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  • 1907
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that always terrifies me, in his face. He had opened the note and he smoothed out the paper quietly and said, `What is this. I could not help it–I turned cold and began to shiver. I could not imagine what was coming.”

” `Is it my note to Mr. Ffolliott?’ I asked.

” `Yes, it is your note to Mr. Ffolliott,’ and he read it aloud. ` “Do not come to the house. I will meet you in Bartyon Wood.” That is a nice note for a man’s wife to have written, to be picked up and read by a stranger, if your confessor is not cautious in the matter of letters from women—-‘

“When he begins a thing in that way, you may always know that he has planned everything–that you can do nothing–I always know. I knew then, and I knew I was quite white when I answered him:

” `I wrote it in a great hurry, Mrs. Farne is worse. We are going together to her. I said I would meet him–to save time.’

“He laughed, his awful little laugh, and touched the paper.

” `I have no doubt. And I have no doubt that if other persons saw this, they would believe it. It is very likely.

” `But you believe it,’ I said. `You know it is true. No one would be so silly–so silly and wicked as to—-‘ Then I broke down and cried out. `What do you mean? What could anyone think it meant?’ I was so wild that I felt as if I was going crazy. He clenched my wrist and shook me.

” `Don’t think you can play the fool with me,’ he said. `I have been watching this thing from the first. The first time I leave you alone with the fellow, I come back to find you have been giving him an emotional scene. Do you suppose your simpering good spirits and your imbecile pink cheeks told me nothing? They told me exactly this. I have waited to come upon it, and here it is. “Do not come to the house–I will meet you in the wood.”

“That was the unexpected thing. It was no use to argue and try to explain. I knew he did not believe what he was saying, but he worked himself into a rage, he accused me of awful things, and called me awful names in a loud voice, so that he could be heard, until I was dumb and staggering. All the time, I knew there was a reason, but I could not tell then what it was. He said at last, that he was going to Mr. Ffolliott. He said, `I will meet him in the wood and I will take your note with me.’

“Betty, it was so shameful that I fell down on my knees. `Oh, don’t–don’t–do that,’ I said. `I beg of you, Nigel. He is a gentleman and a clergyman. I beg and beg of you. If you will not, I will do anything–anything.’ And at that minute I remembered how he had tried to make me write to father for money. And I cried out–catching at his coat, and holding him back. `I will write to father as you asked me. I will do anything. I can’t bear it.’ “

“That was the whole meaning of the whole thing,” said Betty with eyes ablaze. “That was the beginning, the middle and the end. What did he say?”

“He pretended to be made more angry. He said, `Don’t insult me by trying to bribe me with your vulgar money. Don’t insult me.’ But he gradually grew sulky instead of raging, and though he put the note in his pocket, he did not go to Mr. Ffolliott. And–I wrote to father.”

“I remember that,” Betty answered. “Did you ever speak to Mr. Ffolliott again?”

“He guessed–he knew–I saw it in his kind, brown eyes when he passed me without speaking, in the village. I daresay the villagers were told about the awful thing by some servant, who heard Nigel’s voice. Villagers always know what is happening. He went away a few weeks later. The day before he went, I had walked through the wood, and just outside it, I met him. He stopped for one minute–just one–he lifted his hat and said, just as he had spoken them that first night–just the same words, `God will help you. He will. He will.’ “

A strange, almost unearthly joy suddenly flashed across her face.

“It must be true,” she said. “It must be true. He has sent you, Betty. It has been a long time–it has been so long that sometimes I have forgotten his words. But you have come!”

“Yes, I have come,” Betty answered. And she bent forward and kissed her gently, as if she had been soothing a child.

There were other questions to ask. She was obliged to ask them. “The unexpected thing” had been used as an instrument for years. It was always efficacious. Over the yearningly homesick creature had hung the threat that her father and mother, those she ached and longed for, could be told the story in such a manner as would brand her as a woman with a shameful secret. How could she explain herself? There were the awful, written words. He was her husband. He was remorseless, plausible. She dared not write freely. She had no witnesses to call upon. She had discovered that he had planned with composed steadiness that misleading impressions should be given to servants and village people. When the Brents returned to the vicarage, she had observed, with terror, that for some reason they stiffened, and looked askance when the Ffolliotts were mentioned.

“I am afraid, Lady Anstruthers, that Mr. Ffolliott was a great mistake,” Mrs. Brent said once.

Lady Anstruthers had not dared to ask any questions. She had felt the awkward colour rising in her face and had known that she looked guilty. But if she had protested against the injustice of the remark, Sir Nigel would have heard of her words before the day had passed, and she shuddered to think of the result. He had by that time reached the point of referring to Ffolliott with sneering lightness, as “Your lover.”

“Do you defend your lover to me,” he had said on one occasion, when she had entered a timid protest. And her white face and wild helpless eyes had been such evidence as to the effect the word had produced, that he had seen the expediency of making a point of using it.

The blood beat in Betty Vanderpoel’s veins.

“Rosy,” she said, looking steadily in the faded face, “tell me this. Did you never think of getting away from him, of going somewhere, and trying to reach father, by cable, or letter, by some means?”

Lady Anstruthers’ weary and wrinkled little smile was a pitiably illuminating thing.

“My dear” she said, “if you are strong and beautiful and rich and well dressed, so that people care to look at you, and listen to what you say, you can do things. But who, in England, will listen to a shabby, dowdy, frightened woman, when she runs away from her husband, if he follows her and tells people she is hysterical or mad or bad? It is the shabby, dowdy woman who is in the wrong. At first, I thought of nothing else but trying to get away. And once I went to Stornham station. I walked all the way, on a hot day. And just as I was getting into a third-class carriage, Nigel marched in and caught my arm, and held me back. I fainted and when I came to myself I was in the carriage, being driven back to the Court, and he was sitting opposite to me. He said, `You fool! It would take a cleverer woman than you to carry that out.’ And I knew it was the awful truth.”

“It is not the awful truth now,” said Betty, and she rose to her feet and stood looking before her, but with a look which did not rest on chairs and tables. She remained so, standing for a few moments of dead silence.

“What a fool he was!” she said at last. “And what a villain! But a villain is always a fool.”

She bent, and taking Rosy’s face between her hands, kissed it with a kiss which seemed like a seal. “That will do,” she said. “Now I know. One must know what is in one’s hands and what is not. Then one need not waste time in talking of miserable things. One can save one’s strength for doing what can be done.”

“I believe you would always think about DOING things,” said Lady Anstruthers. “That is American, too.”

“It is a quality Americans inherited from England,” lightly; “one of the results of it is that England covers a rather large share of the map of the world. It is a practical quality. You and I might spend hours in talking to each other of what Nigel has done and what you have done, of what he has said, and of what you have said. We might give some hours, I daresay, to what the Dowager did and said. But wiser people than we are have found out that thinking of black things past is living them again, and it is like poisoning one’s blood. It is deterioration of property.”

She said the last words as if she had ended with a jest. But she knew what she was doing.

“You were tricked into giving up what was yours, to a person who could not be trusted. What has been done with it, scarcely matters. It is not yours, but Sir Nigel’s. But we are not helpless, because we have in our hands the most powerful material agent in the world.

“Come, Rosy, and let us walk over the house. We will begin with that.”

CHAPTER XVII

TOWNLINSON & SHEPPARD

During the whole course of her interesting life–and she had always found life interesting–Betty Vanderpoel decided that she had known no experience more absorbing than this morning spent in going over the long-closed and deserted portions of the neglected house. She had never seen anything like the place, or as full of suggestion. The greater part of it had simply been shut up and left to time and weather, both of which had had their effects. The fine old red roof, having lost tiles, had fallen into leaks that let in rain, which had stained and rotted walls, plaster, and woodwork; wind and storm had beaten through broken window panes and done their worst with such furniture and hangings as they found to whip and toss and leave damp and spotted with mould. They passed through corridors, and up and down short or long stairways, with stained or faded walls, and sometimes with cracked or fallen plastering and wainscotting. Here and there the oak flooring itself was uncertain. The rooms, whether large or small, all presented a like aspect of potential beauty and comfort, utterly uncared for and forlorn. There were many rooms, but none more than scantily furnished, and a number of them were stripped bare. Betty found herself wondering how long a time it had taken the belongings of the big place to dwindle and melt away into such bareness.

“There was a time, I suppose, when it was all furnished,” she said.

“All these rooms were shut up when I came here,” Rosy answered. “I suppose things worth selling have been sold. When pieces of furniture were broken in one part of the house, they were replaced by things brought from another. No one cared. Nigel hates it all. He calls it a rathole. He detests the country everywhere, but particularly this part of it. After the first year I had learned better than to speak to him of spending money on repairs.”

“A good deal of money should be spent on repairs,” reflected Betty, looking about her.

She was standing in the middle of a room whose walls were hung with the remains of what had been chintz, covered with a pattern of loose clusters of moss rosebuds. The dampness had rotted it until, in some places, it had fallen away in strips from its fastenings. A quaint, embroidered couch stood in one corner, and as Betty looked at it, a mouse crept from under the tattered valance, stared at her in alarm and suddenly darted back again, in terror of intrusion so unusual. A casement window swung open, on a broken hinge, and a strong branch of ivy, having forced its way inside, had thrown a covering of leaves over the deep ledge, and was beginning to climb the inner woodwork. Through the casement was to be seen a heavenly spread of country, whose rolling lands were clad softly in green pastures and thick-branched trees.

“This is the Rosebud Boudoir,” said Lady Anstruthers, smiling faintly. “All the rooms have names. I thought them so delightful, when I first heard them. The Damask Room– the Tapestry Room–the White Wainscot Room–My Lady’s Chamber. It almost broke my heart when I saw what they looked like.”

“It would be very interesting,” Betty commented slowly, “to make them look as they ought to look.”

A remote fear rose to the surface of the expression in Lady Anstruthers’ eyes. She could not detach herself from certain recollections of Nigel–of his opinions of her family–of his determination not to allow it to enter as a factor in either his life or hers. And Betty had come to Stornham–Betty whom he had detested as a child–and in the course of two days, she had seemed to become a new part of the atmosphere, and to make the dead despair of the place begin to stir with life. What other thing than this was happening as she spoke of making such rooms as the Rosebud Boudoir “look as they ought to look,” and said the words not as if they were part of a fantastic vision, but as if they expressed a perfectly possible thing?

Betty saw the doubt in her eyes, and in a measure, guessed at its meaning. The time to pause for argument had, however not arrived. There was too much to be investigated, too much to be seen. She swept her on her way. They wandered on through some forty rooms, more or less; they opened doors and closed them; they unbarred shutters and let the sun stream in on dust and dampness and cobwebs. The comprehension of the situation which Betty gained was as valuable as it was enlightening.

The descent into the lower part of the house was a new experience. Betty had not before seen huge, flagged kitchens, vaulted servants’ halls, stone passages, butteries and dairies. The substantial masonry of the walls and arched ceilings, the stone stairway, and the seemingly endless offices, were interestingly remote in idea from such domestic modernities as chance views of up-to-date American household workings had provided her.

In the huge kitchen itself, an elderly woman, rolling pastry, paused to curtsy to them, with stolid curiosity in her heavy- featured face. In her character as “single-handed” cook, Mrs. Noakes had sent up uninviting meals to Lady Anstruthers for several years, but she had not seen her ladyship below stairs before. And this was the unexpected arrival–the young lady there had been “talk of” from the moment of her appearance. Mrs. Noakes admitted with the grudgingness of a person of uncheerful temperament, that looks like that always would make talk. A certain degree of vague mental illumination led her to agree with Robert, the footman, that the stranger’s effectiveness was, perhaps, also, not altogether a matter of good looks, and certainly it was not an affair of clothes. Her brightish blue dress, of rough cloth, was nothing particular, notwithstanding the fit of it. There was “something else about her.” She looked round the place, not with the casual indifference of a fine young lady, carelessly curious to see what she had not seen before, but with an alert, questioning interest.

“What a big place,” she said to her ladyship. “What substantial walls! What huge joints must have been roasted before such a fireplace.”

She drew near to the enormous, antiquated cooking place.

“People were not very practical when this was built,” she said. “It looks as if it must waste a great deal of coal. Is it—-?” she looked at Mrs. Noakes. “Do you like it?”

There was a practical directness in the question for which Mrs. Noakes was not prepared. Until this moment, it had apparently mattered little whether she liked things or not. The condition of her implements of trade was one of her grievances–the ancient fireplace and ovens the bitterest.

“It’s out of order, miss,” she answered. “And they don’t use ’em like this in these days.”

“I thought not,” said Miss Vanderpoel.

She made other inquiries as direct and significant of the observing eye, and her passage through the lower part of the establishment left Mrs. Noakes and her companions in a strange but not unpleasurable state of ferment.

“Think of a young lady that’s never had nothing to do with kitchens, going straight to that shameful old fireplace, and seeing what it meant to the woman that’s got to use it. `Do you like it?’ she says. If she’d been a cook herself, she couldn’t have put it straighter. She’s got eyes.”

“She’s been using them all over the place, said Robert. “Her and her ladyship’s been into rooms that’s not been opened for years.”

“More shame to them that should have opened ’em,” remarked Mrs. Noakes. “Her ladyship’s a poor, listless thing– but her spirit was broken long ago.

“This one will mend it for her, perhaps,” said the man servant. “I wonder what’s going to happen.”

“Well, she’s got a look with her–the new one–as if where she was things would be likely to happen. You look out. The place won’t seem so dead and alive if we’ve got something to think of and expect.”

“Who are the solicitors Sir Nigel employs?” Betty had asked her sister, when their pilgrimage through the house had been completed.

Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard, a firm which for several generations had transacted the legal business of much more important estates than Stornham, held its affairs in hand. Lady Anstruthers knew nothing of them, but that they evidently did not approve of the conduct of their client. Nigel was frequently angry when he spoke of them. It could be gathered that they had refused to allow him to do things he wished to do–sell things, or borrow money on them.

“I think we must go to London and see them,” Betty suggested.

Rosy was agitated. Why should one see them? What was there to be spoken of? Their going, Betty explained would be a sort of visit of ceremony–in a measure a precaution. Since Sir Nigel was apparently not to be reached, having given no clue as to where he intended to go, it might be discreet to consult Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard with regard to the things it might be well to do–the repairs it appeared necessary to make at once. If Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard approved of the doing of such work, Sir Nigel could not resent their action, and say that in his absence liberties had been taken. Such a course seemed businesslike and dignified.

It was what Betty felt that her father would do. Nothing could be complained of, which was done with the knowledge and under the sanction of the family solicitors.

“Then there are other things we must do. We must go to shops and theatres. It will be good for you to go to shops and theatres, Rosy.”

“I have nothing but rags to wear,” answered Lady Anstruthers, reddening.

“Then before we go we will have things sent down. People can be sent from the shops to arrange what we want.”

The magic of the name, standing for great wealth, could, it was true, bring to them, not only the contents of shops, but the people who showed them, and were ready to carry out any orders. The name of Vanderpoel already stood, in London, for inexhaustible resource. Yes, it was simple enough to send for politely subservient saleswomen to bring what one wanted.

The being reminded in every-day matters of the still real existence of the power of this magic was the first step in the rebuilding of Lady Anstruthers. To realise that the wonderful and yet simple necromancy was gradually encircling her again, had its parallel in the taking of a tonic, whose effect was cumulative. She herself did not realise the working of it. But Betty regarded it with interest. She saw it was good for her, merely to look on at the unpacking of the New York boxes, which the maid, sent for from London, brought down with her.

As the woman removed, from tray after tray, the tissue- paper-enfolded layers of garments, Lady Anstruthers sat and watched her with normal, simply feminine interest growing in her eyes. The things were made with the absence of any limit in expenditure, the freedom with delicate stuffs and priceless laces which belonged only to her faint memories of a lost past.

Nothing had limited the time spent in the embroidering of this apparently simple linen frock and coat; nothing had restrained the hand holding the scissors which had cut into the lace which adorned in appliques and filmy frills this exquisitely charming ball dress.

“It is looking back so far,” she said, waving her hand towards them with an odd gesture. “To think that it was once all like–like that.”

She got up and went to the things, turning them over, and touching them with a softness, almost expressing a caress. The names of the makers stamped on bands and collars, the names of the streets in which their shops stood, moved her. She heard again the once familiar rattle of wheels, and the rush and roar of New York traffic.

Betty carried on the whole matter with lightness. She talked easily and casually, giving local colour to what she said. She described the abnormally rapid growth of the places her sister had known in her teens, the new buildings, new theatres, new shops, new people, the later mode of living, much of it learned from England, through the unceasing weaving of the Shuttle.

“Changing–changing–changing. That is what it is always doing–America. We have not reached repose yet. One wonders how long it will be before we shall. Now we are always hurrying breathlessly after the next thing–the new one–which we always think will be the better one. Other countries built themselves slowly. In the days of their building, the pace of life was a march. When America was born, the march had already begun to hasten, and as a nation we began, in our first hour, at the quickening speed. Now the pace is a race. New York is a kaleidoscope. I myself can remember it a wholly different thing. One passes down a street one day, and the next there is a great gap where some building is being torn down–a few days later, a tall structure of some sort is touching the sky. It is wonderful, but it does not tend to calm the mind. That is why we cross the Atlantic so much. The sober, quiet-loving blood our forbears brought from older countries goes in search of rest. Mixed with other things, I feel in my own being a resentment against newness and disorder, and an insistence on the atmosphere of long-established things.”

But for years Lady Anstruthers had been living in the atmosphere of long-established things, and felt no insistence upon it. She yearned to hear of the great, changing Western world–of the great, changing city. Betty must tell her what the changes were. What were the differences in the streets– where had the new buildings been placed? How had Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue and Broadway altered? Were not Gramercy Park and Madison Square still green with grass and trees? Was it all different? Would she not know the old places herself? Though it seemed a lifetime since she had seen them, the years which had passed were really not so many.

It was good for her to talk and be talked to in this manner Betty saw. Still handling her subject lightly, she presented picture after picture. Some of them were of the wonderful, feverish city itself–the place quite passionately loved by some, as passionately disliked by others. She herself had fallen into the habit, as she left childhood behind her, of looking at it with interested wonder–at its riot of life and power, of huge schemes, and almost superhuman labours, of fortunes so colossal that they seemed monstrosities in their relation to the world. People who in Rosalie’s girlhood had lived in big ugly brownstone fronts, had built for themselves or for their children, houses such as, in other countries, would have belonged to nobles and princes, spending fortunes upon their building, filling them with treasures brought from foreign lands, from palaces, from art galleries, from collectors. Sometimes strange people built such houses and lived strange lavish, ostentatious lives in them, forming an overstrained, abnormal, pleasure-chasing world of their own. The passing of even ten years in New York counted itself almost as a generation; the fashions, customs, belongings of twenty years ago wore an air of almost picturesque antiquity.

“It does not take long to make an `old New Yorker,’ ” she said. “Each day brings so many new ones.”

There were, indeed, many new ones, Lady Anstruthers found. People who had been poor had become hugely rich, a few who had been rich had become poor, possessions which had been large had swelled to unnatural proportions. Out of the West had risen fortunes more monstrous than all others. As she told one story after another, Bettina realised, as she had done often before, that it was impossible to enter into description of the life and movements of the place, without its curiously involving some connection with the huge wealth of it–with its influence, its rise, its swelling, or waning.

“Somehow one cannot free one’s self from it. This is the age of wealth and invention–but of wealth before all else. Sometimes one is tired–tired of it.”

“You would not be tired of it if–well, if you were I, said Lady Anstruthers rather pathetically.

“Perhaps not,” Betty answered. “Perhaps not.”

She herself had seen people who were not tired of it in the sense in which she was–the men and women, with worn or intently anxious faces, hastening with the crowds upon the pavements, all hastening somewhere, in chase of that small portion of the wealth which they earned by their labour as their daily share; the same men and women surging towards elevated railroad stations, to seize on places in the homeward- bound trains; or standing in tired-looking groups, waiting for the approach of an already overfull street car, in which they must be packed together, and swing to the hanging straps, to keep upon their feet. Their way of being weary of it would be different from hers, they would be weary only of hearing of the mountains of it which rolled themselves up, as it seemed, in obedience to some irresistible, occult force.

On the day after Stornham village had learned that her ladyship and Miss Vanderpoel had actually gone to London, the dignified firm of Townlinson & Sheppard received a visit which created some slight sensation in their establishment, though it had not been entirely unexpected. It had, indeed, been heralded by a note from Miss Vanderpoel herself, who had asked that the appointment be made. Men of Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard’s indubitable rank in their profession could not fail to know the significance of the Vanderpoel name. They knew and understood its weight perfectly well. When their client had married one of Reuben Vanderpoel’s daughters, they had felt that extraordinary good fortune had befallen him and his estate. Their private opinion had been that Mr. Vanderpoel’s knowledge of his son-in-law must have been limited, or that he had curiously lax American views of paternal duty. The firm was highly reputable, long established strictly conservative, and somewhat insular in its point of view. It did not understand, or seek to understand, America. It had excellent reasons for thoroughly understanding Sir Nigel Anstruthers. Its opinions of him it reserved to itself. If Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard had been asked to give a daughter into their client’s keeping, they would have flatly refused to accept the honour proposed. Mr. Townlinson had, indeed, at the time of the marriage, admitted in strict confidence to his partner that for his part he would have somewhat preferred to follow a daughter of his own to her tomb. After the marriage the firm had found the situation confusing and un-English. There had been trouble with Sir Nigel, who had plainly been disappointed. At first it had appeared that the American magnate had shown astuteness in refraining from leaving his son-in-law a free hand. Lady Anstruthers’ fortune was her own and not her husband’s. Mr. Townlinson, paying a visit to Stornham and finding the bride a gentle, childish-looking girl, whose most marked expression was one of growing timorousness, had returned with a grave face. He foresaw the result, if her family did not stand by her with firmness, which he also foresaw her husband would prevent if possible. It became apparent that the family did not stand by her–or were cleverly kept at a distance. There was a long illness, which seemed to end in the seclusion from the world, brought about by broken health. Then it was certain that what Mr. Townlinson had foreseen had occurred. The inexperienced girl had been bullied into submission. Sir Nigel had gained the free hand, whatever the means he had chosen to employ. Most improper–most improper, the whole affair. He had a great deal of money, but none of it was used for the benefit of the estate–his deformed boy’s estate. Advice, dignified remonstrance, resulted only in most disagreeable scenes. Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard could not exceed certain limits. The manner in which the money was spent was discreditable. There were avenues a respectable firm knew only by rumour, there were insane gambling speculations, which could only end in disaster, there were things one could not decently concern one’s self with. Lady Anstruthers’ family had doubtless become indignant and disgusted, and had dropped the whole affair. Sad for the poor woman, but not unnatural.

And now appears a Miss Vanderpoel, who wishes to appoint an interview with Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard. What does she wish to say? The family is apparently taking the matter up. Is this lady an elder or a younger sister of Lady Anstruthers? Is she an older woman of that strong and rather trying American type one hears of, or is she younger than her ladyship, a pretty, indignant, totally unpractical girl, outraged by the state of affairs she has discovered, foolishly coming to demand of Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard an explanation of things they are not responsible for? Will she, perhaps, lose her temper, and accuse and reproach, or even–most unpleasant to contemplate–shed hysterical tears?

It fell to Mr. Townlinson to receive her in the absence of Mr. Sheppard, who had been called to Northamptonshire to attend to great affairs. He was a stout, grave man with a heavy, well-cut face, and, when Bettina entered his room, his courteous reception of her reserved his view of the situation entirely.

She was not of the mature and rather alarming American type he had imagined possible, he felt some relief in marking at once. She was also not the pretty, fashionable young lady who might have come to scold him, and ask silly, irrational questions.

His ordinarily rather unillumined countenance changed somewhat in expression when she sat down and began to speak. Mr. Townlinson was impressed by the fact that it was at once unmistakably evident that whatsoever her reason for coming, she had not presented herself to ask irrelevant or unreasonable questions. Lady Anstruthers, she explained without superfluous phrase, had no definite knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts, and it had seemed possible that Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard might have received some information more recent that her own. The impersonal framing of this inquiry struck Mr. Townlinson as being in remarkably good taste, since it conveyed no condemnation of Sir Nigel, and no desire to involve Mr. Townlinson in expressing any. It refrained even from implying that the situation was an unusual one, which might be open to criticism. Excellent reserve and great cleverness, Mr. Townlinson commented inwardly. There were certainly few young ladies who would have clearly realised that a solicitor cannot be called upon to commit himself, until he has had time to weigh matters and decide upon them. His long and varied experience had included interviews in which charming, emotional women had expected him at once to “take sides.” Miss Vanderpoel exhibited no signs of expecting anything of this kind, even when she went on with what she had come to say. Stornham Court and its surroundings were depreciating seriously in value through need of radical repairs etc. Her sister’s comfort was naturally involved, and, as Mr. Townlinson would fully understand, her nephew’s future. The sooner the process of dilapidation was arrested, the better and with the less difficulty. The present time was without doubt better than an indefinite future. Miss Vanderpoel, having fortunately been able to come to Stornham, was greatly interested, and naturally desirous of seeing the work begun. Her father also would be interested. Since it was not possible to consult Sir Nigel, it had seemed proper to consult his solicitors in whose hands the estate had been for so long a time. She was aware, it seemed, that not only Mr. Townlinson, but Mr. Townlinson’s father, and also his grandfather, had legally represented the Anstruthers, as well as many other families. As there seemed no necessity for any structural changes, and the work done was such as could only rescue and increase the value of the estate, could there be any objection to its being begun without delay?

Certainly an unusual young lady. It would be interesting to discover how well she knew Sir Nigel, since it seemed that only a knowledge of him–his temper, his bitter, irritable vanity, could have revealed to her the necessity of the precaution she was taking without even intimating that it was a precaution. Extraordinarily clever girl.

Mr. Townlinson wore an air of quiet, business-like reflection.

“You are aware, Miss Vanderpoel, that the present income from the estate is not such as would justify anything approaching the required expenditure?”

“Yes, I am aware of that. The expense would be provided for by my father.”

“Most generous on Mr. Vanderpoel’s part,” Mr. Townlinson commented. “The estate would, of course, increase greatly in value.”

Circumstances had prevented her father from visiting Stornham, Miss Vanderpoel explained, and this had led to his being ignorant of a condition of things which he might have remedied. She did not explain what the particular circumstances which had separated the families had been, but Mr. Townlinson thought he understood. The condition existing could be remedied now, if Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard saw no obstacles other than scarcity of money.

Mr. Townlinson’s summing up of the matter expressed in effect that he saw none. The estate had been a fine one in its day. During the last sixty years it had become much impoverished. With conservative decorum of manner, he admitted that there had not been, since Sir Nigel’s marriage, sufficient reason for the neglect of dilapidations. The firm had strongly represented to Sir Nigel that certain resources should not be diverted from the proper object of restoring the property, which was entailed upon his son. The son’s future should beyond all have been considered in the dispensing of his mother’s fortune.

He, by this time, comprehended fully that he need restrain no dignified expression of opinion in his speech with this young lady. She had come to consult with him with as clear a view of the proprieties and discretions demanded by his position as he had himself. And yet each, before the close of the interview, understood the point of view of the other. What he recognised was that, though she had not seen Sir Nigel since her childhood, she had in some astonishing way obtained an extraordinary insight into his character, and it was this which had led her to take her present step. She might not realise all she might have to contend with, but her conservative and formal action had surrounded her and her sister with a certain barrier of conventional protection, at once self-controlled, dignified, and astutely intelligent.

“Since, as you say, no structural changes are proposed, such as an owner might resent, and as Lady Anstruthers is the mother of the heir, and as Lady Anstruthers’ father undertakes to defray all expenditure, no sane man could object to the restoration of the property. To do so would be to cause public opinion to express itself strongly against him. Such action would place him grossly in the wrong.” Then he added with deliberation, realising that he was committing himself, and feeling firmly willing to do so for reasons of his own, “Sir Nigel is a man who objects strongly to putting himself –publicly–in the wrong.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Vanderpoel.

He had said this of intention for her enlightenment, and she was aware that he had done so.

“This will not be the first time that American fortunes have restored English estates,” Mr. Townlinson continued amiably. “There have been many notable cases of late years. We shall be happy to place ourselves at your disposal at all times, Miss Vanderpoel. We are obliged to you for your consideration in the matter.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Vanderpoel again. “I wished to be sure that I should not be infringing any English rule I had no knowledge of.”

“You will be infringing none. You have been most correct and courteous.”

Before she went away Mr. Townlinson felt that he had been greatly enlightened as to what a young lady might know and be. She gave him singularly clear details as to what was proposed. There was so much to be done that he found himself opening his eyes slightly once or twice. But, of course, if Mr. Vanderpoel was prepared to spend money in a lavish manner, it was all to the good so far as the estate was concerned. They were stupendous, these people, and after all the heir was his grandson. And how striking it was that with all this power and readiness to use it, was evidently combined, even in this beautiful young person, the clearest business sense of the situation. What was done would be for the comfort of Lady Anstruthers and the future of her son. Sir Nigel, being unable to sell either house or lands, could not undo it.

When Mr. Townlinson accompanied his visitor to her carriage with dignified politeness he felt somewhat like an elderly solicitor who had found himself drawn into the atmosphere of a sort of intensely modern fairy tale. He saw two of his under clerks, with the impropriety of middle-class youth, looking out of an office window at the dark blue brougham and the tall young lady, whose beauty bloomed in the sunshine. He did not, on the whole, wonder at, though he deplored, the conduct of the young men. But they, of course, saw only what they colloquially described to each other as a “rippin’ handsome girl.” They knew nothing of the interesting interview.

He himself returned to his private room in a musing mood and thought it all over, his mind dwelling on various features of the international situation, and more than once he said aloud:

“Most remarkable. Very remarkable, indeed.”

CHAPTER XVIII

THE FIFTEENTH EARL OF MOUNT DUNSTAN

James Hubert John Fergus Saltyre–fifteenth Earl of Mount Dunstan, “Jem Salter,” as his neighbours on the Western ranches had called him, the red-haired, second-class passenger of the Meridiana, sat in the great library of his desolate great house, and stared fixedly through the open window at the lovely land spread out before him. From this particular window was to be seen one of the greatest views in England. From the upper nurseries he had lived in as a child he had seen it every day from morning until night, and it had seemed to his young fancy to cover all the plains of the earth. Surely the rest of the world, he had thought, could be but small– though somewhere he knew there was London where the Queen lived, and in London were Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace and Kensington and the Tower, where heads had been chopped off; and the Horse Guards, where splendid, plumed soldiers rode forth glittering, with thrilling trumpets sounding as they moved. These last he always remembered, because he had seen them, and once when he had walked in the park with his nurse there had been an excited stir in the Row, and people had crowded about a certain gate, through which an escorted carriage had been driven, and he had been made at once to take off his hat and stand bareheaded until it passed, because it was the Queen. Somehow from that afternoon he dated the first presentation of certain vaguely miserable ideas. Inquiries made of his attendant, when the cortege had swept by, had elicited the fact that the Royal Lady herself had children–little boys who were princes and little girls who were princesses. What curious and persistent child cross-examination on his part had drawn forth the fact that almost all the people who drove about and looked so happy and brilliant, were the fathers or mothers of little boys like, yet–in some mysterious way–unlike himself? And in what manner had he gathered that he was different from them? His nurse, it is true, was not a pleasant person, and had an injured and resentful bearing. In later years he realised that it had been the bearing of an irregularly paid menial, who rebelled against the fact that her place was not among people who were of distinction and high repute, and whose households bestowed a certain social status upon their servitors. She was a tall woman with a sour face and a bearing which conveyed a glum endurance of a position beneath her. Yes, it had been from her–Brough her name was –that he had mysteriously gathered that he was not a desirable charge, as regarded from the point of the servants’ hall –or, in fact, from any other point. His people were not the people whose patronage was sought with anxious eagerness. For some reason their town house was objectionable, and Mount Dunstan was without attractions. Other big houses were, in some marked way, different. The town house he objected to himself as being gloomy and ugly, and possessing only a bare and battered nursery, from whose windows one could not even obtain a satisfactory view of the Mews, where at least, there were horses and grooms who hissed cheerfully while they curried and brushed them. He hated the town house and was, in fact, very glad that he was scarcely ever taken to it. People, it seemed, did not care to come either to the town house or to Mount Dunstan. That was why he did not know other little boys. Again–for the mysterious reason –people did not care that their children should associate with him. How did he discover this? He never knew exactly. He realised, however, that without distinct statements, he seemed to have gathered it through various disconnected talks with Brough. She had not remained with him long, having “bettered herself” greatly and gone away in glum satisfaction, but she had stayed long enough to convey to him things which became part of his existence, and smouldered in his little soul until they became part of himself. The ancestors who had hewn their way through their enemies with battle- axes, who had been fierce and cruel and unconquerable in their savage pride, had handed down to him a burning and unsubmissive soul. At six years old, walking with Brough in Kensington Gardens, and seeing other children playing under the care of nurses, who, he learned, were not inclined to make advances to his attendant, he dragged Brough away with a fierce little hand and stood apart with her, scowling haughtily, his head in the air, pretending that he disdained all childish gambols, and would have declined to join in them, even if he had been besought to so far unbend. Bitterness had been planted in him then, though he had not understood, and the sourness of Brough had been connected with no intelligence which might have caused her to suspect his feelings, and no one had noticed, and if anyone had noticed, no one would have cared in the very least.

When Brough had gone away to her far superior place, and she had been succeeded by one variety of objectionable or incompetent person after another, he had still continued to learn. In different ways he silently collected information, and all of it was unpleasant, and, as he grew older, it took for some years one form. Lack of resources, which should of right belong to persons of rank, was the radical objection to his people. At the town house there was no money, at Mount Dunstan there was no money. There had been so little money even in his grandfather’s time that his father had inherited comparative beggary. The fourteenth Earl of Mount Dunstan did not call it “comparative” beggary, he called it beggary pure and simple, and cursed his progenitors with engaging frankness. He never referred to the fact that in his personable youth he had married a wife whose fortune, if it had not been squandered, might have restored his own. The fortune had been squandered in the course of a few years of riotous living, the wife had died when her third son was born, which event took place ten years after the birth of her second, whom she had lost through scarlet fever. James Hubert John Fergus Saltyre never heard much of her, and barely knew of her past existence because in the picture gallery he had seen a portrait of a tall, thin, fretful-looking young lady, with light ringlets, and pearls round her neck. She had not attracted him as a child, and the fact that he gathered that she had been his mother left him entirely unmoved. She was not a loveable- looking person, and, indeed, had been at once empty-headed, irritable, and worldly. He would probably have been no less lonely if she had lived. Lonely he was. His father was engaged in a career much too lively and interesting to himself to admit of his allowing himself to be bored by an unwanted and entirely superfluous child. The elder son, who was Lord Tenham, had reached a premature and degenerate maturity by the time the younger one made his belated appearance, and regarded him with unconcealed dislike. The worst thing which could have befallen the younger boy would have been intimate association with this degenerate youth.

As Saltyre left nursery days behind, he learned by degrees that the objection to himself and his people, which had at first endeavoured to explain itself as being the result of an unseemly lack of money, combined with that unpleasant feature, an uglier one–namely, lack of decent reputation. Angry duns, beggarliness of income, scarcity of the necessaries and luxuries which dignity of rank demanded, the indifference and slights of one’s equals, and the ignoring of one’s existence by exalted persons, were all hideous enough to Lord Mount Dunstan and his elder son–but they were not so hideous as was, to his younger son, the childish, shamed frenzy of awakening to the truth that he was one of a bad lot–a disgraceful lot, from whom nothing was expected but shifty ways, low vices, and scandals, which in the end could not even be kept out of the newspapers. The day came, in fact, when the worst of these was seized upon by them and filled their sheets with matter which for a whole season decent London avoided reading, and the fast and indecent element laughed, derided, or gloated over.

The memory of the fever of the monstrous weeks which had passed at this time was not one it was wise for a man to recall. But it was not to be forgotten–the hasty midnight arrival at Mount Dunstan of father and son, their haggard, nervous faces, their terrified discussions, and argumentative raging when they were shut up together behind locked doors, the appearance of legal advisers who looked as anxious as themselves, but failed to conceal the disgust with which they were battling, the knowledge that tongues were clacking almost hysterically in the village, and that curious faces hurried to the windows when even a menial from the great house passed, the atmosphere of below-stairs whispers, and jogged elbows, and winks, and giggles; the final desperate, excited preparations for flight, which might be ignominiously stopped at any moment by the intervention of the law, the huddling away at night time, the hot-throated fear that the shameful, self-branding move might be too late–the burning humiliation of knowing the inevitable result of public contempt or laughter when the world next day heard that the fugitives had put the English Channel between themselves and their country’s laws.

Lord Tenham had died a few years later at Port Said, after descending into all the hells of degenerate debauch. His father had lived longer–long enough to make of himself something horribly near an imbecile, before he died suddenly in Paris. The Mount Dunstan who succeeded him, having spent his childhood and boyhood under the shadow of the “bad lot,” had the character of being a big, surly, unattractive young fellow, whose eccentricity presented itself to those who knew his stock, as being of a kind which might develop at any time into any objectionable tendency. His bearing was not such as allured, and his fortune was not of the order which placed a man in the view of the world. He had no money to expend, no hospitalities to offer and apparently no disposition to connect himself with society. His wild-goose chase to America had, when it had been considered worth while discussing at all, been regarded as being very much the kind of thing a Mount Dunstan might do with some secret and disreputable end in view. No one had heard the exact truth, and no one would have been inclined to believe if they had heard it. That he had lived as plain Jem Salter, and laboured as any hind might have done, in desperate effort and mad hope, would not have been regarded as a fact to be credited. He had gone away, he had squandered money, he had returned, he was at Mount Dunstan again, living the life of an objectionable recluse–objectionable, because the owner of a place like Mount Dunstan should be a power and an influence in the county, should be counted upon as a dispenser of hospitalities, as a supporter of charities, as a dignitary of weight. He was none of these–living no one knew how, slouching about with his gun, riding or walking sullenly over the roads and marshland.

Just one man knew him intimately, and this one had been from his fifteenth year the sole friend of his life. He had come, then–the Reverend Lewis Penzance–a poor and unhealthy scholar, to be vicar of the parish of Dunstan. Only a poor and book-absorbed man would have accepted the position. What this man wanted was no more than quiet, pure country air to fill frail lungs, a roof over his head, and a place to pore over books and manuscripts. He was a born monk and celibate–in by-gone centuries he would have lived peacefully in some monastery, spending his years in the reading and writing of black letter and the illuminating of missals. At the vicarage he could lead an existence which was almost the same thing.

At Mount Dunstan there remained still the large remnant of a great library. A huge room whose neglected and half emptied shelves contained some strange things and wonderful ones, though all were in disorder, and given up to dust and natural dilapidation. Inevitably the Reverend Lewis Penzance had found his way there, inevitably he had gained indifferently bestowed permission to entertain himself by endeavouring to reduce to order and to make an attempt at cataloguing. Inevitably, also, the hours he spent in the place became the chief sustenance of his being.

There, one day, he had come upon an uncouth-looking boy with deep eyes and a shaggy crop of red hair. The boy was poring over an old volume, and was plainly not disposed to leave it. He rose, not too graciously, and replied to the elder man’s greeting, and the friendly questions which followed. Yes, he was the youngest son of the house. He had nothing to do, and he liked the library. He often came there and sat and read things. There were some queer old books and a lot of stupid ones. The book he was reading now? Oh, that (with a slight reddening of his skin and a little awkwardness at the admission) was one of those he liked best. It was one of the queer ones, but interesting for all that. It was about their own people–the generations of Mount Dunstans who had lived in the centuries past. He supposed he liked it because there were a lot of odd stories and exciting things in it. Plenty of fighting and adventure. There had been some splendid fellows among them. (He was beginning to forget himself a little by this time.) They were afraid of nothing. They were rather like savages in the earliest days, but at that time all the rest of the world was savage. But they were brave, and it was odd how decent they were very often. What he meant was–what he liked was, that they were men– even when they were barbarians. You couldn’t be ashamed of them. Things they did then could not be done now, because the world was different, but if–well, the kind of men they were might do England a lot of good if they were alive to-day. They would be different themselves, of course, in one way–but they must be the same men in others. Perhaps Mr. Penzance (reddening again) understood what he meant. He knew himself very well, because he had thought it all out, he was always thinking about it, but he was no good at explaining.

Mr. Penzance was interested. His outlook on the past and the present had always been that of a bookworm, but he understood enough to see that he had come upon a temperament novel enough to awaken curiosity. The apparently entirely neglected boy, of a type singularly unlike that of his father and elder brother, living his life virtually alone in the big place, and finding food to his taste in stories of those of his blood whose dust had mingled with the earth centuries ago, provided him with a new subject for reflection.

That had been the beginning of an unusual friendship. Gradually Penzance had reached a clear understanding of all the building of the young life, of its rankling humiliation, and the qualities of mind and body which made for rebellion. It sometimes thrilled him to see in the big frame and powerful muscles, in the strong nature and unconquerable spirit, a revival of what had burned and stirred through lives lived in a dim, almost mythical, past. There were legends of men with big bodies, fierce faces, and red hair, who had done big deeds, and conquered in dark and barbarous days, even Fate’s self, as it had seemed. None could overthrow them, none could stand before their determination to attain that which they chose to claim. Students of heredity knew that there were curious instances of revival of type. There had been a certain Red Godwyn who had ruled his piece of England before the Conqueror came, and who had defied the interloper with such splendid arrogance and superhuman lack of fear that he had won in the end, strangely enough, the admiration and friendship of the royal savage himself, who saw, in his, a kindred savagery, a power to be well ranged, through love, if not through fear, upon his own side. This Godwyn had a deep attraction for his descendant, who knew the whole story of his fierce life–as told in one yellow manuscript and another–by heart. Why might not one fancy–Penzance was drawn by the imagining–this strong thing reborn, even as the offspring of a poorer effete type. Red Godwyn springing into being again, had been stronger than all else, and had swept weakness before him as he had done in other and far-off days.

In the old library it fell out in time that Penzance and the boy spent the greater part of their days. The man was a bookworm and a scholar, young Saltyre had a passion for knowledge. Among the old books and manuscripts he gained a singular education. Without a guide he could not have gathered and assimilated all he did gather and assimilate. Together the two rummaged forgotten shelves and chests, and found forgotten things. That which had drawn the boy from the first always drew and absorbed him–the annals of his own people. Many a long winter evening the pair turned over the pages of volumes and of parchment, and followed with eager interest and curiosity the records of wild lives–stories of warriors and abbots and bards, of feudal lords at ruthless war with each other, of besiegings and battles and captives and torments. Legends there were of small kingdoms torn asunder, of the slaughter of their kings, the mad fightings of their barons, and the faith or unfaith of their serfs. Here and there the eternal power revealed itself in some story of lawful or unlawful love–for dame or damsel, royal lady, abbess, or high-born nun–ending in the welding of two lives or in rapine, violence, and death. There were annals of early England, and of marauders, monks, and Danes. And, through all these, some thing, some man or woman, place, or strife linked by some tie with Mount Dunstan blood. In past generations, it seemed plain, there had been certain of the line who had had pride in these records, and had sought and collected them; then had been born others who had not cared. Sometimes the relations were inadequate, sometimes they wore an unauthentic air, but most of them seemed, even after the passing of centuries, human documents, and together built a marvellous great drama of life and power, wickedness and passion and daring deeds.

When the shameful scandal burst forth young Saltyre was seen by neither his father nor his brother. Neither of them had any desire to see him; in fact, each detested the idea of confronting by any chance his hot, intolerant eyes. “The Brat,” his father had called him in his childhood, “The Lout,” when he had grown big-limbed and clumsy. Both he and Tenham were sick enough, without being called upon to contemplate “The Lout,” whose opinion, in any case, they preferred not to hear.

Saltyre, during the hideous days, shut himself up in the library. He did not leave the house, even for exercise, until after the pair had fled. His exercise he took in walking up and down from one end of the long room to another. Devils were let loose in him. When Penzance came to him, he saw their fury in his eyes, and heard it in the savagery of his laugh.

He kicked an ancient volume out of his way as he strode to and fro.

“There has been plenty of the blood of the beast in us in bygone times,” he said, “but it was not like this. Savagery in savage days had its excuse. This is the beast sunk into the gibbering, degenerate ape.”

Penzance came and spent hours of each day with him. Part of his rage was the rage of a man, but he was a boy still, and the boyishness of his bitterly hurt youth was a thing to move to pity. With young blood, and young pride, and young expectancy rising within him, he was at an hour when he should have felt himself standing upon the threshold of the world, gazing out at the splendid joys and promises and powerful deeds of it–waiting only the fit moment to step forth and win his place.

“But we are done for,” he shouted once. “We are done for. And I am as much done for as they are. Decent people won’t touch us. That is where the last Mount Dunstan stands.” And Penzance heard in his voice an absolute break. He stopped and marched to the window at the end of the long room, and stood in dead stillness, staring out at the down-sweeping lines of heavy rain.

The older man thought many things, as he looked at his big back and body. He stood with his legs astride, and Penzance noted that his right hand was clenched on his hip, as a man’s might be as he clenched the hilt of his sword –his one mate who might avenge him even when, standing at bay, he knew that the end had come, and he must fall. Primeval Force–the thin-faced, narrow-chested, slightly bald clergyman of the Church of England was thinking–never loses its way, or fails to sweep a path before it. The sun rises and sets, the seasons come and go, Primeval Force is of them, and as unchangeable. Much of it stood before him embodied in this strongly sentient thing. In this way the Reverend Lewis found his thoughts leading him, and he–being moved to the depths of a fine soul–felt them profoundly interesting, and even sustaining.

He sat in a high-backed chair, holding its arms with long thin hands, and looking for some time at James Hubert John Fergus Saltyre. He said, at last, in a sane level voice:

“Lord Tenham is not the last Mount Dunstan.”

After which the stillness remained unbroken again for some minutes. Saltyre did not move or make any response, and, when he left his place at the window, he took up a book, and they spoke of other things.

When the fourteenth Earl died in Paris, and his younger son succeeded, there came a time when the two companions sat together in the library again. It was the evening of a long day spent in discouraging hard work. In the morning they had ridden side by side over the estate, in the afternoon they had sat and pored over accounts, leases, maps, plans. By nightfall both were fagged and neither in sanguine mood.

Mount Dunstan had sat silent for some time. The pair often sat silent. This pause was ended by the young man’s rising and standing up, stretching his limbs.

“It was a queer thing you said to me in this room a few years ago,” he said. “It has just come back to me.”

Singularly enough–or perhaps naturally enough–it had also just arisen again from the depths of Penzance’s subconsciousness.

“Yes,” he answered, “I remember. To-night it suggests premonition. Your brother was not the last Mount Dunstan.”

“In one sense he never was Mount Dunstan at all,” answered the other man. Then he suddenly threw out his arms in a gesture whose whole significance it would have been difficult to describe. There was a kind of passion in it. “I am the last Mount Dunstan,” he harshly laughed. “Moi qui vous parle! The last.”

Penzance’s eyes resting on him took upon themselves the far-seeing look of a man who watches the world of life without living in it. He presently shook his head.

“No,” he said. “I don’t see that. No–not the last. Believe me.

And singularly, in truth, Mount Dunstan stood still and gazed at him without speaking. The eyes of each rested in the eyes of the other. And, as had happened before, they followed the subject no further. From that moment it dropped.

Only Penzance had known of his reasons for going to America. Even the family solicitors, gravely holding interviews with him and restraining expression of their absolute disapproval of such employment of his inadequate resources, knew no more than that this Mount Dunstan, instead of wasting his beggarly income at Cairo, or Monte Carlo, or in Paris as the last one had done, prefers to waste it in newer places. The head of the firm, when he bids him good-morning and leaves him alone, merely shrugs his shoulders and returns to his letter writing with the corners of his elderly mouth hard set.

Penzance saw him off–and met him upon his return. In

the library they sat and talked it over, and, having done so, closed the book of the episode.

. . . . .

He sat at the table, his eyes upon the wide-spread loveliness of the landscape, but his thought elsewhere. It wandered over the years already lived through, wandering backwards even to the days when existence, opening before the child eyes, was a baffling and vaguely unhappy thing.

When the door opened and Penzance was ushered in by a servant, his face wore the look his friend would have been rejoiced to see swept away to return no more.

Then let us take our old accustomed seat and begin some casual talk, which will draw him out of the shadows, and make him forget such things as it is not good to remember. That is what we have done many times in the past, and may find it well to do many a time again.

He begins with talk of the village and the country-side. Village stories are often quaint, and stories of the country- side are sometimes–not always–interesting. Tom Benson’s wife has presented him with triplets, and there is great excitement in the village, as to the steps to be taken to secure the three guineas given by the Queen as a reward for this feat. Old Benny Bates has announced his intention of taking a fifth wife at the age of ninety, and is indignant that it has been suggested that the parochial authorities in charge of the “Union,” in which he must inevitably shortly take refuge, may interfere with his rights as a citizen. The Reverend Lewis has been to talk seriously with him, and finds him at once irate and obdurate.

“Vicar,” says old Benny, “he can’t refuse to marry no man. Law won’t let him.” Such refusal, he intimates, might drive him to wild and riotous living. Remembering his last view of old Benny tottering down the village street in his white smock, his nut-cracker face like a withered rosy apple, his gnarled hand grasping the knotted staff his bent body leaned on, Mount Dunstan grinned a little. He did not smile when Penzance passed to the restoration of the ancient church at Mellowdene. “Restoration” usually meant the tearing away of ancient oaken, high-backed pews, and the instalment of smug new benches, suggesting suburban Dissenting chapels, such as the feudal soul revolts at. Neither did he smile at a reference to the gathering at Dunholm Castle, which was twelve miles away. Dunholm was the possession of a man who stood for all that was first and highest in the land, dignity, learning, exalted character, generosity, honour. He and the late Lord Mount Dunstan had been born in the same year, and had succeeded to their titles almost at the same time. There had arrived a period when they had ceased to know each other. All that the one man intrinsically was, the other man was not. All that the one estate, its castle, its village, its tenantry, represented, was the antipodes of that which the other stood for. The one possession held its place a silent, and perhaps, unconscious reproach to the other. Among the guests, forming the large house party which London social news had already recorded in its columns, were great and honourable persons, and interesting ones, men and women who counted as factors in all good and dignified things accomplished. Even in the present Mount Dunstan’s childhood, people of their world had ceased to cross his father’s threshold. As one or two of the most noticeable names were mentioned, mentally he recalled this, and Penzance, quick to see the thought in his eyes, changed the subject.

“At Stornham village an unexpected thing has happened,” he said. “One of the relatives of Lady Anstruthers has suddenly appeared–a sister. You may remember that the poor woman was said to be the daughter of some rich American, and it seemed unexplainable that none of her family ever appeared, and things were allowed to go from bad to worse. As it was understood that there was so much money people were mystified by the condition of things.”

“Anstruthers has had money to squander,” said Mount Dunstan. “Tenham and he were intimates. The money he spends is no doubt his wife’s. As her family deserted her she has no one to defend her.”

“Certainly her family has seemed to neglect her for years. Perhaps they were disappointed in his position. Many Americans are extremely ambitious. These international marriages are often singular things. Now–apparently without having been expected–the sister appears. Vanderpoel is the name– Miss Vanderpoel.”

“I crossed the Atlantic with her in the Meridiana,” said Mount Dunstan.

“Indeed! That is interesting. You did not, of course, know that she was coming here.”

“I knew nothing of her but that she was a saloon passenger with a suite of staterooms, and I was in the second cabin. Nothing? That is not quite true, perhaps. Stewards and passengers gossip, and one cannot close one’s ears. Of course one heard constant reiteration of the number of millions her father possessed, and the number of cabins she managed to occupy. During the confusion and alarm of the collision, we spoke to each other.”

He did not mention the other occasion on which he had seen her. There seemed, on the whole, no special reason why he should.

“Then you would recognise her, if you saw her. I heard to-day that she seems an unusual young woman, and has beauty.”

“Her eyes and lashes are remarkable. She is tall. The Americans are setting up a new type.”

“Yes, they used to send over slender, fragile little women. Lady Anstruthers was the type. I confess to an interest in the sister.”

“Why?”

“She has made a curious impression. She has begun to do things. Stornham village has lost its breath.” He laughed a little. “She has been going over the place and discussing repairs.”

Mount Dunstan laughed also. He remembered what she had said. And she had actually begun.

“That is practical,” he commented.

“It is really interesting. Why should a young woman turn her attention to repairs? If it had been her father–the omnipotent Mr. Vanderpoel–who had appeared, one would not have wondered at such practical activity. But a young lady–with remarkable eyelashes!”

His elbows were on the arm of his chair, and he had placed the tips of his fingers together, wearing an expression of such absorbed contemplation that Mount Dunstan laughed again.

“You look quite dreamy over it,” he said.

“It allures me. Unknown quantities in character always allure me. I should like to know her. A community like this is made up of the absolutely known quantity–of types repeating themselves through centuries. A new one is almost a startling thing. Gossip over teacups is not usually entertaining to me, but I found myself listening to little Miss Laura Brunel this afternoon with rather marked attention. I confess to having gone so far as to make an inquiry or so. Sir Nigel Anstruthers is not often at Stornham. He is away now. It is plainly not he who is interested in repairs.”

“He is on the Riviera, in retreat, in a place he is fond of,” Mount Dunstan said drily. “He took a companion with him. A new infatuation. He will not return soon.”

CHAPTER XIX

SPRING IN BOND STREET

The visit to London was part of an evolution of both body and mind to Rosalie Anstruthers. In one of the wonderful modern hotels a suite of rooms was engaged for them. The luxury which surrounded them was not of the order Rosalie had vaguely connected with hotels. Hotel-keepers had apparently learned many things during the years of her seclusion.

Vanderpoels, at least, could so establish themselves as not to greatly feel the hotel atmosphere. Carefully chosen colours textures, and appointments formed the background of their days, the food they ate was a thing produced by art, the servants who attended them were completely-trained mechanisms. To sit by a window and watch the kaleidoscopic human tide passing by on its way to its pleasure, to reach its work, to spend its money in unending shops, to show itself and its equipage in the park, was a wonderful thing to Lady Anstruthers. It all seemed to be a part of the life and quality of Betty, little Betty, whom she had remembered only as a child, and who had come to her a tall, strong young beauty, who had–it was resplendently clear–never known a fear in her life, and whose mere personality had the effect of making fears seem unreal.

She was taken out in a luxurious little brougham to shops whose varied allurements were placed eagerly at her disposal. Respectful persons, obedient to her most faintly-expressed desire, displayed garments as wonderful as those the New York trunks had revealed. She was besought to consider the fitness of articles whose exquisiteness she was almost afraid to look at. Her thin little body was wonderfully fitted, managed, encouraged to make the most of its long-ignored outlines.

“Her ladyship’s slenderness is a great advantage,” said the wisely inciting ones. “There is no such advantage as delicacy of line.”

Summing up the character of their customer with the sales- woman’s eye, they realised the discretion of turning to Miss Vanderpoel for encouragement, though she was the younger of the two, and bore no title. They were aware of the existence of persons of rank who were not lavish patrons, but the name of Vanderpoel held most promising suggestions. To an English shopkeeper the American has, of late years, represented the spender–the type which, whatsoever its rank and resources, has, mysteriously, always money to hand over counters in exchange for things it chances to desire to possess. Each year surges across the Atlantic a horde of these fortunate persons, who, to the sober, commercial British mind, appear to be free to devote their existences to travel and expenditure. This contingent appears shopping in the various shopping thoroughfares; it buys clothes, jewels, miscellaneous attractive things, making its purchases of articles useful or decorative with a freedom from anxiety in its enjoyment which does not mark the mood of the ordinary shopper. In the everyday purchaser one is accustomed to take for granted, as a factor in his expenditure, a certain deliberation and uncertainty; to the travelling American in Europe, shopping appears to be part of the holiday which is being made the most of. Surely, all the neat, smart young persons who buy frocks and blouses, hats and coats, hosiery and chains, cannot be the possessors of large incomes; there must be, even in America, a middle class of middle-class resources, yet these young persons, male and female, and most frequently unaccompanied by older persons–seeing what they want, greet it with expressions of pleasure, waste no time in appropriating and paying for it, and go away as in relief and triumph–not as in that sober joy which is clouded by afterthought. Thesalespeople are sometimes even vaguely cheered by their gay lack of any doubt as to the wisdom of their getting what theyadmire, and rejoicing in it. If America always buys in this holiday mood, it must be an enviable thing to be a shopkeeper in their New York or Boston or San Francisco. Who would not make a fortune among them? They want what they want, and not something which seems to them less desirable, but they open their purses and–frequently with some amused uncertainty as to the differences between sovereigns and half-sovereigns, florins and half-crowns–they pay their bills with something almost like glee. They are remarkably prompt about bills –which is an excellent thing, as they are nearly always just going somewhere else, to France or Germany or Italy or Scotland or Siberia. Those of us who are shopkeepers, or their salesmen, do not dream that some of them have incomes no larger than our own, that they work for their livings, that they are teachers journalists, small writers or illustrators of papers or magazines that they are unimportant soldiers of fortune, but, with their queer American insistence on exploration, and the ignoring of limitations, they have, somehow, managed to make this exultant dash for a few daring weeks or months of freedom and new experience. If we knew this, we should regard them from our conservative standpoint of provident decorum as improvident lunatics, being ourselves unable to calculate with their odd courage and their cheerful belief in themselves. What we do know is that they spend, and we are far from disdaining their patronage, though most of them have an odd little familiarity of address and are not stamped with that distinction which causes us to realise the enormous difference between the patron and the tradesman, and makes us feel the worm we remotely like to feel ourselves, though we would not for worlds acknowledge the fact. Mentally, and in our speech, both among our equals and our superiors, we condescend to and patronise them a little, though that, of course, is the fine old insular attitude it would be un-British to discourage. But, if we are not in the least definite concerning the position and resources of these spenders as a mass, we are quite sure of a select number. There is mention of them in the newspapers, of the town houses, the castles, moors, and salmon fishings they rent, of their yachts, their presentations actually at our own courts, of their presence at great balls, at Ascot and Goodwood, at the opera on gala nights. One staggers sometimes before the public summing-up of the amount of their fortunes. These people who have neither blood nor rank, these men who labour in their business offices, are richer than our great dukes, at the realising of whose wealth and possessions we have at times almost turned pale.

“Them!” chaffed a costermonger over his barrow. “Blimme, if some o’ them blokes won’t buy Buckin’am Pallis an’ the ‘ole R’yal Fambly some mornin’ when they’re out shoppin’.”

The subservient attendants in more than one fashionable shop Betty and her sister visit, know that Miss Vanderpoel is of the circle, though her father has not as yet bought or hired any great estate, and his daughter has not been seen in London.

“Its queer we’ve never heard of her being presented,” one shopgirl says to another. “Just you look at her.”

She evidently knows what her ladyship ought to buy–what can be trusted not to overpower her faded fragility. The saleswomen, even if they had not been devoured by alert curiosity, could not have avoided seeing that her ladyship did not seem to know what should be bought, and that Miss Vanderpoel did, though she did not direct her sister’s selection, but merely seemed to suggest with delicate restraint. Her taste was wonderfully perceptive. The things bought were exquisite, but a little colourless woman could wear them all with advantage to her restrictions of type.

As the brougham drove down Bond Street, Betty called Lady Anstruthers’ attention to more than one passer-by.

“Look, Rosy,” she said. “There is Mrs. Treat Hilyar in the second carriage to the right. You remember Josie Treat Hilyar married Lord Varick’s son.”

In the landau designated an elderly woman with wonderfully- dressed white hair sat smiling and bowing to friends who were walking. Lady Anstruthers, despite her eagerness, shrank back a little, hoping to escape being seen.

“Oh, it is the Lows she is speaking to–Tom and Alice–I did not know they had sailed yet.”

The tall, well-groomed young man, with the nice, ugly face, was showing white teeth in a gay smile of recognition, and his pretty wife was lightly waving a slim hand in a grey suede glove.

“How cheerful and nice-tempered they look,” said Rosy. “Tom was only twenty when I saw him last. Whom did he marry?”

“An English girl. Such a love. A Devonshire gentleman’s daughter. In New York his friends called her Devonshire Cream and Roses. She is one of the pretty, flushy, pink ones.”

“How nice Bond Street is on a spring morning like this,” said Lady Anstruthers. “You may laugh at me for saying it, Betty, but somehow it seems to me more spring-like than the country.”

“How clever of you!” laughed Betty. “There is so much truth in it.” The people walking in the sunshine were all full of spring thoughts and plans. The colours they wore, the flowers in the women’s hats and the men’s buttonholes belonged to the season. The cheerful crowds of people and carriages had a sort of rushing stir of movement which suggested freshness. Later in the year everything looks more tired. Now things were beginning and everyone was rather inclined to believe that this year would be better than last. “Look at the shop windows, said Betty, “full of whites and pinks and yellows and blues–the colours of hyacinth and daffodil beds. It seems as if they insist that there never has been a winter and never will be one. They insist that there never was and never will be anything but spring.”

“It’s in the air.” Lady Anstruthers’ sigh was actually a happy one. “It is just what I used to feel in April when we drove down Fifth Avenue.”

Among the crowds of freshly-dressed passers-by, women with flowery hats and light frocks and parasols, men with touches of flower-colour on the lapels of their coats, and the holiday look in their faces, she noted so many of a familiar type that she began to look for and try to pick them out with quite excited interest.

“I believe that woman is an American,” she would say. “That girl looks as if she were a New Yorker,” again. “That man’s face looks as if it belonged to Broadway. Oh, Betty! do you think I am right? I should say those girls getting out of the hansom to go into Burnham & Staples’ came from out West and are going to buy thousands of things. Don’t they look like it?”

She began to lean forward and look on at things with an interest so unlike her Stornham listlessness that Betty’s heart was moved.

Her face looked alive, and little waves of colour rose under her skin. Several times she laughed the natural little laugh of her girlhood which it had seemed almost too much to expect to hear again. The first of these laughs came when she counted her tenth American, a tall Westerner of the cartoon type, sauntering along with an expression of speculative enjoyment on his odd face, and evidently, though furtively, chewing tobacco.

“I absolutely love him, Betty,” she cried. “You couldn’t mistake him for anything else.”

“No,” answered Betty, feeling that she loved him herself, “not if you found him embalmed in the Pyramids.”

They pleased themselves immensely, trying to guess what he would buy and take home to his wife and girls in his Western town–though Western towns were very grand and amazing in these days, Betty explained, and knew they could give points to New York. He would not buy the things he would have bought fifteen years ago. Perhaps, in fact, his wife and daughters had come with him to London and stayed at the Metropole or the Savoy, and were at this moment being fitted by tailors and modistes patronised by Royalty.

“Rosy, look! Do you see who that is? Do you recognise her? It is Mrs. Bellingham. She was little Mina Thalberg. She married Captain Bellingham. He was quite poor, but very well born–a nephew of Lord Dunholm’s. He could not have married a poor girl–but they have been so happy together that Mina is growing fat, and spends her days in taking reducing treatments. She says she wouldn’t care in the least, but Dicky fell in love with her waist and shoulder line.”

The plump, pretty young woman getting out of her victoria before a fashionable hairdresser’s looked radiant enough. She had not yet lost the waist and shoulder line, though her pink frock fitted her with discreet tightness. She paused a moment to pat and fuss prettily over the two blooming, curly children who were to remain under the care of the nurse, who sat on the back seat, holding the baby on her lap.

“I should not have known her,” said Rosy. “She has grown pretty. She wasn’t a pretty child.”

“It’s happiness–and the English climate–and Captain Dicky. They adore each other, and laugh at everything like a pair of children. They were immensely popular in New York last winter, when they visited Mina’s people.”

The effect of the morning upon Lady Anstruthers was what Betty had hoped it might be. The curious drawing near of the two nations began to dawn upon her as a truth. Immured in the country, not sufficiently interested in life to read newspapers, she had heard rumours of some of the more important marriages, but had known nothing of the thousand small details which made for the weaving of the web. Mrs. Treat Hilyar driving in a leisurely, accustomed fashion down Bond Street, and smiling casually at her compatriots, whose “sailing” was as much part of the natural order of their luxurious lives as their carriages, gave a definiteness to the situation. Mina Thalberg, pulling down the embroidered frocks over the round legs of her English-looking children, seemed to narrow the width of the Atlantic Ocean between Liverpool and the docks on the Hudson River.

She returned to the hotel with an appetite for lunch and a new expression in her eyes which made Ughtred stare at her.

“Mother,” he said, “you look different. You look well. It isn’t only your new dress and your hair.”

The new style of her attire had certainly done much, and the maid who had been engaged to attend her was a woman who knew her duties. She had been called upon in her time to make the most of hair offering much less assistance to her skill than was supplied by the fine, fair colourlessness she had found dragged back from her new mistress’s forehead. It was not dragged back now, but had really been done wonders with. Rosalie had smiled a little when she had looked at herself in the glass after the first time it was so dressed.

“You are trying to make me look as I did when mother saw me last, Betty,” she said. “I wonder if you possibly could.”

“Let us believe we can,” laughed Betty. “And wait and see.”

It seemed wise neither to make nor receive visits. The time for such things had evidently not yet come. Even the mention of the Worthingtons led to the revelation that Rosalie shrank from immediate contact with people. When she felt stronger, when she became more accustomed to the thought, she might feel differently, but just now, to be luxuriously one with the enviable part of London, to look on, to drink in, to drive here and there, doing the things she liked to do, ordering what was required at Stornham, was like the creating for her of a new heaven and a new earth.

When, one night, Betty took her with Ughtred to the theatre, it was to see a play written by an American, played by American actors, produced by an American manager. They had even engaged in theatrical enterprise, it seemed, their actors played before London audiences, London actors played in American theatres, vibrating almost yearly between the two continents and reaping rich harvests. Hearing rumours of this in the past, Lady Anstruthers had scarcely believed it entirely true. Now the practical reality was brought before her. The French, who were only separated from the English metropolis by a mere few miles of Channel, did not exchange their actors year after year in increasing numbers, making a mere friendly barter of each other’s territory, as though each land was common ground and not divided by leagues of ocean travel.

“It seems so wonderful,” Lady Anstruthers argued. “I have always felt as if they hated each other.”

“They did once–but how could it last between those of the same blood–of the same tongue? If we were really aliens we might be a menace. But we are of their own.” Betty leaned forward on the edge of the box, looking out over the crowded house, filled with almost as many Americans as English faces. She smiled, reflecting. “We were children put out to nurse and breathe new air in the country, and now we are coming home, vigorous, and full-grown.”

She studied the audience for some minutes, and, as her glance wandered over the stalls, it took in more than one marked variety of type. Suddenly it fell on a face she delightedly recognised. It was that of the nice, speculative-eyed Westerner they had seen enjoying himself in Bond Street.

“Rosy,” she said, “there is the Western man we love. Near the end of the fourth row.”

Lady Anstruthers looked for him with eagerness.

“Oh, I see him! Next to the big one with the reddish hair.”

Betty turned her attention to the man in question, whom she had not chanced to notice. She uttered an exclamation of surprise and interest.

“The big man with the red hair. How lovely that they should chance to sit side by side–the big one is Lord Mount Dunstan!”

The necessity of seeing his solicitors, who happened to be Messrs. Townlinson & Sheppard, had brought Lord Mount Dunstan to town. After a day devoted to business affairs, he had been attracted by the idea of going to the theatre to see again a play he had already seen in New York. It would interest him to observe its exact effect upon a London audience. While he had been in New York, he had gone with something of the same feeling to see a great English actor play to a crowded house. The great actor had been one who had returned to the country for a third or fourth time, and, in the enthusiasm he had felt in the atmosphere about him, Mount Dunstan had seen not only pleasure and appreciation of the man’s perfect art, but–at certain tumultuous outbursts–an almost emotional welcome. The Americans, he had said to himself, were creatures of warmer blood than the English. The audience on that occasion had been, in mass, American. The audience he made one of now, was made up of both nationalities, and, in glancing over it, he realised how large was the number of Americans who came yearly to London. As Lady Anstruthers had done, he found himself selecting from the assemblage the types which were manifestly American, and those obviously English. In the seat next to himself sat a man of a type he felt he had learned by heart in the days of his life as Jem Salter. At a short distance fluttered brilliantly an English professional beauty, with her male and female court about her. In the stage box, made sumptuous with flowers, was a royal party.

As this party had entered, “God save the Queen” had been played, and, in rising with the audience during the entry, he had recalled that the tune was identical with that of an American national air. How unconsciously inseparable–in spite of the lightness with which they regarded the curious tie between them –the two countries were. The people upon the stage were acting as if they knew their public, their bearing suggesting no sense of any barrier beyond the footlights. It was the unconsciousness and lightness of the mutual attitude which had struck him of late. Punch had long jested about “Fair Americans,” who, in their first introduction to its pages, used exotic and cryptic language, beginning every sentence either with “I guess,” or “Say, Stranger”; its male American had been of the Uncle Sam order and had invariably worn a “goatee.” American witticisms had represented the Englishman in plaid trousers, opening his remarks with “Chawley, deah fellah,” and unfailingly missing the point of any joke. Each country had cherished its type and good-naturedly derided it. In time this had modified itself and the joke had changed in kind. Many other things had changed, but the lightness of treatment still remained. And yet their blood was mingling itself with that of England’s noblest and oldest of name, their wealth was making solid again towers and halls which had threatened to crumble. Ancient family jewels glittered on slender, young American necks, and above–sometimes somewhat careless–young American brows. And yet, so far, one was casual in one’s thought of it all, still. On his own part he was obstinate Briton enough to rebel against and resent it. They were intruders. He resented them as he had resented in his boyhood the historical fact that, after all, an Englishman was a German–a savage who, five hundred years after the birth of Christ, had swooped upon Early Briton from his Engleland and Jutland, and ravaging with fire and sword, had conquered and made the land his possession, ravishing its very name from it and giving it his own. These people did not come with fire and sword, but with cable and telephone, and bribes of gold and fair women, but they were encroaching like the sea, which, in certain parts of the coast, gained a few inches or so each year. He shook his shoulders impatiently, and stiffened, feeling illogically antagonistic towards the good-natured, lantern-jawed man at his side.

The lantern-jawed man looked good-natured because he was smiling, and he was smiling because he saw something which pleased him in one of the boxes.

His expression of unqualified approval naturally directed Mount Dunstan’s eye to the point in question, where it remained for some moments. This was because he found it resting upon Miss Vanderpoel, who sat before him in luminous white garments, and with a brilliant spark of ornament in the dense shadow of her hair. His sensation at the unexpected sight of her would, if it had expressed itself physically, have taken the form of a slight start. The luminous quality did not confine itself to the whiteness of her garments. He was aware of feeling that she looked luminous herself–her eyes, her cheek, the smile she bent upon the little woman who was her companion. She was a beautifully living thing.

Naturally, she was being looked at by others than himself. She was one of those towards whom glasses in a theatre turn themselves inevitably. The sweep and lift of her black hair would have drawn them, even if she had offered no other charm. Yes, he thought, here was another of them. To whom was she bringing her good looks and her millions? There were men enough who needed money, even if they must accept it under less alluring conditions. In the box next to the one occupied by the royal party was a man who was known to be waiting for the advent of some such opportunity. His was a case of dire, if outwardly stately, need. He was young, but a fool, and not noted for personal charms, yet he had, in one sense, great things to offer. There were, of course, many chances that he might offer them to her. If this happened, would she accept them? There was really no objection to him but his dulness, consequently there seemed many chances that she might. There was something akin to the pomp of royalty in the power her father’s wealth implied. She could scarcely make an ordinary marriage. It would naturally be a sort of state affair. There were few men who had enough to offer in exchange for Vanderpoel millions, and of the few none had special attractions. The one in the box next to the royal party was a decent enough fellow. As young princesses were not infrequently called upon, by the mere exclusion of royal blood, to become united to young or mature princes without charm, so American young persons who were of royal possessions must find themselves limited. If you felt free to pick and choose from among young men in the Guards or young attaches in the Diplomatic Service with twopence a year, you might get beauty or wit or temperament or all three by good luck, but if you were of a royal house of New York or Chicago, you would probably feel you must draw lines and choose only such splendours as accorded with, even while differing from, your own.

Any possible connection of himself with such a case did not present itself to him. If it had done so, he would have counted himself, haughtily, as beyond the pale. It was for other men to do things of the sort; a remote antagonism of his whole being warred against the mere idea. It was bigoted prejudice, perhaps, but it was a strong thing.

A lovely shoulder and a brilliant head set on a long and slender neck have no nationality which can prevent a man’s glance turning naturally towards them. His turned again during the last act of the play, and at a moment when he saw something rather like the thing he had seen when the Meridiana moved away from the dock and the exalted Miss Vanderpoel leaning upon the rail had held out her arms towards the child who had brought his toy to her as a farewell offering.

Sitting by her to-night was a boy with a crooked back– Mount Dunstan remembered hearing that the Anstruthers had a deformed son–and she was leaning towards him, her hand resting on his shoulder, explaining something he had not quite grasped in the action of the play. The absolute adoration in the boy’s uplifted eyes was an interesting thing to take in, and the radiant warmth of her bright look was as unconscious of onlookers as it had been when he had seen it yearning towards the child on the wharf. Hers was the temperament which gave –which gave. He found himself restraining a smile because her look brought back to him the actual sound of the New York youngster’s voice.

“I wanted to kiss you, Betty, oh, I did so want to kiss you!”

Anstruthers’ boy–poor little beggar–looked as if he, too, in the face of actors and audience, and brilliance of light, wanted to kiss her.

CHAPTER XX

THINGS OCCUR IN STORNHAM VILLAGE

It would not have been possible for Miss Vanderpoel to remain long in social seclusion in London, and, before many days had passed, Stornham village was enlivened by the knowledge that her ladyship and her sister had returned to the Court. It was also evident that their visit to London had not been made to no purpose. The stagnation of the waters of village life threatened to become a whirlpool. A respectable person, who was to be her ladyship’s maid, had come with them, and her ladyship had not been served by a personal attendant for years. Her ladyship had also appeared at the dinner-table in new garments, and with her hair done as other ladies wore theirs. She looked like a different woman, and actually had a bit of colour, and was beginning to lose her frightened way. Now it dawned upon even the dullest and least active mind that something had begun to stir.

It had been felt vaguely when the new young lady from “Meriker” had walked through the village street, and had drawn people to doors and windows by her mere passing. After the return from London the signs of activity were such as made the villagers catch their breaths in uttering uncertain exclamations, and caused the feminine element to catch up offspring or, dragging it by its hand, run into neighbours’ cottages and stand talking the incredible thing over in lowered and rather breathless voices. Yet the incredible thing in question was–had it been seen from the standpoint of more prosperous villagers– anything but extraordinary. In entirely rural places the Castle, the Hall or the Manor, the Great House–in short–still retains somewhat of the old feudal power to bestow benefits or withhold them. Wealth and good will at the Manor supply work and resultant comfort in the village and its surrounding holdings. Patronised by the Great House the two or three small village shops bestir themselves and awaken to activity. The blacksmith swings his hammer with renewed spirit over the numerous jobs the gentry’s stables, carriage houses, garden tools, and household repairs give to him. The carpenter mends and makes, the vicarage feels at ease, realising that its church and its charities do not stand unsupported. Small farmers and larger ones, under a rich and interested landlord, thrive and are able to hold their own even against the tricks of wind and weather. Farm labourers being, as a result, certain of steady and decent wage, trudge to and fro, with stolid cheerfulness, knowing that the pot boils and the children’s feet are shod. Superannuated old men and women are sure of their broth and Sunday dinner, and their dread of the impending “Union” fades away. The squire or my lord or my lady can be depended upon to care for their old bones until they are laid under the sod in the green churchyard. With wealth and good will at the Great House, life warms and offers prospects. There are Christmas feasts and gifts and village treats, and the big carriage or the smaller ones stop at cottage doors and at once confer exciting distinction and carry good cheer.

But Stornham village had scarcely a remote memory of any period of such prosperity. It had not existed even in the older Sir Nigel’s time, and certainly the present Sir Nigel’s reign had been marked only by neglect, ill-temper, indifference, and a falling into disorder and decay. Farms were poorly worked, labourers were unemployed, there was no trade from the manor household, no carriages, no horses, no company, no spending of money. Cottages leaked, floors were damp, the church roof itself was falling to pieces, and the vicar had nothing to give. The helpless and old cottagers were carried to the “Union” and, dying there, were buried by the stinted parish in parish coffins.

Her ladyship had not visited the cottages since her child’s birth. And now such inspiriting events as were everyday happenings in lucky places like Westerbridge and Wratcham and Yangford, showed signs of being about to occur in Stornham itself.