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Herb of Grace
by Rosa Nouchette Carey
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"You have given us a great treat," he said in a low voice as Elizabeth stepped through the window. Mr. Carlyon was laying aside the pile of songs in the music cabinet as neatly as though it were an accustomed duty. Malcolm gave him an impatient glance. "One would think he belonged to the house," he said to himself rather crossly.

"Please do not thank me," returned Elizabeth smiling; her eyes were very bright, and there was a warm flush on her face, which made her look young and handsome. "It is my greatest pleasure to sing; I believe if I had nothing else to do I should waste hours at the piano."

"The hours would not be wasted," replied Malcolm. "It is a great gift, and like all other great gifts it should be utilised as much as possible. I could find it in my heart to envy you, Miss Templeton."

"Oh, how often I have said that!" chimed in Dinah. "I think I enjoy my sister's voice as much as she does herself; in the evening she always sings to me."

"Mr. Herrick and Dinah are trying to make me vainer than I am by nature," observed Elizabeth with her happy, childlike laugh, as Mr. Carlyon came to her side. "Cedric, it is such a lovely evening that we might have our usual stroll. Would you care to come with us?" to Malcolm.

"You may as well go my way," remarked Mr. Carlyon, and Elizabeth nodded; and then Dinah fetched her a light gossamer scarf, which she tied over her head.

"Dinah does not care for moonlight rambles, she thinks them frivolous," she observed, as they walked slowly through the dark woodlands, "but Cedric and I love them. I like the silence and emptiness; the villages are asleep, and the whole world seems given up to fern-owls and bats and night-moths. Take care of the branch, Mr. Herrick, or you will knock your head. It will be lighter on the road outside. I am so used to this path that I think I could find my way blindfold."

The two young men were before them, but Elizabeth, to Malcolm's relief, showed no inclination to join them; even at this early stage of their acquaintance he experienced an odd desire to monopolise her society. He never felt more content with his surroundings. The tranquillity of the hour, the soft half-lights, the mystery of the long wide road, with two dark specks moving before them-all appealed to Malcolm's artistic and romantic sense.

"It is a study in black and white," he half murmured to himself; but at that moment he was not thinking of the tall, black-robed woman beside him, with the shimmering white veil over her head. Nevertheless, when Elizabeth laughed, he understood her and laughed too.

"Mr. Herrick," she said suddenly, and her voice became grave, "I am so glad to have this opportunity of speaking to you alone—without my sister, I mean. For months—for nearly two years—I have longed to see you and thank you for what you have done for Cedric. No—do not stop"—for in his surprise Malcolm had paused in the act of crossing the road; "they are looking back, and I do not want them just now," and here she waved her hand a little impatiently. "We must follow them through that gate into the woodland path that leads to Rotherwood. It is so pretty in daylight. The moon will soon be rising, and then you will see it better."

Malcolm followed her meekly. When he stumbled over a concealed root, Elizabeth quietly put her hand on his arm to guide him. The firm, soft touch, the spontaneous kindness of the action, and her utter unconsciousness, gave him a positive thrill of pleasure.

"When one's heart is full of gratitude to a person," went on Elizabeth in the same grave, low tone, "it is so difficult to find words. Mr. Herrick, I know all you did for our dear boy—I know everything." Malcolm started. "Cedric told me; but of course we kept it from my sister."

"My dear Miss Templeton," began Malcolm in an embarrassed voice, for he was not prepared for this. But Elizabeth would not let him speak.

"You must let me have my innings," she said, with a delicious laugh. "I have pent up my feelings for nearly two years, and they must find vent. Mr. Herrick, you have been our benefactor—Dinah's and mine as well as Cedric's. When you held out your generous hand to a stranger—when you saved our poor boy from disgrace and a ruined career, you did far more than you thought—"

"Miss Templeton, for pity's sake—"

"Please, please, let me finish," a pressure of his arm emphasised her words; "it is so difficult for a woman to hold her tongue. Dinah knows nothing of all this; we dare not tell her—it would break her heart. My sister is too good for this world; you know what I mean Mr. Herrick—she believes too much in other people's goodness, and then when they disappoint her she is quite crushed."

"I should have thought Miss Templeton's nature an exceptionally happy one," returned Malcolm.

"You are right," and Elizabeth spoke with evident feeling; "but these bright, sunshiny natures have their hours of eclipse. Cedric is her special darling, the object of her tenderest care; if she only knew—" but here she paused, as though her emotions were too strong.

"My dear Miss Templeton"—Malcolm was determined to be heard now, he should not be suppressed and silenced any more—"you are making far too much of the trifling service I was able to render to your brother. What was a small loan?"

"What was it?" here Elizabeth struck in again; "it was, humanly speaking, life and salvation to a poor weak boy who was on the brink of despair; who was so desperate, with trouble and misery, that he might have fallen deeper and deeper if a Good Samaritan had not passed that way. He has told me since that the thought of Dinah's unhappiness almost drove him crazy, and that he could not have answered for himself. Cedric is a dear lad, but he is not strong."

"He has had his lesson. We all enter our kingdom of manhood through some tribulation, Miss Templeton."

"Ah, true, but we would gladly spare our belongings such a painful experience. Mr. Herrick, they are waiting for us at the little gate, and I have only time to say one thing more. I offered to help Cedric repay his debt, but he refused. I am glad to say he absolutely refused; he wishes to do it all himself."

"I think all the more of him," was Malcolm's answer; "a little self-denial will be good for Cedric. He has already paid the first instalment. Miss Templeton, in return for your confidence, I will be quite frank with you: I do not need the money, as far as that goes he is welcome to every penny, but for Cedric's sake I thought it best to take it. I hope you will understand this."

"I understand you perfectly, and I thank you from my heart for dealing so wisely with him; but not another word—voices travel far in this clear silence—and they are just by." Indeed, the next moment a voice hailed them.

"Hallo, you people," shouted Cedric, "have you been looking for glowworms or hunting moths? David is quite tired of waiting."

"I am afraid we have dawdled," observed Elizabeth briskly. "Mr. Herrick and I were deep in conversation. I think we will not come any farther; I have done my lady's mile, or thereabouts. Good-night, Mr. Carlyon, I shall be over at the school to-morrow morning—" but here Elizabeth dropped her voice, and Malcolm heard no more.

She was rather silent when she joined them, and left the conversation to Cedric. More than once Malcolm wondered what made her so thoughtful; but when they reached the house, and she bade him good-night in the hall, there was no coldness or abstraction in her beaming smile.

"If you sleep as well as you deserve—" she said; but he chose to misunderstand her.

"I should be hag-ridden and tormented, I fear."

"Oh no, you would have rosy visions of celestial bowers," returned Elizabeth merrily. "Now; Mike," to the little dachshund, "let us make tracks for the upper regions. Good-night, Cedric."

As Elizabeth paused at the foot of the staircase, Malcolm thought what a splendid subject she would make for a picture. The soft draperies gave her a queenly, aspect, and the white scarf that she still wore over her head lent her a mystic look; in her hand she carried a curious brass lamp of some antique design, and at her bosom were fastened, negligently, a great spray of crimson roses. "She looks like a St. Elizabeth in this dim lamplight," he thought. "Those red roses look like a dark stain on her breast. The figure, the turn of the head, is superb. If only Goliath could see her. Ah, now she has moved, and the illusion has gone—faded into thin air," and then Malcolm smiled at his own conceit and fancy as he took up his chamber candlestick.



CHAPTER XI

"A LITTLE EGOTISTICAL, PERHAPS"

We always like those who admire us, but do not always like those whom we admire. —LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.

Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle. —MICHAEL ANGELO.

The bedrooms at the Wood House opened on a wide corridor which extended the whole length of the house. It was known by the name of the Red Gallery, probably from the great stained-glass window through which the sunset glow filtered on summer evenings, and reflected purple and crimson stains on the tessellated pavement of the hall below. By some odd coincidence, a figure of the Thuringian queen St. Elizabeth was the subject of the window. Something in the figure and the pose of the crowned head of the saint reminded Malcolm of Elizabeth Templeton; but the meek beauty of the upturned face resembled Dinah.

The gallery was carpeted, and comfortably furnished with easy-chairs and one or two oak settles; the walls were covered with pictures. On winter afternoons, when a great beech log burnt cheerily in the fireplace, it must have been a pleasant place for a twilight gossip before dressing for dinner. As the family was small, several of the bedrooms had never been used; they were twelve in number, and an artist friend of the sisters had suggested that each chamber should bear the name of a month of the year. By a happy conceit which had greatly delighted them, he had with his own hand not only illuminated the name, but had with exquisite taste painted a spray of flowers that were typical of each month. For example, over Elizabeth's door—June—hung a lovely cluster of crimson and white roses; while Dinah, who had appropriated September, had a cluster of blackberries and traveller's joy.

When Malcolm had taken possession of the guest-room—April—he had gazed admiringly at a festoon of pink apple-blossoms over his door, but when he had praised the novel adornment with his wonted enthusiasm, the sisters modestly disclaimed all credit.

"It was not our idea," observed Elizabeth regretfully; "neither Dinah nor I had the genius to evolve it. It was our friend, Mr. Leon Power. You will know his name; his 'Andromache' was so much talked about last year.'"

"Of course, every one knows Leon Power," returned Malcolm quickly. "A friend of mine, Mr. Keston, quite swears by him."

"We know Mr. Keston's pictures well," observed Dinah in her placid way. "I hear he is to have Mr. Logan's house for the summer, and then we shall have the pleasure of making his acquaintance. I assure you, Mr. Herrick, that it was all Mr. Power's idea. He used to come down for a few days and paint a door at a time. We loved to sit in the gallery and watch him. You have no idea how it interested us."

When Elizabeth, still carrying her antique lamp, passed swiftly down the gallery, she paused as usual at her sister's door. Dinah was sitting in a carved oak chair by the open window with a reading-lamp beside her. Her evening dress was replaced by a white muslin wrapper, which made her look younger than ever. The red edges of the St. Thomas a Kempis that she had been reading was the only spot of colour about her.

"You are later than usual, dear," she said gently. "Did you go all the way to Rotherwood?"

"In this garb! My dear child, supposing I had met the vicar! Oh no, we only walked to the usual trysting-place. Well, Dinah"—seating herself in a comfortable easy-chair beside her—"what do you think of our new friend?"

"I was going to ask you that question," returned her sister in a disappointed voice. "I did so want to know your opinion; but you are so dreadfully quick, Betty. Of course I like him; he is very gentlemanly and agreeable, and I think clever."

"Oh, I should say there was no doubt of his cleverness." Then Dinah brightened up as though she had received a personal compliment.

"I am so glad you think so. The society of a clever, cultured man like Mr. Herrick must be so good for Cedric; and then he is so pleasant, and has so much to say on every subject, and he has such original ideas. Really, poor dear Mr. Carlyon was quite cast into the shade this evening."

"Oh, there I differ from you. Mr. Carlyon is original too, and can hold his own with any one;" and Elizabeth spoke with some warmth, almost with asperity, and her sister looked at her rather anxiously.

"Dear Betty, I meant no disparagement of Mr. Carlyon. He is such a favourite with all of us that we are not likely to undervalue him. It struck me once or twice that he was not quite in his usual spirits."

"He is a little worried about his father," returned Elizabeth. "He thinks Theo does not look after him properly. But we were talking about Mr. Herrick, were we not?"

Elizabeth was not quite herself. Something in Dinah's speech had ruffled her. She was a little quick-tempered and impulsive; but she soon recovered herself.

"Does it strike you, Die, that Mr. Herrick is quite aware of his own cleverness, and that he rather prides himself on being original and out of the common. Oh, I mean nothing unkind," as Dinah looked rather grave at this. "I like him exceedingly. I should be an ungrateful wretch if I did not," she added to herself. "He is a good man, I am sure of that; and," with a merry laugh, "I am also sure that to know him will be a liberal education."

Though Dinah joined in the laugh, she was evidently discomposed by her sister's observation. "I am afraid you think him conceited," she said regretfully.

"Oh dear, no; a little egotistical, perhaps—I might even say a little opinionative; but then we all have our faults, and I fancy he will improve greatly on acquaintance. When I know him better, Die, I shall delight in arguing with him. There is no use arguing with Mr. Carlyon, he always gives in to me at once; but Mr. Herrick would fight it out to the bitter end."

Dinah shook her head at this lukewarm praise. Elizabeth's opinion was of the utmost moment to her. She relied on it with a simple faith that astonished strangers. Malcolm was right in suspecting that the younger sister was the moving spirit of the house. Elizabeth's vigorous mind, her clear insight, and strong common-sense, made her quick to judge and discriminate. As Dinah knew, she very seldom made a mistake in her opinion of a person. Dinah's charitable nature was rather prone to overestimate her friends and acquaintances—"all her geese were swans." As Elizabeth often said, when she cared for any one she simply could not see their faults. "If we were all as blind as Dinah," her sister would say, "the world would be a happier place;" but all the same she loved and reverenced the simple goodness and sweetness that by a divine alchemy transmuted base metal into gold.

Elizabeth was quite aware why Dinah shook her head so disapprovingly. Cedric's hero had found favour in her eyes, and she wished her other self—for so she tenderly termed Elizabeth—to do homage to him likewise; but Elizabeth's gratitude and her wholesome liking were not disposed to hero-worship. "Mr. Herrick was very nice, and a great acquisition, and she was quite sure they would soon be good friends;" and as Elizabeth always meant what she said, Dinah felt tolerably satisfied with this verdict.

"And now let me hear about Mr. Carlyon, Betty," she observed cheerfully. "I do hope his holiday was not spoiled by Theo's shiftless ways."

"Oh, as to that," returned Elizabeth impatiently, "Theo will be Theo to the end of her days. It is a mystery to me how good people can be so aggravating. Her brother always declares that she is really a good woman."

"I should certainly think he was right, dear."

"Her goodness is rather microscopic then," returned Elizabeth drily. "Mr. Carlyon—our Mr. Carlyon, you know—told me that it fretted him sadly to see how his father's little comforts were neglected. Theo puts her parochial work before her home duties. He said the meals were badly served and badly cooked; that Theo often came in late for dinner and took a hasty meal in her bonnet; that in the evening there was no sociality—his father wrote his sermons or buried himself in his books, and Theo worked at her accounts or dropped asleep from sheer fatigue on the couch."

"Poor Mr. Carlyon, he deserves a better daughter; but Theo has always been a restless, bustling sort of mortal. I suppose David—we really must call him David between ourselves, Betty, to distinguish him—I suppose he will have his father as usual in August?"

"Oh dear, yes; and Mrs. Pratt will lead them both a life. She always does; I never saw such, a woman. I mean to give her a bit of my mind one of these days."

"She is almost as trying as Theo," returned Dinah with a smile. "I think David gives in to her too much for the sake of peace."

"So I often tell him." "I wish Mr. Charrington would invite Mr. Carlyon to the vicarage. Mrs. Finch is such a comfortable soul; she thinks nothing a trouble. But I suppose such an idea would never enter the vicar's head."

"Oh dear, no. But after all it does not matter, Die; nothing would induce Mr. Carlyon to leave his son's roof. I do not believe that any amount of creature comforts or learned conversations would tempt him away from his boy. I think their affection for each other is one of the most touching things I know."

"Indeed it is, Betty," and Dinah looked at her sister rather wistfully; but Elizabeth was too much engrossed with her subject to notice her.

"David's attachment to his father is quite beautiful," she went on; "but I cannot help wondering over it sometimes. He seems as proud of that shabby, mild-spoken little man as though he were a bishop in lawn sleeves, and not a broken-down, hard-working curate-in-charge, who preaches dull, dry little sermons."

"But his life is his best sermon, Betty!"

"Ah, you are right there," and Elizabeth's beaming look was good to see. "David sometimes tells me that his father's patience with Theo is almost angelic. 'I don't know how he bears it,' he said once. 'I am not particular about food myself, and would dine cheerfully on bread and cheese any day; but I hate a smoky chimney and dust; and really that Bridget of theirs is a terrible female, and one of the worst specimens of a maid-of-all-work that I ever knew. I took to dusting the place myself, but Theo never noticed it.' Well, well, it's a queer world, Die. Now it is late and I am keeping you up," and then the sisters kissed each other affectionately, and Elizabeth withdrew to her own room.

Dinah sat still in her chair, and there was a thoughtful, almost a perplexed look on her face.

"I wish I could understand it," she said to herself; "but in some things Betty is so reserved. People who only know her a little would never find it out. They persist that she is frankness itself, but there are limits that no one can overstep—even I dare not." Here Dinah paused. "But she knows very well that I should never ask her the question."

"All the same," a moment later, "I am sorely puzzled. Is it only a friendship between those two, or is it something else on David Carlyon's part? Once or twice I have seen him looking at her as a man only looks at one woman."

"If I could venture to give her a hint, to beg her to be careful! Elizabeth is so careless. She has no idea of her own attractions, and how irresistible she can be. It is all very well for her to say she is older than David, and that she takes a sisterly interest in him because Theo is so unsatisfactory; but there is no need to give him so much of her company. Oh, no need at all, and it will only make people talk." And here the careful elder sister sighed as though she were oppressed with her responsibilities.

"Elizabeth is only thirty," she went on. "Why, that is quite young nowadays, and after all David is not more than three or four years younger. It is not the age that matters, or David's poverty, for Betty has plenty of money of her own. But he is not good enough for her. She is such a grand creature—when she marries she ought to have a husband worthy of her—one whom she could honour and obey as well as love—a man of intellect and power." Had a name suddenly occurred to Dinah, for as she rose hastily a girlish blush came to her cheek? "I am quite ashamed of myself," she whispered. "If there is one thing or person I detest it is a match-maker. How could such an idea come into my head!" But whatever idea it was, Dinah soon banished it, and before long both the sisters were sleeping sweetly on their lavender-scented pillows.

Malcolm saw little of his hostesses the next day. Elizabeth spent the greater part of the day at Rotherwood, and Dinah was busy with her household duties. He and Cedric played tennis the most of the morning. Then they lounged about the garden and woodlands in their flannels, and chatted and smoked endless cigarettes, and after luncheon Cedric ordered out the dog-cart and showed his friend some of the beauties of the surrounding neighbourhood. They drove back through Rotherwood, and as they turned the corner by the church they came upon Mr. Carlyon. Malcolm did not recognise him at first in his straw hat, until he hailed them in a cheery voice.

"Hallo, Cedric, are you going to cut me? Look here, my dear fellow, you and Mr. Herrick must have some tea at my digging. It is a few steps farther. The mare looks hot. Why don't you put her up at 'The Plough' and let her have a feed and a rub down?" And as Cedric approved of this arrangement, Malcolm was obliged to acquiesce, though he was inwardly bored by the delay.

They had been out for hours, and he was rather weary of the lad's chatter. Some new acquaintances of the name of Jacobi had been the subject of Cedric's talk—a brother and sister living in Gresham Gardens. It was in vain that Malcolm had repeated more than once that he knew nothing of them. Cedric would not take the hint, and he held forth on the brother's cleverness and the sister's beauty. To listen to the boy one might have thought the Jacobis were much above the average of human beings—that there must be something idyllic, angelic, and altogether seraphic in their persons and dispositions; but Malcolm, who knew his man, discounted largely from this, and kept his amusement and incredulity to himself.

But the name of Jacobi palled on him at last, and he was counting the milestones between him and the Wood House rather anxiously, when they saw Mr. Carlyon standing on the curb with his straw hat very much tilted over his eyes.

No maiden lady of uncertain age loved her tea better than Malcolm. Nevertheless, the curate's invitation did not please him.

As he got down from the dog-cart he thought regretfully of the cool, shady drawing-room at the Wood House, and the pretty tea-table with its silver urn and old-fashioned china. Cedric was so thoughtless. Of course his sisters would be expecting them. Carlyon seemed a pleasant fellow, but he was not sure that he desired a closer acquaintance with him. Malcolm was inclined to be a little distant, but neither of his companions seemed to notice it. A low white cottage, standing back in a shady little garden, was their destination. As Mr. Carlyon unlatched the gate, Cedric said in an audible aside—

"It is not washing-day, is it, David? I hope Mother Pratt has her kettle boiling, for Herrick and I are as thirsty as fish."

"My dear fellow, I have no idea," and Mr. Carlyon looked a little alarmed. "Just look after Mr. Herrick for a few minutes while I tackle the good lady."

"I don't believe Mrs. Pratt will bring the tea-things for another half-hour," observed Cedric cheerfully. "Poor old Davie, it is awful hard lines for him to have such a landlady. She imposes on him shamefully."

"Why does he put up with it?" returned Malcolm drily. He was not in the humour to discuss Mr. Carlyon's household arrangements. The room into which Cedric had ushered him was a very pleasant one. It was rather low, but a side window with a cushioned recess looked out on a small lawn, with beautifully-kept flower-beds and long borders filled with old-fashioned herbaceous flowers, where brown bees were humming in the sunshine.

"Mrs. Pratt evidently keeps a good gardener," he said, as he took note of the neatly-shaven and carefully—swept paths.

"David is the gardener," returned Cedric laughing. "The garden is his hobby. He is at work sometimes at six o'clock in the morning. It is rather a good garden, as you see; but when David first came to the White Cottage it was a perfect wilderness. A lone widder woman cannot be expected to attend to house and garden too," he continued in a lackadaisical voice. "Hallo, Davy, what cheer, my lad? Are the fates propitious?"

"Not exactly," in a depressed tone. "I am afraid it is washing-day, and that Mrs. Pratt will keep us waiting. I filled the kettle for her myself, but it has got to boil; but if you don't mind waiting—" in a still more embarrassed manner.

"What's the matter, good friends?" observed a cheery voice. "Can I be of any use and assistance? I am not afraid of a dozen Mrs. Pratts. May I join your tea-party, Mr. Carlyon? I was just going to ask Mrs. Finch for a cup, but as I passed I saw Cedric at the window," and before any could answer Elizabeth had advanced into the room with a smile that seemed to evoke responsive smiles on every face.

"Thank goodness! Bet," exclaimed her brother devoutly; "we shall get along now."

"Oh yes, we shall get along," and Elizabeth took off her hat and hastily smoothed her hair. "Now for the Pratt woman and tea. Au revoir, gentlemen." And then she vanished, and after a moment's hesitation Mr. Carlyon followed her.



CHAPTER XII

MR. CARLYON'S TEA-PARTY

If there be a smile on our lips, those around us will soon smile; and our happiness will become the truer and deeper as we see that these others are happy. —MAETERLINCK.

Smiles are as catching as tears. —MAETERLINCK.

What a sudden change in the atmosphere! If a fresh moorland breeze had swept through the little sitting-room at the White Cottage it could not have effected a more beneficial change.

A few words from a brisk, cheerful young woman had acted like magic; Mr. Carlyon lost his harassed look, Malcolm's bored expression had vanished, while Cedric's fervent "Thank goodness! Bet, we shall get along now," was inwardly echoed by his friends.

Malcolm's good-humour returned, and he gave his undivided attention to the flower-borders, and enlarged in his poetical way on the beauties of the Iceland and Shirley poppies.

"They are like fine court ladies," he observed to Cedric, "they are so smart and dainty and graceful. What a charming combination of colour! Your friend Carlyon must have an artistic eye."

"I expect it was Elizabeth's idea," returned Cedric lazily; "she is quite gone on poppies. She and David are rival gardeners, and have no end of discussions. My word, to listen to them one would think they were a later edition of Adam and Eve."

Now, why did Malcolm frown at this boyish speech, and drop the subject hastily? But Cedric only stretched himself with a yawn and went on—

"It is my private opinion that David knows very little about it, except what he gets from gardening books. But he is so full of hobbies, and so energetic, and so determined not to be beaten, and takes such a lot of trouble, that even Elizabeth is astonished at the results. She comes down here and gives him ideas, and then he works them out, or he potters about our place and talks to Johnson, and gets hints that way."

"I never saw such a fellow for picking other people's brains," continued Cedric enthusiastically. "Why, he got a splendid degree at Oxford; I remember how surprised his own father was."

"Carlyon has a father then?" Though Malcolm was so lukewarm on the subject of the young curate's merits, he felt some degree of curiosity about him.

"To be sure he has," replied Cedric. "Carlyon senior is a dry, chippy sort of little man, as meek as a mouse and as good as gold. He is curate-in-charge of an iron church at Stokeley; it is in the Black Country, you know—a regular inferno of a place—nothing but tall chimneys and blasting furnaces, heaps of slag and rows of miners' cottages. Stokeley town is a mile or two farther on; it is a beastly sort of hole."

"It does not sound an inviting spot certainly."

"Well, it is not exactly a Garden of Eden," returned Cedric with a grin. "But, as David says, it has its advantages, for one can wear out one's old clothes quite comfortably. I believe there is really beautiful country two or three miles away."

"I suppose Mr. Carlyon's mother is living too?" But here Cedric shook his head.

"No, she died when David was a youngster—consumption, I believe—and two or three of the children died too. But there is one daughter, Theo they call her—for Theodora, I expect—and a precious uncomfortable piece of goods she is."

Malcolm raised his eyebrows in a questioning manner, but Cedric needed no encouragement to rattle on.

"She is a young woman with a mission—a sort of female Moody and Sankey rolled in one—and she calls herself the Miner's Friend. She is so full of good works, don't you know, that she has not time for domestic duties; and so Carlyon pere and Carlyon frere have a roughish time of it."

Malcolm's thoughts instinctively reverted to his mother. With all her work and philanthropic schemes, she was never too busy to see to her household. She might neglect her own personal comfort and overtask her willing helper Anna, but her servants did their duty, and were well fed and well managed; and they worked all the better for the knowledge that their mistress's keen eyes would detect the slightest laxity. "My mother is a good woman," he said to himself; "she is true and just in all her dealings," and he felt with a sudden pang of remorse as though he had never valued her enough.

"Is Miss Carlyon like her brother in appearance?" he asked the next minute.

"Not a bit; she would make two of David. She is a big, red-haired woman, not exactly bad-looking—if she would only set herself off. But the Carlyons have a family failing, they cling to their old clothes and eschew fashion. Hush, here comes Mother Pratt with the tea-tray. Look at her well, Herrick. She is a good imitation of the immortal Mrs. Gummidge, and bears a mortified exterior, out of compliment to the late Samuel Pratt, sexton and grave-digger and parochial Jack-of-all-trades."

The bumping sounds in the distance that Cedric had heard had drawn nearer, and the next moment a tall, angular woman in a black hat, and a suspicion of soap-suds freshly dried about her bare arms, entered the room and set down the tea-tray with a heavy sigh, as though the burden of life were too hard to bear.

Mr. Carlyon followed her with a crusty loaf and the butter, while Elizabeth brought up the rear triumphantly with a plate of raspberries and a little brown jug of cream.

"Is there anything more you'll be needing, sir?" asked Mrs. Pratt lugubriously—she spoke in an injured manner. "If it had not been washing-day I would have baked you a currant-loaf, or some scones; but having only two hands, and no chick or child to help me, and—"

"Oh, we shall do very nicely," returned Elizabeth cheerfully. "Please do not let us hinder you, Mrs. Pratt; if you will keep the water boiling we can easily replenish the teapot. Mr. Carlyon," looking at him severely, "you have left the sifted sugar on the kitchen table; please go and fetch it. Mr. Herrick, are you fond of raspberries? These are from our own garden—Johnson gathered them this morning."

"They are just prime!" exclaimed Cedric—"food for the Olympian gods, ambrosia and nectar too. Come along, David, or there will be none left for you. Sit down, man, no one wants you to be waiting on us." "Yes, do sit down, please," observed Elizabeth softly; and Mr. Carlyon slipped at once into the empty chair beside her.

It really was a pleasant little tea-party, and Malcolm quite forgot his longing to be back in the drawing-room at the Wood House. Indeed, he was in high good-humour, and told his best stories, quite convulsing Mr. Carlyon with his comic ones; indeed, he made himself so agreeable and entertaining—he so threw himself into the spirit of their informal picnic—that Elizabeth's bright eyes rested on his dark face more than once with marked approval. And when they went out into the front garden to wait for the dog-cart, Mr. Carlyon said to her confidentially, "Your friend improves on acquaintance; I thought him a bit stand-offish and highty-tighty yesterday, but I see now it was only mannerism."

"Some people are difficult to know at first," returned Elizabeth thoughtfully, but she also spoke in a lowered tone. "Mr. Herrick is not one of those people who keep all their goods in their shop window; there is plenty more of good stuff inside, if you only take the trouble to search for it. Dinah likes him immensely; she is getting an empty pedestal ready for him—you know my dear old Dinah's way, bless her." And as David knew it well, his answer was a merry laugh.

Never had Malcolm enjoyed himself more; never had he felt less disposed to criticise and find fault; and yet Miss Elizabeth Templeton wore the very striped blouse that had excited his ire on the previous evening; and her hat was certainly bent in the brim, perhaps in her frantic efforts to put up a straggling lock of brown hair that had escaped from the coil, and which would perpetually get loose again. Malcolm noticed at once the ripe, rich tint of the brown. "It is the real thing," he said to himself, "it is the burnished brown of the horse-chestnut; one seldom sees it, it is quite out of the common." And then he told himself that he had never seen a face so capable of expression. Perhaps this was why he watched her so closely when she talked to Mr. Carlyon.

It was arranged that Elizabeth should drive back with them in the dog-cart. And as Malcolm took the reins, which Cedric had relinquished in his favour, she mounted to the place beside him, while Cedric clambered up behind. Mr. Carlyon looked after them regretfully as Elizabeth waved gaily to him. The next moment she was pointing out the vicarage to Malcolm, a gray, picturesque-looking house, standing in a pleasant garden.

"It is not really the vicarage," she explained, "although it goes by the name. It used to belong to old Colonel Trelawney; but when he died and Mrs. Trelawney left Rotherwood, Mr. Charrington took it. It is not large, but quite the right size for an old bachelor. He has really a grand library, and a very good dining-room, though the drawing-room is rather a dull room. Ah, there is the vicar," and Elizabeth smiled and bowed to a tall, gray-haired man who was just letting himself in at the gate.

"Wait a moment, please, Mr. Herrick," she exclaimed hurriedly. "I quite forgot I had a message from Dinah;" and then, as she sprang lightly to the ground, Mr. Charrington turned back to meet her, and they stood talking for a few minutes.

"Hurry up, Bet, or we shall be late for dinner," called out Cedric, impatient at this delay. Then Elizabeth looked up and nodded.

"Just one moment more," she said breathlessly. "Dinah will not mind our being late."

Malcolm did not mind it either. He sat contentedly flicking the flies from Brown Becky's glossy sides and listening to the distant cawing of rooks.

What a peaceful, drowsy sort of place Rotherwood was! The wide village street seemed empty, with the exception of a black collie lying asleep in the middle of the road, and a patient donkey belonging to a travelling tinker. The clean, sleek country sparrows were enjoying a dust bath, and a long-legged chicken—evidently a straggler from the brood—was pecking fitfully at a cabbage stalk, unmindful of the alarmed clucking of the maternal hen.

When Elizabeth rejoined them the vicar was with her, and she introduced him to Malcolm.

Mr. Charrington had been a handsome man in his youth; but a sedentary life and a somewhat injudicious burning of the midnight oil had tried his constitution. He had grown pale and thin, and his shoulders were slightly round, so that he looked older than his years. Malcolm thought Cedric's name of Dr. Dryasdust was not an inapt title. His eyes were a little sunken, though very bright and keen, and his manner was extremely courteous. He spoke very civilly to Malcolm.

"Mr. Charrington is hardly my idea of a country vicar," he observed as they drove away.

"Perhaps not," returned Elizabeth quickly, "but he is a very conscientious clergyman, and his people's welfare is very near his heart. He is a great etymologist and archaeologist, and at times he is so immersed in his studies that but for the care of his excellent housekeeper, Mrs. Finch, he would often forget to eat his dinner. Mr. Carlyon often tells us amusing stories of the vicar's absence of mind."

"Could you not remember one of them, Betty?" suggested Cedric. But Elizabeth was not to be cajoled into repeating them. She respected Mr. Charrington far too highly, she remarked, to make merry at his expense.

"My friends' oddities are always sacred to me," she said quite seriously. "Most people have their own little failings and idiosyncrasies, but one need not make copy out of them. Don't you agree with me, Mr. Herrick, that there is too little sense of honour in these matters? To raise a laugh, or to sharpen their own wit, many people will expose their best friend to ridicule."

"Oh, shut up, Betty," remonstrated her brother, "it is too bad to moralise; and after all old Dr. Dryasdust is a capital subject for sport."

"Perhaps so, but all the same your sister is right," returned Malcolm. "We are a little thoughtless, as she says. We ought to refuse to give our tongue such licence when a friend's crochets and whimsies are in question. It is the easiest thing in the world to satirise and caricature. You could poke fun at Milton or Shakespeare if you liked, and make them utterly ridiculous. Don't you hate parodies, Miss Templeton? To me they are utterly profane and detestable, and the cleverer they are the more I abhor them."

"We think alike there," returned Elizabeth eagerly. "I remember that Cedric read such capital parodies once on 'Excelsior' and 'Locksley Hall,' and I have never been able to enjoy those poems since. I have utterly refused to listen to any more. Oh," interrupting herself, "there is Dinah on the look-out for us."

They caught sight of the trim little figure in gray silk waiting for them in the porch. But if they had been an hour late Dinah would have greeted them with the same kind smile, and hoped that they were not tired.

That evening they sat out on the terrace again; but to Malcolm's chagrin and disappointment, Elizabeth declared that her long day at Rotherwood had deprived her of all voice for singing. "I have been shouting to the children all the morning," she observed, "and reading to deaf old women all the afternoon, and my vocal chord has suffered," and then she challenged Cedric to take a stroll with her; but to Malcolm's vexation the invitation was not extended to him. "Dinah has been alone, we must not all leave her," she said so pointedly that he had no choice in the matter. But he was secretly chafed by this treatment, for Malcolm was one of those men who object to be managed. "I wonder, if Carlyon had been in my place, if my Lady Elizabeth would have ordered him to remain behind," he thought. But Dinah's first words healed this soreness.

"My sister has kindly made this opportunity for me by taking Cedric off our hands," she said gently. "She knew that I wanted a little talk with you about him." Then Malcolm's brief sullenness vanished.

"You shall talk to me as much as you like," he said in the most cordial manner, and indeed he felt very kindly towards this gentle, simple-minded creature. "I am ready for any amount of conversation on any subject from 'cabbages to kings.'" Then she smiled well pleased at his little joke.

"I wanted to ask you about these new friends of Cedric's," she began. "He seems so full of them, and neither Elizabeth nor I know anything about them. My sister, who is certainly not at all a narrow-minded person, has taken a most singular prejudice against them."

"Do you mean the Jacobis? My dear Miss Templeton, I am sorry to say that I have never met them." Then Dinah's face fell. "It is not surprising, of course, that many of Cedric's friends are unknown to me, for we move in very different circles. He has been raving about the Jacobis all the afternoon; but all the same I don't seem to focus them properly."

"Cedric is going to stay with them next month," observed Dinah. "They have taken a house at Henley for some weeks. He is very much excited about it; he is so fond of boating. And he declares they will have such a pleasant house-party; but," rather anxiously, "I do wish we could find some one who knew them."

"I should not be surprised if Mrs. Godfrey had come across them. She knows everybody." Dinah looked at him in surprise.

"Do you mean Mrs. Godfrey of the Manor House, near Cookham?" she asked—"Colonel Godfrey's wife?" Malcolm nodded assent.

"Do you know her too? What a small world this is after all! Mrs. Godfrey is a great friend of mine. We hit it off capitally on most subjects. In my opinion she is the cleverest and pleasantest woman in London." Then Dinah fairly beamed.

"I am so glad you like her. She is a great favourite of ours. Elizabeth often stays at the Manor House. They get on splendidly together. And the Colonel is so charming. Oh, Mr. Herrick, I am relieved that you mentioned them. Henley is not far from Cookham, and I should think they must know something of the Jacobis."

"I will ask Mrs. Godfrey directly I see her," he returned. "I am going to the Manor House next week."

"Next week!" in surprise; "I hoped you would have stayed with us for ten days at least."

"You are very kind," in a tone of regret, "but, my dear lady, I fear it is utterly impossible. My engagement with the Godfreys is of long standing, but I shall only remain at the Manor House three or four days. My regular holiday comes later."

"I suppose you have already made your plans?" in a friendly tone.

"Yes, I have decided not to go abroad this year. I have some literary work I do not wish to lay aside, and I think of taking up my quarters at the Crow's Nest, where I can combine country air and work."

"Then you will be our neighbour," and Dinah's voice expressed such satisfaction at the prospect that Malcolm felt quite pleased. "What a pity Cedric will be away most of August—the dear boy has so many engagements." But Malcolm, who was extremely truthful, did not endorse this regret. Cedric was a nice enough fellow, he thought, but he did not always know when he was not wanted, and at times his lively chatter was a weariness to the flesh.

"I expect I shall see something of him," was all he could bring himself to say. "But you may depend on me for getting information about the Jacobis. I am a little curious myself on the subject," he added with the frankness that was natural to him; and then, as the sound of approaching footsteps reached them, they mutually dropped the subject.



CHAPTER XIII

THE CROW'S NEST

Take the little pleasures of life, watch the sunsets and the clouds, the shadows in the streets and the misty light over our great cities. These bring joy by the way, and thankfulness to our Heavenly Father. —ANNE T. CLOUGH.

In a certain sense all are historians. —CARLYLE.

Perhaps Elizabeth's conscience pricked her that night, or more probably, being rather a casual and careless young woman, a gentle hint from Dinah may have had its effect.

Dinah had merely remarked in her quiet way, when she was bidding her sister good-night in the Red Gallery, that she feared they were not doing enough for their guest's amusement, and that she thought they had better ask the vicar to dinner.

"Mr. Herrick is a literary man, and they will get on very well together," she observed. "Don't you think so, Betty?" And as Elizabeth did think so, and had no objection to offer, Dinah said that Johnson should take a note round the following morning.

Elizabeth felt a twinge of compunction as she closed her bedroom door; she was by no means given to introspection, but "conscience, that makes cowards of us all," told her that she had not been quite gracious to Mr. Herrick that evening.

"It was too bad of me not to sing to him," she said to herself, as she recalled his disappointed look. "I was not so very tired after all; it was just a fit of laziness, and—" but here Elizabeth checked herself abruptly—self-examination is sometimes embarrassing.

"I will try and make up for it to-morrow," she thought; "he is such a good fellow, and we owe him so much;" and she was still in this complaisant mood when she came down to breakfast.

Even her outward garb was improved: she wore a fresh and extremely becoming morning dress, which set off her fine figure to advantage; and before Malcolm had tasted his coffee or looked at his letters she was challenging him gaily to a game of tennis.

Malcolm was charmed—he had no idea that she played tennis; but her next proposition rather took off the edge of his enjoyment.

"I know you are a good player, Mr. Herrick," she remarked coolly, "but it would be too great an exertion this warm weather for you to beat Cedric and me. Would it not be a good plan," turning to her brother, "for you to go over to the White Cottage on your bicycle and ask Mr. Carlyon to make the fourth? We should have a much better game."

"But we decided to ask Mr. Charrington to dinner, Betty," remonstrated her sister. Then Cedric looked disgusted, and muttered something under his breath about old Dr. Dryasdust spoiling the fun, but Elizabeth put him down with a strong hand.

"People's notions of fun differ," she said severely. "I am quite sure that the vicar and Mr. Herrick will have many interests in common. As for Mr. Carlyon," with a sudden change of tone, "he and Mr. Charrington are such good friends that they dine together two or three times a week, so there is no objection on that score. Well, Cedric," with an amused look at his bored expression, "do you feel equal to the exertion of bicycling over to Rotherwood, or shall Johnson go?"

"I suppose I can do the job," returned Cedric in a grumbling tone. "You may as well give me the vicarage note too, Die." But Dinah, distressed by her darling's ill-humour, followed him out into the hall to explain matters more fully.

"You must not be cross about it, dear," she said, with tender anxiety in her tone. "You see we are bound to entertain a visitor like Mr. Herrick; he is not just an insignificant person." Cedric's brow cleared. "He is a clever man, and it will be a compliment to ask a distinguished scholar like Mr. Charrington to meet him. If the Logans had been here we should have invited them."

Cedric felt a little ashamed of himself. "I daresay you are right," he said grudgingly, "but it will be so precious slow. Well, I'm off. Look after Herrick while I am gone," with a fine assumption of manly dignity. But he need not have troubled himself; Malcolm was not disposed to miss him in the least.

As for Elizabeth, her flow of benevolence was not dry yet. "I heard you tell Dinah last night that you wanted to look over the Crow's Nest," she observed to Malcolm as they rose from the breakfast table, "if you have no letters to write we might stroll down there now."

"Oh, my letters will keep," he returned, with such evident pleasure at the proposition that Elizabeth went off in search of her hat; not the hat with the battered brim, mark you, but a charming hat with cream-coloured lace and delicious yellow poppies, that seemed to match the dewy freshness of the morning, and which would not disgrace the gentleman from London; and although she wore no gloves—Elizabeth always drew the line at gloves—her Indian silk sunshade was worthy of Bond Street. As the Crow's Nest was within sight of the gates of the Wood House, they very soon accomplished the distance.

It was a homely little place enough, and the Kestons had described it pretty accurately. It was a mere cottage, and not a picturesque one either, for the architecture left much to be desired; but the row of trees that divided it from the road, amongst which shone the red berries of the rowans, and the trim, shady lawn, gave it a secluded and pleasant aspect.

The sitting-room was small but cosy, and there was a fair-sized dining-room; but Malcolm at once took a fancy to a small upper room with a window overlooking the road; it had evidently been used as a dressing-room, for there was a gentleman's wardrobe in it, and a writing-table and easy-chair.

"I must coax Verity into giving me this room," he said half to himself; but Elizabeth heard him.

"Verity! is that Mrs. Keston?" she asked. "What a very original name! I do not believe I ever heard it before."

"I daresay not, but it just suits her. Yea—Verily, as her husband calls her." Then Elizabeth looked extremely amused.

"What a droll idea! Your friends seem rather out of the common, Mr. Herrick. I am quite impatient to make their acquaintance. We have a large circle of friends—an inner and an outer circle—but I am always glad to add to the number."

"I think you will like Verity," he returned seriously; "she is such a genuine little soul, and so fresh and original. Oh, I am quite sure you will take to her." Malcolm spoke in such a decided manner, as though it were a foregone conclusion that Verity would be admitted to the privileged inner circle, that Elizabeth's curiosity was strongly excited.

"You seem rather certain of the fact," she said perversely; "but, as my sister would tell you, I am not so easily pleased after all."

"Nevertheless you will like Verity," he returned quickly. "Like attracts like—a transparent, truthful nature, which is absolutely without guile, will not fail to appeal to you; I already know you well enough to predict that with certainty."

Elizabeth turned this speech off with a laugh, but her colour rose at the implied compliment; if like attracts like, as Mr. Herrick said, he must think her original and guileless too. Something in Malcolm's tone—in the expression of his dark eyes—confirmed this impression, and in spite of her stateliness and thirty years the second Miss Templeton felt a little shy.

"We have not seen the garden-room yet," she said hastily, and then she led the way downstairs.

The garden lay on the side of the house, and was well kept and full of flowers; but the temporary building erected by Mr. Logan rather spoiled the view from the back of the house, though a gay flower-border surrounded it.

Elizabeth, who had procured the key from the servant, now opened the door.

It was rather a bare-looking place, as Verity had said; more of a workshop than a studio, though it was used for both purposes, and, as both of them knew, good work had been done there; but Mr. Logan, who had a fine studio in town, was content with rather a primitive state of things in his country cottage.

It was sufficiently large, though part of it was partitioned off as a bedroom; the partition, for the sake of airiness, was only eight or nine feet high, and the furniture was of the plainest description; a white Indian matting covered the floor, and there were pink Madras curtains at the window. As Elizabeth pointed out, it could not have been closed for months, for actually beautiful clusters of roses had not only festooned the casement, but had found their way into the room, and hung their sweet heads over the sill, as though they were trying to reach the floor.

Malcolm declared himself quite enchanted; he had never seen any place he liked better. There was room for his big bath—his tub he called it mentally—and a comfortable chair or two, and when he had concluded these little arrangements to his own satisfaction, he joined Elizabeth, who was making friends with a great sandy cat, who rejoiced in the doubtful name of Old Tom.

"I am glad you are so pleased," she said in quite an interested tone, as they walked down the road again. "I hardly expected that you would be so easily satisfied. Cedric calls the Crow's Nest a wretched little hole."

"Oh, he is so young, Miss Templeton—he is at the age when one has great expectations; we learn to moderate and alter our ideas as we grow older. Don't you remember Carmen Sylva's charming description of youth and age? I like it so much."

Elizabeth shook her head. "I am afraid I do not read enough," she said rather sadly. But he looked at her very kindly.

"She is one of the wisest and wittiest of women," he returned; "and she is your namesake too."

"Oh yes, I know that."

"When I go back to town may I send you her little book—"Thoughts of a Queen" it is called?"

Elizabeth, after a moment's hesitation, thanked him and said she would be glad to see it.

"It is well worth your perusal," he went on, too much engrossed by his subject to notice her hesitating manner. "But I have not given you her definition of youth."

"'In youth,' she remarks, 'one is a mediaeval castle, with hidden nooks, secret chambers, mysterious galleries, trenches, and ramparts; one becomes afterwards a modern mansion, rich, morocco-leathered, elegant, stylish, and only open to the select; and ultimately a great hall open to the whole world, a market, a museum, or a cathedral.'"

"I think I know what she means," returned Elizabeth thoughtfully. "Youth is so fond of mysteries, and all its castles have endless winding galleries, that lead to all sorts of curious nooks and corners. When we grow older our horizon widens—we care more for utility and less for subterranean passages. What could be better than a market, where one sells one's best and most durable goods pro bono publico!"

Malcolm was delighted with this answer. Miss Elizabeth Templeton might not be a profound student of books, but she was certainly an intelligent and sympathetic woman. They had turned into the woodlands by this time, and Elizabeth, who was determined to entertain their guest to the best of her ability, proposed that they should stroll down to the Pool.

"If you will go on, I will just fetch my work," she observed, "and tell Dinah where we are going, and then Cedric will join us. He ought to have been back by now." Then Malcolm, in high good-humour, sauntered over the rustic bridge and amused himself by looking down on Elizabeth's wild garden.

"Oh, Betty, what a pity to wear your pretty new hat!" exclaimed Dinah, looking up from her accounts. She was rather a martinet on the subject of dress, and had funny little old-fashioned notions of her own; but Elizabeth, who was ten years younger, was more up-to-date.

"It was part of the programme," she returned solemnly; "and the sunshade too. I was determined to make myself as nice as possible. Remember, I trimmed it myself, Die, and as I had the materials it only cost me five shillings." Here she took it off and looked at it admiringly, for Elizabeth was rather fond of dress in her way. "My sailor hat will do for the Pool. I wish you could come with us, dear." Then, as Dinah shook her head, "Yes, I see, you are busy, so I will not bother you. Please tell Cedric where we have gone."

Malcolm was still on the little bridge when Elizabeth rejoined him. He looked regretfully at the sailor hat.

"It does not suit her a bit," he thought. "I wonder a sensible woman like Miss Templeton does not know what becomes her. Anna would never have made such a mistake." But Elizabeth, unconscious of this criticism of her offending head-gear, walked on serenely.

Some of the dogs had followed them, and while Elizabeth worked at a piece of beautiful embroidery, Malcolm amused himself with throwing sticks into the pond for their delectation; and as soon as he was weary of the sport, he stretched himself comfortably on the ground beside her and began to talk. How it came about neither of them knew, but all at once Malcolm fell to speaking of his father, and of his lonely boyhood, and by-and-bye, Elizabeth grew so interested that she laid down her work, and propping her chin on her hand, gave him her undivided attention.

Malcolm was very unreserved about his mother. "She is perfectly unique," he said; "a grand worker, with brains and energy that, if she had been a man, would have qualified her for a legislator. She has a gift for organisation. Oh, you would admire her immensely. You are a worker yourself, Miss Templeton, and that would be a bond of union."

"Would it?" she returned quietly. "I am not quite so sure of that. I think your mother would rather look down on my small efforts. Please do not call me a worker, Mr. Herrick. I potter about the village two days in the week, and teach the children needlework, and tell them stories, and read to a bedridden old woman or two, but I am afraid on the whole I waste my time dreadfully," and here she looked at him with one of her beaming smiles. "I do so enjoy my life, especially in summer—the world is so beautiful, and one has the birds and flowers, and it is just lovely to wake to another new day."

"I wish Anna could hear you," he returned; and as she looked a little puzzled at this, he explained that his mother had an adopted daughter—a dear, lovable girl, whom he regarded as a sister. And when he said this. Elizabeth's bright eyes glanced at him a little keenly.

"She is your adopted sister," she said dubiously; "is that not rather a difficult relationship, Mr. Herrick?"

"Not at all," he returned quickly, for somehow this, remark did not quite please him. "Anna was so young when she came to us, I think sometimes that she quite forgets that she is not really my mother's daughter."

"She must be a great comfort to Mrs. Herrick," observed Elizabeth, "especially as you are not always with her." There was nothing in this speech to offend Malcolm's amour propre, nevertheless a dull flush mounted to his brow.

"Of course I should not have left my mother alone," he said so stiffly that Elizabeth opened her eyes rather widely; but her keen woman's wits soon grasped the situation.

"My dear Mr. Herrick, you must not misunderstand me," she said quite gently. "I am quite sure that you are backward in no filial duty. To tell you the truth," colouring a little, "I hardly liked to show you how thoroughly I comprehended things—your home has never been a real home to you, and though you love each other dearly, you and your mother are really happier apart. How can two walk together unless they are agreed?"

"Thank you for saying this," he returned gratefully; "I am sure you mean what you say."

"Most certainly I do."

"I know it—I am sure of it; you are not one of those people who are afraid to speak the truth. Forgive me if I seemed put out for a moment, but something in your manner made me think that you disapproved of the step I had taken."

"Mr. Herrick, I disapprove—a mere acquaintance who has not even seen your mother!"

"Ah, it is you who misunderstand now," in a reproachful voice. "Even a mere acquaintance," dwelling on the word rather pointedly, "can judge pretty correctly of a man's circumstances. I thought you were saying to yourself, 'Mr. Herrick must be a selfish sort of man; he is the only son of a widowed mother, and he has left her roof because her charitable works bore him to extinction.'"

"No—oh, no!" in a shocked voice. "How can you say such dreadful things? I shall begin to be afraid of you; and I have never been afraid of man, woman, or child in my life. Shall I tell you of what I was really thinking when you turned on me in that crushing manner? I was thinking of that poor dear girl, and how dull and moped she must be. Mr. Herrick," rather shyly—Elizabeth never looked more charming or more irresistible than when she put on this soft, appealing manner—"do you suppose Miss Sheldon would care to stay with us while you are at the Crow's Nest. We should so like to have her. You see," her voice softening still more, "you have done so much for us that we want to make some return, and it would be such a pleasure."

"You are very kind," he returned, and indeed he was so surprised and touched by this unexpected speech that he hardly knew how to express his sense of her thoughtfulness. "It is good of you to think of it, and nothing would have given Anna greater pleasure, but—"

"You mean she has some other engagement this summer?"

"Yes; it is a great pity. My mother has taken rooms at Whitby for the middle of next month, and she never goes anywhere without Anna."

"Then it cannot be helped; another time perhaps we shall be more fortunate." And then, as though she were desirous of changing the subject, Elizabeth began talking of her own and Dinah's movements, how they never went away in the spring and summer except for a week or so in town for shopping and picture-galleries, but filled the Wood House with relays of guests.

"For the last three years we have gone abroad in the middle of October, and returned for Christmas and the New Year," she finished, "but we have made up our minds to remain in England this year. Why, here comes the truant, and it is actually nearly luncheon time."

Cedric, flushed and panting, flung himself down beside her.



CHAPTER XIV

"YOU DO SAY SUCH ODD THINGS"

Womanhood should be the consecration of earth. —U. A. Taylor

In the region of domestic affections a new and ennobling motive came from Bethlehem—"that I may please God." —Knox Little.

Elizabeth put on an air of great severity as she regarded the culprit.

"Rotherwood is about a mile and a quarter from our gate," she observed, apostrophising some midges that were dancing in a sunbeam overhead. "You could walk there easily in twenty minutes. It is now one o'clock, and you have been away exactly three hours and a half," and here she consulted the miniature watch that she wore as an ornament as well as for utility. "If it be not impertinent, may we inquire why you have absented yourself the whole morning?"

"Oh, shut up, Bet," returned her brother impatiently. "Sarcasm is not your style at all. It is like killing a grasshopper with a pair of iron-heeled clogs. It is precious heavy, I can tell you."

"You rude, unmannerly boy," and here Elizabeth attempted to pull his hair, but she might as well have tried her prentice hand on a young convict freshly shorn by the prison barber.

"Hands off, Betty, I tell you," returned the graceless lad. "I have had rather a good time of it. I knew Herrick was getting pretty sick of me." Here Cedric rolled over on his back, and tilted his straw hat over his eyes. "Familiarity breeds contempt and all that sort of thing. Conversation is like a salad, isn't it, Herrick?—you may have plenty of green stuff and oil, but it wants pepper and a dash of vinegar too."

"Why don't you box his ears, Miss Templeton? He is getting positively abusive."

"I prefer pepper to oil," she returned calmly. "Well, Cedric, perhaps you will kindly inform me if your mission has been successful."

"Oh, it is all right. David will be here to tea, but he says it will not be cool enough to play until nearly five. Now, don't go tugging at my coat-collar, or I won't say another word." Elizabeth, with a resigned expression, folded up her work. "I left the vicarage note," continued Cedric, mollified by this submission. "Mr. Charrington was engaged, but Mrs. Finch brought me his message—his kind regards to Miss Templeton, and he would have much pleasure in dining at the Wood House to-night."

"Did you tell Dinah?"

"Do I not always do my duty?" rather sententiously, "Well, before I could get to the White Cottage I met old David. He was going to the church to practise on the organ, and he was a bit bothered because he could not get any one to blow, so, being a good-natured chap, I volunteered."

"Good boy," observed Elizabeth softly.

"Well, there we were for pretty nearly an hour and a half—David perched up like a glorified cherubim, and rolling out music by the yard; and there was I grinding away like a saintly nigger in a beastly hole till I could stand it no longer, and told him I must chuck it. He declared he had quite forgotten me."

"I expect he had. Mr. Carlyon plays the organ so beautifully"—Elizabeth was addressing Malcolm now. "My sister and I often go into the church to listen to him."

"It must be a great resource," he returned regretfully, "and I am inclined to envy Carlyon. I am passionately fond of music myself, but the power of expression has been denied me."

"I would back David against most organists," went on Cedric. "Well, as I was pretty much used up by my exertions, he proposed we should go into the vicarage garden and help ourselves to fruit. The greengages were ripe and so were the mulberries, and you bet I did not need pressing."

"Mrs. Finch saw us from the porch room, and sent us out some cider and home-make cake, so we had a rattling good feed. David said he was in a loafing mood, and would not hear of my hurrying away."

"Mr. Carlyon does not seem overworked," remarked Malcolm; but he regretted his speech when he saw Elizabeth's heightened colour.

"Thursday is a slack day with him," she said rather gravely. "I assure you he works harder than most clergymen, and is very conscientious and painstaking. He is not at all strong, but he never spares himself."

"My hasty speech meant nothing," returned Malcolm smiling. "Mr. Carlyon is certainly no loafer—he looks the incarnation of energy."

"How doth the little busy D— Improve each shining hour,"

chanted Cedric. But Elizabeth would stand no more nonsense. She called to the dogs, and warned their guest that the gong would sound in five minutes, and then marched off with her sailor hat slung on her arm, which she filled on her way to the house with Canterbury bells and blue larkspur.

The game of tennis was a great success. Dinah sat in the shade and watched them.

There was some little difficulty in choosing partners, so Cedric said they must toss up for it, and Elizabeth fell to Mr. Carlyon.

If Malcolm felt secretly disappointed, no one guessed it. To his surprise he and Cedric were ruthlessly beaten.

Mr. Carlyon played a masterly game, and Elizabeth ably seconded him. Malcolm, who had always held his own on the tennis green, and was an excellent golf player, was much chagrined at his defeat. They had lost three successive games, when Cedric flung up his racket and declared he could play no more.

"They have given us a regular beating, mate," he said cheerfully. "You were in capital form, Herrick, and I did not do so badly myself, though I say it as shouldn't; but David has taken the shine out of us. I say, old fellow, you ought to be champion player."

"I think Miss Templeton played a good game," returned David modestly, and then he and Cedric went off to hunt for missing balls, and Elizabeth sauntered to the house. Half an hour later she was just putting the finishing touches to her dress when Dinah tapped at the door, and, as Elizabeth gave her a welcoming smile, sat down by the toilet table. It was one of Dinah's homely, pleasant little ways, but these few minutes of sisterly chat would have been sorely missed by both of them.

"How nice you look, dear!" in an admiring voice. Then Elizabeth glanced at herself with her head a little on one side.

"Do I?" she said simply. "I was afraid I should never regain my normal colour. Are you sure I don't look rather blowsy, and like a milkmaid?" But Dinah indignantly repudiated this; it was Dinah's private belief that Elizabeth was a very beautiful woman. "She has such lovely eyes, and then her face has so much expression," she would say; but Dinah had the good sense to keep this opinion to herself.

Elizabeth, who was not at all vain, and was quite conscious of her own defects, continued to gaze at her own reflection rather critically.

"I suppose on the whole I am passable, Die," she said rather philosophically. "When people like me they seem to like my looks; and really when you think of all the plain and downright ugly people in the world, there is surely room for thankfulness." "Have you just found that out, Betty?"

"My dear Die, I am rather in a humble frame of mind just now. Don't you recollect my telling you Mrs. Robinson's speech last Monday. I have never thought quite so much of myself since."

"If I remember rightly, Mrs. Robinson paid you a compliment. She told Miss Clarkson that she wished Selina were as fine a woman as Elizabeth Templeton."

"And you call that compliment!" and Elizabeth arched her long full throat in rather a haughty and swanlike manner. "Fancy that goose of a Miss Clarkson repeating such a speech. A fine woman is my abhorrence. It always seems to me to rank in the same category with a prime turkey or a prize bullock, or something ready for the market."

"My dear Betty, you do say such odd things!"

"Of course I do. Elizabeth is nothing if she is not original. Don't you remember dear old dad's speech? But I am really serious, Die—you know I never coveted beauty."

"No, nor I, dear," and Dinah spoke quite earnestly.

"Oh, you," returned Elizabeth with playful tenderness. "I should hope not. I expect many women would be glad to change with you, you sweet thing." Then Dinah smiled and patted her sister's hand.

"No, Betty, you must not say that. I have often thought that even our poor faces, with all their defects, ought to be sacred to us. If we are a thought of God, as some one has beautifully put it, surely the stamp of His handiwork must be precious to us."

"But how about the marred and ugly faces, Die?" and Elizabeth looked at her dubiously.

"It is their cross," returned Dinah simply—"a heavy cross perhaps, but when I see a very plain, unattractive woman I do so long to whisper in her ear—"

"Don't trouble about it, poor thing. What does it matter? You will be beautiful one day, and even now, if you are good and patient, the angels will think you lovely.' Dear me, Betty," interrupting herself, "why are you creasing my pretty silk dress."

"Lord love you, miss, I am only a-feeling for your wings," returned Elizabeth in a droll voice, and then they both laughed, for this was a standing joke between them ever since Dinah had repeated poor old Becky Brent's speech, when the wrinkled hand of the blind and doited old creature had fumbled about her shapely shoulders.

Dinah had been right in thinking that the vicar and Mr. Herrick would have much in common, and the conversation at the dinner-table that evening was unusually animated.

She and Elizabeth were attentive listeners, and on comparing notes afterwards both of them owned that they had been struck with Mr. Herrick's intelligence and broad-minded views.

The slight egotism that Elizabeth had detected seemed to drop from him like a veil, and he showed his true nature; he was evidently a patient and reverent searcher after knowledge, and his marked deference to the elder scholar became him greatly. Dinah quite glowed with innocent pleasure as she listened to them. "It is so seldom the dear vicar gets any one to talk on his favourite subjects, but one could see that Mr. Herrick is after his own heart," she remarked, as they sat on the terrace drinking their coffee and waiting for the gentlemen to join them.

"He is certainly very clever," observed Elizabeth thoughtfully.

"David was unusually quiet," went on Dinah; but her sister apparently did not hear this, for she went on talking about the advantage of a more varied reading.

"I am such an ignoramus," she continued, "when those men were talking about the MSS. in that old unknown monastery, I felt like a little goggle-eyed charity-school girl. When I get Mr. Herrick alone I mean to ask him about the Behistun Inscription;" and then Mr. Carlyon strolled towards them, followed by Cedric, and Elizabeth, who had finished her coffee, advanced towards them.

"They are still at it tooth and nail," observed David in an amused tone. "I should have stopped to listen to them, only this fellow was so sick of the discussion. What a well-informed chap Herrick is!"

"So Dinah and I were saying," remarked Elizabeth, as they paced slowly down the terrace. "Why were you so silent?" she continued; "you know a good deal about these subjects too."

"Who? I! My dear Miss Elizabeth, you are quite mistaken. Ask the vicar, and he will tell you that I am really a duffer in these matters. It is a wise child who knows his own father, and I am wise enough to know my own ignorance. Don't you know," with a smile, "it is easier to hold one's tongue and listen in an intelligent manner than flounder about out of one's depth among the billows of cuneiform inscriptions and the insurmountable precipice of the Behistun Rock."

"Why do you undervalue yourself so?" returned Elizabeth gently; "don't you know people take us at our own value? I have got it into my head that you and Mr. Herrick do not quite take to each other—woman's eyes are rather sharp, you know." But Mr. Carlyon turned this off with a laugh.

"Oh, we hit it off all right," he replied; "please don't go and take fancies in your head. He has his innings now, but we got the best of him this afternoon." Elizabeth's merry answering laugh reached Malcolm's ears, and made him lose the drift of the vicar's argument.

But he lost it still more, and became increasingly absent-minded, when a few minutes later he heard her rich, full tones in his favourite song, "Loving, yet leaving." Mr. Charrington noticed it at last. "The siren is too much for you, Mr. Herrick," he said pleasantly; "we will resume our discussion another time," and to this Malcolm cheerfully assented.

Did Elizabeth perceive the dark figure that glided in at the open window and settled itself so comfortably in the easy-chair? If she were conscious of the silent auditor, she made no sign.

Never had her voice been sweeter and truer; never had she sung with such birdlike clearness, with such abandon and pleasure. Now and then a whispered word from David made her exchange one song for another, or a low-toned "bravo" from the same source greeted some special favourite.

Elizabeth was in the mood for singing. She was a creature of moods and tenses, and would probably have gone on carolling blissfully for another hour if the vicar had not interrupted them.

"It is getting late, Carlyon, and we may as well walk back together," he remarked in his leisurely manner, for being an old bachelor he was rather precise in his ways. David jumped up at once.

"I will go with you, sir, of course," he replied quickly. Then in a lower voice, "It is a lovely evening—will you do your lady's mile?" He spoke so low that Malcolm could only guess at what he said; but Elizabeth's answer was quite clear and audible.

"No, not to-night; I think I have exerted myself sufficiently. But I daresay Mr. Herrick and Cedric will go."

And Malcolm, who felt himself dismissed and had no excuse to offer, was soon plunged into an argument again that lasted all the way to Rotherwood.

"Betty, did you notice that Mr. Herrick did not want to go?" asked Dinah, who was always keenly alive to the likes and dislikes of her neighbours. "It was naughty of you to put him in such a position. How could he refuse to go when the vicar was waiting for him?"

"I thought a walk would do him good," returned Elizabeth demurely; "he was almost asleep when Mr. Charrington spoke to us. A comfortable chair, and moon-light, and a German lullaby are soporific influences."

"Nonsense, Betty," replied Dinah in her practical, downright way, "he was as wide-awake as I was; but," with a little sigh of sympathy, "he looked rather sad. Are you sure he is quite happy, dear?"

"I expect he is quite as happy as he deserves to be," returned Elizabeth in rather a hard-hearted way; and then she went off, singing to herself in a low tone a line or two from her last song:

"It may be in the Land above— The Land beyond our ken; Yet we shall meet again, my love, Though none can answer when"

And as Dinah stood listening in the moonlight her face looked like the face of a radiant infant.

"That is so true," she whispered, "and what does it matter—when!"



CHAPTER XV

"BETTY IS A TRUMP!"

A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza: read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing.... We pass for what we are: character teaches above our wills. —EMERSON.

It had been Malcolm's intention to go back to town on the ensuing Monday, but on Dinah's pressing invitation he promised to remain another day.

"You know I am due at the Manor House on Thursday," he observed, as they sat at breakfast the next morning, "and I must have a couple of days in town first."

"It is a very short visit," she returned regretfully, "and you are to dine at the vicarage to-morrow evening."

"I could not get out of it," he replied quickly, but he glanced at Elizabeth as he spoke. "Mr. Charrington never gave me the option of refusing. He seemed to look on it as a foregone conclusion that his invitation would be accepted. He was so very kind and cordial. He wants me to see his library, and to show me some rare books he has got."

"Oh yes, he is a collector of curious books and first editions. He has a very valuable library. It is his hobby—is it not, Dinah? Old books, old wine, and plenty of learned talk—you will be in luck's way, Mr. Herrick," and Elizabeth flashed an amused look at him.

"I suppose Mr. Carlyon will be there," observed Dinah composedly, as she replenished Malcolm's cup. Cedric had not yet made his appearance, but they could hear him whistling in the distance. But before Malcolm could answer in the negative, Elizabeth broke in again.

"You are wrong there, Die; Mr. Carlyon never goes out on Saturday evenings. It is his day for writing his sermon, and I have never known him break his rule. Mr. Charrington wishes to have Mr. Herrick to himself. He," with another smile, "knows two are company and three are none. Well, good people, I must not dawdle this morning, as there is so much to do;" and as Elizabeth rose from the table she gave her sister a meaning glance, and Dinah, who was like wax in Elizabeth's hands, took the hint at once.

"We are so glad you have made up your mind to stay until Tuesday," she said cordially, "for we are asking some people to come over for tennis on Monday after-noon. Elizabeth has gone off to write the notes now."

"Why on earth could she not have said so?" thought Malcolm, with secret irritation. But Dinah went on cheerfully—

"It will be only an informal affair; there is no time to arrange a regular garden-party. We will keep that until you take up your quarters at the Crow's Nest. We generally have one big affair before the summer is over, and then our friends come down from town, and we have to commandeer all the carriages in the place to meet the train. Elizabeth calls it 'The Templeton's Bean-feast.'"

"Yes, I see," and Malcolm forced a smile at the little joke.

"This will be a very different function," continued Dinah. "We are only asking about five-and-twenty people. We shall have tea in the hall—it is the coolest place in this weather—and there will be two or three sets of tennis, and croquet for those who like it. It was all Elizabeth's plan. You have no idea what a talent she has for organisation—she almost takes my breath away some-times. She planned everything last night and had the list ready for me when I went to bid her good-night."

"That accounts for the light in the Red Gallery when Cedric and I came in," remarked Malcolm.

"Yes, we were dreadfully late; but Elizabeth was so wide—awake that I was quite ashamed of my own drowsiness. I think we shall get a pleasant party together."

And as Cedric came in at that moment, Dinah retailed their little plan for his benefit. Cedric was delighted, and voted Betty a brick. Any form of sociability was welcome to him—an impromptu garden-party in Malcolm's honour met with his decided approval.

"David must give us our revenge," he said, chuckling with glee at the idea. But Malcolm did not respond to this.

He felt inwardly provoked at the whole affair, and regretted that he had promised to remain another day. Could not Miss Elizabeth have guessed—pshaw! what an ass he was, how was she to know?—that a motley and miscellaneous collection of people was his distinct aversion! A rustic Olla podrida, an Omnium-gatherum was not to his taste. It was his last evening too, and he would have to make himself pleasant to strangers.

He knew what these impromptu garden-parties meant. People drove over from distant villages and expected to remain late. There would be no dinner, no coffee on the terrace, no songs in the dimly-lighted drawing-room. Ah, just so, was not Cedric endorsing his thought at this very moment?

"Betty is a trump, Die! She has thought of just the right people. I suppose we shall have a scratch meal when the rush has gone. But we must ask the Brent girls to have a snack with us."

"Oh, of course, Elizabeth said so at once, and she mentioned the Ross party too. Tina and Patty will expect to remain—they always do, and they think the drive back by moonlight the best part of the fun. Very well, Cedric dear, you will go over on your bicycle and leave the notes?"

"Well, I don't mind taking trouble in a good cause," he returned in a virtuous tone; and then Dinah, with an air of great satisfaction, addressed herself to her guest.

"I wonder if you would care to drive Elizabeth over to Earlsfield this afternoon; she has a good many commissions to execute. Brookes has to wait for the vet, as one of our carriage horses is lame, and I do not like her to go alone with James." But Malcolm carefully disguised his pleasure at this unexpected request.

"Is this Miss Elizabeth's idea too?" His tone rather puzzled Dinah.

"Oh dear, no—at least, I think not. I rather fancy I suggested it to her."

"And she made no objection?"

"My dear Mr. Herrick, of course not. She will be only too grateful to you. James is a good lad, but we dare not trust him with Brown Becky, and though Elizabeth drives very well, she wants to be free for her business."

"Then in that case I shall be delighted to go," and there was no fault to be found with Malcolm's tone now. His satisfaction was hardly diminished by a hair's-breath when Cedric suggested that they might go round by Rotherwood on their way home and give David a verbal invitation. "He might be engaged if we waited until to-morrow," he said seriously; "the busy D—is rather a popular person, and the young ladies of Earlsfield and Staplegrove are always on the look-out for him."

"You would not dare to say that if Elizabeth were in the room," but Dinah spoke quite innocently and had no arriere pensee.

"I know that Betty monopolises him to any extent," retorted Cedric, "and it is a shame when that poor little Tina—"

Then Dinah quite flushed up and said quickly, "Hush, how can you be so silly, Cedric. Tina is a perfect baby. Who cares what a foolish little flirting thing says about Elizabeth! You ought not to repeat such speeches."

"There is always so much gossip in a village," observed Malcolm, with a laudable intention of casting oil on the troubled waters, for he saw that Dinah was really vexed at Cedric's careless speech; "and an unmarried curate is always rather an attraction to some genus of young ladies."

"Mr. Carlyon never encouraged them," returned Dinah quietly. "The fact is, Mr. Herrick, Tina Ross is rather a mischievous little person. She is very pretty and very much spoilt, and she cares far too much for admiration. My sister used to be very fond of her—she was quite a favourite at one time; but the other day she owned that she was greatly disappointed in her, and that she was afraid Tina was rather an empty headed little thing."

"Oh yes, we understand that, don't we, Betty?" retorted Cedric, nodding at Elizabeth knowingly as she entered the room. "Tina is in your black books now." But Elizabeth received this with perfect serenity.

"Oh, she is an amusing child," she returned carelessly, "but she makes a very common mistake. She thinks a pretty face and a flippant tongue and a childish manner are perfectly irresistible, but in her study of mankind she is certainly an unlessoned girl."

"I think old David admires her," observed Cedric casually. He spoke in such a matter-of-fact way that Elizabeth was quite taken in.

"To be sure he admires her," she said seriously. "How can he help it? Even Mr. Herrick—who, I have been told, is really a severe critic on female beauty—will admire her too when he sees her on Monday. You shall have an introduction," with a mischievous look. "We will not allow Mr. Carlyon to monopolise her." Here they both stared at her. "Tina is an old friend of his. Now then, Cedric lad, if you have finished your breakfast, I want you in the morning-room."

"One moment, please," and Malcolm barred her way. "I believe I am to drive you over to Earlsfield this afternoon."

"Dinah has arranged it then," with rather an inscrutable little smile. "Thank you, it will be very kind, and I know it will be a relief to her mind." But she added hastily, "There is no use in our going round by Rotherwood. We can post Mr. Carlyon's note. If there is time we might go on the Downs—you will like that much better," and then Elizabeth gave him a friendly little nod.

Malcolm enjoyed his afternoon. Brown Becky was in excellent form, and it gave him a great deal of pleasure to drive her; and then Elizabeth was so sociable and so altogether charming. He had glanced more than once at the paper she held in her hands. "Are you going to order all these things?" he asked, and she had laughed in his face.

"Five-and-twenty to thirty people to entertain is rather a large order. We have plenty of cider and fruit, and of course there will be claret cup, but we have no time to make cakes—besides, there must be a cold collation for at least a dozen."

"Oh yes, I understand," he returned good-humouredly; but he was secretly surprised by the quickness with which her commissions were executed. Evidently the ladies of the Wood House were people of consideration to the tradesmen of Earlsfield, for obsequious shopmen stood bowing and smiling on the threshold; and was it his fancy, or was there an added stateliness in the second Miss Templeton's step and carriage as she threaded the pretty little market-place, exchanging greetings with every other person she met?

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