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Herb of Grace
by Rosa Nouchette Carey
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"Now I have finished," she observed presently, "and you and Brown Becky have behaved like a couple of angels." Then she chanted merrily, "Oh, who will o'er the downs with me?" and Malcolm turned the mare's head in the direction she pointed out.

It had been very hot in the market-place, but when they had gained the open down a honey-sweet wind blew refreshingly in their faces, and not only the moorland but the roadside was clothed with the purpling heather. Malcolm checked the mare involuntarily, and sat silently feasting his eyes on the glorious colouring before him. "No Tyrian garment could equal that," he said half to himself.

Elizabeth looked at him curiously.

"I thought you would like it," she returned, well pleased by his rapt admiration of her favourite view.

"Like it! I only wish I had Keston here; but if I am a living man I will bring him and Verity too. What a grand old world it is after all, Miss Templeton, though we do our best to spoil it."

"Ah, you are right there," and Elizabeth's voice was a little sad.

"Don't you remember what Clough says?" continued Malcolm quietly:

'The work-day burden of dull life About the footsore flags of a weary world.'

We all have our pedlar's pack to carry through Vanity Fair; but how good for us to turn aside into some of Nature's holy places which she keeps so fair and sweet and untainted, and to take a long draught of the elixir of life!"

"Mr. Herrick, do you ever write poetry?" Malcolm shook his head.

"No," he said regretfully. "One day, if you care to hear it, I will tell you the story of an impotent genius."

"An impotent genius?" It was evident that Elizabeth was puzzled, but then she had only known Malcolm Herrick five days.

Malcolm nodded gravely. "The story of a man who was halt and maimed and crippled from his birth—a tongue-tied poet and a paralysed artist. The story is a sad one, Miss Templeton, but it will keep."

Elizabeth's eyes danced with amusement. She began to have an idea of his meaning.

"I rather think you are a humourist, Mr. Herrick." And then Malcolm laughed, and after that they fell into quite an interesting conversation. Elizabeth turned the subject to her own ignorance, and begged Malcolm to tell her what books she ought to read.

"Dinah puts me to shame," she observed frankly. "She reads all the best books, and she often tries to persuade me to follow her example. The fact is, I am rather a desultory sort of person, and I have so many interesting occupations that I never know what to do first."

"One must always have a little method in one's daily life," returned Malcolm indulgently. "How would you like me to make you out a list? You might slip any books you did not want to read."

Then Elizabeth thanked him quite gratefully.

"I mean to turn over a new leaf on my thirty-first birthday," she continued serenely. "Isn't it a great age, Mr. Herrick?"

But Malcolm only smiled in answer. He was thinking how strange it seemed that she was actually his senior by two years; but he soon grasped the idea that Elizabeth Templeton was one of those women who grow old slowly, and who are sweetest in their ripened prime.

The evening at the vicarage passed very pleasantly, and when Malcolm took his leave he was much surprised at the lateness of the hour, and sorely disturbed when he found Dinah sitting up for him. But she would not listen to his excuses.

"An hour later does not matter to me, and I was reading and quite forgot the time. I am so glad you have enjoyed yourself," and Dinah dismissed him with her gentle smile.

Malcolm was rather disappointed with the vicar's sermon the next day. It was learned, and full of quotations from the Fathers, but he could not but perceive that it was perfectly unsuited to a village congregation. "Can these dry bones live?" he thought, as they came out into the sunny churchyard.

Mr. Carlyon had read the service. His manner had been extremely reverent and devout, but Malcolm found his delivery unpleasing. The peculiarity in his speech was very noticeable in the reading-desk, and there was no clearness of articulation.

"I am not versed in phonology," he said reluctantly, when Elizabeth asked him a little anxiously about Mr. Carlyon's reading, "but I know you would not have questioned me if you did not want to know my real opinion. I think it is rather a pity that Mr. Carlyon has not taken elocution lessons."

"You are quite right," she returned quietly. "I can assure you that he is fully aware of his deficiencies."

"I am not sure that he has not some physical difficulties to surmount," went on Malcolm; "but however that may be, a course of elocution and some sound advice about the management of the voice would have been of immense value. I have always thought that every young man who intends to take holy orders should be compelled to attend elocution classes as part of the training. You will not think me too critical in saying all this?"

But Elizabeth, with evident sincerity, assured him that she perfectly agreed with him.

They all spent the afternoon down at the Pool, and Malcolm read aloud to the sisters, while Cedric and the dogs enjoyed a nap. When he had finished the poem—it was Browning's Christmas and Easter Eve he had been reading—Dinah thanked him with tears in her eyes. "I never heard any one read so beautifully," she said. But Elizabeth was silent; only as they were crossing the little bridge she turned for a moment to Malcolm, who was following her closely.

"You have a right to be critical," she said meaningly; "I should think you must have been top of the class," and a flush of gratification came to his face.

They all went to church again in the evening, and this time Mr. Charrington read the prayers and the lessons, in a mellow, cultured voice that was very agreeable to Malcolm's ear. Mr. Carlyon preached.

Malcolm settled himself in his corner and prepared himself for twenty minutes' endurance, but to his surprise he soon found himself roused and interested.

If the preacher's articulation was imperfect—if he took hurried breaths and stumbled here and there over a sentence—Malcolm soon ceased to notice it.

The treasure might be in an earthen vessel, but it was goodly treasure for all that; the priest might be young and inexperienced, but he had his Evangel, his message to deliver, and the earnestness of his purpose was reflected in his face. "Rejoice, oh young man, in thy youth," was the text; but before the short sermon was over, the row of ploughboys near them had roused from their drowsiness and stroked down their sleek heads with embarrassed fingers, as David Carlyon's voice rang through the darkening church with the concluding words, "but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."

Involuntarily Malcolm glanced at Elizabeth as they rose, but she did not see him; her large bright eyes were fixed on the preacher for a moment, then her head bent meekly to receive the blessing, and to Malcolm's disappointment she made no allusion to the sermon on their way home.



CHAPTER XVI

"IT REALLY IS A GOOD IDEA, DIE"

It is most certain that woman's most womanly affections are the likeness of affections which have their pure and perfect fountain in the nature of God. —PULSFORD.

After supper that evening Malcolm found himself alone with Dinah. Elizabeth and Cedric had gone down to the Pool to find a book she had left there in the afternoon, and he had been on the point of following them when he saw a wistful look in Miss Templeton's eyes, and immediately sat down again.

"You want to speak to me," he said pleasantly. He was quite aware that Elizabeth had carried off her brother with intent and purpose, and smiled to himself over her little ruse.

"She is very clever. I wonder if the missing book is a figment of her imagination," he thought; but in this he wronged her, for that little red-edged copy of Keble's Christian Year was very dear to Elizabeth.

"Yes, I want to speak to you," returned Dinah, and her tone was rather anxious and flurried. "The time is growing so short now, and to-morrow there will not be a moment, and so Elizabeth said—" and here again a flickering smile played over Malcolm's face.

"And she has carried Cedric off because you wanted to speak to me about him." Dinah was so hesitating in her manner that he thought it best to finish her sentence for her. "I hope nothing is troubling you on his account. In my opinion he is very much improved."

"Oh, I am so glad you think so," and all Dinah's mother-soul shone out of her mild eyes. "Elizabeth was only saying last night how strong and manly he has grown. But, Mr. Herrick, I am rather anxious about one thing. You know Cedric is to row in the Oxford and Cambridge race."

"I am certainly aware of the fact," replied Malcolm drily. The Jacobis and the University race had been the two standing dishes with which Cedric had regaled him. "I have heard of little else, I can assure you. Well, he is a lucky fellow; it is not every one who gets the desire of his heart."

"Then you approve of it?" questioned Dinah; but her tone was so dubious that he looked at her with unfeigned astonishment.

"My dear Miss Templeton, how could I do otherwise? It will be valuable training for Cedric; the discipline and self-denial that it entails will be the making of him. Of course his head is rather turned at present, and he is crowing like a bantam cock who wants to challenge the world, but he will soon be all right."

"You and Elizabeth think alike, then," replied Dinah; "she only laughs at me and calls me old-fashioned. I suppose I am not up-to-date," with a touching little smile; "it seems to me such waste of time and energy. And then there is the Civil Service Examination."

"Oh, we need not trouble our heads about that for another eighteen months."

"You think not?" still more anxiously. "Both Mr. Charrington and Mr. Carlyon tell me that it is a terribly hard examination."

"Well, it is pretty stiff, of course, and Cedric will have to work hard. You must give him his head for the present, Miss Templeton," he continued. "When he has taken his beating like an Englishman—for perhaps you are not aware there is a very poor chance for Oxford next year; their best men have left, and they have to lick a lot of raw recruits into shape. Well, what was I saying?—when Cedric has taken his beating and cooled down a bit, he will settle to work like a navvy."

Dinah looked a little comforted. "Then you think he will pass?"

Malcolm almost laughed outright at her simplicity.

"Miss Templeton, am I to prophecy smooth things to you, or am I to answer in the spirit of Micaiah the son of Imlah?"

"Oh, please tell me exactly what you think."

"Well, then," with obvious reluctance, "in my opinion Cedric stands a very poor chance." Here Dinah's face fell. "He has plenty of abilities, but I doubt his staying power; he works too much by fits and starts—there is no method or application. But of course he may turn over a new leaf. It is just possible that he may pass by some lucky fluke. It is not always the best workers who get through. You will give him a coach, of course. Oh, I see," reading Dinah's expression correctly, "he may have a dozen coaches if he needs them; but if you care to consult me when the time comes, I think I know the right man for cramming."

"Oh, thank you—thank you!" in a fervent tone of gratitude; "how good you are to listen to me so patiently!"

"My dear lady—" in a friendly tone of remonstrance. "But there is something else you want to say."

"Only this: if Cedric does not pass, what are we to do with him? You know he has utterly refused to enter the Church or to study for the law. He has no taste for engineering or architecture, and we should not care for him to be a business man."

"Need we consider the point at present?" returned Malcolm gently. "There is a limited number of professions, certainly. What do you say to a mastership in a public school? I fancy the life would suit Cedric; his love of boating would score there." Then Dinah brightened visibly.

"We never thought of that; even Elizabeth, who is so full of ideas, only suggested his going to an agricultural college to learn farming."

"Oh, that would never suit him," replied Malcolm in an off-hand manner. "He likes to have his bread ready buttered for him; cornfields and flour-mills are not in his line at all. Ah, here comes the search-party," and Malcolm looked a little curiously at the book in Elizabeth's hand.

"Oh, we have had such a hunt for it." Elizabeth looked quite hot and tired. "Cedric found it at last wedged between two boulders. I wonder he did not fall into the Pool while he was trying to get it out."

"Oh, Cedric, you ought to be more careful."

"Why on earth did you say that, Betty?" rather crossly. "Don't you see Die is wearing her grannie face?"

"But the Pool is so deep," in a terrified tone.

"Of course it is deep. Well, what of that; can't I swim like a fish? Oh, these women, Herrick!" and Cedric shrugged his shoulders. "I wonder how often I have taken a header into the Pool before breakfast!"

"You would have been sorry to lose the book," remarked Malcolm sympathetically, as they went into the house.

"Yes," returned Elizabeth hurriedly, "it was given to me by a friend." And then she bade him good-night.

Dinah followed her into her room. "I am so glad you found it, Betty dear," she said kindly. "It was the copy David gave you at Christmas, was it not?" Elizabeth nodded.

"I do so love it," she said frankly; "and the limp leather binding and red edges are just to my taste. I always care so much more for books that are given me than for those I buy myself." Elizabeth spoke with such complete unconsciousness that Dinah thought she had made a mistake in imagining that she specially prized the book.

"Oh, I want to tell you, dear, how very kind Mr. Herrick has been." And then with many little feminine interpolations Dinah related the substance of their conversation. She was almost childishly pleased when Elizabeth graciously approved of Malcolm's suggestion.

"It really is a good idea, Die."

"And to think it never entered our heads! Don't you wonder Mr. Carlyon never thought of it?"

"Well, you see he has never taken Cedric's future into serious consideration. But what fun it would be! We would furnish his rooms so beautifully, and we could stay with him sometimes. And when he married we could build him a house that would be the envy of all the masters. Fancy Cedric marrying and our having a dear little sister-in-law of our own."

"Oh, how I shall love her!" murmured Dinah with a happy little coo of satisfaction. This was not the first time they had talked on the subject. That her darling would marry, and that she would dearly love his wife, was a foregone conclusion to Dinah.

The little fair-haired girl of her dreams was not Tina Ross, nor even pretty Nora Brent—no one that Dinah knew was quite good enough for her boy.

"You ridiculous grannie," Elizabeth once said to her, for she and Cedric often called her grannie, probably from her careful, loving, old-womanish ways, "do you suppose such a rara avis exists in Earlsfield or Rotherwood? Let me see," ticking off each qualification on her fingers, "young Mrs. Cedric Templeton must be pretty—oh, very pretty; fair, because Cedric has a fancy for fair women with blue eyes; not tall—oh, decidedly not tall; petite, graceful, and je ne sais quoi—"

"Now, Betty—"

"Betty has not finished, and does not like to be interrupted. This Blanche—shall we call her Blanche? it is short and handy—Blanche is also full of gentle animation; she is docile, yielding, and has nice caressing ways that grannie loves. Indeed, she is such a guileless, simple little creature that it is difficult to believe that she is grown up—just eighteen, I think you said, Dinah, or was, it nineteen, dear?" But Dinah refused to hear any more.

Elizabeth might laugh at her and call her grannie, but in her secret thoughts Dinah cherished a fond idea of a little fair-haired girl whom she would mother for Cedric's sake.

And now first Malcolm and then Elizabeth had given her this charming new idea.

"I am afraid you will be shocked," she said presently, "but I do not think I shall be so dreadfully disappointed if Cedric does fail in his Civil Service Examination. He might have to go to India, you see, and it would be so much nicer to keep him in England."

"The heart of man, and woman too, is deceitful and desperately wicked," and Elizabeth heaved a deep sigh. "To think that you can be so selfish, Die, as to build up your happiness on the poor lad's ruined hopes," and then she burst out laughing and took her sister by the shoulders. "Grannie," she said solemnly, "you just idolise that boy. If it would do him any good you would lie down and let him trample on you. Have I not often warned you that if you go on like this you will turn him out a full-fledged tyrant? Human nature—masculine human nature I mean," correcting herself—"will not stand it. An enfant gate is always odious to sensible people. Now, if you were to try and spoil me," expanding herself until she looked twice her size, "I should only bloom out into fresh beauty—approbation, commendation, blindfold admiration would be meat and drink to me. I have the digestion of a young ostrich," continued Elizabeth blandly—"nothing would be too difficult for me to swallow. As for satiety, my dear creature, you need never expect to hear me call out, 'Eheu, jain satis.'"

"Dear Betty, how you do talk," Dinah's usual formula; "and how I do love to hear you," she inwardly added. "But it is very late, and we shall have a tiring day to-morrow."

Dinah spoke in her cheery way, but when she was in her own room her sweet face grew pensive and a little sad. Was there not an element of truth under Elizabeth's jokes? Did she not make an idol of her young brother? Was she altogether reasonable on the subject?

"If I am weak, I trust such weakness will be forgiven me," she whispered as she stood in the perfumed darkness, with a wandering summer wind playing refreshingly round her, and tears from some hidden fount of sadness stole down her cheeks. "If he were my own child he could not be dearer to me. I remember my stepmother once told me so. 'My boy has two mothers, Dinah,' these were her very words. Well, he is my Son of Consolation," and Dinah heaved a gentle sigh, as though the motherhood within her, the divine maternal instinct inherent in all true women, felt itself satisfied.

At breakfast the next morning Malcolm proffered his services; but Elizabeth assured him that Cedric and Johnson would do all that was required, so he spent his morning indolently down by the Pool—reading and indulging in his favourite daydreams—until Cedric joined him.

Cedric looked heated and tired.

"I never saw such a person as Betty for getting work out of a fellow," he grumbled. "She would do splendidly on a rice plantation—wouldn't the niggers fly just! Why, she set me rolling the tennis lawn, because she wanted Johnson; and then I had to bicycle over to Rotherwood for something that had been forgotten. I took it out in cool drinks though, I can tell you. My word, Bet does know how to make prime claret cup"—and Cedric smacked his lips with the air of a veteran gourmand; and then he sparred at Malcolm, and called him an absent-minded beggar, and asked if he had finished his ode to the naiad of the Pool, and made sundry other aggravating remarks, which proved that he was in excellent spirits and only wanted to find a safety-valve.

Just before the first carriage drove up, Malcolm, who was standing by Elizabeth on the terrace, suggested that she and Mr. Carlyon should give him and Cedric their revenge; but she told him quite seriously that they must not think of it for the present.

"The sets are all arranged, and Dinah and I must devote ourselves to our guests," she remarked; and as this was only reasonable, Malcolm said no more.

"I am going to introduce you to Tina Ross," she continued. "There she and her sister Patty are just coming up the drive now. She is a very good player, and your opponents will be Nora Brent and Mr. Carlyon."

"We are under orders, Herrick," observed David with mock humility; and then the introduction was made and the little white and blue fairy walked off demurely enough with Malcolm.

Tina Ross was certainly a very pretty girl; she had one of those babyish sort of faces that appeal so strongly to some men; her manners were kittenish and full of vivacity, and she had a way of glancing at a person from under her long curling lashes that was considered very alluring. "Do please be good and kind to a poor little harmless thing like me," they seemed to say to each fresh comer, "for you are such a nice man;" but Malcolm, who saw plenty of girls in town, took no notice of a little country chit's airs and graces; indeed, he thought Nora Brent far more attractive—human kittens not being to his taste.

"I don't think much of the fine gentleman from London," whispered Tina rather venomously to Nora when the game was finished. "I hate a town prig like poison."

"Anyhow he played splendidly, and has given us a regular beating," returned her friend, who would willingly have exchanged partners. There was nothing exciting in playing with an old friend like David Carlyon, who was a sort of connection of the Brents, indeed, a distant, a very distant cousin: but Malcolm's dark intellectual face and rather melancholy eyes somewhat attracted Nora.

Nora had her wish presently, and again Mr. Carlyon was Malcolm's opponent; this time a Miss Douglas was his partner. It was a well-contested game, but again Malcolm was the victor; but he wore his honours meekly.

"Bravo, Mr. Herrick, and you too, Nora," exclaimed Elizabeth, clapping her hands, "you both played splendidly; now come into the hall and let me give you some claret cup;" but she lingered a moment until Mr. Carlyon came up with his partner.

"I am not in good form to-day," he said, sinking into an easy-chair as though he were tired. "I feel Mondayish—do you know what I mean, Herrick?"

"I can guess. It is a purely clerical term. You have taken it out of yourself, and then you feel a sort of reaction—or rather, to speak more correctly, a sort of depression;" but as he spoke, he realised for the first time the truth of Elizabeth's assertion that Mr. Carlyon was not strong.

Elizabeth had never looked better in Malcolm's opinion than she did that afternoon; if he had not admired her before, he must have owned then that she was a distinguished-looking woman.

She wore a gray dress of some soft material, which Malcolm, who was rather a connoisseur on feminine attire, decided in his own mind was a Paris gown,—strange to say, he was right,—and the black Gainsborough hat and feathers suited her exactly. It was evident Mr. Carlyon agreed with him, for Malcolm saw him once looking at her intently under his hand.

A little while afterwards Malcolm, who was too hot to play any more, strolled off by himself down one of the woodland paths to get cool, but to his chagrin he heard voices which told him the speakers were parallel with him, and the next minute he heard Tina Ross say pettishly—

"Did you ever see any one so ridiculous as Elizabeth Templeton; just fancy wearing her Paris gown at a trumpery little home affair like this! Talk of coquetry," in a disgusted voice, "do you suppose she did not know what she was doing when she pinned those La France roses in her dress! It is not as though she were our age; she is thirty—thirty; why, that is quite an old maid!"

"How can you be so absurd, Tiny?" It was Nora Brent who spoke. "Fancy calling Miss Elizabeth Templeton an old maid. Mamma was only saying how handsome she looked." Here Malcolm coughed rather loudly, but no one took any notice.

"Handsome is as handsome does," returned Tina, in rather a vixenish tone. "I hope you noticed, Nora, that I was never allowed to have Mr. Carlyon for a partner. Talk of Queen Elizabeth indeed—we have Queen Elizabeth the second at Staplegrove. If one spoke to the poor man it was 'hands off—don't poach on my preserves,' just as though she thought him her own property, which he is not, and never will be."

"Really, Tina, you are too bad; you ought not to say such things of our dear Miss Elizabeth. You had Mr. Herrick for your partner."

"Oh, he is a town prig," began Tina recklessly; but here Malcolm, who had cleared his voice in vain, now began to whistle with such unmistakable purpose that a dead silence ensued.

"What a spiteful little toad!" thought Malcolm, who cared nothing for fluffy hair and curling eyelashes if a shrewish tongue accompanied them.

He thought both the girls avoided him in rather a guilty fashion when he passed them on the terrace; and he was inwardly disgusted when, most of the guests having taken their leave, and supper being announced, Elizabeth asked him to take Miss Tina Ross into the dining-room; Nora followed with Mr. Carlyon, but the width of the table separated him. Malcolm paid the young lady proper attention; that is to say, he kept her plate supplied with good things, but otherwise he took very little notice of her, and talked to gentle-looking Mrs. Brent, who was on his other side.

But Tina was not used to being ignored, and by this time she had made up her mind that Malcolm could only have heard a fragment of their talk in the woodlands, so she addressed him pointedly, and obliged him to break off something he was saying to the elder lady.

"So you dined at the vicarage on Saturday, I hear. How dreadfully bored you must have been! Mr. Charrington is an old dear, but he is rather a prig. I mean"—transfixed by the sudden gleam in Malcolm's eyes—"I mean, that is—that he is so learned."

"Oh, I am quite aware of your meaning, Miss Ross," returned Malcolm quietly, "but I am rather an embryo prig myself." Then for the remainder of the meal Tina was absolutely dumb.



CHAPTER XVII

"ADIEU—AU REVOIR"

If there is power in me to help, It goeth forth beyond the present will, Clothing itself in very common deeds Of any humble day's necessity. —MACDONALD.

The pleasantest part of the whole evening to Malcolm was the hour spent on the terrace when the last guests were gone. The Brents had undertaken to drive Mr. Carlyon to the White Cottage, much to the chagrin of the Ross girls, whose homeward route took them through Rotherwood, and who also had a seat to spare. Malcolm had a dim suspicion that Elizabeth had connived at this arrangement.

"You had better go with the Brents if they ask you," she had said earlier in the evening, but he had not heard Mr. Carlyon's reply.

"Well, what do you think of little Tina?" asked Elizabeth. They were standing by the drawing-room window; Malcolm could see the mischievous look in her eyes, and refused to be drawn.

"Most people would admire her," he returned coolly.

"But unfortunately you are the exception—is that what you mean, Mr. Herrick? What a shame not to admire our pretty little blue-eyed kitten!"

"Kittens can scratch," he returned quietly; and then Elizabeth looked more amused than ever.

"What, has Tina shown her claws to you? I thought she always wore her velvet gloves for strangers. I fancied I was doing you a good turn to introduce you to the prettiest girl in Rotherwood. She and Patty will be rich too, for there is no son, and Mr. Ross is very wealthy."

"Made his fortune on the Stock Exchange," explained Cedric. "Clever old chap—shouldn't mind if he would give me the straight tip. I tell you what, Die," and here Cedric lit himself another cigarette, "if I come a cropper in the exam, the Stock Exchange would not be a bad place for me to make my little pile."

It was impossible not to laugh at Dinah's horrified face.

"Don't believe him, Die," observed Elizabeth calmly. "Cedric has no vocation for a business man—he is only teasing you. Yes, Tina and Patty will have plenty of money," but as Malcolm did not seem to warm up to any interest, Elizabeth with much tact changed the subject, and they were soon discussing the other guests.

When Malcolm woke the next morning his first feeling was regret that his visit was over. He had accepted Cedric's invitation with reluctance, and had put him off again and again. He had a remorseful consciousness that he might have been a guest at the Wood House eighteen months ago. By this time he would have been intimate with the sisters. He might—but here Malcolm leapt rather impatiently from his couch. What was the good of thinking over past mistakes! He had been a fool, and stood in his own light—that was all. During breakfast he was very cheerful, and seemed in such excellent spirits that the passing thought occurred to Elizabeth that Mr. Herrick was not sorry that his visit had ended.

"We are not clever enough for him," she said to herself regretfully; but Malcolm's next speech dispelled this idea.

Dinah had just expressed her regret at losing him.

"I have no wish to go, I assure you," was his reply; "I have never spent a happier week in my life. But you know in another two or three weeks I hope to be settled at the Crow's Nest. We shall be near neighbours then." He looked at Elizabeth as he spoke. It struck him that she was a little embarrassed. Her colour rose, and there was a slight pucker in her brow, as though something perplexed her; but the next minute it was gone.

"In that case we must fix the date for the Templeton Bean-feast," she remarked briskly. "Mr. Herrick," her voice changing to earnestness, "will it be quite impossible for Miss Sheldon to come to our garden-party. We could put her up easily—and it is really rather a pretty sight. We had two hundred people last year, and the Hungarian band."

"It was rattling good sport," chimed in Cedric. "There were fifteen of our fellows sleeping at 'The Plough,' because we had a dance in the evening; not only our house, but Hazel Beach, the Ross's house, and Brentwood Place, where Colonel Brent lives, were crammed with guests. People talked about it for a month afterwards."

"It cost a great deal of money," observed Dinah, in rather an alarmed voice. "We could not do that sort of thing again. You see, Mr. Herrick, it was really to make up to Cedric because he had no party when he came of age. I was ill just then, and we had to go away."

"No, no, you are quite right, Die, we must keep our Bean-feast within limits," returned Elizabeth soothingly. "We thought of fixing the twentieth of August," she continued, addressing Malcolm. "That is nearly a month later than last year, I expect most of our inner circle friends will be away, but we shall have a good house-party; and with some of Cedric's Oxford friends we shall be able to infuse sufficient new life into our country clique. Well, Mr. Herrick, is that likely to suit Miss Sheldon?"

"I am afraid not," he returned regretfully, for he was really quite touched at this thoughtfulness on her part. And how Anna would have loved it! "They will be at Whitby by that time. But I will tell her of your kind thought for her." And then, as it was getting late, for they had lingered pleasantly over the meal, he went off to make his preparations, and half an hour afterwards the dog-cart was brought to the door.

"Good-bye, we shall miss you so much," observed Dinah almost affectionately; "but we shall see plenty of you when you are at the Crow's Nest."

"I hope so. Thank you, dear Miss Templeton, for all your kind hospitality," and then it was Elizabeth's turn.

"Adieu—au revoir, Mr. Herrick," but she pressed his hand very kindly as she spoke, and her eyes had a friendly beam in them.

"Au revoir, and thanks to you too," returned Malcolm; but the smile on his face was a little forced.

As the dog-cart turned the corner he looked back. The sisters were still standing side by side. Elizabeth waved her hand. She was no longer the stately-looking woman in the Paris gown and picture hat, who had moved with such a queenly step among her guests. This was a far homelier Elizabeth, in the old striped blouse and battered garden hat, only this morning Malcolm found no fault with it. He was very silent for some time, but as he leant back in the dog-cart with folded arms and closely compressed lips, there was a glow in his dark eyes that somewhat contradicted his outward calmness.

"And you are going down to the Manor House on Thursday," observed Cedric, as they came in sight of the station. "What a pity my Henley visit is put off till the following week, or we might have had a good old time together."

"Oh, I don't know," rather absently; "you will be too much taken up with your new friends to want an old stager like me."

"You are wrong there," returned the lad eagerly. "I should be glad to have your opinion of"—he hesitated, and then finished lamely, "of the Jacobis, I mean. You are such a judge of character, and all that sort of thing."

"Am I?" with a smile; but they had no time to say more, as the London train was signalled.

An hour and a half later Malcolm was in his chambers in Lincoln's Inn, opening his letters and dashing off replies, to be posted in due time by the obsequious Malachi. Malcolm found so much to occupy him that he decided not to go to Queen's Gate until the following evening, and sent Anna a line to that effect. He felt a quiet evening at Cheyne Walk would be more in harmony with his feelings.

As he crossed the broad space at the foot of the steps in Lincoln's Inn, he overtook Caleb Martin wheeling the perambulator. Kit had her new doll hugged in her thin little arms.

"Oh, dad, do stop," she exclaimed eagerly; "it is the gentleman what gave me my baby;" and then Malcolm stepped up to the perambulator.

"Kit has been looking out for you the last week, sir," observed Caleb in his humble, flurried way. "She won't even take notice of the pigeons; her heart is so set on thanking you for the doll. It is my belief that she thinks it is alive the way she goes on with it."

"My baby's asleep—should you like to see her open her eyes?" asked Kit with maternal pride. "She has blue eyes, she has, like dad's and mine—only prettier. She is just the beautifullest thing I ever saw, ain't she, dad? and Ma'am says she must have cost a lot."

Malcolm smiled, but there was a pitiful look in his eyes. Even in these few days Kit's face had grown thinner and more pinched, and the shrill voice was weaker. There was no longer a stiff halo of curls under the sun-bonnet; they hung in limp wisps about her face.

"Has the child been ill?" he asked, and then Caleb looked at him in a dazed, nervous fashion.

"Not to call ill, sir, but just a bit piny and dwiny from the heat. Our place is like the Black Hole of Calcutta for stuffiness. She is that languid and fretty that we can't get her to eat, so my wife made me take her out for an airing."

Malcolm pondered for a moment. Then a sudden inspiration came to him. There was a fruiterer in the Strand, and he was just thinking of carrying a basket of fruit to Verity. He bade Caleb follow him slowly, and a few minutes later a great bunch of roses and a paper bag of white-heart cherries and another of greengages were packed into the perambulator; some sponge-cakes and a crisp little brown loaf were also purchased for Kit's tea, and then they went rejoicing on their way. As Malcolm walked on he made up his mind that his first act when he arrived at the Crow's Nest would be to take counsel with Elizabeth. "The child will die if something is not done for her," he said to himself; "perhaps she will be able to suggest something;" but it never occurred to him to confide in his mother. "Individual cases do not appeal to her," he had once said to Anna. "She prefers to work on a more extended scale," and though Anna contradicted this with unusual warmth, Malcolm had some grounds for his sweeping assertion.

Malcolm spent the evening very pleasantly discussing future arrangements with his friends. To his satisfaction the room he coveted was at once allotted to him, with the title of "The Prophet's Chamber;" and, as he professed himself quite content with the bedroom in the garden-house, matters were soon settled, and both Verity and Amias looked pleased when Malcolm announced his intention of spending most of his summer vacation at the Crow's Nest. They talked a good deal about the Wood House. Malcolm gave graphic descriptions of the house and the garden and the Pool, and he also drew rather a charming picture of the elder Miss Templeton.

"She is lovely in my opinion," he said in his enthusiastic way. "I quite long for you to see her, Verity. She is just a gray-haired girl. She has the secret of perpetual youth. She is as guileless and simple as a child—any one could deceive her, and yet she is wise too."

"And her sister?" asked Verity, as Malcolm paused.

"Oh, Miss Elizabeth Templeton is quite different," returned Malcolm hurriedly, as he filled his pipe; "it is not easy to describe her—you must judge of her yourself."

"Then she is not as nice as this wonderful Dinah?" observed Verity in a disappointed tone.

"Oh, yes, she is quite as nice," he returned briefly; "but the sisters are utterly dissimilar." And not another word could Verity, with all her teasing, extract from Malcolm.

"I should like you to be perfectly unbiassed in your opinion," he remarked sententiously. Verity made a naughty little face in the darkness.

"I wonder if it is the Crow's Nest, our society, or Miss Elizabeth Templeton that is the attraction," she thought. But, being a loyal little soul, she never hinted at a certain suspicion that had taken possession of her mind, even to her husband.

Malcolm received a warm welcome from his mother and Anna the next evening. He found them sitting by one of the open windows in the large drawing-room. Mrs. Herrick was working, and Anna was reading to her. The sun-blinds had just been raised, and the fresh evening air blew refreshingly through the wide room. The tall green palms behind them made a pleasant background to Anna's white dress. It struck Malcolm that she looked paler and more tired, and her eyes had a heavy, languid look. To his surprise Mrs. Herrick spoke of it at once.

"Anna is not looking her best this evening, Malcolm," she said as he sat down between them; "this great heat tries her. Dr. Armstrong thinks we ought to leave town as soon as possible, so we are going to Whitby a week earlier."

"Mother has cancelled a lot of her engagements," observed Anna, looking at her affectionately. "I am so sorry to give her all this trouble." But Mrs. Herrick would not allow her to finish.

"Mothers are only too glad to take trouble for their children," she said kindly. "Anna has been behaving badly, Malcolm; she fainted at church on Sunday, and had one of her worst sick headaches afterwards."

There was unmistakable anxiety in Malcolm's eyes when he heard this, but Anna only laughed it off. The church was hot, she said, any one might have fainted. But the sea-breezes would soon set her up; they had beautiful rooms quite close to the sea, with a wide balcony where they could spend their evenings.

"I hope you will come down to us for a week or two," observed his mother presently. Malcolm felt rather a twinge of conscience as he replied that he feared this was impossible; he had some literary work on hand, which he intended to do at Staplegrove. Mrs. Keston was able to spare him a nice room, which he could use as a study; and so he had made his arrangements. And then he added rather regretfully that, as he was going to the Manor House the following afternoon, he feared that he should not see them again. Mrs. Herrick said no more, she was not a woman to waste words unnecessarily; but she was undoubtedly much disappointed, and even a little hurt, and for the moment Anna looked grave. At dinnertime she made an effort to recover her spirits, and questioned Malcolm about his new acquaintances at the Wood House; and on this occasion he was less reticent.

But it was not until his mother had left them alone together that he told Anna of Elizabeth's kind invitation.

A surprised flush came to the girl's face.

"Do you think you could possibly manage it, dear?" he asked with brotherly solicitude. But he was sorry to see how her lips trembled.

"Oh no—no, you must not tempt me," very hurriedly; "it is quite—quite impossible. I must not think of it for a moment, Malcolm," trying to speak calmly. "I am so grateful to you for not speaking of this before mother; it would trouble her so, and quite spoil her pleasure; mother is so sharp, she always finds out things, and she would know at once that I should like to go to the Wood House."

"Then I was right when I told Miss Elizabeth so," returned Malcolm. "It is just the place you would like, Anna; I know you would be happy with those kind women."

"I do not doubt it for a moment," and Anna's voice was rather melancholy. "I should so love to know your friends, Malcolm; it all sounds so lovely, and you would be near, and—and it was so dear of Miss Elizabeth to think of it. Will you thank her for me, Malcolm, and tell her that mother needs me so much, and that she has no one else."

"Did you mean that for a hit at me, Anna dear?" and Malcolm's voice was rather reproachful.

"For you," looking at him tenderly, "oh no—no, Malcolm;" and then to his dismay she suddenly burst into tears.

"Don't mind me, I am silly to-night," she said, struggling to regain her composure. "Mother is right, and I am not quite well, and—and things will go crooked in this world." But though Malcolm petted her, and called her a foolish child, and his dear little sister, Anna did not regain her former cheerfulness. And when Mrs. Herrick joined them she said her head had begun aching again, and that she would go to bed.

Malcolm wished her good-night at the foot of the staircase, and watched her until she was out of sight. His mother looked at him a little keenly when he rejoined her.

"What have you and Anna been talking about?" she asked rather abruptly; "the child does not look quite happy."

"We were only talking about the ladies of the Wood House," he returned quietly. "Anna thinks she would like to make their acquaintance some day." But Mrs. Herrick made no reply to this; she was regarding her son thoughtfully, and her strong, sensible face wore an expression almost of sadness. But she gave him no clue to her feelings, and when the time came for him to take his leave her manner was more affectionate than usual.

She was still on the balcony as he passed out, and a cheery "Good-night, my son," floated down to him. But as she stood listening to his departing footsteps she said to herself, "He is changed somehow, he is not quite himself, and Anna has noticed it. I wonder"—and here she sighed rather heavily—"I wonder what sort of woman this Miss Elizabeth Templeton can be."



CHAPTER XVIII

"YES, SHE GAVE HIM UP"

Thou art so good, So calm!—If thou shouldst wear a brow less light For some wild thought which, but for me, were kept From out thy soul as from a sacred star! —BROWNING.

To every living soul that same He saith, "Be faithful;" whatsoever else we be, Let us be faithful, challenging His faith. —CHRISTINA ROSSETTI.

The Manor House where the Godfreys lived was a fine old red-brick Elizabethan house, standing about a quarter of a mile from the river.

A delightful garden surrounded it, but the chief point of attraction to visitors was a terrace walk, shaded by old chestnut trees, which formed its extreme boundary, and which, on the hottest summer's day, offered a cool and shady retreat.

The terrace was broad, and at one end was a sort of loggia or alcove built of grayish-white stone, with a wide stone bench running round it. From this point there was a charming view of the river between the trees, and it was here that Malcolm found his hostess on his arrival at the Manor House.

Mrs. Godfrey was reading in the loggia, with her husband's magnificent deer-hounds lying at her feet. She laid aside her book and welcomed her visitor with a warmth and cordiality that were evidently sincere. Strangers who saw Mrs. Godfrey for the first time were generally apt to remark that she was one of the plainest women they had ever seen; and they would add in a parenthesis, "It is such a pity, for the Colonel is so handsome." But even the most critical agreed that no woman could be more charming. She had spent a great deal of her life abroad, and her easy, well-bred manner, her savoir-faire and broad, sagacious views on every subject, had been gained in the world's academy. In spite of her goodness of heart and real unselfishness, she was essentially a woman of the world. Little as Malcolm guessed it at that time, she was Elizabeth Templeton's greatest friend; indeed, both the sisters were devoted to her, and some of Elizabeth's happiest and gayest hours had been spent in the Manor House.

"I certainly never hoped to find you alone," were Malcolm's first words. Mrs. Godfrey smiled.

"It is almost an unprecedented fact in the Manor House annals," she returned gaily; "but we shall be absolutely alone until Tuesday, and then every room will be filled. If you had consented to stay for a week, I could have promised you a big affair on a steam-launch, a picnic, and a tennis tournament; but now our solitary function will be a garden-party on Monday."

"Please do not speak in such an apologetic tone," replied Malcolm. "If you knew how my soul abhors picnics and water-parties! It is really too delightful to know that I may enjoy your society in peace for three whole days. By the bye, where is the Colonel?"

"Oh, Alick has gone to Henley to see an old chum of his, but he will be back in good time for dinner. Is it not lovely down here, Mr. Herrick? I thought it would be such a pity to go indoors that I told Deacon that we would have tea here." Then, as Malcolm signified his approval of this arrangement, they sauntered slowly down the terrace, that Malcolm might take in all points of the extensive view. When they retraced their steps to the loggia, the butler and footman were setting out a rustic tea-table.

"And so you have been staying at the Wood House?" began Mrs. Godfrey as she handed Malcolm his tea. "Elizabeth Templeton's letter this morning almost took my breath away. What a small world it is after all, Mr. Herrick!"

"Life treads on life," murmured Malcolm, "and heart on heart;"

"We press too close in church or mart To keep a dream or grave apart."

"How true!" was the quiet rejoinder. "Mrs. Browning said that. Well, do you know, I was quite childishly surprised when I heard you had been a guest at the Wood House. 'Mr. Herrick has only just left us,' were Elizabeth's words; 'Cedric is driving him to the station; we have greatly enjoyed his visit,' etcetera, etcetera."

Then a slight flush came to Malcolm's dark face.

"I had a very pleasant time," he returned; "they were most kind and hospitable. Miss Templeton is one of the most charming women I have ever met."

"Dear Dinah—yes, she is very sweet. I do not think I have ever seen her ruffled. She is just lovely. But it is Elizabeth who is my friend."

"Indeed!"

"Our friendship is a very real one," continued Mrs. Godfrey thoughtfully; "and next to my husband there is no one whom I could trust as I could Elizabeth Templeton. She is very strong."

"Oh yes, she is very strong," in a ruminative manner.

"Have you found that out already?" in a surprised tone. "But I remember you are a student of human nature, Mr. Herrick, and rather a keen observer. Most people would not be able to diagnose Elizabeth Templeton's character correctly at the end of one short week. When I was first introduced to her, thirteen or fourteen years ago, I told Alick that I should never get on with any one who was so reserved and so stand-offish, but I soon changed my opinion. I found out that a great deal of her reserve was in reality shyness, and that her frankness and openness of disposition were her chief charms."

"And then you became friends?"

"Yes; but not for a long time. We are neither of us at all gushing, and I was an old married woman, you know. But there came a time when she needed my help—when she was in anxiety—and a woman's counsel and woman's sympathy were a comfort to her." Here Mrs. Godfrey paused as she became aware of the concentrated keenness in Malcolm's eyes, and added hastily, "The trouble was not her own; but it is Elizabeth's nature to take the burdens of others on her own shoulders. I never knew any one capable of such intense sympathy. It is a rare gift, Mr. Herrick, but it brings its possessor great suffering."

"You are right," in a low tone.

"I knew then that she was a woman in a thousand, and we have been close and dear friends ever since. Not that we often meet. She is a busy woman and so am I, but we generally stay at the Wood House once a year, and Elizabeth comes to me for a few days' rest and refreshment whenever she can spare the time. Alick teases me sometimes about my lady-love, but I assure you that he is very fond of her, and is always delighted to hear she is coming to the Manor House."

Malcolm listened to this with deep interest. It seemed to him that every one who spoke to him of Elizabeth Templeton praised her without stint or limit; she was evidently much beloved, and the very fact that a person like Mrs. Godfrey should choose her for her most trusted friend was no mean title of honour; never was there a woman more fastidious and discriminating in her ideas of female friendship.

Malcolm would willingly have heard more, but a curious sort of embarrassment and a fear of betraying too deep an interest made him speak of her sister.

"Miss Templeton seems to have a happy nature," he said a little abruptly. "I never saw any one so perfectly peaceful and serene; it makes one better only to look at her. Her hair is gray, and yet when she smiles one is reminded of an innocent child, it is such a perfectly radiant expression."

"Yes, I know. Dear Dinah, she has the secret of perpetual youth. She is one of 'the little ones'—you know what I mean. When I talk to her, as I tell Elizabeth sometimes, I feel such a worldly, frivolous creature. Her sister perfectly realises this, for she has the prettiest names for her. 'That angel-woman,' I have heard her say that; very often she calls her 'das Engelkind;' and without exaggeration she has a rare and beautiful nature."

Malcolm assented to this, then he said slowly, "Has it ever struck you that there are no lines on Miss Templeton's face? I should think her life-story must be a happy one. I mean, that she has not known any very great trouble." Then rather a peculiar expression crossed Mrs. Godfrey's face. "Ah, I see I have made a mistake," observed Malcolm quickly.

"Yes, you have made a mistake," she replied a little sadly. "Did you really think that even Dinah Templeton could have her forty years in the wilderness without her share of pain and difficulty? Well, it is ancient history, and there is no harm in telling you what every one knows, that in the bloom of her fresh young womanhood she had a sore trial and a great sorrow."

"You say every one knows about it?" returned Malcolm eagerly.

"Yes, every one in Staplegrove and Earlsfield. Oh, I can read your face; you would like to hear about it. Well, there is no harm in my telling you. When Dinah Templeton was about three-or four-and-twenty she was engaged to Douglas Fraser, a doctor just beginning practice in Earlsfield."

"Mr. Templeton was living at that time, and approved of the engagement. Dr. Eraser was devoted to his profession. He was a rising man, and people predicted that before many years were over he would make his mark."

"Douglas Fraser, the great authority on neurotic diseases in Harley Street!" exclaimed Malcolm in a tone of intense surprise. Mrs. Godfrey nodded.

"As a young man I have been told that he was perfectly irresistible. Even now he is a grand-looking man of commanding presence, with a fine intellectual head and face. And as for Dinah, she must have been one of the sweetest-looking creatures on God's earth."

"Well, they were engaged, and if ever a young pair of human lovers walked in the Garden of Eden, Dinah and Douglas Fraser were that couple—until the cloud came that was to eclipse their happiness in this world. There is no need for me to enter into the matter very fully, though I know everything. One unhappy day Dinah discovered that Dr. Fraser was an agnostic—that for some time he had had grave doubts on the subject of revealed religion, which he had kept to himself for fear of distressing her; but now a sense of honour compelled him to tell her the truth. He had lost his faith, and he no longer believed in anything but science."

"Good heavens, what a shock!" ejaculated Malcolm.

"You may well say so," returned Mrs. Godfrey sadly. "It was no light cross that Dinah had to bear. Even in her youth she was intensely religious. Religion was not a portion of her life, it was her life itself. To such a nature the idea of marrying an agnostic was practically impossible. 'If I marry Douglas I shall be committing a great sin,' she said to her sister; 'I shall be denying my Lord and Master;' and in the semi-delirium in the illness that ensued, Elizabeth could hear her say over and over again, 'Whoso loveth father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.'"

"And she actually gave him up."

"Yes, she gave him up, though it broke her heart and his to do so. I believe that he suffered terribly, and that he used every argument in his power to shake her resolution, but in vain."

"She had a long illness after that. Elizabeth took her abroad. It was at Rome that I met them, and after a time we became intimate. Poor Dinah had a relapse, and I assisted Elizabeth in nursing her. Well, Mr. Herrick, I can read a question in your eyes."

"Yes, there is one thing I want to know—has not Dr. Fraser married?"

"To be sure he has; but he did not marry for some years. He left Earlsfield and took a London practice, and his career has been a brilliant one."

"I believe Mrs. Fraser is a lovely woman, and they have three beautiful children. But the strangest part of my story is still to be told—Douglas Fraser is no longer an agnostic."

Malcolm looked at her silently; but Mrs. Godfrey said no more, and not for worlds would he have asked another question. He could see that she was deeply moved, for her lip quivered a little. He rose from the bench and paced up and down the terrace, listening to the faint soughing of the dark chestnut leaves and looking at the cool, silvery gleam of the river between the tree-boles.

Malcolm was a man of intensely imaginative and sympathetic nature. His mother had once told him that he had something of the woman in him. And certainly no one was more capable of filling up the outlines of the story he had just heard and giving it life and colouring.

"I admired her before," he said to himself, "but I shall look upon her as a saint now. She has had her martyrdom, if ever woman had, and has fought her fight nobly;" and then, with that clear insight that seemed natural to him, he added, "She knows that he has come right, and this is the secret of her serenity," which was indeed the truth, though not the whole truth; for Dinah Templeton had indeed realised her Master's words, that through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.

When Mrs. Godfrey rejoined Malcolm her husband was with her. Malcolm always declared that Colonel Godfrey was his typical and ideal Englishman. He was a well-built, soldierly-looking man of unusually fine presence. As he was over fifty, his golden-brown moustache was slightly grizzled, and the hair had worn off his forehead; but he was still strikingly handsome. He and his wife were alone. Both their sons were in the Indian army, and their only daughter was married and lived in Yorkshire.

"We are just an old Darby and Joan," Mrs. Godfrey would say; but though she was only a year or two younger than her husband, she wore remarkably well, and still looked a comparatively young woman.

Colonel Godfrey and Malcolm were excellent friends, and in a few minutes they were strolling through the fields towards the river-bank, talking on various topics of social and political interest, while Mrs. Godfrey returned to the house to write letters and dress for dinner.

It was not until the following afternoon that Malcolm found an opportunity of sounding Mrs. Godfrey on the subject of the Jacobis.

They were sitting in the loggia again, and the row of dark chestnut trees looked almost black against the intense blue of the sky.

A faint breeze was just stirring the leaves, and every now and then a sort of ripple of sunlight seemed to streak the sombre foliage with gold. On the terrace there was a wealth of sunshine, and the stones felt hot to the feet. Only under the chestnuts tiny flickering shadows seemed to dance in and out among the tree-boles.

Colonel Godfrey had just been summoned to a business interview, and for the first time that day Malcolm found himself alone with his hostess. "Oh, by the bye," he observed rather abruptly, "there is something I want to ask you. There are some people of the name of Jacobi who have taken a house at Henley. I wonder if you have come across them."

"To be sure I have," in rather a surprised tone. "Miss Jacobi called here on Tuesday. Mrs. Sinclair drove her over."

"Well, I want you to tell me what you think of them," asked Malcolm. An amused look came into Mrs. Godfrey's eyes, and she held up her finger in chiding fashion.

"Oh, fie, for shame, Mr. Herrick! You are deep—deep. So the handsome siren has attracted you too."

"Handsome siren," repeated Malcolm with unnecessary energy. "Why, what nonsense you are talking, my dear lady. I never saw Miss Jacobi in my life. It is Miss Templeton who desires information, and I promised her that I would sound you on the subject." Then the mischievous spark died out of Mrs. Godfrey's eyes.

"Miss Templeton! Do you mean Dinah? What on earth can be the connection between her and the Jacobis. They were certainly not on hers or Elizabeth's visiting-list when I was last at the Wood House."

"No, they are complete strangers to them," was Malcolm's reply; "but Cedric has come across them and seems rather thick with them. He is going to stay at Beechcroft—is that not the name of the place they have taken for the season?"

"Yes, I believe so," returned Mrs. Godfrey in rather a perturbed tone. "Cedric, that boy, going to stay with the Jacobis!" And then she broke off and said abruptly, "I am sorry to hear it. I should not care for one of my boys to be thrown much into the society of Saul Jacobi and his sister."



CHAPTER XIX

"A TOUCH OF THE TARTAR"

Here comes the lady: O, so light a foot Will ne'er wear out the everlasting flint. —Romeo and Juliet.

When you doubt, abstain. —Zoroaster

Malcolm gave a slight start of dismay. Mrs. Godfrey's manner conveyed more than her words; in spite of his secret prejudice, he was not prepared for so strong an expression of disapproval. She was a woman of sound judgment, and very charitable in her estimate of people, and he knew that he could rely on her opinion. Her intuitions were seldom at fault. Whether she blamed or praised it was always with rare discrimination and perfect justice, and she was never impulsive or rash in her verdicts.

There was a moment's silence. A blackbird, evidently attracted by Mrs. Godfrey's clear, resonant voice, had perched on the stone parapet beside them and watched them in bright-eyed curiosity. Then, as Malcolm moved his arm, it flew off, with clucking notes of warning, to rejoin its mate.

"I am rather troubled to hear you say this," began Malcolm. "Will you tell me all you know about these people?"

"That is just the difficulty," returned Mrs. Godfrey slowly. "No one seems to know much about them. Even Mrs. Sinclair, who has taken them up so lately, knows scarcely anything of their antecedents. As far as I remember, Mrs. Sinclair asked me one day if I were not going to call on the Jacobis. 'They are perfectly charming,' were her words. 'They are a brother and a sister who have taken Beechcroft for the season. They seem wealthy people and live in good style, and Miss Jacobi is one of the handsomest women I have ever seen.'"

"And this was all?" as Mrs. Godfrey paused.

"It was all I could gather. Mr. Sinclair certainly told Alick that he understood that Mr. Jacobi had made his money in business—something connected with a mining company, he believed. But no one seemed to know exactly, and the Jacobis are rather reticent about their own concerns. They seem to have a large visiting-list, and to know some big people."

"And Miss Jacobi called here?"

"Yes, Mrs. Sinclair brought her; but I confess I was somewhat embarrassed by the visit—it has placed me in an awkward predicament. I have no wish to make their acquaintance, but I cannot well be unneighbourly; one meets them everywhere, so Alick tells me that I must get rid of my insular prejudices and leave our cards at Beechcroft."

"It must be an awful nuisance," replied Malcolm sympathetically.

"Oh, I don't know; Miss Jacobi is very civil and pleasant. She is rather a reserved sort of woman, but remarkably good-looking, and she dresses beautifully. I am afraid," with a laugh, "all you gentlemen will lose your hearts to her. Even Alick raves about her. He declares they must be Italian Jews, although they have lived in England and America all their lives. Miss Jacobi has certainly rather a Jewish type of face, and she has the clear olive complexion of the Italian. Well, you will see them for yourself on Sunday, for they are regular church-goers, though Mr. Jacobi's behaviour during service is not always edifying. They have seats near us, and it irritates me dreadfully to see him lounging and yawning while other people are saying their prayers."

"Does Miss Jacobi lounge too?" in an amused tone.

"No, she behaves far better than her brother. I must confess to you, Mr. Herrick, that I am rather prejudiced against Mr. Jacobi. I do not like either his face or his manners; his eyes are too close together, and this, in my opinion, gives him rather a crafty look; and in manner he is self-assertive and ostentatious."

"I know what you mean," returned Malcolm with a laugh; "he spells me and mine with a capital M." Mrs. Godfrey nodded.

"Mrs. Sinclair tells me that the brother and sister are devoted to each other, but that Miss Jacobi seems to defer to her brother's opinion in everything. But there, I have told you all I know, and you must find out the rest for yourself."

"I shall keep my eyes open, I assure you," was Malcolm's reply. And then he continued in a perplexed tone, "How on earth did Cedric get hold of them?" But as Mrs. Godfrey could not answer this, Malcolm allowed the subject to drop. In his case forewarned was forearmed, and but for his promise to Dinah and his very real concern for Cedric, he would have given the Jacobis a wide berth.

It was only natural, however, that his curiosity should be strongly excited by this conversation, and when on the following morning they took their seats in church, his attention wandered at the sound of every footstep in the aisle.

The service had commenced before the vacant seats near them were occupied. Malcolm had a momentary glimpse of a tall, graceful-looking figure, in soft, diaphanous raiment, that seemed to pass them very swiftly; he even caught a strange, subtle fragrance that seemed to linger in the air; and then they all knelt down and Miss Jacobi buried her face in her hands, and her brother removed his lavender kid gloves with elaborate care as though Saul Jacobi had nothing in common with the rest of the miserable sinners. During the rest of the service Malcolm had plenty of opportunity for studying his physiognomy, for he turned round more than once and encountered Malcolm's eyes.

He was certainly handsome in his way. His features were good, though of the pronounced Jewish type; but his dark, brilliant eyes had a shifty look in them—probably, as Mrs. Godfrey suggested, from their being set a little closely together. In age he appeared to be between thirty and forty.

He could see little of Miss Jacobi except the dark, glossy coil of hair under her hat; for during the entire service she was as motionless as a statue, and never once turned her face in Malcolm's direction—even when her brother spoke to her she answered without looking at him. Whether Miss Jacobi was a devout worshipper or a mere automaton was not for him to judge; she might have her own reasons for not joining in the singing.

Colonel Godfrey was always a little fussy about his hat in church, and so it was that Malcolm and Mrs. Godfrey were still in their places when the Jacobis passed their pew. Malcolm seized his opportunity and looked well at Miss Jacobi, but she did not appear to notice him.

She was certainly a most striking-looking woman. Indeed, Malcolm's trained eye was obliged to confess that she was really beautiful. The features were perfect, and the clear olive complexion, just flushed with heat, was wonderfully effective, while the large, melancholy eyes were full of a strange, flashing light.

"What a superb creature!" was Malcolm's first unuttered thought. His second showed his keen insight—"But it is not a happy face, and with all its beauty, there is no restfulness of expression."

Colonel Godfrey was still brushing his hat in the anxious manner peculiar to the well-dressed Englishman when they reached the porch. To Malcolm's surprise he saw Miss Jacobi and her brother in animated conversation with a little group of ladies, made up of Etheridges and Sinclairs. Malcolm, who knew them all, was at once greeted as an old acquaintance, and, to Mrs. Godfrey's secret amusement, the Jacobis were introduced to him. Miss Jacobi bowed to him in rather a grave, reserved manner, but her brother shook hands with real or assumed cordiality.

"I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Herrick," he observed volubly. "We have a mutual friend, I believe. What a capital fellow Templeton is—charming—charming! We are going to put him up at our diggings for a few days;" and then before Malcolm could answer, some one tapped Mr. Jacobi on the shoulder and asked him a question, and Malcolm found himself beside Miss Jacobi.

"Mr. Templeton is an intimate friend of yours, is he not?" she asked carelessly. Her voice was very full and rich, but she spoke slowly, as though she were accustomed to weigh each word. It struck Malcolm that she listened with some intentness to his answer.

"Oh yes, we are very good friends," he returned with studied indifference.

"Mr. Templeton is more demonstrative," she said with a curiously grave smile that seemed habitual to her. "He sings your praises, Mr. Herrick; you would be amused to hear him. It is so refreshing to find any one natural and unconventional in this world; but he is so nice and frank—a nice boy," with a low laugh that showed her white teeth. Mr. Jacobi turned round at the sound.

"Come, Leah," he said impatiently; "the horses are tired of standing, and I want my luncheon." Miss Jacobi bowed in rather a hurried fashion and at once rejoined her brother. Malcolm looked after the mail phaeton as it dashed down the road, but he made no response as Mr. Jacobi waved his whip to him in an airy fashion.

"Well, Mr. Herrick," said Mrs. Godfrey quietly, "I suppose I may ask your opinion now?"

"I do not think I am anxious for a further acquaintance," returned Malcolm grimly. "The big M's are too much in evidence for my taste. I suppose I am a bit of a misanthrope, but I hate to be hail-fellow-well-met with every one. Why, that fellow Jacobi actually patronised me, patted me on the back, don't you know. He might have known me for six months."

"I call that sort of thing bad form," observed Colonel Godfrey. "Jacobi is too smooth and plausible. My wife will have it that he is not a gentleman."

"Oh, Alick, you ought not to have repeated that."

"Why not, my dear lady?" observed Malcolm. "You are perfectly safe with me. I expect we think alike there. Somehow Jacobi has not the right cut."

"But his sister is very ladylike," murmured Mrs. Godfrey, her kindly heart accusing her of censoriousness and want of charity. Both the gentlemen agreed to this. Then Malcolm, true to his character as a lover of the picturesque, launched into unrestrained praise of Miss Jacobi's beauty.

"If my friend Keston were to see her," he remarked, "he would be wild to paint her as Rebekah at the well—or Ruth in the harvest-fields. One does not often see a face like Miss Jacobi's." And then after a little more talk they reached the Manor House.

The following morning Malcolm spent on the river, and late in the afternoon they drove to Glebelands—where the Etheridges lived.

The beautiful grounds sloping to the river presented a most animated scene. A band was playing, and a gaily-dressed crowd streamed from the house on to the lawn. Canoes, punts, and a tiny steam-launch were ready for any guests who wished to enjoy the river; and the croquet, archery, and tennis grounds were well filled.

Tea and refreshments were served in a huge marquee just below the house. Malcolm, who met several people whom he knew, soon began to enjoy himself, and he was deep in conversation with a young artist when Miss Jacobi and her brother passed them; she bowed to Malcolm with rather a pleased smile of recognition.

"What, do you know la belle Jacobi?" observed his friend enviously. "What a lucky fellow you are! Look here, couldn't you do a good turn for a chap and introduce me?"

"My dear Rodney, I have not spoken a dozen words to Miss Jacobi myself. Get one of the Etheridge girls to do the job for you. You had better look sharp," he continued, "for there is quite a small crowd of men round her now;" and as Mr. Rodney speedily acted on this hint, Malcolm joined some more of his friends.

Later in the afternoon, as he was listening to the band, he saw Miss Jacobi opposite to him; she had still a little court round her, and seemed talking with great animation. She looked far handsomer than on the previous day, and her dress became her perfectly. She wore a cream-coloured transparent stuff over yellow silk, her Gainsborough hat was cream-colour and yellow too, and she carried a loosely-dropping posy of tea-roses, and two or three rosebuds of the same warm hue were nestled at her throat. The contrast of her dark eyes and hair and warm olive complexion was simply superb, and Malcolm secretly clapped his hands and murmured "bravo" under his breath. "She has the soul of the coquette and the artist too," he said to himself. "Oh, woman, woman, surely Solomon had you in his thoughts when he declared 'All is vanity;'" and then he remembered Elizabeth Templeton and felt ashamed of his cynicism. The next moment he noticed the coast was clear, and obeying an involuntary impulse he crossed the lawn.

Miss Jacobi welcomed him with a soft, flickering smile, but did not speak.

"Your court has deserted you, Miss Jacobi?"

"Not entirely," she returned. "Captain Fawcett has gone to fetch me an ice—it is so hot in the tent—and Mr. Dysart is looking for my fan; they will be back presently." She spoke in rather a weary tone.

"Why do you stand here?" he remonstrated. "There is a vacant seat under that acacia, and you will hear the music quite well. There, let me take you to it; the afternoon is unusually warm, in spite of the river breeze." Rather to his surprise, she bent her head in assent, in her queenly way, and he guided her to the cool retreat.

"Will you not sit down too?" she asked in rather a hesitating manner, but there was no coquetry in her glance. Malcolm shook his head.

"I must look out for Dysart and the other man," he observed, "or they will think I have spirited you away. I am not the least tired. What a pretty scene it is, Miss Jacobi! Look at those children dancing under the elm trees."

"They seem very happy," was her reply; but there was a sad expression in her eyes. "Certainly childhood is the happiest time in one's life. If it could only last for ever!"

"Are you sure you mean what you say?" replied Malcolm in a grave, argumentative tone. "Remember it is the age of ignorance as well as innocence; with knowledge comes responsibility and the pains and penalties of life, nevertheless few of us desire to remain children."

"I am one of the few," she returned curtly.

"I cannot believe that," and Malcolm smiled; "but I grant you that the best and highest natures have some-thing of the child in them. As Mencius says, 'The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart.'"

Miss Jacobi looked impressed.

"That is well said," she replied softly. "Mr. Herrick, I think your friend Mr. Templeton is rather like that: he is so young and fresh, it is delightful to listen to him. He is two-and-twenty, is he not? and he is such a boy." She laughed an odd, constrained little laugh as she said this, and added in a curious undertone, "And I am only nine-and-twenty, and I feel as though I were seventy. See what responsibilities and the pains and penalties of life do for a woman!"

It was a strange speech, and a strange flash of the eye accompanied it; then her tone and manner suddenly changed, as a footstep in their vicinity reached her ear.

"Saul, were you looking for me?" she said, starting from her seat. "I was tired, so Mr. Herrick found me this nice shady place. I suppose it is time for us to go."

"Well, we have a dinner-party on to-night," returned her brother blandly, "and it will hardly do for the hostess to be late. Wait a moment, Leah," as she was about to take leave of Malcolm, "I found Dysart hunting for your fan, so I told him I had it. It cost ten guineas, you remember," in a meaning tone. Then Miss Jacobi flushed a little as she took it from his hand.

"I must have dropped it in the tent-there was such a crush," she murmured. "Good-bye, Mr. Herrick, I am much rested now."

"Good-bye, Herrick," observed Mr. Jacobi in a familiar tone that grated on Malcolm; "we shall be very glad to see you at Beechcroft when young Templeton is with us. It is Telemachus and Mentor over again, is it not?" and here he broke into a little cackling laugh. "Well, ta-ta. Come along, Leah;" and taking his sister by the arm, Mr. Jacobi quickly crossed the lawn with her.

"He is a cad if ever a man was," mused Malcolm as he followed them slowly; "and if I do not mistake there is a touch of the Tartar about him. She may be a devoted sister, as Mrs. Sinclair observes, but she is afraid of him all the same."

"What a strange girl she seems," he continued—"woman rather, I should say; for there is little of the girl about her. Somehow she interests me, and she puzzles me too. She is so beautiful—why is she still Miss Jacobi?" He stood still for a minute to ponder over this mystery; then he walked on very thoughtfully. "I am a bit bothered about it all—I wish Cedric had never made their acquaintance;" and Malcolm looked so grave when he rejoined his friends that Mrs. Godfrey thought he was bored and hastened her adieux.

Malcolm did not undeceive her, neither did he speak of the Jacobis again to her; but he made himself very pleasant all that evening, and the next day he left the Manor House.



CHAPTER XX

A WHITE SUN-BONNET

My soul its secret hath, my life too hath its mystery: A love eternal in a moment's space conceived. —AROERS

One lovely morning in August, about a fortnight after the garden-party at Glebelands, Malcolm Herrick sauntered slowly down the woodland path which the Templetons always called "the lady's mile." His face was set towards Rotherwood, and in spite of his loitering pace there was an intent and watchful look in his eyes; but what his purpose or design might be was best known to himself; for wonderful and devious are the ways of man, and who can fathom them? Presently a tempting tangle of honeysuckle attracted him, and he clambered up the bank in search of it. The bank was dry and slippery, and the honeysuckle was difficult to reach, but Malcolm was not to be conquered. He had just caught hold of the branch, when the far-off click of a gate attracted his attention, and still holding the branch he peeped cautiously through the brambles.

The next minute a tall, massive young woman in a white sun-bonnet came into view-actually a white sun-bonnet, such as a milkmaid or farming wench might have worn; but this was no rustic lass who walked so briskly through the woodlands—none but Elizabeth Templeton moved with that free, graceful step, or carried her head in that queenly fashion.

In his hiding-place Malcolm had a good view of her face. Her eyes were bright, and she had a soft smile on her lips, as though some thought pleased her—some dream's dream that seemed fair to her inward vision.

"Miss Templeton—" then Elizabeth gave a great start, and stood still and looked up at him. "Wait a moment, please," he continued hurriedly; "this branch is so tough and my knife is small. There, I have secured it;" and then, waving the festoon of honeysuckle triumphantly, he scrambled down the bank and stood beside her.

Elizabeth shook hands with him rather gravely.

"So you have taken up your quarters at the Crow's Nest," she observed as they walked on together.

"Yes, I came down last evening, and settled in with all my goods and chattels. I thought I was in the Garden of Eden when I woke this morning and saw all those pink and white roses nid-nodding their beautiful heads at me."

"Oh, I remember how the roses clambered into the room," returned Elizabeth in an interested tone.

"Yes, and the birds seemed as though they wanted to get up a sort of Handel Festival, only the prima donnas and the big guns were missing. But there was plenty of twittering and bird chatter—I think they were settling the solos."

Elizabeth laughed—she was always amused at Mr. Herrick's nonsense.

"I have begun by enjoying myself immensely," he went on. "I have eaten a record breakfast and smoked two pipes, and now I have picked all this honeysuckle and met you"—a slight emphasis on the last word. "To tell you the truth, Miss Templeton"—and here he looked at her with a pleasant smile—"the meeting was not purely accidental, I knew it was your morning for the schools."

"And you came to meet me?" Elizabeth's manner stiffened; if Malcolm had been thin-skinned he might have suspected that she was not quite pleased at this avowal.

"Yes, I was anxious to meet you." Malcolm spoke with quiet assurance. "There is something I wanted to tell you—if I had waited to call at the Wood House this afternoon your sister would have been with you."

"And it is something you do not wish her to hear?" and Elizabeth's slight frown vanished.

"Well, I thought it would be better to talk it over with you first. I have seen the Jacobis, Miss Templeton, and I must confess that I am not favourably impressed by them."

"Cedric is with them now," exclaimed Elizabeth in rather a distressed voice. "Dinah heard from him this morning; he is very happy, having a good old time, as he expresses it. He saw the Godfreys before they left for Scotland."

"They have gone then—what a pity!" observed Malcolm. Then Elizabeth looked at him inquiringly.

"You mean on Cedric's account. Yes, I am sorry too. Will you tell me all you can about the Jacobis?" And then Malcolm, with masculine brevity and great distinctness, retailed his impressions of the brother and sister. Elizabeth's face grew grave as she listened.

"Oh, I am sorry!" she exclaimed. "What will poor Dinah say when I tell her; she is so anxious for Cedric to choose his friends well, and by your account Mr. Jacobi is certainly not a gentleman."

"I thought perhaps you would keep this to yourself;" but Elizabeth shook her head.

"I dare not; Cedric is her own boy, and I must hide nothing from her. There was only one thing I kept to myself, but then Cedric told it me in the strictest confidence. Mr. Herrick, it is an absurd question, for Cedric is such a boy—but is not Miss Jacobi likely to be the attraction? You say she is so handsome."

"I might go farther and say she is a beautiful woman," returned Malcolm. "But tastes differ, you know; I admire Miss Jacobi as I should a picture or a statue, but I could not imagine falling in love with her."

"Indeed! I am rather surprised to hear you say that; I thought you were a lover of the picturesque." Elizabeth's tone was a little teasing.

"I do not deny the soft impeachment," replied Malcolm somewhat seriously; "but moral beauty and the loveliness of a well-balanced character outweigh, in my estimation, mere outward beauty. Miss Jacobi is a stranger to me certainly, but in my opinion there is something complex and mysterious in her personality; there are hard lines in her face, and her expression is at once cynical and unhappy. One could pity such a woman," continued Malcolm to himself, "but one would never, never yearn to take her to one's heart."

Elizabeth looked at him curiously, as though she understood this unspoken speech; and when she spoke again it was with a new and added friendliness.

"You are a good judge of character, Mr. Herrick, and I feel I can rely on your opinion. If only the Godfreys were at the Manor House!"

"You forget that Beechcroft is at Henley," he observed with a smile. "Oh no, I have not forgotten, but I was thinking that I might have gone down to spy out the land for myself. Of course it would have vexed Cedric, but I should have done it all the same. Well, there is nothing for it but patience. By the bye, Mr. Herrick, we have fixed the date of the Templeton Bean-feast; Cedric will have to come back for that."

"Do you think he would care to bring his friends?" he asked in rather a meaning tone. Then at this daring suggestion Elizabeth's eyes opened widely. "Do you think that would be wise, that it might not complicate matters and increase the intimacy?" Elizabeth put this question with manifest anxiety. "We have no desire to have the Jacobis on our visiting-list."

"Of course not," was Malcolm's answer, "you know I never meant that; but it would give you and Miss Templeton an opportunity of studying them, and it could be managed without difficulty."

"I wish you would tell me how. I suppose we should have to send Miss Jacobi a card of invitation?"

"No, I think not—at least not at first. Tell Cedric that he may have carte blanche for his friends, and leave him to follow up the hint. He will answer by return, and tell you that he has asked the Jacobis, and then the card can be sent."

"Yes, I see; it is a good idea. I will talk to Dinah, but thank you all the same for your suggestion. I am quite ashamed of bothering you about our concerns; I fear we trespass on your good-nature."

"Not at all," returned Malcolm easily. "I was going to ask your advice about a little protegee of my own;" and then Elizabeth lent a willing ear while Malcolm, in his best style, told the story of little Kit.

They had turned in at the gate of the Wood House by this time, and the dark firs stretched on either side. Elizabeth had taken off her sun-bonnet, and it dangled from her arm; her eyes were soft with womanly sympathy; never had the charm of her personality appealed so strongly to Malcolm, he scarcely dared to look at her for fear she should discover the truth. "It is too soon, she would not believe it," he said to himself. But as he talked his voice was strangely vibrant and full of feeling; and when the sun-bonnet brushed lightly against him he was conscious that his arm trembled.

But Elizabeth was too much occupied with little Kit to notice Malcolm's slight discomposure.

"Oh, I am so glad you told me," she said in her eager way. "I really think I shall be able to help you. There is the dearest old woman in the village, Mrs. Sullivan. She lives in a pretty cottage quite close to 'The Plough,' and she was only telling me the other day that she wished that she had another child to mother. Sometimes my sister and I have a little East-end waif and stray down for a few weeks in the summer," continued Elizabeth modestly—"some sick child, or occasionally some over-burdened worker, and we always lodge them at Mrs. Sullivan's. It is not much of a place, but we call it 'The Providence House;' the cottage is really our own property, and Mrs. Sullivan has it rent-free."

"Do you think that she would take care of Kit?"

"I am sure of it. But, Mr. Herrick, Kit must be our guest, please remember that. Hush," peremptorily, "I will not hear a word to the contrary. And there is something else I want to say. Would not Caleb Martin like to come too? Kit would be strange without him, and there is plenty of room for them both. Think what a month of this sweet country air would mean to him after Todmorden's Lane. You must write to him at once, and tell him to hurry Kit down."

"I think it would be better to go up and speak to him myself to-morrow morning," returned Malcolm. He spoke rather reluctantly, but the beaming look of approval that followed this speech rewarded him for the little sacrifice.

"Now I call that kind," returned Elizabeth warmly. "Very few people would take so much trouble for a shabby little cobbler and an ailing child," she thought. "How pleased Dinah will be when she hears about it."

"The kindness is on your part, Miss Templeton," returned Malcolm. But he was much gratified by her manner. "If Kit and her father are to be your guests there is little enough for me to do; when I spoke to you just now I had quite decided to take lodgings for them at Rotherwood."

"Kit is my guest," replied Elizabeth obstinately. "Now, will you come in, Mr. Herrick, and have luncheon with us?" But Malcolm declined this; he would look in later in the day and pay his respects to Miss Templeton; and then he lifted his hat and turned away. Elizabeth stood in the porch and watched him. "He is a good man," she said softly, "and I like him—I like him very much;" but she sighed a little heavily as she turned away.

Meanwhile Malcolm was saying to himself in his whimsical way, "It is my destiny—is it not written in the book of fate? The Parcae Sisters three have willed it so. Good heavens, what an enigma life is! Some winged insect whirling in a cyclone would have as much chance of escaping its doom as a human being under such circumstances." Then he stopped, and looked with blank, unseeing eyes down the slanting fir avenue. "It is a mystery," he went on—"the very mystery of mysteries; the Sphinx is nothing to it. A month ago we were strangers—I neither knew nor cared that such a person as Elizabeth Templeton existed; and a week—a little cycle of seven or eight nights and days—has wrought this wondrous change. Am I the same man? Is this the solid earth on which I am walking?" And then he gave an odd sort of laugh, which seemed to hurt him. "My God," he muttered, "how I love this woman!" and his head was bowed as he walked on.

The following afternoon, when Malcolm returned from his charitable errand to Todmorden's Lane, he saw the Keston family grouped on the shady patch of lawn in the front garden. Verity, who had Babs in her arms, flew to meet him; but Amias merely waved his pipe and grunted in an amicable fashion.

"Oh, how tired and dusty you look!" exclaimed Verity, in the pretty, maternal way that always sat so quaintly on her. "Look at him, Amias; I do believe he has walked all those miles from Earlsfield."

"Yea-Verily, you are right, child," returned the giant placidly; and then Verity put down Babs on the grass to sprawl among the daisies.

"Sit down," she said, pushing Malcolm with her tiny hands into a big hammock chair; "I am going to make you some fresh tea—iced lemonade is out of the question;" and then she flitted into the house on her usual errand of "hunting the Snark."

Malcolm was certainly tired; he had been unable to get a fly at Earlsfield, and the long climb in the heat had rather taken it out of him, so he was well content to lie back in his lounge and let Verity wait on him.

"We have had visitors," she observed presently; then Malcolm looked up quickly.

"The ladies from the Wood House," she continued. "They were here for quite an hour. You are right, Mr. Herrick, the eldest Miss Templeton is a perfect darling. Amias was just saying as you turned the corner that he would like to paint her as a Puritan lady; the dress would exactly suit her."

"She has a very sweet face," endorsed Amias, "and her manners are remarkably pleasing. Yea-Verily fell in love with her because she admired Babs. 'Love me, love my Babs,' don't you know!"

"Don't be a goose, Amias! He was as much pleased as I was, Mr. Herrick, when Miss Templeton kissed Baby and made much of her; she said the sweetest things to her, and Babs was so charmed that she actually put up her face and kissed her of her own accord."

"The other Miss Templeton is a striking-looking woman of rather uncommon type," observed Amias, blowing away a cloud of smoke rather lazily. "She made herself very pleasant too, and said all sorts of civil things."

"I thought her rather formidable at first," annotated Verity, "but I soon discovered that she was interesting; she is very bright and original, and we soon got on very nicely together."

"By the bye, Mr. Herrick, they want us all to dine at the Wood House to-morrow; it is to be a comfortable, informal sort of meal. I told Miss Templeton that I had no company manners, as I had lived all my life in Bohemia; and then Miss Elizabeth laughed, and said she was rather unconventional herself, and that she thought I should exactly suit them."

"I told you so," responded Malcolm in a low voice. "I suppose there will be no other guests?"

"Only the Carlyons," returned Verity. "Mr. Carlyon is the curate at Rotherwood, Miss Templeton told us, and just now his father is staying with him."

"Oh, Carlyon junior seems always on the premises," replied Malcolm carelessly; "he is a sort of tame cat. Well, I am off to the Garden of Eden now." But as he stood by his window the nodding roses turned their pink cheeks to him in vain, and wasted their sweetness on the desert air.

"He is always there," he muttered; "one is never free from him. Perhaps it is her goodness of heart, she is so kind to every one, and he is her clergyman. Of course it must be that." He frowned and sighed impatiently; but as he turned away he saw the sprays of honeysuckle that he had gathered the previous day lay on the window-sill forgotten and neglected, with all the beautiful creamy blossoms withered and dead.

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