for
the first time their lips met in a long, clinging kiss.
Then, all at once, he got up and pulled Bubbles on to her feet. "We must
be going back to the house," he said, speaking with a touch of hardness
and decision which was rare in his dealings with the girl.
"Watch with me, and pray for me," she muttered--and then: "You don't
know what a comfort you are to me, Bill."
A wild wish suddenly possessed him to turn and implore her, now that she
was in this strange, gentle, yielding mood, to marry him at once--to
become his wife in secret, under any conditions that seemed good to her!
But he checked the impulse, drove it back. He felt that he would be
taking a mean advantage if he did that now. She had once said to him: "I
_must_ marry a rich man, Bill. I should make any poor man miserable."
He had never forgotten that, nor forgiven her for saying it--though he
had never believed that it was true.
Almost as if she was reading into his mind, Bubbles said wistfully: "You
won't leave off caring for me, Bill? Not even if I marry somebody else?
Not even--?" She laughed nervously, and her laugh, to Donnington a
horrible laugh, echoed through the dimly lit church. "Not even," she
repeated, "if I bring myself to marry Mr. Tapster?"
He seized her roughly by the arm. "What d'you mean, Bubbles?" he asked
"Don't do that! You hurt me--I was only joking," she said, shrinking
back. "But you are really _too_ simple, Bill. Didn't it occur to you
that Mr. Tapster had been asked here for me?"
"For you?" He uttered the words mechanically. He understood now why men
sometimes murder their sweet-hearts--for no apparent motive.
"He's not a bad sort. It isn't his fault that he's so repulsive. It
wouldn't be fair if he was as rich as that, and good-looking, and
amiable, and agreeable, as well--would it?"
They were walking down the church, and perhaps Bubbles caught a glimpse
into his heart: "I'm a beast," she exclaimed. "A beast to have spoiled
our time together in this dear old church by saying that to you about
Mr. Tapster. Try and forget it, Bill!"
He made no answer. His brain was in a whirlwind of wrath, of suspicion,
of anger, of sick jealousy. This was the real danger--not all the
nonsense that Bubbles talked about her power of raising ghosts, and of
being haunted by unquiet spirits. The real danger the girl was in now
was that of being persuaded into marrying that loathsome Tapster--for
He left her near the door while he went back to put out the lights. Then
he groped his way to where she was standing, waiting for him. In the
darkness he looked for, found, and lifted, the heavy latch. Together
they began pacing down the path between the graves in the churchyard,
and then all of a sudden he put his hand on her arm: "What's that?
Hark!" he whispered.
He seemed to hear issuing from the grand old church a confused, musical
medley of sounds--a bleating, a neighing, a lowing, even a faint
trumpeting, all mingling together and forming a strange, not unmelodious
"D'you hear anything, Bubbles?" he asked, his heart beating, his face,
in the darkness, all aglow.
"No, nothing," she answered back, surprised. "We must hurry, Bill. We're
late as it is."
It had been Bubbles' happy idea that the children of the tiny hamlet
which lay half-a-mile from Wyndfell Hall, should have a Christmas tree.
Hers, also, that the treat for the children was to be combined with the
distribution of a certain amount of coal and of other creature comforts
to the older folk.
All the arrangements with regard to this double function had been made
before the party at Wyndfell Hall had been gathered together. But still,
there were all sorts of last things to be thought of, and Lionel Varick
and Bubbles became quite chummy over the affair.
Blanche Farrow was secretly amused to note with what zest her friend
threw himself into the role of country squire. She thought it a trifle
absurd, the more so that, as a matter of fact, the people of Wyndfell
Green were not his tenants, for he had only a life interest in the house
itself. But Varick was determined to have a good, old-fashioned country
Christmas; and he was seconded in his desire not only by Bubbles, but by
Helen Brabazon, who entered into everything with an almost childish
eagerness. Indeed, the doings on Christmas Day brought her and Bubbles
together, too. They began calling each other by their Christian names,
and soon the simple-minded heiress became as if bewitched by the other
"She's a wonderful creature," she confided to that same wonderful girl's
aunt. "I've never known anyone in the least like Bubbles! At first I
confess I thought her very odd--she almost repelled me. But now I can
see what a kind, good heart she has, and I do hope she'll let me be her
"I think you would be a very good friend for Bubbles," answered Blanche
pleasantly. "You're quite right as to one thing, Miss Brabazon--she has
a very kind, warm heart. She loves to give people pleasure. She's quite
delightful with children."
The speaker felt that it would indeed be a good thing if Bubbles could
attach herself to such a simple yet sensible friend as was this
enormously rich girl. "And if you really like Bubbles," went on Blanche
Farrow deliberately, "then I should like just to tell you one or two
things about her."
Helen became all eager, pleased attention. "Yes?" she exclaimed. "I wish
you would! Bubbles interests me more than anyone I ever met."
"I want to tell you that I and Bubbles' father very much regret her
going in for all that--that occultism, I believe it's called."
"But you and Mr. Varick both think it's only thought-reading," said
Blanche felt rather surprised. It was acute and clever of the girl to
have said that. But no doubt Miss Burnaby had repeated their
"Yes; I personally think it's only thought-reading. Still, it's
thought-reading carried very far. The kind of power Bubbles showed the
night before last seems to me partly hypnotic, and that's why I
disapprove of it so strongly."
"I agree," said Helen thoughtfully. "It was much more than ordinary
thought-reading. And I suppose that it's true that she thought she saw
the--the spirits she described so wonderfully?"
"I doubt if even she thought she actually saw them. I think she only
perceived each image in the mind of the person to whom she was
"I suppose," asked Helen hesitatingly, "that you haven't the slightest
belief in ghosts, Miss Farrow?"
"No, I haven't the slightest belief in ghosts," Blanche smiled. "But I
do believe that if a person thinks sufficiently hard about it, he or she
can almost evolve the figure of a ghost. I think that's what happened to
my maid the other night. Pegler's a most sensible person, yet she's
quite convinced that she saw the ghost of the woman who is believed to
have killed her little stepson in the room next to that in which I am
And then as she saw a rather peculiar look flit over her companion's
face, she added quickly: "D'you think that you have seen anything since
you've been here, Miss Brabazon?"
Helen hesitated. "No," she said. "I haven't exactly seen anything.
But--well, the truth is, Miss Farrow, that I do feel sometimes as if
Wyndfell Hall was haunted by the spirit of my poor friend Milly, Mr.
Varick's wife. Perhaps I feel as I do because, of course, I know that
this strange and beautiful old house was once her home. It's pathetic,
isn't it, to see how very little remains of her here? One might, indeed,
say that nothing remains of her at all! I haven't even been able to find
out which was her room; and I've often wondered in the last two days
whether she generally sat in the hall or in that lovely little
"I can tell you one thing," said Blanche rather shortly, "that is that
there is a room in this house called 'the schoolroom.' It's between the
dining-room and the servants' offices. I believe it was there that Miss
Fauncey, as the people about here still call her, used to do her
lessons, with a rather disagreeable woman rejoicing in the extraordinary
name of Pigchalke, who lived on with her till she married."
"That horrible, horrible woman!" exclaimed Helen. "Of course I know
about _her_. She adored poor Milly. But she was an awful tyrant to her
all the same. She actually wrote to me some time ago. It was such an odd
letter--quite a mad letter, in fact. It struck me as so queer that
before answering it I sent it on to Mr. Varick. She wanted to see me, to
talk to me about poor Milly's last illness. She has a kind of crazy
hatred of Mr. Varick. Of course I got out of seeing her. Luckily we were
just starting for Strathpeffer. I put her off--I didn't actually refuse.
I said I couldn't see her then, but that I would write to her later."
"Lionel mentioned her to me the other day. He allows her a hundred a
year," said Blanche indifferently.
"How very good of him!" in a very different tone of voice she said
musingly: "I have sometimes wondered if the room I'm sleeping in now was
that in which Milly slept as a girl. Sometimes I feel as if she was
close to me, trying to speak to me--it's a most queer, uncanny, horrid
kind of feeling!"
* * * * *
Blanche and Bubbles knew from experience that Christmas Day in the
country is not invariably a pleasant day; but they had thought out every
arrangement to make it "go" as well as was possible. They were all to
have a sort of early tea, and then those who felt like it would proceed
to the village schoolroom, and help with the Christmas Treat.
An important feature of the proceedings was to be a short speech by
Lionel Varick. Blanche had found, to her surprise and amusement, that he
had set his heart on making it. He wanted to get into touch with his
poorer neighbours--not only in a material sense, by distributing gifts
of beef and blankets; that he had already arranged to do--but in a
closer, more human sense. No one she had ever known desired more
ardently to be liked than did the new owner of Wyndfell Hall.
The programme was carried out to the letter. They all drank a cup of tea
standing in the hall when dressed ready for their expedition. Everyone
was happy, everyone was in a good humour--excepting, perhaps, Bill
Donnington. The few words Bubbles had said concerning Mr. Tapster had
frightened, as well as angered him. He watched the unattractive
millionaire with jealous eyes. It was only too clear that Bubbles had
fascinated James Tapster, as she generally did all dull and
unimaginative people. But Donnington, perforce, had to keep his jealous
feelings to himself; and after they had all reached the school-room of
the pretty, picturesque little village, he found he had far too much to
do in helping to serve the hungry children and their parents with the
feast provided for them, to have time for private feelings of fear,
jealousy and pain.
A small platform had been erected across one end of the room. But the
programme of the proceedings which were to take place thereon only
contained two items. The first of these took most of the Wyndfell Hall
house-party completely by surprise; for Bubbles and her aunt had kept
their secret well.
Tables had been pushed aside, benches put end to end; the whole
audience, with Lionel Varick's guests in front, were seated, when
suddenly there leapt on to the platform the strangest and most
fantastic-looking little figure imaginable!
For a moment no one, except Bill Donnington, guessed who or what the
figure was. There came a great clapping of hands and stamping of
feet--for, of course, it was Bubbles! Bubbles dressed up as a witch--red
cloak, high peaked hat, short multi-coloured skirt, high boots and
When the applause had died down, she recited a quaint little poem of her
own composition, wishing all there present the best of luck in the
coming year. And then she executed a kind of fantastic _pas seul_,
skimming hither and thither across the tiny stage.
Everyone watched her breathlessly: Donnington with mingled admiration,
love, and jealous disapproval; James Tapster with a feeling that perhaps
the time had come for him to allow himself to be "caught" at last; Helen
Brabazon with wide-eyed, kindly envy of the other girl's cleverness;
Varick with a queer feeling of growing suspicion and dislike.
Finally, Bubbles waved her broom-stick, and more than one of those
present imagined that they saw the light, airy-looking little figure
flying across the hall, and so out of a window--.
The whole performance did not last five minutes, and yet few of those
who were present ever forgot it. It was so strange, so uncanny, so
vivid. Bill Donnington heard one of the village women behind him say:
"There now! Did you ever see the like? She was the sort they burnt in
the old days, and I don't wonder, either."
After this exciting performance the appearance of "the squire," as some
of the village people were already beginning to call him, did not
produce, perhaps, quite the sensation it might have done had he been the
first instead of the second item on the programme. But as he stood
there, a fine figure of a man, his keen, good-looking face lit up with a
very agreeable expression of kindliness and of good-will, a wave of
appreciation seemed to surge towards him from the body of the hall.
Poor Milly's father had been the sort of landowner--to the honour of
England be it said the species has ever been comparatively rare--who
regarded his tenants as of less interest than the livestock on his home
farm. What he had done for them he had done grudgingly; but it was even
now clear to them all that in the new squire they had a very different
kind of gentleman.
Varick was moved and touched--far more so than any of those present
realized. The scene before him--this humble little school-room, and the
simple people standing there--meant to him the fulfilment of a life-long
dream. And that was not all. As he was hesitating for his first word,
his eyes rested on the front bench of his audience, and he saw Helen
Brabazon's eager, guileless face, upturned to his, full of interest and
He also felt himself in touch with the others there. Blanche, looking
her own intelligent, dignified, pleasant self, was a goodly sight. Sir
Lyon Dilsford, too, was in the picture; but Varick felt a sudden pang of
sympathy for the landless baronet. Sir Lyon would have made such a
good, conscientious squire; he was the kind of man who would have helped
the boys to get on in the world--the girls, if need be, to make happy
marriages. James Tapster looked rather out of it all; he looked his
apathetic, sulky self--a man whom nothing would ever galvanize into real
good-fellowship. How could so intelligent a woman as Blanche think that
any money could compensate a clever, high-spirited girl like Bubbles for
marrying a James Tapster? Varick was glad Bubbles was not "in front."
She was probably divesting herself of that extraordinary witch costume
of hers behind the little curtained aperture to his left.
And then, all at once, he realized that Bubbles was among his audience
after all! She was sitting by herself, on a little stool just below the
platform. He suddenly saw her head, with its shock of dark-brown hair,
and there came over him a slight feeling of discomfort. Bubbles had
worked like a Trojan. All this could not have happened but for her; and
yet--and yet Varick again told himself that he could very well have
dispensed with Bubbles from his Christmas house party. There was growing
up, in his dark, secretive heart, an unreasoning, violent dislike to the
All these disconnected thoughts flashed through his mind in something
under half-a-minute, and then Varick made his pleasant little speech,
welcoming the people there, and saying he hoped there would ensue a long
and pleasant connection between them.
There was a great deal more stamping of feet and handclapping, and then
gradually the company, gentle and simple, dispersed.
Miss Farrow still had long and luxuriant hair, and perhaps the
pleasantest half-hour in each day had come to be that half-hour just
before she dressed for dinner, when Pegler, with gentle, skilful
fingers, brushed and combed her mistress's beautiful tresses, and
finally dressed them to the best advantage.
On Christmas night this daily ceremony had been put off till Miss
Farrow's bed-time, when, after a quiet, short evening, the party had
broken up on the happiest terms with one another.
As Blanche sat down, and her maid began taking the hairpins out of her
hair, she told herself with a feeling of gratification that this had
been one of the pleasantest Christmas days she had ever spent.
Everything had gone off so well, and she could see that Varick had
enjoyed every moment of it, from his surprise distribution of little
gifts to his guests at breakfast, to the last warm, grateful hand-shake
on the landing outside her door.
"Were you in the school-room, Pegler?" she asked kindly. "It was really
rather charming, wasn't it? Everyone happy--the children and the old
people especially. And they all _so_ enjoyed Miss Bubbles' dressing up
as a witch!"
"Why, yes," said Pegler grudgingly. "It was all very nice, ma'am, in a
way, and, as you say, it all went off very well. But there's a queer
rumour got about already, ma'am."
"A queer rumour? What d'you mean, Pegler?"
"Quite a number of the village folk say that Mr. Varick's late lady, the
one who used to live here--" Pegler stopped speaking suddenly, and went
on brushing her mistress's hair more vigorously.
"Yes, Pegler?"--Miss Farrow spoke with a touch of impatience. "What
about Mrs. Lionel Varick?"
"Well, ma'am, I don't suppose you'll credit it, but quite a number of
them do say that her sperrit was there during this afternoon. One woman
I spoke to, who was school-room maid here a matter of twenty years back,
said she saw her as clear as clear, up on the platform, wearing the sort
of grey dress she used to wear when she was a girl, ma'am, when her
father was still alive. None of the men seem to have seen her--but quite
a number of the women did. The post-mistress says she could have sworn
to her anywhere."
"What absolute nonsense!"
Blanche felt shocked as well as vexed.
"It was when Mr. Varick was making that speech of his," said Pegler
slowly. "If you'll pardon me, ma'am, for saying so, it don't seem
nonsense to me. After what I've seen myself, I can believe anything.
Seeing is believing, ma'am."
"People's eyes very often betray them, Pegler. Haven't you sometimes
looked at a thing and thought it something quite different from what it
"Yes, I have," acknowledged Pegler reluctantly. "And of course, the
lighting was very bad. Some of the people hope that Mr. Varick's going
to bring electric light into the village--d'you think he'll do that,
"No," said Miss Farrow decidedly. "I shouldn't think there's a hope of
it. The village doesn't really belong to him, Pegler. It was wonderfully
kind of him to give what he did give to-day, to a lot of people with
whom he has really nothing to do at all."
And then, after her maid had gone, Blanche lay in bed, and stared into
the still bright fire. Her brain seemed abnormally active, and she found
it impossible to go to sleep. What a curious, uncanny, uncomfortable
story--that of "poor Milly's" ghost appearing on the little platform of
the village school-room! There seems no measure, even in these
enlightened days, to what people will say and believe.
And then there flashed across her a recollection of the fact that
Bubbles had been there, sitting just below Lionel Varick. Strange,
half-forgotten stories of Indian magic--of a man hung up in chains
padlocked by British officers, and then, a moment later, that same man,
freed, standing in their midst, the chains rattling together,
empty--floated through Blanche Farrow's mind. Was it possible that
Bubbles possessed uncanny powers--powers which had something to do with
the immemorial magic of the immemorial East?
Blanche had once heard the phenomenon of the vanishing rope trick
discussed at some length between a number of clever people. She had paid
very little attention to what had been said at the time, but she now
strained her memory to recapture the sense of the words which had been
uttered. One of the men present, a distinguished scientist, had actually
seen the trick done. He had seen an Indian swarm up the rope and
disappear--into thin air! What had he called it? Collective hypnotism?
Yes, that was the expression he had used. Some such power Bubbles
certainly possessed, and perhaps to-day she had chosen to exercise it by
recalling to the minds of those simple village folk the half-forgotten
figure of the one-time mistress of Wyndfell Hall. If she had really done
this, Bubbles had played an ungrateful, cruel trick on Lionel Varick.
Blanche at last dropped off to sleep, but Pegler's ridiculous yet
sinister story had spoilt the pleasant memories of her day, and even her
night, for she slept badly, and awoke unrefreshed.
There are few places in a civilized country more desolate than a big,
empty country railway station: such a station as that at Newmarket--an
amusing, bustling sight on a race day; strangely still and deserted,
even on a fine summer day, when there's nothing doing in the famous
little town; and, in the depth of winter, extraordinarily forlorn. The
solitariness and the desolation were very marked on the early afternoon
of New Year's Eve which saw Varick striding up and down the deserted
platform waiting for Dr. Panton, and Dr. Panton's inseparable companion,
a big, ugly, intelligent spaniel called Span.
Varick had more than one reason to be grateful to the young medical man
with whom Fate had once thrown him into such close contact; and so this
last spring, when Panton had had to be in London for a few days, Varick
had taken a deal of trouble to ensure that the country doctor should
have a good time. But his own pleasure in his friend's company had been
somewhat spoilt by something Panton had then thought it right to tell
him. This something was that his late wife's one-time companion, Miss
Pigchalke, had gone to Redsands, and, seeking out the doctor, had tried
to force him to say that poor Mrs. Varick had been ill-treated--or if
not exactly ill-treated, then neglected--by her husband, during her last
"I wouldn't have told you, but that I think you ought to know that the
woman has an inexplicable grudge against you," he had said.
"Not inexplicable," Varick had answered quietly. "For Julia Pigchalke
first came as governess to Wyndfell Hall when my wife was ten years old,
and she stayed on with her ultimately as companion--in fact as more
friend than companion. Of course I queered her pitch!"
And then, rather hesitatingly, he had gone on to tell Dr. Panton that he
was now paying his enemy an annuity of a hundred a year. This had been
left to Miss Pigchalke in an early will made by his poor wife, but it
had not been repeated in the testatrix's final will, as Mrs. Varick had
fiercely resented Miss Pigchalke's violent disapproval of her marriage.
Panton had been amazed to hear of Varick's quite uncalled-for
generosity, and he had exclaimed, "Well, that does take the cake! I wish
I'd known this before. Still, I don't think Miss Pigchalke will forget
in a hurry what I said to her. I warned her that some of the things she
said, or half-said, were libellous, and that it might end very badly for
her if she said them again. She took the line that I, being a doctor,
was privileged--but I assured her that I was nothing of the kind! Still,
she's a venomous old woman, and if I were you I'd write her a
That little conversation, which had taken place more than six months
ago, came back, word for word, to Varick's mind, as he walked sharply up
and down the platform, trying to get warm. It was strange how Miss
Pigchalke and her vigorous, unpleasant personality haunted him. But he
had found in his passbook only this morning that she had already cashed
his last cheque for fifty pounds. Surely she couldn't, in decency, go
on with this half-insane kind of persecution if she accepted what was,
after all, his free and generous gift every six months?
* * * * *
The train came steaming in, and only three passengers got out. But among
them was the man for whom Varick was waiting. And, at the sight of the
lithe, alert figure of Dr. Panton, and of the one-time familiar form of
good old Span, Varick's troubled, uncomfortable thoughts took wings to
themselves and flew away.
The two men's hands met in a firm, friendly grasp. "This _is_ jolly,"
said the younger of the two, as they walked out to the big car. "And I'm
ever so much obliged to you for letting me bring Span!"
And Panton did think it very jolly of Varick to have left his guests,
and come all this way through the cold to meet him. It was good of him,
too, to have let him bring his dog.
As they drove slowly through the picturesque High Street of the famous
town, Varick's friend looked about him with keen interest and enjoyment.
He had an eager, intelligent, alert mind, and he had never been to
Once they got clear of the town, and were speeding through the pleasant,
typically English country lanes which give Suffolk a peculiarly soothing
charm Span (who was a rather large liver-and-white spaniel), lying
stretched out sedately at their feet, Varick suddenly asked carelessly:
"No more news of my enemy, Miss Pigchalke, I suppose?"
Panton turned to him quickly in the rushing wind: "Yes, something _has_
happened. But I didn't think it worth writing to you about. An
extraordinary advertisement appeared about a month ago in one of the
popular Sunday papers, and Mrs. Bilton--you remember the woman--?"
Varick shook his head. He looked exceedingly disturbed and annoyed, and
the man now sitting by his side suddenly regretted that he had said
anything about that absurd advertisement.
"Mrs. Bilton was the woman whom I recommended to you as a charwoman,
soon after you were settled down at Redsands."
"Yes, I remember the name now. What of her?"
"She came up to see me one evening about a month ago, and she brought
the paper--the _News of the World_ I think it was--with her."
"Yes," said Varick shortly. "Yes--go on, Panton. What was in the
"The advertisement simply asked for information about you and your
doings, past and present, and offered a reward for any information of
importance. It was very oddly worded. What I should call an amateur
advertisement. Mrs. Bilton came up to consult me as to whether she
should write in answer to it. Of course I strongly advised her to do
nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact"--Dr. Panton chuckled--"I have
reason to believe she _did_ write, but I need hardly say that, as far as
she was concerned, nothing came of it!"
"I wish you could remember exactly how the advertisement was worded?"
said Varick. It was clear that he felt very much disturbed.
"I'm sorry I didn't keep a copy of it; all I can tell you is that it
asked for information concerning the past life and career of Lionel
Varick, _sometime of Redsands and Chichester._"
"Chichester?" repeated Varick mechanically.
The name of the Sussex cathedral town held for him many painful, sordid
memories. His first wife, the woman whose very existence he believed
unknown to everyone who now knew him, with the exception of Blanche
Farrow, had been a Chichester woman. It was there that they had lived in
poverty and angry misery during the last few weeks of her life.
"Yes, that's all I remember--but I've put it more clearly than the
"What an extraordinary thing!" muttered Varick.
"I don't know that it's so very extraordinary. It was that woman
Pigchalke's doing, obviously. As I told you the last time we met, I felt
that she would stick at nothing to annoy you. She's quite convinced that
you're an out-and-out villain."
Dr. Panton laughed. He really couldn't help it. Varick was such a
thoroughly good fellow!
"I wonder," said Varick hesitatingly, "if I could get a copy of that
Sunday paper? I feel that it's the sort of thing that ought to be
stopped--don't you, Panton?"
"I'm quite sure it didn't appear again in the same paper, or I should
have heard of it again. That one particular copy did end by going the
whole round of Redsands. I went on hearing about it for, I should
think,--well, right up to when I left home."
A rush of blind, unreasoning rage was shaking Varick. Curse the woman!
What a brute she must be, to take his money, and go on annoying him in
this way. "I wish you'd written and told me about it when it happened,"
he said sombrely.
The doctor looked at him, distressed. "I'm sorry I didn't, if you feel
like that about it!" he exclaimed. "But you were so put out when I told
you of the woman's having come to see me, and it was so obvious that the
advertisement came from her, that I thought I'd say nothing about it. I
wouldn't have told you now, only that you mentioned her."
Varick saw that his friend was very much disturbed. He made a determined
effort over himself. "Never mind," he said, trying to smile. "After all,
it's of no real consequence."
"I don't know if you'll find it any consolation to be told that that
sort of thing is by no means uncommon," said Panton reflectively.
"People, especially women, whose minds for any reason have become just a
little unhinged, often take that sort of strange dislike to another
human being. Sometimes for no reason at all. Every medical man would
tell you of half-a-dozen such cases within his own knowledge.
Fortunately, such half-insane people generally choose a noted man--the
Prime Minister, for instance, or whoever happens to be very much in the
public eye. If the persecution becomes quite intolerable there's a
police-court case--or the individual is quite properly certified as
And then something peculiar and untoward happened to Lionel Varick. The
words rose to his lips: "That horrible woman haunts me--haunts me! I can
never get rid of her--she seems always there--"
Had he uttered those words aloud, or had he not? He glanced sharply
round, and then, with relief, he made up his mind that he had _not_
uttered them, for the man sitting by his side was looking straight
before him, with a pleased, interested expression on his plain,
Varick pulled himself together. This would never do! He asked himself,
with a touch of acute anxiety, whether it were possible that he was
losing his nerve? He had always possessed the valuable human gift of
being able to control, absolutely, his secret feelings and his emotions.
"Did I tell you that Miss Brabazon is here?" he asked carelessly.
And the other exclaimed: "I'm glad of that. I formed a tremendously high
opinion of that girl last year. By the way, I was surprised to hear,
quite by accident, the other day, that she's a lot of money. I don't
quite know why, but I formed the impression that it was her friend who
was well-to-do--didn't you?"
"I never thought about it," said Varick indifferently. "By the way, Miss
Brabazon's old aunt, a certain Miss Burnaby, is here too. It's rather a
quiet party, Panton; I hope you won't be bored."
"I'm never bored. Who else have you got staying with you?"
Varick ran over the list of his guests, only leaving out one, and, after
a scarcely perceptible pause, he remedied the omission.
"Then there's Miss Farrow's niece; she was called after her aunt, so her
real name is Blanche--"
"'Known to her friends as Bubbles,'" quoted Dr. Panton, with a cynical
inflection in his voice.
"How do you know that?" exclaimed Varick.
"Because there was a portrait of the young lady in the _Sketch_ last
week. She seems to be a kind of feminine edition of the Admirable
Crichton. She can act, dance, cook--and she's famed as a medium in the
psychic world--whatever that may mean!"
"I see you know all about her," observed Varick, smiling.
But though he was smiling at his friend, his inner thoughts were grim
thoughts. He was secretly repeating to himself: "Chichester, Chichester?
How can she have got hold of _Chichester_?"
Dr. Panton went on: "I'm glad I'm going to meet this Miss Bubbles--I've
never met that particular type of young lady before. Though, of course,
it's not, as some people believe, a new type. There have always been
girls of that sort in the civilized world."
"It's quite true that the most curious thing about Bubbles," said Varick
thoughtfully, "is a kind of thought-reading gift. I fancy she must have
inherited it from an Indian ancestress, for her great-great-grandfather
rescued a begum on her way to be burnt on her husband's funeral pyre. He
ultimately married her, and though she never came to England. Bubbles'
father, a fool called Hugh Dunster, who's lost what little money he ever
had, is one of her descendants. There's something just a little Oriental
and strange in Bubbles' appearance."
"This is 'curiouser and curiouser,' as Alice in Wonderland used to say!"
exclaimed Panton. "Do you think I could persuade Miss Bubbles to give an
exhibition of her psychic gifts?"
The speaker uttered the word "psychic" with a very satiric inflection in
his pleasant voice.
Varick smiled rather wryly. "You're quite likely to have an exhibition
of them without asking for it! The first evening that my guests were
here she held what I believe they call a seance, and as a result Miss
Brabazon's uncle, old Burnaby, not only bolted from the room, but left
Wyndfell Hall the next morning."
"What an extraordinary thing!"
"Yes," said Varick, "it _was_ an extraordinary thing. I confess I can't
explain Bubbles' gift at all. At this seance of hers she described quite
accurately long dead men and women--"
"Are you sure of that, Varick?"
"Of course I am, for she described my own mother."
There was a pause.
"Being a very intelligent, quick girl, she naturally helps herself out
as best she can," went on Varick reflectively.
"Then you're inclined to think her thought-reading is more or less a
fraud?" cried Panton triumphantly.
"Less, rather than more, for she's convinced me that she sees into the
minds of her subjects and builds up a kind of--of--"
"Description?" suggested the doctor.
"More than that--I was going to say figure. She described, as if she saw
them standing there before her, people of whom she'd never even
heard--and the descriptions were absolutely exact. But if you don't
He hesitated, and the other said, "Yes, Varick?"
"Well, I'd rather you leave all that sort of thing alone, as far as
Bubbles Dunster is concerned. Both Miss Farrow and I are very anxious
that she shouldn't be up to any more of her tricks while she's here.
People don't half like it, you see. Even _I_ didn't like it."
Somehow it was a comfort to Varick to talk freely about Bubbles to a
stranger--Bubbles had got on his nerves. He would have given a good deal
to persuade her to leave Wyndfell Hall; but he didn't know how to set
about it. In a sense she was the soul of the party. The others all liked
her. Yet he, himself, felt a sort of growing repugnance to her which he
would have been hard put to it to explain. Indeed, the only way he could
explain it--and he had thought a good deal about it the last few
days--was that she undoubtedly possessed an uncanny power of starting
into life images which had lain long dormant in his brain.
For one thing--but that, of course, might not be entirely Bubbles'
fault--Milly, his poor wife, had become again terribly real to him. It
was almost as if he felt her to be alive, say, in the next room--lying,
as she had been wont to lie, listening for his footsteps, in the little
watering place where they had spent the last few weeks of her life.
He could not but put down that unpleasant, sinister phenomenon to the
presence of Bubbles, for he had been at Wyndfell Hall all the summer,
and though the place had been Milly's birthplace--where, too, she had
spent her melancholy, dull girlhood--no thought of her had ever come to
disturb his pleasure in the delightful, perfect house and its enchanting
garden. Of course, now and again some neighbour with whom he had made
acquaintance would say a word to him indicating what a strange, solitary
life the Faunceys, father and daughter, had led in their beautiful home,
and how glad the speaker was that "poor Milly" had had a little
happiness before she died. To these remarks he, Varick, would of course
answer appropriately, with that touch of sad reminiscence which carries
with it no real regret or sorrow.
But during the last few days it had been otherwise. He could not get
Milly out of his mind, and he had come to feel that if this peculiar
sensation continued, he would not be able to bring himself to stay on at
Wyndfell Hall after the break-up of his present party.
This feeling of his dead wife's presence had first become intolerably
vivid in the village school-room during the children's Christmas Day
treat. At one time--so the clergyman had told him--Milly had had a
sewing-class for the village girls in that very room; but the class had
not been a success, and she had given it up after a few weeks. That was
her only association with the ugly little building, and yet--and yet,
once he had got well into his speech, he had suddenly _felt her to be
there_--and it was not the gentle, fretful, adoring Milly he had known,
but a Presence which seemed filled with an awful, clear-eyed knowledge
of certain secret facts which his reasoning faculties assured him were
only known to his own innermost self.
A turn in the road brought them within sight of Wyndfell Hall,
and--"What a singular, wonderful-looking old place!" exclaimed Dr.
And, indeed, there was something mysteriously alluring in the long,
gabled building standing almost, as it were, on an island, among the
high trees which formed a screen to the house on the north and east
sides. It was something solemn, something appealing--like a melodious,
plaintive voice from the long-distant past, out of that Old Country
which was the England of six hundred years ago.
"You've no idea how beautiful this place is in summer, Panton--and yet
the spring is almost more perfect. You must come again then, and make a
really good, long stay."
"Span will enjoy a swim in the moat even now," said the doctor, smiling.
They were going slowly over the narrow brick bridge, and so up to the
A butler and footman appeared as if by magic, and the sound of laughing
voices floated from behind them. There was a pleasant stir of life and
bustle about the delightful old house, or so it seemed to the guest.
He jumped out of the car behind his host, then he turned round. "Span!"
he called out. "Span!"
But the dog was still lying on the floor of the car, and he made no
movement, still less any attempt to jump down.
"What an extraordinary thing!" exclaimed Span's master. "Come down,
Span! Come down at once!"
He waited a moment; then he went forward and tried to drag the dog out.
But Span resisted with all his might. He was a big spaniel, and Panton,
from where he stood, had no purchase on him. "There's something wrong
with him," he said with concern. "Wait a moment, Varick--if you don't
He got up into the car again and patted Span's head. The dog turned his
head slowly, and licked his master's hand.
"Now, Span, jump out! There's a good dog!"
But Span never moved.
At last Panton managed to half-shove, half-tumble the dog out. "I've
only known him behave like this once before," he muttered, "and that was
with a poor mad woman whom I was once compelled to put up in my house
for two or three days. He simply wouldn't go near her! He behaved just
as he's doing now."
Span was lying on the ground before them, inert, almost as if dead. But
his eyes, his troubled, frightened eyes, were very much alive.
Varick went off into the house for a moment. He had never liked dogs;
and this ugly brute's behaviour, so he told himself, annoyed him very
Span got up and shook himself, almost as if he had been asleep.
Panton bent down. "Span," he said warningly, "be a good dog and behave
yourself! Remember what happened to you after the poor lunatic lady went
And Span looked up with that peculiar, thoughtful look which dogs
sometimes have of understanding everything which is being said to them.
Span had been beaten--a very rare experience for him--after the mad lady
had left the doctor's house. But whether he understood or not the exact
reference to that odious episode in his happy past life, there was no
doubt that Span did understand that his master regarded him as being in
disgrace; and it was a very subdued dog that walked sedately into the
hall where most of the party were gathered together ready to greet the
Miss Farrow was particularly cordial, and so was Helen Brabazon. She and
Dr. Panton had become real friends during Mrs. Varick's illness, and
they had been at one in their affection for, and admiration of, Lionel
Varick during that piteous time. To the doctor (though he would not have
admitted it, even to himself, for the world) there had been something
very repugnant about the dying woman. Though still young in years, she
might have been any age; and she was so fretful and so selfish, hardly
allowing her husband out of her sight, while utterly devoted to him, of
course, in her queer, egoistic way--and to Miss Brabazon, her kind new
friend. The doctor had soon realized that it was the pity which is akin
to love which had made Helen become so attached to poor Milly
Varick--intense pity for the unhappy soul who was going to lose her
new-found happiness. Milly's pathetic cry: "I never had a girl friend
before. You can't think how happy it makes me!" had touched Helen to the
Standing there, in that noble old room hung with some beautiful
tapestries forming a perfect background to the life and colour which was
now filling it, Panton was surprised to find how vividly those memories
of last autumn came surging back to him. It must be owing to this
meeting with Miss Brabazon--this reunion with the two people with whom
he had gone through an experience which, though it so often befalls a
kind and sympathetic doctor, yet never loses its poignancy--that he was
thinking now so intensely of poor Mrs. Varick.
It was Helen Brabazon who had introduced the new-comer to Miss Farrow,
for Varick had disappeared, and soon Dr. Panton was looking round him
with interest and curiosity. Most of the people whom he knew to be
staying at Wyndfell Hall were present, but not the girl his friend had
described--not the girl, that is, whose portrait he had seen in the
_Sketch_. Just as he was telling himself this, a door opened, and two
people came through together--a tall, fair, smiling young man, and a
quaint, slender figure, looking like a child rather than like a woman,
whose pale, yet vivid little face was framed in thick, dark brown,
bobbed hair, and whose large, bright eyes gleamed mischievously.
Bubbles had chosen to put on this afternoon a long, rose-red knitted
jumper over a yellow skirt, and she looked as if she had stepped out
from some ancient Spanish religious procession.
"Bubbles," called out her aunt, "this is Dr. Panton. Come and be
introduced to him."
Then something very odd happened. Varick joined his new guest at the
very same moment that the girl came forward with hand outstretched and a
polite word of welcome on her lips; but, before she could speak, Span,
who had been behaving with so sedate a dignity that the people present
were scarcely conscious of his existence, gave a sudden loud and
His master, disregarding Bubbles' outstretched hand, seized the dog by
the collar, rushed with him to the door giving on to the porch, and
thrust him out into the cold and darkness.
Span remained quite quiet when on the wrong side of the door. There
might have been no dog there.
"I'm so sorry," said Panton apologetically, as he came again towards the
tea-table. "I can't think what's the matter with the poor brute. He's
almost perfect manners as a rule."
He turned to Miss Brabazon, who laughingly exclaimed: "Yes, indeed!
Span's such an old friend of mine that I feel quite hurt. I thought he
would be sure to take some notice of me; but I didn't even know he was
there till he set up that awful, unearthly howl."
"I think it's very cruel to have turned the dog out into the cold,"
Bubbles said in her quick, decided way. "There's nothing about dogs I
don't know, Doctor--Doctor--"
"--Panton," he said shortly.
"Oh, Panton? May I go out to him, Dr. Panton?" There was a challenge in
Panton answered stiffly: "By all means. But Span's not always pleasant
with complete strangers; and he prefers men, Miss Dunster."
"I think he'll be all right with me."
Bubbles went and opened the door, and a moment later they heard her low,
throaty voice talking caressingly to the dog. Span whined, but in a
gentle, happy way.
"He's quite good now," she called out triumphantly.
Varick turned to the company: "Will you forgive me for a moment?" he
said. "I forgot to say a word to my chauffeur about our plans for
to-morrow." And as he went through one door, Bubbles, followed by the
now good and repentant Span, appeared through another.
"He's a darling," she cried enthusiastically. "One of the nicest dogs
I've ever met!"
She sat down, and endeared herself further to Span by giving him a large
piece of cake.
And Dr. Panton, looking at the charming group--for the lithe,
dark-haired girl in her brilliant, quaint garment, and the dog over
which she was bending, made a delightful group--told himself grudgingly
that Miss Bubbles was curiously attractive: far more attractive-looking
than he would have thought her to be by the portrait published in the
_Sketch_--though even that had been sufficiently arresting to remain in
his mind for two or three days. Was there really something Eastern about
her appearance? He would never have thought it but for those few words
of Varick's. Many English girls have that clear olive complexion, those
large, shadowy dark eyes, which yet can light up into daring, fun, and
But, alas! the story of Span--even this early chapter of the story of
his stay at Wyndfell Hall--had not a happy ending. As Varick came
forward again among his guests, Span once more set up that sharp,
uncanny howl, and this time he cringed and shivered, as well as howled.
Span's master, with an angry exclamation, again dragged the now
resisting dog across to the door which led into the outer porch. After
he had shut the door, and Span's howls were heard subsiding, he turned
to the others apologetically. "I'm really awfully sorry," he exclaimed.
"If this sort of thing goes on I'll have to send him home to-morrow."
Poor Panton looked thoroughly put out and annoyed. But Bubbles came to
his rescue--Bubbles and the young man whom the doctor now knew to be
"Come on, Bill! We'll take him round to the kitchen. You don't mind, do
Span's owner shook his head; devoted though he was to his dog, he felt
he could well do without Span for a while.
After Bubbles and Donnington had disappeared together, their eager
voices could be heard from the paved court-yard which connected two of
the wings of Wyndfell Hall. Span was barking now, barking eagerly,
happily, confidently. And when the two young people reappeared they were
"He's taken to the cook tremendously," said Bubbles. "And he's even made
friends--and that's much more wonderful--with the cat. He went straight
up to her and smelt her, and she seemed to be quite pleased with the
She turned to Dr. Panton: "I'll go out presently and see how he's
getting on," she added.
He looked at her gratefully. She really was a nice girl! He had thought
that she would be one of those disagreeable, forward, self-sufficing,
modern young women, who are absorbed only in themselves, and in the
effect they produce on other people. But Miss Bubbles was not in the
least like that.
Helen Brabazon whispered, smiling: "Isn't Bubbles Dunster a dear, Dr.
Panton? She's not like anyone I ever met before--and that makes her all
the nicer, doesn't it?"
About an hour after Dr. Panton's arrival, the whole of the party was
more or less scattered through the delightful old house, with the
exception of Lionel Varick, who had gone off to the village by himself.