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  • 1909
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are now all dead. This was their “Dining-Room.” They sat on those artistic chairs. They could hardly have used the dinner service set out upon the Elizabethan dresser, because that would have left the dresser bare: one assumes they had an extra service for use, or else that they took their meals in the kitchen. The “Entrance Hall” is a singularly chaste apartment. There is no necessity for a door-mat: people with muddy boots, it is to be presumed, were sent round to the back. A riding-cloak, the relic apparently of a highwayman, hangs behind the door. It is the sort of cloak you would expect to find there–a decorative cloak. An umbrella or a waterproof cape would be fatal to the whole effect.

Now and again the illustrator of the artistic room will permit a young girl to come and sit there. But she has to be a very carefully selected girl. To begin with, she has got to look and dress as though she had been born at least three hundred years ago. She has got to have that sort of clothes, and she has got to have her hair done just that way.

She has got to look sad; a cheerful girl in the artistic room would jar one’s artistic sense. One imagines the artist consulting with the proud possessor of the house.

“You haven’t got such a thing as a miserable daughter, have you? Some fairly good-looking girl who has been crossed in love, or is misunderstood. Because if so, you might dress her up in something out of the local museum and send her along. A little thing like that gives verisimilitude to a design.”

She must not touch anything. All she may do is to read a book–not really read it, that would suggest too much life and movement: she sits with the book in her lap and gazes into the fire, if it happens to be the dining-room: or out of the window if it happens to be a morning-room, and the architect wishes to call attention to the window-seat. Nothing of the male species, as far as I have been able to ascertain, has ever entered these rooms. I once thought I had found a man who had been allowed into his own “Smoking-Den,” but on closer examination it turned out he was only a portrait.

Sometimes one is given “Vistas.” Doors stand open, and you can see right away through “The Nook” into the garden. There is never a living soul about the place. The whole family has been sent out for a walk or locked up in the cellars. This strikes you as odd until you come to think the matter out. The modern man and woman is not artistic. I am not artistic–not what I call really artistic. I don’t go well with Gobelin tapestry and warming-pans. I feel I don’t. Robina is not artistic, not in that sense. I tried her once with a harpsichord I picked up cheap in Wardour Street, and a reproduction of a Roman stool. The thing was an utter failure. A cottage piano, with a photo-frame and a fern upon, it is what the soul cries out for in connection with Robina. Dick is not artistic. Dick does not go with peacocks’ feathers and guitars. I can see Dick with a single peacock’s feather at St. Giles’s Fair, when the bulldogs are not looking; but the decorative panel of peacock’s feathers is too much for him. I can imagine him with a banjo–but a guitar decorated with pink ribbons! To begin with he is not dressed for it. Unless a family be prepared to make themselves up as troubadours or cavaliers and to talk blank verse, I don’t see how they can expect to be happy living in these fifteenth-century houses. The modern family–the old man in baggy trousers and a frock-coat he could not button if he tried to; the mother of figure distinctly Victorian; the boys in flannel suits and collars up to their ears; the girls in motor caps–are as incongruous in these mediaeval dwellings as a party of Cook’s tourists drinking bottled beer in the streets of Pompeii.

The designer of “The Artistic Home” is right in keeping to still life. In the artistic home–to paraphrase Dr. Watts–every prospect pleases and only man is inartistic. In the picture, the artistic bedroom, “in apple green, the bedstead of cherry-wood, with a touch of turkey-red throughout the draperies,” is charming. It need hardly be said the bed is empty. Put a man or woman in that cherry-wood bed–I don’t care how artistic they may think themselves–the charm would be gone. The really artistic party, one supposes, has a little room behind, where he sleeps and dresses himself. He peeps in at the door of this artistic bedroom, maybe occasionally enters to change the roses.

Imagine the artistic nursery five minutes after the real child had been let loose in it. I know a lady who once spent hundreds of pounds on an artistic nursery. She showed it to her friends with pride. The children were allowed in there on Sunday afternoons. I did an equally silly thing myself not long ago. Lured by a furniture catalogue, I started Robina in a boudoir. I gave it to her as a birthday-present. We have both regretted it ever since. Robina reckons she could have had a bicycle, a diamond bracelet, and a mandoline, and I should have saved money. I did the thing well. I told the furniture people I wanted it just as it stood in the picture: “Design for bedroom and boudoir combined, suitable for young girl, in teak, with sparrow blue hangings.” We had everything: the antique fire arrangements that a vestal virgin might possibly have understood; the candlesticks, that were pictures in themselves, until we tried to put candles in them; the book-case and writing-desk combined, that wasn’t big enough to write on, and out of which it was impossible to get a book until you had abandoned the idea of writing and had closed the cover; the enclosed washstand, that shut down and looked like an old bureau, with the inevitable bowl of flowers upon it that had to be taken off and put on the floor whenever you wanted to use the thing as a washstand; the toilet-table, with its cunning little glass, just big enough to see your nose in; the bedstead, hidden away behind the “thinking corner,” where the girl couldn’t get at it to make it. A prettier room you could not have imagined, till Robina started sleeping in it. I think she tried. Girl friends of hers, to whom she had bragged about it, would drop in and ask to be allowed to see it. Robina would say, “Wait a minute,” and would run up and slam the door; and we would hear her for the next half-hour or so rushing round opening and shutting drawers and dragging things about. By the time it was a boudoir again she was exhausted and irritable. She wants now to give it up to Veronica, but Veronica objects to the position, which is between the bathroom and my study. Her idea is a room more removed, where she would be able to shut herself in and do her work, as she explains, without fear of interruption.

Young Bute told me that a friend of his, a well-to-do young fellow, who lived in Piccadilly, had had the whim to make his flat the reproduction of a Roman villa. There were of course no fires, the rooms were warmed by hot air from the kitchen. They had a cheerless aspect on a November afternoon, and nobody knew exactly where to sit. Light was obtained in the evening from Grecian lamps, which made it easy to understand why the ancient Athenians, as a rule, went to bed early. You dined sprawling on a couch. This was no doubt practicable when you took your plate into your hand and fed yourself with your fingers; but with a knife and fork the meal had all the advantages of a hot picnic. You did not feel luxurious or even wicked: you only felt nervous about your clothes. The thing lacked completeness. He could not expect his friends to come to him in Roman togas, and even his own man declined firmly to wear the costume of a Roman slave. The compromise was unsatisfactory, even from the purely pictorial point of view. You cannot be a Roman patrician of the time of Antoninus when you happen to live in Piccadilly at the opening of the twentieth century. All you can do is to make your friends uncomfortable and spoil their dinner for them. Young Bute said that, so far as he was concerned, he would always rather have spent the evening with his little nephews and nieces, playing at horses; it seemed to him a more sensible game.

Young Bute said that, speaking as an architect, he of course admired the ancient masterpieces of his art. He admired the Erechtheum at Athens; but Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in the Old Kent Road built upon the same model would have irritated him. For a Grecian temple you wanted Grecian skies and Grecian girls. He said that, even as it was, Westminster Abbey in the season was an eyesore to him. The Dean and Choir in their white surplices passed muster, but the congregation in its black frock-coats and Paris hats gave him the same sense of incongruity as would a banquet of barefooted friars in the dining- hall of the Cannon Street Hotel.

It struck me there was sense in what he said. I decided not to mention my idea of carving 1553 above the front-door.

He said he could not understand this passion of the modern house- builder for playing at being a Crusader or a Canterbury Pilgrim. A retired Berlin boot-maker of his acquaintance had built himself a miniature Roman Castle near Heidelberg. They played billiards in the dungeon, and let off fireworks on the Kaiser’s birthday from the roof of the watch-tower.

Another acquaintance of his, a draper at Holloway, had built himself a moated grange. The moat was supplied from the water-works under special arrangement, and all the electric lights were imitation candles. He had done the thing thoroughly. He had even designed a haunted chamber in blue, and a miniature chapel, which he used as a telephone closet. Young Bute had been invited down there for the shooting in the autumn. He said he could not be sure whether he was doing right or wrong, but his intention was to provide himself with a bow and arrows.

A change was coming over this young man. We had talked on other subjects and he had been shy and deferential. On this matter of bricks and mortar he spoke as one explaining things.

I ventured to say a few words in favour of the Tudor house. The Tudor house, he argued, was a fit and proper residence for the Tudor citizen–for the man whose wife rode behind him on a pack-saddle, who conducted his correspondence by the help of a moss-trooper. The Tudor fireplace was designed for folks to whom coal was unknown, and who left their smoking to their chimneys. A house that looked ridiculous with a motor-car before the door, where the electric bell jarred upon one’s sense of fitness every time one heard it, was out of date, he maintained.

“For you, sir,” he continued, “a twentieth-century writer, to build yourself a Tudor House would be as absurd as for Ben Jonson to have planned himself a Norman Castle with a torture-chamber underneath the wine-cellar, and the fireplace in the middle of the dining-hall. His fellow cronies of the Mermaid would have thought him stark, staring mad.”

There was reason in what he was saying. I decided not to mention my idea of altering the chimneys and fixing up imitation gables, especially as young Bute seemed pleased with the house, which by this time we had reached.

“Now, that is a good house,” said young Bute. “That is a house where a man in a frock-coat and trousers can sit down and not feel himself a stranger from another age. It was built for a man who wore a frock-coat and trousers–on weekdays, maybe, gaiters and a shooting- coat. You can enjoy a game of billiards in that house without the feeling that comes to you when playing tennis in the shadow of the Pyramids.”

We entered, and I put before him my notions–such of them as I felt he would approve. We were some time about the business, and when we looked at our watches young Bute’s last train to town had gone. There still remained much to talk about, and I suggested he should return with me to the cottage and take his luck. I could sleep with Dick and he could have my room. I told him about the cow, but he said he was a practised sleeper and would be delighted, if I could lend him a night-shirt, and if I thought Miss Robina would not be put out. I assured him that it would be a good thing for Robina; the unexpected guest would be a useful lesson to her in housekeeping. Besides, as I pointed out to him, it didn’t really matter even if Robina were put out.

“Not to you, sir, perhaps,” he answered, with a smile. “It is not with you that she will be indignant.”

“That will be all right, my boy,” I told him; “I take all responsibility.”

“And I shall get all the blame,” he laughed.

But, as I pointed out to him, it really didn’t matter whom Robina blamed. We talked about women generally on our way back. I told him–impressing upon him there was no need for it to go farther–that I personally had come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with women was to treat them all as children. He agreed it might be a good method, but wanted to know what you did when they treated you as a child.

I know a most delightful couple: they have been married nearly twenty years, and both will assure you that an angry word has never passed between them. He calls her his “Little One,” although she must be quite six inches taller than himself, and is never tired of patting her hand or pinching her ear. They asked her once in the drawing-room–so the Little Mother tells me–her recipe for domestic bliss. She said the mistake most women made was taking men too seriously.

“They are just overgrown children, that’s all they are, poor dears,” she laughed.

There are two kinds of love: there is the love that kneels and looks upward, and the love that looks down and pats. For durability I am prepared to back the latter.

The architect had died out of young Bute; he was again a shy young man during our walk back to the cottage. My hand was on the latch when he stayed me.

“Isn’t this the back-door again, sir?” he enquired.

It was the back-door; I had not noticed it.

“Hadn’t we better go round to the front, sir, don’t you think?” he said.

“It doesn’t matter–” I began.

But he had disappeared. So I followed him, and we entered by the front. Robina was standing by the table, peeling potatoes.

“I have brought Mr. Bute back with me,” I explained. “He is going to stop the night.”

Robina said: “If ever I go to live in a cottage again it will have one door.” She took her potatoes with her and went upstairs.

“I do hope she isn’t put out,” said young Bute.

“Don’t worry yourself,” I comforted him. “Of course she isn’t put out. Besides, I don’t care if she is. She’s got to get used to being put out; it’s part of the lesson of life.”

I took him upstairs, meaning to show him his bedroom and take my own things out of it. The doors of the two bedrooms were opposite one another. I made a mistake and opened the wrong door. Robina, still peeling potatoes, was sitting on the bed.

I explained we had made a mistake. Robina said it was of no consequence whatever, and, taking the potatoes with her, went downstairs again. Looking out of the window, I saw her making towards the wood. She was taking the potatoes with her.

“I do wish we hadn’t opened the door of the wrong room,” groaned young Bute.

“What a worrying chap you are!” I said to him. “Look at the thing from the humorous point of view. It’s funny when you come to think of it. Wherever the poor girl goes, trying to peel her potatoes in peace and quietness, we burst in upon her. What we ought to do now is to take a walk in the wood. It is a pretty wood. We might say we had come to pick wild flowers.”

But I could not persuade him. He said he had letters to write, and, if I would allow him, would remain in his room till dinner was ready.

Dick and Veronica came in a little later. Dick had been to see Mr. St. Leonard to arrange about lessons in farming. He said he thought I should like the old man, who wasn’t a bit like a farmer. He had brought Veronica back in one of her good moods, she having met there and fallen in love with a donkey. Dick confided to me that, without committing himself, he had hinted to Veronica that if she would remain good for quite a long while I might be induced to buy it for her. It was a sturdy little animal, and could be made useful. Anyhow, it would give Veronica an object in life–something to strive for–which was just what she wanted. He is a thoughtful lad at times, is Dick.

The dinner was more successful than I had hoped for. Robina gave us melon as a hors d’oeuvre, followed by sardines and a fowl, with potatoes and vegetable marrow. Her cooking surprised me. I had warned young Bute that it might be necessary to regard this dinner rather as a joke than as an evening meal, and was prepared myself to extract amusement from it rather than nourishment. My disappointment was agreeable. One can always imagine a comic dinner.

I dined once with a newly married couple who had just returned from their honeymoon. We ought to have sat down at eight o’clock; we sat down instead at half-past ten. The cook had started drinking in the morning; by seven o’clock she was speechless. The wife, giving up hope at a quarter to eight, had cooked the dinner herself. The other guests were sympathised with, but all I got was congratulation.

“He’ll write something so funny about this dinner,” they said.

You might have thought the cook had got drunk on purpose to oblige me. I have never been able to write anything funny about that dinner; it depresses me to this day, merely thinking of it.

We finished up with a cold trifle and some excellent coffee that Robina brewed over a lamp on the table while Dick and Veronica cleared away. It was one of the jolliest little dinners I have ever eaten; and, if Robina’s figures are to be trusted, cost exactly six- and-fourpence for the five of us. There being no servants about, we talked freely and enjoyed ourselves. I began once at a dinner to tell a good story about a Scotchman, when my host silenced me with a look. He is a kindly man, and had heard the story before. He explained to me afterwards, over the walnuts, that his parlourmaid was Scotch and rather touchy. The talk fell into the discussion of Home Rule, and again our host silenced us. It seemed his butler was an Irishman and a violent Parnellite. Some people can talk as though servants were mere machines, but to me they are human beings, and their presence hampers me. I know my guests have not heard the story before, and from one’s own flesh and blood one expects a certain amount of sacrifice. But I feel so sorry for the housemaid who is waiting; she must have heard it a dozen times. I really cannot inflict it upon her again.

After dinner we pushed the table into a corner, and Dick extracted a sort of waltz from Robina’s mandoline. It is years since I danced; but Veronica said she would rather dance with me any day than with some of the “lumps” you were given to drag round by the dancing- mistress. I have half a mind to take it up again. After all, a man is only as old as he feels.

Young Bute, it turned out, was a capital dancer, and could even reverse, which in a room fourteen feet square is of advantage. Robina confided to me after he was gone that while he was dancing she could just tolerate him. I cannot myself see rhyme or reason in Robina’s objection to him. He is not handsome, but he is good- looking, as boys go, and has a pleasant smile. Robina says it is his smile that maddens her. Dick agrees with me that there is sense in him; and Veronica, not given to loose praise, considers his performance of a Red Indian, both dead and alive, the finest piece of acting she has ever encountered. We wound up the evening with a little singing. The extent of Dick’s repertoire surprised me; evidently he has not been so idle at Cambridge as it seemed. Young Bute has a baritone voice of some richness. We remembered at quarter-past eleven that Veronica ought to have gone to bed at eight. We were all of us surprised at the lateness of the hour.

“Why can’t we always live in a cottage and do just as we like? I’m sure it’s much jollier,” Veronica put it to me as I kissed her good night.

“Because we are idiots, most of us, Veronica,” I answered.

CHAPTER V

I started the next morning to call upon St. Leonard. Near to the house I encountered young Hopkins on a horse. He was waving a pitchfork over his head and reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” The horse looked amused. He told me I should find “the gov’nor” up by the stables. St. Leonard is not an “old man.” Dick must have seen him in a bad light. I should describe him as about the prime of life, a little older than myself, but nothing to speak of. Dick was right, however, in saying he was not like a farmer. To begin with, “Hubert St. Leonard” does not sound like a farmer. One can imagine a man with a name like that writing a book about farming, having theories on this subject. But in the ordinary course of nature things would not grow for him. He does not look like a farmer. One cannot say precisely what it is, but there is that about a farmer that tells you he is a farmer. The farmer has a way of leaning over a gate. There are not many ways of leaning over a gate. I have tried all I could think of, but it was never quite the right way. It has to be in the blood. A farmer has a way of standing on one leg and looking at a thing that isn’t there. It sounds simple, but there is knack in it. The farmer is not surprised it is not there. He never expected it to be there. It is one of those things that ought to be, and is not. The farmer’s life is full of such. Suffering reduced to a science is what the farmer stands for. All his life he is the good man struggling against adversity. Nothing his way comes right. This does not seem to be his planet. Providence means well, but she does not understand farming. She is doing her best, he supposes; that she is a born muddler is not her fault. If Providence could only step down for a month or two and take a few lessons in practical farming, things might be better; but this being out of the question there is nothing more to be said. From conversation with farmers one conjures up a picture of Providence as a well-intentioned amateur, put into a position for which she is utterly unsuited.

“Rain,” says Providence, “they are wanting rain. What did I do with that rain?”

She finds the rain and starts it, and is pleased with herself until some Wandering Spirit pauses on his way and asks her sarcastically what she thinks she’s doing.

“Raining,” explains Providence. “They wanted rain–farmers, you know, that sort of people.”

“They won’t want anything for long,” retorts the Spirit. “They’ll be drowned in their beds before you’ve done with them.”

“Don’t say that!” says Providence.

“Well, have a look for yourself if you won’t believe me,” says the Spirit. “You’ve spoilt that harvest again, you’ve ruined all the fruit, and you are rotting even the turnips. Don’t you ever learn by experience?”

“It is so difficult,” says Providence, “to regulate these things just right.”

“So it seems–for you,” retorts the Spirit. “Anyhow, I should not rain any more, if I were you. If you must, at least give them time to build another ark.” And the Wandering Spirit continues on his way.

“The place does look a bit wet, now I come to notice it,” says Providence, peeping down over the edge of her star. “Better turn on the fine weather, I suppose.”

She starts with she calls “set fair,” and feeling now that she is something like a Providence, composes herself for a doze. She is startled out of her sleep by the return of the Wandering Spirit.

“Been down there again?” she asks him pleasantly.

“Just come back,” explains the Wandering Spirit.

“Pretty spot, isn’t it?” says Providence. “Things nice and dry down there now, aren’t they?”

“You’ve hit it,” he answers. “Dry is the word. The rivers are dried up, the wells are dried up, the cattle are dying, the grass is all withered. As for the harvest, there won’t be any harvest for the next two years! Oh, yes, things are dry enough.”

One imagines Providence bursting into tears. “But you suggested yourself a little fine weather.”

“I know I did,” answers the Spirit. “I didn’t suggest a six months’ drought with the thermometer at a hundred and twenty in the shade. Doesn’t seem to me that you’ve got any sense at all.”

“I do wish this job had been given to someone else,” says Providence.

“Yes, and you are not the only one to wish it,” retorts the Spirit unfeelingly.

“I do my best,” urges Providence, wiping her eyes with her wings. “I am not fitted for it.”

“A truer word you never uttered,” retorts the Spirit.

“I try–nobody could try harder,” wails Providence. “Everything I do seems to be wrong.”

“What you want,” says the Spirit, “is less enthusiasm and a little commonsense in place of it. You get excited, and then you lose your head. When you do send rain, ten to one you send it when it isn’t wanted. You keep back your sunshine–just as a duffer at whist keeps back his trumps–until it is no good, and then you deal it out all at once.”

“I’ll try again,” said Providence. “I’ll try quite hard this time.”

“You’ve been trying again,” retorts the Spirit unsympathetically, “ever since I have known you. It is not that you do not try. It is that you have not got the hang of things. Why don’t you get yourself an almanack?”

The Wandering Spirit takes his leave. Providence tells herself she really must get that almanack. She ties a knot in her handkerchief. It is not her fault: she was made like it. She forgets altogether for what reason she tied that knot. Thinks it was to remind her to send frosts in May, or Scotch mists in August. She is not sure which, so sends both. The farmer has ceased even to be angry with her–recognises that affliction and sorrow are good for his immortal soul, and pursues his way in calmness to the Bankruptcy Court.

Hubert St. Leonard, of Windrush Bottom Farm, I found to be a worried- looking gentleman. He taps his weather-glass, and hopes and fears, not knowing as yet that all things have been ordered for his ill. It will be years before his spirit is attuned to that attitude of tranquil despair essential to the farmer: one feels it. He is tall and thin, with a sensitive, mobile face, and a curious trick of taking his head every now and again between his hands, as if to be sure it is still there. When I met him he was on the point of starting for his round, so I walked with him. He told me that he had not always been a farmer. Till a few years ago he had been a stockbroker. But he had always hated his office; and having saved a little, had determined when he came to forty to enjoy the rare luxury of living his own life. I asked him if he found that farming paid. He said:

“As in everything else, it depends upon the price you put upon yourself. Now, as a casual observer, what wage per annum would you say I was worth?”

It was an awkward question.

“You are afraid that if you spoke candidly you would offend me,” he suggested. “Very well. For the purpose of explaining my theory let us take, instead, your own case. I have read all your books, and I like them. Speaking as an admirer, I should estimate you at five hundred a year. You, perhaps, make two thousand, and consider yourself worth five.”

The whimsical smile with which he accompanied the speech disarmed me.

“What we most of us do,” he continued, “is to over-capitalise ourselves. John Smith, honestly worth a hundred a year, claims to be worth two. Result: difficulty of earning dividend, over-work, over- worry, constant fear of being wound up. Now, there is that about your work that suggests to me you would be happier earning five hundred a year than you ever will be earning two thousand. To pay your dividend–to earn your two thousand–you have to do work that brings you no pleasure in the doing. Content with five hundred, you could afford to do only that work that does give you pleasure. This is not a perfect world, we must remember. In the perfect world the thinker would be worth more than the mere jester. In the perfect world the farmer would be worth more than the stockbroker. In making the exchange I had to write myself down. I earn less money, but get more enjoyment out of life. I used to be able to afford champagne, but my liver was always wrong, and I dared not drink it. Now I cannot afford champagne, but I enjoy my beer. That is my theory, that we are all of us entitled to payment according to our market value, neither more nor less. You can take it all in cash. I used to. Or you can take less cash and more fun: that is what I am getting now.”

“It is delightful,” I said, “to meet with a philosopher. One hears about them, of course; but I had got it into my mind they were all dead.”

“People laugh at philosophy,” he said. “I never could understand why. It is the science of living a free, peaceful, happy existence. I would give half my remaining years to be a philosopher.”

“I am not laughing at philosophy,” I said. “I honestly thought you were a philosopher. I judged so from the way you talked.”

“Talked!” he retorted. “Anybody can talk. As you have just said, I talk like a philosopher.”

“But you not only talk,” I insisted, “you behave like a philosopher. Sacrificing your income to the joy of living your own life! It is the act of a philosopher.”

I wanted to keep him in good humour. I had three things to talk to him about: the cow, the donkey, and Dick.

“No, it wasn’t,” he answered. “A philosopher would have remained a stockbroker and been just as happy. Philosophy does not depend upon environment. You put the philosopher down anywhere. It is all the same to him, he takes his philosophy with him. You can suddenly tell him he is an emperor, or give him penal servitude for life. He goes on being a philosopher just as if nothing had happened. We have an old tom-cat. The children lead it an awful life. It does not seem to matter to the cat. They shut it up in the piano: their idea is that it will make a noise and frighten someone. It doesn’t make a noise; it goes to sleep. When an hour later someone opens the piano, the poor thing is lying there stretched out upon the keyboard purring to itself. They dress it up in the baby’s clothes and take it out in the perambulator: it lies there perfectly contented looking round at the scenery–takes in the fresh air. They haul it about by its tail. You would think, to watch it swinging gently to and fro head downwards, that it was grateful to them for giving it a new sensation. Apparently it looks on everything that comes its way as helpful experience. It lost a leg last winter in a trap: it goes about quite cheerfully on three. Seems to be rather pleased, if anything, at having lost the fourth–saves washing. Now, he is your true philosopher, that cat; never minds what happens to him, and is equally contented if it doesn’t.”

I found myself becoming fretful. I know a man with whom it is impossible to disagree. Men at the Club–new-comers–have been lured into taking bets that they could on any topic under the sun find themselves out of sympathy with him. They have denounced Mr. Lloyd George as a traitor to his country. This man has risen and shaken them by the hand, words being too weak to express his admiration of their outspoken fearlessness. You might have thought them Nihilists denouncing the Russian Government from the steps of the Kremlin at Moscow. They have, in the next breath, abused Mr. Balfour in terms transgressing the law of slander. He has almost fallen on their necks. It has transpired that the one dream of his life was to hear Mr. Balfour abused. I have talked to him myself for a quarter of an hour, and gathered that at heart he was a peace-at-any-price man, strongly in favour of Conscription, a vehement Republican, with a deep-rooted contempt for the working classes. It is not bad sport to collect half a dozen and talk round him. At such times he suggests the family dog that six people from different parts of the house are calling to at the same time. He wants to go to them all at once.

I felt I had got to understand this man, or he would worry me.

“We are going to be neighbours,” I said, “and I am inclined to think I shall like you. That is, if I can get to know you. You commence by enthusing on philosophy: I hasten to agree with you. It is a noble science. When my youngest daughter has grown up, when the other one has learnt a little sense, when Dick is off my hands, and the British public has come to appreciate good literature, I am hoping to be a bit of a philosopher myself. But before I can explain to you my views you have already changed your own, and are likening the philosopher to an old tom-cat that seems to be weak in his head. Soberly now, what are you?”

“A fool,” he answered promptly; “a most unfortunate fool. I have the mind of a philosopher coupled to an intensely irritable temperament. My philosophy teaches me to be ashamed of my irritability, and my irritability makes my philosophy appear to be arrant nonsense to myself. The philosopher in me tells me it does not matter when the twins fall down the wishing-well. It is not a deep well. It is not the first time they have fallen into it: it will not be the last. Such things pass: the philosopher only smiles. The man in me calls the philosopher a blithering idiot for saying it does not matter when it does matter. Men have to be called away from their work to haul them out. We all of us get wet. I get wet and excited, and that always starts my liver. The children’s clothes are utterly spoilt. Confound them,”–the blood was mounting to his head–“they never care to go near the well except they are dressed in their best clothes. On other days they will stop indoors and read Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs.’ There is something uncanny about twins. What is it? Why should twins be worse than other children? The ordinary child is not an angel, Heaven knows. Take these boots of mine. Look at them; I have had them for over two years. I tramp ten miles a day in them; they have been soaked through a hundred times. You buy a boy a pair of boots–“

“Why don’t you cover over the well?” I suggested.

“There you are again,” he replied. “The philosopher in me–the sensible man–says, ‘What is the good of the well? It is nothing but mud and rubbish. Something is always falling into it–if it isn’t the children it’s the pigs. Why not do away with it?'”

“Seems to be sound advice,” I commented.

“It is,” he agreed. “No man alive has more sound commonsense than I have, if only I were capable of listening to myself. Do you know why I don’t brick in that well? Because my wife told me I would have to. It was the first thing she said when she saw it. She says it again every time anything does fall into it. ‘If only you would take my advice’–you know the sort of thing. Nobody irritates me more than the person who says, ‘I told you so.’ It’s a picturesque old ruin: it used to be haunted. That’s all been knocked on the head since we came. What self-respecting nymph can haunt a well into which children and pigs are for ever flopping?”

He laughed; but before I could join him he was angry again. “Why should I block up an historic well, that is an ornament to the garden, because a pack of fools can’t keep a gate shut? As for the children, what they want is a thorough good whipping, and one of these days–“

A voice crying to us to stop interrupted him.

“Am on my round. Can’t come,” he shouted.

“But you must,” explained the voice.

He turned so quickly that he almost knocked me over. “Bother and confound them all!” he said. “Why don’t they keep to the time-table? There’s no system in this place. That is what ruins farming–want of system.”

He went on grumbling as he walked. I followed him. Halfway across the field we met the owner of the voice. She was a pleasant-looking lass, not exactly pretty–not the sort of girl one turns to look at in a crowd–yet, having seen her, it was agreeable to continue looking at her. St. Leonard introduced me to her as his eldest daughter, Janie, and explained to her that behind the study door, if only she would take the trouble to look, she would find a time-table –

“According to which,” replied Miss Janie, with a smile, “you ought at the present moment to be in the rick-yard, which is just where I want you.”

“What time is it?” he asked, feeling his waistcoat for a watch that appeared not to be there.

“Quarter to eleven,” I told him.

He took his head between his hands. “Good God!” he cried, “you don’t say that!”

The new binder, Miss Janie told us, had just arrived. She was anxious her father should see it was in working order before the men went back. “Otherwise,” so she argued, “old Wilkins will persist it was all right when he delivered it, and we shall have no remedy.”

We turned towards the house.

“Speaking of the practical,” I said, “there were three things I came to talk to you about. First and foremost, that cow.”

“Ah, yes, the cow,” said St. Leonard. He turned to his daughter. “It was Maud, was it not?”

“No,” she answered, “it was Susie.”

“It is the one,” I said, “that bellows most all night and three parts of the day. Your boy Hopkins thinks maybe she’s fretting.”

“Poor soul!” said St. Leonard. “We only took her calf away from her- -when did we take her calf away from her?” he asked of Janie.

“On Thursday morning,” returned Janie; “the day we sent her over.”

“They feel it so at first,” said St. Leonard sympathetically.

“It sounds a brutal sentiment,” I said, “but I was wondering if by any chance you happened to have by you one that didn’t feel it quite so much. I suppose among cows there is no class that corresponds to what we term our ‘Smart Set’–cows that don’t really care for their calves, that are glad to get away from them?”

Miss Janie smiled. When she smiled, you felt you would do much to see her smile again.

“But why not keep it up at your house, in the paddock,” she suggested, “and have the milk brought down? There is an excellent cowshed, and it is only a mile away.”

It struck me there was sense in this idea. I had not thought of that. I asked St. Leonard what I owed him for the cow. He asked Miss Janie, and she said sixteen pounds. I had been warned that in doing business with farmers it would be necessary always to bargain; but there was that about Miss Janie’s tone telling me that when she said sixteen pounds she meant sixteen pounds. I began to see a brighter side to Hubert St. Leonard’s career as a farmer.

“Very well,” I said; “we will regard the cow as settled.”

I made a note: “Cow, sixteen pounds. Have the cowshed got ready, and buy one of those big cans on wheels.”

“You don’t happen to want milk?” I put it to Miss Janie. “Susie seems to be good for about five gallons a day. I’m afraid if we drink it all ourselves we’ll get too fat.”

“At twopence halfpenny a quart, delivered at the house, as much as you like,” replied Miss Janie.

I made a note of that also. “Happen to know a useful boy?” I asked Miss Janie.

“What about young Hopkins,” suggested her father.

“The only male thing on this farm–with the exception of yourself, of course, father dear–that has got any sense,” said Miss Janie. “He can’t have Hopkins.”

“The only fault I have to find with Hopkins,” said St. Leonard, “is that he talks too much.”

“Personally,” I said, “I should prefer a country lad. I have come down here to be in the country. With Hopkins around, I don’t somehow feel it is the country. I might imagine it a garden city: that is as near as Hopkins would allow me to get. I should like myself something more suggestive of rural simplicity.”

“I think I know the sort of thing you mean,” smiled Miss Janie. “Are you fairly good-tempered?”

“I can generally,” I answered, “confine myself to sarcasm. It pleases me, and as far as I have been able to notice, does neither harm nor good to anyone else.”

“I’ll send you up a boy,” promised Miss Janie.

I thanked her. “And now we come to the donkey.”

“Nathaniel,” explained Miss Janie, in answer to her father’s look of enquiry. “We don’t really want it.”

“Janie,” said Mr. St. Leonard in a tone of authority, “I insist upon being honest.”

“I was going to be honest,” retorted Miss Janie, offended.

“My daughter Veronica has given me to understand,” I said, “that if I buy her this donkey it will be, for her, the commencement of a new and better life. I do not attach undue importance to the bargain, but one never knows. The influences that make for reformation in human character are subtle and unexpected. Anyhow, it doesn’t seem right to throw a chance away. Added to which, it has occurred to me that a donkey might be useful in the garden.”

“He has lived at my expense for upwards of two years,” replied St. Leonard. “I cannot myself see any moral improvement he has brought into my family. What effect he may have upon your children, I cannot say. But when you talk about his being useful in a garden–“

“He draws a cart,” interrupted Miss Janie.

“So long as someone walks beside him feeding him with carrots. We tried fixing the carrot on a pole six inches beyond his reach. That works all right in the picture: it starts this donkey kicking.”

“You know yourself,” he continued with growing indignation, “the very last time your mother took him out she used up all her carrots getting there, with the result that he and the cart had to be hauled home behind a trolley.”

We had reached the yard. Nathaniel was standing with his head stretched out above the closed half of his stable door. I noticed points of resemblance between him and Veronica herself: there was about him a like suggestion of resignation, of suffering virtue misunderstood; his eye had the same wistful, yearning expression with which Veronica will stand before the window gazing out upon the purple sunset, while people are calling to her from distant parts of the house to come and put her things away. Miss Janie, bending over him, asked him to kiss her. He complied, but with a gentle, reproachful look that seemed to say, “Why call me back again to earth?”

It made me mad with him. I was wrong in thinking Miss Janie not a pretty girl. Hers is that type of beauty that escapes attention by its own perfection. It is the eccentric, the discordant, that arrests the roving eye. To harmony one has to attune oneself.

“I believe,” said Miss Janie, as she drew away, wiping her cheek, “one could teach that donkey anything.”

Apparently she regarded willingness to kiss her as indication of exceptional amiability.

“Except to work,” commented her father. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “If you take that donkey off my hands and promise not to send it back again, why, you can have it.”

“For nothing?” demanded Janie woefully.

“For nothing,” insisted her father. “And if I have any argument, I’ll throw in the cart.”

Miss Janie sighed and shrugged her shoulders. It was arranged that Hopkins should deliver Nathaniel into my keeping some time the next day. Hopkins, it appeared, was the only person on the farm who could make the donkey go.

“I don’t know what it is,” said St. Leonard, “but he has a way with him.”

“And now,” I said, “there remains but Dick.”

“The lad I saw yesterday?” suggested St. Leonard. “Good-looking young fellow.”

“He is a nice boy,” I said. “I don’t really think I know a nicer boy than Dick; and clever, when you come to understand him. There is only one fault I have to find with Dick: I don’t seem able to get him to work.”

Miss Janie was smiling. I asked her why.

“I was thinking,” she answered, “how close the resemblance appears to be between him and Nathaniel.”

It was true. I had not thought of it.

“The mistake,” said St. Leonard, “is with ourselves. We assume every boy to have the soul of a professor, and every girl a genius for music. We pack off our sons to cram themselves with Greek and Latin, and put our daughters down to strum at the piano. Nine times out of ten it is sheer waste of time. They sent me to Cambridge, and said I was lazy. I was not lazy. I was not intended by nature for a Senior Wrangler. I did not see the good of being a Senior Wrangler. Who wants a world of Senior Wranglers? Then why start every young man trying? I wanted to be a farmer. If intelligent lads were taught farming as a business, farming would pay. In the name of common- sense–“

“I am inclined to agree with you,” I interrupted him. “I would rather see Dick a good farmer than a third-rate barrister, anyhow. He thinks he could take an interest in farming. There are ten weeks before he need go back to Cambridge, sufficient time for the experiment. Will you take him as a pupil?”

St. Leonard grasped his head between his hands and held it firmly. “If I consent,” he said, “I must insist on being honest”

I saw the woefulness again in Janie’s eyes.

“I think,” I said, “it is my turn to be honest. I have got the donkey for nothing; I insist on paying for Dick. They are waiting for you in the rick-yard. I will settle the terms with Miss Janie.”

He regarded us both suspiciously.

“I will promise to be honest,” laughed Miss Janie.

“If it’s more than I’m worth,” he said, “I’ll send him home again. My theory is–“

He stumbled over a pig which, according to the time-table, ought not to have been there. They went off hurriedly together, the pig leading, both screaming.

Miss Janie said she would show me the short cut across the fields; we could talk as we went. We walked in silence for awhile.

“You must not think,” she said, “I like being the one to do all the haggling. I feel a little sore about it very often. But somebody, of course, must do it; and as for father, poor dear–“

I looked at her. Her’s is the beauty to which a touch of sadness adds a charm.

“How old are you?” I asked her.

“Twenty,” she answered, “next birthday.”

“I judged you to be older,” I said.

“Most people do,” she answered.

“My daughter Robina,” I said, “is just the same age–according to years; and Dick is twenty-one. I hope you will be friends with them. They have got sense, both of them. It comes out every now and again and surprises you. Veronica, I think, is nine. I am not sure how Veronica is going to turn out. Sometimes things happen that make us think she has a beautiful character, and then for quite long periods she seems to lose it altogether. The Little Mother–I don’t know why we always call her Little Mother–will not join us till things are more ship-shape. She does not like to be thought an invalid, and if we have her about anywhere near work that has to be done, and are not always watching her, she gets at it and tires herself.”

“I am glad we are going to be neighbours,” said Miss Janie. “There are ten of us altogether. Father, I am sure, you will like; clever men always like father. Mother’s day is Friday. As a rule it is the only day no one ever calls.” She laughed. The cloud had vanished. “They come on other days and find us all in our old clothes. On Friday afternoon we sit in state and nobody comes near us, and we have to eat the cakes ourselves. It makes her so cross. You will try and remember Fridays, won’t you?”

I made a note of it then and there.

“I am the eldest,” she continued, “as I think father told you. Harry and Jack came next; but Jack is in Canada and Harry died, so there is somewhat of a gap between me and the rest. Bertie is twelve and Ted eleven; they are home just now for the holidays. Sally is eight, and then there come the twins. People don’t half believe the tales that are told about twins, but I am sure there is no need to exaggerate. They are only six, but they have a sense of humour you would hardly credit. One is a boy, and the other a girl. They are always changing clothes, and we are never quite sure which is which. Wilfrid gets sent to bed because Winnie has not practised her scales, and Winnie is given syrup of squills because Wilfried has been eating green gooseberries. Last spring Winnie had the measles. When the doctor came on the fifth day he was as pleased as punch; he said it was the quickest cure he had ever known, and that really there was no reason why she might not get up. We had our suspicions, and they were right. Winnie was hiding in the cupboard, wrapped up in a blanket. They don’t seem to mind what trouble they get into, provided it isn’t their own. The only safe plan, unless you happen to catch them red-handed, is to divide the punishment between them, and leave them to settle accounts between themselves afterwards. Algy is four; till last year he was always called the baby. Now, of course, there is no excuse; but the name still clings to him in spite of his indignant protestations. Father called upstairs to him the other day: ‘Baby, bring me down my gaiters.’ He walked straight up to the cradle and woke up the baby. ‘Get up,’ I heard him say–I was just outside the door–‘and take your father down his gaiters. Don’t you hear him calling you?’ He is a droll little fellow. Father took him to Oxford last Saturday. He is small for his age. The ticket- collector, quite contented, threw him a glance, and merely as a matter of form asked if he was under three. ‘No,’ he shouted before father could reply; ‘I ‘sists on being honest. I’se four.’ It is father’s pet phrase.”

“What view do you take of the exchange,” I asked her, “from stockbroking with its larger income to farming with its smaller?”

“Perhaps it was selfish,” she answered, “but I am afraid I rather encouraged father. It seems to me mean, making your living out of work that does no good to anyone. I hate the bargaining, but the farming itself I love. Of course, it means having only one evening dress a year and making that myself. But even when I had a lot I always preferred wearing the one that I thought suited me the best. As for the children, they are as healthy as young savages, and everything they want to make them happy is just outside the door. The boys won’t go to college; but seeing they will have to earn their own living, that, perhaps, is just as well. It is mother, poor dear, that worries so.” She laughed again. “Her favourite walk is to the workhouse. She came back quite excited the other day because she had heard the Guardians intend to try the experiment of building separate houses for old married couples. She is convinced she and father are going to end their days there.”

“You, as the business partner,” I asked her, “are hopeful that the farm will pay?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered, “it will pay all right–it does pay, for the matter of that. We live on it and live comfortably. But, of course, I can see mother’s point of view, with seven young children to bring up. And it is not only that.” She stopped herself abruptly. “Oh, well,” she continued with a laugh, “you have got to know us. Father is trying. He loves experiments, and a woman hates experiments. Last year it was bare feet. I daresay it is healthier. But children who have been about in bare feet all the morning–well, it isn’t pleasant when they sit down to lunch; I don’t care what you say. You can’t be always washing. He is so unpractical. He was quite angry with mother and myself because we wouldn’t. And a man in bare feet looks so ridiculous. This summer it is short hair and no hats; and Sally had such pretty hair. Next year it will be sabots or turbans– something or other suggesting the idea that we’ve lately escaped from a fair. On Mondays and Thursdays we talk French. We have got a French nurse; and those are the only days in the week on which she doesn’t understand a word that’s said to her. We can none of us understand father, and that makes him furious. He won’t say it in English; he makes a note of it, meaning to tell us on Tuesday or Friday, and then, of course, he forgets, and wonders why we haven’t done it. He’s the dearest fellow alive. When I think of him as a big boy, then he is charming, and if he really were only a big boy there are times when I would shake him and feel better for it.”

She laughed again. I wanted her to go on talking, because her laugh was so delightful. But we had reached the road, and she said she must go back: there were so many things she had to do.

“We have not settled about Dick,” I reminded her.

“Mother took rather a liking to him,” she murmured.

“If Dick could make a living,” I said, “by getting people to like him, I should not be so anxious about his future–lazy young devil!”

“He has promised to work hard if you let him take up farming,” said Miss Janie.

“He has been talking to you?” I said.

She admitted it.

“He will begin well,” I said. “I know him. In a month he will have tired of it, and be clamouring to do something else.”

“I shall be very disappointed in him if he does,” she said.

“I will tell him that,” I said, “it may help. People don’t like other people to be disappointed in them.”

“I would rather you didn’t,” she said. “You could say that father will be disappointed in him. Father formed rather a good opinion of him, I know.”

“I will tell him,” I suggested, “that we shall all be disappointed in him.”

She agreed to that, and we parted. I remembered, when she was gone, that after all we had not settled terms.

Dick overtook me a little way from home.

“I have settled your business,” I told him.

“It’s awfully good of you,” said Dick.

“Mind,” I continued, “it’s on the understanding that you throw yourself into the thing and work hard. If you don’t, I shall be disappointed in you, I tell you so frankly.”

“That’s all right, governor,” he answered cheerfully. “Don’t you worry.”

“Mr. St. Leonard will also be disappointed in you, Dick,” I informed him. “He has formed a very high opinion of you. Don’t give him cause to change it.”

“I’ll get on all right with him,” answered Dick. “Jolly old duffer, ain’t he?”

“Miss Janie will also be disappointed in you,” I added.

“Did she say that?” he asked.

“She mentioned it casually,” I explained: “though now I come to think of it she asked me not to say so. What she wanted me to impress upon you was that her father would be disappointed in you.”

Dick walked beside me in silence for awhile.

“Sorry I’ve been a worry to you, dad,” he said at last

“Glad to hear you say so,” I replied.

“I’m going to turn over a new leaf, dad,” he said. “I’m going to work hard.”

“About time,” I said.

CHAPTER VI

We had cold bacon for lunch that day. There was not much of it. I took it to be the bacon we had not eaten for breakfast. But on a clean dish with parsley it looked rather neat. It did not suggest, however, a lunch for four people, two of whom had been out all the morning in the open air. There was some excuse for Dick.

“I never heard before,” said Dick, “of cold fried bacon as a hors d’oeuvre.”

“It is not a hors d’oeuvre,” explained Robina. “It is all there is for lunch.” She spoke in the quiet, passionless voice of one who has done with all human emotion. She added that she should not be requiring any herself, she having lunched already.

Veronica, conveying by her tone and bearing the impression of something midway between a perfect lady and a Christian martyr, observed that she also had lunched.

“Wish I had,” growled Dick.

I gave him a warning kick. I could see he was on the way to getting himself into trouble. As I explained to him afterwards, a woman is most dangerous when at her meekest. A man, when he feels his temper rising, takes every opportunity of letting it escape. Trouble at such times he welcomes. A broken boot-lace, or a shirt without a button, is to him then as water in the desert. An only collar-stud that will disappear as if by magic from between his thumb and finger and vanish apparently into thin air is a piece of good fortune sent on these occasions only to those whom the gods love. By the time he has waddled on his hands and knees twice round the room, broken the boot-jack raking with it underneath the wardrobe, been bumped and slapped and kicked by every piece of furniture that the room contains, and ended up by stepping on that stud and treading it flat, he has not a bitter or an angry thought left in him. All that remains of him is sweet and peaceful. He fastens his collar with a safety-pin, humming an old song the while.

Failing the gifts of Providence, the children–if in health–can generally be depended upon to afford him an opening. Sooner or later one or another of them will do something that no child, when he was a boy, would have dared–or dreamed of daring–to even so much as think of doing. The child, conveying by expression that the world, it is glad to say, is slowly but steadily growing in sense, and pity it is that old-fashioned folks can’t bustle up and keep abreast of it, points out that firstly it has not done this thing, that for various reasons–a few only of which need be dwelt upon–it is impossible it could have done this thing; that secondly it has been expressly requested to do this thing, that wishful always to give satisfaction, it has–at sacrifice of all its own ideas–gone out of its way to do this thing; that thirdly it can’t help doing this thing, strive against fate as it will.

He says he does not want to hear what the child has got to say on the subject–nor on any other subject, neither then nor at any other time. He says there’s going to be a new departure in this house, and that things all round are going to be very different. He suddenly remembers every rule and regulation he has made during the past ten years for the guidance of everybody, and that everybody, himself included, has forgotten. He tries to talk about them all at once, in haste lest he should forget them again. By the time he has succeeded in getting himself, if nobody else, to understand himself, the children are swarming round his knees extracting from him promises that in his sober moments he will be sorry that he made.

I knew a woman–a wise and good woman she was–who when she noticed that her husband’s temper was causing him annoyance, took pains to help him to get rid of it. To relieve his sufferings I have known her search the house for a last month’s morning paper and, ironing it smooth, lay it warm and neatly folded on his breakfast plate.

“One thing in this world to be thankful for, at all events, and that is that we don’t live in Ditchley-in-the-Marsh,” he would growl ten minutes later from the other side of it.

“Sounds a bit damp,” the good woman would reply.

“Damp!” he would grunt, “who minds a bit of damp! Good for you. Makes us Englishmen what we are. Being murdered in one’s bed about once a week is what I should object to.”

“Do they do much of that sort of thing down there?” the good woman would enquire.

“Seems to be the chief industry of the place. Do you mean to say you don’t remember that old maiden lady being murdered by her own gardener and buried in the fowl-run? You women! you take no interest in public affairs.”

“I do remember something about it, now you mention it, dear,” the good woman would confess. “Always seems such an innocent type of man, a gardener.”

“Seems to be a special breed of them at Ditchley-in-the-Marsh,” he answers. “Here again last Monday,” he continues, reading with growing interest. “Almost the same case–even to the pruning knife. Yes, hanged if he doesn’t!–buries her in the fowl-run. This is most extraordinary.”

“It must be the imitative instinct asserting itself,” suggests the good woman. “As you, dear, have so often pointed out, one crime makes another.”

“I have always said so,” he agrees; “it has always been a theory of mine.”

He folds the paper over. “Dull dogs, these political chaps!” he says. “Here’s the Duke of Devonshire, speaking last night at Hackney, begins by telling a funny story he says he has just heard about a parrot. Why, it’s the same story somebody told a month ago; I remember reading it. Yes–upon my soul–word for word, I’d swear to it. Shows you the sort of men we’re governed by.”

“You can’t expect everyone, dear, to possess your repertoire,” the good woman remarks.

“Needn’t say he’s just heard it that afternoon, anyhow,” responds the good man.

He turns to another column. “What the devil! Am I going off my head?” He pounces on the eldest boy. “When was the Oxford and Cambridge Boat-race?” he fiercely demands.

“The Oxford and Cambridge Boat-race!” repeats the astonished youth. “Why, it’s over. You took us all to see it, last month. The Saturday before–“

The conversation for the next ten minutes he conducts himself, unaided. At the end he is tired, maybe a trifle hoarse. But all his bad temper is gone. His sorrow is there was not sufficient of it. He could have done with more.

Woman knows nothing of simple mechanics. A woman thinks you can get rid of steam by boxing it up and sitting on the safety-valve.

“Feeling as I do this morning, that I’d like to wring everybody’s neck for them,” the average woman argues to herself; “my proper course–I see it clearly–is to creep about the house, asking of everyone that has the time to spare to trample on me.”

She coaxes you to tell her of her faults. When you have finished she asks for more–reminds you of one or two you had missed out. She wonders why it is that she is always wrong. There must be a reason for it; if only she could discover it. She wonders how it is that people can put up with her–thinks it so good of them.

At last, of course, the explosion happens. The awkward thing is that neither she herself nor anyone else knows when it is coming. A husband cornered me one evening in the club. It evidently did him good to talk. He told me that, finding his wife that morning in one of her rare listening moods, he had seized the opportunity to mention one or two matters in connection with the house he would like to have altered; that was, if she had no objection. She had–quite pleasantly–reminded him the house was his, that he was master there. She added that any wish of his of course was law to her.

He was a young and inexperienced husband; it seemed to him a hopeful opening. He spoke of quite a lot of things–things about which he felt that he was right and she was wrong. She went and fetched a quire of paper, and borrowed his pencil and wrote them down.

Later on, going through his letters in the study, he found an unexpected cheque; and ran upstairs and asked her if she would not like to come out with him and get herself a new hat.

“I could have understood it,” he moaned, “if she had dropped on me while I was–well, I suppose, you might say lecturing her. She had listened to it like a lamb–hadn’t opened her mouth except to say ‘yes, dear,’ or ‘no, dear.’ Then, when I only asked her if she’d like a new hat, she goes suddenly raving mad. I never saw a woman go so mad.”

I doubt if there be anything in nature quite as unexpected as a woman’s temper, unless it be tumbling into a hole. I told all this to Dick. I have told it him before. One of these days he will know it.

“You are right to be angry with me,” Robina replied meekly; “there is no excuse for me. The whole thing is the result of my own folly.”

Her pathetic humility should have appealed to him. He can be sympathetic, when he isn’t hungry. Just then he happened to be hungry.

“I left you making a pie,” he said. “It looked to me a fair-sized pie. There was a duck on the table, with a cauliflower and potatoes; Veronica was up to her elbows in peas. It made me hungry merely passing through the kitchen. I wouldn’t have anything to eat in the town for fear of spoiling my appetite. Where is it all? You don’t mean to say that you and Veronica have eaten the whole blessed lot!”

There is one thing–she admits it herself–that exhausts Veronica’s patience: it is unjust suspicion.

“Do I look as if I’d eaten anything for hours and hours?” Veronica demanded. “You can feel my waistband if you don’t believe me.”

“You said just now you had had your lunch,” Dick argued.

“I know I did,” Veronica admitted. “One minute you are told that it is wicked to tell lies; the next–“

“Veronica!” Robina interrupted threateningly.

“It’s easy for you,” retorted Veronica. “You are not a growing child. You don’t feel it.”

“The least you can do,” said Robina, “is to keep silence.”

“What’s the good,” said Veronica–not without reason. “You’ll tell them when I’ve gone to bed, and can’t put in a word for myself. Everything is always my fault. I wish sometimes that I was dead.”

“That I were dead,” I corrected her. “The verb ‘to wish,’ implying uncertainty, should always be followed by the conditional mood.”

“You ought,” said Robina, “to be thankful to Providence that you’re not dead.”

“People are sorry when you’re dead,” said Veronica.

“I suppose there’s some bread-and-cheese in the house,” suggested Dick.

“The baker, for some reason or another, has not called this morning,” Robina answered sweetly. “Neither unfortunately has the grocer. Everything there is to eat in the house you see upon the table.”

“Accidents will happen,” I said. “The philosopher–as our friend St. Leonard would tell us–only smiles.”

“I could smile,” said Dick, “if it were his lunch.”

“Cultivate,” I said, “a sense of humour. From a humorous point of view this lunch is rather good.”

“Did you have anything to eat at the St. Leonards’?” he asked.

“Just a glass or so of beer and a sandwich or two,” I admitted. “They brought it out to us while we were talking in the yard. To tell the truth, I was feeling rather peckish.”

Dick made no answer, but continued to chew bacon-rind. Nothing I could say seemed to cheer him. I thought I would try religion.

“A dinner of herbs–the sentiment applies equally to lunch–and contentment therewith is better,” I said, “than a stalled ox.”

“Don’t talk about oxen,” he interrupted fretfully. “I feel I could just eat one–a plump one.”

There is a man I know. I confess he irritates me. His argument is that you should always rise from a meal feeling hungry. As I once explained to him, you cannot rise from a meal feeling hungry without sitting down to a meal feeling hungry; which means, of course, that you are always hungry. He agreed with me. He said that was the idea–always ready.

“Most people,” he said, “rise from a meal feeling no more interest in their food. That was a mental attitude injurious to digestion. Keep it always interested; that was the proper way to treat it.”

“By ‘it’ you mean . . . ?” I said.

“Of course,” he answered; “I’m talking about it.”

“Now I myself;” he explained–“I rise from breakfast feeling eager for my lunch. I get up from my lunch looking forward to my dinner. I go to bed just ready for my breakfast.”

Cheerful expectancy, he said, was a wonderful aid to digestion. “I call myself;” he said, “a cheerful feeder.”

“You don’t seem to me,” I said, “to be anything else. You talk like a tadpole. Haven’t you any other interest in life? What about home, and patriotism, and Shakespeare–all those sort of things? Why not give it a square meal, and silence it for an hour or two; leave yourself free to think of something else.”

“How can you think of anything,” he argued, “when your stomach’s out of order?”

“How can you think of anything,” I argued, “when it takes you all your time to keep it in order? You are not a man; you are a nurse to your own stomach.” We were growing excited, both of us, forgetting our natural refinement. “You don’t get even your one afternoon a week. You are healthy enough, I admit it. So are the convicts at Portland. They never suffer from indigestion. I knew a doctor once who prescribed for a patient two years’ penal servitude as the only thing likely to do him permanent good. Your stomach won’t let you smoke. It won’t let you drink–not when you are thirsty. It allows you a glass of Apenta water at times when you don’t want it, assuming there could ever be a time when you did want it. You are deprived of your natural victuals, and made to live upon prepared food, as though you were some sort of a prize chicken. You are sent to bed at eleven, and dressed in hygienic clothing that makes no pretence to fit you. Talk of being hen-pecked! Why, the mildest husband living would run away or drown himself, rather than remain tied for the rest of his existence to your stomach.”

“It is easy to sneer,” he said.

“I am not sneering,” I said; “I am sympathising with you.”

He said he did not want any sympathy. He said if only I would give up over-eating and drinking myself, it would surprise me how bright and intelligent I should become.

I thought this man might be of use to us on the present occasion. Accordingly I spoke of him and of his theory. Dick seemed impressed.

“Nice sort of man?” he asked.

“An earnest man,” I replied. “He practises what he preaches, and whether because, or in spite of it, the fact remains that a chirpier soul I am sure does not exist.”

“Married?” demanded Dick.

“A single man,” I answered. “In all things an idealist. He has told me he will never marry until he can find his ideal woman.”

“What about Robina here!” suggested Dick. “Seem to have been made for one another.”

Robina smiled. It was a wan, pathetic smile.

“Even he,” thought Robina, “would want his beans cooked to time, and to feel that a reasonable supply of nuts was always in the house. We incompetent women never ought to marry.”

We had finished the bacon. Dick said he would take a stroll into the town. Robina suggested he might take Veronica with him, that perhaps a bun and a glass of milk would do the child no harm.

Veronica for a wonder seemed to know where all her things were. Before Dick had filled his pipe she was ready dressed and waiting for him. Robina said she would give them a list of things they might bring back with them. She also asked Dick to get together a plumber, a carpenter, a bricklayer, a glazier, and a civil engineer, and to see to it that they started off at once. She thought that among them they might be able to do all that was temporarily necessary, but the great thing was that the work should be commenced without delay.

“Why, what on earth’s the matter, old girl?” asked Dick. “Have you had an accident?”

Then it was that Robina exploded. I had been wondering when it would happen. To Dick’s astonishment it happened then.

Yes, she answered, there had been an accident. Did he suppose that seven scrimpy scraps of bacon was her notion of a lunch between four hungry persons? Did he, judging from himself, imagine that our family yielded only lunatics? Was it kind–was it courteous to his parents, to the mother he pretended to love, to the father whose grey hairs he was by his general behaviour bringing down in sorrow to the grave–to assume without further enquiry that their eldest daughter was an imbecile? (My hair, by-the-bye, is not grey. There may be a suggestion of greyness here and there, the natural result of deep thinking. To describe it in the lump as grey is to show lack of observation. And at forty-eight–or a trifle over–one is not going down into the grave, not straight down. Robina when excited uses exaggerated language. I did not, however, interrupt her; she meant well. Added to which, interrupting Robina, when–to use her own expression–she is tired of being a worm, is like trying to stop a cyclone with an umbrella.) Had his attention been less concentrated on the guzzling of cold bacon (he had only had four mouthfuls, poor fellow)–had he noticed the sweet patient child starving before his very eyes (this referred to Veronica)–his poor elder sister, worn out with work and worry, pining for nourishment herself, it might have occurred to even his intelligence that there had been an accident. The selfishness, the egotism of men it was that staggered, overwhelmed Robina, when she came to think of it.

Robina paused. Not for want of material, I judged, so much as want of breath. Veronica performed a useful service by seizing the moment to express a hope that it was not early-closing day. Robina felt a conviction that it was: it would be just like Dick to stand there dawdling in a corner till it was too late to do anything.

“I have been trying to get out of this corner for the last five minutes,” explained Dick, with that angelic smile of his that I confess is irritating. “If you have done talking, and will give me an opening, I will go.”

Robina told him that she had done talking. She gave him her reasons for having done talking. If talking to him would be of any use she would often have felt it her duty to talk to him, not only with regard to his stupidity and selfishness and general aggravatingness, but with reference to his character as a whole. Her excuse for not talking to him was the crushing conviction of the hopelessness of ever effecting any improvement in him. Were it otherwise –

“Seriously speaking,” said Dick, now escaped from his corner, “something, I take it, has gone wrong with the stove, and you want a sort of general smith.”

He opened the kitchen door and looked in.

“Great Scott!” he said. “What was it–an earthquake?”

I looked in over his shoulder.

“But it could not have been an earthquake,” I said. “We should have felt it.”

“It is not an earthquake,” explained Robina. “It is your youngest daughter’s notion of making herself useful.”

Robina spoke severely. I felt for the moment as if I had done it all myself. I had an uncle who used to talk like that. “Your aunt,” he would say, regarding me with a reproachful eye, “your aunt can be, when she likes, the most trying woman to live with I have ever known.” It would depress me for days. I would wonder whether I ought to speak to her about it, or whether I should be doing only harm.

“But how did she do it?” I demanded. “It is impossible that a mere child–where is the child?”

The parlour contained but Robina. I hurried to the door; Dick was already half across the field. Veronica I could not see.

“We are making haste,” Dick shouted back, “in case it is early- closing day.”

“I want Veronica!” I shouted.

“What?” shouted Dick.

“Veronica!” I shouted with my hands to my mouth.

“Yes!” shouted Dick. “She’s on ahead.”

It was useless screaming any more. He was now climbing the stile.

“They always take each other’s part, those two,” sighed Robina.

“Yes, and you are just as bad,” I told her; “if he doesn’t, you do. And then if it’s you they take your part. And you take his part. And he takes both your parts. And between you all I am just getting tired of bringing any of you up.” (Which is the truth.) “How did this thing happen?”

“I had got everything finished,” answered Robina. “The duck was in the oven with the pie; the peas and potatoes were boiling nicely. I was feeling hot, and I thought I could trust Veronica to watch the things for awhile. She promised not to play King Alfred.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You know,” said Robina–“King Alfred and the cakes. I left her one afternoon last year when we were on the houseboat to watch some buns. When I came back she was sitting in front of the fire, wrapped up in the table-cloth, with Dick’s banjo on her knees and a cardboard crown upon her head. The buns were all burnt to a cinder. As I told her, if I had known what she wanted to be up to I could have given her some extra bits of dough to make believe with. But oh, no! if you please, that would not have suited her at all. It was their being real buns, and my being real mad, that was the best part of the game. She is an uncanny child.”

“What was the game this time?” I asked.

“I don’t think it was intended for a game–not at first,” answered Robina. “I went into the wood to pick some flowers for the table. I was on my way back, still at some distance from the house, when I heard quite a loud report. I took it for a gun, and wondered what anyone would be shooting in July. It must be rabbits, I thought. Rabbits never seem to have any time at all to themselves, poor things. And in consequence I did not hurry myself. It must have been about twenty minutes later when I came in sight of the house. Veronica was in the garden deep in confabulation with an awful- looking boy, dressed in nothing but rags. His face and hands were almost black. You never saw such an object. They both seemed very excited. Veronica came to meet me; and with a face as serious as mine is now, stood there and told me the most barefaced pack of lies you ever heard. She said that a few minutes after I had gone, robbers had come out of the wood–she talked about them as though there had been hundreds–and had with the most awful threats demanded to be admitted into the house. Why they had not lifted the latch and walked in, she did not explain. It appeared this cottage was their secret rendezvous, where all their treasure lies hidden. Veronica would not let them in, but shouted for help: and immediately this awful-looking boy, to whom she introduced me as ‘Sir Robert’ something or another, had appeared upon the scene; and then there had followed–well, I have not the patience to tell you the whole of the rigmarole they had concocted. The upshot of it was that the robbers, defeated in their attempt to get into the house, had fired a secret mine, which had exploded in the kitchen. If I did not believe them I could go into the kitchen and see for myself. Say what I would, that is the story they both stuck to. It was not till I had talked to Veronica for a quarter of an hour, and had told her that you would most certainly communicate with the police, and that she would have to convince a judge and jury of the truth of her story, that I got any sense at all out of her.”

“What was the sense you did get out of her?” I asked.

“Well, I am not sure even now that it is the truth,” said Robina– “the child does not seem to possess a proper conscience. What she will grow up like, if something does not happen to change her, it is awful to think.”

“I don’t want to appear a hustler,” I said, “and maybe I am mistaken in the actual time, but it feels to me like hours since I asked you how the catastrophe really occurred.”

“I am telling you,” explained Robina, hurt. “She was in the kitchen yesterday when I mentioned to Harry’s mother, who had looked in to help me wash up, that the kitchen chimney smoked: and then she said- -“

“Who said?” I asked.

“Why, she did,” answered Robina, “Harry’s mother. She said that very often a pennyworth of gunpowder–“

“Now at last we have begun,” I said. “From this point I may be able to help you, and we will get on. At the word ‘gunpowder’ Veronica pricked up her ears. The thing by its very nature would appeal to Veronica’s sympathies. She went to bed dreaming of gunpowder. Left in solitude before the kitchen fire, other maidens might have seen pictured in the glowing coals, princes, carriages, and balls. Veronica saw visions of gunpowder. Who knows?–perhaps even she one day will have gunpowder of her own! She looks up from her reverie: a fairy godmamma in the disguise of a small boy–it was a small boy, was it not?”

“Rather a nice little boy, he gave me the idea of having been, originally,” answered Robina; “the child, I should say, of well-to-do parents. He was dressed in a little Lord Fauntleroy suit–or rather, he had been.”

“Did Veronica know how he was–anything about him?” I asked.

“Nothing that I could get out of her,” replied Robina; “you know her way–how she chums on with anybody and everybody. As I told her, if she had been attending to her duties instead of staring out of the window, she would not have seen him. He happened to be crossing the field just at the time.”

“A boy born to ill-luck, evidently,” I observed. “To Veronica of course he seemed like the answer to a prayer. A boy would surely know where gunpowder could be culled.”

“They must have got a pound of it from somewhere,” said Robina, “judging from the result.”

“Any notion where they got it from?” I asked.

“No,” explained Robina. “All Veronica can say is that he told her he knew where he could get some, and was gone about ten minutes. Of course they must have stolen it–even that did not seem to trouble her.”

“It came to her as a gift from the gods, Robina,” I explained. “I remember how I myself used to feel about these things, at ten. To have enquired further would have seemed to her impious. How was it they were not both killed?”

“Providence,” was Robina’s suggestion: it seemed to be the only one possible. “They lifted off one of the saucepans and just dropped the thing in–fortunately wrapped up in a brown paper parcel, which gave them both time to get out of the house. At least Veronica got clear off. For a change it was not she who fell over the mat, it was the boy.”

I looked again into the kitchen; then I returned and put my hands on Robina’s shoulders. “It is a most amusing incident–as it has turned out,” I said.

“It might have turned out rather seriously,” thought Robina.

“It might,” I agreed: “she might be lying upstairs.”

“She is a wicked, heartless child,” said Robina; “she ought to be punished.”

I lent Robina my handkerchief; she never has one of her own.

“She is going to be punished,” I said; “I will think of something.”

“And so ought I,” said Robina; “it was my fault, leaving her, knowing what she’s like. I might have murdered her. She doesn’t care. She’s stuffing herself with cakes at this very moment.”

“They will probably give her indigestion,” I said. “I hope they do.”

“Why didn’t you have better children?” sobbed Robina; “we are none of us any good to you.”

“You are not the children I wanted, I confess,” I answered.

“That’s a nice kind thing to say!” retorted Robina indignantly.

“I wanted such charming children,” I explained–“my idea of charming children: the children I had imagined for myself. Even as babies you disappointed me.”

Robina looked astonished.

“You, Robina, were the most disappointing,” I complained. “Dick was a boy. One does not calculate upon boy angels; and by the time Veronica arrived I had got more used to things. But I was so excited when you came. The Little Mother and I would steal at night into the nursery. ‘Isn’t it wonderful,’ the Little Mother would whisper, ‘to think it all lies hidden there: the little tiresome child, the sweetheart they will one day take away from us, the wife, the mother?’ ‘I am glad it is a girl,’ I would whisper; ‘I shall be able to watch her grow into womanhood. Most of the girls one comes across in books strike one as not perhaps quite true to life. It will give me such an advantage having a girl of my own. I shall keep a note- book, with a lock and key, devoted to her.'”

“Did you?” asked Robina.

“I put it away,” I answered; “there were but a few pages written on. It came to me quite early in your life that you were not going to be the model heroine. I was looking for the picture baby, the clean, thoughtful baby, with its magical, mystical smile. I wrote poetry about you, Robina, but you would slobber and howl. Your little nose was always having to be wiped, and somehow the poetry did not seem to fit you. You were at your best when you were asleep, but you would not even sleep when it was expected of you. I think, Robina, that the fellows who draw the pictures for the comic journals of the man in his night-shirt with the squalling baby in his arms must all be single men. The married man sees only sadness in the design. It is not the mere discomfort. If the little creature were ill or in pain we should not think of that. It is the reflection that we, who meant so well, have brought into the world just an ordinary fretful human creature with a nasty temper of its own: that is the tragedy, Robina. And then you grew into a little girl. I wanted the soulful little girl with the fathomless eyes, who would steal to me at twilight and question me concerning life’s conundrums.

“But I used to ask you questions,” grumbled Robina, “and you would tell me not to be silly.”

“Don’t you understand, Robina?” I answered. “I am not blaming you, I am blaming myself. We are like children who plant seeds in a garden, and then are angry with the flowers because they are not what we expected. You were a dear little girl; I see that now, looking back. But not the little girl I had in my mind. So I missed you, thinking of the little girl you were not. We do that all our lives, Robina. We are always looking for the flowers that do not grow, passing by, trampling underfoot, the blossoms round about us. It was the same with Dick. I wanted a naughty boy. Well, Dick was naughty, no one can say that he was not. But it was not my naughtiness. I was prepared for his robbing orchards. I rather hoped he would rob orchards. All the high-spirited boys in books rob orchards, and become great men. But there were not any orchards handy. We happened to be living in Chelsea at the time he ought to have been robbing orchards: that, of course, was my fault. I did not think of that. He stole a bicycle that a lady had left outside the tea-room in Battersea Park, he and another boy, the son of a common barber, who shaved people for three-halfpence. I am a Republican in theory, but it grieved me that a son of mine could be drawn to such companionship. They contrived to keep it for a week–till the police found it one night, artfully hidden behind bushes. Logically, I do not see why stealing apples should be noble and stealing bicycles should be mean, but it struck me that way at the time. It was not the particular steal I had been hoping for.

“I wanted him wild; the hero of the book was ever in his college days a wild young man. Well, he was wild. It cost me three hundred pounds to keep that breach of promise case out of Court; I had never imagined a breach of promise case. Then he got drunk, and bonneted a bishop in mistake for a ‘bull-dog.’ I didn’t mind the bishop. That by itself would have been wholesome fun. But to think that a son of mine should have been drunk!”

“He has never been drunk since,” pleaded Robina. “He had only three glasses of champagne and a liqueur: it was the liqueur–he was not used to it. He got into the wrong set. You cannot in college belong to the wild set without getting drunk occasionally.”

“Perhaps not,” I admitted. “In the book the wild young man drinks without ever getting drunk. Maybe there is a difference between life and the book. In the book you enjoy your fun, but contrive somehow to escape the licking: in life the licking is the only thing sure. It was the wild young man of fiction I was looking for, who, a fortnight before the exam., ties a wet towel round his head, drinks strong tea, and passes easily with honours. He tried the wet towel, he tells me. It never would keep in its place. Added to which it gave him neuralgia; while the strong tea gave him indigestion. I used to picture myself the proud, indulgent father lecturing him for his wildness–turning away at some point in the middle of my tirade to hide a smile. There was never any smile to hide. I feel that he has behaved disgracefully, wasting his time and my money.”

“He is going to turn over a new leaf;” said Robina: “I am sure he will make an excellent farmer.”

“I did not want a farmer,” I explained; “I wanted a Prime Minister. Children, Robina, are very disappointing. Veronica is all wrong. I like a mischievous child. I like reading stories of mischievous children: they amuse me. But not the child who puts a pound of gunpowder into a red-hot fire, and escapes with her life by a miracle.”

“And yet, I daresay,” suggested Robina, “that if one put it into a book–I mean that if you put it into a book, it would read amusingly.”

“Likely enough,” I agreed. “Other people’s troubles can always be amusing. As it is, I shall be in a state of anxiety for the next six months, wondering, every moment that she is out of my sight, what new devilment she is up to. The Little Mother will be worried out of her life, unless we can keep it from her.”

“Children will be children,” murmured Robina, meaning to be comforting.

“That is what I am complaining of, Robina. We are always hoping that ours won’t be. She is full of faults, Veronica, and they are not always nice faults. She is lazy–lazy is not the word for it.”

“She is lazy,” Robina was compelled to admit.

“There are other faults she might have had and welcome,” I pointed out; “faults I could have taken an interest in and liked her all the better for. You children are so obstinate. You will choose your own faults. Veronica is not truthful always. I wanted a family of little George Washingtons, who could not tell a lie. Veronica can. To get herself out of trouble–and provided there is any hope of anybody believing her–she does.”

“We all of us used to when we were young,” Robina maintained; “Dick used to, I used to. It is a common fault with children.”

“I know it is,” I answered. “I did not want a child with common faults. I wanted something all my own. I wanted you, Robina, to be my ideal daughter. I had a girl in my mind that I am sure would have been charming. You are not a bit like her. I don’t say she was perfect, she had her failings, but they were such delightful failings–much better than yours, Robina. She had a temper–a woman without a temper is insipid; but it was that kind of temper that made you love her all the more. Yours doesn’t, Robina. I wish you had not been in such a hurry, and had left me to arrange your temper for you. We should all of us have preferred mine. It had all the attractions of temper without the drawbacks of the ordinary temper.”

“Couldn’t use it up, I suppose, for yourself, Pa?” suggested Robina.

“It was a lady’s temper,” I explained. “Besides,” as I asked her, “what is wrong with the one I have?”

“Nothing,” answered Robina. Yet her tone conveyed doubt. “It seems to me sometimes that an older temper would suit you better, that was all.”

“You have hinted as much before, Robina,” I remarked, “not only with reference to my temper, but with reference to things generally. One would think that you were dissatisfied with me because I am too young.”

“Not in years perhaps,” replied Robina, “but–well, you know what I mean. One wants one’s father to be always great and dignified.”

“We cannot change our ego,” I explained to her. “Some daughters would appreciate a father youthful enough in temperament to sympathise with and to indulge them. The solemn old fogey you have in your mind would have brought you up very differently. Let me tell you that, my girl. You would not have liked him, if you had had him.”

“Perhaps not,” Robina agreed. “You are awfully good in some ways.”

“What we have got to do in this world, Robina,” I said, “is to take people as they are, and make the best of them. We cannot expect everybody to be just as we would have them, and maybe we should not like them any better if they were. Don’t bother yourself about how much nicer they might be; think how nice they are.”

Robina said she would try. I have hopes of making Robina a sensible woman.

CHAPTER VII

Dick and Veronica returned laden with parcels. They explained that “Daddy Slee,” as it appeared he was generally called, a local builder of renown, was following in his pony-cart, and was kindly bringing the bulkier things with him.

“I tried to hustle him,” said Dick, “but coming up after he had washed himself and had his tea seemed to be his idea of hustling. He has got the reputation of being an honest old Johnny, slow but sure; the others, they tell me, are slower. I thought you might care, later on, to talk to him about the house.”

Veronica took off her things and put them away, each one in its proper place. She said, if no one wanted her, she would read a chapter of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” and retired upstairs. Robina and I had an egg with our tea; Mr. Slee arrived as we had finished, and I took him straight into the kitchen. He was a large man, with a dreamy expression and a habit of sighing. He sighed when he saw our kitchen.

“There’s four days’ work for three men here,” he said, “and you’ll want a new stove. Lord! what trouble children can be!”

Robina agreed with him.

“Meanwhile,” she demanded, “how am I to cook?”

“Myself, missie,” sighed Mr. Slee, “I don’t see how you are going to cook.”

“We’ll all have to tramp home again,” thought Dick.

“And tell Little Mother the reason, and frighten her out of her life!” retorted Robina indignantly.

Robina had other ideas. Mr. Slee departed, promising that work should be commenced at seven o’clock on Monday morning. Robina, the door closed, began to talk.

“Let Pa have a sandwich,” said Robina, “and catch the six-fifteen.”

“We might all have a sandwich,” suggested Dick; “I could do with one myself.”

“Pa can explain,” said Robina, “that he has been called back to town on business. That will account for everything, and Little Mother will not be alarmed.”

“She won’t believe that business has brought him back at nine o’clock on a Saturday night,” argued Dick; “you think that Little Mother hasn’t any sense. She’ll see there’s something up, and ask a hundred questions. You know what she is.”

“Pa,” said Robina, “will have time while in the train to think out something plausible; that’s where Pa is clever. With Pa off my hands I sha’n’t mind. We three can live on cold ham and things like that. By Thursday we will be all right, and then he can come down again.”

I pointed out to Robina, kindly but firmly, the utter absurdity of her idea. How could I leave them, three helpless children, with no one to look after them? What would the Little Mother say? What might not Veronica be up to in my absence? There were other things to be considered. The donkey might arrive at any moment–no responsible person there to receive him–to see to it that his simple wants would be provided for. I should have to interview Mr. St. Leonard again to fix up final details as regarded Dick. Who was going to look after the cow, about to be separated from us? Young Bute would be down again with plans. Who was going to take him over the house, explain things to him intelligibly? The new boy might turn up–this simple son of the soil Miss Janie had promised to dig out and send along. He would talk Berkshire. Who would there be to understand him–to reply to him in dialect? What was the use of her being impetuous and talking nonsense?

She went on cutting sandwiches. She said they were not helpless children. She said if she and Dick at forty-two hadn’t grit enough to run a six-roomed cottage it was time they learned.

“Who’s forty-two?” I demanded.

“We are,” explained Robina, “Dick and I–between us. We shall be forty-two next birthday. Nearly your own age.”

“Veronica,” she continued, “for the next few days won’t be a child at all. She knows nothing of the happy medium. She is either herself or she goes to the opposite extreme, and tries to be an angel. Till about the end of the week it will be like living with a vision. As