Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Andrew Templeton, Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and the
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BY MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
AUTHOR OF LADY ROSE'S DAUGHTER, MISSING, ELIZABETH'S CAMPAIGN, ETC.
"I don't care a hang about the Middle Classes!" said Lord Buntingford,
resting his head on his hand, and slowly drawing a pen over a printed
sheet that lay before him. The sheet was headed "Middle Class Defence
League," and was an appeal to whom it might concern to join the founders
of the League in an attempt to curb the growing rapacity of the
working-classes. "Why should we be snuffed out without a struggle?" said
the circular. "We are fewer, no doubt, but we are better educated. Our
home traditions are infinitely superior. It is on the Middle Classes that
the greatness of England depends."
"Does it?" thought Lord Buntingford irritably. "I wonder."
He rose and began to pace his library, a shabby comfortable room which he
loved. The room however had distinction like its master. The distinction
came, perhaps, from its few pictures, of no great value, but witnessing
to a certain taste and knowledge on the part of the persons, long since
dead, who hung them there; from one or two cases of old Nankin; from its
old books; and from a faded but enchanting piece of tapestry behind the
cases of china, which seemed to represent a forest. The tapestry, which
covered the whole of the end wall of the room, was faded and out of
repair, but Lord Buntingford, who was a person of artistic sensibilities,
was very fond of it, and had never been able to make up his mind to spare
it long enough to have it sent to the School of Art Needlework for
mending. His cousin, Lady Cynthia Welwyn, scolded him periodically for
his negligence in the matter. But after all it was he, and not Cynthia,
who had to live in the room. She had something to do with the School, and
of course wanted jobs for her workers.
"I hope that good woman's train will be punctual," he thought to himself,
presently, as he went to a window and drew up a blind. "Otherwise I shall
have no time to look at her before Helena arrives."
He stood awhile absently surveying the prospect outside. There was first
of all a garden with some pleasant terraces, and flights of stone steps,
planned originally in the grand style, but now rather dilapidated and
ill-kept, suggesting either a general shortage of pelf on the part of the
owner--or perhaps mere neglect and indifference.
Beyond the garden stretched a green rim of park, with a gleam of water in
the middle distance which seemed to mean either a river or a pond, many
fine scattered trees, and, girdling the whole, a line of wooded hill.
Just such a view as any county--almost--in this beautiful England can
produce. It was one of the first warm days of a belated spring. A
fortnight before, park and hills and garden had been deep in snow. Now
Nature, eager, and one might think ashamed, was rushing at her neglected
work, determined to set the full spring going in a minimum of hours. The
grass seemed to be growing, and the trees leafing under the spectator's
eyes. There was already a din of cuckoos in the park, and the nesting
birds were busy.
The scene was both familiar and unfamiliar to Lord Buntingford. He had
been brought up in it as a child. But he had only inherited the Beechmark
property from his uncle just before the war, and during almost the whole
of the war he had been so hard at work, as a volunteer in the Admiralty,
that he had never been able to do more than run down once or twice a year
to see his agent, go over his home farm, and settle what timber was to be
cut before the Government commandeered it. He was not yet demobilized, as
his naval uniform showed. There was a good deal of work still to do in
his particular office, and he was more than willing to do it. But in a
few months' time at any rate--he was just now taking a fortnight's
leave--he would be once more at a loose end. That condition of things
must be altered as soon as possible. When he looked back over the years
of driving work through which he had just passed to the years of
semi-occupation before them, he shrank from those old conditions in
disgust. Something must be found to which he could enslave himself again.
Liberty was the great delusion--at least for him.
Politics?--Well, there was the House of Lords, and the possibility of
some minor office, when his Admiralty work was done. And the whole
post-war situation was only too breathless. But for a man who, as soon as
he had said Yes, was immediately seized with an insensate desire to look
once more at all the reasons which might have induced him to say No,
there was no great temptation in politics. Work was what the nation
Agriculture and the Simple Life?--Hardly! Five years of life in London,
four of them under war conditions, had spoilt any taste for the country
he had ever possessed. He meant to do his duty by his estate, and by the
miscellaneous crowd of people, returned soldiers and others, who seemed
to wish to settle upon it. But to take the plunge seriously, to go in
heart and soul for intensive culture or scientific dairy-farming, to
spend lonely winters in the country with his bailiffs and tenants for
company--it was no good talking about it--he knew it could not be done.
And--finally--what was the good of making plans at all?--with these new
responsibilities which friendship and pity and weakness of will had
lately led him to take upon himself?--For two years at least he would not
be able to plan his life in complete freedom.
His thoughts went dismally off in the new direction. As he turned away
from the window, a long Venetian mirror close by reflected the image of a
tall man in naval uniform, with a head and face that were striking rather
than handsome--black curly hair just dusted with grey, a slight chronic
frown, remarkable blue eyes and a short silky beard. His legs were
slender in proportion to the breadth of his shoulders, and inadequate in
relation to the dignity of the head. One of them also was slightly--very
He wandered restlessly round the room again, stopping every now and then
with his hands in his pockets, to look at the books on the shelves.
Generally, he did not take in what he was looking at, but in a moment
less absent-minded than others, he happened to notice the name of a
stately octavo volume just opposite his eyes--
"Davison, on Prophecy."
"Damn Davison!"--he said to himself, with sudden temper. The outburst
seemed to clear his mind. He went to the bell and rang it. A thin woman
in a black dress appeared, a woman with a depressed and deprecating
expression which was often annoying to Lord Buntingford. It represented
somehow an appeal to the sentiment of the spectator for which there was
really no sufficient ground. Mrs. Mawson was not a widow, in spite of the
Mrs. She was a well-paid and perfectly healthy person; and there was no
reason, in Lord Buntingford's view, why she should not enjoy life. All
the same, she was very efficient and made him comfortable. He would have
raised her wages to preposterous heights to keep her.
"Is everything ready for the two ladies, Mrs. Mawson?"
"Everything, my Lord. We are expecting the pony-cart directly."
"And the car has been ordered for Miss Pitstone?"
"Oh, yes, my Lord, long ago."
"Gracious! Isn't that the cart!"
There was certainly a sound of wheels outside. Lord Buntingford hurried
to a window which commanded the drive.
"That's her! I must go and meet her."
He went into the hall, reaching the front door just as the pony-cart drew
up with a lady in black sitting beside the driver. Mrs. Mawson looked
after him. She wondered why his lordship was in such a flurry. "It's this
living alone. He isn't used to have women about. And it's a pity he
didn't stay on as he was."
Meanwhile the lady in the pony-cart, as she alighted, saw a tall man, of
somewhat remarkable appearance, standing on the steps of the porch. Her
expectations had been modest; and that she would be welcomed by her
employer in person on the doorstep of Beechmark had not been among them.
Her face flushed, and a pair of timid eyes met those of Lord Buntingford
as they shook hands.
"The train was very late," she explained in a voice of apology.
"They always are," said Lord Buntingford. "Never mind. You are in quite
good time. Miss Pitstone hasn't arrived. Norris, take Mrs. Friend's
An ancient man-servant appeared. The small and delicately built lady on
the step looked at him appealingly.
"I am afraid there is a box besides," she said, like one confessing a
crime. "Not a big one--" she added hurriedly. "We had to leave it at the
station. The groom left word for it to be brought later."
"Of course. The car will bring it," said Lord Buntingford. "Only one
box and those bags?" he asked, smiling. "Why, that's most moderate.
Please come in."
And he led the way to the drawing-room. Reassured by his kind voice
and manner, Mrs. Friend tripped after him. "What a charming man!"
It was a common generalization about Lord Buntingford. Mrs. Friend had
still--like others--to discover that it did not take one very far.
In the drawing-room, which was hung with French engravings mostly after
Watteau, and boasted a faded Aubusson carpet, a tea-table was set out.
Lord Buntingford, having pushed forward a seat for his guest, went
towards the tea-table, and then thought better of it.
"Perhaps you'll pour out tea--" he said pleasantly. "It'll be your
function, I think--and I always forget something."
Mrs. Friend took her seat obediently in front of the tea-table and the
Georgian silver upon it, which had a look of age and frailty as though
generations of butlers had rubbed it to the bone, and did her best not
to show the nervousness she felt. She was very anxious to please her
"I suppose Miss Pitstone will be here before long?" she ventured, when
she had supplied both the master of the house and herself.
"Twenty minutes--" said Lord Buntingford, looking at his watch.
"Time enough for me to tell you a little more about her than I
expect you know."
And again his smile put her at ease.
She bent forward, clasping her small hands.
"Please do! It would be a great help."
He noticed the delicacy of the hands, and of her slender body. The face
attracted him--its small neat features, and brown eyes. Clearly a
lady--that was something.
"Well, I shouldn't wonder--if you found her a handful," he said
Mrs. Friend laughed--a little nervous laugh.
"Is she--is she very advanced?"
"Uncommonly--I believe. I may as well tell you candidly she didn't want
to come here at all. She wanted to go to college. But her mother, who was
a favourite cousin of mine, wished it. She died last autumn; and Helena
promised her that she would allow me to house her and look after her for
two years. But she regards it as a dreadful waste of time."
"I think--in your letter--you said I was to help her--in modern
languages--" murmured Mrs. Friend.
Lord Buntingford shrugged his shoulders--
"I have no doubt you could help her in a great many things. Young people,
who know her better than I do, say she's very clever. But her mother and
she were always wandering about--before the war--for her mother's health.
I don't believe she's been properly educated in anything. Of course one
can't expect a girl of nineteen to behave like a schoolgirl. If you can
induce her to take up some serious reading--Oh, I don't mean anything
tremendous!--and to keep up her music---I expect that's all her poor
mother would have wanted. When we go up to town you must take her to
concerts--the opera--that kind of thing. I dare say it will go all
right!" But the tone was one of resignation, rather than certainty.
"I'll do my best--" began Mrs. Friend.
"I'm sure you will. But--well, we'd better be frank with each other.
Helena's very handsome--very self-willed--and a good bit of an heiress.
The difficulty will be--quite candidly--_lovers_!"
They both laughed. Lord Buntingford took out his cigarette case.
"You don't mind if I smoke?"
"Not at all."
"Won't you have one yourself?" He held out the case. Mrs. Friend did not
smoke. But she inwardly compared the gesture and the man with the
forbidding figure of the old woman in Lancaster Gate with whom she had
just completed two years of solitary imprisonment, and some much-baffled
vitality in her began to revive.
Lord Buntingford threw himself back in his arm-chair, and watched the
curls of smoke for a short space--apparently in meditation.
"Of course it's no good trying the old kind of thing--strict chaperonage
and that sort of business," he said at last. "The modern girl won't
"No, indeed she won't!" said Mrs. Friend fervently. "I should like to
tell you--I've just come from ----" She named a university. "I went to
see a cousin of mine, who's in one of the colleges there. She's going to
teach. She went up just before the war. Then she left to do some war
work, and now she's back again. She says nobody knows what to do with the
girls. All the old rules have just--_gone_!" The gesture of the small
hand was expressive. "Authority--means nothing. The girls are entering
for the sports--just like the men. They want to run the colleges--as they
please--and make all the rules themselves."
"Oh, I know--" broke in her companion. "They'll just allow the wretched
teachers and professors to teach--what their majesties choose to learn.
Otherwise--they run the show."
"Of course, they're awfully _nice_ girls--most of them," said Mrs.
Friend, with a little, puzzled wrinkling of the brow.
"Ripping! Done splendid war work and all that. But the older generation,
now that things have begun again, are jolly well up a tree--how to fit
the new to the old. I have some elderly relations at Oxbridge--a nice old
professor and his wife. Not stick-in-the-muds at all. But they tell me
the world there--where the young women are concerned--seems to be
standing on its head. Well!--as far as I can gather--I really know her
very slightly--my little cousin Helena's in just the same sort of stage.
All we people over forty might as well make our wills and have done with
it. They'll soon discover some kind device for putting us out of the way.
They've no use for us. And yet at the same time"--he flung his cigarette
into the wood-fire beside him--"the fathers and mothers who brought them
into the world will insist on clucking after them, or if they can't cluck
themselves, making other people cluck. I shall have to try and cluck
after Helena. It's absurd, and I shan't succeed, of course--how could I?
But as I told you, her mother was a dear woman--and--"
His sentence stopped abruptly. Mrs. Friend thought--"he was in love with
her." However, she got no further light on the matter. Lord Buntingford
rose, and lit another cigarette.
"I must go and write a letter before post. Well, you see, you and I have
got to do our best. Of course, you mustn't try and run her on a tight
rein--you'd be thrown before you were out of the first field--" His blue
eyes smiled down upon the little stranger lady. "And you mustn't spy upon
her. But if you're really in difficulties, come to me. We'll make out,
somehow. And now, she'll be here in a few minutes. Would you like to stay
here--or shall I ring for the housemaid to show you your room?"
"Thank you--I--think I'll stay here. Can I find a book?"
She looked round shyly.
"Scores. There are some new books"--he pointed to a side-table where
the obvious contents of a Mudie box, with some magazines, were laid
out--"and if you want old ones, that door"--he waved towards one at
the far end of the room--"will take you into the library. My
great-grandfather's collection--not mine! And then one has ridiculous
scruples about burning them! However, you'll find a few nice ones. Please
make yourself at home!" And with a slight bow to her, the first sign in
him of those manners of the _grand seigneur_ she had vaguely expected, he
was moving away, when she said hurriedly, pursuing her own thought:
"You said Miss Pitstone was very good-looking?"
"Oh, very!" He laughed. "She's exactly like Romney's Lady Hamilton. You
know the type?"
"Ye-es," said Mrs. Friend. "I think I remember--before the war--at
Agnew's? My husband took me there once." The tone was hesitating. The
little lady was clearly not learned in English art. But Lord Buntingford
liked her the better for not pretending.
"Of course. There's always an Emma, when Old Masters are on show. Romney
painted her forty or fifty times. We've got one ourselves--a sketch my
grandfather bought. If you'll come into the hall I'll show it you."
She followed obediently and, in a rather dark corner of the hall, Lord
Buntingford pointed out an unfinished sketch of Lady Hamilton--one of the
many Bacchante variants--the brown head bent a little under the ivy
leaves in the hair, the glorious laughing eyes challenging the spectator.
"Is she like that?" asked Mrs. Friend, wondering.
"Who?--my ward?" laughed Lord Buntingford. "Well, you'll see."
He walked away, and Mrs. Friend stayed a few minutes more in front of the
picture--thinking--and with half an ear listening for the sound of a
motor. She was full of tremors and depression. "I was a fool to come--a
fool to accept!" she thought. The astonishing force of the sketch--of the
creature sketched--intimidated her. If Helena Pitstone were really like
that--"How can she ever put up with me? She'll just despise me. It will
be only natural. And then if things go wrong, Lord Buntingford will find
out I'm no good--and I shall have to go!"
She gave a long sigh, lifting her eyes a little--against her will--to the
reflection of herself in an old mirror hanging beside the Romney. What a
poor little insignificant figure--beside the other! No, she had no
confidence in herself--none at all--she never had had. The people she had
lived with had indeed generally been fond of her. It was because she made
herself useful to them. Old Mrs. Browne had professed affection for
her,--till she gave notice. She turned with a shiver from the
recollection of an odious scene.
She went bade to the drawing-room and thence to the library, looking
wistfully, as she passed through it, at the pleasant hall, with its old
furniture, and its mellowed comfort. She would like to find a home here,
if only they would put up with her. For she was very homeless.
As compared with the drawing-room, the library had been evidently lived
in. Its books and shabby chairs seemed to welcome her, and the old
tapestry delighted her. She stood some minutes before it in a quiet
pleasure, dreaming herself into the forest, and discovering an old castle
in its depths. Then she noticed a portrait of an old man, labelled as by
"Frank Holl, R. A.," hanging over the mantelpiece. She supposed it was
the grandfather who had collected the books. The face and hair of the old
man had blanched indeed to a singular whiteness; but the eyes, blue under
strong eyebrows, with their concentrated look, were the eyes of the Lord
Buntingford with whom she had just been talking.
The hoot of a motor startled her, and she ran to a window which commanded
the drive. An open car was rapidly approaching. A girl was driving it,
with a man in chauffeur's uniform sitting behind her. She brought the car
smartly up to the door, then instantly jumped out, lifted the bonnet, and
stood with the chauffeur at her side, eagerly talking to him and pointing
to something in the chassis. Mrs. Friend saw Lord Buntingford run down
the steps to greet his ward. She gave him a smile and a left hand, and
went on talking. Lord Buntingford stood by, twisting his moustache, till
she had finished. Then the chauffeur, looking flushed and sulky, got into
the car, and the girl with Lord Buntingford ascended the steps. Mrs.
Friend left the window, and hurriedly went back to the drawing-room,
where tea was still spread. Through the drawing-room door she heard a
voice from the hall full of indignant energy.
"You ought to sack that man, Cousin Philip. He's spoiling that beautiful
car of yours."
"Is he? He suits me. Have you been scolding him all the way?"
"Well, I told him a few things--in your interest." Lord Buntingford
laughed. A few words followed in lowered tones.
"He is telling her about me," thought Mrs. Friend, and presently caught a
chuckle, very merry and musical, which brought an involuntary smile to
her own eyes. Then the door was thrown back, and Lord Buntingford ushered
in his ward.
"This is Mrs. Friend, Helena. She arrived just before you did."
The girl advanced with sudden gravity and offered her hand. Mrs. Friend
was conscious that the eyes behind the hand were looking her all over.
Certainly a dazzling creature!--with the ripe red and white, the
astonishing eyes, and brown hair, touched with auburn, of the Romney
sketch. The beautiful head was set off by a khaki close cap, carrying a
badge, and the khaki uniform, tunic, short skirt, and leggings, might
have been specially designed to show the health and symmetry of the
girl's young form. She seemed to walk on air, and her presence
transformed the quiet old room.
"I want some tea badly," said Miss Pitstone, throwing herself into a
chair, "and so would you, Cousin Philip, if you had been battling with
four grubby children and an idiot mother all the way from London. They
made me play 'beasts' with them. I didn't mind that, because my roaring
frightened them. But then they turned me into a fish, and fished for me
with the family umbrellas. I had distinctly the worst of it." And she
took off her cap, turning it round on her hand, and looking at the dints
in it with amusement.
"Oh, no, you never get the worst of it!" said Lord Buntingford, laughing,
as he handed her the cake. "You couldn't if you tried."
She looked up sharply. Then she turned to Mrs. Friend.
"That's the way my guardian treats me, Mrs. Friend. How can I take him
"I think Lord Buntingford meant it as a compliment--didn't he?" said Mrs.
Friend shyly. She knew, alack, that she had no gift for repartee.
"Oh, no, he never pays compliments--least of all to me. He has a most
critical, fault-finding mind. Haven't you, Cousin Philip?"
"What a charge!" said Lord Buntingford, lighting another cigarette. "It
won't take Mrs. Friend long to find out its absurdity."
"It will take her just twenty-four hours," said the girl stoutly. "He
used to terrify me, Mrs. Friend, when I was a little thing ... May I have
some tea, please? When he came to see us, I always knew before he had
been ten minutes in the room that my hair was coming down, or my shoes
were untied, or something dreadful was the matter with me. I can't
imagine how we shall get on, now that he is my guardian. I shall put him
in a temper twenty times a day."
"Ah, but the satisfactory thing now is that you will have to put up with
my remarks. I have a legal right now to say what I like."
"H'm," said Helena, demurring, "if there are legal rights nowadays."
"There, Mrs. Friend--you hear?" said Lord Buntingford, toying with his
cigarette, in the depths of a big chair, and watching his ward with eyes
of evident enjoyment. "You've got a Bolshevist to look after--a real
anarchist. I'm sorry for you."
"That's another of his peculiarities!" said the girl coolly, "queering
the pitch before one begins. You know you _might_ like me!--some people
do--but he'll never let you." And, bending forward, with her cup in both
hands, and her radiant eyes peering over the edge of it, she threw a most
seductive look at her new chaperon. The look seemed to say, "I've been
taking stock of you, and--well!--I think I shan't mind you."
Anyway, Mrs. Friend took it as a feeler and a friendly one. She stammered
something in reply, and then sat silent while guardian and ward plunged
into a war of chaff in which first the ward, but ultimately the guardian,
got the better. Lord Buntingford had more resource and could hold out
longer, so that at last Helena rose impatiently:
"I don't feel that I have been at all prettily welcomed--have I, Mrs.
Friend? Lord Buntingford never allows one a single good mark. He says I
have been idle all the winter since the Armistice. I haven't. I've worked
like a nigger!"
"How many dances a week, Helena?--and how many boys?" Helena first made a
face, and then laughed out.
"As many dances--of course--as one could stuff in--without taxis. I
could walk down most of the boys. But Hampstead, Chelsea, and Curzon
Street, all in one night, and only one bus between them--that did
sometimes do for me."
"When did you set up this craze?"
"Just about Christmas--I hadn't been to a dance for a year. I had been
slaving at canteen work all day"--she turned to Mrs. Friend--"and doing
chauffeur by night--you know--fetching wounded soldiers from railway
stations. And then somebody asked me to a dance, and I went. And next
morning I just made up my mind that everything else in the world was
rot, and I would go to a dance every night. So I chucked the canteen and
I chucked a good deal of the driving--except by day--and I just
Suddenly she began to whistle a popular waltz--and the next minute the
two elder people found themselves watching open-mouthed the whirling
figure of Miss Helena Pitstone, as, singing to herself, and absorbed
apparently in some new and complicated steps, she danced down the whole
length of the drawing-room and back again. Then out of breath, with a
curtsey and a laugh, she laid a sudden hand on Mrs. Friend's arm.
"Will you come and talk to me--before dinner? I can't talk--before _him_.
Guardians are impossible people!" And with another mock curtsey to Lord
Buntingford, she hurried Mrs. Friend to the door, and then disappeared.
Her guardian, with a shrug of the shoulders, walked to his writing-table,
and wrote a hurried note.
"My dear Geoffrey--I will send to meet you at Dansworth to-morrow by the
train you name. Helena is here--very mad and very beautiful. I hope you
will stay over Sunday. Yours ever, Buntingford."
"He shall have his chance anyway," he thought, "with the others. A fair
field, and no pulling."
"There is only one bathroom in this house, and it is a day's journey to
find it," said Helena, re-entering her own bedroom, where she had left
Mrs. Friend in a dimity-covered arm-chair by the window, while she
reconnoitred. "Also, the water is only a point or two above freezing--and
as I like boiling--"
She threw herself down on the floor by Mrs. Friend's side. All her
movements had a curious certainty and grace like those of a beautiful
animal, but the whole impression of her was still formidable to the
gentle creature who was about to undertake what already seemed to her the
absurd task of chaperoning anything so independent and self-confident.
But the girl clearly wished to make friends with her new companion, and
began eagerly to ask questions.
"How did you hear of me? Do you mind telling me?"
"Just through an agency," said Mrs. Friend, flushing a little. "I wanted
to leave the situation I was in, and the agency told me Lord Buntingford
was looking for a companion for his ward, and I was to go and see Lady
The girl's merry laugh broke out:
"Oh, I know Mary Chance--twenty pokers up her backbone! I should have
Then she stopped, looking intently at Mrs. Friend, her brows drawn
together over her brilliant eyes.
"What would you have thought?" Mrs. Friend enquired, as the silence
"Well--that if she was going to recommend somebody to Cousin Philip--to
look after me, she would never have been content with anything short of a
Prussian grenadier in petticoats. She thinks me a demon. She won't let
her daughters go about with me. I can't imagine how she ever fixed upon
"So what?" said Mrs. Friend, after a moment, nervously. Lost in the big
white arm-chair, her small hand propping her small face and head, she
looked even frailer than she had looked in the library.
"Well, nobody would ever take you for my jailer, would they?" said
Helena, surveying her.
Mrs. Friend laughed--a ghost of a laugh, which yet seemed to have some
fun in it, far away.
"Does this seem to you like prison?"
"This house? Oh, no. Of course I shall do just as I like in it. I have
only come because--well, my poor Mummy made a great point of it when she
was ill, and I couldn't be a brute to her, so I promised. But I wonder
whether I ought to have promised. It is a great tyranny, you know--the
tyranny of sick people. I wonder whether one ought to give in to her?"
The girl looked up coolly. Mrs. Friend felt as though she had been
"But your _mother_!" she said involuntarily.
"Oh, I know, that's what most people would say. But the question is,
what's reasonable. Well, I wasn't reasonable, and here I am. But I make
my conditions. We are not to be more than four months in the year in this
old hole"--she looked round her in not unkindly amusement at the bare
old-fashioned room; "we are to have four or five months in London, _at
least_; and when travelling abroad gets decent again, we are to go
abroad--Rome, perhaps, next winter. And I am jolly well to ask my friends
here, or in town--male and female--and Cousin Philip promised to be nice
to them. He said, of course, 'Within limits.' But that we shall see. I'm
not a pauper, you know. My trustees pay Lord Buntingford whatever I cost
him, and I shall have a good deal to spend. I shall have a horse--and
perhaps a little motor. The chauffeur here is a fractious idiot. He has
done that Rolls-Royce car of Cousin Philip's balmy, and cut up quite
rough when I spoke to him about it."
"Done it what?" said Mrs. Friend faintly.
"Balmy. Don't you know that expression?" Helena, on the floor with her
hands under her knees, watched her companion's looks with a grin. "It's
_our_ language now, you know--English--the language of us young people.
The old ones have got to learn it, as _we_ speak it! Well, what do you
think of Cousin Philip?"
Mrs. Friend roused herself.
"I've only seen him for half an hour. But he was very kind."
"And isn't he good-looking?" said the girl before her, with enthusiasm.
"I just adore that combination of black hair and blue eyes--don't you?
But he isn't by any means as innocent as he looks."
"I never said--"
"No. I know you didn't," said Helena serenely; "but you might have--and
he isn't innocent a bit. He's as complex as you make 'em. Most women are
in love with him, except me!" The brown eyes stared meditatively out of
window. "I suppose I could be if I tried. But he doesn't attract me.
He's too old."
"Old?" repeated Mrs. Friend, with astonishment.
"Well, I don't mean he's decrepit! But he's forty-four if he's a
day--more than double my age. Did you notice that he's a little lame?"
"He is. It's very slight--an accident, I believe--somewhere abroad. But
they wouldn't have him for the Army, and he was awfully cut up. He used
to come and sit with Mummy every day and pour out his woes. I suppose she
was the only person to whom he ever talked about his private affairs--he
knew she was safe. Of course you know he is a widower?"
Mrs. Friend knew nothing. But she was vaguely surprised.
"Oh, well, a good many people know that--though Mummy always said she
never came across anybody who had ever seen his wife. He married her when
he was quite a boy---abroad somewhere--when there seemed no chance of his
ever being Lord Buntingford--he had two elder brothers who died--and she
was an art student on her own. An old uncle of Mummy's once told me that
when Cousin Philip came back from abroad--she died abroad--after her
death, he seemed altogether changed somehow. But he never, _never_ speaks
of her"--the girl swayed her slim body backwards and forwards for
emphasis--"and I wouldn't advise you or anybody else to try. Most people
think he's just a bachelor. I never talk about it to people--Mummy said I
wasn't to--and as he was very nice to Mummy--well, I don't. But I thought
you'd better know. And now I think we'd better dress."
But instead of moving, she looked down affectionately at her uniform and
her neat brown leggings.
"What a bore! I suppose I've no right to them any more."
"What is your uniform?"
"Women Ambulance Drivers. Don't you know the hostel in Ruby Square? I
bargained with Cousin Philip after Mummy's death I should stay out my
time, till I was demobbed. Awfully jolly time I had--on the whole--though
the girls were a mixed lot. Well--let's get a move on." She sprang up.
"Your room's next door."
Mrs. Friend was departing when Helena enquired:
"By the way--have you ever heard of Cynthia Welwyn?"
Mrs. Friend turned at the door, and shook her head.
"Oh, well, I can tot her up very quickly--just to give you an idea--as
she's coming to dinner. She's fair and forty--just about Buntingford's
age--quite good-looking--quite clever--lives by herself, reads a great
deal--runs the parish--you know the kind of thing. They swarm! I think
she would like to marry Cousin Philip, if he would let her."
Mrs. Friend hurriedly shut the door at her back, which had been slightly
ajar. Helena laughed--the merry but very soft laugh Mrs. Friend had first
heard in the hall--a laugh which seemed somehow out of keeping with the
rest of its owner's personality.
"Don't be alarmed. I doubt whether that would be news to anybody in this
house! But Buntingford's quite her match. Well, ta-ta. Shall I come and
help you dress?"
"The idea!" cried Mrs. Friend. "Shall I help you?" She looked round
the room and at Helena vigorously tackling the boxes. "I thought you
had a maid?"
"Not at all. I couldn't be bored with one."
"Do let me help you!"
"Then you'd be my maid, and I should bully you and detest you. You must
go and dress."
And Mrs. Friend found herself gently pushed out of the room. She went to
her own in some bewilderment. After having been immured for some three
years in close attendance on an invalided woman shut up in two rooms, she
was like a person walking along a dark road and suddenly caught in the
glare of motor lamps. Brought into contact with such a personality as
Helena Pitstone promised to be, she felt helpless and half blind. A
survival, too; for this world into which she had now stepped was one
quite new to her. Yet when she had first shut herself up in Lancaster
Gate she had never been conscious of any great difference between herself
and other women or girls. She had lived a very quiet life in a quiet home
before the war. Her father, a hard-working Civil Servant on a small
income, and her mother, the daughter of a Wesleyan Minister, had brought
her up strictly, yet with affection. The ways of the house were
old-fashioned, dictated by an instinctive dislike of persons who went
often to theatres and dances, of women who smoked, or played bridge, or
indulged in loud, slangy talk. Dictated, too, by a pervading "worship of
ancestors," of a preceding generation of plain evangelical men and women,
whose books survived in the little house, and whose portraits hung upon
Then, in the first year of the war, she had married a young soldier, the
son of family friends, like-minded with her own people, a modest,
inarticulate fellow, who had been killed at Festubert. She had loved
him--oh, yes, she had loved him. But sometimes, looking back, she was
troubled to feel how shadowy he had become to her. Not in the region of
emotion. She had pined for his fondness all these years; she pined for it
still. But intellectually. If he had lived, how would he have felt
towards all these strange things that the war had brought about--the
revolutionary spirit everywhere, the changes come and coming? She did not
know; she could not imagine. And it troubled her that she could not find
any guidance for herself in her memories of him.
And as to the changes in her own sex, they seemed to have all come about
while she was sitting in a twilight room reading aloud to an old woman.
Only a few months after her husband's death her parents had both died,
and she found herself alone in the world, and almost penniless. She was
not strong enough for war work, the doctor said, and so she had let the
doors of Lancaster Gate close upon her, only looking for something quiet
and settled--even if it were a settled slavery.
After which, suddenly, just about the time of the Armistice, she had
become aware that nothing was the same; that the women and the girls--so
many of them in uniform!--that she met in the streets when she took her
daily walk--were new creatures; not attractive to her as a whole, but
surprising and formidable, because of the sheer life there was in them.
And she herself began to get restive; to realize that she was not
herself so very old, and to want to know--a hundred things! It had taken
her five months, however, to make up her mind; and then at last she had
gone to an agency--the only way she knew--and had braved the cold and
purely selfish wrath of the household she was leaving. And now here she
was in Lord Buntingford's house--Miss Helena Pitstone's chaperon. As she
stood before her looking-glass, fastening her little black dress with
shaking fingers, the first impression of Helena's personality was upon
her, running through her, like wine to the unaccustomed. She supposed
that now girls were all like this--all such free, wild, uncurbed
creatures, a law to themselves. One moment she repeated that she was a
fool to have come; and the next, she would not have found herself back
in Lancaster Gate for the world.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, in the adjoining room, Helena was putting on a tea-gown, a
white and silver "confection," with a little tail like a fish, and a
short skirt tapering down to a pair of slim legs and shapely feet. After
all her protestations, she had allowed the housemaid to help her unpack,
and when the dress was on she had sent Mary flying down to the
drawing-room to bring up some carnations she had noticed there. When
these had been tucked into her belt, and the waves of her brown hair had
been somehow pinned and coiled into a kind of order, and she had
discovered and put on her mother's pearls, she was pleased with herself,
or rather with as much of herself as she could see in the inadequate
looking-glass on the toilet-table. A pier-glass from somewhere was of
course the prime necessity, and must be got immediately. Meanwhile she
had to be content with seeing herself in the eyes of the housemaid, who
was clearly dazzled by her appearance.
Then there were a few minutes before dinner, and she ran along the
passage to Mrs. Friend's room.
"May I come in? Oh, let me tie that for you?" And before Mrs. Friend
could interpose, the girl's nimble fingers had tied the narrow velvet
carrying a round locket which was her chaperon's only ornament. Drawing
back a little, she looked critically at the general effect. Mrs. Friend
flushed, and presently started in alarm, when Helena took up the comb
lying on the dressing-table.
"What are you going to do?"
"Only just to alter your hair a little. Do you mind? Do let me. You look
so nice in black. But your hair is too tight."
Mrs. Friend stood paralysed, while with a few soft touches Helena
applied the comb.
"Now, isn't that nice! I declare it's charming! Now look at yourself. Why
should you make yourself look dowdy? It's all very well--but you can't be
much older than I am!"
And dancing round her victim, Helena effected first one slight
improvement and then another in Mrs. Friend's toilette, till the little
woman, standing in uneasy astonishment before the glass to which Helena
had dragged her, plucked up courage at last to put an end to the
"No, please don't!" she said, with decision, warding off the girl's
meddling hand, and putting back some of the quiet bands of hair. "You
mustn't make me look so unlike myself. And besides--I couldn't live up to
it!" Her shy smile broke out.
"Oh, yes, you could. You're quite nice-looking. I wonder if you'd mind
telling me how old you are? And must I always call you 'Mrs. Friend'? It
is so odd--when everybody calls each other by their Christian names."
"I don't mind--I don't mind at all. But don't you think--for both our
sakes--you'd better leave me all the dignity you can?" Laughter was
playing round the speaker's small pale lips, and Helena answered it
"Does that mean that you'll have to manage me? Did Cousin Philip
tell you you must? But that--I may as well tell you at once--is a vain
delusion. Nobody ever managed me! Oh, yes, my superior officer in the
Women's Corps--she was master. But that was because I chose to make her
so. Now I'm on my own--and all I can offer--I'm afraid!--is an
alliance--offensive and defensive."
Mrs. Friend looked at the radiant vision opposite to her with its hands
on its sides, and slowly shook her head.
"Cousin Philip--if necessary."
Mrs. Friend again shook her head.
"Oh, you're in his pocket already!" cried Helena with a grimace. "But
never mind. I'm sure I shall like you. You'll come over to my side soon."
"Why should I take any side?" asked Mrs. Friend, drawing on a pair of
"Well, because"--said Helena slowly--"Cousin Philip doesn't like some of
my pals--some of the men, I mean--I go about with--and we _may_ quarrel
about it. The question is which of them I'm going to marry--if I marry
any of them. And some of them are married. Don't look shocked! Oh,
heavens, there's the gong! But we'll sit up to-night, if you're not
sleepy, and I'll give you a complete catalogue of some of their
qualifications--physical, intellectual, financial. Then you'll have the
_carte du pays_. Two of them are coming to-morrow for the Sunday. There's
nobody coming to-night of the least interest. Cynthia Welwyn, Captain
Vivian Lodge, Buntingford's cousin--rather a prig--but good-looking. A
girl or two, no doubt--probably the parson--probably the agent. Now you
know. Shall we go down?"
* * * * *
The library was already full when the two ladies entered. Mrs. Friend was
aware of a tall fair woman, beautifully dressed in black, standing by
Lord Buntingford; of an officer in uniform, resplendent in red tabs and
decorations, talking to a spare grey-haired man, who might be supposed to
be the agent; of a man in a round collar and clerical coat, standing
awkward and silent by the tall lady in black; and of various other girls
and young men.
All eyes were turned to Helena as she entered, and she was soon
surrounded, while Lord Buntingford took special care of Helena's
companion. Mrs. Friend found herself introduced to Lady Cynthia Welwyn,
the tall lady in black; to Mr. Parish, the grey-haired man, and to the
clergyman. Lady Cynthia bestowed on her a glance from a pair of prominent
eyes, and a few civil remarks, Mr. Parish made her an old-fashioned bow,
and hoped she had not found the journey too dusty, while the clergyman,
whose name she caught as Mr. Alcott, showed a sudden animation as they
shook hands, and had soon put her at her ease by a manner in which she at
once divined a special sympathy for the stranger within the gates.
"You have just come, I gather?"
"I only arrived this afternoon."
"And you are to look after Miss Helena?" he smiled.
Mrs. Friend smiled too.
"I hope so. If she will let me!"
"She is a radiant creature!" And for a moment he stood watching the girl,
as she stood, goddess-like, amid her group of admirers. His eyes were
deep-set and tired; his scanty grizzled hair fell untidily over a
furrowed brow; and his clothes were neither fresh nor well-brushed. But
there was something about him which attracted the lonely; and Mrs. Friend
was glad when she found herself assigned to him.
But though her neighbour was not difficult to talk to, her surroundings
were so absorbing to her that she talked very little at dinner. It was
enough to listen and look--at Lady Cynthia on Lord Buntingford's right
hand, and Helena Pitstone on his left; or at the handsome officer with
whom Helena seemed to be happily flirting through a great part of dinner.
Lady Cynthia was extremely good-looking, and evidently agreeable, though
it seemed to Mrs. Friend that Lord Buntingford only gave her divided
attention. Meanwhile it was very evident that he himself was the centre
of his own table, the person of whom everyone at it was fundamentally
aware, however apparently busy with other people. She herself observed
him much more closely than before, the mingling in his face of a kind of
concealed impatience, an eagerness held in chains and expressed by his
slight perpetual frown, with a courtesy and urbanity generally gay or
bantering, but at times, and by flashes--or so it seemed to her--dipped
in a sudden, profound melancholy, like a quenched light. He held himself
sharply erect, and in his plain naval uniform, with the three Commander's
stripes on the sleeve, made, in her eyes, an even more distinguished
figure than the gallant and decorated hero on his left, with whom Helena
seemed to be so particularly engaged, "prig" though she had dubbed him.
As to Lady Cynthia's effect upon her host, Mrs. Friend could not make up
her mind. He seemed attentive or amused while she chatted to him; but
towards the end their conversation languished a good deal, and Lady
Cynthia must needs fall back on the stubby-haired boy to her right, who
was learning agency business with Mr. Parish. She smiled at him also, for
it was her business, Mrs. Friend thought, to smile at everybody, but it
was an absent-minded smile.
"You don't know Lord Buntingford?" said Mr. Alcott's rather muffled voice
Mrs. Friend turned hastily.
"No--I never saw him till this afternoon."
"He isn't easy to know. I know him very little, though he gave me this
living, and I have business with him, of course, occasionally. But this I
do know, the world is uncommonly full of people--don't you find it
so?--who say 'I go, Sir'--and don't go. Well, if Lord Buntingford says 'I
go, Sir'--he does go!"
"Does he often say it?" asked Mrs. Friend. And the man beside her noticed
the sudden gleam in her quiet little face, that rare or evanescent sprite
of laughter or satire that even the dwellers in Lancaster Gate had
Mr. Alcott considered.
"Well, no," he said at last. "I admit he's difficult to catch. He likes
his own ways a great deal better than other people's. But if you do
catch him--if you do persuade him--well, then you can stake your bottom
dollar on him. At least, that's my experience. He's been awfully
generous about land here--put a lot in my hands to distribute long
before the war ended. Some of the neighbours about--other
landlords--were very sick--thought he'd given them away because of the
terms. They sent him a round robin. I doubt if he read it. In a thing
like that he's adamant. And he's adamant, too, when he's once taken a
real dislike to anybody. There's no moving him."
"You make me afraid!" said Mrs. Friend.
"Oh, no, you needn't be--" Mr. Alcott turned almost eagerly to look at
her. "I hope you won't be. He's the kindest of men. It's extraordinarily
kind of him--don't you think?"--the speaker smilingly lowered his
voice--"taking on Miss Pitstone like this? It's a great responsibility."
Mrs. Friend made the slightest timid gesture of assent.
"Ah, well, it's just like him. He was devoted to her mother--and for his
friends he'll do anything. But I don't want to make a saint of him. He
can be a dour man when he likes--and he and I fight about a good many
things. I don't think he has much faith in the new England we're all
talking about--though he tries to go with it. Have you?" He turned upon
Mrs. Friend felt a pang.
"I don't know anything," she said, and he was conscious of the agitation
in her tone. "Since my husband died, I've been so out of everything."
And encouraged by the kind eyes in the plain face, she told her story,
very simply and briefly. In the general clatter and hubbub of the table
no one overheard or noticed.
"H'm--you're stepping out into the world again as one might step out of
a nunnery--after five years. I rather envy you. You'll see things fresh.
Whereas we--who have been through the ferment and the horror--" He broke
off--"I was at the front, you see, for nearly two years--then I got
invalided. So you've hardly realized the war--hardly known there was a
war--not since--since Festubert?"
"It's dreadful!" she said humbly--"I'm afraid I know just nothing
He looked at her with a friendly wonder, and she, flushing deeper, was
glad to see him claimed by a lively girl on his left, while she fell
back on Mr. Parish, the agent, who, however, seemed to be absorbed in
the amazing--and agreeable--fact that Lord Buntingford, though he drank
no wine himself, had yet some Moet-et-Charidon of 1904 left to give to
his guests. Mr. Parish, as he sipped it, realized that the war was
But, all the time, he gave a certain amount of scrutiny to the little
lady beside him. So she was to be "companion" to Miss Helena
Pitstone--to prevent her getting into scrapes--if she could. Lord
Buntingford had told him that his cousin, Lady Mary Chance, had chosen
her. Lady Mary had reported that "companions" were almost as difficult
to find as kitchenmaids, and that she had done her best for him in
finding a person of gentle manners and quiet antecedents. "Such people
will soon be as rare as snakes in Ireland"--had been the concluding
sentence in Lady Mary's letter, according to Lord Buntingford's laughing
account of it. Ah, well, Lady Mary was old-fashioned. He hoped the young
widow might be useful; but he had his doubts. She looked a weak vessel
to be matching herself with anything so handsome and so pronounced as
the young lady opposite.
Why, the young lady was already quarrelling with her guardian! For the
whole table had suddenly become aware of a gust in the neighbourhood of
Lord Buntingford--a gust of heated talk--although the only heated person
seemed to be Miss Pitstone. Lord Buntingford was saying very little; but
whatever he did say was having a remarkable effect on his neighbour.
Then, before the table knew what it was all about, it was over. Lord
Buntingford had turned resolutely away, and was devoting himself to
conversation with Lady Cynthia, while his ward was waging a fresh war of
repartee with the distinguished soldier beside her, in which her
sharpened tones and quick breathing suggested the swell after a storm.
Mrs. Friend too had noticed. She had been struck with the sudden
tightening of the guardian's lip, the sudden stiffening of his hand lying
on the table. She wondered anxiously what was the matter.
In the library afterwards, Lady Cynthia, Mrs. Friend, and the two
girls--his daughter and his guest--who had come with Mr. Parish, settled
into a little circle near the wood-fire which the chilliness of the May
evening made pleasant.
Helena Pitstone meanwhile walked away by herself to a distant part of the
room and turned over photographs, with what seemed to Mrs. Friend a
stormy hand. And as she did so, everyone in the room was aware of her, of
the brilliance and power of the girl's beauty, and of the energy that
like an aura seemed to envelop her personality. Lady Cynthia made several
attempts to capture her, but in vain. Helena would only answer in
monosyllables, and if approached, retreated further into the dim room,
ostensibly in search of a book on a distant shelf, really in flight. Lady
Cynthia, with a shrug, gave it up.
Mrs. Friend felt too strange to the whole situation to make any move. She
could only watch for the entry of the gentlemen. Lord Buntingford, who
came in last, evidently looked round for his ward. But Helena had already
flitted back to the rest of the company, and admirably set off by a deep
red chair into which she had thrown herself, was soon flirting
unashamedly with the two young men, with Mr. Parish and the Rector,
taking them all on in turn, and suiting the bait to the fish with the
instinctive art of her kind. Lord Buntingford got not a word with her,
and when the guests departed she had vanished upstairs before anyone knew
that she had gone.
"Have a cigar in the garden, Vivian, before you turn in? There is a moon,
and it is warmer outside than in," said Lord Buntingford to his cousin,
when they were left alone.
"By all means."
So presently they found themselves pacing a flagged path outside a long
conservatory which covered one side of the house. The moon was cloudy,
and the temperature low. But the scents of summer were already in the
air--of grass and young leaf, and the first lilac. The old grey house
with its haphazard outline and ugly detail acquired a certain dignity
from the night, and round it stretched dim slopes of pasture, with oaks
rising here and there from bands of white mist.
"Is that tale true you told me before dinner about Jim Donald?" said Lord
Buntingford abruptly. "You're sure it's true--honour bright?"
The other laughed.
"Why, I had it from Jim himself!" He laughed. "He just made a joke of it.
But he is a mean skunk! I've found out since that he wanted to buy
Preston out for the part Preston had taken in another affair. There's a
pretty case coming on directly, with Jim for hero. You have heard of it."
"No," said Buntingford curtly; "but in any case nothing would have
induced me to have him here. Preston's a friend of mine. So when Helena
told me at dinner she had asked him for Saturday, I had to tell her I
should telegraph to him to-morrow morning not to come. She was angry,
Captain Lodge gave a low whistle. "Of course she doesn't know. But I
think you would be wise to stop it. And I remember now she danced all
night with him at the Arts Ball!"
There was a light tap on Mrs. Friend's door. She said "Come in" rather
unwillingly. Some time had elapsed since she had seen Helena's fluttering
white disappear into the corridor beyond her room; and she had nourished
a secret hope that the appointment had been forgotten. But the door
opened slightly. Mrs. Friend saw first a smiling face, finger on lip.
Then the girl slipped in, and closed the door with caution.
"I don't want that 'very magnificent three-tailed Bashaw' to know we are
discussing him. He's somewhere still."
"What did you say?" asked Mrs. Friend, puzzled.
"Oh, it's only a line of an old poem--I don't know by whom--my father
used to quote it. Well, now--did you see what happened at dinner?"
Helena had established herself comfortably in a capacious arm-chair
opposite Mrs. Friend, tucking her feet under her. She was in a white
dressing-gown, and she had hastily tied a white scarf round her loosened
hair. In the dim light of a couple of candles her beauty made an even
more exciting impression on the woman watching her than it had done in
the lamp-lit drawing-room.
"It's war!" she said firmly, "war between Buntingford and me. I'm sorry
it's come so soon--the very first evening!--and I know it'll be beastly
for you--but I can't help it. I _won't_ be dictated to. If I'm not
twenty-one, I'm old enough to choose my own friends; and if Buntingford
chooses to boycott them, he must take the consequences." And throwing her
white arms above her head, her eyes looked out from the frame of
them--eyes sparkling with pride and will.
Mrs. Friend begged for an explanation.
"Well, I happened to tell him that I had invited Lord Donald for Sunday.
I'll tell you about Lord Donald presently--and he simply--behaved like a
brute! He said he was sorry I hadn't told him, that he couldn't have
Donald here, and would telegraph to him to-morrow--not to come. Just
think of that! So then I said--why? And he said he didn't approve of
Donald--or some nonsense of that sort. I was quite calm. I reminded him
he had promised to let me invite my friends--that was part of the
bargain. Yes--he said--but within limits--and Donald was the limit. That
made me savage--so I upped and said, very well, if I couldn't see Donald
here, I should see him somewhere else--and he wouldn't prevent me. I
wasn't going to desert my friends for a lot of silly tales. So then he
said I didn't know what I was talking about, and turned his back on me.
He kept his temper provokingly--and I lost mine--which was idiotic of me.
But I mean to be even with him--somehow. And as for Donald, I shall go up
to town and lunch with him at the Ritz next week!"
"Oh, no, no, you can't!" cried Mrs. Friend in distress. "You can't
treat your guardian like that! Do tell me what it's all about!" And
bending forward, she laid her two small hands entreatingly on the
girl's knee. She looked so frail and pitiful as she did so, in her
plain black, that Helena was momentarily touched. For the first time
her new chaperon appeared to her as something else than a mere receiver
into which, or at which, it suited her to talk. She laid her own hand
soothingly on Mrs. Friend's.
"Of course I'll tell you. I really don't mean to be nasty to you. But all
the same I warn you that it's no good trying to stop me, when I've made
up my mind. Well, now, for Donald. I know, of course, what Cousin Philip
means. Donald ran away with the wife of a friend of his--of
Buntingford's, I mean--three or four weeks ago."
Mrs. Friend gasped. The modern young woman was becoming altogether too
much for her. She could only repeat foolishly--"ran away?"
"Yes, ran away. There was no harm done. Sir Luke Preston--that's the
husband--followed them and caught them--and made her go back with him.
But Donald didn't mean any mischief. She'd quarrelled with Sir
Luke--she's an empty-headed little fluffy thing. I know her a little--and
she dared Donald to run away with her--for a lark. So he took her on. He
didn't mean anything horrid. I don't believe he's that sort. They were
going down to his yacht at Southampton--there were several other friends
of his on the yacht--and they meant to give Sir Luke a fright--just show
him that he couldn't bully her as he had been doing--being sticky and
stupid about her friends, just as Cousin Philip wants to be about
mine--and quarrelling about her dress-bills--and a lot of things. Well,
that's all! What's there in that?"
And the girl sat up straight, dropping her slim, white feet, while her
great eyes challenged her companion to say a word in defence of her
guardian. Mrs. Friend's head was turning.
"But it was surely wrong and foolish--" she began. Helena
"I daresay it was," she said impatiently, "but that's not my affair. It's
Lord Donald's. I'm not responsible for him. But he's done nothing that I
know of to make _me_ cut him--and I won't! He told me all about it quite
frankly. I said I'd stick by him--and I will."
"And Sir Luke Preston is a friend of Lord Buntingford's?"
"Yes--" said Helena unwillingly--"I suppose he is. I didn't know. Perhaps
I wouldn't have asked Donald if I'd known. But I did ask him, and he
accepted. And now Buntingford's going to insult him publicly. And that I
won't stand--I vow I won't! It's insulting me too!"
And springing up, she began a stormy pacing of the room, her white gown
falling back from her neck and throat, and her hair floating behind her.
Mrs. Friend had begun to collect herself. In the few hours she had passed
under Lord Buntingford's roof she seemed to herself to have been passing
through a forcing house. Qualities she had never dreamed of possessing or
claiming she must somehow show, or give up the game. Unless she could
understand and get hold of this wholly unexpected situation, as Helena
presented it, she might as well re-pack her box, and order the village
fly for departure.
"Do you mind if I ask you some questions?" she said presently, as the
white skirts swept past her.
"Mind! Not a bit. What do you want to know?"
"Are you in love with Lord Donald?"
"If I were, do you think I'd let him run away with Lady Preston or
anybody else? Not at all! Lord Donald's just one of the men I like
talking to. He amuses me. He's very smart. He knows everybody. He's no
worse than anybody else. He did all sorts of plucky things in the war. I
don't ask Buntingford to like him, of course. He isn't his sort. But he
really might let me alone!"
"But you asked him to stay in Lord Buntingford's house--and without
"Well--and it's going to be _my_ house, too, for two years--if I can
possibly bear it. When Mummy begged me, I told Buntingford my conditions.
And he's broken them!"
And standing still, the tempestuous creature drew herself to her full
height, her arms rigid by her side--a tragic-comic figure in the dim
illumination of the two guttering candles.
Mrs. Friend attempted a diversion.
"Who else is coming for the week-end?"
Instantly Helena's mood dissolved in laughter. She came to perch herself
on the arm of Mrs. Friend's chair.
"There--now let's forget my tiresome guardian. I promised to tell you
about my 'boys.' Well, there are two of them coming--and Geoffrey French,
besides a nephew of Buntingford's, who'll have this property and most of
the money some day, always supposing this tyrant of mine doesn't marry,
which of course any reasonable man would. Well--there's Peter Dale--the
dearest, prettiest little fellow you ever saw. He was aide-de-camp to
Lord Brent in the war--_very_ smart--up to everything. He's demobbed, and
has gone into the City. Horribly rich already, and will now, of course,
make another pile. He dreadfully wants to marry me--but--" she shook her
head with emphasis--"No!--it wouldn't do. He tries to kiss me sometimes.
I didn't mind it at first. But I've told him not to do it again. Then
there's Julian--Julian Horne--Balliol--awfully clever"--she checked off
the various items on her fingers--"as poor as a rat--a Socialist, of
course--they all are, that kind--but a real one--not like Geoffrey
French, who's a sham, though he is in the House, and has joined the
Labour party. You see"--her tone grew suddenly serious--"I don't reckon
Geoffrey French among my boys."
"He's too old?"
"Oh, he's not so very old. But--I don't think he likes me very much--and
I'm not sure whether I like him. He's good fun, however--and he rags
Julian Horne splendidly. That's one of his chief functions--and another
is, to take a hand in my education--when I allow him--and when Julian
isn't about. They both tell me what to read. Julian tells me to read
history, and gives me lists of books. Geoffrey talks economics--and
philosophy--and I adore it--he talks so well. He gave me Bergson the
other day. Have you ever read any of him?"
"Never," said Mrs. Friend, bewildered. "Who is he?"
Helena's laugh woke the echoes of the room. But she checked it at once.
"I don't want _him_ to think we're plotting," she said in a
stage-whisper, looking round her. "If I do anything I want to spring
it on him!"
"Dear Miss Pitstone--please understand!--I can't help you to plot against
Lord Buntingford. You must see I can't. He's my employer and your
guardian. If I helped you to do what he disapproves I should simply be
doing a dishonourable thing."
"Yes," said Helena reflectively. "Of course I see that. It's awkward. I
suppose you promised and vowed a great many things--like one's godmothers
"No, I didn't promise anything--except that I would go out with you, make
myself useful to you, if I could--and help you with foreign languages."
"Goody," said Helena. "Do you _really_ know French--and German?" The tone
was incredulous. "I wish I did."
"Well, I was two years in France, and a year and a half in Germany when I
was a girl. My parents wanted me to be a governess."
"And then you married?"
"Yes--just the year before the war."
"And your husband was killed?" The tone was low and soft. Mrs. Friend
gave a mute assent. Suddenly Helena laid an arm round the little
"I want you to be friends with me--will you? I hated the thought of a
chaperon--I may as well tell you frankly. I thought I should probably
quarrel with you in a week. That was before I arrived. Then when I saw
you, I suddenly felt--'I shall like her! I'm glad she's here--I shan't
mind telling her my affairs.' I suppose it was because you looked
so--well, so meek and mild--so different from me--as though a puff would
blow you away. One can't account for those things, can one? Do tell me
your Christian name! I won't call you by it--if you don't like it."
"My name is Lucy," said Mrs. Friend faintly. There was something so
seductive in the neighbourhood of the girl's warm youth and in the new
sweetness of her voice that she could not make any further defence of her
"I might have guessed Lucy. It's just like you," said the girl
triumphantly. "Wordsworth's Lucy--do you remember her?--'A violet by a
mossy stone'--That's you exactly. I _adore_ Wordsworth. Do you care
The eager eyes looked peremptorily into hers.
"Yes," said Mrs. Friend shyly--"I'm very fond of some things. But you'd
think them old-fashioned!"
"What--Byron?--Shelley? They're never old-fashioned!"
"I never read much of them. But--I love Tennyson--and Mrs. Browning."
Helena made a face--
"Oh, I don't care a hang for her. She's so dreadfully pious and
sentimental. I laughed till I cried over 'Aurora Leigh.' But now--French
things! If you lived all that time in France, you must have read French
poetry. Alfred de Musset?--Madame de Noailles?"
Mrs. Friend shook her head.
"We went to lectures. I learnt a great deal of Racine--a little Victor
Hugo--and Rostand--because the people I boarded with took me to
"Ah, Rostand--" cried Helena, springing up. "Well, of course he's _vieux
jeu_ now. The best people make mock of him. Julian does. I don't care--he
gives me thrills down my back, and I love him. But then _panache_ means a
good deal to me. And Julian doesn't care a bit. He despises people who
talk about glory and honour--and that kind of thing. Well--Lucy--"
She stopped mischievously, her head on one side.
"Sorry!--but it slipped out. Lucy--good-night."
Mrs. Friend hurriedly caught hold of her.
"And you won't do anything hasty--about Lord Donald?"
"Oh, I can't promise anything. One must stand by one's friends. One
simply must. But I'll take care Cousin Philip doesn't blame you."
"If I'm no use, you know--I can't stay."
"No use to Cousin Philip, you mean, in policing me?" said Helena, with a
good-humoured laugh. "Well, we'll talk about it again to-morrow.
The sly gaiety of the voice was most disarming.
"Good-night, Miss Pitstone."
"No, that won't do. It's absurd! I never ask people to call me Helena,
unless I like them. I certainly never expected--there, I'll be
frank!--that I should want to ask you--the very first night too. But I do
want you to. Please, Lucy, call me Helena. _Please_!"
Mrs. Friend did as she was told.
"Sleep well," said Helena from the door. "I hope the housemaid's put
enough on your bed, and given you a hot water-bottle? If anything scares
you in the night, wake me--that is, if you can!" She disappeared.
Outside Mrs. Friend's door the old house was in darkness, save for a
single light in the hall, which burnt all night. The hall was the feature
of the house. A gallery ran round it supported by columns from below, and
spaced by answering columns which carried the roof. The bedrooms ran
round the hall, and opened into the gallery. The columns were of yellow
marble brought from Italy, and faded blue curtains hung between them.
Helena went cautiously to the balustrade, drew one of the blue curtains
round her, and looked down into the hall. Was everybody gone to bed? No.
There were movements in a distant room. Somebody coughed, and seemed to
be walking about. But she couldn't hear any talking. If Cousin Philip
were still up, he was alone.
Her anger came back upon her, and then curiosity. What was he thinking
about, as he paced his room like a caged squirrel? About the trouble she
was likely to give him--and what a fool he had been to take the job? She
would like to go and reason with him. The excess of vitality that was in
her, sighing for fresh worlds to conquer, urged her to vehement and
self-confident action,--action for its own sake, for the mere joy of the
heat and movement that go with it. Part of the impulse depended on the
new light in which the gentleman walking about downstairs had begun to
appear to her. She had known him hitherto as "Mummy's friend," always to
be counted upon when any practical difficulty arose, and ready on
occasion to put in a sharp word in defence of an invalid's peace, when a
girl's unruliness threatened it. Remembering one or two such collisions,
Helena felt her cheeks burn, as she hung over the hall, in the darkness.
But those had been such passing matters. Now, as she recalled the
expression of his eyes, during their clash at the dinner-table, she
realized, with an excitement which was not disagreeable, that something
much more prolonged and serious might lie before her. Accomplished
modern, as she knew him to be in most things, he was going to be "stuffy"
and "stupid" in some. Lord Donald's proceedings in the matter of Lady
Preston evidently seemed to him--she had been made to feel it--frankly
abominable. And he was not going to ask the man capable of them within
his own doors. Well and good. "But as I don't agree with him--Donald was
only larking!--I shall take my own way. A telegram goes anyway to Donald
to-morrow morning--and we shall see. So good-night, Cousin Philip!" And
blowing a kiss towards the empty hall, she gathered her white skirts
round her, and fled laughing towards her own room.
But just as she neared it, a door in front of her, leading to a
staircase, opened, and a man in khaki appeared, carrying a candle. It was
Captain Lodge, her neighbour at the dinner-table. The young man stared
with amazement at the apparition rushing along the gallery towards
him,--the girl's floating hair, and flushed loveliness as his candle
revealed it. Helena evidently enjoyed his astonishment, and his sudden
look of admiration. But before he could speak, she had vanished within
her own door, just holding it open long enough to give him a laughing nod
before it shut, and darkness closed with it on the gallery.
"A man would need to keep his head with that girl!" thought Captain
Lodge, with tantalized amusement. "But, my hat, what a beauty!"
Meanwhile in the library downstairs a good deal of thinking was going on.
Lord Buntingford was taking more serious stock of his new duties than he
had done yet. As he walked, smoking, up and down, his thoughts were full
of his poor little cousin Rachel Pitstone. She had always been a
favourite of his; and she had always known him better than any other
person among his kinsfolk. He had found it easy to tell her secrets, when
nobody else could have dragged a word from him; and as a matter of fact
she had known before she died practically all that there was to know
about him. And she had been so kind, and simple and wise. Had she perhaps
once had a _tendresse_ for him--before she met Ned Pitstone?--and if
things had gone--differently--might he not, perhaps, have married her?
Quite possibly. In any case the bond between them had always been one of
peculiar intimacy; and in looking back on it he had nothing to reproach
himself with. He had done what he could to ease her suffering life.
Struck down in her prime by a mortal disease, a widow at thirty, with her
one beautiful child, her chief misfortune had been the melancholy and
sensitive temperament, which filled the rooms in which she lived as full
of phantoms as the palace of Odysseus in the vision of Theoclymenus.
She was afraid for her child; afraid for her friend; afraid for the
world. The only hope of happiness for a woman, she believed, lay in an
honest lover, if such a lover could be found. Herself an intellectual,
and a freed spirit, she had no trust in any of the new professional and
technical careers into which she saw women crowding. Sex seemed to her
now as always the dominating fact of life. Votes did not matter, or
degrees, or the astonishing but quite irrelevant fact, as the papers
announced it, that women should now be able not only to fit but to plan a
battleship. Love, and a child's clinging mouth, and the sweetness of a
Darby and Joan old age, for these all but the perverted women had always
lived, and would always live.
She saw in her Helena the strong beginnings of sex. But she also realized
the promise of intelligence, of remarkable brain development, and it
seemed to her of supreme importance that sex should have the first
innings in her child's life.
"If she goes to college at once, as soon as I am gone, and her brain and
her ambition are appealed to, before she has time to fall in love, she
will develop on that side, prematurely--marvellously--and the rest will
atrophy. And then when the moment for falling in love is over--and with
her it mayn't be a long one--she will be a lecturer, a member of
Parliament perhaps--a Socialist agitator--a woman preacher,--who
knows?--there are all kinds of possibilities in Helena. But she will have
missed her chance of being a woman, and a happy one; and thirty years
hence she will realize it, when it is too late, and think bitterly of us
both. Believe me, dear Philip, the moment for love won't last long in
Helena's life. I have seen it come and go so rapidly, in the case of some
of the most charming women. For after all, the world is now so much
richer for women; and many women don't know their own minds in time, or
get lost among the new landmarks. And of course all women can't marry;
and thank God, there are a thousand new chances of happiness for those
who don't. But there are some--and Helena, I am certain, will be one--who
will be miserable, and probably wicked, unless they fall in love, and are
happy. And it is a strait gate they will have to pass through. For their
own natures and the new voices in the world will tempt them to this side
and that. And before they know where they are--the moment will have
gone--the wish--and the power.
"So, dear Philip, lend yourself to my plan; though you may seem to
yourself the wrong person, and though it imposes--as I know it will--a
rather heavy responsibility on you. But once or twice you have told me
that I have helped you--through difficult places. That makes me dare to
ask you this thing. There is no one else I can ask. And it won't be bad
for you, Philip,--it is good for us all, to have to think
intimately--seriously--for some other human being or beings; and owing
to circumstances, not your own fault, you have missed just this in
life--except for your thoughts and care for me--bless you always, my
"Am I preaching? Well, in my case the time for make-believe is over. I
am too near the end. The simple and austere soul of things seems to
"And yet what I ask you is neither simple, nor austere! Take care of
Helena for two years. Give her fun, and society,--a good time, and every
chance to marry. Then, after two years, if she hasn't married--if she
hasn't fallen in love---she must choose her course.
"You may well feel you are too young--indeed I wish, for this business,
you were older!--but you will find some nice woman to be hostess and
chaperon; the experiment will interest and amuse you, and the time will
soon go. You know I _could_ not ask you--unless some things were--as they
are. But that being so, I feel as if I were putting into your hands the
chance of a good deed, a kind deed,--blessing, possibly, him that gives,
and her that takes. And I am just now in the mood to feel that kindness
is all that matters, in this mysterious life of ours. Oh, I wish I had
been kinder--to so many people!--I wish--I wish! The hands stretched out
to me in the dark that I have passed by--the voices that have piped to
me, and I have not danced--
"I mustn't cry. It is hard that in one of the few cases when I had the
chance to be kind, and did not wholly miss it, I should be making in the
end a selfish bargain of it--claiming so much more than I ever gave!
"Forgive me, my best of friends--
"You shall come and see me once about this letter, and then we won't
discuss it again--ever. I have talked over the business side of it with
my lawyer, and asked him to tell you anything you don't yet know about my
affairs and Helena's. We needn't go into them."
"One of the few cases where I had the chance to be kind." Why, Rachel
Pitstone's life had been one continuous selfless offering to God and man,
from her childhood to her last hour! He knew very well what he had owed
her--what others had owed--to her genius for sympathy, for understanding,
for a compassion which was also a stimulus. He missed her sorely. At that
very moment, he was in great practical need of her help, her guidance.
Whereas it was _he_--worse luck!--who must be the stumbling and
unwelcomed guide of Rachel's child! How, in the name of mystery, had the
child grown up so different from the mother? Well, impatience wouldn't
help him--he must set his mind to it. That scoundrel, Jim Donald!
Mrs. Friend passed a somewhat wakeful night after the scene in which
Helena Pitstone had bestowed her first confidences on her new companion.
For Lucy Friend the experience had been unprecedented and agitating. She
had lived in a world where men and women do not talk much about
themselves, and as a rule instinctively avoid thinking much about
themselves, as a habit tending to something they call "morbid." This at
least had been the tone in her parents' house. The old woman in Lancaster
Gate had not been capable either of talking or thinking about herself,
except as a fretful animal with certain simple bodily wants. In Helena,
Lucy Friend had for the first time come cross the type of which the world
is now full--men and women, but especially women, who have no use any
longer for the reticence of the past, who desire to know all they
possibly can about themselves, their own thoughts and sensations, their
own peculiarities and powers, all of which are endlessly interesting to
them; and especially to the intellectual _elite_ among them. Already,
before the war, the younger generation, which was to meet the brunt of
it, was an introspective, a psychological generation. And the great war
has made it doubly introspective, and doubly absorbed in itself. The mere
perpetual strain on the individual consciousness, under the rush of
strange events, has developed men and women abnormally.
Only now it is not an introspection, or a psychology, which writes
journals or autobiography. It is an introspection which _talks_; a
psychology which chatters, of all things small and great; asking its
Socratic way through all the questions of the moment, the most trivial,
and the most tremendous.
Coolness, an absence of the old tremors and misgivings that used
especially to haunt the female breast in the days of Miss Austen, is a
leading mark of the new type. So that Mrs. Friend need not have been
astonished to find Helena meeting her guardian next morning at breakfast
as though nothing had happened. He, like a man of the world, took his cue
immediately from her, and the conversation--whether it ran on the return
of Karsavina to the Russian Ballet, or the success of "Abraham Lincoln";
or the prospects of the Peace, or merely the weddings and buryings of
certain common acquaintances which appeared in the morning's _Times_--was
so free and merry, that Mrs. Friend began soon to feel her anxieties of
the night dropping away, to enjoy the little luxuries of the breakfast
table, and the pleasant outlook on the park, of the high, faded, and yet
"What a charming view!" she said to Lord Buntingford, when they rose from
breakfast, and she made her way to the open window, while Helena was
still deep in the papers.
"You think so?" he said indifferently, standing beside her. "I'm afraid I
prefer London. But now on another matter--Do you mind taking up your
"Please--please let me!" she said, turning eagerly to him.
"Well--there is a cook-housekeeper somewhere--who, I believe, expects
orders. Do you mind giving them? Please do not look so alarmed! It is the
simplest matter in the world. You will appear to give orders. In reality
Mrs. Mawson will have everything cut and dried, and you will not dare to
alter a thing. But she expects you or me to pretend. And I should be
greatly relieved if you would do the pretending?"
"Certainly," murmured Mrs. Friend.
Lord Buntingford, looking at the terrace outside, made a sudden
gesture--half despair, half impatience.
"Oh, and there's old Fenn,--my head gardener. He's been here forty
years, and he sits on me like an old man of the sea. I know what he
wants. He's coming up to ask me about something he calls a herbaceous
border. You see that border there?"--he pointed--"Well, I barely know a
peony from a cabbage. Perhaps you do?" He turned towards her hopefully;
and Mrs. Friend felt the charm, as many other women had felt it before
her, of the meditative blue eyes, under the black and heavy brow. She
shook her head smiling.
He smiled in return.
"But, if you don't--would you mind--again--pretending? Would you see the
old fellow, some time this morning--and tell him to do exactly what he
damn pleases--I beg your pardon!--it slipped out. If not, he'll come into
my study, and talk a jargon of which I don't understand a word, for half
an hour. And as he's stone deaf, he doesn't understand a word I say.
Moreover when he's once there I can't get him out. And I've got a bit of
rather tough county business this morning. Would you mind? It's a great
deal to ask. But if you only let him talk--and look intelligent--"
"Of course I will," said Mrs. Friend, bewildered, adding rather
desperately, "But I don't know anything at all about it."
"Oh, that doesn't matter. Perhaps Helena does! By the way, she hasn't
seen her sitting-room."
He turned towards his ward, who was still reading at the table.
"I have arranged a special sitting-room for you, Helena. Would you like
to come and look at it?"
"What fun!" said Helena, jumping up. "And may I do what I like in it?"
Buntingford's mouth twisted a little.
"Naturally! The house is at your disposal. Turn anything out you
like--and bring anything else in. There is some nice old stuff about,
if you look for it. If you send for the odd man he'll move anything.
Well, I'd better show you what I arranged. But you can have any other
room you prefer."
He led the way to the first floor, and opened a door in a corner of the
"Oh, jolly!" cried Helena.
For they entered a lofty room, with white Georgian panelling, a few
pretty old cabinets and chairs, a chintz-covered sofa, a stand of stuffed
humming-birds, a picture or two, a blue Persian carpet, and a large
book-case full of books.
"My books!" cried Helena in amazement. "I was just going to ask if
the cases had come. How ever did you get them unpacked, and put here
"Nothing easier. They arrived three days ago. I telephoned to a man I
know in Leicester Square. He sent some one down, and they were all
finished before you came down. Perhaps you won't like the arrangement?
Well, it will amuse you to undo it!"
If there was the slightest touch of sarcasm in the eyes that travelled
from her to the books, Helena took it meekly. She went to the
bookshelves. Poets, novelists, plays, philosophers, economists, some
French and Italian books, they were all in their proper places. The books
were partly her own, partly her mother's. Helena eyed them thoughtfully.
"You must have taken a lot of trouble."
"Not at all. The man took all the trouble. There wasn't much."
As he spoke, her eye caught a piano standing between the windows.
"Mummy's piano! Why, I thought we agreed it should be stored?"
"It seemed to me you might as well have it down here. We can easily hire
one for London."
"Awfully nice of you," murmured Helena. She opened it and stood with her
hand on the keys, looking out into the park, as though she pursued some
thought or memory of her own. It was a brilliant May morning, and the
windows were open. Helena's slim figure in a white dress, the reddish
touch in her brown hair, the lovely rounding of her cheek and neck, were
thrown sharply against a background of new leaf made by a giant beech
tree just outside. Mrs. Friend looked at Lord Buntingford. The thought
leaped into her mind--"How can he help making love to her himself?"--only
to be immediately chidden. Buntingford was not looking at Helena but at
"Well, I must go and do some drivelling work before lunch. I have given
Mrs. Friend _carte blanche_, Helena. Order what you like, and if Mrs.
Mawson bothers you, send her to me. Geoffrey comes to-night, and we shall
be seven to-morrow."
He made for the door. Helena had turned suddenly at his last words, eye
and cheek kindling.
"Hm--" she said, under her breath--"So he has sent the telegram."
She left the window, and began to walk restlessly about the room, looking
now at the books, now at the piano. Her face hardened, and she paid no
attention to Mrs. Friend's little comments of pleasure on the room and
its contents. Presently indeed she cut brusquely across.
"I am just going down to the stables to see whether my horse has arrived.
A friend of mine bought her for me in town--and she was to be here early
this morning. I want, too, to see where they're going to put her."
"Mayn't I come too?" said Mrs. Friend, puzzled by the sudden clouding of
the girl's beautiful looks.
"Oh, no--please don't. You've got to see the housekeeper! I'll get my hat
and run down. I found out last night where the stables are. I shan't be
more than ten minutes or so."
She hurried away, leaving Mrs. Friend once more a prey to anxieties. She
recalled the threat of the night before. But no, _impossible_! After all
the kindness and the forethought! She dismissed it from her mind.
The interview with the housekeeper was an ordeal to the gentle
inexperienced woman. But her entire lack of any sort of pretension was in
itself ingratiating; and her manner had the timid charm of her character.
Mrs. Mawson, who might have bristled or sulked in stronger hands, in
order to mark her distaste for the advent of a mistress in the house she
had been long accustomed to rule, was soon melted by the docility of the
little lady, and graciously consented to see her own plans approved _en
bloc_, by one so frankly ignorant of how a country house party should be
conducted. Then it was the turn of old Fenn; a more difficult matter,
since he did genuinely want instructions, and Mrs. Friend had none to
give him. But kind looks, and sympathetic murmurs, mingled with honest
delight in the show of azaleas in the conservatory carried her through.
Old Fenn too, instead of resenting her, adopted her. She went back to the
house flushed with a little modest triumph.
Housewifely instincts revived in her. Her hands wanted to be doing. She
had ventured to ask Fenn for some flowers, and would dare to arrange them
herself if Mrs. Mawson would let her.
Then, as she re-entered the house, she came back at a bound to reality.
"If I can't keep Miss Pitstone out of mischief, I shan't be here a
month!" she thought pitifully; and how was it to be done?
She found Helena sitting demurely in the sitting-room, pretending to read
a magazine, but really, or so it seemed to Mrs. Friend, keeping both eyes
and ears open for events.
"I'm trying to get ready for Julian--" she said impatiently, throwing
away her book. "He sent me his article in the _Market Place_, but it's so
stiff that I can't make head or tail of it. I like to hear him talk--but
he doesn't write English."
Mrs. Friend took up the magazine, and perceived a marked item in the
table of contents--"A New Theory of Value."
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"Oh, I wish I knew!" said Helena, with a little yawn. "And then he
changes so. Last year he made me read Meredith--the novels, I mean. _One
of Our Conquerors_, he vowed, was the finest thing ever written. He
scoffed at me for liking _Diana_ and _Richard Feverel_ better, because
they were easier. And _now_, nothing's bad enough for Meredith's 'stilted
nonsense'--'characters without a spark of life in them'--'horrible
mannerisms'--you should hear him. Except the poems--ah, except the poems!
He daren't touch them. I say--do you know the 'Hymn to Colour'?" The
girl's eager eyes questioned her companion. Her face in a moment was all
softness and passion.
Mrs. Friend shook her head. The nature and deficiencies of her own
education were becoming terribly plain to her with every hour in
Helena sprang up, fetched the book, put Mrs. Friend forcibly into an
arm-chair, and read aloud. Mrs. Friend listened with all her ears, and
was at the end, like Faust, no wiser than before. What did it all mean?
She groped, dazzled, among the Meredithian mists and splendours. But
Helena read with a growing excitement, as though the flashing
mysterious verse were part of her very being. When the last stanza was
done, she flung herself fiercely down on a stool at Mrs. Friend's feet,
"Look now where Colour, the soul's bridegroom, makes
The House of Heaven splendid for the Bride."
She turned to look up at the little figure in the chair, half laughing,
half passionate: "You do understand, don't you?" Mrs. Friend again shook
her head despairingly.
"It sounds wonderful--but I haven't a notion what it means!" Helena
laughed again, but without a touch of mockery.
"One has to be taught--coached--regularly coached. Julian coached me."
"What is meant by Colour?" asked Mrs. Friend faintly.
"Colour is Passion, Beauty, Freedom!" said Helena, her cheek glowing. "It
is just the opposite of dulness--and routine--and make-believe. It's what
makes life worth while. And it is the young who feel it--the young who
hear it calling--the young who obey it! And then when they are old, they
have it to remember. Now, do you understand?"
Lucy Friend did not answer. But involuntarily, two shining tears stood in
her eyes. There was something extraordinarily moving in the girl's
ardour. She could hardly bear it. There came back to her momentary
visions from her own quiet past--a country lane at evening where a man
had put his arm round her and kissed her--her wedding-evening by the sea,
when the sun went down, and all the ways were darkened, and the stars
came out--and that telegram which put an end to everything, which she had
scarcely had time to feel, because her mother was so ill, and wanted her
every moment. Had she--even she--in her poor, drab, little life--had her
moments of living Poetry, of transforming Colour, like others--without
Helena watched her, as though in a quick, unspoken sympathy, her own
storm of feeling subsiding.
"Do you know, Lucy, you look very nice indeed in that little black
dress!" she said, in her soft, low voice, like the voice of an
incantation, that she had used the night before. "You are the neatest,
daintiest person!--not prim--but you make everything you wear refined.
When I compare you with Cynthia Welwyn!"
She raised her shoulders scornfully. Lucy Friend, aghast at the
outrageousness of the comparison, tried to silence her--but quite in
vain. Helena ran on.
"Did you watch Cynthia last night? She was playing for Cousin Philip with
all her might. Why doesn't he marry her? She would suit his autocratic
ideas very well. He is forty-four. She must be thirty-eight if she is a
day. They have both got money--which Cynthia can't do without, for she is
horribly extravagant. But I wouldn't give much for her chances. Cousin
Philip is a tough proposition, as the American says. There is no getting
at his real mind. All one knows is that it is a tyrannical mind!"
All softness had died from the girl's face and sparkling eyes. She sat on
the floor, her hands round her knees, defiance in every tense feature.
Mrs. Friend was conscious of renewed alarm and astonishment, and at last
found the nerve to express them.
"How can you call it tyrannical when he spends all this time and thought
"The gilding of the cage," said Helena stubbornly. "That is the way women
have always been taken in. Men fling them scraps to keep them quiet. But
as to the _real_ feast--liberty to discover the world for themselves,
make their own experiments--choose and test their own friends--no, thank
you! And what is life worth if it is only to be lived at somebody's
"But you have only been here twenty-four hours--not so much! And you
don't know Lord Buntingford's reasons--"
"Oh, yes, I do know!" said Helena, undisturbed--"more or less. I told you
last night. They don't matter to me. It's the principle involved that
matters. Am I free, or am I not free? Anyway, I've just sent that
"To whom?" cried Mrs. Friend.
"To Lord Donald, of course, asking him to meet me at the Ritz next
Wednesday. If you will be so good"--the brown head made her a ceremonial
bow--"as to go up with me to town--we can go to my dressmaker's
together--I have got heaps to do there--then I can leave you somewhere
for lunch--and pick you up again afterwards!"
"Of course, Miss Pitstone--Helena!--I can't do anything of the sort,
unless your guardian agrees."
"Well, we shall see," said Helena coolly, jumping up. "I mean to tell him
after lunch. Don't please worry. And good-bye till lunch. This time I am
really going to look after my horse!"
A laugh, and a wave of the hand--she had disappeared. Mrs. Friend was
left to reflect on the New Woman. Was it in truth the war that had
produced her?--and if so, how and why? All that seemed probable was that
in two or three weeks' time, perhaps, she would be again appealing to the
same agency that had sent her to Beechmark. She believed she was entitled
to a month's notice.
Poor Lord Buntingford! Her sympathies were hotly on his side, so far as
she had any understanding of the situation into which she had been
plunged with so little warning. Yet when Helena was actually there at her
feet, she was hypnotized. The most inscrutable thing of all was, how she
could ever have supposed herself capable of undertaking such a charge!
The two ladies were already lunching when Lord Buntingford appeared,
bringing with him another neighbouring squire, come to consult him on
certain local affairs. Sir Henry Bostock, one of those solid, grey-haired
pillars of Church and State in which rural England abounds, was first
dazzled by Miss Pitstone's beauty, and then clearly scandalized by some
of her conversation, and perhaps--or so Mrs. Friend imagined--by the
rather astonishing "make-up" which disfigured lips and cheeks Nature had
already done her best with.
He departed immediately after lunch. Lord Buntingford accompanied him to
the front door, saw him mount his horse, and was returning to the
library, when a white figure crossed his path.
"Cousin Philip, I want to speak to you."
He looked up at once.
"All right, Helena. Will you come into the library?"
He ushered her in, shut the door behind her, and pushed forward an
"You'll find that comfortable, I think?"
"Thank you, I'd rather stand. Cousin Philip, did you send that telegram
"Certainly. I told you I should."
"Then you won't be surprised that I too sent mine."
"I don't understand what you mean?"
"When this morning you said there would be seven for dinner to-night, I
of course realized that you meant to stick to what you had said about
Lord Donald yesterday; and as I particularly want to see Lord Donald, I
sent the new groom to the village this morning with a wire to him to say
that I should be glad if he would arrange to give me luncheon at the Ritz
next Wednesday. I have to go up to try a dress on."
Lord Buntingford paused a moment, looking apparently at the cigarette
with which his fingers were playing.
"You proposed, I imagine, that Mrs. Friend should go with you?"
"Oh, yes, to my dressmaker's. Then I would arrange for her to go
somewhere to lunch--Debenham's, perhaps."
"And it was your idea then to go alone--to meet Lord Donald?" He
"He would wait for me in the lounge at the Ritz. It's quite simple!"
Philip Buntingford laughed--good-humouredly.
"Well, it is very kind of you to have told me so frankly, Helena--because
now I shall prevent it. It is the last thing in the world that your
mother would have wished, that you should be seen at the Ritz alone with
Lord Donald. I therefore have her authority with me in asking you either
to write or telegraph to him again to-night, giving up the plan. Better
still if you would depute me to do it. It is really a very foolish
plan--if I may say so."
"Because--well, there are certain things a girl of nineteen can't do
without spoiling her chances in life--and one of them is to be seen about
alone with a man like Lord Donald."
"And again I ask--why?"
"I really can't discuss his misdoings with you, Helena. Won't you trust
me in the matter? I thought I had made it plain that having been devoted
to your mother, I was prepared to be equally devoted to you, and wished
you to be as happy and free as possible."
"That's an appeal to sentiment," said Helena, resolutely. "Of course I
know it all sounds horrid. You've been as nice as possible; and anybody
who didn't sympathize with my views would think me a nasty, ungrateful
toad. But I'm not going to be coaxed into giving them up, any more than
I'm going to be bullied."
Lord Buntingford surveyed her. The habitual slight pucker--as though of
anxiety or doubt--in his brow was much in evidence. It might have meant
the chronic effort of a short-sighted man to see. But the fine candid
eyes were not short-sighted. The pucker meant something deeper.
"Of course I should like to understand what your views are," he said at
last, throwing away one cigarette, and lighting another.
Helena's look kindled. She looked handsomer and more maenad-like than
ever, as she stood leaning against Buntingford's writing-table, her arms
folded, one slim foot crossed over the other.