Part 3 out of 4
to the house, discussing a great canonisation service at St. Peter's and
the Pope's personal part in it.
* * * * *
The old Hall, as Helbeck and Father Leadham approached it, looked down
upon a scene of animation to which in these latter days it was but little
accustomed. The green spaces and gravelled walks in front of it were
sprinkled with groups of children in a blue-and-white uniform. Three or
four Sisters of Mercy in their winged white caps moved about among them,
and some of the children hung clustered like bees about the Sisters'
skirts, while others ran here and there, gleefully picking the scattered
daffodils that starred the grass.
The invaders came from the Orphanage of St. Ursula, a house founded by
Mr. Helbeck's exertions, which lay half-way between Bannisdale and
Whinthorpe. They had not long arrived, and were now waiting for Rosary
and Benediction in the chapel before they were admitted to the tea which
Mrs. Denton and Augustina had already spread for them in the big hall.
At sight of the children Helbeck's face lit up and his step quickened.
They on their side ran to him from all parts; and he had hardly time to
greet the Sisters in charge of them, before the eager creatures were
pulling him into the walled garden behind the Hall, one small girl
hanging on his hand, another perched upon his shoulder. Father Leadham
went into the house to prepare for the service.
The garden was old and dark, like the Tudor house that stood between it
and the sun. Rows of fantastic shapes carved in living yew and box stood
ranged along the straight walks. A bowling-green enclosed in high beech
hedges was placed in the exact centre of the whole formal place, while
the walks and alleys from three sides, west, north, and south, converged
upon it, according to a plan unaltered since it was first laid down in
the days of James II. At this time of the year there were no flowers in
the stiff flower-beds; for Mr. Helbeck had long ceased to spend any but
the most necessary monies upon his garden. Only upon the high stone walls
that begirt this strange and melancholy pleasure-ground, and in the
"wilderness" that lay on the eastern side, between the garden and the
fell, were nature and the spring allowed to show themselves. Their joint
magic had covered the old walls with fruit blossom and spread the
"wilderness" with daffodils. Otherwise all was dark, tortured, fantastic,
a monument of old-world caprice that the heart could not love, though
piety might not destroy it.
The children, however, brought life and brightness. They chased each
other up and down the paths, and in and out of the bowling-green. Helbeck
set them to games, and played with them himself. Only for the orphans now
did he ever thus recall his youth.
Two Sisters, one comparatively young, the other a woman of fifty, stood
in an opening of the bowling-green, looking at the games.
The younger one said to her companion, who was the Superior of the
orphanage, "I do like to see Mr. Helbeck with the children! It seems to
change him altogether."
She spoke with eager sympathy, while her eyes, the visionary eyes of the
typical religious, sunk in a face that was at once sweet and peevish,
followed the children and their host.
The other--shrewd-faced and large--had a movement of impatience.
"I should like to see Mr. Helbeck with some children of his own. For five
years now I have prayed our Blessed Mother to give him a good wife.
That's what he wants. Ah! Mrs. Fountain----"
And as Augustina advanced with her little languid air, accompanied by her
stepdaughter, the Sisters gathered round her, chattering and cooing,
showing her a hundred attentions, enveloping her in a homage that was
partly addressed to the sister of their benefactor, and partly--as she
well understood--to the sheep that had been lost and was found. To the
stepdaughter they showed a courteous reserve. One or two of them had
already made acquaintance with her, and had not found her amiable.
And, indeed, Laura held herself aloof, as before. But she shot a glance
of curiosity at the elderly woman who had wished Mr. Helbeck a good wife.
The girl had caught the remark as she and her stepmother turned the
corner of the dense beechen hedge that, with openings to each point of
the compass, enclosed the bowling-green.
Presently Helbeck, stopping to take breath in a game of which he had been
the life, caught sight of the slim figure against the red-brown of the
hedge. The next moment he perceived that Miss Fountain was watching him
with an expression of astonishment.
His first instinct was to let her be. Her manner towards him since her
arrival, with hardly a break, had been such as to chill the most sociable
temper. And Helbeck's temper was far from sociable.
But something in her attitude--perhaps its solitariness--made him
uncomfortable. He went up to her, dragging with him a crowd of small
children, who tugged at his coat and hands.
"Miss Fountain, will you take pity on us? My breath is gone."
He saw her hesitate. Then her sudden smile broke out.
"What'll you have?" she said, catching hold of the nearest child. "Mother
And off she flew, running, twisting, turning with the merriest of them,
her loosened hair gleaming in the sun, her small feet twinkling. Now it
was Helbeck's turn to stand and watch. What a curious grace and purpose
there was in all her movements! Even in her play Miss Fountain was a
At last a little girl who was running with her began to drag and turn
pale. Laura stopped to look at her.
"I can't run any more," said the child piteously. "I had a bone took out
of my leg last year."
She was a sickly-looking creature, rickety and consumptive, a waif from a
Liverpool slum. Laura picked her up and carried her to a seat in a yew
arbour away from the games. Then the child studied her with shy-looking
eyes, and suddenly slipped an arm like a bit of stick round the pretty
"Tell me a story, please, teacher," she said imploringly.
Laura was taken aback, for she had forgotten the tales of her own
childhood, and had never possessed any younger brothers or sisters, or
paid much attention to children in general. But with some difficulty she
stumbled through Cinderella.
"Oh, yes, I know that; but it's lovely," said the child, at the end, with
a sigh of content. "Now I'll tell you one."
And in a high nasal voice, like one repeating a lesson in class, she
began upon something which Laura soon discovered to be the life of a
saint. She followed the phrases of it with a growing repugnance, till at
last the speaker said, with the unction of one sure of her audience:
"And once the good Father went to a hospital to visit some sick people.
And as he was hearing a poor sailor's confession, he found out that it
was his own brother, whom he had not seen for a long, long time. Now the
sailor was very ill, and going to die, and he had been a bad man, and
done a great many wicked things. But the good Father did not let the poor
man know who he was. He went home and told his Superior that he had found
his brother. And the Superior forbade him to go and see his brother
again, because, he said, God would take care of him. And the Father was
very sad, and the devil tempted him sorely. But he prayed to God, and God
helped him to be obedient.
"And a great many years afterwards a poor woman came to see the good
Father. And she told him she had seen our Blessed Lady in a vision. And
our Blessed Lady had sent her to tell the Father that because he had been
so obedient, and had not been to see his brother again, our Lady had
prayed our Lord for his brother. And his brother had made a good death,
and was saved, all because the good Father had obeyed what his Superior
Laura sprang up. The child, who had expected a kiss and a pious phrase,
looked up, startled.
"Wasn't that a pretty story?" she said timidly.
"No; I don't like it at all," said Miss Fountain decidedly. "I wonder
they tell you such tales!"
The child stared at her for a moment. Then a sudden veil fell across the
clearness of her eyes, which had the preternatural size and brilliance of
disease. Her expression changed. It became the slyness of the watching
animal, that feels the enemy. She said not another word.
Laura felt a pang of shame, even though she was still vibrating with the
repulsion the child's story had excited in her.
"Look!" she said, raising the little one in her arms; "the others are all
going into the house. Shall we go too?"
But the child struggled resolutely.
"Let me down. I can walk." Laura set her down, and the child walked as
fast as her lame leg would let her to join the others. Once or twice she
looked round furtively at her companion; but she would not take the hand
Laura offered her, and she seemed to have wholly lost her tongue.
"Little bigot!" thought Laura, half angry, half amused; "do they catch it
from their cradle?"
Presently they found themselves in the tail of a crowd of children and
Sisters who were ascending the stairs of a doorway opening on the garden.
The doorway led, as Laura knew, to the corridor of the chapel. She let
herself be carried along, irresolute, and presently she found herself
within the curtained doorway, mechanically helping the Sisters and
Augustina to put the children in their places.
One or two of the older children noticed that the young lady with Mrs.
Fountain did not sign herself with holy water, and did not genuflect in
passing the altar, and they looked at her with a stealthy surprise. A
gentle-looking young Sister came up to her as she was lifting a very
small child to a seat.
"Thank you," murmured the Sister, "It is very good of you." But the
voice, though so soft, was cold, and Laura at once felt herself the
intruder, and withdrew to the back of the crowd.
Yet again, as at her first visit to the chapel, so now, she was too
curious, for all her soreness, to go. She must see what they would be at.
* * * * *
"Rosary" passed, and she hardly understood a word. The voice of the
Jesuit intoning suggested nothing intelligible to her, and it was some
time before she could even make out what the children were saying in
their loud-voiced responses. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
sinners, now and at the hour of our death"--was that it? And occasionally
an "Our Father" thrown in--all of it gabbled as fast as possible, as
though the one object of both priest and people were to get through and
make an end. Over and over again, without an inflection, or a
change--with just the one monotonous repetition and the equally
monotonous variation. What a barbarous and foolish business!
Very soon she gave up listening. Her eyes wandered to the frescoes, to
the bare altar with its purple covering, to the tall candles sparkling
before the tabernacle; and the coloured and scented gloom, pierced with
the distant lights, gave her a vague pleasure.
Presently there was a pause. The children settled themselves in their
seats with a little clatter. Father Leadham retired, while the Sisters
knelt, each bowed profoundly on herself, eyes closed under her coif,
hands clasped in front of her.
What were they waiting for? Ah! there was the priest again, but in a
changed dress--a white cope of some splendour. The organ, played by one
of the Sisters, broke out upon the silence, and the voices of the rest
rose suddenly, small and sweet, in a Latin hymn. The priest went to the
tabernacle, and set it open. There was a swinging of incense, and the
waves of fragrant smoke flowed out upon the chapel, dimming the altar and
the figure before it. Laura caught sight for a moment of the young Sister
who had spoken to her. She was kneeling and singing, with sweet, shut
eyes; it was clear that she was possessed by a fervour of feeling. Miss
Fountain thought to herself, with wonder, "She cannot be much older than
After the hymn it was the children's turn. What were they singing so
lustily to so dancing a tune? Laura bent over to look at the book of a
Sister in front of her.
"Virgo prudentissima, Virgo veneranda, Virgo praedicanda----"
With difficulty she found the place in another book that lay upon a chair
beside her. Then for a few minutes she lost herself in a first amazement
over that string of epithets and adjectives with which the Catholic
Church throughout the world celebrates day by day and Sunday after Sunday
the glories of Mary. The gay music, the harsh and eager voices of the
children, flowed on, the waves of incense spread throughout the chapel.
When she raised her eyes they fell upon Helbeck's dark head in the far
distance, above his server's cotta. A quick change crossed her face,
transforming it to a passionate contempt.
* * * * *
But of her no one thought--save once. The beautiful "moment" of the
ceremony had come. Father Leadham had raised the monstrance, containing
the Host, to give the Benediction. Every Sister, every child, except a
few small and tired ones, was bowed in humblest adoration.
Mr. Helbeck, too, was kneeling in the little choir. But his attention
wandered. With the exception of his walk with Father Leadham, he had been
in church since early morning, and even for him response was temporarily
exhausted. His look strayed over the chapel.
It was suddenly arrested. Above the kneeling congregation a distant face
showed plainly in the April dusk amid the dimness of incense and
painting--a girl's face, delicately white and set--a face of revolt.
"Why is she here?" was his first thought. It came with a rush of
annoyance, even resentment. But immediately other thoughts met it: "She
is lonely; she is here under my roof; she has lost her father; poor
The last mental phrase was not so much his own as an echo from Father
Leadham. In Helbeck's mind it was spoken very much as the priest had
spoken it--with that strange tenderness, at once so intimate and so
impersonal, which belongs to the spiritual relations of Catholicism. The
girl's soul--lonely, hostile, uncared for--appealed to the charity of the
believer. At the same time there was something in her defiance, her crude
disapproval of his house and his faith, that stimulated and challenged
the man. Conscious for the first time of a new conflict of feeling within
himself, he looked steadily towards her across the darkness.
It was as though he had sought and found a way to lift himself above her
young pride, her ignorant enmity. For a moment there was a curious
exaltation and tyranny in his thought. He dropped his head and prayed for
her, the words falling slow and deliberate within his consciousness. And
she could not resent it or stop it. It was an aggression before which she
was helpless; it struck down the protest of her pale look.
* * * * *
At supper, when the Sisters and their charges had departed, Father Bowles
appeared, and never before had Helbeck been so lamentably aware of the
absurdities and inferiorities of his parish priest.
The Jesuit, too, was sharply conscious of them, and even Augustina felt
that something was amiss. Was it that they were all--except Father
Bowles--affected by the presence of the young lady on Helbeck's right--by
the cool detachment of her manner, the self-possession that appealed to
no one and claimed none of the prerogatives of sex and charm, while every
now and then it made itself felt in tacit and resolute opposition to her
"He might leave those things alone!" thought the Jesuit angrily, as he
heard Father Bowles giving Mrs. Fountain a gently complacent account of a
geological lecture lately delivered in Whinthorpe.
"What I always say, you know, my dear lady, is this: you must show me the
evidence! After all, you geologists have done much--you have dug here and
there, it is true. But dig all over the world--dig everywhere--lay it all
bare. Then you may ask me to listen to you!"
The little round-faced priest looked round the table for support. Laura
bit her lip and bent over her plate. Father Leadham turned hastily to
Helbeck, and began to discuss with him a recent monograph on the Roman
Wall, showing a plentiful and scholarly knowledge of the subject. And
presently he drew in the girl opposite, addressing her with a
man-of-the-world ease and urbanity which disarmed her. It appeared that
he had just come back from mission-work in British Guiana, that he had
been in India, and was in all respects a travelled and accomplished
person. But the girl did not yield herself, though she listened quite
civilly and attentively while he talked.
But again through the Jesuit's easy or polished phrases there broke the
purring inanity of Father Bowles.
"Lourdes, my dear lady? Lourdes? How can there be the smallest doubt of
the miracles of Lourdes? Why! they keep two doctors on the spot to verify
The Jesuit's sense of humour was uncomfortably touched. He glanced at
Miss Fountain, but could only see that she was gazing steadily out of
As for himself, convert and ex-Fellow of a well-known college, he gave a
strong inward assent to the judgment of some of his own leaders, that the
older Catholic priests of this country are as a rule lamentably unfit for
their work. "Our chance in England is broadening every year," he said to
himself. "How are we to seize it with such tools? But all round we want
_men_. Oh! for a few more of those who were 'out in forty-five'!"
* * * * *
In the drawing-room after dinner Laura, as usual, entrenched herself in
one of the deep oriel windows, behind a heavy table: Augustina showed an
anxious curiosity as to the expedition of the morning--as to the Masons
and their farm. But Laura would say very little about them.
When the gentlemen came in, Helbeck sent a searching look round the
drawing-room. He had the air of one who enters with a purpose.
The beautiful old room lay in a half-light. A lamp at either end could do
but little against the shadows that seemed to radiate from the panelled
walls and from the deep red hangings of the windows. But the wood fire on
the hearth sent out a soft glow, which fastened on the few points of
brilliance in the darkness--on the ivory of the fretted ceiling, on the
dazzling dress of the Romney, on the gold of Miss Fountain's hair.
Laura looked up with some surprise as Helbeck approached her; then,
seeing that he apparently wished to talk, she made a place for him among
the old "Books of Beauty" with which she had been bestrewing the seat
that ran round the window.
"I trust the pony behaved himself this morning?" he said, as he sat down.
Laura answered politely.
"And you found your way without difficulty?"
"Oh, yes! Your directions were exact."
Inwardly she said to herself, "Does he want to cross-examine me about the
Masons?" Then, suddenly, she noticed the scar under his hair--a jagged
mark, testifying to a wound of some severity--and it made her
uncomfortable. Nay, it seemed in some curious way to put her in the
wrong, to shake her self-reliance.
But Helbeck had not come with the intention of talking about the Masons.
His avoidance of their name was indeed a pointed one. He drew out her
admiration of the daffodils and of the view from Browhead Lane.
"After Easter we must show you something of the high mountains. Augustina
tells me you admire the country. The head of Windermere will delight
His manner of offering her these civilities was somewhat stiff and
conventional--the manner of one who had been brought up among country
gentry of the old school, apart from London and the _beau monde_. But it
struck Laura that, for the first time, he was speaking to her as a man of
his breeding might be expected to speak to a lady visiting his house.
There was consideration, and an apparent desire to please. It was as
though she had grown all at once into something more in his eyes than
Mrs. Fountain's little stepdaughter, who was, no doubt, useful as a nurse
and a companion, but radically unwelcome and insignificant none the less.
Inevitably the girl's vanity was smoothed. She began to answer more
naturally; her smile became more frequent. And gradually an unwonted ease
and enjoyment stole over Helbeck also. He talked with so much animation
at last as to draw the attention of another person in the room. Father
Leadham, who had been leaning with some languor against the high, carved
mantel, while Father Bowles and Augustina babbled beneath him, began to
take increasing notice of Miss Fountain, and of her relation to the
Bannisdale household. For a girl who had "no training, moral or
intellectual," she was showing herself, he thought, possessed of more
attraction than might have been expected, for the strict master of the
Presently Helbeck came to a pause in what he was saying. He had been
describing the country of Wordsworth, and had been dwelling on Grasmere
and Eydal Mount, in the tone, indeed, of one who had no vital concern
whatever with the Lake poets or their poetry, but still with an evident
desire to interest his companion. And following closely on this first
effort to make friends with her something further suggested itself.
He hesitated, looked at Laura, and at last said, in a lower voice than he
had been using, "I believe your father, Miss Fountain, was a great lover
of Wordsworth. Augustina has told me so. You and he were accustomed, were
you not, to read much together? Your loss must be very great. You will
not wonder, perhaps, that for me there are painful thoughts connected
with your father. But I have not been insensible--I have not been without
feeling--for my sister--and for you."
He spoke with embarrassment, and a kind of appeal. Laura had been
startled by his first words, and while he spoke she sat very pale and
upright, staring at him. The hand on her lap shook.
When he ceased she did not answer. She turned her head, and he saw her
pretty throat tremble. Then she hastily raised her handkerchief; a
struggle passed over the face; she wiped away her tears, and threw back
her head, with a sobbing breath and a little shake of the bright hair,
like one who reproves herself. But she said nothing; and it was evident
that she could say nothing without breaking down.
Deeply touched, Helbeck unconsciously drew a little nearer to her.
Changing the subject at once, he began to talk to her of the children and
the little festival of the afternoon. An hour before he would have
instinctively avoided doing anything of the kind. Now, at last, he
ventured to be himself, or something near it. Laura regained her
composure, and bent her attention upon him, with a slightly frowning
brow. Her mind was divided between the most contradictory impulses and
attractions. How had it come about, she asked herself, after a while,
that _she_ was listening like this to his schemes for his children and
his new orphanage?--she, and not his natural audience, the two priests
She actually heard him describe the efforts made by himself and one or
two other Catholics in the county to provide shelter and education for
the county's Catholic orphans. He dwelt on the death and disappearance of
some of his earlier colleagues, on the urgent need for a new building in
the neighbourhood of the county town, and for the enlargement of the
"home" he himself had put up some ten years before, on the Whinthorpe
"But, unfortunately, large plans want large means," he added, with a
smile, "and I fear it will come to it--has Augustina said anything to you
about it?--I fear there is nothing for it, but that our beauteous lady
there must provide them."
He nodded towards the picture that gleamed from the opposite wall. Then
he added gravely, and with a perfect simplicity:
"It is my last possession of any value."
Several times during the fortnight that she had known him, Laura had
heard him speak with a similar simplicity about his personal and
pecuniary affairs. That anyone so stately should treat himself and his
own worldly concerns with so much _naivete_ had been a source of frequent
surprise to her. To what, then, did his dignity, his reserve apply?
Nevertheless, because, childishly, she had already taken a side, as it
were, about the picture, his manner, with its apparent indifference,
annoyed her. She drew back.
"Yes, Augustina told me. But isn't it cruel? isn't it unkind? A picture
like that is alive. It has been here so long--one could hardly feel it
belonged only to oneself. It is part of the house, isn't it?--part of the
family? Won't other people--people who come after--reproach you?"
Helbeck lifted his shoulders, his dark face half amused, half sad.
"She died a hundred years ago, pretty creature! She has had her turn; so
have we--in the pleasure of looking at her."
"But she belongs to you," said the girl insistently. "She is your own
kith and kin."
He hesitated, then said, with a new emphasis that answered her own:
"Perhaps there are two sorts of kindred----"
The girl's cheek flushed.
"And the one you mean may always push out the other? I know, because one
of your children told me a story to-day--such a frightful story!--of a
saint who would not go to see his dying brother, for obedience' sake. She
asked me if I liked it. How could I say I liked it! I told her it was
horrible! I wondered how people could tell her such tales."
Her bearing was again all hostility--a young defiance. She was delighted
to confess herself. Her crime, untold, had been pressing upon her
conscience, hurting her natural frankness.
Helbeck's face changed. He looked at her attentively, the fine dark eye,
under the commanding brow, straight and sparkling.
"You said that to the child?"
Her breast fluttered. She trembled, he saw, with an excitement she could
He, too, felt a novel excitement--the excitement of a strong will
provoked. It was clear to him that she meant to provoke him--that her
young personality threw itself wantonly across his own. He spoke with a
"You did wrong, I think--quite wrong. Excuse the word, but you have
brought me to close quarters. You sowed the seeds of doubt, of revolt, in
a child's mind."
"Perhaps," said Laura quickly. "What then?"
She wore her half-wild, half-mocking look. Everything soft and touching
had disappeared. The eyes shone under the golden mass of hair; the small
mouth was close and scornful. Helbeck looked at her in amazement, his own
"What then?" he echoed, with a sternness that astonished himself. "Ask
your own feeling. What has a child--a little child under orders--to do
with doubt, or revolt? For her--for all of us--doubt is misery."
Laura rose. She forced down her agitation--made herself speak plainly.
"Papa taught me--it was life--and I believe him."
The old clock in the farther corner of the room struck a quarter to
ten--the hour of prayers. The two priests on the farther side of the room
stood up, and Augustina sheathed her knitting-needles.
Laura turned towards Helbeck and coldly held out her little hand. He
touched it, and she crossed the room. "Good-night, Augustina."
She kissed her stepmother, and bowed to the two priests. Father Leadham
ceremoniously opened the door for her. Then he and Helbeck, Father Bowles
and Augustina followed across the dark hall on their way to the chapel.
Laura took her candle, and her light figure could be seen ascending the
Jacobean staircase, a slim and charming vision against the shadows of the
Father Leadham followed it with eyes and thoughts. Then he glanced
towards Helbeck. An idea--and one that was singularly unwelcome--was
forcing its way into the priest's mind.
From that night onwards the relations between Helbeck and his sister's
stepdaughter took another tone. He no longer went his own way, with no
more than a vague consciousness that a curious and difficult girl was in
the house; he watched her with increasing interest; he began to taste, as
it were, the thorny charm that was her peculiar possession.
Not that he was allowed to see much of the charm. After the conversation
of Passion Sunday her manner to him was no less cold and distant than
before. Their final collision, on the subject of the child, had, he
supposed, undone the effects of his conciliatory words about her father.
It must be so, no doubt, since her hostile observation of him and of his
friends seemed to be in no whit softened.
That he should be so often conscious of her at this particular time
annoyed and troubled him. It was the most sacred moment of the Catholic
year. Father Leadham, his old Stonyhurst friend, had come to spend
Passion Week and Holy Week at Bannisdale, as a special favour to one whom
the Church justly numbered among the most faithful of her sons; while the
Society of Jesus had many links of mutual service and affection, both
with the Helbeck family in the past and with the present owner of the
Hall. Helbeck, indeed, was of real importance to Catholicism in this
particular district of England. It had once abounded in Catholic
families, but now hardly one of them remained, and upon Helbeck, with his
small resources and dwindling estate, devolved a number of labours which
should have been portioned out among a large circle. Only enthusiasm such
as his could have sufficed for the task. But, for the Church's sake, he
had now remained unmarried some fifteen years. He lived like an ascetic
in the great house, with a couple of women servants; he spent all his
income--except a fraction--on the good works of a wide district; when
larger sums were necessary he was ready, nay, eager, to sell the land
necessary to provide them; and whenever he journeyed to other parts of
England, or to the Continent, it was generally assumed that he had gone,
not as other men go, for pleasure and recreation, but simply that he
might pursue some Catholic end, either of money or administration, among
the rich and powerful of the faith elsewhere. Meanwhile, it was believed
that he had bequeathed the house and park of Bannisdale to a distant
cousin, also a strict Catholic, with the warning that not much else would
remain to his heir from the ancient and splendid inheritance of the
It was not wonderful, then, that the Jesuits should be glad to do such a
man a service; and no service could have been greater in Helbeck's eyes
than a visit from a priest of their order during these weeks of emotion
and of penance. Every day Mass was said in the little chapel; every
evening a small flock gathered to Litany or Benediction. Ordinary life
went on as it could in the intervals of prayer and meditation. The house
swarmed with priests--with old and infirm priests, many of them from a
Jesuit house of retreat on the western coast, not far away, who found in
a visit to Bannisdale one of the chief pleasures of their suffering or
monotonous lives; while the Superiors of Helbeck's own orphanages were
always ready to help the Bannisdale chapel, on days of special sanctity,
by sending a party of Sisters and children to provide the singing.
Meanwhile all else was forgotten. As to food, Helbeck and Father
Leadham--according to the letters describing her experiences which Laura
wrote during these weeks to a Cambridge girl friend--lived upon "a cup of
coffee and a banana" per day, and she had endless difficulty in
restraining her charge, Augustina, from doing likewise. For Augustina,
indeed--Stephen Fountain's little black-robed widow--her husband was
daily receding further and further into a dim and dreadful distance,
where she feared and yet wept to think of him. She passed her time in the
intoxication of her recovered faith, excited by the people around her, by
the services in the chapel, and by her very terrors over her own unholy
union, lapse, and restoration. The sound of intoning, the scent, of
incense, seemed to pervade the house; and at the centre of all brooded
that mysterious Presence upon the altar, which drew the passion of
Catholic hearts to itself in ever deeper measure as the great days of
Holy Week and Easter approached.
Through all this drama of an inventive and exacting faith, Laura Fountain
passed like a being from another world, an alien and a mocking spirit.
She said nothing, but her eyes were satires. The effect of her presence
in the house was felt probably by all its inmates, and by many of its
visitors. She did not again express herself--except rarely to
Augustina--with the vehemence she had shown to the little lame orphan;
she was quite ready to chat and laugh upon occasion with Father Leadham,
who had a pleasant wit, and now and then deliberately sought her society;
and, owing to the feebleness of Augustina, she, quite unconsciously,
established certain household ways which spoke the woman, and were new to
Bannisdale. She filled the drawing-room with daffodils; she made the
tea-table by the hall fire a cheerful place for any who might visit it;
she flitted about the house in the prettiest and neatest of spring
dresses; her hair, her face, her white hands and neck shone amid the
shadows of the panelling like jewels in a casket. Everyone was conscious
of her--uneasily conscious. She yielded herself to no one, was touched by
no one. She stood apart, and through her cold, light ways spoke the world
and the spirit that deny--the world at which the Catholic shudders.
At the same time, like everybody else in the house--even the sulky
housekeeper--she grew pale and thin from Lenten fare. Mr. Helbeck had of
course given orders to Mrs. Denton that his sister and Miss Fountain were
to be well provided. But Mrs. Denton was grudging or forgetful; and it
amused Laura to see that Augustina was made to eat, while she herself
fared with the rest. The viands of whatever sort were generally scanty
and ill-cooked; and neither the Squire nor Father Leadham cared anything
about the pleasures of the table, in Lent or out of it. Mr. Helbeck
hardly noticed what was set before him. Once or twice indeed he woke up
to the fact that there was not enough for the ladies and would say an
angry word to Mrs. Denton. But on the whole Laura was able to follow her
whim and to try for herself what this Catholic austerity might be like.
"My dear," she wrote to her friend, "one thing you learn from a Catholic
Lent is that food matters 'nowt at aw,' as they would say in these parts.
You can do just as well without it as with it. Why you should think
yourself a saint for not eating it puzzles me. Otherwise--_vive la faim_!
And as we are none of us likely to starve ourselves half so much as the
poor people of the world, the soldiers, and sailors, and explorers, are
always doing, to please themselves or their country, I don't suppose that
anybody will come to harm.
"You are to understand, nevertheless, that our austerities are rather
unusual. And when anyone comes in from the outside they are concealed as
much as possible.... The old Helbecks, as far as I can hear, must have
been very different people from their modern descendant. They were quite
good Catholics, understand. What the Church prescribed they did--but not
a fraction beyond. They were like the jolly lazy sort of schoolboy, who
_just_ does his lesson, but would think himself a fool if he did a word
more. Whereas the man who lives here now can never do enough!
"And in general these old Catholic houses--from Augustina's tales--must
have been full of fun and feasting. Well, I can vouch for it, there is no
fun in Bannisdale now! It is Mr. Helbeck's personality, I suppose. It
makes its own atmosphere. He _can_ laugh--I have seen it myself!--but it
is an event."
* * * * *
As Lent went on, the mingling of curiosity and cool criticism with which
Miss Fountain regarded her surroundings became perhaps more apparent.
Father Leadham, in particular, detected the young lady's fasting
experiments. He spoke of them to Helbeck as showing a lack of delicacy
and good taste. But the Squire, it seemed, was rather inclined to regard
them as the whims of a spoilt and wilful child.
This difference of shade in the judgment of the two men may rank as one
of the first signs of all that was to come.
Certainly Helbeck had never before felt himself so uncomfortable in his
own house as he had done since the arrival of this girl of twenty-one.
Nevertheless, as the weeks went on, the half-amused, half-contemptuous
embarrassment, which had been the first natural effect of her presence
upon the mind of a man so little used to women and their ways, had passed
imperceptibly into something else. His reserved and formal manner
remained the same. But Miss Fountain's goings and comings had ceased to
be indifferent to him. A silent relation--still unknown to her--had
arisen between them.
When he first noticed the fact in himself, it produced a strong,
temporary reaction. He reproached himself for a light and unworthy
temper. Had his solitary life so weakened him that any new face and
personality about him could distract and disturb him, even amid the great
thoughts of these solemn days? His heart, his life were in his faith. For
more than twenty years, by prayer and meditation, by all the ingenious
means that the Catholic Church provides, he had developed the
sensibilities of faith; and for the Catholic these sensibilities are
centred upon and sustained by the Passion. Now, hour by hour, his Lord
was moving to the Cross. He stood perpetually beside the sacred form in
the streets of Jerusalem, in Gethsemane, on the steps of the Praetorium.
A varied and dramatic ceremonial was always at hand to stimulate the
imagination, the penitence, and the devotion of the believer. That
anything whatever should break in upon the sacred absorption of these
days would have seemed to him beforehand a calamity to be shrunk
from--nay, a sin to be repented. He had put aside all business that could
be put aside with one object, and one only--to make "a good Easter."
And yet, no sooner did he come back from service in the chapel, or from
talk of Church matters with Catholic friends, than he found himself
suddenly full of expectation. Was Miss Fountain in the hall, in the
garden? or was she gone to those people at Browhead? If she was not in
the house--above all, if she was with the Masons--he would find it hard
to absorb himself again in the thoughts that had held him before. If she
was there, if he found her sitting reading or working by the hall fire,
with the dogs at her feet, he seldom indeed went to speak to her. He
would go into his library, and force himself to do his business, while
Father Leadham talked to her and Augustina. But the library opened on the
hall, and he could still hear that voice in the distance. Often, when she
caressed the dogs, her tones had the note in them which had startled him
on her very first evening under his roof. It was the emergence of
something hidden and passionate; and it awoke in himself a strange and
troubling echo--the passing surge of an old memory long since thrust down
and buried. How fast his youth was going from him! It was fifteen years
since a woman's voice, a woman's presence, had mattered anything at all
So it came about that, in some way or other, he knew, broadly, all that
Miss Fountain did, little as he saw of her. It appeared that she had
discovered a pony carriage for hire in the little village near the
bridge, and once or twice during this fortnight, he learned from
Augustina that she had spent the afternoon at Browhead Farm, while the
Bannisdale household had been absorbed in some function of the season.
Augustina disliked the news as much as he did, and would throw up her
hands in annoyance.
"What _can_ she be doing there? They seem the roughest kind of people.
But she says the son plays so wonderfully. I believe she plays duets with
him. She goes out with the cart full of music."
"Music!" said Helbeck, in frank amazement. "That lout!"
"Well, she says so," said Augustina crossly, as though it were a personal
affront. "And what do you think, Alan? She talks of going to a dance up
there after Easter--next Thursday, I think."
"At the farm?" Helbeck's tone was incredulous.
"No; at the mill--or somewhere. She says the schoolmaster is giving it,
or something of that sort. Of course it's most unsuitable. But what am I
to do, Alan? They _are_ her relations!"
"At the same time they are not her class," said Helbeck decidedly. "She
has been brought up in a different way, and she cannot behave as though
she belonged to them. And a dance, with that young man to look after her!
You ought to stop it."
Augustina said dismally that she would try, but her head shook with more
feebleness than usual as she went back to her knitting.
* * * * *
Next day Helbeck made a point of finding his sister alone. But she only
threw him a deprecatory look.
"I tried, Alan--indeed I did. She says that she wants some
amusement--that it will do her good--and that of course her father would
have let her go to a dance with his relations. And when I say anything to
her about not being quite like them, she fires up. She says she would be
ashamed to be thought any better than they, and that Hubert has a great
deal more good in him than some people think."
"Hubert!" exclaimed Mr. Helbeck, raising his shoulders in disgust. After
a little silence he turned round as he was leaving the room, and said
abruptly: "Is she to stay the night at the farm?"
"No! oh, no! She wants to come home. She says she won't be late; she
promises not to be late."
"And that young fellow will drive her home, of course?"
"Well, she couldn't drive home alone, Alan, at that time of night. It
wouldn't be proper."
Mr. Helbeck smiled rather sourly. "One may doubt where the propriety
comes in. Well, she seems determined. We must just arrange it. There is
the tower door. Kindly tell her, Augustina, that I will let her have the
key of it. And kindly tell her also--as from yourself, of course--that
she will be treating us all with courtesy if she does come home at a
reasonable hour. We have been a very quiet, prim household all these
years, and Mrs. Denton, for all her virtues, has a tongue."
"So she has," said Augustina, sighing. "And she doesn't like Laura--not
Helbeck raised his head quickly. "She does nothing to make Miss Fountain
uncomfortable, I trust?"
"Oh--no," said Augustina undecidedly. "Besides, it doesn't matter. Laura
has got Ellen under her thumb."
Helbeck's grave countenance showed a gleam of amusement.
"How does Mrs. Denton take that?"
"Oh! she has to bear it. Haven't you seen, Alan, how the girl has
brightened up? Laura has shown her how to do her hair; she helped her to
make a new frock for Easter; the girl would do anything in the world for
her. It's like Bruno. Do you notice, Alan--I really thought you would be
angry--that the dog will hardly go with you when Laura's there?"
"Oh! Miss Fountain is a very attractive young lady--to those she likes,"
said Helbeck dryly.
And on that he went away.
On Good Friday afternoon Laura, in a renewed passion of revolt against
all that was going on in the house, went to her room and wrote to her
friend. Litanies were being said in the chapel. The distant, melancholy
sounds mounted to her now and then. Otherwise the house was wrapped in a
mourning silence; and outside, trailing clouds hung round the old walls,
making a penitential barrier all about it.
"After this week," wrote Laura to her friend, "I shall always feel kindly
towards 'sin'--and the 'world'! How they have been scouted and scourged!
And what, I ask you, would any of us do without them? The 'world,'
indeed! I seem to hear it go rumbling on, the poor, patient, toiling
thing, while these people are praying. It works, and makes it possible
for them to pray--while they abuse and revile it.
"And as to 'sin,' and the gloom in which we all live because of it--what
on earth does it really mean to any decently taught and brought-up
creature? You are greedy, or selfish, or idle, or ill-behaved. Very well,
then--nature, or your next-door neighbor, knocks you down for it, and
serve you right. Next time you won't do it again, or not so badly, and by
degrees you don't even like to think of doing it--you would be 'ashamed,'
as people say. It's the process that everybody has to go through, I
suppose--being sent into the world the sort of beings we are, and without
any leave of ours, altogether. But why make such a wailing and woe and
hullabaloo about it! Oh--such a waste of time! Why doesn't Mr. Helbeck go
and learn geology? I vow he hasn't an idea what the rocks of his own
valley are made of!
"Of course there are the _very_ great villains--I don't like to think
about them. And the people who are born wrong and sick. But by-and-by we
shall have weeded them out, or improved the breed. And why not spend your
energies on doing that, instead of singing litanies, and taking
ridiculous pains not to eat the things you like?
"...I shall soon be in disgrace with Augustina and Mr. Helbeck, about the
Masons--worse disgrace, that is to say. For now that I have found a pony
of my own, I go up there two or three times a week. And really--in spite
of all those first experiences I told you of--I like it! Cousin Elizabeth
has begun to talk to me; and when I come home, I read the Bible to see
what it was all about. And I don't let her say too bad things about Mr.
Helbeck--it wouldn't be quite gentlemanly on my part. And I know most of
the Williams story now, both from her and Augustina.
"Imagine, my dear!--a son not allowed to come and see his mother before
she died, though she cried for him night and day. He was at a Jesuit
school in Wales. They shilly-shallied, and wrote endless letters--and at
last they sent him off--the day she died. He arrived three hours too
late, and his father shut the door in his face. 'Noa yo' shan't see her,'
said the grim old fellow--'an if there's a God above, yo' shan't see her
in heaven nayder!' Augustina of course calls it 'holy obedience.'
"The painting in the chapel is really extraordinary. Mr. Helbeck seems to
have taught the young man, to begin with. He himself used to paint long
ago--not very well, I should think, to judge from the bits of his work
still left in the chapel. But at any rate the youth learnt the rudiments
from him, and then of course went far beyond his teacher. He was almost
two years here, working in the house--tabooed by his family all the time.
Then there seems to have been a year in London, when he gave Mr. Helbeck
some trouble. I don't know--Augustina is vague. How it was that he joined
the Jesuits I can't make out. No doubt Mr. Helbeck induced them to take
him. But _why_--I ask you--with such a gift? They say he will be here in
the summer, and one will have to set one's teeth and shake hands with
"Oh, that droning in the chapel--there it is again! I will open the
window and let the howl of the rain in to get rid of it. And yet I can't
always keep myself away from it. It is all so new--so horribly intimate.
Every now and then the music or a prayer or something sends a stab right
down to my heart of hearts.--A voice of suffering, of torture--oh! so
ghastly, so _real_. Then I come and read papa's note-books for an hour to
forget it. I wish he had ever taught me anything--strictly! But _of
course_ it was my fault.
"... As to this dance, why shouldn't I go?--just tell me! It is being
given by the new schoolmaster, and two or three young farmers, in the big
room at the old mill. The schoolmaster is the most tiresomely virtuous
young man, and the whole thing is so respectable, it makes me yawn to
think of it. Polly implores me to go, and I like Polly. (Very soon she'll
let me halve her fringe!) I gave Hubert a preliminary snub, and now he
doesn't dare implore me to go. But that is all the more engaging. I
_don't_ flirt with him!--heavens!--unless you call bear-taming
flirtation. But one can't see his music running to waste in such a bog of
tantrums and tempers. I must try my hand. And as he is my cousin I can
put up with him."
* * * * *
After High Mass on Easter Sunday Helbeck walked home from Whinthorpe
alone, as his companion Father Leadham had an engagement in the town.
Through the greater part of Holy Week the skies had been as grey and
penitential as the season. The fells and the river flats had been
scourged at night with torrents of rain and wind, and in the pale
mornings any passing promise of sun had been drowned again before the day
was high. The roofs and eaves, the small panes of the old house, trickled
and shone with rain; and at night the wind tore through the gorge of the
river with great boomings and onslaughts from the west. But with Easter
eve there had come appeasement--a quiet dying of the long storm. And as
Helbeck made his way along the river on Easter morning, mountain and
flood, grass and tree, were in a glory of recovered sun. The distant
fells were drawn upon the sky in the heavenliest brushings of blue and
purple; the river thundered over its falls and weirs in a foamy
splendour; and the deer were feeding with a new zest amid the
He stopped a moment to rest upon his stick and look about him. Something
in his own movement reminded him of another solitary walk some five weeks
before. And at the same instant he perceived a small figure sitting on a
stone seat in front of him. It was Miss Fountain. She had a book on her
knee, and the two dogs were beside her. Her white dress and hat seemed to
make the centre of a whole landscape. The river bent inward in a great
sweep at her feet, the crag rose behind her, and the great prospect
beyond the river of dale and wood, of scar and cloud, seemed spread there
for her eyes alone. A strange fancy seized on Helbeck. This was his
world--his world by inheritance and by love. Five weeks before he had
walked about it as a solitary. And now this figure sat enthroned, as it
were, at the heart of it. He roughly shook the fancy off and walked on.
Miss Fountain greeted him with her usual detachment. He stood a minute or
two irresolute, then threw himself on the slope in front of her.
"Bruno will hardly look at his master now," he said to her pleasantly,
pointing to the dog's attitude as it lay with its nose upon the hem of
Laura closed her book in some annoyance. He usually returned by the other
side of the river, and she was not grateful to him for his breach of
habit. Why had he been meddling in her affairs? She perfectly understood
why Augustina had been making herself so difficult about the dance, and
about the Masons in general. Let him keep his proprieties to himself.
She, Laura, had nothing to do with them. She was hardly his guest--still
less his ward. She had come to Bannisdale against her will, simply and
solely as Augustina's nurse. In return, let Mr. Helbeck leave her alone
to enjoy her plebeian relations as she pleased.
Nevertheless, of course she must be civil; and civil she intermittently
tried to be. She answered his remark about Bruno by a caress to the dog
that brought him to lay his muzzle against her knee.
"Do you mind? Some people do mind. I can easily drive him away."
"Oh, no! I reckon on recovering him--some day," he said, with a frank
"Very soon, I should think. Have you noticed, Mr. Helbeck, how much
better Augustina is already? I believe that by the end of the summer, at
least, she will be able to do without me. And she tells me that the
Superior at the orphanage has a girl to recommend her as a companion when
"Rather officious of the Reverend Mother, I think," said Helbeck sharply.
He paused a moment, then added with some emphasis, "Don't imagine, Miss
Fountain, that anybody else can do for my sister what you do."
"Ah! but--well--one must live one's life--mustn't one, Fricka?"--Fricka
was by this time jealously pawing her dress. "I want to work at my
"And I fear that Bannisdale is not a very gay place for a young lady
He smiled. And so did she; though his tone, with its shade of proud
humility, embarrassed her.
"It is as beautiful as a dream!" she said, with sudden energy, throwing
up her little hand. And he turned to look, as she was looking, at the
river and the woods.
"You feel the beauty of it so much?" he asked her, wondering. His own
strong feeling for his native place was all a matter of old habit and
association. The flash of wild pleasure in her face astounded him. There
was in it that fiery, tameless something that was the girl's
distinguishing mark, her very soul and self. Was it beginning to speak
from her blood to his?
She nodded, then laughed.
"But, of course, it isn't my business to live here. I have a great
friend--a Cambridge girl--and we have arranged it all. We are to live
together, and travel a great deal, and work at music."
"That is what young ladies do nowadays, I understand."
"And why not?"
He lifted his shoulders, as though to decline the answer, and was
silent--so silent that she was forced at last to take the field.
"Don't you approve of 'new women,' Mr. Helbeck? Oh! I wish I was a new
woman," she threw out defiantly. "But I'm not good enough--I don't know
"I wasn't thinking of them," he said simply. "I was thinking of the life
that women used to live here, in this place, in the past--of my mother
and my grandmother."
She could not help a stir of interest. What might the Catholic women of
Bannisdale have been like? She looked along the path that led downward to
the house, and seemed to see their figures upon it--not short and sickly
like Augustina, but with the morning in their eyes and on their white
brows, like the Romney lady. Helbeck's thoughts meanwhile were peopled by
the more solid forms of memory.
"You remember the picture?" he said at last, breaking the silence. "The
husband of that lady was a boor and a gambler. He soon broke her heart.
But her children consoled her to some extent, especially the daughters,
several of whom became nuns. The poor wife came from a large Lancashire
family, but she hardly saw her relations after her marriage; she was
ashamed of her husband's failings and of their growing poverty. She
became very shy and solitary, and very devout. These rock-seats along the
river were placed by her. It is said that she used in summer to spend
long hours on that very seat where you are sitting, doing needlework, or
reading the Little Office of the Virgin, at the hours when her daughters
in their French convent would be saying their office in chapel. She died
before her husband, a very meek, broken creature. I have a little book of
her meditations, that she wrote out by the wish of her confessor.
"Then my grandmother--ah! well, that is too long a story. She was a
Frenchwoman--we have some of her books in my study. She never got on with
England and English people--and at last, after her husband's death, she
never went outside the house and park. My father owed much of his shyness
and oddity to her bringing up. When she felt herself dying she went over
to her family to die at Nantes. She is buried there; and my father was
sent to the Jesuit school at Nantes for a long time. Then my mother--But
I mustn't bore you with these family tales."
He turned to look at his listener. Laura was by this time half
embarrassed, half touched.
"I should like to hear about your mother," she said rather stiffly.
"You may talk to me if you like, but don't, pray, presume upon it!"--that
was what her manner said.
Helbeck smiled a little, unseen, under his black moustache.
"My mother was a great lover of books--the only Helbeck, I think, that
ever read anything. She was a friend and correspondent of Cardinal
Wiseman's--and she tried to make a family history out of the papers here.
But in her later years she was twisted and crippled by rheumatic
gout--her poor fingers could not turn the pages. I used to help her
sometimes; but we none of us shared her tastes. She was a very happy
Happy! Why? Laura felt a fresh prick of irritation as he paused. Was she
never to escape--not even here, in the April sun, beside the river bank!
For, of course, what all this meant was that the really virtuous and
admirable woman does not roam the world in search of art and friendship;
she makes herself happy at home with religion and rheumatic gout.
But Helbeck resumed. And instantly it struck her that he had dropped a
sentence, and was taking up the thread further on.
"But there was no priest in the house then, for the Society could not
spare us one; and very few services in the chapel. Through all her young
days nothing could be poorer or raggeder than English Catholicism. There
was no church at Whinthorpe. Sunday after Sunday my father used to read
the prayers in the chapel, which was half a lumber-room. I often think no
Dissent could have been barer; but we heard Mass when we could, and that
was enough for us. One of the priests from Stonyhurst came when she died.
This is her little missal."
He raised it from the grass--a small volume bound in faded morocco--but
he did not offer to show it to Miss Fountain, and she felt no inclination
to ask for it.
"Why did they live so much alone?" she asked him, with a little frown. "I
suppose there were always neighbours?"
He shook his head.
"A difference that has law and education besides religion behind it, goes
deep. Times are changed, but it goes deep still."
There was a pause. Then she looked at him with a whimsical lifting of her
"Bannisdale was not amusing?" she said.
He laughed good-humouredly. "Not for a woman, certainly. For a man, yes.
There was plenty of rough sport and card-playing, and a good deal of
drinking. The men were full of character, often full of ability. But
there was no outlet--and a wretched education. My great-grandfather might
have been saved by a commission in the army. But the law forbade it him.
So they lived to themselves and by themselves; they didn't choose to live
with their Protestant neighbours--who had made them outlaws and
inferiors! And, of course, they sank in manners and refinement. You may
see the results in all the minor Catholic families to this day--that is,
the old families. The few great houses that remained faithful escaped
many of the drawbacks of the position. The smaller ones suffered, and
succumbed. But they had their compensations!"
As he spoke he rose from the grass, and the dogs, springing up, barked
joyously about him.
"Augustina will be waiting dinner for us, I think."
Laura, who had meant to stay behind, saw that she was expected to walk
home with him. She rose unwillingly, and moved on beside him.
"Their compensations?" That meant the Mass and all the rest of this
tyrannous clinging religion. What did it honestly mean to Mr. Helbeck--to
anybody? She remembered her father's rough laugh. "There are twelve
hundred men, my dear, belonging to the Athenaeum Club. I give you the
bishops. After them, what do you suppose religion has to say to the rest
of the twelve hundred? How many of them ever give a thought to it?"
She raised her eyes, furtively, to Helbeck's face. In spite of its
melancholy lines, she had lately begun to see that its fundamental
expression was a contented one. That, no doubt, came from the
"compensations." But to-day there was more. She was positively startled
by his look of happiness as he strode silently along beside her. It was
all the more striking because of the plain traces left upon him by Lenten
fatigue and "mortification."
It was Easter day, and she supposed he had come from Communion.
A little shiver passed through her, caused by the recollection of words
she had heard, acts of which she had been a witness, in the chapel during
the foregoing week--words and acts of emotion, of abandonment--love
crying to love. A momentary thirst seized her--an instant's sense of
privation, of longing, gone almost as soon as it had come.
Helbeck turned to her.
"So this dance you are going to is on Thursday?" he said pleasantly.
She came to herself in a moment.
"Yes, on Thursday, at eight. I shall go early. I have engaged a fly to
take me to the farm--thank you!--and my cousins will see me home. I am
obliged to you for the key. It will save my giving any trouble."
"If you did we should not grudge it," he said quietly.
She was silent for a few more steps, then she said:
"I quite understand, Mr. Helbeck, that you do not approve of my going.
But I must judge for myself. The Masons are my own people. I am sorry
they should have---- Well--I don't understand--but it seems you have
reason to think badly of them."
"Not of _them_," he said with emphasis.
"Of my cousin Hubert, then?"
He made no answer. She coloured angrily, then broke out, her words
tumbling childishly over one another:
"There are a great many things said of Hubert that I don't believe he
deserves! He has a great many good tastes--his music is wonderful. At any
rate, he is my cousin; they are papa's only relations in the world. He
would have been kind to Hubert; and he would have despised me if I turned
my back on them because I was staying in a grand house with grand
"Grand people!" said Helbeck, raising his eyebrows. "But I am sorry I led
you to say these things, Miss Fountain. Excuse me--may I open this gate
She reached her own room as quickly as possible, and dropped upon the
chair beside her dressing-table in a whirl of angry feeling. A small and
heated face looked out upon her from the glass. But after the first
instinctive moment she took no notice of it. With the mind's eye she
still saw the figure she had just parted from, the noble poise of the
head, thrown back on the broad shoulders, the black and greys of the
hair, the clear penetrating glance--all the slight signs of age and
austerity that had begun to filch away the Squire's youth. It was at
least ten minutes before she could free herself enough from the unwelcome
memories of her walk to find a vindictive pleasure in running hastily to
look at her one white dress--all she had to wear at the Browhead dance.
* * * * *
On Thursday afternoon Helbeck was fishing in the park. The sea-trout were
coming up, the day was soft, and he had done well. But just as the
evening rise was beginning he put up his rod and went home. Father
Leadham had taken his departure. Augustina, Miss Fountain, and he were
again alone in the house.
He went into his study, and left the door open, while he busied himself
with some writing.
Presently Augustina put her head in. She looked dishevelled, and rather
pinker than usual, as always happened when there was the smallest
disturbance of her routine.
"Laura has just gone up to dress, Alan. Is it fine?"
"There is no rain," he said, without turning his head. "Don't shut the
door, please. This fire is oppressive."
She went away, and he wrote on a little while--then listened. He heard
hurrying feet and movements overhead, and presently a door opened
hastily, and a voice exclaimed, "Just two or three, you know, Ellen--from
that corner under the kitchen-window! Run, there's a good girl!"
And there was a clattering noise as Ellen ran down the front stairs, and
then flew along the corridor to the garden-door.
In a minute she was back again, and as she passed his room Helbeck saw
that she was carrying a bunch of white narcissus.
Then more sounds of laughter and chatter overhead. At last Augustina
hurried down and looked in upon him again, flurried and smiling.
"Alan, you really must see her. She looks so pretty."
"I am afraid I'm busy," he said, still writing. And she retired
disappointed, careful, however, to follow his wishes about the door.
"Augustina, hold Bruno!" cried a light voice suddenly. "If he jumps on me
I'm done for!"
A swish of soft skirts and she was there--in the hall. Helbeck could see
her quite plainly as she stood by the oak table in her white dress. There
was just room at the throat of it for a pearl necklace, and at the wrists
for some thin gold bracelets. The narcissus were in her hair, which she
had coiled and looped in a wonderful way, so that Helbeck's eyes were
dazzled by its colour and abundance, and by the whiteness of the slender
neck below it. She meanwhile was quite unconscious of his neighbourhood,
and he saw that she was all in a happy flutter, hastily putting on her
gloves, and chattering alternately to Augustina and to the transformed
Ellen, who stood in speechless admiration behind her, holding a cloak.
"There, Ellen, that'll do. You're a darling--and the flowers are perfect.
Run now, and tell Mrs. Denton that I didn't keep you more than twenty
minutes. Oh, yes, Augustina, I'm quite warm. I can't choke, dear, even to
please you. There now--here goes! If you do lock me out, there's a corner
under the bridge, quite snug. My dress will mind--I shan't. Good-night.
My compliments to Mr. Helbeck."
Then a hasty kiss to Augustina and she was gone.
Helbeck went out into the hall. Augustina was standing on the steps,
watching the departing fly. At the sight of her brother she turned back
to him, her poor little face aglow.
"She did look so nice, Alan! I wish she had gone to a proper dance, and
not to these odd farmers and people. Why, they'll all go in their high
dresses, and think her stuck-up."
"I assure you I never saw anything so smart as Miss Mason at the hunt
ball," said Helbeck. "Did you give her the key, Augustina? But I shall
probably sit up. There are some Easter accounts that must be done."
* * * * *
The old clock in the hall struck one. Helbeck was sitting in his familiar
chair before the log fire, which he had just replenished. In one hand was
a life of St. Philip Neri, the other played absently with Bruno's ears.
In truth he was not reading but listening.
Suddenly there was a sound. He turned his head, and saw that the door
leading from the hall to the tower staircase, and thence to the kitchen
regions, had been opened.
"Who's there?" he said in astonishment.
Mrs. Denton appeared.
"You, Denton! What are you up for at this time?"
"I came to see if the yoong lady had coom back," she said in a low voice,
and with her most forbidding manner. "It's late, and I heard nowt."
"Late? Not at all! Go to bed, Denton, at once; Miss Fountain will be here
"I'm not sleepy; I can wait for her," said the housekeeper, advancing a
step or two into the hall. "You mun be tired, sir, and should take your
"I'm not the least tired, thank you. Good-night. Let me recommend you to
go to bed as quickly as possible."
Mrs. Denton lingered for a moment, as though in hesitation, then went
with a sulky unwillingness that was very evident to her master.
Helbeck laid down his book on his knee with a little laugh.
"She would have liked to get in a scolding, but we won't give her the
The reverie that followed was not a very pleasant one. He seemed to see
Miss Fountain in the large rustic room, with a bevy of young men about
her--young fellows in Sunday coats, with shiny hair and limbs bursting
out of their ill-fitting clothes. There would be loud talking and
laughter, rough jokes that would make her wince, compliments that would
disgust her--they not knowing how to take her, nor she them. She would be
wholly out of her place--a butt for impertinence--perhaps worse. And
there would be a certain sense of dragging a lady from her sphere--of
making free with the old house and the old family.
He thought of it with disgust. He was an aristocrat to his fingers' ends.
But how could it have been helped? And when he remembered her as she
stood there in the hall, so young and pretty, so eager for her pleasure,
he said to himself with sudden heartiness:
"Nonsense! I hope the child has enjoyed herself." It was the first time
that, even in his least formal thoughts, he had applied such a word to
Silence again. The wind breathed gently round the house. He could hear
the river rushing.
Once he thought there was a sound of wheels and he went to the outer
door, but there was nothing. Overhead the stars shone, and along the
track of the river lay a white mist.
As he was turning back to the hall, however, he heard voices from the
mist--a loud man's voice, then a little cry as of some one in fright or
anger, then a song. The rollicking tune of it shouted into the night,
into the stately stillness that surrounded the old house, had the
abruptest, unseemliest effect.
Helbeck ran down the steps. A dog-cart with lights approached the gateway
in the low stone enclosure before the house. It shot through so fast and
so awkwardly as to graze the inner post. There was another little cry.
Then, with various lurches and lunges, the cart drove round the gravel,
and brought up somewhere near the steps.
Hubert Mason jumped down.
"Who's that? Mr. Helbeck? O Lord! glad to see yer, I'm sure! There's that
little silly--she's been making such a' fuss all the way--thought I was
going to upset her into the river, I do believe. She would try and get at
the reins, though I told her it was the worst thing to do, whatever--to
be interfering with the driver. Lord! I thought she'd have used the whip
And Mason stood beside the shafts, with his arms on the side, laughing
loudly and looking at Laura.
"Stand out of the way, sir!" said Helbeck sternly, "and let me help Miss
"Oh! I say!--Come now, I'm not going to stand you coming it over me twice
in the same sort--not I," cried the young man with a violent change of
tone. "_You_ get out of the way, d--mn you! I brought Miss Fountain home,
and she's my cousin--so there!--not yours."
"Hubert, go away at once!" said Laura's shaking but imperious voice. "I
prefer that Mr. Helbeck should help me."
She had risen and was clinging to the rail of the dog-cart, while her
face drooped so that Helbeck could not see it.
Mason stepped back with another oath, caught his foot in the reins, which
he had carelessly left hanging, and fell on his knees on the gravel.
"No matter," said Helbeck, seeing that Laura paused in terror. "Give me
your hand, Miss Fountain."
She slipped on the step in the darkness, and Helbeck caught her and set
her on her feet.
"Go in, please. I will look after him."
She ran up the steps, then turned to look.
Mason, still swearing and muttering, had some difficulty in getting up.
Helbeck stood by till he had risen and disentangled the reins.
"If you don't drive carefully down the park in the fog you'll come to
harm," he said, shortly, as Mason mounted to his seat.
"That's none of your business," said Mason sulkily. "I brought my cousin
all right--I suppose I can take myself. Now, come up, will you!"
He struck the pony savagely on the back with the reins. The tired animal
started forward; the cart swayed again from side to side. Helbeck held
his breath as it passed the gate-posts; but it shaved through, and soon
nothing but the gallop of retreating hoofs could be heard through the
He mounted the steps, and shut and barred the outer door. When he entered
the hall, Laura was sitting by the oak table, one hand supporting and
hiding her face, the other hanging listlessly beside her.
She struggled to her feet as he came in. The hood of her blue cloak had
fallen backwards, and her hair was in confusion round her face and neck.
Her cheeks were very white, and there were tears in her eyes. She had
never seemed to him so small, so childish, or so lovely.
He took no notice of her agitation or of her efforts to speak. He went to
a tray of wine and biscuits that had been left by his orders on a
side-table, and poured out some wine.
"No, I don't want it," she said, waving it away. "I don't know what to
"You would do best to take it," he said, interrupting her.
His quiet insistence overcame her, and she drank it. It gave her back her
voice and a little colour. She bit her lip, and looked after Helbeck as
he walked away to the farther end of the hall to light a candle for her.
"Mr. Helbeck," she began as he came near. Then she gathered force. "You
must--you ought to let me apologise."
"For what? I am afraid you had a disagreeable and dangerous drive home.
Would you like me to wake one of the servants--Ellen, perhaps--and tell
her to come to you?"
"Oh! you won't let me say what I ought to say," she exclaimed in despair.
"That my cousin should have behaved like this--should have insulted
"No! no!" he said with some peremptoriness. "Your cousin insulted you by
daring to drive with you in such a state. That is all that matters to
me--or should, I think, matter to you. Will you have your candle, and
shall I call anyone?"
She shook her head and moved towards the staircase, he accompanying her.
When he saw how feebly she walked, he was on the point of asking her to
take his arm and let him help her to her room; but he refrained.
At the foot of the stairs she paused. Her "good-night" died in her throat
as she offered her hand. Her dejection, her girlish shame, made her
inexpressibly attractive to him; it was the first time he had ever seen
her with all her arms thrown down. But he said nothing. He bade her
good-night with a cheerful courtesy, and, returning to the hall fire, he
stood beside it till he heard the distant shutting of her door.
Then he sank back into his chair and sat motionless, with knitted brows,
for nearly an hour, staring into the caverns of the fire.
Laura awoke very early the following morning, but though the sun was
bright outside, it brought no gaiety to her. The night before she had
hurried her undressing, that she might bury herself in her pillow as
quickly as possible, and force sleep to come to her. It was her natural
instinct in the face of pain or humiliation. To escape from it by any
summary method was always her first thought. "I will, I must go to
sleep!" she had said to herself, in a miserable fury with herself and
fate; and by the help of an intense exhaustion sleep came.
But in the morning she could do herself no more violence. Memory took its
course, and a very disquieting course it was. She sat up in bed, with her
hands round her knees, thinking not only of all the wretched and untoward
incidents connected with the ball, but of the whole three weeks that had
gone before it. What had she been doing, how had she been behaving, that
this odious youth should have dared to treat her in such a way?
Fricka jumped up beside her, and Laura held the dog's nose against her
cheek for comfort, while she confessed herself. Oh! what a fool she had
been. Why, pray, had she been paying all these visits to the farm, and
spending all these hours in this young fellow's company? Her quick
intelligence unravelled all the doubtful skein. Yearning towards her
kindred?--yes, there had been something of that. Recoil from the
Bannisdale ways, an angry eagerness to scout them and fly them?--yes,
that there had always been in plenty. But she dived deeper into her
self-disgust, and brought up the real bottom truth, disagreeable and
hateful as it was: mere excitement about a young man, as a young
man--mere love of power over a great hulking fellow whom other people
found unmanageable! Aye, there it was, in spite of all the glosses she
had put upon it in her letters to Molly Friedland. All through, she had
known perfectly well that Hubert Mason was not her equal; that on a
number of subjects he had vulgar habits and vulgar ideas; that he often
expressed his admiration for her in a way she ought to have resented.
There were whole sides of him, indeed, that she shrank from
exploring--that she wanted, nay, was determined, to know nothing about.
On the other hand, her young daring, for want of any better prey, had
taken pleasure from the beginning in bringing him under her yoke. With
her second visit to the farm she saw that she could make him her
slave--that she had only to show him a little flattery, a little
encouragement, and he would be as submissive and obedient to her as he
was truculent and ill-tempered towards the rest of the world. And her
vanity had actually plumed itself on so poor a prey! One excuse--yes,
there was the one excuse! With her he had shown the side that she alone
of his kindred could appreciate. But for the fear of Cousin Elizabeth she
could have kept him hanging over the piano hour after hour while she
played, in a passion of delight. Here was common ground. Nay, in native
power he was her superior, though she, with her better musical training,
could help and correct him in a thousand ways. She had the woman's
passion for influence; and he seemed like wax in her hands. Why not help
him to education and refinement, to the cultivation of the best that was
in him? She would persuade Cousin Elizabeth--alter and amend his life for
him--and Mr. Helbeck should see that there were better ways of dealing
with people than by looking down upon them and despising them.
And now the very thought of these vain and silly dreams set her face
aflame. Power over him? Let her only remember the humiliations, through
which she had been dragged! All the dance came back upon her--the strange
people, the strange young men, the strange, raftered room, with the noise
of the mill-stream and the weir vibrating through it, and mingling with
the chatter of the fiddles. But she had been determined to enjoy it, to
give herself no airs, to forget with all her might that she was anyway
different from these dale-folk, whose blood was hers. And with the older
people all had been easy. With the elderly women especially, in their
dark gowns and large Sunday collars, she had felt herself at home; again
and again she had put herself under their wing, while in their silent way
they turned their shrewd motherly eyes upon her, and took stock of her
and every detail of her dress. And the old men, with their patriarchal
manners and their broad speech--it had been all sweet and pleasant to
her. "Noo, Miss, they tell ma as yo'.are Stephen Fountain's dowter. An I
mut meak bold ter cum an speak to thee, for a knew 'un when he was a lile
lad." Or "Yo'll gee ma your hand, Miss Fountain, for we're pleased and
proud to git, yo' here. Yer fadther an mea gaed to skule togedther. My
worrd, but he was parlish cliver! An I daursay as you teak afther him."
Kind folk! with all the signs of their hard and simple life about them.
But the young men--how she had hated them!--whether they were shy, or
whether they were bold; whether they romped with their sweethearts, and
laughed at their own jokes like bulls of Bashan, or whether they wore
their best clothes as though the garments burnt them, and danced the
polka in a perspiring and anguished silence! No; she was not of _their_
class, thank Heaven! She never wished to be. One man had asked her to put
a pin in his collar; another had spilt a cup of coffee over her white
dress; a third had confided to her that his young lady was "that luvin"
to him in public, he had been fair obliged to bid her "keep hersel to
hersel afore foak." The only partner with whom it had given her the
smallest pleasure to dance had been the schoolmaster and principal host
of the evening, a tall, sickly young man, who wore spectacles and talked
through his nose. But he talked of things she understood, and he danced
tolerably. Alas! there had come the rub. Hubert Mason had stood sentinel
beside her during the early part of the evening. He had assumed the
proudest and most exclusive airs with regard to her, and his chief aim
seemed to be to impress upon her the prestige he enjoyed among his
fellows as a football player and an athlete. In the end his patronage and
his boasting had become insupportable to a girl of any spirit. And his
dancing! It seemed to her that he held her before him like a shield, and
then charged the room with her. She had found herself the centre of all
eyes, her pretty dress torn, her hair about her ears. So that she had
shaken him off--with too much impatience, no doubt, and too little
consideration for the touchiness of his temper. And then, what
stormy looks, what mutterings, what disappearances into the
refreshment-room--and, finally, what, fierce jealousy of the
schoolmaster! Laura awoke at last to the disagreeable fact that she had
to drive home with him--and he had already made her ridiculous. Even
Polly--the bedizened Polly--looked grave, and there had been angry
conferences between her and her brother.
Then came the departure, Laura by this time full of terrors, but not
knowing what to do, nor how else she was to get home. And, oh! that
grinning band of youths round the door--Mason's triumphant leap into the
cart and boisterous farewell to his friends--and that first perilous
moment, when the pony had almost backed into the mill stream, and was
only set right again by half a dozen stalwart arms, amid the laughter of
As for the wild drive through the dark, she shivered again, half with
anger, half with terror, as she thought of it. How had they ever got
home? She could not tell. He was drunk, of course. He seemed to her to
have driven into everything and over everything, abusing the schoolmaster
and Mr. Helbeck and his mother all the time, and turning upon her when
she answered him, or showed any terror of what might happen to them, now
with fury, and now with attempts at love-making which it had taken all
her power over him to quell.
Their rush up the park had been like the ride of the wild horseman. Every
moment she had expected to be in the river. And with the approach of the
house he had grown wilder and more unmanageable than before. "Dang it!
let's wake up the old Papist!" he had said to her when she had tried to
stop his singing. "What harm'll it do?"
As for the shame of their arrival, the very thought of Mr. Helbeck
standing silent on the steps as they approached, of Hubert's behaviour,
of her host's manner to her in the hall, made her shut her eyes and hide
her red face against Fricka for sympathy. How was she ever to meet Mr.
Helbeck again, to hold her own against him any more!
* * * * *
An hour later Laura, very carefully dressed, and holding herself very
erect, entered Augustina's room.
"Oh, Laura!" cried Mrs. Fountain, as the door opened. She was very
flushed, and she stared from her bed at her stepdaughter in an agitated
Laura stopped short.
"Well, what is it, Augustina? What have you heard?"
"Laura! how _can_ you do such things!"
And Augustina, who already had her breakfast beside her, raised her
handkerchief to her eyes and began to cry. Laura threw up her head and
walked away to a far window, where she turned and confronted Mrs.
"Well, he has been quick in telling you," she said, in a low but fierce
"He? What do you mean? My brother? As if he had said a word! I don't
believe he ever would. But Mrs. Denton heard it all."
"Mrs. Denton?" said Laura. "_Mrs. Denton?_ What on earth had she to do
"She heard you drive up. You know her room looks on the front."
"And she listened? sly old creature!" said Laura, recovering herself.
"Well, it can't be helped. If she heard, she heard, and whatever I may
feel, I'm not going to apologise to Mrs. Denton."
"But, Laura--Laura--was he----"
Augustina could not finish the odious question.
"I suppose he was," said Laura bitterly. "It seems to be the natural
thing for young men of that sort."
"Laura, do come here."
Laura came unwillingly, and Augustina took her hands and looked up at
"And, Laura, he was abominably rude to Alan!"
"Yes, he was, and I'm very sorry," said the girl slowly. "But it can't be
helped, and it's no good making yourself miserable, Augustina."
"Miserable? I? It's you, Laura, who look miserable. I never saw you look
so white and dragged. You must never, never see him again."
The girl's obstinacy awoke in a moment.
"I don't know that I shall promise that, Augustina."
"Oh, Laura! as if you could wish to," said Augustina, in tears.
"I can't give up my father's people," said the girl stiffly. "But he
shall never annoy Mr. Helbeck again, I promise you that, Augustina."
"Oh! you did look so nice, Laura, and your dress was so pretty!"
Laura laughed, rather grimly.
"There's not much of it left this morning," she said. "However, as one of
the gentlemen who kindly helped to ruin it said last night, 'Lor, bless
yer, it'll wesh!'"
* * * * *
After breakfast Laura found herself in the drawing-room, looking through
an open window at the spring green in a very strained and irritable mood.
"I would not begin if I could not go on," she said to herself with
disdain. But her lip trembled.
So Mr. Helbeck had taken offence, after all. Hardly a word at breakfast,
except such as the briefest, barest civility required. And he was going
away, it appeared, for three days, perhaps a week, on business. If he had
given her the slightest opening, she had meant to master her pride
sufficiently to renew her apologies and ask his advice, subject, of
course, to her own final judgment as to what kindred and kindness might
require of her. But he had given her no opening, and the subject was not,
apparently, to be renewed between them.
She might have asked him, too, to curb Mrs. Denton's tongue. But no, it
was not to be. Very well. The girl drew her small frame together and
prepared, as no one thought for or befriended her, to think for and
She passed the next few days in some depression. Mr. Helbeck was absent.
Augustina was very ailing and querulous, and Laura was made to feel that
it was her fault. Not a word of regret or apology came from Browhead
Meanwhile Mrs. Denton had apparently made her niece understand that there
was to be no more dallying with Miss Fountain. Whenever she and Laura
met, Ellen lowered her head and ran. Laura found that the girl was not
allowed to wait upon her personally any more. Meanwhile the housekeeper
herself passed Miss Fountain with a manner and a silence which were in
themselves an insult.
And two days after Helbeck's departure, Laura was crossing the hall
towards tea-time, when she saw Mrs. Denton admitting one of the Sisters
from the orphanage. It was the Reverend Mother herself, the portly
shrewd-faced woman who had wished Mr. Helbeck a good wife. Laura passed
her, and the nun saluted her coldly. "Dear me!--you shall have Augustina
to yourself, my good friend," thought Miss Fountain. "Don't be afraid."
And she turned into the garden.
An hour later she came back. As she opened the door in the old wall she
saw the Sister on the steps, talking with Mrs. Denton. At sight of her
they parted. The nun drew her long black cloak about her, ran down the
steps, and hurried away.
And indoors, Laura could not imagine what had happened to her stepmother.
Augustina was clearly excited, yet she would say nothing. Her
restlessness was incessant, and at intervals there were furtive tears.
Once or twice she looked at Laura with the most tragic eyes, but as soon
as Laura approached her she would hastily bury herself in her newspaper,
or begin counting the stitches of her knitting.
At last, after luncheon, Mrs. Fountain suddenly threw down her work with
a sigh that shook her small person from top to toe.
"I wish I knew what was wrong with you," said Laura, coming up behind
her, and dropping a pair of soft hands on her shoulders. "Shall I get you
your new tonic?"
"No!" said Augustina pettishly; then, with a rush of words that she could
"Laura, you must--you positively must give up that young man."
Laura came round and seated herself on the fender stool in front of her
"Oh! so that's it. Has anybody else been gossiping?"
"I do wish you wouldn't--you wouldn't take things so coolly!" cried
Augustina. "I tell you, the least trifle is enough to do a young girl of
your age harm. Your father would have been so annoyed."
"I don't think so," said Laura quietly. "But who is it now? The Reverend
Augustina hesitated. She had been recommended to keep things to herself.
But she had no will to set against Laura's, and she was, in fact,
bursting with suppressed remonstrance.
"It doesn't matter, my dear. One never knows where a story of that kind
will go to. That's just what girls don't remember."
"Who told a story, and what? I didn't see the Reverend Mother at the
"Laura! But you never thought, my dear--you never knew--that there was a
cousin of Father Bowles' there--the man who keeps that little Catholic
shop in Market Street. That's what comes, you see, of going to parties
with people beneath you."
"Oh! a cousin of Father Bowles was there?" said Laura slowly. "Well, did
he make a pretty tale?"
"Laura! you are the most provoking--You don't the least understand what
people think. How could you go with him when everybody remonstrated?"
"Nobody remonstrated," said the girl sharply.
"His sister begged you not to go."
"His sister did nothing of the kind. She was staying the night in the
village, and there was literally nothing for me to do but come home with
Hubert or to throw myself on some stranger."
"And such stories as one hears about this dreadful young man!" cried
"I dare say. There are always stories."
"I couldn't even tell you what they are about!" said Augustina. "Your
father would _certainly_ have forbidden it altogether."
There was a silence. Laura held her head as high as ever. She was, in
fact, in a fever of contradiction and resentment, and the interference of
people like Mrs. Denton and the Sisters was fast bringing about Mason's
forgiveness. Naturally, she was likely to hear the worst of him in that
house. What Helbeck, or what dependent on a Helbeck, would give him the
benefit of any doubt?
Augustina knitted with all her might for a few minutes, and then looked
"Don't you think," she said, with a timid change of tone--"don't you
think, dear, you might go to Cambridge for a few weeks? I am sure the
Friedlands would take you in. You would come in for all the parties,
and--and you needn't trouble about me. Sister Angela's niece could come
and stay here for a few weeks. The Reverend Mother told me so."
"Sister Angela suggested that? Thank you, I won't have my plans settled
for me by Sister Angela. If you and Mr. Helbeck want to turn me out, why,
of course I shall go."
Augustina held out her hands in terror at the girl's attitude and voice.
"Laura, don't say such things! As if you weren't an angel to me! As if I
could bear the thought of anybody else!"
A quiver ran through Laura's features. "Well, then, don't bear it," she
said, kneeling down again beside her stepmother. "You look quite ill and
excited, Augustina. I think we'll keep the Reverend Mother out in future.
Won't you lie down and let me cover you up?"
So it ended for the time--with physical weakness on Augustina's part, and
caresses on Laura's.
But when she was alone, Miss Fountain sat down and tried to think things
"What are the Sisters meddling for? Do they find me in their way? I'm
flattered! I wish I was. Well!--is drunkenness the worst thing in the
world?" she asked herself deliberately. "Of course, if it goes beyond a
certain point it is like madness--you must keep out of its way, for your
own sake. But papa used to say there were many things a great deal worse.
So there are!--meanness, and shuffling with truth for the sake of your
soul. As for the other tales, I don't believe them. But if I did, I am
not going to marry him!"
She felt herself very wise. In truth, as Stephen Fountain had realised
with some anxiety before his death, among Laura's many ignorances, none
was so complete or so dangerous as her ignorance of all the ugly ground
facts that are strewn round us, for the stumbling of mankind. She was as
determined not to know them, as he was invincibly shy of telling them.
For the rest, her reflections represented, no doubt, many dicta that in
the course of her young life she had heard from her father. To Stephen
Fountain the whole Christian doctrine of sin was "the enemy"; and the
mystical hatred of certain actions and habits, as such, was the fount of
half the world's unreason.
The following day it was Father Bowles' turn. He came over in what seemed
to be his softest and most catlike mood, rubbing his hands over his chest
in a constant glee at his own jokes. He was amiability itself to Laura.
But he, too, had his twenty minutes alone with Augustina; and afterwards
Mrs. Fountain ventured once more to speak to Laura of change and
amusement. Miss Fountain smiled, and replied as before--that, in the
first place she had no invitations, and in the next, she had no dresses.
But again, as before, if Mr. Helbeck should express a wish that her visit
to Bannisdale should come to an end, that would be another matter.
* * * * *
Next morning Laura was taking a walk in the park when a letter was
brought to her by old Wilson, the groom, cowman, and general factotum.
She took it to a sheltered nook by the riverside and read it. It was from
Hubert Mason, in his best commercial hand, and it ran as follows:
"Dear Miss Fountain,--You would not allow me, I know, to call you Cousin
Laura any more, so I don't attempt it. And of course I don't deserve
it--nor that you should ever shake hands with me again. I can't get over
thinking of what I've done. Mother and Polly will tell you that I have
hardly slept at nights--for of course you won't believe me. How I can
have been such a blackguard I don't understand. I must have taken too
much. All I know is it didn't seem much, and but for the agitation of my
mind, I don't believe anything would ever have gone wrong. But I couldn't
bear to see you dancing with that man and despising me. And there it
is--I can never get over it, and you will never forgive me. I feel I
can't stay here any more, and mother has consented at last to let me have
some money on the farm. If I could just see you before I go, to say
good-bye, and ask your pardon, there would be a better chance for me. I
can't come to Mr. Helbeck's house, of course, and I don't suppose you
would come here. I shall be coming home from Kirby Whardale fair
to-morrow night, and shall be crossing the little bridge in the
park--upper end--some time between eight and nine. But I know you won't
be there. I can't expect it, and I feel it pretty badly, I can tell you.
I did hope I might have become something better through knowing you.
Whatever you may think of me I am always
"Your respectful and humble cousin,
"Well--upon my word!" said Laura. She threw the letter on to the grass
beside her, and sat, with her hands round her knees, staring at the
river, in a sparkle of anger and amazement.
What audacity!--to expect her to steal out at night--in the dusk,
anyway--to meet him--_him_! She fed her wrath on the imagination of all
the details that would belong to such an escapade. It would be after
supper, of course, in the fast lengthening twilight. Helbeck and his
sister would be in the drawing-room--for Mr. Helbeck was expected home on
the following day--and she might perfectly well leave them, as she often
did, to talk their little Catholic gossip by themselves, and then slip
out by the chapel passage and door, through the old garden, to the gate
in the wall above the river bank, and so to the road that led along the
Greet through the upper end of the park. Nothing, of course, could be
Merely to think of it, for a girl of Laura's temperament, was already bit
by bit to incline to it. She began to turn it over, to taste the
adventure of it--to talk very fast to Fricka, under her breath, with
little gusts of laughter. And no doubt there was something mollifying in
the boy's humble expressions. As for his sleepless nights--how salutary!
how very salutary! Only the nail must be driven in deeper--must be turned
in the wound.
It would need a vast amount of severity, perhaps, to undo the effects of
her mere obedience to his call--supposing she made up her mind to obey
it. Well! she would be quite equal to severity. She would speak very
plain things to him--very plain things indeed. It was her first serious
adventure with any of these big, foolish, troublesome creatures of the
male sex, and she rose to it much as Helbeck might have risen to the
playing of a salmon in the Greet. Yes! he should say good-bye to her, let
priests and nuns talk what scandal they pleased. Yes! he should go on his
way forgiven and admonished--if he wished it--for kindred's sake.
Her cheek burned, her heart beat fast. He and she were of one blood--both
of them ill-regarded by aristocrats and holy Romans. As for him, he was
going to ruin at home; and there was in him this strange, artistic gift
to be thought for and rescued. He had all the faults of the young cub.
Was he to be wholly disowned for that? Was she to cast him off for ever
at the mere bidding of the Helbecks and their friends?
He would never, of course, be allowed to enter the Bannisdale
drawing-room, and she had no intention at present of going to Browhead
Farm. Well, then, under the skies and the clouds! A gracious pardon, an
appropriate lecture--and a short farewell.
* * * * *
All that day and the next Laura gave herself to her whim. She was
perfectly conscious, meanwhile, that it was a reckless and a wilful thing
that she was planning. She liked it none the less for that. In fact, the
scheme was the final crystallisation of all that bitterness of mood that
had poisoned and tormented her ever since her first coming to Bannisdale.
And it gave her for the moment the morbid pleasure that all angry people
get from letting loose the angry word or act.
Meanwhile she became more and more conscious of a certain network of
blame and discussion that seemed to be closing about her and her actions.
It showed itself by a number of small signs. When she went into
Whinthorpe to shop for Augustina she fancied that the assistants in the
shop, and even the portly draper himself, looked at her with a sly
curiosity. The girl's sore pride grew more unmanageable hour by hour. If
there was some ill-natured gossip about her, going the round in the town
and the neighbourhood, had she--till now--given the least shadow of
excuse for it? Not the least shade of a shadow!
* * * * *
Mr. Helbeck, his sister, and Laura were in the drawing-room after supper.
Laura had been observing Mrs. Fountain closely.
"She is longing to have her talk with him," thought the girl; "and she
shall have it--as much as she likes."
The shutters were not yet closed, and the room, with its crackling logs,
was filled with a gentle mingled light. The sun, indeed, was gone, but
the west still glowed, and the tall larches in the front enclosure stood
black against a golden dome of sky. Laura rose and left the room. As she
opened the door she caught Augustina's quick look of relief and the drop
of the knitting-needles.
Fricka was safely prisoned upstairs. Laura slipped on a hat and a dark
cloak that were hanging in the hall, and ran down the passage leading to
the chapel. The heavy seventeenth-century door at the end of it took her
some trouble to open without noise, but it was done at last, and she was
in the old garden.
Her little figure in its cloak, among the dark yews, was hardly to be
seen in the dusk. The garden was silence itself, and the gate in the wall
was open. Once on the road beside the river she could hardly restrain
herself from running, so keen was the air, so free and wide the evening
solitude. All things were at peace; nothing moved but a few birds and the
tiniest intermittent breeze. Overhead, great thunderclouds kept the
sunset; beneath, the blues of the evening were all interwoven with rose;
so, too, were the wood and sky reflections in the gently moving water. In
some of the pools the trout were still lazily rising; pigeons and homing
rooks were slowly passing through the clear space that lay between the
tree-tops and the just emerging stars; and once Laura stopped, holding
her breath, thinking that she saw through the dusk the blue flash of a
kingfisher making for a nest she knew. Even in this dimmed light the