Part 6 out of 6
and his nearness gave her a feeling of support; but she could not tell
him all her trouble. He waited with a patience that somehow indicated
understanding, and she looked about. The tall oats rippled before the
wind and soft shadows trailed across the hillside. When the white clouds
passed, the dale was filled with light that jarred her hopelessness.
"As you haven't begun yet, I'll make a guess," said Kit. "Things have
been going wrong at Tarnside since Gerald came home? Well, if you can
give me a few particulars, it's possible I can help."
His steady glance was comforting and Grace's reserve gave way. It was
humiliating, and in a sense disloyal, to talk about Gerald, but her pride
had gone and she was suddenly inspired by a strange confidence. Perhaps
Kit could help; one could trust him and he was not the man to be daunted
"Yes," she said vaguely; "it's Gerald--"
"So I thought," Kit remarked. "Very well. You had better tell me all you
know, or, anyhow, all you can."
She gave him a quick glance to see what he meant, but his brown face was
inscrutable, and with an effort, talking fast in order to finish before
her courage failed, she narrated what she had heard. She could not, of
course, tell him all, and, indeed, Mrs. Osborn's story left much to be
"Ah," said Kit, "I begin to see a light, although the thing's not quite
plain yet. Anyhow, your father needs money and must ask his friends."
He paused and resumed in a voice he tried to make careless: "Has he
Grace hesitated and turned her head as she felt the blood creep into her
face. "Yes; you see, there is nobody else."
"I'm not sure about that. However, it looks as if Thorn had not sent his
answer yet and there's not much time to lose. You expect the man from
Grace said they did and studied Kit while he pondered. His preoccupied
look indicated that he was working out some plan and did not understand
how bold she had been. He did not seem at all surprised that she had come
to him. She had broken the family traditions by giving him her
confidence, but she felt happier.
"I'd like to see Gerald," he said. "It's important, and I'll be at
Ashness at four o'clock. If he will not come, you must let me know."
"I'll send him if I can," said Grace, who got up. Then she hesitated and
looked away across the field. "Perhaps I ought not to have told you, but
I felt I must, and I'm glad I did."
Kit smiled and after walking to the gate with her went on with his
mowing. Her story left out much he wanted to know, but he thought he saw
where it led and would get the rest from Gerald. This might be difficult,
but he meant to insist.
When Grace reached Tarnside she met Gerald on the lawn and took him to
the bench under the copper-beech.
"Mr. Askew wants you to go to Ashness at four o'clock," she said.
"Askew wants me!" Gerald exclaimed, with a start, and Grace thought he
looked afraid. "Why?"
"I don't know. He said it was important."
Gerald looked hard at her. "Well, I suppose it is important. But how does
he know about the thing?"
"I told him," Grace answered with forced quietness.
"You told him?" Gerald gasped, and then laughed harshly. "I knew you had
pluck, but didn't expect this! You don't seem to realize what an
extravagant thing you've done."
"I don't; it doesn't matter. Will you go?"
Gerald pondered for a few moments and then looked up. "You owe me
nothing, Grace. In fact, you and mother have often had to pay for my
folly; but I want you to be honest now. I imagine you understand what
Alan expects if he helps me out?"
"Yes," said Grace in a strange hard voice.
"It would be a good marriage; the kind of marriage you ought to make.
Alan's rich and can give you the things you like and ought to have. But
with all that, I imagine you'd sooner let it go?"
"I hate it," Grace said quietly. "I don't like Alan; I never shall
"He has some drawbacks," Gerald remarked, and was silent. He had not
often a generous impulse, but he was moved by his sister's distress and
thought he saw a plan. The plan was extravagant, and risky for him.
"I wonder whether you'd sooner marry Askew?" he resumed.
Grace moved abruptly and her face got red. She had not expected the
question and was highly strung. Gerald saw her embarrassment and went on:
"Of course, he's an outsider, from our point of view, but he's a good
sort. In fact, he's much better than Alan. Besides, there's some ground
for believing you are pretty good friends."
"Stop!" Grace exclaimed. "This has nothing to do with you. It's
unthinkable that you should meddle!"
Gerald smiled. "I'm not going to give Askew a hint, if that is what you
mean. I wanted to find out if you'd shrink from him as you shrink from
Alan, and I think I know."
"You don't know," Grace declared, and then stopped and blushed as she met
his steady look. After all, there was no use in pretending; Gerald would
not be deceived. Still, when he quietly got up she asked with alarm:
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to Ashness," Gerald replied. "I've made things hard for you
and mother, but I won't bring you fresh embarrassment now. In fact, I
think you can trust me, and, indeed, it's obvious that you must." He
turned and looked back with a smile. "If Askew's the man I think, the
chief will shortly get a jar."
Grace wanted to call him back, but somehow could not, and sat still while
he crossed the lawn. So long as she could see him, he moved carelessly,
but when he went down the drive behind a clipped hedge his step got slow
and his face was hard. The thing he meant to do would need some pluck,
and might be dangerous if he had not judged Askew right.
In the meantime, Kit went back to Ashness and smoked a cigarette while he
pondered what Grace had told him. He had seen that she did not altogether
know her brother's offense, but since money was needed, Kit could guess;
Gerald had been betting or speculating and had used money that was not
his. Undoubtedly, Kit did not think he had robbed his employers, because,
if he had done so, he would not have stayed at Tarnside. He had, however,
robbed somebody, and as Kit remembered his skill with the pen he saw a
light. Gerald had used somebody else's name, on the back of a bill or
promissory note, and now the bill must be met.
Presently he heard steps in the passage and looking up as Gerald came in
indicated a chair. Gerald sat down and for a few moments Kit studied him
quietly. It was obvious that he felt some strain, but his look was
resolute and Kit owned that he had more pluck than he had thought. The
room was very quiet and the shadow of a big ash tree fell across the open
window. The musical tinkle of a binder working among the corn came
faintly down the dale.
"Well?" said Gerald, conscious of a sense of relief in Askew's presence.
"You sent for me."
"I did. Your sister told me something; all she knew, perhaps, but not
enough. Anyhow, you are in trouble about money and I promised to help."
"For my sake?" Gerald asked.
Kit frowned. "Not altogether, but we'll let that go. If I am to be
of use, you had better state the trouble plainly. I must know how
"I suppose if you find the money I need, it will give you a claim on us,"
Gerald remarked meaningly.
"Yes," said Kit, with a steady look. "But that won't make any difference.
I don't mean to urge my claim. I expect this clears the ground?"
"It does; it's some relief. As a matter of fact, nobody can help quite as
much as you."
"Ah," said Kit, "I think I see! You used _my_ name. What was the sum for
which you made me responsible?"
Gerald told him and waited anxiously when Kit knitted his brows. The sum
was not so large as the latter had thought and Osborn's inability to
raise it indicated that he was seriously embarrassed.
"I understand your father applied to Thorn," said Kit. "Does he know you
have come to me?"
"He does not; nobody knows but Grace. I'd better state that I did
come because I thought you'd take a generous line, and I'm doubtful
Kit made a sign of understanding. "Thorn hasn't arrived yet?" he said.
"He sent a note he'd come across, but when I left he hadn't arrived. My
notion is he's waiting until the last moment, with the object of making
us realize we must have his help."
"It's possible," said Kit, who approved Gerald's handling of the matter.
The lad was a wastrel, but he had run some risk in order to save his
sister from being forced to pay for his fault. "We won't bother about
Thorn's object," he resumed. "Tell me about your difficulties. I don't
want a half confidence."
Gerald hesitated and then began his tale. He had used the bank's money
to speculate with and had lost. Plunging again, in the hope of getting
straight, he had got alarmed when the margin shrank, and had gone to
Hallam, the money-lender. The latter had insisted on a guarantee for the
bill and Gerald had used Kit's name. He replaced the bank's money and had
hoped the shares would go up before the bill fell due, but they had not.
"Well," said Kit quietly, "I expected something like this, and when the
fellow brings the bill to your father it must be met." He stopped and
picking up a newspaper studied the steamship advertisements. Then he
turned to Gerald.
"There's another thing. You can't get a post in England, and for your
mother's and sister's sakes, had better leave the country. A fast New
York boat sails from Liverpool to-morrow. You must get off by
Gerald looked at him with surprise. "But I'm not going to New York. I've
no money and don't know what to do when I get there."
"I'll fix that," Kit said dryly. "You are going, anyhow. If you deliver
the letter I'll give you to some people in Mobile, they'll find you a
job. The rest will depend upon yourself."
For a few moments Gerald hesitated, and then got up. "Very well!
Perhaps it's the best chance I'll get, and I'll take it. But I must go
back and pack."
"I think not," said Kit. "There's not much time. I must see the bank
manager at his house first of all, and start soon. You'll come with me to
the town. Sit down and write to your mother; I'll see she gets the note."
Gerald did as he was told and not long afterwards Kit and he drove out of
the Ashness lonning and took the road to the town.
KIT GOES TO THE RESCUE
As the sun got lower an apathetic gloom began to replace the anxiety that
had kept the Osborns highly strung. Mrs. Osborn went dejectedly about the
house, sometimes moving an ornament and putting away a book, for her
brain was dull and she felt incapable of the effort to rouse herself for
her daughter's sake. Thorn had not arrived and if he did not come soon he
would be too late. On the whole, this was some relief, although it meant
that there was no escape from the disaster that threatened her home.
Torn by conflicting emotions, she had since morning struggled against
the binding force of her traditions. In a sense, it was Grace's duty to
save the family honor, but the duty would cost the girl too much. Yet,
if Grace failed them, Gerald must suffer, and she doubted if her
husband could bear the shame that must fall on all. Now, however, she
was conscious of a numbing resignation that blunted feeling and dulled
In the meantime, Grace stood at the lodge gate, watching the road to
Ashness while the shadows crept across the dale. Gerald had not come
back and she had not told her mother where he had gone. The delay was
worrying, particularly since Kit had sent no message. He had said he
could help and one could trust him, but he did not come and the
confidence she had felt was vanishing. If it was not well placed,
there was no escape for her, and she shrank with horror from meeting
The shadows got longer, but nothing moved on the road that ran like a
white riband across the fields until it vanished among the trees at
Ashness. Presently, however, she heard the throb of a car coming up the
valley and a cloud of dust rolled up behind a hedge. It was Thorn's car;
she knew its hum and as she watched the dust get nearer her face went
white. Then, as the hum became loud and menacing, she clenched her hand
and ran in nervous panic up the drive. She was breathless when she
reached the house, but pulled herself together and went to a quiet room
where she would be alone.
Osborn, sitting in the library, heard the car, and got up with a sense of
relief and shrinking. He had been afraid that Thorn would fail him, and
now he almost wished that the fellow had not come. He was not in the mood
to be logical, and although it was obvious that Thorn alone could save
him from disaster, knowing what Grace must pay hurt him more than he had
thought. Yet she must pay; he could find no other plan. Now he was
acquiescent but not resigned, and his hopelessness gave him calm.
Thorn's face was hot when he came in, and he glanced at Osborn with an
effort for carelessness when the latter indicated a chair. Osborn looked
old and broken, but he had a touch of dignity that was new.
"I'm sorry if I'm late," Thorn remarked. "I had to go to Swinset and had
trouble with the car."
Osborn wondered dully whether this was the real ground for his delay, but
he said, "Oh, well, it does not matter now you have arrived. I gave you a
hint about my object in sending for you, but you don't know all yet."
"I imagine I know enough. Gerald's in trouble; he or you must meet the
bill Hallam will bring. You see, the fellow belongs to my club and I had
a talk with him when I was in town."
"So you knew what threatened us?" Osborn remarked, rather sharply. "If
so, it's curious you waited until I sent for you."
Thorn hesitated. He had meant to be tactful, but it looked as if he had
been rash. Osborn's suspicions were obviously excited.
"The matter is delicate, and I knew you would send for me if you thought
I could be of use."
"You can be of use. Unless I take up the fellow's bill, Gerald will
go to jail."
Thorn made a sign of sympathy. He was surprised by Osborn's bluntness,
which implied that the latter was desperate. "That must be prevented.
I'll give you a cheque."
He took out his cheque book, and then stopped, and Osborn asked: "Is this
a free loan, Alan? I mean, is it made without conditions?"
"A gift, if you like. Anyhow, I won't bother you about repayment. We
can't talk about _conditions_; but I have something to ask."
"Grace?" said Osborn, rather hoarsely.
"Yes," said Thorn, with a hint of embarrassment. "I want Grace. It's an
awkward situation. I don't want to urge that I deserve my reward, but
I've waited a long time and thought you approved."
"I did approve. I hoped she'd marry you, but I imagined she could be
persuaded and would do so willingly. However, it looks as if I was
Thorn leaned forward, fixing his eyes on Osborn.
"Grace is young, and perhaps I don't make a strong appeal to her
romantic feelings, but I belong to her rank and her views and tastes
are mine. That is much. Also, I can indulge and give her all she likes;
the refinements and comforts to which she is, in a sense, entitled.
After all, they count for something. I'm trying to be practical, but I
"If you really love her, I think you would do well not to urge her just
now," Osborn remarked quietly.
"Ah," said Thorn, "I can't wait. Waiting has gained me nothing and there
is a risk. If I were young, I'd use all the patience I could control, but
I'm getting old and farther away from Grace. In another year or two I
shall be bald and fat. Perhaps the argument's humorous, but it has a
cruel force for me."
"There are other girls, brought up as we have brought up Grace. They
might be flattered--"
Thorn spread out his hands. "You don't understand. I'm not looking for a
wife! I love her, and if she cannot be persuaded, will never marry
anybody else." He paused and resumed with some emotion: "I know the
shabbiness of using this opportunity; but it's the last I'll get. I don't
want to work on her gratitude, but I see no other plan. I would like to
be generous--but I can't let her go."
"Yet you seem to realize that she does not like you."
"She will get over that. Her likes and dislikes haven't yet hardened into
their final mold. She's impulsive and generous; I can win her by patience
"It is a rash experiment. If you are disappointed, Grace would
have to pay."
Thorn was silent for a few moments. He had talked with sincere passion,
but now began to think. Osborn's firmness was something of a surprise;
Thorn had not expected he would weigh his daughter's feelings against the
danger that threatened his house. His opposition must be broken down.
"I had hoped for your consent," he said and his face got hard. "To some
extent, I took it for granted."
Osborn's head sunk forward. He had struggled, but saw that he was beaten.
To beg would be useless and he could not fight. Pulling himself together
with an effort, he looked up.
"You mean you knew I could not refuse?"
"Yes," said Thorn, awkwardly, "I suppose I do mean something like that."
Osborn gave him a long, steady look. Thorn's face was set and his mouth
was firm. There was no hint of yielding and Osborn got up. "Very well; I
must tell my wife."
He rang a bell and a minute or two afterwards Mrs. Osborn came in. She
sat down and Osborn stood opposite.
"Alan has done us the honor of asking my consent to his marrying Grace,"
he said, with ironical formality. "If we approve, he is willing to help
Gerald." He turned to Thorn. "I think I have stated your terms?"
Thorn colored as he saw that Mrs. Osborn's eyes were fixed on him. "You
exaggerate. I am willing to do you a service that nobody else can render
and think I'm justified in counting on your gratitude."
"Very well," said Osborn. "I don't see much difference, except that you
want to save our pride." He paused and looked at his wife. "You know
Grace best. Will she consent?"
Something in his manner moved Mrs. Osborn. It was long since he had asked
what she thought, and she felt encouraged. Besides, now the crisis had
come, her irresolution had vanished. She had thrown off her reserve and
meant to defend her daughter.
"No," she said, with a determined note in her quiet voice. "Even if
she were willing, I should protest. The fault is Gerald's and he
Osborn felt some surprise, but his humiliation had made him gentle.
"Gerald cannot suffer alone. His disgrace will reflect upon us all and if
he has a son it will follow him. We have been reckless and extravagant,
but we have kept our good name and now, when it is all that is left us,
it must be protected."
"That was Gerald's duty," Mrs. Osborn rejoined and was silent for a few
moments. To some extent, her husband's point of view was hers and she
knew his finest quality was his exaggerated family pride. But she would
not force her daughter to marry Thorn.
"I will not consent," she resumed. "Grace has long suffered for her
brother's extravagance, but she shall not pay for his folly now. It is
unjust; the price is too high!" Then she gave Thorn an appealing glance.
"Alan, can you not be generous?"
"I'm not brave enough; it might cost me too much," Thorn answered in a
strained voice. "I cannot let Grace go. She would be happy with me
after a time."
Mrs. Osborn made a scornful gesture and there was silence. Osborn moved
irresolutely and it looked as if he were hesitating; then steps echoed
along the landing and he started as Kit came in. Thorn's face got very
dark, but Mrs. Osborn looked up with a strange sense of relief.
"I didn't stop to ask if you were at home," Kit remarked. "As you know,
time is getting short. I understand a man from London will bring you a
document about a loan."
"That is so," said Osborn, hoarsely. "What are you going to do about the
"Take it up," Kit answered, with a look of surprise. "My name's on the
back." He paused and glanced at Thorn. "Still, this is a matter I'd
sooner talk about with you alone."
Thorn got up, making an effort for self-control. "Since Mr. Askew has
arrived I needn't stay." He bowed to Mrs. Osborn. "It looks as if I had
not understood things. You won't need my help."
He went out with a curious heavy step, and when the door shut, Osborn sat
down and looked at Kit as if he had got a shock.
"Then, you haven't come to humble me?"
"Certainly not," said Kit. "I should have come before, but had to find my
bank manager, who had left his office."
"Where is Gerald? What have you done with him?" Mrs. Osborn asked, for
she began to see a light.
"Gerald's at the station hotel, waiting for the train to Liverpool. He
sails for New York to-morrow and takes a letter to some friends of mine
who will give him a good start. He sent a note."
Mrs. Osborn read the note and her eyes shone as she turned them on Kit.
"It is perhaps the best plan. I would have liked to see him; but I
"What I have done cost me nothing, and I imagine Gerald will have as good
as chance of making progress as he had at the bank, while the excitement
he'll probably get will suit him better. But Hallam will be here soon if
the train is punctual, and before he comes I want to know--"
At this moment they heard a car come up the drive, a servant knocked at
the door, and Hallam was shown in. He sat down in front of the table
where Osborn told him, and glanced at Kit.
"This is Mr. Askew," Osborn said. "Mrs. Osborn will stay; she knows your
Hallam bowed and tried not to look surprised. "Very well. I have brought
the document about which you wrote. I am sorry I find it impossible to
renew the loan."
"Let me see the bill," said Kit, who took it from him and afterwards
nodded. "Yes; that's all right! Cancel the thing and I'll give you a
"You admit your liability, then?" Hallam asked.
"Of course! What did you expect? My name's here. It's not my habit to
disown my debts."
Hallam did not state what he had expected. He was tactful and was
satisfied to get his money. Pulling out a fountain pen, he cancelled the
bill and put Kit's cheque in his pocket.
"That is all, I think, and I can get a train if I start at once," he
said. "If you should require help to extend your farm or improve your
stock, I should be glad if you would apply to me."
"I'm afraid your interest is too high," Kit rejoined with a smile, and
Hallam bowed to the others and went out.
When he had gone, Osborn turned to Kit, who gave Mrs. Osborn the
"I don't understand," he said dully. "Why have you come to my rescue?"
"To some extent, it was for Miss Osborn's sake."
"Ah!" said Osborn. "I suppose you have a demand to make now I am in
"You are not in my power. Mrs. Osborn has the bill, and if you cannot
repay me, I won't urge the debt. But there is, so to speak, a
stipulation. You must use no pressure to persuade Miss Osborn to marry
"I am not likely to do so," Osborn remarked, dryly. He paused and his
face got red as he struggled with his deep-rooted dislike for Kit.
"You have taken a very generous line, Mr. Askew," he resumed. "We have
not been friends, but I must confess it looks as if I had been unjust."
Kit smiled. "Luck made us antagonists. However, I hope the antagonism has
gone for good, because after all I have something to ask. I must go to
London on some business to-morrow, but with your leave I will again call
in a week."
"You will find us at home when you do come," Osborn answered with grave
politeness, and when Kit got up Mrs. Osborn gave him her hand.
He went out and Osborn, who felt limp now the strain had slackened,
leaned back heavily in his chair and looked at his wife.
"The fellow is a working farmer, but he struck just the right note. Well,
he has beaten me, and it's easier to be beaten by him than I thought. But
he states he's coming back--"
"Yes," said Mrs. Osborn. "I think he means to ask for Grace."
Osborn knitted his brows. "I imagined that was done with. It is one thing
to take his help and another to give him Grace. After all, there is not
much difference between his plan and Thorn's."
"I expect you will find the difference important," Mrs. Osborn replied
with a smile. "He has broken down your unjustified prejudice, and if he
is the man I think, he will leave Grace free to refuse--if she likes."
Then she went out, for the strain had been hard to bear, and Osborn sat
at the table with his hand tightly closed. He admitted that he had from
the beginning been wrong about Kit, but his prejudices were not
altogether banished yet.
A week after Hallam's visit, Kit, one afternoon, started for Tarnside. He
had been forced to go to London about some American business, but this
was a relief, since it gave him an excuse for delay. At his interview
with Osborn he had left the most important thing unsaid, because it might
have jarred Mrs. Osborn, whom he thought his friend, had he asked for
Grace at the moment he had put her father in his debt. In fact, he saw it
would be tactful if he waited for some time, but he did not mean to do
so. To some extent, he distrusted Osborn and resolved to make his request
before the latter's gratitude began to cool. Grace must have full liberty
to refuse, but he did not owe her father much.
He wondered how she would choose and his step got slower until he stopped
and, sitting on a broken wall, looked up the valley. The day was calm and
the sun shone on smooth pasture and yellow corn. The becks had shrunk in
the shady ghylls and a thin white line was all that marked the fall where
the main stream leaped down the Force Crag. On the steep slopes the
heather made purple patches among the bent-grass and Malton moor shone
red. Kit loved the quiet hills; he had known intrigue and adventure and
now saw his work waiting in his native dale. The soil called him; his job
was to extend the plow-land and improve his flocks.
This was important, because he could not tell how far Grace would
sympathize. Her father liked the leading place; an effort for display
and such luxury as could be cheaply got were the rule at Tarnside. It was
possible that Grace had unconsciously accepted a false standard of
values. Kit might, for her sake, have changed his mode of life, had he
thought it good for her, but he did not. She must have inherited
something of Osborn's tastes and to copy the Tarnside customs might
encourage their development. It was better to remove her from insidious
influences to fresh surroundings where she would, so to speak, breath a
bracing air. But this could not be done unless she were willing to go.
Kit knitted his brows as he mused, because there was not much to indicate
whether he would find Grace willing or not. She liked him well enough,
but he had not ventured to pose as her lover. He was too proud and
jealous for her; knowing what Osborn thought, he would not involve her in
a secret intrigue. Yet she had been kind and he had now and then got a
hint of an elusive tenderness. Moreover, in her distress, she had come to
him. She was proud and he thought would not have asked his help unless
she was willing to give something in return.
After a time he got up with a quick, resolute movement. He would soon
know if he had set his hopes too high, and would gain nothing by
indulging his doubts. Crossing a field where the binders were at work, he
went up the Tarnside drive with a firm step and saw Osborn and Mrs.
Osborn sitting under the copper-beech. It looked as if they were waiting
for him, and he braced himself as he advanced. Mrs. Osborn smiled as she
gave him her hand and Osborn indicated a box of cigarettes.
"Sit down. Mrs. Osborn will give you some tea presently," he said, with
an effort for hospitable politeness, because he could not yet resign
himself to the demand his wife expected Kit would make. "You have been
to town on business," he resumed, feeling that silence would be awkward.
"I hope you found things satisfactory."
"I did," said Kit, who was glad that Osborn had, no doubt unconsciously,
given him a lead. He had gone to visit the agents of his American
bankers, and had learned that Adam's estate had turned out to be worth
more than he had thought. "It was a relief, because it helps me to get
over some of the hesitation I felt," he resumed. "I want your permission
to ask Miss Osborn if she will marry me."
Osborn tried to hide his disturbed feelings and answered with forced
quietness: "My wife warned me that I might expect something like this,
but I must own that I find agreement hard. However, after the help you
have given us, it is plain that I must try to overcome my reluctance."
"That is all I ask in the meantime," said Kit. "I don't expect you to
influence Miss Osborn. In fact, she must understand that I have no claim
and feel herself free to refuse."
"You are generous," Mrs. Osborn remarked. "Of course, it is obvious that
her gratitude must count for much."
"I don't want her gratitude to count," Kit declared, and Osborn gave him
a puzzled glance.
"There is something else that must be said. Grace has been indulged and
knows nothing of self-denial. Frugality that you think proper and usual
would be hardship to her. Can you give your wife the comforts and
refinements she has had at home?"
Kit noted Mrs. Osborn's faint smile and wondered whether it hinted at
ironical amusement, but he put a document on the table.
"You are entitled to ask and I have brought a short draught of the
arrangements I am ready to make if I am fortunate enough to win your
Osborn picked up the paper and gave it to his wife. Then he looked at
Kit with surprise.
"This alters things; you are almost a rich man! If you wanted, you could
buy a house like Tarnside."
"No," said Kit firmly; "it alters nothing and leaves me where I was. I'm
satisfied with Ashness."
"Ah," said Osborn. "You mean you would sooner be a working farmer than a
country gentleman? The preference is somewhat remarkable!"
"I know where I belong. The important thing is that if Miss Osborn
marries me, she will be a farmer's wife."
"Exactly," said Osborn. "From my point of view, it's an awkward drawback.
I doubt if my daughter is suited for the part." He looked at Mrs. Osborn
and resumed: "But this is a matter Grace must decide about and you
insisted that no pressure should be used. I imagine you were afraid of my
influence and do not know if I am afraid of yours or not. If you agree, I
will send for her."
Kit said he was willing and was silent when Osborn went away. Although he
imagined Mrs. Osborn was sympathetic, he could not force himself to talk.
Since he had insisted that persuasion must not be used, he could not
demand to meet Grace alone and she might find it hard to accept his plans
without some explanation, which would be awkward to give when her parents
were there. He could, if he wanted, change his mode of life, but if they
were to be happy, she must be removed from influences he thought
dangerous and he must use his energy in useful work. He saw this very
clearly; but whether Grace would see it was another thing.
He felt some strain while he waited and watched the trembling
shadows move upon the grass. The rays of light that pierced the dark
foliage flickered about Mrs. Osborn's dress and when he glanced at
her he thought her look encouraging, but she did not speak. By and
by Osborn returned and said Grace was coming, and Kit found the
suspense hard to bear.
At length she came and his heart beat as he watched her cross the lawn.
She wore a plain white dress and when she stopped in front of the others
her face was pale but calm.
"Mr. Askew has asked my permission to marry you and I cannot refuse if
you agree," Osborn said in a formal tone. "He stipulates that I must not
persuade you one way or the other, and declares that he does not want to
work upon your gratitude."
Some color came into Grace's face as she looked at Kit. "Then, you don't
value my gratitude?"
"I value it very much," Kit replied with forced quietness. "But I feel it
ought not to count."
He stopped awkwardly, for he noted a sparkle in Grace's eyes and felt
that he was badly handicapped. She was proud and probably did not
understand his disinterested attitude. It was a relief when Mrs. Osborn
"Mr. Askew is trying to be just. We have agreed that you are not to be
"Ah," said Grace, "I think I see--"
She waited and Osborn went on: "Since you are to make a free choice, I
must state things as plainly as I can. Mr. Askew is not poor; he is able
to give you all we think you ought to have. In fact, there is no very
obvious reason he should not leave Ashness, but he does not mean to do
so, and although I cannot follow his argument, imagines that it would be
better for you both if he carries on his farming. It looks as if he did
not approve our rule."
Kit frowned, and colored when Grace turned to him. On the whole,
Osborn had not stated things incorrectly, but the situation was
embarrassing; Grace would, no doubt, resent the stipulation he felt
forced to make and expect a more lover-like attitude from the man who
asked her to be his wife.
"Grace," he said appealingly, "I'm afraid you don't understand. But when
you must give up so much I durst not hide the drawbacks. Besides, it's
agreed that I must not urge you."
She studied him for a moment. "I do understand," she said, and then
turned to Osborn. "I suppose you are trying to guard me, but I am not
afraid. One gets tired of pretense and secret economy, and forced
idleness has not much charm. Well, if Mr. Askew, knowing what he knows
about us, is willing to run the risk--"
"Grace!" said Kit, moving forward, but she stopped him with a
"There is a risk. I think we shall both need courage, but if you are
willing I need not hesitate. I will try to make a good farmer's wife."
She turned and went away, and the blood came into Kit's face as he looked
"I have played fair, but it was hard. Now you have heard her answer, I'm
at liberty to plead my cause."
Osborn said nothing, but his wife gave Kit a friendly smile and he
went off with a resolute step in pursuit of Grace. He came up with
her in a shrubbery, but it looked as if she did not hear him, for her
head was bent.
"Grace," he said, putting his hand on her arm. "I'm embarrassed and, in a
She turned and confronted him with her wonted calm. "I don't see why you
are ashamed. You were just--I think I mean quite impartial. You wanted me
to weigh things and would have been resigned if I had found the drawbacks
"It wasn't as easy as you think," said Kit grimly. "In fact, I was
burning with anger and suspense. But, you see, I had promised your
"Yes," said Grace; "that was plain. You were firm when you thought I
might be forced to marry Thorn, and when father agreed not to use his
influence, I suppose you could not use yours. Well, I'm glad you were
angry; it was human, and your scrupulous fairness was not flattering."
She paused and, to Kit's relief, gave him a smile. "After all, it would
not have hurt to be urged to marry the man I did like."
"You mean me?" said Kit and boldly took her in his arms.
She drew back from him, blushing, after a few moments, but Kit was
content. There was something fascinatingly elusive about Grace and he
could wait. They went on quietly down the path until they came to a bench
in a shady nook. Kit leaned against a tree and Grace sat down.
"Kit," she said, "I didn't know you were rich. It really doesn't matter,
but I'm glad I fell in love with you when I didn't know."
"Then, you were in love with me?"
She smiled. "Of course! I must have been, when I came to you because I
was afraid of Thorn. Love gave me confidence; I knew you would help. In
a way, I did an extravagant thing, because you were not really like a
lover at all."
"The control I used often hurt," said Kit. "I was afraid I might alarm
and lose you; it was much to see you now and then." He paused, feeling
there was something to be said that must be said now. "However, about
"Oh," said Grace, "I suppose it cost you an effort to be firm and I
hope it did. You needn't be afraid, though. When my father told me,
I understood, and it won't hurt to leave Tarnside; I'm anxious to
"My dear!" said Kit. "Ashness has some charm and we will try to make it a
proper home for you."
"It is a home; I sometimes went to see your father--I liked him so much,
Kit. One feels the old house has sheltered sincere men and women who
loved each other and something they left haunts the quiet spot. I don't
want you to alter it much."
"You shall alter it as you like. The only rule at Ashness will be what
"Now you're very nice! I'm going to be happy because I can be myself. So
far, I've been forced to be reserved. You don't really know me, Kit."
"Perhaps that's true," Kit remarked. "You're wonderful, because there's
always some fresh charm to learn. I thought I knew you before I went
away, but when I came back I saw how foolish I was. I wonder whether you
knew I loved you then?"
Grace blushed. "I think I knew, and felt cheated."
"Why did you feel cheated?"
"Oh," said Grace, "I liked you! I was young and felt I was entitled to
love a man who loved me, if I wanted, but couldn't use my right. Then,
not long since, when you were so grave and just, I felt I had been
"I see," said Kit and came nearer the bench. "I was cheated, too. But
look at me, dear, and I'll try to tell you all I think."
He told her with fire and passion and when he stopped, bending down to
her, she put her arm round his neck.
"Now you're ridiculously romantic, but you're very charming, Kit," she
By degrees Osborn accepted his daughter's choice philosophically. Kit was
not the son-in-law he had wanted, but he was forced to admit that the
fellow jarred less than he had thought. For one thing, he never reminded
Osborn of the benefit he had conferred, and the latter noted that his
country-house neighbors opened their doors to him. They could not, of
course, altogether ignore the man Grace had promised to marry, but Osborn
soon had grounds for imagining that they liked Kit for himself. The
wedding had been fixed and Osborn, although not satisfied, was resigned.
In the meantime, it began to look as if the gloom that had long ruled at
Tarnside was banished. Mrs. Osborn's reserve was less marked, she smiled,
and her step was lighter. Grace, too, had changed, and developed. She had
often been impatient but now was marked by a happy calm. Osborn found her
gentler and sometimes strangely compliant, although he felt he must make
no rash demands. The girl indulged him, but she could be firm. Her new
serenity had a charm. Moreover, Gerald wrote cheerful letters and
declared that he was making better progress than would have been possible
for him at home.
Osborn had seldom thought much about the happiness of his family, but he
felt a dull satisfaction because things were going well with the others.
It was a set-off against his troubles, which were getting worse. The
improvements his tenants and Hayes had forced him to make cost more than
he calculated and he met stubborn resistance when he talked about putting
up the rents. The money he had got by the last mortgage had gone; he
could not borrow more, and his creditors demanded payment of his debts.
He put off the reckoning, however, until, one day when he drove to the
market town to consult his agent, he got a rude jar.
In the first place, Hayes kept him waiting in a cold room, and he stood
for a time by the window, looking out drearily at the old-fashioned
square. The day was bleak and wet, and the high moors that shut in the
little town loomed, blurred and forbidding, through drifting mist. The
square was empty, the fronts of the tall old houses were dark with rain,
and the drops from a clump of bare trees fell in a steady shower on the
grass behind the iron rails. The gloom reacted upon Osborn's disturbed
mood, and he frowned when Hayes came in.
"I sent you word that I would call," he said.
"You did," Hayes agreed. "I was occupied when my clerk told me you
Osborn looked at him with some surprise. Hayes was very cool and not
apologetic. "Well," he said, "you know what I want to talk about. I
suppose you have seen Forsyth and Langdon about the renewal of their
"Yes. Both state they'll go sooner than pay you extra rent."
"Then they must go," Osborn rejoined, trying to hide his disappointment,
since he had spent some money on the steadings in the hope of raising the
rent. Now he came to think of it, Hayes had held this out as an
inducement when he urged the expenditure. "It looks as if your judgment
wasn't very good, but by comparison with other things the matter's not
important," he resumed. "You know the sum I'll need between now and the
end of the term?"
"I do know. In fact, I imagine you will need more than you suspect,"
Hayes rejoined. "You'll find it impossible to borrow the money on
Osborn looked hard at him. The fellow's manner was rather abrupt than
sympathetic; but Hayes went on: "Before we advertise for new tenants,
there is something I want to suggest. Although the farms are mortgaged, I
might be able to find a buyer--at a price."
"No," said Osborn firmly. "The buyer would have to undertake the debt and
the sum he would be willing to pay would not last me long. When it was
spent I'd have practically nothing left."
"The situation's awkward; but there it is! Of course, if you were able to
carry on until your rents come in--"
"You know I can't carry on. I came to you, hoping you might suggest a
workable plan. Who is the buyer?"
"I am," said Hayes.
Osborn's face got red and he struggled for self-control. The fellow
was his servant, but it looked as if he had cunningly involved him in
entanglements an honest agent would have avoided. Osborn remembered
that he had sometimes vaguely suspected Hayes. Now he knew him, it
was too late.
"I may be forced to sell, but not to you," he said haughtily.
Hayes shrugged. "That must be as you like, but I'm able to give you a
better price than anybody else. I have an object for buying the farms
and, if necessary, would pay something near their proper value, without
taking off much for the debt. Anyhow, you had better look at this
statement of your liabilities."
Osborn studied the document with a hopeless feeling. Things were worse
than he had feared and it cost him an effort to pull himself together
when he looked up.
"Why do you want to buy?" he asked.
"Well, you see, the land between Forsyth's and the dale-head is heavily
mortgaged, and, taking the two farms with the others, would make a
compact block that could be economically worked. The new estate would run
down to Tarnside, and since you may find it needful to sell the house, I
might make you an offer."
"But the consolidation wouldn't help _you_," Osborn remarked with
a puzzled look. "It would, perhaps, be an advantage for the mortgage
"I hold the mortgages," Hayes said quietly.
Osborn started. "But," he stammered, "I got the money from somebody
"That is so. I bought the other debts, and supplied the funds when you
raised new loans."
"You bought the debts with my money!" Osborn exclaimed. "You used your
post to rob me of my estate!"
"I suppose one must make allowances, but you are unjust. You got the
proper value for the land you pawned, and squandered the money. The
consequence was inevitable and it's futile to complain. For that
matter, it is not altogether unusual for a landlord and his steward to
"I trusted you and you cheated me," Osborn resumed with poignant
"You lived in false security and refused to think. You knew the reckoning
must come, but were satisfied if you could put it off. Now you must bear
the consequences, it is not my fault. However, this is not important.
Will you sell?"
"No," said Osborn hoarsely. "I will not sell to _you_."
Hayes smiled. "You must sell to somebody and will not get as good a
Osborn got up and went out with a dragging step. The blow had left him
numb, but as he drove home in the rain he had a hazy notion that Hayes'
statements were to some extent justified. He had lived in false security;
seeing how things were going and yet refusing to believe. Somehow, it had
looked impossible for him to lose Tarnside. The estate was his by the
sacred right of inheritance; for a hundred years there had been an Osborn
at the Hall. Yet the estate had gone, and he was to blame. It had, so to
speak, melted in his careless hands. He felt old and broken when he told
his wife and daughter about the interview.
Mrs. Osborn did not look as much surprised as he had thought and Grace,
although sympathetic, was calm. They had known the blow was coming and
were ready for the shock. After a time, Osborn left them and Grace looked
at her mother.
"I must tell Kit."
"Yes," said Mrs. Osborn. "I think he ought to know, though this is not a
matter in which he can help."
"It looks like that," Grace agreed and then paused with a confident
smile. "But Kit's rather wonderful; you don't really know him yet. He
always finds a way when there is something hard to be done."
"Ah," said Mrs. Osborn, "there is comfort in our troubles since they have
given you a man you can trust."
Grace went to Ashness and found Kit studying some accounts in the room
she called his museum.
"Put the books away, come to the fire and talk to me," said Grace, and
stopped him when he moved a chair. "I think I'll take the low stool. It's
wretchedly cold and I really came to be comforted."
She sat down, leaning against his chair with her head turned so that she
could look up, and held her hands to the fire. Kit's heart beat, for
Grace had developed recently; her reserve had gone and a curious, frank
tenderness had come instead.
"This is very nice," she resumed. "There's something very homelike about
Ashness. Perhaps I'm romantic, but I sometimes feel as if your father was
still at the old house. It's kind and quiet--like him. Don't you think
people can leave an influence, Kit?"
"Yours will last. So far, I haven't had much quietness."
"I'm afraid I've come to bother you again. I hate to bother you, but
somehow trouble seems to follow me."
"Your troubles are mine," Kit said and stroked her head. "Tell me
Grace told him, and although he said nothing, waited calmly. His face was
thoughtful but the silence was not awkward; she felt that it was marked
by an intimate confidence.
"Kit," she resumed at length, "I don't know if you can help, or if you
ought. You must decide, dear. I just wanted to tell you, and I'm
"I can help," Kit answered quietly. "People abroad have paid some debts I
didn't expect to get and I'm richer than I thought." He paused and mused
for a moment or two. "It's strange the thing should happen now. When I
came home I imagined Ashness would occupy all my time, but I soon began
to feel I hadn't scope enough. You see, I'd been with Adam and he was a
hustler. Well, it looks as if I had found a new field."
"You mean you might buy Tarnside?"
"Yes. I think the estate might be made to pay. High farming's a risky
business in our climate and we have been satisfied to spend little and
get a small return. I think there's a better plan than that; if one uses
modern methods and can invest the capital. However, I see an obstacle to
my buying Tarnside."
"Father?" Grace suggested. "Well, I'm afraid he would never be economical
and he likes to rule. But I didn't mean, Kit, that you should give him
money to squander."
"I know," said Kit gently, although his face was rather stern. "Adam's
legacy must not be wasted in extravagance. Then, you see, Tarnside ought
to have been Gerald's; but he's ruled out--"
Grace looked up. "Yes, Kit. Now you have given him a fresh start, he may
make a useful man, but Tarnside is not for him." She paused and blushed,
but her glance was steady as she went on: "It must be ours, if you buy
it, for us to hold in trust--"
She turned her head and Kit quietly touched her hair. They were silent
for a few moments and then he said, "If the estate is to be properly
managed, my part will need much tact and I'm impatient now and then. But,
we would live at Ashness and your mother would understand my
"She would help. Father's old, Kit, and might be indulged. You would try
not to hurt him, and could consult him about things that didn't matter. I
think he'd be satisfied if you let him imagine he had some control."
Kit smiled. "Very well; we will make the plunge. Tell your father to do
nothing until Hayes moves. The fellow's cunning and it might be better if
he didn't know what we mean to do."
He bent down and kissed her and she pressed her face against his hand.
"Kit, you're wonderful. Things get done when you come on the scene, but
perhaps you're nicest when they're done for me. After all, I am an Osborn
and would have hated to let Tarnside go; let's plan what we can do when
it belongs to us."
For a time they engaged in happy talk, but Kit reopened his account books
when Grace went home. It looked as if he were about to make a rash
plunge, because he would not have much money left when he had carried out
his plans. However, he could guard against the worst risks and on the
whole imagined the venture ought to pay.
Some weeks later, Osborn sent for him and on reaching Tarnside he was
shown into the library. Mrs. Osborn was with her husband and there was a
bundle of papers on the big table.
"I have got the particulars you wanted," Osborn said. "Hayes will arrive
in half an hour, but that should give us time enough."
Kit nodded. "Yes, I want a few minutes."
When he had studied the documents he looked up. Tarnside would soon be
his and he glanced about the library with a new curiosity. Although the
day was dark and rain beat upon the high windows, the light was strong
enough to show the fine modeling of the old and shabby furniture. It was
a noble room and with well used money could be given a touch of
stateliness; but there was something cold and austere about Tarnside,
while Ashness was homelike and warm. His short survey strengthened Kit's
half-conscious feeling that he belonged to the farm and not the Hall.
"Two things are obvious," he remarked. "The mortgages must be wiped off;
and when other debts have been paid, the rents of the land I'm willing to
redeem ought to keep you going, if they're economically used."
"I doubt it," Osborn rejoined. "So far, the rent of the whole estate have
failed to do so."
"They will do so now," Kit said rather dryly, "That is, if I'm to free
the land. But you must decide if you will help or not."
He looked at Mrs. Osborn, who made a sign of agreement "There will be
enough, Kit. Indeed, in some ways, we shall be better off than we were."
"You have pluck," said Kit, and turned to Osborn, knowing he must be
firm. "The house and grounds will be yours to use as you like and the
farmers will bring their complaints and requests first to you. You will
be the acknowledged landlord and I shall be glad of your advice; but the
expenditure will be controlled by me."
Osborn did not reply, but Mrs. Osborn said, "It is a generous offer."
Kit waited, conscious of some suspense, for he doubted if Osborn's pride
was quite humbled yet. He did not want to humble him, but, for the sake
of Grace and her mother, did not mean to let him wreck his plans. After a
few moments Osborn looked up.
"It is a hard choice, but you have taken the proper line and I'm
resigned," he said. "After all, I have had my day, and although luck has
been against me, cannot claim that I have used it well. Besides, I'm not
robbing Gerald by agreeing to your plan; Gerald robbed himself and me."
He paused and went on with some emotion: "Very well, I'm ready to
abdicate, and thank you for trying to save my feelings by giving me
There was nothing more of much importance to be said, and with the object
of banishing the strain, Kit began to talk about improving some of the
farms. Osborn did not help him much, but he kept it up until Hayes
arrived. The latter seemed surprised to see Kit and hesitated when Osborn
indicated a chair.
"Mrs. Osborn will stay, and I brought Mr. Askew to meet you."
"As you like," said Hayes, who looked annoyed, but sat down and took
out some documents. "You have had formal notice that repayment of these
loans is due, and it would be an advantage to make arrangements for
taking up the other mortgages that will soon run out. Some time since, I
made you an offer that you refused."
"That is so," Osborn agreed. "Your offer is still unacceptable. What are
you going to do?"
"I must advertise the mortgaged farms for public sale, and when arrears
of interest, various charges, and smaller loans are deducted, there will
probably be nothing left. The rest is not my business, but I have managed
the estate and do not see how you can carry on."
"It is not your business, and Mr. Askew has a plan."
Hayes smiled as he turned to Kit. "You may perhaps resent my advice, but
I think it's sound; you would be rash to meddle. A small sum would be
swallowed up and make no difference. You would be poorer and Mr. Osborn
would not gain."
"That's obvious, if the sum were small," Kit agreed. "But how much do you
expect to get if you sell the farms?"
He nodded when Hayes told him. "A fair estimate! I think we can take it
as the proper price. You mean to buy the farms in, but I want them too,
and if you force a sale, I'll bid higher."
"Can you bid against me?" Hayes asked with something of a sneer.
"I'll answer that afterwards. In the meantime, let me state that I want
the other farms when the mortgages run out. You can fight me, if you
like, but I don't think it will pay you, and if we run prices up Mr.
Osborn will gain. Very well, here's my offer to buy up all his debts."
He gave a document to Hayes, who studied it with surprise. "I presume
you're serious?" the latter said with an effort. "You are rasher than I
thought if you can make this offer good."
"I can certainly make it good. You had better apply to the bank manager
if you have doubts."
For a few moments Hayes studied Kit, who looked quietly resolute. Then he
said, "You are determined to oppose me if I don't consent?"
"Yes," said Kit. "I mean to buy all the land Mr. Osborn has pawned. If
you want it, you'll have to pay the price I fix, since it must be a
public sale. Don't you think it would be prudent to accept my offer?"
Hayes clenched his fist, but with an effort preserved his self-control.
"I am forced to agree."
"Very well. Take the documents to my lawyers and as soon as they are
satisfied I'll give you a check."
Hayes nodded silently, and bowing to Mrs. Osborn went out. When he had
gone, Osborn got up.
"We have not been good friends--Kit," he said with some emotion. "Old
prejudices are hard to conquer, but mine have broken down at last--you
have beaten me. Well, I suppose I would not admit that the code I clung
to had gone for good, but now I'm dropping out, I don't know that I could
find a better man to step into my place." He paused and gave Kit his
hand. "After all, Tarnside is not lost to us. Grace will follow me--she
belongs to the new school, but I think your children will rule the old
Then Mrs. Osborn advanced and kissed Kit, who went out with her and found
Grace waiting in the hall.
"Hayes has gone," Mrs. Osborn remarked. "Kit has forced him to agree, and
your father is reconciled. We have had much trouble, but I think we shall
all be happy yet."
Grace looked up and her eyes shone. "Ah," she said, "I knew long since
that Kit was wonderful! In one way, it wouldn't have mattered if he had
saved Tarnside or not; but now you and father know what a dear he is!"