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Jan and Her Job
by L. Allen Harker
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Tony loved to potter about with his aunt in the garden. She worked really hard, for there was much to do, and he tried his best to assist, often being a very great hindrance; but she never sent him away, for she desired above all things to gain his confidence.

One day after a hard half-hour's weeding, when Tony had wasted much time by pulling up several sorts of the wrong thing, Jan felt her temper getting edgy, so they sat down to rest upon one of the many convenient seats to be found at Wren's End. Anthony hated a garden where you couldn't sit comfortably and smoke, wheresoever the prospect was pleasing.

Tony sat down too, looking almost rosy after his labours.

He didn't sit close and cuddly, as little Fay would have done, but right at the other end of the seat, where he could stare at her. Every day was bringing Tony more surely to the conclusion that "he liked to look at" his aunt.

"You like Meg, don't you?" he said.

"No," Jan shook her head. "I don't like her. I love her; which is quite a different thing."

"Do you like people and love them?"

"I like some people—a great many people—then there are others, not so many, that I love—you're one of them."

"Is Fay?"

"Certainly, dear little Fay."

"And Peter?"

For a moment Jan hesitated. With heightened colour she met Tony's grave, searching eyes. Above everything she desired to be always true and sincere with him, that he might, as on that first night in England, feel that he "believed" her. "I have every reason to love Mr. Ledgard," she said slowly: "he was so wonderfully kind to all of us." She was determined to be loyal to Peter with poor Fay's children. Jan hated ingratitude. To have said she only liked Peter must have given Tony the impression that she was both forgetful and ungrateful. She would not risk that even though she might risk misunderstanding of another kind if he ever repeated her words to anybody else.

Her heart beat rather faster than was comfortable, and she was thankful that she and Tony were alone.

"Who do you like?" he asked.

"Nearly everybody; the people in the village, our good neighbours ... Can't you see the difference yourself? Now, you love your dear Mummy and you like ... say, William——"

"No," Tony said firmly, "I love William. I don't think," he went on, "I like people ... much. Either I love them like you said, or I don't care about them at all ... or I hate them."

"That," said Jan, "is a mistake. It's no use to hate people."

"But if you feel like it ... I hate people if they cheat me."

"But who on earth would cheat you? What do you mean?"

"Once," said Tony, and by the monotonous, detached tone of his voice Jan knew he was going to talk about his father, "my Daddie asked me if I'd like to see smoke come out of his ears ... an' he said: 'Put your hand here on me and watch very careful.'" Tony pointed to Jan's chest. "I put my hand there and I watched and watched an' he hurt me with the end of his cigar. There's the mark!" He held out a grubby little hand, back uppermost, for Jan's inspection, and there, sure enough, was the little round white scar.

"And what did you do?" she asked.

"I bit him."

"Oh, Tony, how dreadful!"

"I shouldn't of minded so much if he'd really done it—the smoke out of his ears, I mean; but not one teeniest little puff came. I watched so careful ... He cheated me."

Jan said nothing. What could she say? Hot anger burned in her heart against Hugo. She could have bitten him herself.

"Peter was there," Tony went on, "and Peter said it served him right."

"Yes," said Jan, grasping at this straw, "but what did Peter say to you?"

"He said, 'Sahibs don't cry and sahibs don't bite,' and if I was a sahib I mustn't do it, so I don't. I don't bite people often."

"I should hope not; besides, you know, sometimes quite good-natured people will do things in fun, never thinking it will hurt."

Tony gazed gloomily at Jan. "He cheated me," he repeated. "He said he would make it come out of his ears, and it didn't. He didn't like me—that's why."

"I don't think you ought to say that, and be so unforgiving. I expect Daddie forgot all about your biting him directly, and yet you remember what he did after this long time."

Poor Jan did try so hard to be fair.

"I wasn't afraid of him," Tony went on, as though he hadn't heard, "not really. Mummy was. She was drefully afraid. He said he'd whip me because I was so surly, and she was afraid he would ... I knew he wouldn't, not unless he could do it some cheaty way, and you can't whip people that way. But it frightened Mummy. She used to send me away when he came...."

Tony paused and knitted his brows, then suddenly he smiled. "But I always came back very quick, because I knew she wanted me, and I liked to look at him. He liked Fay, I suppose he liked to look at her, so do I. Nobody wants to look at me ... much ... except Mummy."

"I do," Jan said hastily. "I like to look at you just every bit as much as I like to look at Fay. I think you care rather too much what people look like, Tony."

"It does matter a lot," Tony said obstinately.

"Other things matter much more. Courage and kindness and truth and honesty. Look at Mr. Ledgard—he's not what you'd call a beautiful person, and yet I'm sure we all like to look at him."

"Sometimes you say Peter, and sometimes Mr. Ledgard. Why?"

Again Jan's heart gave that queer, uncomfortable jump. She certainly always thought of him as Peter. Quite unconsciously she occasionally spoke of him as Peter. Meg had observed this, but, unlike Tony, made no remark.

"Why?" Tony repeated.

"I suppose," Jan mumbled feebly, "it's because I hear the rest of you do it. I've no sort of right to."

"Auntie Jan," Tony said earnestly. "What is a devil?"

"I haven't the remotest idea, Tony," Jan replied, with the utmost sincerity.

"It isn't anything very nice, is it, or nice to look at?"

"It might be," said Jan, with Scottish caution.

"Daddie used to call me a surly little devil—when I used to come back because Mummy was frightened ... she was always frightened when he talked about money, and he did it a lot ... When he saw me, he would say: 'Wot you doing here, you surly little devil—listening, eh?'" Tony's youthful voice took on such a snarl that Jan positively jumped, and put out her hand to stop him. "'I'll give you somefin to listen to....'"

"Tony, Tony, couldn't you try to forget all that?"

Tony shook his head. "No! I shall never forget it, because, you see, it's all mixed up with Mummy so, and you said"—here Tony held up an accusing small finger at Jan—"you said I was never to forget her, not the least little bit."

"I know I did," Jan owned, and fell to pondering what was best to be done about these memories. Absently she dug her hoe into the ground, making ruts in the gravel, while Tony watched her solemnly.

"Then why," he went on, "do you not want me to remember Daddie?"

"Because," said Jan, "everything you seem to remember sounds so unkind."

"Well, I can't help that," Tony answered.

Jan arose from the seat. "If we sit idling here all afternoon," she remarked severely, "we shall never get that border weeded for Earley."

The afternoon post came in at four, and when Jan went in there were several letters for her on the hall-table, spread out by Hannah in a neat row, one above the other. It was Saturday, and the Indian mail was in. There was one from Peter, but it was another letter that Jan seized first, turning it over and looking at the post-mark, which was remarkably clear. She knew the excellent handwriting well, though she had seen it comparatively seldom.

It was Hugo Tancred's; and the post-mark was Port Said. She opened it with hands that trembled, and it said:

"MY DEAR JAN,

"In case other letters have miscarried, which is quite possible while I was up country, let me assure you how grateful I am for all you did for my poor wife and the children—and for me in letting me know so faithfully what your movements have been. I sent to the bank for your letters while passing through Bombay recently, and but for your kindness in allowing the money I had left for my wife's use to remain to my credit, I should have been unable to leave India, for things have gone sadly against me, and the world is only too ready to turn its back upon a broken man.

"When I saw by the notice in the papers that my beloved wife was no more, I realised that for me the lamp is shattered and the light of my life extinguished. All that remains to me is to make the best of my poor remnant of existence for the sake of my children.

"We will talk over plans when we meet. I hope to be in England in about another month, perhaps sooner, and we will consult together as to what is best to be done.

"I have no doubt it will be possible to find a good and cheap preparatory school where Tony can be safely bestowed for the present, and one of my sisters would probably take my precious little Fay, if you find it inconvenient to have her with you. A boy is always better at school as soon as possible, and I have strong views as to the best methods of education. I never for a moment forget my responsibilities towards my children and the necessity for a father's supreme authority.

"You may be sure that, in so far as you make it possible for me to do so, I will fall in with your wishes regarding them in every way.

"It will not be worth your while writing to me here, as my plans are uncertain. I will try to give you notice of my arrival, but may reach you before my next letter.

"Yours affectionately,

"HUGO TANCRED."

Still as a statue sat Jan. From the garden came the cheerful chirruping of birds and constant, eager questioning of Earley by the children. Earley's slow Gloucestershire speech rumbled on in muffled obbligato to the higher, carrying, little voices.

The whirr of a sewing-machine came from the morning-room, now the day-nursery, where Meg was busy with frocks for little Fay.

In a distant pantry somebody was clinking teacups. Jan shivered, though the air from the open window was only fresh, not cold. At that moment she knew exactly how an animal feels when caught in a trap. Hugo Tancred's letter was the trap, and she was in it. With the exception of the lie about other letters—Jan was perfectly sure he had written no other letters—and the stereotyped phrases about shattered lamps and the wife who was "no more," the letter was one long menace—scarcely veiled. That sentence, "in so far as you make it possible for me to do so, I will fall in with your wishes regarding them in every way," simply meant that if Jan was to keep the children she must let Hugo make ducks and drakes of her money; and if he took her money, how could she do what she ought for the children?

And he was at Port Said; only a week's journey.

Why had she left that money in Bombay? Why had she not listened to Peter? Sometimes she had thought that Peter held rather a cynically low view of his fellow-creatures—some of his fellow-creatures. Surely no one could be all bad? Jan had hoped great things of adversity for Hugo Tancred. Peter indulged in no such pleasant illusions, and said so. "Schoolgirl sentimentality" Meg had called it, and so it was. "No doubt it will be possible to find some cheap preparatory school for Tony."

Would he try to steal Tony?

From the charitable mood that hopeth all things Jan suddenly veered to a belief in all things evil of her brother-in-law. At that moment she felt him capable of murdering the child and throwing his little body down a well, as they do in India.

Again she shivered.

What was she to do?

So helpless, so unprotected; so absolutely at his mercy because she loved the children. "Never let him blackmail you," Peter had said. "Stand up to him always, and he'll probably crumple up."

Suddenly, as though someone had opened shutters in a pitch-dark room, letting in the blessed light, Jan remembered there was also a letter from Peter.

She crossed the hall to get it, though her legs shook under her and her knees were as water.

She felt she couldn't get back to the window-seat, so she sat on the edge of the gate-table and opened the letter.

A very short letter, only one side of a page.

"DEAR MISS ROSS,

"This is the last mail for a bit, for I come myself by the next, the Macedonia. You may catch me at Aden, but certainly a note will get me at Marseilles, if you are kind enough to write. Tancred has been back in Bombay and gone again in one of the smaller home-going boats. Where he got the money to go I can't think, for from many sources lately I've heard that his various ventures have been far from prosperous, and no one will trust him with a rupee.

"So look out for blackmail, and be firm, mind.

"I go to my aunt in Artillery Mansions on arrival. When may I run down to see you all?

"Yours always sincerely,

"PETER LEDGARD."



CHAPTER XVII

"THOUGH AN HOST SHOULD ENCAMP AGAINST ME"

The flap of the gate-leg table creaked under Jan's weight, but she dug her heels into the rug and balanced, for she felt incapable of moving.

Peter was coming home; if the worst came to the worst he would deal with Hugo, and a respite would be gained. But Peter would go out to India again and Hugo would not. The whole miserable business would be repeated—and how could she continue to worry Peter with her affairs? What claim had she upon him? As though she were some stranger seeing it for the first time, Jan looked round the square, comfortable hall. She saw it with new eyes sharpened by apprehension; yet everything was solidly the same.

The floor with its draught-board pattern of large, square, black and white stones; the old dark chairs; the high bookcases at each side of the hearth; the wide staircase with its spacious, windowed turning and shallow steps, so easily traversed by little feet; the whole steeped in that atmosphere of friendly comfort that kind old houses get and keep.

Such a good place to be young in.

Such a happy place, so safe and sheltered and pleasant.

Outside the window a wren was calling to his mate with a note that sounded just like a faint kiss; such a tender little song.

The swing door was opened noisily and Anne Chitt appeared bearing the nursery tea-tray, deposited it in the nursery, opened the front door, thumped on the gong and vanished again. Meg came out from the nursery with two pairs of small slippers in her hand: "Where are my children? I left little Fay with Earley while I finished the overalls; he's a most efficient under-nurse—I suppose you left Tony with him too. Such a lot of letters for you. Did you get your mail? I heard from both the boys. Ah, sensible Earley's taking them round to the back door. Where's William's duster? Hannah does make such a fuss about paw-marks." And Meg, too, vanished through the swing door.

Slowly Jan dragged herself off the table, gathered up her unread letters, and went into the nursery. She felt as though she were dreadfully asleep and couldn't awake to realise the wholesome everyday world around her.

Vaguely she stared round the room, the most charming room in Wren's End. Panelled in wood long since painted white, with two delightful rounded corner cupboards, it gave straight on to the wrens' sunk lawn from a big French window with steps, an anachronism added by Miss Janet Ross. Five years ago Anthony had brought a beautiful iron gate from Venice that fitted into the archway, cut through the yew hedge and leading to the drive. Jan had given this room to the children because in summer they could spend the whole day in its green-walled garden, quite safe and shut in from every possibility of mischief. A sun-dial was in the centre, and in one corner a fat stone cherub upheld a bath for the birds. Daffodils were in bloom on the banks, and one small single tulip of brilliant red. Jan went out and stood on the top step.

Long immunity from menace of any kind had made all sorts of little birds extraordinarily bold and friendly. Even the usually shy and furtive golden-crested wrens fussed in and out under the yew hedge quite regardless of Jan.

Through an open window overhead came the sound of cheerful high voices, and little Fay started to sing at the top of her strong treble:

Thlee mice went into a hole to spin, Puss came by, and puss peeped in; What are you doing, my littoo old men? We're weaving coats for gentoomen.

"Is that what I've been doing?" thought Jan. "Weaving coats of many colours out of happy dreams?" Were she and the children the mice, she wondered.

Marauding cats had been kept away from Wren's End for over a hundred years. "The little wrens that build" had been safe enough. But what of these poor human nestlings?

"Shall I come and help loo to wind up loo thleds?" sang little Fay. "Oh, no, Missis Pussy, you'd bite off our heads!" And Tony joined in with a shout: "Oh, no, Missis Pussy, you'd bite off our heads."

The voices died away, the children were coming downstairs.

Jan drank three cups of tea and crumbled one piece of bread and butter on her plate. The rest of the party were hungry and full of adventures. Before she joined Earley little Fay had been to the village with Meg to buy tape, and she had a great deal to say about this expedition. Meg saw that something was troubling Jan, and wondered if Mr. Ledgard had given her fresh news of Hugo. But Meg never asked questions or worried people. She chattered to the children, and immediately after tea carried them off for the usual washing of hands.

Jan went out into the hall; the door was open and the sunny spring evening called to her. When she was miserable she always wanted to walk, and she walked now; swiftly down the drive she went and out along the road till she came to the church, which stood at the end of the village nearest to Wren's End.

She turned into the churchyard, and up the broad pathway between the graves to the west door.

Near the door was a square headstone marking the grave of Charles Considine Smith; and she paused beside it to read once more the somewhat strange inscription.

Under his name and age, cut deep in the moss-grown stone, were the words: "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear."

Often before Jan had wondered what could have caused Tranquil, his wife, to choose so strenuous an epitaph. Tranquil, who had never stirred twenty miles from the place where she was born; whose very name, so far as they could gather, exemplified her life.

What secret menace had threatened this "staid person," this prosperous shipper of sherry who, apparently, had spent the evening of his life in observing the habits of wrens.

Why should his gentle wife have thus commemorated his fighting spirit?

Be the reason what it might, Jan felt vaguely comforted. There was triumph as well as trust in the words. Whatever it was that had threatened him, he had stood up to it. His wife knew this and was proud.

Jan tried the heavy oak door and it yielded, and from the soft mildness of the spring evening, so full of happy sounds of innocent life, she passed into the grey and sacred silence of the church.

It was cold in the beautiful old fourteenth-century church, with that pervading smell of badly-burning wood that is so often found in country churches till all attempt at heating ceases for the summer. But nothing could mar the nobility of its austerely lovely architecture; the indefinable, exquisite grace that soothes and penetrates.

She went and knelt in the Wren's End pew where Charles Considine Smith's vast prayer-book still stood on the book-board. And even as in the Bombay Cathedral she had prayed that strength might be given to her to walk in the Way, so now she prayed for courage and a quiet, steadfast mind.

Her head was bowed and buried in her hands: "My heart shall not fear," she whispered; but she knew that it did fear, and fear grievously.

The tense silence was broken by an odd, fitful, pattering sound; but Jan, absorbed in her petition for the courage she could not feel, heard nothing.

Something clumsy, warm, and panting pushed against her, and she uncovered her face and looked down upon William trying to thrust his head under her arm and join in her devotions.

And William became a misty blur, for her eyes filled with tears; he looked so anxious and foolish and kind with his tongue hanging out and his absurd, puzzled expression.

He was puzzled. Part of the usual ritual had been omitted.

She ought, by all known precedents, to have put her arm round his neck and have admonished him to "pray for his Master." But she did nothing of the kind, only patted him, with no sort of invitation to join in her orisons.

William was sure something was wrong somewhere.

Then Jan saw Tony sitting at the far end of the seat, hatless, coatless, in his indoor strap shoes; and he was regarding her with grave, understanding eyes.

In a moment she was back in the present and vividly alive to the fact that here was chilly, delicate Tony out after tea, without a coat and sitting in an ice-cold church.

She rose from her knees, much to William's satisfaction, who did not care for religious services in which he might not take an active part. He trotted out of the pew and Jan followed him, stooping to kiss Tony as she passed.

"It's too cold for you here, dear," she whispered; "let us come out."

She held out her hand and Tony took it, and together they passed down the aisle and into the warmer air outside.

"How did you know I was here?" she asked, as they hurried into the road.

"I saw you going down the drive from the bathroom window, and so I runned after you, and William came too."

"But what made you come after me?"

"Because I thought you looked frightened, and I didn't like it; you looked like Mummy did sometimes."

No one who has seen fear stamped upon a woman's face ever forgets it. Tony had watched his aunt all tea-time, and this quite new expression troubled him. Mummy had always seemed to want him when she looked like that; perhaps Auntie Jan would want him too. The moment his hands were dried he had rushed past Meg and down the stairs with William in his wake. Meg had not tried to stop him, for she, too, realised that something worried Jan, and she knew that already there had arisen an almost unconscious entente between these two. But she had no idea that he had gone out of doors. She dressed little Fay and took her out to the garden, thinking that Tony and Jan were probably in the nursery, and she was careful not to disturb them.

"Are you cold, Tony?" Jan asked anxiously, walking so fast that Tony had almost to run to keep up with her.

"No, not very; it's a nice coldness rather, don't you think?"

"Tony, will you tell me—when Daddie was angry with you, were you never frightened?"

Tony pulled at her hand to make her go more slowly. "Yes," he said, "I used to feel frightened inside, but I wouldn't let him know it, and then—it was funny—but quite sunn'ly I wasn't frightened any more. You try it."

"You mean," Jan asked earnestly, "that if you don't let anyone else know you are frightened, you cease to be frightened?"

"Something like that," Tony said; "it just happens."



CHAPTER XVIII

MEG AND CAPTAIN MIDDLETON

Meg had worked hard and faithfully ever since Ayah left. Very soon after she took over the children entirely she discovered that, however naughty and tiresome they were in many respects, they were quick-witted and easily interested. And she decided there and then that to keep them good she must keep them well amused, and it acted like a charm.

She had the somewhat rare power of surrounding quite ordinary everyday proceedings with a halo of romance, so that the children's day developed into a series of entrancing adventures.

With Meg, enthusiastic make-believe had never wholly given place to common sense. Throughout the long, hard days of her childhood and early apprenticeship to a rather unkindly world she had pretended joyously, and invented for herself all sorts of imaginary pleasures to take the place of those tangible ones denied to her. She had kept the width and wistfulness of the child's horizon with a good deal of the child's finality and love of detail; so that she was as responsive to the drama of common things as the children themselves.

Thus it came about that the daily donning of the uniform was in very truth symbolic and inspiring; and once the muslin cap was adjusted, she felt herself magically surrounded by the atmosphere most conducive to the production of the Perfect Nurse.

For Tony and little Fay getting up and going to bed resolved themselves into feats of delicious dexterity that custom could not stale. The underneaths of tables were caves and dungeons, chairs became chariots at will, and every night little Fay waved a diminutive pocket-handkerchief to Tony from the deck of an ocean-going P. and O.

The daily walks, especially since they came to Wren's End, were filled with hopeful possibilities. And to hunt for eggs with Mrs. Earley, or gather vegetables with her son, partook of the nature of a high and solemn quest. It was here Meg showed real genius. She drew all the household into her net of interest. The children poked their busy fingers into everybody's pies, and even stern Hannah was compelled, quite unconsciously, to contribute her share in the opulent happiness of their little world.

But it took it out of Meg.

For weeks she had been on the alert to prevent storms and tempests. Now that the children's barometer seemed at "set fair" she suddenly felt very tired.

Jan had been watching her, and on that particular Sunday, had she been able to catch Meg before she got up, Jan would have dressed the children and kept her in bed. But Meg was too nimble for her, washed and dressed her charges, and appeared at breakfast looking a "wispy wraith."

She had slept badly; a habit formed in her under-nourished youth which she found hard to break; and she had, in consequence, been sitting up in bed at five in the morning to make buttonholes in garden smocks for Tony.

This would have enraged Jan had she but known it. But Meg, frank and honest as the day in most things, was, at times, curiously secretive; and so far had entirely eluded Jan's vigilance. By the time Anne Chitt came with the awakening tea there wasn't a vestige of smock, needles, or cotton to be seen, and so far lynx-eyed little Fay had never awoke in time to catch her at it.

This morning, however, Jan exerted her authority. She slung the hammock between two trees in the sunniest part of the garden; she wrapped Meg in her own fur coat, which was far too big for Meg; covered her with a particularly soft, warm rug, gave her a book, a sun-umbrella, and her cigarette case; and forbade her to move till lunch-time unless it rained.

Then she took the two children and William into Squire Walcote's woods for the morning and Meg fell fast asleep.

Warm with the double glow that came from being wrapped in Jan's coat because Jan loved her; lulled by the songs of birds and a soft, shy wind that ruffled the short hair about her forehead, little Meg was supremely happy. To be tired, to be made to rest, to be kissed and tucked in and sternly commanded to stay where she was till she was fetched—all this, so commonplace to cherished, cared-for folk, seemed quite wonderful to Meg, and she snuggled down among the cushions in blissful content.

Meanwhile, on that same Sunday morning, Captain Middleton, at Amber Guiting Manor, was trying to screw his courage up to the announcement that he did not intend to accompany his aunt and uncle to church. Lady Mary Walcote was his mother's only sister, and Mrs. Walcote, wife of Jan's tenant, was one of his father's, so that he spoke quite truly when he told Meg he had "stacks of relations down at Amber Guiting."

Colonel Walcote was much better off than his elder brother, the squire of Amber Guiting, for he benefited by the Middleton money.

Miles Middleton's father was the originator of "Middleton's Made Starch," which was used everywhere and was supposed to be superior to all other starches. Why "Made" scoffers could never understand, for it required precisely the same treatment as other starches. But the British Public believed in it, the British Public also bought it in large quantities, and George Middleton, son of Mutton-Pie Middleton, a well-to-do confectioner in Doncaster, became an exceedingly rich man. He did not marry till he was forty, and then he married "family," for Lady Agnes Keills, younger daughter of Lord Glencarse, had a long pedigree and no dower at all. She was a good wife to him, gentle, upright, and always affectionate. She adored their only child, Miles, and died quite suddenly from heart failure, just after that cheerful youth had joined at Woolwich. George Middleton died some three years later, leaving his money absolutely to his son, who came of age at twenty-five. And, so far, Miles had justified his father's faith in him, for he had never done anything very foolish, and a certain strain of Yorkshire shrewdness prevented him from committing any wild extravagance.

He was generous, kindly, and keen on his profession, and he had reached the age of thirty-two without ever having felt any overwhelming desire to marry; though it was pretty well known that considerable efforts to marry him suitably had been made by both mothers and daughters.

The beautiful and level-headed young ladies of musical comedy had failed to land this considerable fish, angled they never so skilfully; though he frankly enjoyed their amusing society and was quite liberal, though not lavish, in the way of presents.

Young women of his own rank were pleasant to him, their mothers cordial, and no difficulty was ever put in the way of his enjoying their society. But he was not very susceptible. Deep in his heart, in some dim, unacknowledged corner, there lay a humble, homely desire that he might feel a great deal more strongly than he had felt yet, when the time and the woman came to him.

Never, until Meg smiled at him when he offered to carry little Fay up that long staircase, had the thought of a girl thoroughly obsessed him; and it is possible that even after their meetings in Kensington Gardens her image might gradually have faded from his mind, had it not occurred to Mrs. Trent to interfere.

He had seen a good deal of the Trents while hunting with the Pytchley two winters ago. Lotty was a fearless rider and what men called "a real good sort." At one time it had sometimes crossed Captain Middleton's mind that Lotty wouldn't make half a bad wife for a Horse Gunner, but somehow it had always stopped at the idea, and when he didn't see Lotty he never thought about her at all.

Now that he no longer saw Meg he thought about her all day and far into the night. His sensations were so new, so disturbing and unpleasant, his life was so disorganised and upset, that he asked himself in varying degrees of ever-accumulating irritation: "What the deuce was the matter?"

Then Mrs. Trent asked him to luncheon.

She was staying with her daughters at the Kensington Palace Hotel, and they had a suite of rooms. Lotty and her sister flew away before coffee was served, as they were going to a matinee, and Miles was left tete-a-tete with Mrs. Trent.

She was most motherly and kind.

Just as he was wondering whether he might now decently take leave of her, she said: "Captain Middleton, I'm going to take a great liberty and venture to say something to you that perhaps you will resent ... but I feel I must do it because your mother was such a dear friend of mine."

This was a piece of information for Miles, who knew perfectly well that Lady Agnes Middleton's acquaintance with Mrs. Trent had been of the slightest. However, he bowed and looked expectant.

"I saw you the other day walking with Miss Morton in Kensington Gardens; apparently she is now in charge of somebody's children. May I ask if you have known her long?"

Mrs. Trent looked searchingly at Miles, and there was an inflection on the "long" that he felt was in some way insulting to Meg, and he stiffened all over.

"Before I answer that question, Mrs. Trent, may I ask why you should want to know?"

"My dear boy, I see perfectly well that it must seem impertinent curiosity on my part. But I assure you my motive for asking is quite justifiable. Will you try not to feel irritated and believe that what I am doing, I am doing for the best?"

"I have not known Miss Morton very long; why?"

"Do you know the people she is living with at present?"

Again that curious inflection on the "present."

"Oh, yes, and so do my people; they think all the world of her."

"Of Miss Morton?" Shocked astonishment was in Mrs. Trent's voice.

"I was not speaking of Miss Morton just then, but of the lady she is with. I've no doubt, though," said Miles stoutly, "they'd think just the same of Miss Morton if they knew her. They may know her, too; it's just a chance we've never discussed her."

"It is very difficult and painful for me to say what I have got to say ... but if Miss Morton is in charge of the children of a friend of your family, I think you ought to know she is not a suitable person to be anything of the kind."

"I say!" Miles exclaimed, "that's a pretty stiff thing to say about any girl; a dangerous thing to say; especially about one who seems to need to earn her own living."

"I know it is; I hate to say it ... but it seemed to me the other day—I hope I was mistaken—that you were rather ... attracted, and knowing what I do I felt I must speak, must warn you."

Miles got up. He seemed to tower above the table and dwarf the whole room. "I'd rather not hear any more, Mrs. Trent, please. It seems too beastly mean somehow for me to sit here and listen to scandal about a poor little unprotected girl who works hard and faithfully—mind you, I've seen her with those children, and she's perfectly wonderful. Don't you see yourself how I can't do it?"

Mrs. Trent sat on where she was and smiled at Miles, slowly shaking her head. "Sit down, my dear boy. Your feelings do you credit; but we mustn't be sentimental, and facts are facts. I have every reason to know what I'm talking about, for some years ago Miss Morton was in my service."

Miles did not sit down. He stood where he was, glowering down at Mrs. Trent.

"That doesn't brand her, does it?" he asked.

Still smiling maternally at him, Mrs. Trent continued: "She left my service when she ran away with Mr. Walter Brooke—you know him, I think? Disgraceful though it was, I must say this of him, that he never made any concealment of the fact that he was a married man. She did it with her eyes open."

"If," Miles growled, "all this happened 'some years ago' she must have been about twelve at the time, and Brooke ought to have been hounded out of society long ago."

"I needn't say that we have cut him ever since. She was, I believe, about nineteen at the time. She did not remain with him, but you can understand that, naturally, I don't want you to get entangled with a girl of that sort."

Miles picked up his hat and stick. "I wish you hadn't told me," he groaned. "I don't think a bit less highly of her, but you've made me feel such a low-down brute, I can't bear it. Good-bye—I've no doubt you did it for the best ... but——" And Miles fairly ran from the room.

Mrs. Trent drummed with her fingers on the table and looked thoughtful. "It was quite time somebody interfered," she reflected. And then she remembered with annoyance that she had not found out the name of Meg's employer.

Miles strode through Kensington Gore and past Knightsbridge, when he turned down Sloane Street till he came to a fencing school he frequented. Here he went in and had a strenuous half-hour with the instructor, but nothing served to restore his peace of mind. He was angry and hurt and horribly worried. If it was true, if the whole miserable story was true, then he knew that something had been taken from him. Something he had cherished in that dim, secret corner of his heart. Its truth or untruth did not affect his feeling for Meg. But if it were true, then he had irretrievably lost something intangible, yet precious. Young men like Miles never mention ideals, but that's not to say that in some very hidden place they don't exist, like buried treasure.

All the shrewd Yorkshire strain in him shouted that he must set this doubt at rest. That whatever was to be his action in the future he must know and face the truth. All the delicacy, the fine feeling, the sensitiveness he got from his mother, made him loathe any investigation of the kind, and his racial instincts battled together and made him very miserable indeed.

When he left the fencing school, he turned into Hyde Park. The Row was beginning to fill, and suddenly he came upon his second cousin, Lady Penelope Pottinger, sitting all alone on a green chair with another empty one beside it. Miles dropped into the empty chair. He liked Lady Pen. She was always downright and sometimes very amusing. Moreover she took an intelligent interest in dogs, and knew Amber Guiting and its inhabitants. So Miles dexterously led the conversation round to Jan and Wren's End.

Lady Pen was looking very beautiful that afternoon. She wore a broad-leaved hat which did not wholly conceal her glorious hair. Hair the same colour as certain short feathery rings that framed a pale, pathetic little face that haunted him.

"Talking of Amber Guiting," he said, "did you ever come across a Miss Morton down there? A friend of Miss Ross."

Lady Pen turned and looked hard at him. "Oh dear, yes; she's rather a pal of mine. I knew her long before I met her at the Ross's. Why, I knew her when she was companion at the Trents, poor little devil."

"Did she have a bad time there? Weren't they nice to her?"

"At first they were nice enough, but afterwards it was rotten. Clever little thing she is, but poor as a rat. What do you know about her?"

Again Lady Pen looked hard at Miles. She was wondering whether Meg had ever given away the reason for that short hair of hers.

"Oh, I've met her just casually, you know, with Miss Ross. She strikes me as a ... rather unusual sort of girl."

"Ever mention me?"

"No, never that I can remember. I haven't seen much of her, you know."

"Well, my son, the less you see of her the better, for her, I should say. She's a clever, industrious, good little thing, but she's not in your row. After all, these workin' girls have their feelin's."

"I don't fancy Miss Morton is at all the susceptible idiot you appear to think her. It's other people's feelings I should be afraid of, not hers."

"Oh, I grant you she's attractive enough to some folks. Artists, for instance, rave over her. At least, Anthony Ross did. Queer chap, that; would never paint me. Now can you understand any man in his senses refusin' to paint me?"

"It seems odd, certainly."

"He painted her, for nothin' of course, over an' over again ... just because he liked doin' it. Odd chap he was, but very takin'. You couldn't dislike him, even when he refused to paint you. Awful swank though, wasn't it?"

"Were his pictures of Miss Morton—sold?"

"Some were, I believe; but Janet Ross has got a lot of 'em down at Wren's End. She always puts away most of her father's paintin's when she lets the house. But you take my advice, Miley, my son: you keep clear of that little girl."

This was on Thursday, and, of course, after two warnings in one afternoon, Miles went down to Amber Guiting on Saturday night.

"Aunt Mary, it's such a lovely morning, should you mind very much if I go for a stroll in the woods—or slack about in the fresh air, instead of going to church?"

At the word "stroll" he had seen an interested expression lighten up Squire Walcote's face, and the last thing he wanted was his uncle's society for the whole morning.

"I don't feel up to much exercise," Miles went on, trying to look exhausted and failing egregiously. "I've had rather a hard week in town. I'll give the vicar a turn in the evening, I will truly."

Lady Mary smiled indulgently on this large young man, who certainly looked far from delicate. But only a hard-hearted woman could have pointed this out at such a moment, and where her nephew was concerned Lady Mary's heart was all kindly affection. So she let him off church.

Miles carried out a pile of books to a seat in the garden and appeared to be settled down to a studious morning. He waved a languid hand to his aunt and uncle as they started for church, and the moment they were out of sight laid down his book and clasped his hands behind his head.

The vicar of Amber Guiting was a family man and merciful. The school children all creaked and pattered out of church after morning prayer, and any other small people in the congregation were encouraged to do likewise, the well-filled vicarage pew setting the example. Therefore, Miles reckoned, that even supposing Miss Morton took the little boy to church (he couldn't conceive of anyone having the temerity to escort little Fay thither), they would come out in about three-quarters of an hour after the bell stopped. But he had no intention of waiting for that. The moment the bell ceased he—unaccompanied by any of the dogs grouped about him at that moment—was going to investigate the Wren's End garden. He knew every corner of it, and he intended to unearth Meg and the children if they were to be found.

Besides, he ardently desired to see William.

William was a lawful pretext. No one could see anything odd in his calling at Wren's End to see William. It was a perfectly natural thing to do.

Confound Mrs. Trent.

Confound Pen, what did she want to interfere for?

Confound that bell. Would it never stop?

Yes it had. No it hadn't. Yes ... it had.

Give a few more minutes for laggards, and then——

Three melancholy and disappointed dogs were left in the Manor Garden, while Miles swung down the drive, past the church, and into the road that led to Wren's End.

What a morning it was!

The whole world seemed to have put on its Sunday frock. There had been rain in the night, and the air was full of the delicious fresh-washed smell of spring herbage. Wren's End seemed wonderfully quiet and deserted as Miles turned into the drive. As he neared the house he paused and listened, but there was no sound of high little voices anywhere.

Were they at church, then?

They couldn't be indoors on such a beautiful day.

Miles whistled softly, knowing that if William were anywhere within hearing, that would bring him at the double.

But no joyfully galumphing William appeared to welcome him.

He had no intention of ringing to inquire. No, he'd take a good look round first, before he went back to hang about outside the church.

It was pleasant in the Wren's End garden.

Presently he went down the broad central path of the walled garden, with borders of flowers and beds of vegetables. Half-way down, in the sunniest, warmest place, he came upon a hammock slung between an apple-tree not quite out and a pear-tree that was nearly over, and a voice from the hammock called sleepily: "Is that you, Earley? I wish you'd pick up my cigarette case for me; it's fallen into the lavender bush just below."

"Yes, Miss," a voice answered that was certainly not Earley's.

Meg leaned out of the hammock to look behind her.

"Hullo!" she said. "Why are you not in church? I can't get up because I'm a prisoner on parole. Short of a thunderstorm nothing is to move me from this hammock till Miss Ross comes back."

Miles stood in the pathway looking down at the muffled figure in the hammock. There was little to be seen of Meg save her rumpled, hatless head. She was much too economical of her precious caps to waste one in a hammock. She had slept for nearly two hours, then Hannah roused her with a cup of soup. She was drowsy and warm and comfortable, and her usually pale cheeks were almost as pink as the apple-blossom buds above her head.

"Do you want to sleep? Or may I stop and talk to you a bit?" Miles asked, when he had found the somewhat battered cigarette case and restored it to her.

"As I'm very plainly off duty, I suppose you may stay and talk—if I fall asleep in the middle you must not be offended. You'll find plenty of chairs in the tool house."

When Miles returned Meg had lit her cigarette, and he begged a light from her.

What little hands she had! How fine-grained and delicate her skin!

Again he felt that queer lump in his throat at the absurd, sweet pathos of her.

He placed his chair where he had her full in view, not too near, yet comfortably so for conversation. Jan had swung the hammock very high, and Meg looked down at Miles over the edge.

"It is unusual," she said, "to find a competent nurse spending her morning in this fashion, but if you know Miss Ross at all, you will already have realised that under her placid exterior she has a will of iron."

"I shouldn't say you were lacking in determination."

"Oh, I'm nothing to Jan. She exerts physical force. Look at me perched up here! How can I get down without a bad fall, swathed like a mummy in wraps; while my employer does my work?"

"But you don't want to get down. You look awfully comfortable."

"I am awfully comfortable—but it's most ... unprofessional—please don't tell anybody else."

Meg closed her eyes, looking rather like a sleepy kitten, and Miles watched her in silence with a pain at his heart. Something kept saying over and over again: "Six years ago that girl there ran off with Walter Brooke. Six years ago that apparently level-headed, sensible little person was dazzled by the pinchbeck graces of that epicure in sensations." Miles fully granted his charm, his gentle melancholy, his caressing manner; but with it all Miles felt that he was so plainly "a wrong-'un," so clearly second-rate and untrustworthy—and a nice girl ought to recognise these things intuitively.

Miles looked very sad and grave, and Meg, suddenly opening her eyes, found him regarding her with this incomprehensible expression.

"You are not exactly talkative," she said.

"I thought, perhaps, you wanted to rest, and would rather not talk. Maybe I'm a bit of a bore, and you'd rather I went away?"

"You have not yet asked after William."

"I hoped to find William, but he's nowhere to be seen."

"He's with Jan and the children. I think"—here Meg lifted her curly head over the edge of the hammock—"he is the very darlingest animal in the world. I love William."

"You do! I knew you would."

"I do. He's so faithful and kind and understanding."

"Has he been quite good?"

"Well ... once or twice he may have been a little—destructive—but you expect that with children."

"I hope you punish him."

"Jan does. Jan has a most effectual slap, but there's always a dreadful disturbance with the children on these occasions. Little Fay roars the house down when William has to be chastised."

"What has he done?"

"I'm not going to tell tales of William."

Miles and Meg smiled at one another, and Walter Brooke faded from his mind.

"Perhaps," he said, and paused, "you will by and by allow to William's late master a small portion of that regard?"

"If William's master on further acquaintance proves half as loyal and trustworthy as William—I couldn't help it."

"I wonder what you mean exactly by loyal and trustworthy?"

"They're not very elastic terms, are they?"

"Don't you think they mean rather the same thing?"

"Not a bit," Meg cried eagerly; "a person might be ever so trustworthy and yet not loyal. I take it that trustworthy and honest in tangible things are much the same. Loyalty is something intangible, and often means belief in people when everything seems against them. It's a much rarer quality than to be trustworthy. William would stick to one if one hadn't a crust, just because he liked to be there to make things a bit less wretched."

Miles smoked in silence for a minute, and again Meg closed her eyes.

"By the way," he said presently, "I didn't know you and my cousin Pen were friends. I met her in the Park the day before yesterday. Her hair's rather the same colour as yours—handsome woman, isn't she?"

Meg opened her eyes and turned crimson. Had the outspoken Lady Pen said anything about her hair, she wondered.

Miles, noting the sudden blush, put it down to Lady Pen's knowledge of what had happened at the Trents, and the miserable feelings of doubt and apprehension came surging back.

"She's quite lovely," said Meg.

"A bit too much on the big side, don't you think?"

"I admire big women."

Silence fell again. Meg pulled the rug up under her chin.

Surely it was not quite so warm as a few minutes ago.

Miles stood up. "I have a guilty feeling that Miss Ross will strongly disapprove of my disturbing you like this. If you will tell me which way they have gone I will go and meet them."

"They've gone to your uncle's woods, and I think they must be on their way home by now. If you call William he'll answer."

"I won't say good-bye," said Miles, "because I shall come back with them."

"I shall be on duty then," said Meg. "Good-bye."

She turned her face from him and nestled down among her cushions. For a full minute he stood staring at the back of her head, with its crushed and tumbled tangle of short curls.

Then quite silently he took his way out of the Wren's End garden.

Meg shut her eyes very tight. Was it the light that made them smart so?



CHAPTER XIX

THE YOUNG IDEA

Squire Walcote had given the Wren's End family the run of his woods, and, what was even more precious, permission to use the river-path through his grounds. Lady Mary, who had no children of her own, was immensely interested in Tony and little Fay, and would give Jan more advice as to their management in an hour than the vicar's wife ever offered during the whole of their acquaintance. But then she had a family of eight.

But the first time Tony went to the river Jan took him alone; and not to the near water in Squire Walcote's grounds, but to the old bridge that crossed the Amber some way out of the village. It was the typical Cotswold bridge, with low parapets that make such a comfortable seat for meditative villagers. Just before they reached it she loosed Tony's hand, and held her breath to see what he would do. Would he run straight across to get to the other side, or would he look over?

Yes. He went straight to the low wall; stopped, looked over, leaned over, and stared and stared.

Jan gave a sigh of relief.

The water of the Amber just there is deep and clear, an infinite thing for a child to look down into; but it was not of that Jan was thinking.

Hugo was no fisherman. Water had no attraction for him, save as a pleasant means of taking exercise. He was a fair oar; but for a stream that wouldn't float a boat he cared nothing at all.

Charles Considine Smith had angled diligently. In fact, he wrote almost as much about the habits of trout as about wrens. James Ross, the gallant who carried off the second Tranquil, had been fishing at Amber Guiting when he first saw her. Anthony's father fished and so did Anthony; and Jan, herself, could throw a fly quite prettily. Yet, your true fisherman is born, not made; it is not a question of environment, but it is, very often, one of heredity; for the tendency comes out when, apparently, every adverse circumstance has combined to crush it.

And no mortal who cares for or is going to care for fishing can ever cross a bridge without stopping to look down into the water.

"There's a fish swimming down there," Tony whispered (was it instinct made him whisper? Jan wondered), "brown and speckledy, rather like the thrushes in the garden."

Jan clutched nervously at the little coat while Tony hung over so far that only his toes were on the ground. She had brought a bit of bread in her pocket, and let him throw bits to the greedy, wily old trout who had defied a hundred skilful rods. On that first day old Amber whispered her secret to Tony and secured another slave.

For Jan it was only another proof that Tony possessed a sterling character. Since her sister's disastrous marriage she had come to look upon a taste for fishing as more or less of a moral safeguard. She had often reflected that if only Fay had not been so lukewarm with regard to the gentle craft—and so bored in a heavenly place where, if it did rain for twenty-three of the twenty-four hours, even a second-rate rod might land fourteen or fifteen pounds of good sea-trout in an afternoon—she could never have fallen in love with Hugo Tancred, who was equally without enthusiasm and equally bored till he met Fay. Jan was ready enough now to blame herself for her absorption at this time, and would remember guiltily the relief with which she and her father greeted Fay's sudden willingness to remain a week longer in a place she previously had declared to be absolutely unendurable.

The first time Tony's sister went to Amber Bridge Meg took them both. Little Fay descended from her pram just before they reached it, declaring it was a "nice dly place to walk." She ran on a little ahead, and before Meg realised what she was doing, she had scrambled up on to the top of the low wall and run briskly along it till her progress was stopped by a man who was leaning over immersed in thought. He nearly fell in himself, when a clear little voice inquired, "Do loo mind if I climb over loo?"

It was Farmer Burgess, and he clasped the tripping lady of the white woolly gaiters in a pair of strong arms, and lifted her down just as the terrified Meg reached them.

"Law, Missie!" gasped Mr. Burgess, "you mustn't do the like o' that there. It's downright fool'ardy."

"Downlight foolardy," echoed little Fay. "And what nelse?"

According to Mr. Burgess it was dangerous and a great many other things as well, but he lost his heart to her in that moment, and she could twist him round her little finger ever after.

To be told that a thing was dangerous was to add to its attractions. She was absolutely without fear, and could climb like a kitten. She hadn't been at Wren's End a week before she was discovered half-way up the staircase on the outside of the banisters. And when she had been caught and lifted over by a white-faced aunt, explained that it was "muts the most instasting way of going up tairs."

When asked how she expected to get to the other side at the top, she giggled derisively and said "ovel."

Jan seriously considered a barbed-wire entanglement for the outside edge of her staircase after that.

While Meg rested in the hammock Jan spent a strenuous morning in Guiting Woods with the children and William. Late windflowers were still in bloom, and early bluebells made lovely atmospheric patches under the trees, just as though a bit of the sky had fallen, as in the oft-told tale of "Cockie Lockie." There were primroses, too, and white violets, so that there were many little bunches with exceedingly short stalks to be arranged and tied up with the worsted provident Auntie Jan had brought with her; finally they all sat down on a rug lined with mackintosh, and little Fay demanded "Clipture."

"Clipture" was her form of "Scripture," which Auntie Jan "told" every morning after breakfast to the children. Jan was a satisfactory narrator, for the form of her stories never varied. The Bible stories she told in the actual Bible words, and all children appreciate their dramatic simplicity and directness.

That morning Joseph and his early adventures and the baby Moses were the favourites, and when these had been followed by "The Three Bears" and "Cock Robin," it was time to collect the bouquets and go home. And on the way home they met Captain Middleton. William spied him afar off, and dashed towards him with joyful, deep-toned barks. He was delighted to see William, said he had grown and was in the pink of condition; and then announced that he had already been to Wren's End and had seen Miss Morton. There was something in the tone of this avowal that made Jan think. It was shy, it was proud, it seemed to challenge Jan to find any fault in his having done so, and it was supremely self-conscious. He walked back with them to the Wren's End gate, and then came a moment of trial for William.

He wanted to go with his master.

He wanted to stay with the children.

Captain Middleton settled it by shaking each offered paw and saying very seriously: "You must stay and take care of the ladies, William. I trust you." William looked wistfully after the tall figure that went down the road with the queer, light, jumpetty tread of all men who ride much.

Then he trotted after Jan and the children and was exuberantly glad to see Meg again.

She declared herself quite rested; heard that they had seen Captain Middleton, and met unmoved the statement that he was coming to tea.

But she didn't look nearly so well rested as Jan had hoped she would.

After the children's dinner Meg went on duty, and Jan saw no more of the nursery party till later in the afternoon. The creaking wheels of two small wheelbarrows made Jan look up from the letters she was writing at the knee-hole table that stood in the nursery window, and she beheld little Fay and Tony, followed by Meg knitting busily, as they came through the yew archway on to the lawn.

Meg subsided into one of the white seats, but the children processed solemnly round, pausing under Jan's window.

"I know lots an' lots of Clipture," her niece's voice proclaimed proudly as she sat down heavily in her wheelbarrow on the top of some garden produce she had collected.

"How much do you know?" Tony asked sceptically.

"Oh, lots an' lots, all about poor little Jophez in the bullushes, and his instasting dleams."

"Twasn't Jophez," Tony corrected. "It was Mophez in the bulrushes, and he didn't have no dreams. That was Jophez."

"How d'you know," Fay persisted, "that poor little Mophez had no dleams? Why shouldn't he have dleams same as Jophez?"

"It doesn't say so."

"It doesn't say he didn't have dleams. He had dleams, I tell you; I know he had. Muts nicer dleams van Jophez."

"Let's ask Meg; she'll know."

Jan gave a sigh of relief. The children had not noticed her, and Meg had a fertile mind.

The wheelbarrows were trundled across the lawn and paused in front of Meg, while a lively duet demanded simultaneously:

{"Did little Mophez have dleams?" {"Didn't deah littoo Mophez have dleams?"

When Meg had disentangled the questions and each child sat down in a wheelbarrow at her feet, she remarked judicially: "Well, there's nothing said about little Moses' dreams, certainly; but I should think it's quite likely the poor baby did have dreams."

"What sort of dleams? Nicer van sheaves and sings, wasn't they?"

"I should think," Meg said thoughtfully, "that he dreamed he must cry very quietly lest the Egyptians should hear him."

"Deah littoo Mophez ... and what nelse?"

Meg was tempted and fell. It was very easy for her to invent "dleams" for "deah littoo Mophez" lying in his bulrush ark among the flags at the river's edge. And, wholly regardless of geography, she transported him to the Amber, where the flags were almost in bloom at that moment, such local colour adding much to the realism of her stories.

Presently William grew restless. He ran to Anthony's Venetian gate in the yew hedge and squealed (William never whined) to get out. Tony let him out, and he fled down the drive to meet his master, who had come a good half-hour too soon for tea.

Jan continued to try and finish her letters while Captain Middleton, coatless, on all-fours, enacted an elephant which the children rode in turn. When he had completely ruined the knees of his trousers he arose and declared it was time to play "Here we go round the mulberry-bush," and it so happened that once or twice he played it hand-in-hand with Meg.

Jan left her letters and went out.

The situation puzzled her. She feared for Meg's peace of mind, for Captain Middleton was undoubtedly attractive; and then she found herself fearing for his.

After tea and more games with the children Captain Middleton escorted his hostess to church, where he joined his aunt in the Manor seat.

During church Jan found herself wondering uneasily:

"Was everybody going to fall in love with Meg?"

"Would Peter?"

"What a disagreeable idea!"

And yet, why should it be?

Resolutely she told herself that Peter was at perfect liberty to fall in love with Meg if he liked, and set herself to listen intelligently to the Vicar's sermon.

* * * * *

Meg started to put her children to bed, only to find that her fertility of imagination in the afternoon was to prove her undoing in the evening; for her memory was by no means as reliable as her powers of invention.

Little Fay urgently demanded the whole cycle of little Mophez' dleams over again. And for the life of her Meg couldn't remember them either in their proper substance or sequence—and this in spite of the most persistent prompting, and she failed utterly to reproduce the entertainment of the afternoon. Both children were disappointed, but little Fay, accustomed as she was to Auntie Jan's undeviating method of narrating "Clipture," was angry as well. She fell into a passion of rage and nearly screamed the house down. Since the night of Ayah's departure there had not been such a scene.

Poor Meg vowed (though she knew she would break her vow the very first time she was tempted) that never again would she tamper with Holy Writ, and for some weeks she coldly avoided both Jophez and Mophez as topics of conversation.

Meg could never resist playing at things, and what "Clipture" the children learned from Jan in the morning they insisted on enacting with Meg later in the day.

Sometimes she was seized with misgiving as to the propriety of these representations, but dismissed her doubts as cowardly.

"After all," she explained to Jan, "we only play the very human bits. I never let them pretend to be anybody divine ... and you know the people—in the Old Testament, anyway—were most of them extremely human, not to say disreputable at times."

It is possible that "Clipture's" supreme attraction for the children was that it conveyed the atmosphere of the familiar East. The New Testament was more difficult to play at, but, being equally dramatic, the children couldn't see it.

"Can't we do one teeny miracle?" Tony would beseech, but Meg was firm; she would have nothing to do with either miracles nor yet with angels. Little Fay ardently desired to be an angel, but Meg wouldn't have it at any price.

"You're not in the least like an angel, you know," she said severely.

"What for?"

"Because angels are perfectly good."

"I could pletend to be puffectly good."

"Let's play Johnny Baptist," suggested the ever-helpful Tony, "and we could pittend to bring in his head on a charger."

"Certainly not," Meg said hastily. "That would be a horrid game."

"Let me be the daughter!" little Fay implored, "and dance in flont of Helod."

This was permitted, and Tony, decorated with William's chain, sat gloomily scowling at the gyrations of "the daughter," who, assisted by William, danced all over the nursery: and Meg, watching the representation, decided that if the original "daughter" was half as bewitching as this one, there really might have been some faint excuse for Herod.

Hannah had no idea of these goings-on, or she would have expected the roof to fall in and crush them. Yet she, too, was included among the children's prophets, owing to her exact and thorough knowledge of "Clipture." Hannah's favourite part of the Bible was the Book of Daniel, which she knew practically by heart; and her rendering of certain chapters was—though she would have hotly resented the phrase—extremely dramatic.

It is so safe and satisfying to know that your favourite story will run smoothly, clause for clause, and word for word, just as you like it best, and the children were always sure of this with Hannah.

Anne Chitt would listen open-mouthed in astonishment, exclaiming afterwards, "Why, 'Annah, wot a tremenjous lot of Bible verses you 'ave learned to be sure."

The children once tried Anne Chitt as a storyteller, but she was a failure.

As she had been present at several of Hannah's recitals of the Three Children and the burning fiery furnace, they thought it but a modest demand upon her powers. But when—instead of beginning with the sonorous "Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations and languages"—when she wholly omitted any reference to "the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick"—and essayed to tell the story in broad Gloucestershire and her own bald words, the disappointed children fell upon her and thumped her rudely upon the back; declaring her story to be "kutcha" and she, herself, a budmash. Which, being interpreted, meant that her story was most badly made and that she, herself, was a rascal.

Anne Chitt was much offended, and complained tearfully to Jan that she "wouldn't 'ave said nothin' if they'd called 'er or'nery names, but them there Injian words was more than she could abear."



CHAPTER XX

"ONE WAY OF LOVE"

Among the neighbours there was none more assiduous in the matter of calls and other friendly manifestations than Mr. Huntly Withells—emphasis on the "ells"—who lived at Guiting Grange, about a couple of miles from Wren's End. Mr. Withells was settled at the Grange some years before Miss Janet Ross left her house to Jan, and he was already a person of importance and influence in that part of the county when Anthony Ross and his daughters first spent a whole summer there.

Mr. Withells proved most neighbourly. He had artistic leanings himself, and possessed some good pictures; among them, one of Anthony's, which naturally proved a bond of union. He did not even so much as sketch, himself—which Anthony considered another point in his favour—but he was a really skilled photographer, possessed the most elaborate cameras, and obtained quite beautiful results.

Since Jan's return from India he had completely won her heart by taking a great many photographs of the children, pictures delightfully natural, and finished as few amateurs contrive to present them.

It was rumoured in Amber Guiting that Mr. Withells' views on the subject of matrimony were "peculiar"; but all the ladies, especially the elderly ladies, were unanimous in declaring that he had a "beautiful mind."

Mrs. Fream, the vicar's wife, timidly confided to Jan that Mr. Withells had told her husband that he cared only for "spiritual marriage"— whatever that might be; and that, as yet, he had met no woman whom he felt would see eye to eye with him on this question. "He doesn't approve of caresses," she added.

"Well, who wants to caress him?" Jan asked bluntly.

Meg declared there was one thing she could not bear about Mr. Withells, and that was the way he shook hands, "exactly as if he had no thumbs. If he's so afraid of touching one as all that comes to, why doesn't he let it alone?"

Yet the apparently thumbless hands were constantly occupied in bearing gifts of all kinds to his friends.

In appearance he was dapper, smallish, without being undersized, always immaculately neat in his attire, with a clean-shaven, serious, rather sallow face, which was inclined to be chubby as to the cheeks. He wore double-sighted pince-nez, and no mortal had ever seen him without them. His favourite writer was Miss Jane Austen, and he deplored the licentious tendency of so much modern literature; frequently, and with flushed countenance, denouncing certain books as an "outrage." He was considered a very well-read man. He disliked anything that was "not quite nice," and detested a strong light, whether it were thrown upon life or landscape; in bright sunshine he always carried a white umbrella lined with green. The game he played best was croquet, and here he was really first class; but he was also skilled in every known form of Patience, and played each evening unless he happened to be dining out.

As regards food he was something of a faddist, and on the subject of fresh air almost a monomaniac. He declared that he could not exist for ten minutes in a room with closed windows, and that the smell of apples made him feel positively faint; moreover, he would mention his somewhat numerous antipathies as though there were something peculiarly meritorious in possessing so many. This made his entertainment at any meal a matter of agitated consideration among the ladies of Amber Guiting.

Nevertheless, he kept an excellent and hospitable table himself, and in no way forced his own taste upon others. He disliked the smell of tobacco and hardly ever drank wine, yet he kept a stock of excellent cigars and his cellar was beyond reproach.

He had been observing Jan for several years, and was rapidly coming to the conclusion that she was an "eminently sensible woman." Her grey hair and the way she had managed everything for her father led him to believe that she was many years older than her real age. Recently he had taken to come to Wren's End on one pretext and another almost every day. He was kind and pleasant to the children, who amused and pleased him—especially little Fay; but he was much puzzled by Meg, whom he had known in pre-cap-and-apron days while she was staying at Wren's End.

He couldn't quite place Meg, and there was an occasional glint in her queer eyes that he found disconcerting. He was never comfortable in her society, for he objected to red hair almost as strongly as to a smell of apples.

He really liked the children, and since he knew he couldn't get Jan without them he was beginning to think that in such a big house as the Grange they would not necessarily be much in the way. He knew nothing whatever about Hugo Tancred.

Jan satisfied his fastidious requirements. She was dignified, graceful, and, he considered, of admirable parts. He felt that in a very little while he could imbue Jan with his own views as to the limitations and delicate demarcations of such a marriage as he contemplated.

She was so sensible.

Meanwhile the object of these kind intentions was wholly unaware of them. She was just then very much absorbed in her own affairs and considerably worried about Meg's. For Captain Middleton's week-end was repeated on the following Saturday and extended far into the next week. He came constantly to Wren's End, where the children positively adored him, and he seemed to possess an infallible instinct which led him to the village whensoever Meg and her charges had business there.

On such occasions Meg was often quite rude to Captain Middleton, but the children and William more than atoned for her coldness by the warmth of their welcome, and he attached himself to them.

In fact, as regards the nursery party at Wren's End, Miles strongly resembled William before a fire—you might drive him away ninety and nine times, he always came thrusting back with the same expression of deprecating astonishment that you could be other than delighted to see him.

Whither was it all tending? Jan wondered.

No further news had come from Hugo; Peter, she supposed, had sailed and was due in London at the end of the week.

Then Mr. Huntly Withells asked her one afternoon to bicycle over to see his spring irises—he called them "irides," and invariably spoke of "croci," and "delphinia"—and as Meg was taking the children to tea at the vicarage, Jan went.

To her surprise, she found herself the sole guest, but supposed she was rather early and that his other friends hadn't come yet.

They strolled about the gardens, so lovely in their spring blossoming, and it happened that from one particular place they got a specially good view of the house.

"How much larger it is than you would think, looking at the front," Jan remarked. "You don't see that wing at all from the drive."

"There's plenty of room for nephews and nieces," Mr. Withells said jocularly.

"Have you many nephews and nieces?" she asked, turning to look at him, for there was something in the tone of his voice that she could not understand.

"Not of my own," he replied, still in that queer, unnatural voice, "but you see my wife might have ... if I was married."

"Are you thinking of getting married?" she asked, with the real interest such a subject always rouses in woman.

"That depends," Mr. Withells said consciously, "on whether the lady I have in mind ... er ... shall we sit down, Miss Ross? It's rather hot in the walks."

"Oh, not yet," Jan exclaimed. She couldn't think why, but she began to feel uncomfortable. "I must see those Darwin tulips over there."

"It's very sunny over there," he objected. "Come down the nut-walk and see the myosotis arvensis; it is already in bloom, the weather has been so warm.

"Miss Ross," Mr. Withells continued seriously, as they turned into the nut-walk which led back towards the house, "we have known each other for a considerable time...."

"We have," said Jan, as he had paused, evidently expecting a reply.

"And I have come to have a great regard for you...."

Again he paused, and Jan found herself silently whispering, "Curtsy while you're thinking—it saves time," but she preserved an outward silence.

"You are, if I may say so, the most sensible woman of my acquaintance."

"Thank you," said Jan, but without enthusiasm.

"We are neither of us quite young"—(Mr. Withells was forty-nine, but it was a little hard on Jan)—"and I feel sure that you, for instance, would not expect or desire from a husband those constant outward demonstrations of affection such as handclaspings and kisses, which are so foolish and insanitary."

Jan turned extremely red and walked rather faster.

"Do not misunderstand me, Miss Ross," Mr. Withells continued, looking with real admiration at her downcast, rosy face—she must be quite healthy he thought, to look so clean and fresh always—"I lay down no hard-and-fast rules. I do not say should my wife desire to kiss me sometimes, that I should ... repulse her."

Jan gasped.

"But I have the greatest objection, both on sanitary and moral grounds to——"

"I can't imagine anyone wanting to kiss you," Jan interrupted furiously; "you're far too puffy and stippled."

And she ran from him as though an angry bull were after her.

Mr. Withells stood stock-still where he was, in pained astonishment.

He saw the fleeing fair one disappear into the distance and in the shortest time on record he heard the clanging of her bicycle bell as she scorched down his drive.

"Puffy and stippled"—"Puffy and stippled"!

Mr. Withells repeated to himself this rudely personal remark as he walked slowly towards the house.

What could she mean?

And what in the world had he said to make her so angry?

Women were really most unaccountable.

He ascended his handsome staircase and went into his dressing-room, and there he sought his looking-glass, which stood in the window, and surveyed himself critically. Yes, his cheeks were a bit puffy near the nostrils, and, as is generally the case in later life, the pores of the skin were a bit enlarged, but for all that he was quite a personable man.

He sighed. Miss Ross, he feared, was not nearly so sensible as he had thought.

It was distinctly disappointing.

* * * * *

For the first mile and a quarter Jan scorched all she knew. The angry blood was thumping in her ears and she exclaimed indignantly at intervals, "How dared he! How dared he!"

Then she punctured a tyre.

There was no hope of getting it mended till she reached Wren's End, when Earley would do it for her. As she pushed her bicycle along the lane she recovered her sense of humour and she laughed. And presently she became aware of a faint, sweet, elusive perfume from some flowering shrub on the other side of somebody's garden wall.

It strongly resembled the smell of a blossoming tree that grew on Ridge Road, Malabar Hill. And in one second Jan was in Bombay, and was standing in the moonlight, looking up into a face that was neither puffy nor stippled nor prim; but young and thin and worn and very kind. And the exquisite understanding of that moment came back to her, and her eyes filled with tears.

Yet in another moment she was again demanding indignantly, "How dared he!"

She went straight to her room when she got in, and, like Mr. Withells, she went and looked at herself in the glass.

Unlike Mr. Withells, she saw nothing there to give her any satisfaction. She shook her head at the person in the glass and said aloud:

"If that's all you get by trying to be sensible, the sooner you become a drivelling idiot the better for your peace of mind—and your vanity."

The person in the glass shook her head back at Jan, and Jan turned away thoroughly disgusted with such a futile sort of tu quoque.



CHAPTER XXI

ANOTHER WAY OF LOVE

Meg and the children, returning from their tea-party at the vicarage, were stopped continually in their journey through the main street by friendly folk who wanted to greet the children. It was quite a triumphal progress, and Meg was feeling particularly proud that afternoon, for her charges, including William, had all behaved beautifully. Little Fay had refrained from snatching other children's belongings with the cool remark, "Plitty little Fay would like 'at"; Tony had been quite merry and approachable; and William had offered paws and submitted to continual pullings, pushings and draggings with exemplary patience.

Once through the friendly, dignified old street, they reached the main road, which was bordered by rough grass sloping to a ditch surmounted by a thick thorn hedge. They were rather late, and Meg was wheeling little Fay as fast as she could, Tony trotting beside her to keep up, when a motor horn was sounded behind them and a large car came along at a good speed. They were all well to the side of the road, but William—with the perverse stupidity of the young dog—above all, of the young bull-terrier—chose that precise moment to gambol aimlessly right into the path of the swiftly-coming motor, just as it seemed right upon him; and this, regardless of terrified shouts from Meg and the children, frantic sounding of the horn and violent language from the driver of the car.

It seemed that destruction must inevitably overtake William when the car swerved violently as the man ran it down the sloping bank, where it stuck, leaving William, unscathed and rather alarmed by all the clamour, to run back to his family.

Meg promptly whacked him as hard as she could, whereupon, much surprised, he turned over on his back, waving four paws feebly in the air.

"Why don't you keep your dog at the side?" the man shouted with very natural irritation as he descended from his seat.

"He's a naughty—stupid—puppy," Meg ejaculated between the whacks. "It wasn't your fault in the least, and it was awfully good of you to avoid him."—Whack—whack.

The man started a little as she spoke and came across the road towards them.

Meg raised a flushed face from her castigation of William, but the pretty colour faded quickly when she saw who the stranger was.

"Meg!" he exclaimed. "You!"

For a tense moment they stared at one another, while the children stared at the stranger. He was certainly a handsome man; melancholy, "interesting." Pale, with regular features and sleepy, smallish eyes set very near together.

"If you knew how I have searched for you," he said.

His voice was his great charm, and would have made his fortune on the stage. It could convey so much, could be so tender and beseeching, so charged with deepest sadness, so musical always.

"Your search cannot have been very arduous," Meg answered drily. "There has never been any mystery about my movements." And she looked him straight in the face.

"At first, I was afraid ... I did not try to find you."

"You were well-advised."

"Who is 'at sahib?" little Fay interrupted impatiently. "Let us go home." She had no use for any sahib who ignored her presence.

"Yes, we'd better be getting on," Meg said hurriedly, and seized the handle of the pram.

But he stood right in their path.

"You were very cruel," the musical voice went on. "You never seemed to give a thought to all I was suffering."

Meg met the sleepy eyes, that used to thrill her very soul, with a look of scornful amusement in hers that was certainly the very last expression he had ever expected to see in them.

She had always dreaded this moment.

Realising the power this man had exercised over her, she always feared that should she meet him again the old glamour would surround him; the old domination be reasserted. She forgot that in five years one's standards change.

Now that she did meet him she discovered that he held no bonds with which to bind her. That what she had dreaded was a chimera. The real Walter Brooke, the moment he appeared in the flesh, destroyed the image memory had set up; and Meg straightened her slender shoulders as though a heavy burden had dropped from them.

The whole thing passed like a flash.

"You were very cruel," he repeated.

"There is no use going into all that," Meg answered in a cheerful, matter-of-fact tone. "Good-bye, Mr. Brooke. We are most grateful to you for not running over William, who is," here she raised her voice for the benefit of the culprit, "a naughty—tiresome dog."

"But you can't leave me like this. When can I see you again—there is so much I want to explain...."

"But I don't want any explanations, thank you. Come children, we must go."

"Meg, listen ... surely you have some little feeling of kindness towards me ... after all that happened...."

He put his hand on Meg's arm to detain her, and William, who had never been known to show enmity to human creature, gave a deep growl and bristled. A growl so ominous and threatening that Meg hastily loosed the pram and caught him by the collar with both hands.

Tony saw that Meg was flustered and uncomfortable. "Why does he not go?" he asked. "I thought he was a sahib, but I suppose he is the gharri-wallah. We have thanked him—does he want backsheesh? Give him a rupee."

"He does want backsheesh," the deep, musical voice went on—"a little pity, a little common kindness."

It was an embarrassing situation. William was straining at his collar and growling like an incipient thunderstorm.

"We have thanked you," Tony said again with dignity. "We have no money, or we would reward you. If you like to call at the house, Auntie Jan always has money."

The man smiled pleasantly at Tony.

"Thank you, young man. You have told me exactly what I wanted to know. So you are with your friends?"

"I can't hold this dog much longer," Meg gasped. "If you don't go—you'll get bitten."

William ceased to growl, for far down the road he had heard a footstep that he knew. He still strained at his collar, but it was in a direction that led away from Mr. Walter Brooke. Meg let go and William swung off down the road.

"Shall we all have a lide in loo ghalli?" little Fay asked—it seemed to her sheer waste of time to stand arguing in the road when a good car was waiting empty. The children called every form of conveyance a "gharri."

"We shall meet again," said this persistent man. "You can't put me off like this."

He raised his voice, for he was angry, and its clear tones carried far down the quiet road.

"There's Captain Middleton with William," Tony said suddenly. "Perhaps he has some money."

Meg paled and crimsoned, and with hands that trembled started to push the pram at a great pace.

The man went back to his car, and Tony, regardless of Meg's call to him, ran to meet William and Miles.

The back wheels of the car had sunk deeply into the soft wet turf. It refused to budge. Miles came up. He was long-sighted, and he had seen very well who it was that was talking to Meg in the road. He had also heard Mr. Brooke's last remark.

Till lately he had only known Walter Brooke enough to dislike him vaguely. Since his interview with Mrs. Trent this feeling had intensified to such an extent as surprised himself. At the present moment he was seething with rage, but all the same he went and helped to get the car up the bank, jacking it up, and setting his great shoulders against it to start it again.

All this Tony watched with deepest interest, and Meg waited, fuming, a little way down the road, for she knew it was hopeless to get Tony to come till the car had once started. Once on the hard road again, it bowled swiftly away and to her immense relief passed her without stopping.

She saw that Miles was bringing Tony, and started on again with little Fay.

Fury was in her heart at Tony's disobedience, and behind it all a dull ache that Miles should have heard, and doubtless misunderstood, Walter Brooke's last remark.

Tony was talking eagerly as he followed, but she was too upset to listen till suddenly she heard Miles say in a tone of the deepest satisfaction, "Good old William."

This was too much.

She stopped and called over her shoulder: "He isn't good at all; he's a thoroughly tiresome, disobedient, badly-trained dog."

They came up with her at that, and William rolled over on his back, for he knew those tones portended further punishment.

"He's an ass in lots of ways," Miles allowed, "but he is an excellent judge of character."

And as if in proof of this William righted himself and came cringing to Meg to try and lick the hand that a few minutes ago had thumped him so vigorously.

Meg looked up at Miles and he looked down at her, and his gaze was pained, kind and grave. His eyes were large and well-opened and set wide apart in his broad face. Honest, trustworthy eyes they were.

Very gently he took the little pram from her, for he saw that her hands were trembling: "You've had a fright," he said. "I know what it is. I had a favourite dog run over once. It's horrible, it takes months to get over it. I can't think why dogs are so stupid about motors ... must have been a near shave that ... very decent of Brooke—he's taken pounds off his car with that wrench."

While Miles talked he didn't look at Meg.

"I say, little Fay," he suddenly suggested, "wouldn't you like to walk a bit?" and he lifted her out. "There, that's better. Now, Miss Morton, you sit down a minute; you've had a shake, you know. I'll go on with the kiddies."

Meg was feeling a horrible, humiliating desire to cry. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, her knees refused to bear her. Thankfully she sat down on the foot-board of Fay's little pram. The tall figure between the two little ones suddenly grew blurred and dim. Furtively she blew her nose and wiped her eyes. They were not a stone's throw from the lodge at Wren's End.

How absurd to be sitting there!

And yet she didn't feel inclined to move just yet.

"'Ere, my dear, you take a sip o' water; the gentleman's told me all about it. Them sort o' shocks fair turns one over."

And kind Mrs. Earley was beside her, holding out a thick tumbler. Meg drank the deliciously cold water and arose refreshed.

And somehow the homely comfort of Mrs. Earley's presence made her realise wherein lay the essential difference between these two men.

"He still treats me like a princess," she thought, "even though he thinks ... Oh, what can he think?" and Meg gave a little sob.

"There, there!" said Mrs. Earley, "don't you take on no more, Miss. The dear dog bain't 'urted not a 'air of him. 'E cum frolicking in that friendly—I sometimes wonders if there do be anyone as William 'ud ever bite. 'E ain't much of a watchdog, I fear."

"He nearly bit someone this afternoon," Meg said.

"Well, I'm not sorry to yer it. It don't do for man nor beast to be too trustful—not in this world it don't."

At the drive gate Miles was standing.

Mrs. Earley took the pram with her for Earley to clean, and Meg and Miles walked on together.

"I'm sorry you've had this upset," he said. "I've talked to William like a father."

"It wasn't only William," Meg murmured.

They were close to the house, and she stopped.

"Good night, Captain Middleton. I must go and put my children to bed; we're late."

"I don't want to seem interfering, Miss Morton, but don't you let anyone bully you into picking up an acquaintance you'd rather drop."

"I suppose," said Meg, "one always has to pay for the things one has done."

"Well, yes, sooner or later; but it's silly to pay Jew prices."

"Ah," said Meg, "you've never been poor enough to go to the Jews, so you can't tell."

* * * * *

Miles walked slowly back to Amber Guiting that warm May evening. He had a good deal to think over, for he had come to a momentous decision. When he thought of Meg as he had just seen her—small and tremulous and tearful—he clenched his big hands and made a sound in his throat not unlike William's growl. When he pictured her angry onslaught upon William, he laughed. But the outcome of his reflections was this—that whether in the past she had really done anything that put her in Walter Brooke's power, or whether he was right to trust to that intangible quality in her that seemed to give the direct lie to the worst of Mrs. Trent's story, Meg appeared to him to stand in need of some hefty chap as a buffer between her and the hard world, and he was very desirous of being that same for Meg.

His grandfather, "Mutton-Pie Middleton," had married one of his own waitresses for no other reason than that he found she was "the lass for him"—and he might, so the Doncaster folk thought, have looked a good deal higher for a wife, for he was a "warm" man at the time. Miles strongly resembled his grandfather. He was somewhat ruefully aware that in appearance there was but little of the Keills about him. He could just remember the colossal old man who must have weighed over twenty stone in his old age, and Miles, hitherto, had refused to buy a motor for his own use because he knew that if he was to keep his figure he must walk, and walk a lot.

Like his grandfather, he was now perfectly sure of himself; Meg "was the lass for him"; but he was by no means equally sure of her. By some infallible delicacy of instinct—and this he certainly did not get from the Middletons—he knew that what the world would regard as a magnificent match for Meg, might be the very circumstance that would destroy his chance with her. The Middletons were all keenly alive to the purchasing powers of money, and saw to it that they got their money's worth.

All the same, a man's a man, whether he be rich or poor, and Miles still remembered the way Meg had smiled upon him the first time they ever met. Surely she could never have smiled at him like that unless she had rather liked him.

It was the pathos of Meg herself—not the fact that she had to work—that appealed to Miles. That she should cheerfully earn her own living instead of grousing in idleness in a meagre home seemed to him merely a matter of common sense. He knew that if he had to do it he could earn his, and the one thing he could neither tolerate nor understand about a good many of his Keills relations was their preference for any form of assistance to honest work. He helped them generously enough, but in his heart of hearts he despised them, though he did not confess this even to himself.

As he drew near the Manor House he saw Lady Mary walking up and down outside, evidently waiting for him.

"Where have you been, Miles?" she asked, impatiently. "Pen has been here, and wanted specially to see you, but she couldn't stay any longer, as it's such a long run back. She motored over from Malmesbury."

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