Dick remarked that he'd hardly call Miss Lethbridge a "little thing," whereupon Kathy defended her adjective by saying Ellaline was only about up to her ear.
Of course that set Mr. Dick's detective bump to throbbing furiously. He reassured me by announcing that he hadn't said any more to Kathy, but that he'd thought a lot. In fact, he thought so much that he asked if she'd give him a line of introduction to Madame, as he had a cousin who wanted to go to a French school, and next time he "ran across to Paris," he might have a look at Versailles. Kathy gave the note, and that same night, if you'll believe it, the horrid little boy did "run across." At the earliest hour possible in the morning he called at the school, only to find Madame already away for her holidays. But you know she always leaves her sister, Mademoiselle Prado, to look after things, and when Mademoiselle heard what Dick wanted, she showed him all over the place. He said he would like to see photographs of the young ladies in groups, if any such existed, because he could write his Australian cousin what nice, happy-looking girls they were. Promptly that poor, unsuspecting female produced the big picture Madame had done of the tea-party on the lawn, a year ago in June, and there was I in it. But Dick was too foxy to begin by asking questions about me. Kathy adorned the photograph also, with Ellaline on her right and me in the perspective of her left ear, which must have seemed to point at me accusingly. Dick could claim Kathy quite naturally, as he'd come with her letter, and presently he led up to me, saying he seemed to have seen me somewhere. Was I a great friend of Miss Bennett's, and was it probable that she had my portrait?
Mademoiselle innocently said no, Miss Bennett was much more likely to have Mees Lethbridge's portrait than Mees Brendon's, as Mees Brendon was not a pupil of the school, only a teacher of singing, and Mees Kathy was not musical. But Mees Lethbridge, la petite jeune fille on the right, was a friend of Mees Bennett.
Now you'll admit that Dick was rather smart to have chopped all these branches off the tree of knowledge with his little hatchet. I think his cleverness worthy of a better cause.
The next thing he did was to ask, naively, if that Miss Lethbridge was the Miss Lethbridge—the ward of Sir Lionel Pendragon, so much talked of in the papers just now? Proud that her sister's school had moulded a celebrity, Mademoiselle chatted away about Ellaline, saying what a dear child she was, how sorry Madame was to part from her, and how Madame de Blanchemain, Ellaline's chere marraine, at St. Cloud, must be missing her mignonne at this very moment.
It goes without saying that Mr. Dick's next step took him at a single stride to St. Cloud. He didn't call on Madame de Blanchemain, not wishing to stir up a tempest in a teapot, but simply pryed and peered, and did all sorts of sneaky things, only excusable in a professional detective, who must (or thinks he must) live.
He found out about Madame de Blanchemain's nephew, Ellaline's Honore, and put this and that together, until he'd patched up the theory of a love affair. But further he dared not go, on that track, so he pranced back to Versailles, and found out things about Audrie Brendon.
The way he did that was through noticing the name of the Versailles photographer who took the group in the garden. Dick called on him, and said he wanted a copy of the picture, because his "cousin" was in it. The man had several on hand, as parents occasionally wrote for them, and when Dick got his he inquired who I was. The obliging photographer, perhaps scenting a romance, told him I lived in the Rue Chapeau de Marie Antoinette with my mother. Then the wretch actually had the impudence to describe to me a visit he paid our apartment, ringing at the door, and asking dear Philomene for Madame Brendon!
In five minutes, he had heard all our family affairs, as far as that dear, simple, talkative soul could tell him. That you were in Switzerland, and I had gone to England to visit a friend.
I sat and listened to the end of the story, saying never a word, though I was in one of the moods which make me a person that nobody but myself could stand for a moment. I should simply have smiled if wild horses had come along to tear him in two.
"So you see," said he, at last, when I didn't speak, "I'm in the game with you."
"It isn't my game," said I.
"You're playing it," said he.
"Because I have to," said I.
"Is it Sir Lionel who's making you play it?" he asked.
"Oh, dear, no," I broke out, before I stopped to think.
"Then, he isn't in it?"
I thought it looked more respectable to admit that, whatever the "game" was, Sir Lionel and I were not playing it together.
"You're doing it for your friend," deduced our young detective.
I gently intimated that that was my business. But Mr. Burden advised me that I would be wise to accept him as my partner if I didn't want the business to fail.
"What have I done to you, that you should interfere?" I wanted to know, only I didn't dare—actually didn't dare, for Ellaline's sake, to speak angrily. Oh, I did feel like a worm's paper doll!
"You've made me like you, awfully," he said.
"Then you shouldn't want to do me any harm," I suggested.
"I don't want to do you harm," he defended himself. "What I want is to see as much of you as possible, and also I'd like to give Aunt Gwen a little pleasure, thrown in with mine. I want you to ask Sir Lionel to invite us to join your party. There's plenty of room for us in that big motor-car of his. I went to see it in the garage to-day."
"You would!" I couldn't resist sputtering. But he took no notice.
"You needn't be afraid that Aunt Gwen's in this," he went on to assure me. "I've kept mum as an oyster. All she knows is that I saw you—Miss Lethbridge—in Paris, and haven't been the same man since. She helped me get to know you, of course. She's a great chum of mine, and her being an old pal of Sir Lionel's too, meant a lot for me in the beginning. She's a ripper, and stanch as they make 'em—but they don't make 'em perfectly stanch where other women are concerned. And as long as you and I hunt in couples she shan't have a suspicion."
"You'd tell her, if I refused to hunt in that way?" I asked.
"I might think it my duty to let Sir Lionel know how he's being humbugged. At present I'm shuttin' my eyes to duty, and lookin' at you. What?"
"Why does Mrs. Senter want to come with us?" I ventured to inquire.
"Because," explained her loyal nephew, "she's fed up with visiting, and she loves motoring. So do I, with the right people. I'm sure it's not much to ask. We won't sponge on Sir Lionel. We'll pay our own hotel bills; and I'm sure, even though you are in a wax with me just now, you must admit Aunt Gwen and I would wake things up a bit—what? All's fair in love and war, so you oughtn't to blame me for anything I've done. You'd think it jolly well romantic if you read it in a book."
I denied this, but said I would consider. He must give me till to-morrow morning to make up my mind; which he flatly refused to do. To-morrow would be too late. He saw in my eye that I hoped to slip off, but it was "no good my being foxy." Things must be fixed up, or blown up, on board this ship to-night.
Whether or not he really meant to do his worst, if I wouldn't give in, I can't be sure, but he looked as obstinate as six pigs, and I didn't dare risk Ellaline's future. My own impression is that there's a big mistake somewhere, and that she would be perfectly safe in Sir Lionel's hands if she would tell him frankly all about Honore du Guesclin—I, meanwhile, vanishing through a stage trap or something. But she may be right. And I may be wrong. That's why I was forced to promise Dick. And I kept my promise, as soon as we got home to our hotel—Sir Lionel, Mrs. Norton, and I.
I knew it would be a most horrid thing to do, but it was even horrider than I thought.
All the way going back I was planning what to say, and feeling damp on the forehead, thinking how impudent it would seem in me, a young girl and a guest, to make such a suggestion. But it had to be done, so I screwed up my courage, swallowed half of it again, with a lump in my throat, and exclaimed in a gay, spontaneous way, like the sweet, innocent angel I am: "Oh, Sir Lionel, wouldn't it be fun if Mrs. Senter and—and her nephew were going with us for a little way? They both love motoring."
He looked surprised and Emily pursed her lips.
"Do you want them to come?" he asked.
"Well, I just thought of it," I stammered.
"I thought you didn't like Burden," he said. No wonder, as I'd unfortunately unbosomed myself of my real sentiments not three hours before!
"I think he's amusing enough," I tried to slide out of the difficulty. "And Mrs. Senter probably wouldn't go without him."
"I somehow gathered an impression that you didn't admire her particularly," went on Sir Lionel, looking at me with a very straight look.
"Oh, I never said so!" I cried. "I admire her immensely."
"In that case, I'll ask them, with pleasure," said Sir Lionel. "The idea did cross my mind in London, but I didn't think you'd care for it, somehow. Emily will be pleased, I know. Won't you, Emily? And if Mrs. Senter will be as reasonable as you two in the matter of luggage we shall have plenty of room."
"It is your car, and the idea of the tour is yours," said Mrs. Norton, very feminine and resigned, also feeling that my "cheek" deserved a tiny scratch. "I am pleased with whatever pleases you."
Next morning (or rather the same morning, and this morning) Sir Lionel got his sister to write a note to Mrs. Senter, and he wrote one too, or added a P. S. "Aunt Gwen's" reply was a ladylike warwhoop of joy; and we are now waiting till the latest additions to our party have broken the news to their hostess at Hayling Island, packed a few things to take, and sent the rest "home" (wherever that may be) with Mrs. Senter's maid.
Good-bye, my Parisienne Angel.
Your broken and badly repaired
I long to hear whether you think I ought to have braved Dick.
SIR LIONEL PENDRAGON TO COLONEL PATRICK O'HAGAN
Royal Hotel, Winchester, July 21st. Night
My dear Pat: I thought of you on the Portsmouth Downs yesterday, remembering a tramp you and I had together, "exploring wild England," as we called it. We then had a pose that all England, except "town," was wild—save only and always when there was any shooting of poor silly pheasants or hunting of "that pleasant little gentleman," the fox.
After running out through Portsmouth, I suggested stopping the car and mounting the downs above, on foot, for a look at the view. There are now five in our party, instead of three—not counting Young Nick, who has no stomach for views. At Ellaline's expressed wish, Mrs. Senter and Dick Burden have come on with us from Hayling Island, where they were staying. We met them at a dance on the Thunderer, which Starlin captains. They have been invited to be of the party for a fortnight or so.
I should rather have liked to watch Ellaline's face as she climbed the hill, her feet light on yielding grass, where the gold of buttercups and turquoise of harebells lay scattered—as she climbed, and as she reached the top, to see England spread under her eyes like a great ring. But that privilege was Burden's. I hope he appreciated it. Mine was to escort Mrs. Senter. I was glad she didn't chat. I hate women who chat, or spray adjectives over a view.
You remember it all, don't you? On one side, looking landward, we had a Constable picture: a sky with tumbled clouds, shadowed downs, and forests cleft by a golden mosaic of meadows. Seaward, an impressionist sketch of Whistler's: Southampton Water and historic Portsmouth Harbour; stretches of glittering sand with the sea lying in ragged patches on it here and there like great pieces of broken glass. Over all, the English sunshine pale as an alloy of gold and silver; not too dazzling, yet discreetly cheerful, like a Puritan maiden's smile; but not like Ellaline's. Hers can be dazzling when she is surprised and pleased.
I think I recall your talk with me on a height overlooking the harbour—perhaps the same height. We painted a lurid picture, to harrow our young minds, of the wreck of the Royal George. And we said, gazing across the Downs, that England looked almost uninhabited. Well, it appears no more populous now, luckily for the picture. I heard Ellaline saying to Dick Burden that the towns and villages might be playing at hide and seek, they concealed themselves so successfully. Also I heard her advise him to read "Puck of Pook's Hill," and was somewhat disappointed that she'd already had it, as I bought it for her in Southsea yesterday. Probably she won't care to read it again. Perhaps I had better give the book to Mrs. Senter, who is a more intellectual woman than you and I supposed when she was playing with us all in India. But one doesn't talk books with pretty women in the East.
You remember the day you and I walked to Winchester from Portsmouth, starting early in the morning, with our lunch in our pockets? Well, we came along the same way, past old William of Wykeham's Wickham, the queer mill built of the Chesapeake's timbers, and Bishops' Waltham, where the ruins of the Episcopal palace struck me as being grander than I had realized. Ellaline was astonished at coming upon such a splendid monument of the past by the roadside, and was delighted to hear of the entertainment Coeur de Lion was given in the palace after his return from the German captivity. Of course the story of the famous "Waltham Blacks" pleased her too. Women can always forgive thieves, provided they're young, gay, and well born.
When Mrs. Senter found that Ellaline and my sister were in the habit of sitting in the tonneau, Young Nick beside me, she asked, after a little hesitation, if she might take his place, leaving the chauffeur to curl himself up on the emergency seat at my feet. She said that half the fun of motoring was to sit by the man at the wheel and share his impressions, like being in the forefront of battle, or going to the first performance of a play, or being in at the death with a hunt. So now you can imagine me with an amusing neighbour, for naturally I consented to the change. Neither Ellaline nor Emily had suggested companioning me, and though I must say I had thought of proposing it to Ellaline, I hadn't found the courage. She would no doubt have been too polite to refuse, while perhaps disliking the plan heartily. Now, Burden has been allotted a place with her and my sister, which is probably agreeable to Ellaline.
Curious! Even the frankest of girls—and I believe Ellaline to be as frank as her sex allows—can be secretive in an apparently motiveless way. Why should she tell me one moment that she didn't like Burden, and the next (practically) ask me to invite him and his aunt to travel with us, because she "admires Mrs. Senter immensely"? Or perhaps it is that the child doesn't know her own mind. I am studying her with deepening interest, but am not likely to have as many opportunities now there are more of us. She and Burden, being the young girl and the young man of the party, will, of course, be much together, and Mrs. Senter will fall to my lot for any excursions which may not interest, or be too tiring for, Emily. This boy's presence makes me realize, as I didn't until I had a young man of twenty-one constantly under my eyes, that the knocking of the "younger generation" has already begun to sound on my door. I had better hearken, I suppose, or some one else will kindly direct my attention to the noise. I confess I don't like it, but it's best to know the worst, and keep the knowledge in the heart, rather than read it in the mockery of some pretty girl's eyes—a pretty girl to whom one is an "old boy," perhaps.
Jove, Pat, that sticks in my gorge! It's not a thought to take to bed and go to sleep with if one wants pleasant dreams. I'm stronger than I ever was, my health is perfect, I have few gray hairs, my back is straight. I feel as if the elixir of youth ran hot in my veins. Yet one sees headlines in the papers, "Too Old at Forty." And—one is forty. It didn't matter—that is, I didn't think of it, until the coming of this boy.
His very ideas and manners are different from mine. No doubt they're the approved ideas and manners of his generation, as we had ours at his age. I wear my hair short, and think no more of its existence except to wash and brush it; but this Dick parts his in the middle, and sleeks the long locks back, keeping them smooth as a surface of yellowish satin, with bear's grease or lard, or some appalling, perfumed compound. His look is a mixture of laziness and impudence, and half his sentences he ends up with "What?" or even "What-what?" His way with women is slightly condescending, and takes their approval for granted. There's no youthful shyness about him, and what he wants he expects to get; but with me he puts on an irritating, though, I fear, conscientious air of deference that relegates me to the background of an older generation; sets me on a pedestal there, perhaps; but I have no wish for a pedestal.
Still, to do him justice, the lad is neither ill-looking nor ill-mannered. Indeed, women may consider him engaging. His aunt seems devoted to him, and says he is irresistible to girls. I think if no "greenery yallery" haze floated before my eyes, I might see that he is rather a decent boy, extremely well-groomed, alert, with good, short features and bright eyes. When he walks with Ellaline he has no more than an inch the advantage of her in height, but he has a well-knit figure and a "Sandhurst bearing."
"Crabbed age and youth cannot live together."
Am I crabbed age?
Well, this long digression ought to bring me on as far as Winchester, where we came yesterday afternoon, late. We should have been earlier (though our start was delayed by our guests' preparations), but Ellaline was fascinated by the pretty village of Twyford. You remember it? She'd been reading it up in a guide-book, and would stop for a look at the place where the Fair Fitzherbert was said to have been married to her handsome prince, later George IV. I can't recall hearing that story, though certainly Mrs. Fitzherbert's relations lived near; but I knew Pope was sent down from school there because of a satire he wrote on the master, and that Franklin visited and wrote in Twyford.
It was after four when I turned the car round that sharp corner which swings you into the Market Square of what is to me the grandest and most historic town of England. Why, it is England! Didn't the Romans get their Venta Belgarum, which finally developed into Winta-ceaster and Winchester, from the far older Celtic name for an important citadel? Wasn't there a Christian church before the days of Arthur, my alleged ancestor? Wasn't the cathedral begun by the father of AElfred on the foundations of that poor church as well as those of a Roman temple? Wasn't it here that the name of Anglia—England—was bestowed on the United Kingdoms, and wasn't it from Winchester that AElfred sent out the laws that made him and England "Great"?
Ellaline delights in the fact that the said Roman temple was Apollo's, as well as Concord's, she having named my car Apollo, and the Sun God being her favourite mythological deity at the moment. Apropos of mythology, by the way, she was rather amusing this morning on the subject of Icarus, who, she contends, was the pioneer of sporting travel. If he didn't have "tire trouble," said she, he had the nearest equivalent when his wax wings melted.
I should have enjoyed playing cicerone in Winchester, knowing and loving the place as I do, if it hadn't been for Dick Burden's air of thinking such knowledge as mine quite the musty-fusty luggage of the old fogy. There's no use pretending it didn't rub me up the wrong way!
Yesterday after arriving, Emily clamoured for tea, so we attempted no further sightseeing, but drove straight to this delightful old hotel, which was once a nunnery, and has still the nunnery garden, loved by the more enterprising of cathedral rooks. Or are they the nuns come back in disguise? This, you'll guess, is Ellaline's idea.
On the way here, however, there was the beautiful City Cross in the High Street. It would have been a disgrace not to stop for a look at it, even though we could return; and Ellaline was most enthusiastic. She doesn't know much about these things (how could she)? but she feels by instinct the beauty of all that is really fine; whereas Mrs. Senter, though maybe better instructed, is more blasee. Indeed, though she admires the right things, she is essentially the modern woman, whose interest is all in the present and future. I can't imagine her reading history for the sheer joy of it, as the child would and evidently has. Mrs. Senter would prefer a French novel; but it would have to be well written. She would accept no trash. She has an elastic mind, I must say, and appeared satisfactorily shocked when I told her how the Cross would have been chopped up by Paving Commissioners in the eighteenth century if the people hadn't howled for its salvation.
The same sort of fellows did dump AElfred and his queen out of their comfortable stone coffins, you know, to use the stone. Brutes! What was St. Swithin thinking of to let them do it? A mercy it didn't occur to some commission to take down Stonehenge. They could have made a lot of streets with that.
In the Market Place, too, there was the ancient Fair of Winchester to think of, the fair that had no rival except Beaucaire; and I had been telling them all, on the way into the town, how the woods round the city used to swarm with robbers, hoping to plunder the rich merchants from far countries. Altogether, I fancy even Dick was somewhat impressed by the ancient as well as modern importance of Winchester by the time we drove to the hotel.
By and by, when we had our rooms and were washed and refreshed, we drank tea in the garden, where old-fashioned flowers were sweet; plenty of roses, stocks, and pansies. (I had an old Scottish nurse when I was a foot or two high, and I've never forgotten what she said about pansies. "They have aye the face of a smacked cat!" It's true, isn't it? A cat glares and puts its ears back when it's smacked. Not that I ever smacked one to see.)
Afterward, I was not of a mind to propose anything. I thought each had better follow his or her inclination for what was left of the day; and mine was to stroll out and review old memories. I should have liked to take Ellaline, but fancied she might prefer society nearer her own age. However, I came across her in the High Street, alone, gazing fascinated at the window of an antique shop. There are some attractive ones in Winchester.
I wasn't sure if she weren't waiting for Dick, who might have strolled away from her for a minute, so I would have passed on if she hadn't turned.
"Did you ever see anything so beautiful?" she asked me.
I had, but I didn't say so. I liked her to like everything in my Winchester, so I inquired what she admired most in the shop window. She hardly knew. But there was some wonderful old jewellery.
The girl was right. The antique jewellery was particularly good. There were some admirable necklaces and rings, with fine stones.
"What's your birth month?" I asked, on a sudden thought.
"July," said she.
"What—this very month? I hope the birthday hasn't passed."
"No-o, not yet," she answered reluctantly. She saw by now what was in the wind, and didn't want to seem greedy.
I persisted. "Tell me when."
"The twenty-fifth. But you are not to."
"Yes, I will. It's a guardian's duty to his ward, and in this case a pleasure."
"I'd much rather you didn't, really." And she looked as grave as a statue of Justice. "Some day you'll know why."
I waived the subject at this point, for I felt obstinate, and wanted to give her a present. There was, and is, no doubt in my mind that her reason is a schoolgirl reason. Madame de Maluet has probably brought her up to believe it is not comme il faut for a jeune fille to accept a present from a monsieur. Still, her voice and expression were so serious, even worried, that I'm wondering if it could be anything else. Anyhow, I have bought the present, and intend to give it her on the 25th. It is a quaint old marquise ring, with a cabuchon ruby surrounded by very good diamonds. I think she will like it, and I don't see why she shouldn't have it—from me. I feel as if I would like to make up to her for the injustice I've been doing her in my mind all these years since she was a little child, left to me—poor, lonely baby. Only I don't quite know how to make up. I don't even dare to confess myself, and say I am sorry I never seemed to take any interest in her as she grew up. She must have wondered why I never asked to have her picture sent me, or wanted her to write—or wrote; and she must have felt the cold neglect of the only person (except an old French lady, her godmother) who had any rights over her. Beast that I was! And I can't explain why I was a beast. No doubt she adores the legend (it can't be a memory) of her mother, and I would have it always so. She need never know any of the truth, though of course, when she marries I shall have to tell the man one or two things, I suppose.
I'll let you know next time I write how the ring is received.
This morning, after breakfast, we all walked about the streets of Winchester, and, of course, went to the cathedral, where we stopped till nearly two o'clock.
The town and the place have all their old charm, and even more for me; the "Piazza"; the huddled, narrow streets full of mystery, the Cathedral Close with its crowded entrance, its tall trees that try to hide cathedral glories from common eyes; its mellow Queen Anne and Georgian houses which group round in a pleasant, self-satisfied way, as if they alone were worthy of standing-room in that sacred precinct.
To me, there's no cathedral in England that means as much of the past as Winchester. You know how, in the nave, you see so plainly the transition from one architectural period to another? And then, there are those splendid Mortuary Chests. Think of old Kynegils, and the other Saxon kings lying inside, little heaps of haunted dust.
I was silly enough to be immensely pleased that the child picked out those Mortuary Chests in their high resting place, and the gorgeous alleged tomb of William Rufus, as the most unforgettable among the smaller interests of Winchester Cathedral, for they are the same with me; and it's human to like our tastes shared by (a few) others. She was so enchanted to hear how William the Red was brought by a carter to be buried in Winchester, and about the great turquoise and the broken shaft of wood found in the tomb, that I hadn't the heart to tell her it probably wasn't his burial place, but that of Henri de Blois.
Of course she liked Bloody Mary's faldstool—the one Mary sat in for her marriage with Philip of Spain; and the MSS. signed by AElfred the Great as a child, with his father.
Women are caught by the personal element, I think, more than we are. And so interested was she in Jane Austen's memorial tablet, that she wouldn't be satisfied without going to see the house where Jane died. There were so many other things to see, that Emily and Mrs. Senter would have left that out, but I wanted the girl to have her way.
Poor little, sweet-hearted Jane! She was only forty-one when she finished with this world—a year older than I. But doubtless that was almost old for a woman of her day, when girls married at sixteen, and took to middle-aged caps at twenty-five. Now, I notice, half the mothers look younger than their daughters—younger than any daughter would dare to look after she was "out."
A good many interesting persons seem to have died in Winchester, if they weren't clever enough to be born in the town. Earl Godwin set an early example in that respect. Died, eating with Edward the Confessor—probably too much, as his death was caused by apoplexy, and might not have happened if Edward hadn't been too polite to advise him not to stuff.
Of course, the cathedral is the great jewel; but for me the old city is an ancient, kingly crown set full of jewels. There's the West Gate, for instance. You know how we said it alone would be worth walking many miles to see. And the old castle. I'm not sure that isn't one of the best sights of all. I took the party there after luncheon, and the same delightful fellow showed us round. He hadn't changed since our time, unless he is more mellow.
He was quite angry to-day with a German-American woman—the type, as Ellaline murmured to me, that alone is capable of a plaid blouse. The lady inquired nasally of our old friend, "Is this hall mod-ern; what you call mod-ern?"
We were at the moment gazing up at King Arthur's Round Table, which Henry VIII. hung on the wall to save it further vicissitudes, after Henry VII. had it daubed with colours and Tudor roses, to furnish forth some silly feast.
The dear old chap raised his eyebrows at the question, and glanced round as if apologizing to each massive pillar in turn. Well, he said, he would hardly call the hall modern, as it had been built by William the Conqueror, but perhaps the lady might be used to older things at home. With that, he turned on an indignant heel, and led us out to the courtyard where wretched Edward II.'s brother, the Duke of Kent, was executed. He has the same old trick of being "sorry to say" whenever he has anything tragic or gruesome to relate, passing lightly over details of oubliettes, and skeletons found without their heads—as so many were on grim St. Giles's Hill.
Of course we went and had a look at St. Cross and Henri de Blois's old hospital almshouse. We would have stopped there yesterday, if Emily hadn't so ardently desired tea. But, if I'd thought to tell her about the Dole of bread and beer, she might have been persuaded, though my description of the exquisite windows in the courtyard, and the quaint houses of the black and white brethren, left her cold. We all had some of the Dole to-day at the portal; and Mrs. Senter took it as a compliment that each one was given so little. Tourists get tiny bits, you know, and beggars big ones; so she thought it would have been a sign that they disparaged the ladies' hats and frocks if they had been more generous. It would be difficult to disapprove of hers. She understands the art of dress to perfection.
A pity we couldn't have been here earlier in the year, isn't it? For among the nicest new things in old Winchester are the Winchester schoolboys. How they spurn the ordinary tourist they meet in the street, and how scornfully polite they are to any unfortunate straying beast who asks them a question, making him feel meaner than any worm! A foreigner must long to ask the consequential youths to "kindly excuse him while he continues to breathe"; for few strangers can sympathize with the contempt we English have, while still in callow youth, for everyone we don't know. But, let a newcomer blossom into an acquaintance, or mention a relative at Eton, and all is changed. The Winchester boys turn into the most delightful chaps in the world.
I dare say I shall think Dick Burden a delightful chap when I know him better. At present, it's all I can do to put up with him for the sake of his aunt. And the fellow has such an ostentatiously frank way of looking one straight in the eyes, that I'm hanged if I'd trust him to go as straight.
Talking of going straight, to-morrow morning early we leave for Salisbury, and when we feel like moving shall pass on toward the New Forest.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
White Hart Hotel, Salisbury, July 24th
Dearest: I am particularly homesick for you to-night, because it's my birthday eve. Twenty-one to-morrow, but passing for nineteen. And isn't it annoying, I went and blurted out in Winchester two days ago that I had a birthday hanging over me. I'm awfully afraid Sir Lionel thinks himself bound to give me a present. If he does, and I can't get out of taking it, I shall have to pass it on to Ellaline, of course, when I'm passing everything else on—including myself.
I know you're thinking of me to-night, as you walk after dinner under the glorious chestnut trees you describe in the park at Champel-les-Bains. I wish you had an astral body! It wouldn't take up any room, or have to pay railway fares, or wait for invitations to visit, and it could easily be one of the party in Sir Lionel's car. So nice to have it sitting between me and Dick Burden!
I wanted you dreadfully at Winchester, as I wrote you in the note I scribbled after seeing the cathedral. I wish I'd told you more about Winchester then, for now it's too late. All Stonehenge is lying on top of my Winchester impressions, and it will take them a little time to squeeze from underneath. They will come out, though, I know, none the worse for wear. And how I shall talk this trip over with you, when we're together again, and I know the end that's hiding behind the motor-veil of the future!
Mother, dear, when I shut my eyes to-night, I see Barrows, billowing prehistorically along the horizon, and I see Stonehenge, black against a red sunset, and silver in the moonlight. Also, I have begun to think architecturally, I find, through seeing so much architecture, and trying to talk about it intelligently, as Mrs. Senter contrives to do. (I believe she fags it up at night, with a wet towel over her hair wavers!)
Do you know what it is to think architecturally? Well, for me (not apropos of Mrs. S. at all), a made-up woman is "well restored," or "repaired." An intellectual-looking man, with a fine head, has Norman bumps and Gothic ears. A puppy with big feet is an early Perp., with Norman foundations, and so on. It gives a new interest to life and the creatures we meet. Emily is late Georgian, with Victorian elevations.
I hated leaving Winchester; but oh, those Barrows we saw, when we were coming away! They made most antique things seem as new as a china cup with "For a Good Girl" outlined on it in gold letters. So many stupendous events have scattered themselves along this road of ours, as the centuries rolled, that it makes the brain reel, trying to gather them up, and sort them into some kind of sequence. Often I wish I could sit and admire calmly, as Mrs. Senter can, and not get boiling with excitement over the past. But one is so uncomfortably intelligent, one can't stop thinking, thinking every minute. Every tiny thing I see has its little "thought sting," ready like a mosquito; and a fancy that has lately stabbed me is the striking resemblance between English scenery, or its features, and English character. The best bits in both are shy of showing themselves, and never flaunt. They are so reserved that to find them out you must search. All the loveliest nooks in English country and in English souls are hidden from strangers. Why, the very cottages try to hide under veils of clematis and roses, as the cottage children hide their thoughts behind long eyelashes.
We came to Salisbury by way of Romsey, and got out to see the splendid old church which almost ranks with Winchester Cathedral as a monument of England. And Romsey Abbey, too, very beautiful, even thrilling; still more ancient Hursley, with its earthworks, about which, for once, Sir Lionel and Dick Burden were congenial. Of course, men who have been soldiers like Sir Lionel, or tried to be soldiers and couldn't, like Dick, must know something about the formation of such things; but anyone may be interested—except a Mrs. Norton.
You and I had no motoring when we were travellers, so we didn't see Europe as I am seeing England; still, I don't believe any other country has this individuality of vast, billowing downs. As you bowl smoothly from one to another, over perfect roads, you have a series of surprises, new beauties opening suddenly to your eyes. It is exciting, yet soothing; and that mingling of emotions is part of the joy of the car. For motorists, the downs of Hampshire and Wiltshire are like a goddess's beautiful breasts; and Nature is a goddess, isn't she?—the greatest of all, combining all their best qualities.
This White Hart is a nice hotel, but I rather resent the foreign waiters, as out of the picture, in such an essentially old-fashioned, English place. I like the animal names of the hotels in England. Already we have seen a lot; and they form into a quaint, colourful, Noah's Ark and heraldic procession across the country. The Black Bull; The Golden Unicorn; The Blue Boar; The Red Lion; The Piebald Horse; The Green Dragon; The White Hart. I am still longing for a Purple Bear.
The first thing we did after getting settled (which I always like, as I haven't enough luggage to make much bother) was to walk out and see the town. I kept Dick with me, not because I wanted him, you may be sure, but because I can see he is a blot on the 'scutcheon for Sir Lionel, and I feel so guilty, having forced him into the party, that I try to attract the Blot to myself. If I mention the Blot in future, you'll know what it is. When I'm very desperate, I may just fling a drop of ink on the paper to relieve my feelings, and that will mean the same thing. The Blot puts on an air of the most exaggerated respect for Sir Lionel. You'd fancy he was talking to a centenarian. Horrid, pert little pig! (I think pigs run in their family.) I know he does it on purpose to be nasty, and make Sir Lionel feel an old stager. Do you remember the pig-baby in "Alice's Adventures"?
He only does it to annoy, Because he knows it teases.
Not that it need, for Sir Lionel looks about thirty-four. Nobody would give him forty unless they saw it in books; and he is like a knight of romance. There! Now you have the opinion I have come to hold of Ellaline's dragon. For me, the Dragon has turned into a Knight. But, of course, I may be mistaken. Mrs. Senter says that no girl can ever possibly understand a man, and that a man is really much more complicated than a woman, though the novelists tell you it's the other way round.
We started out, all of us, except Emily, who lies down after tea, to walk to John Halle's Hall, a most interesting banqueting room, which is now a china-shop, but was built by a rich wool-stapler (such a nice word!) in 1470, as you can see on the oak carvings. But there was so much to do on the way, that we saw the Hall, and the old George Inn—where Pepys lay "in a silk bed and had very good diet"—last of all.
The antique furniture shops were simply enthralling, and I wanted nearly everything I saw. Travelling is good for the mind, but it develops one or two of the worst passions, such as Greed of Possession. We went into several shops, and I could have purred with joy when Sir Lionel asked me to help him choose several things for Graylees, which he would have sent on there, direct. He seemed to care more for my advice than for Mrs. Senter's, and I don't think she quite liked that, for she really knows a good deal about old English furniture, whereas I know nothing—only a little about French and Italian things.
The streets of Salisbury, with their mediaeval houses, look exactly as if they had been originally planned to give the most delightful effects possible when their pictures were taken. Every corner is a gem; and Sir Lionel told us that the old rectangular part of the town was planned more or less at one time. Of course, the people who did the planning had plenty of time to think it all over, before moving down from Old Sarum, which was so high and bleak they couldn't hear the priest saying mass in the cathedral, because of the wind. Fancy! Salisbury used to be called the "Venice of England"; but I must say, if one can judge now, the simile was far-fetched.
Lots of martyrs were burnt in Salisbury, it seems, when that sort of thing was in fashion, so no wonder they have to keep Bloody Queen Mary's chair in Winchester instead of Salisbury, where they've a right to feel a grudge against the wretched little, bilious bigot of a lovesick woman. Sir Lionel has several well-known martyrs on his family tree, Mrs. Norton says; and she is as proud of them as most people are of royal bar-sinisters. I never thought martyrs particularly interesting myself, though perhaps that's an uneasy jealousy, as we've none in our family that I know of—only a witch or so on father's side. Poor dears, what a pity they couldn't have waited till now to be born, when, instead of burning or drowning them, people would have paid them to tell nice things about the past and predict lovers for the future!
Witches were fascinating; but many martyrs probably marted out of sheer obstinacy, don't you think? Of course, it was different when they executed you without giving you a chance to recant, as they did with political prisoners; and do you know, they cut off poor witty Buckingham's head in Salisbury market-place? "So much for Buckingham!" Where it came off, there's an inn, now, called the Saracen's Head. I wonder if it was chopped off in the neighbourhood, too, or if it's only a pleasant fancy, to cover up the Buckingham stain in the yard? Anyhow, they tell you there that in 1838 Buckingham's skeleton was dug up under the kitchen of what used to be the Blue Boar Inn. But even that isn't as ghastly a tale as another one of Salisbury: how one of Jack Cade's "quarters" was sent to the town when he'd been executed. I should have liked to know if it's still to be seen, but I thought it would be hardly nice to ask.
We saved the cathedral for the last, and just as we were in the midst of sight-seeing there, it was time for service, so we sat down and listened to music which seemed to fall from heaven. There's nothing more glorious than music in a cathedral, is there? Usually it makes me feel good; but this time it made me feel so sinful, on account of Ellaline, and Sir Lionel and Dick, that I almost cried. Do you think, dear, that if I were in a novel they would have me for a heroine or a wicked adventuress? I hae me doots; but my one hope is, that you can't be an adventuress if you really mean well at heart, and are under twenty-two.
Maybe I'd expected too much of Salisbury Cathedral, because I'd always heard more about it than others in England, but it wasn't quite so glorious to me as Winchester. It's far more harmonious, because it was planned all at one time, like the town, and there's singularly little foreign influence to be traced in the architecture, which makes it different from most others, and extraordinarily interesting in its way. It's very, very old, too, but it is so white and clean that it looks new. And one great beauty it has: its whiteness seems always flooded with moonlight, even when sunshine is streaming over the noble pillars and lovely tombs.
This morning I went back, with Emily, to service, and wandered from chapel to chapel, till nearly luncheon time. Then Sir Lionel came, and took me up strange, hidden, winding stairs, to the den of the librarian. It was like stealing into an enchanted castle, where all save the librarian slept, and had slept for centuries. When it was time to go away, I was afraid that Sir Lionel might have forgotten the magic spell which would open the door and let us escape. There were interesting things there, but we weren't allowed to look at the ones we wanted to see most, till we were too tired to enjoy them, after seeing the ones we didn't want to see at all. But you know, in another enchanted castle, that of the Sleeping Beauty, there was only one lovely princess, and goodness knows how many snorey bores.
At three, we started to motor out to Stonehenge; and Sir Lionel chose to be late, because he wanted to be there at sunset, which he knew—from memory—to be the most thrilling picture for us to carry away in our heads.
Nobody ever told me what an imposing sight Old Sarum remains, to this day, so I was surprised and impressed by the giant conical knoll standing up out of the plain and its own intrenchments. I'd just been reading about it in the guide-book, how important it used to be to England, when it was still a city, and how it was a fortress of the Celts when the Romans came and snatched it from them; but I had no idea of its appearance. I would have liked to go with Sir Lionel to walk round the intrenchments, but he asked only Dick. However, Mrs. Senter volunteered to go, at the last moment, just as they were starting, and Emily and I were left, flotsam and jetsam, in the car, to wait till they came back.
I wasn't bored, however, because Emily read a religious novel by Marie Corelli, and didn't worry to talk. So I could sit in peace, seeing with my mind's eye the pageant of William the Conqueror reviewing his troops in the plain over which Old Sarum gloomily towers. Such a lurid plain it is, this month of poppies, red as if its arid slopes were stained with the blood of ghostly armies slain in battle.
But it was going back further into history to come to Amesbury. You know, dear, Queen Guinevere's Amesbury, where she repented in the nunnery she'd founded, and the little novice sang to her "Too late! Too late!" When she was buried, King Arthur had "a hundred torches ever burning about the corpse of the queen." Can't you see the beautiful picture? And when her nunnery was gone in 980, another queen, far, far more wicked than Guinevere, built on the same spot a convent to expiate the murder of her stepson at Corfe Castle. We are going to Corfe, by and by, so I shall send my thoughts back to Amesbury from there, in spite of the fact that Elfreda's nuns became so naughty they had to be banished. Nor shall I forget a lover who loved at Amesbury—Sir George Rodney, who adored the fascinating Countess of Hertford so desperately, that after her marriage he composed some verses in her honour, and fell then upon his sword. Why don't men do such things for us nowadays? Were the "dear, dead women" so much more desirable than we?
Wasn't Amesbury a beautiful "leading up" to Stonehenge? It's quite near, you know. It doesn't seem as if anything ought to be near, but a good many things are—such as farms. Yet they don't spoil it. You never even think of them, or of anything except Stonehenge itself, once you have seen the first great, dark finger of stone, pointing mysteriously skyward out of the vast plain.
That is the way Stonehenge breaks on you, suddenly, startlingly, like a cry in the night.
I was very glad we had the luck to arrive alone, for not long after we'd entered the charmed, magic circle of the giant plinths, a procession of other motor-cars poured up to the gates. Droves of chauffeurs, and bevies of pretty ladies in motor hats swarmed like living anachronisms among the monuments of the past. Of course, we didn't seem to ourselves to be anachronisms, because what is horrid in other people is always quite different and excusable, or even piquant, in oneself; and I hastily argued that our motor, Apollo, the Sun God, was really appropriate in this place of fire worship. Even the Druids couldn't have objected to him, although they would probably have sacrificed all of us in a bunch, unless we could have hastily proved that we were a new kind of god and goddess, driving chariots of fire. (Anyhow, motor-cars are making history just as much as the Druids did, so they ought to be welcome anywhere, in any scene, and they seem to have more right to be at Stonehenge than patronizing little Pepys.)
You remember Rolde, in Holland, don't you, with its miniature Stonehenge? Well, it might have been made for Druids' children to play dolls with, compared to this.
If the Phoenicians raised Stonehenge in worship of their fiery god, they had good reason to flatter themselves that it would attract his attention. And I do think it was sensible to choose the sun for a god. Next to our own true religion, that seems the most comforting. There was your deity, in full sight, looking after one side or the other of his world, all through the twenty-four hours.
I never felt more awe-stricken than I did passing under the shadow of those great sentinel plinths, guarding their sunken altar, hiding their own impenetrable mysteries. The winds seemed to blow more chill, and to whisper strangely, as if trying to tell secrets we could never understand. I love the legend of the Friar's Heel, but, after all, it's only a mediaeval legend, and it's more interesting to think that, from the middle of the sacrificial altar, the priest could see the sun rise (at the summer solstice) just above that stupendous stone. I stood there, imagining a white-robed Druid looking up, his knife suspended over a fair girl victim, waiting to strike until his eye should meet the red eye of the sun. Oh, I shall have bad dreams about Stonehenge, I know! But I shan't mind, if I can dream about the Duke of Buckingham digging for treasure there at midnight. And if I were like Du Maurier's dear Peter Ibbetson, I could "dream back," and see at what far distance the builders of Stonehenge got their mysterious syenite, and that one black sandstone so different from the rest. I could dream who were the builders; whether Phoenicians, or mourning Britons of Arthur's day—as Geoffrey of Monmouth tells.
Sir Lionel and I like to think it was the Britons, for that gives him a family feeling for the place, since he read out of a book Warton's sonnet:
"Thou noblest monument of Albion's Isle, Whether by Merlin's aid from Scythia's shore To Amber's fatal plain Pendragon bore, Huge frame of giants' hands, the mighty pile To entomb his Britons slain by Hengist's guile, Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore, Taught 'mid the massy maze their mystic lore."
Next time, I want to see Stonehenge from an airship, or, at a pinch, a balloon, because I can judge better of the original form, the two circles and the two ellipses, which the handsomest policeman I ever saw out of a Christmas Annual explained to me, pacing the rough grass. He lives at Stonehenge all day, with a dog, and they are both guardians. I asked him if he had not beautiful thoughts, but he said, not in winter, Miss, it was too cold to think then, except about hot soup. Stonehenge is very becoming to this young man, especially at sunset. And, dearest, you can hardly imagine the glory of those piled stones as you look back at them, going slowly, slowly away, and seeing them purple-black against a crimson streak of sunset like a smoking torch.
We got lost, trying to find the river road, going home, and had great fun, straying into meadows, and onto ploughed ground, which poor Apollo resented. The way was beautiful, past some lovely old houses and exquisite cottages; and the Avon was idyllic in its pretty windings. But the villages of Wiltshire I don't find as poetical as those in Surrey and Sussex or Hampshire.
You would never guess what I'm going to do to-morrow morning? I'm not sure you'd let me, if you knew. But a ward doesn't need a chaperon with a guardian. He plays both parts. I'm to get up early—before the sun is awake—and Sir Lionel is to motor me out to Stonehenge, so that I can see it by sunrise as well as sunset. It is a beautiful idea, and the handsome policeman has promised to be there and let us in.
Seeing a sunrise is like a glorified Private View, I think. I expect to feel as Louis of Bavaria must have felt when he had a Wagner opera all to himself.
Now I am going down to post this, so that it can leave for London by the last train, and start for Switzerland in the morning—of my birthday. I shall count the sunrise a birthday present from heaven if it's fine; and if it isn't I shall know, what I suspect already, that I don't deserve one.
Your loving Changeling,
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Compton Arms, Stony Cross, New Forest, July 25th
Little Star-Mother: It's very late to-night, or early to-morrow, but I did want to write you on my birthday; and besides, I am in a hurry to tell you about the fairylike experience I have had. I am in fairyland even here and now; but I have been to the heart of it. I shall never forget.
Oh, but first—the sunrise, my birthday sunrise. It was wonderful, and made me think how much time I have wasted, hardly ever accepting its invitations. I believe I will turn over a new leaf. I shall get up very, very early every day, and go to bed very, very late, so as to squeeze all the juice out of the orange, and wring every minute out of my youth. I feel so alive, I don't want to lose the "morning glory." When I'm old I shall do differently. I'll go to bed directly after dinner and sleep late, so that age may be short, following a long youth. Isn't that a good plan to make on my twenty-first birthday?
Sir Lionel hadn't forgotten, and wished me many happy returns of the day; but he didn't give me a present, so I hoped he had changed his mind. We got back to Salisbury about the time Mrs. Norton and Mrs. Senter were having their breakfasts in bed (they hadn't heard of our expedition, and the word had gone out that we weren't to start for the New Forest till after luncheon, as it would be a short run), and we had nearly finished our tea, toast, and eggs, when Dick strolled into the coffee-room. He seemed decidedly intrigue at sight of us together at a little table, talking cozily; and that detective look came into his eyes which cats have when a mouse occurs to them. He laughed merrily, though, and chaffed us on making "secret plans." Dick hasn't a very nice laugh. It's too explosive and loud. (Don't you think other animals must consider the laughter of humans an odd noise, without rhyme or reason?)
Also Dick has a nasty way of saying "thank you" to a waiter; with the rising inflection, you know, which is nicely calculated to make the servant feel himself the last of God's creatures.
By two o'clock we had said good-bye to Salisbury ("good-bye" for me, "au revoir" for the others, perhaps), and were kinematographing in and out of charming scenery, lovelier perhaps than any we'd seen yet. Under green gloom of forests, where it seemed a prisoned dryad might be napping in each tree, and where only a faun could have been a suitable chauffeur; past heatherland, just lit to rosy fire by the sun's blaze; through billowy country where grain was gold and silver, meadows were "flawed emeralds set in copper," and here and there a huge dark blot meant a prehistoric barrow.
The car played us a trick for the first time, and Young Nick, looking more like Buddha than ever, got down to have a heart-to-heart talk with the motor. I think Apollo had swallowed a crumb, or something, for he coughed and wheezed, and wouldn't move except with gasps, until he had been patted under the bonnet, and tickled with all sorts of funny instruments, such as a giant's dentist might use. It was fun, though, for us irresponsible ones, while Sir Lionel and Nick tried different things to get the crumb out of Apollo's throat. Other motorists flew by scornfully, like the Priest and the Levite, or slowed up to ask if they could help, and looked with some interest at Mrs. Senter and me, sitting there like mantelpiece ornaments. I didn't even want to slaughter them for the dust they made, now that I'm a real motorist myself, for "dog cannot eat dog"; and even cyclists seemed like our poor relations.
One elderly woman bumped by, sitting in a kind of dreadful bath chair fastened in front of a motor bicycle, spattering noise and petrol. You couldn't see her features under her expression, which was agonized. The young man who propelled her was smirking conceitedly, as if to say, "What a kind chap I am, giving my maiden aunt a good time!"
Presently a small car came limping along that had "We Know It" printed in large, rough letters on a card, tied to a broken wheel. Wasn't that a good idea, when they'd got nervous prostration having everybody tell them?
Cows paused, gazed at us, and sneered; but at last Apollo's crumb was extracted; Young Nick brushed the dust off his sleeves by rubbing his arms together, the way flies clean their antennae, and we were ready to go on. "It's a wise car that knows its own chauffeur," said Mrs. Senter.
Just because this happened, and because a tire presently burst in sheer sympathy, we travelled in the beginning of sunset, which was divine. The scene swam in rose-coloured light, so pink it seemed as if you could bottle it, and it would still be pink. The tree trunks were cased in ruddy gold, like the gold leaf wrapped round royal mummies. Making up for lost time, the white road smoked beneath our tires, and we were soon in the New Forest—the old, old New Forest, perfumed like the fore-court of heaven.
We came to this pretty little hotel, in the midst of heathery spaces like a cutting in the aromatic forest. I like my room, but I didn't want to stop in it and begin dressing for dinner. Looking out of my window, I saw a little white moon, curved like a baby's arm, cushioned among banks of sky azaleas, so I felt I must go out and drink the sunset. I had left too much of that rose-red wine in the bottom of the silver goblet. I must have the last drop!
So I ran downstairs; and I warn you, now comes the experience which I liked so much, but of which you won't approve.
The landlord stood in the hall, and I asked him if there were anything wonderful I could go and see in a few minutes. He smiled, and said it wouldn't take me very long to find Rufus's Stone, but he would not advise me to do it. I replied that I wouldn't ask him to advise, if he'd point out the road, and probably I should only venture a little way. He was a nice man, so he went out in front of the hotel to point, and lent me a puppy as a companion.
The puppy was no respecter of persons. All he cared for was a walk, so he kindly consented to take me with him, gambolling ahead as if he knew where I wanted to go. That tempted me on, and the way wasn't hard to find, for the puppy or for me. We played into each other's paws, and when I was lost he found me, or vice versa. The first thing I knew, there was the Stone. Nobody could mistake it, even from a distance; and going down to it from the top of a hill, it was still light enough to read the inscription.
This was my first entrance into the heart of fairyland.
William Rufus couldn't have chosen a more ideal spot to die in, if he'd picked it out himself from a list of a hundred others; and the evening silence under the great, gray beeches seemed as if it had lasted a thousand years, always the same, old and wise as Mother Earth. Then, suddenly, it was broken by the rustle and stir of a cock pheasant, which appeared from somewhere as if by magic, and stood for an instant all kingly, his breast blazing with jewelled orders in the sunset. Me he regarded with the haughty defiance of a Norman prince, and screamed with rage at the puppy, all his theories upset, because he had been so positive the world was entirely his. So it was, if he'd only stopped to let me assure him that he owned all the best things in it; but he whirred and soared; and thus I realized instantly that he was a fairy in disguise. How stupid of me not to have guessed while he was there!
You know, the New Forest is haunted with fairies, good and bad. There are the "malfays" that came because of William the Conqueror's cruelty in driving away the peasants to make the great deer-forest for his hunting; and there are the good fays that help the cottage housewives, and the "tricksies" that frighten the wild ponies and pinch the cattle. I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that that pheasant was Puck himself, for no doubt Puck has a hunting-lodge somewhere in the New Forest.
I meant to sit by the Stone only five minutes, but the fairies put a spell upon my five minutes, and the first thing I knew, the sun was gone. So was the puppy, which was even more serious, for I was handicapped by not knowing his name, and no self-respecting canine thing would respond to shouts of "dog," or "here, pup, pup, pup!"
However, I tried both, running about to look for him, here and there, among the enchanted bracken that rustled with elf-life, while the shadows came alive, and the rosy light died.
"Puppy, puppy!" I implored, helplessly drifting; and then, to my surprise—can you "find" that you've lost a thing? Well, I don't know how else to express it. I found that I'd lost the path. If I'd only been able to remember whether the hotel were north or south, or east or west of Rufus's Stone, maybe it would have been all right; but does any normal girl ever give thought to points of the compass? I yelled a little more, hoping the puppy would be gentleman enough to come back to a lady in distress, and luckily Sir Lionel heard my howls. He'd come out to look for me, on learning from the landlord that I'd gone to Rufus's Stone, with the puppy, and he had met it—not the stone, but the puppy—looking sneaky and ashamed. Just then, my voice gave him an idea of my whereabouts, otherwise we should probably have missed; and if we had, I don't know what I should have done, so you mustn't scold at what happened next. Remember the New Forest is not a French pension full of old maids, but fairyland—fairyland.
He was in evening dress, without a hat, and I was pleased to see him, because I was beginning to be the tiniest bit afraid; and he did look so nice; and I was so glad he wasn't Dick Burden. But don't worry! I didn't tell him that.
It seems he came downstairs rather early for dinner, and the landlord mentioned that I'd gone out, so he strolled along, thinking to meet me after walking a few yards. When he didn't, he thought he'd better keep on, because it was too late for me to be out of doors alone.
I was apologetic, and afraid it must be long past dinner-time; but he said I needn't mind that, as he had left word for the others not to wait after eight-fifteen.
Then in a few minutes I began to realize that we might have an adventure, because when I called, and Sir Lionel hurried on in quest of me, he'd forgotten to notice the landmarks. It did seem ridiculous to have trouble in finding the way, so short a distance from the hotel; but you can't conceive how misleading it is in the New Forest. It's like a part of the enchantment; and if we had been in the maze of the Minotaur, without Ariadne's clue, we couldn't have been more bewildered than we soon found ourselves, tangled in the veil of twilight.
"I wonder if birds will cover us with leaves?" I said, laughing, when we had made up our minds that we were lost. But it seemed more likely that, if any creature paid us this thoughtful attention, it would be bats. As night fell in the Forest, they unhooked themselves from their mysterious trapezes, and whirred past our faces with a soft flap, flap of velvet wings. I don't know what I should have done if one had made a halfway-house of my hair!
"Are you hungry?" Sir Lionel wanted to know.
I said that I was, but wouldn't harrow him up by explaining that I was ravenous.
He didn't appear even to want to scold, though it would have been easy to hint politely that it would be my own fault if we didn't get any dinner that night—or, perhaps, breakfast next morning. Instead of being cross with me, he blamed himself for being stupid enough to lose me. I exonerated him, and we were extremely nice to each other; but as we walked on and on, round and round, seeing no lights anywhere, or hearing anything except that wonderful sound of a great silence, I began to grow tired. I didn't mean, though, that he should see it. I had enough to be ashamed of, without that, but he knew by instinct, and took my hand to draw it through his arm, telling me to lean as heavily as I liked. I held back at first, saying it wasn't necessary; and insisting, as I pulled away, his hand closed down on mine tightly. It was only for a second or two, because I gave up at once, and let him lay my hand on his arm as he wished. But, do you know, mother, I think I ought to tell you it felt quite differently from any other hand that ever touched mine.
Of course I haven't even shaken hands with many men since I've been grown up, though if you'd let me be a singer I shouldn't have thought any more about it than if I were President of the United States. One reads in novels of "the electricity in a touch," and all that; but there it generally means that you're falling in love. And I can't possibly be falling in love with Ellaline's Dragon, can I? I don't suppose that can be. It would be too stupid, and forward, and altogether unspeakable. But really, I do feel differently about him from any way I ever felt before toward anybody. I have always said that I'd rather be alone with myself than with anyone else except you, for any length of time, because I'm such good chums with myself, and enjoy thinking my own thoughts. But I do like being with Sir Lionel. I feel excited and eager at the thought of being with him. And his fingers on mine—and my hand on his arm—and the touch of his sleeve—and a faint little, almost imperceptible scent of Egyptian cigarettes mixing with the woodsy smell of the night—oh, I don't know how to describe it to myself. So now you know as much as I do. But wouldn't it be dreadful if I should go and fall in love with Sir Lionel Pendragon of all other men in the world? In a few more weeks I shall be slipping out of his life forever; and not only that, but I shall be leaving a very evil memory behind. He will despise me. I shall have proved myself exactly the sort of person he abominates.
I didn't think all that, however, as he put my hand on his arm. I just felt the thrill of it; but instead of worrying, I was happy, and didn't care how tired and hungry I was, or whether we ever got anywhere or not. As for him, he was too polite to let me know he was bored, and all the time we were looking for the hotel the night was so beautiful, so wonderful, that we couldn't help talking of exquisite things, telling each other thoughts neither of us would have spoken aloud in daylight. It was quite dark now, except for a kind of rosy quivering of light along the horizon, and the stars that had come out like a bright army of fairies, with millions of scintillating spears.
I knew then, dearest, that he was no dragon, no matter what circumstantial evidence may have been handed down to Ellaline as a legacy from her dead mother. That is something to have divined by the magic of the forest, isn't it, after I've been puzzling so long? There is now not the least doubt in my mind. So if I should be silly and sentimental enough to fancy myself in love, it can't do any harm, except to make me a little sorry and sad after I've come home to you. It won't be anything to be ashamed of, to have cared about a man like Sir Lionel; because I assure you I shan't behave foolishly, no matter how I may eventually feel. You can trust your Audrie for that.
It was too dark to tell the time by a watch, but we remarked to each other that they must have finished dinner long ago; and Sir Lionel hoped this wouldn't spoil the memory of my birthday for me.
"Oh, no," said I, before I thought, "it will make it better. I shall never, never forget this."
"Nor I," said he, in a pleasant, quiet tone.
Then he went on to tell me that he had a little birthday remembrance which all day he'd been wanting to give me. It was a ruby ring, because the ruby was July's stone, but I needn't wear it unless I liked. He hoped I wouldn't mind his having disobeyed me when I said I wanted nothing, because he wished very much to give it to me. And having lived alone, and ordered his own and other people's affairs for so long, had accustomed him to having his own way. Would I be kind to him, and accept his present?
I couldn't say no, under those stars and in that enchantment. So I answered that I would take the ring—knowing all the while I must soon hand it over to Ellaline.
"Shall I give it to you now?" he asked, "or will you wait till to-morrow?"
I did want to see it, though it was to be only borrowed! "Now," said I. Then he took a ring from some pocket, and tried to slip it over a finger of the hand on his arm.
"Oh, but that's the engaged finger," I burst out.
Silly of me! I might have let him put it on, and changed it afterward.
"I beg your pardon," said he, almost as if he were startled. "That will be a younger man's privilege some day, and then you will be taken away from me."
"You will be glad to get rid of me, I should think," I hurried to say, stretching out my other hand, and letting him slip the ring on the third finger.
"Should you think so?" he echoed. "I suppose you have the right to feel that, after the past. But don't feel it. Don't, child."
That was all, and I didn't answer. I couldn't; for what he had said was for Ellaline, not for me. Yet it made my heart beat, his voice was so sincere, and fuller of emotion than I'd ever heard it yet.
Just then, into our darkness a light seemed to flash. We both saw it together. I thought it might be the hotel, but Sir Lionel said he feared it was more probably the window of some remote cottage or charcoal-burner's hut.
We walked toward it, and that was what it was: a charcoal-burner's hut. Sir Lionel must have been disappointed, because he wanted to get me home, but I wasn't. I was in such a mood that I was not ready for the adventure to come to an end.
The next bit of the adventure was exactly suited to the New Forest, and we couldn't have experienced it anywhere else.
The hut was a tiny, wattled shed, and the light we'd seen came through the low, open doorway. It was the light of a fire and a candle; and there was a delicious aromatic smell of wood smoke in the air. Sir Lionel explained, as we walked up to the place, that some of these huts were hundreds of years old, remnants of the time when debtors and robbers and criminals of all sorts used to hide in the forest under the protection of the malfays. As he spoke, we almost stumbled over some obstacle in the dark, and he said that very likely it was the hearth of a vanished cottage. People had the right to leave the hearth if their house were torn down, to establish "cottage rights"; and there were a good many such, still scattered through the forest, even in the gardens of modern houses; for no one dared take them away.
The charcoal-burner was "at home," and receiving. He was engaged in cooking eggs and bacon for his supper, and if you could only guess how good they smelled! Nothing smells as nice as eggs and bacon when you are hungry, and we were ravenous.
Most things as old as that charcoal-burner are in museums; and his eyes were so close together it seemed as if they might run into one when he winked. Also, he was deaf, so we had to roar to him, before he could understand what had happened. When he did understand, though, he was a thorough trump, and said we could have his supper if we "would be pleased to eat it." Bread and cheese would do for him. And we might have tea, if we could take it without milk.
But there were three eggs, and three strips of bacon, so we insisted that we must share and share alike, or we would have nothing. I made the tea, in a battered tin pot which looked like an heirloom, and we all sat at an uncovered kitchen table together, though our host protested. It was fun; and the old thing told us weird tales of the forest which made me conscious that I have a spine and marrow, just as certain wild music does. His name is Purkess; he thinks he is descended from Purkess, the charcoal-burner who found the body of William Rufus; and his ancestors, some of whom were smugglers and poachers, have lived in the forest for a thousand years. He was so old that he could remember as a child hearing his old grandfather tell of the days of the wicked, illegal timber-selling in the forest for the building of warships. Just think, grand oaks, ash and thorn, trees stanch as English hearts, sold for the price of firewood!
I sat at the table, watching the firelight play on my ring, which I hadn't seen till we got into the hut; and it is beautiful. I shall enjoy having it, though only for a little while, and shall regard it as a trust for Ellaline.
The charcoal-burner assured us we needn't worry; he would put us on the way home, and give us landmarks which, after he'd guided us a certain distance, we couldn't miss even at night.
When we'd finished our eggs and bacon, our tea and chunks of dry bread, Sir Lionel laid a gold piece on the table. Blind as he was, the old man wasn't too blind to see that, and he simply beamed.
"Bless you all the days of your life, sir, and your good, pretty lady!" he cackled.
That's the third time I've been taken for Sir Lionel's wife. The other times I didn't care, but this time, though I laughed, it was a put on laugh, because of those dim questionings about myself floating in the background of my mind.
The descendant of poachers knew the forest, as he said, "with his eyes shut." He limped before us for nearly half a mile, along what he called a "walk"—a New Forest word—and then abandoned us to our fate, after describing the profile of each important tree which we must pass, and pointing out a few stars as guides. Then we bade each other good-bye for ever. He went back to gloat over his gold piece, and Sir Lionel and I went on together.
Somehow, we fell to talking of our favourite virtues, and without thinking, I said, "My mother's is gratitude."
"Gratitude," he repeated, as if in surprise, but he didn't seem to notice that I'd used the present tense. To make him forget my slip, I hurried on to say I thought mine was courage, in a man, anyhow. What was his, in a woman?
"Truth," he answered, with an instant's hesitation.
Luckily he couldn't see me blush in the dark. But the real Audrie was always decently truthful, wasn't she? It's only this Ellaline-Audrie that isn't free to be true.
"Only in women?" I asked, uncomfortably.
"Truth goes without saying in men—the sort of men one knows," said he.
"Don't you think women love the truth as much as men?" I persisted.
"No, I don't," he answered abruptly. Then qualified his "no," as if he ought to apologize for it. "But I haven't had much experience," he finished, a heavy, dull sound coming into his voice.
Well, dearest, that's all I have to tell you on this, my birthday night, except that we found our way back to the hotel safely, arriving about half-past ten, and only Emily was anxious about us. The other two were inclined to be frivolous; and Mrs. Senter noticed the new ring, which I had forgotten to take off my finger. Nothing ever escapes her eyes! I saw them light, and linger, but of course she didn't refer to the ring, and naturally I didn't.
I hadn't quite decided whether or not I should wear it "for every day," and had been inclined to think it would be better not, even at the risk of disappointing the giver. But I made up my mind, when Mrs. Senter looked so peculiarly at it, that I would brazen the thing out, and so I will.
"I envy you your adventure," she said, in what I felt was a meaning voice, though Sir Lionel didn't appear to read under the commonplace surface.
I don't care if she does choose to be horrid. I don't see how she can hurt me. And as for Dick, he has done his worst. He has made me get them both asked for the tour. I should think that's enough.
We are going to stop at the Compton Arms for two or three days, running about in the car to see different parts of the forest, and coming "home" at night. I love that way!
The only thing I don't like in going from one hotel to another, is having all sorts of queer little birthmarks on my hankies and other things in the wash. Good-bye, Angel Duck.
Only think, I am now of age!
By the way, Sir Lionel, who expected his ward to be a little girl (thoughtless of him!), said to-night: "You're so old, I can't get used to you."
And I retorted, "You're so young, I can't get used to you."
I hope it didn't sound pert, to answer like that?
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Lulworth Cove, July 30th
Why aren't you with me, dearest, seeing what I am seeing?
It's all very well for you to write that my letters make a panorama pass before your eyes, and I'm flattered, but I want you. Although I am enjoying life, I'm more excited than happy, and I don't sleep well. I dream horrid dreams about Mrs. Senter and Dick Burden, and about Ellaline, too, but I always laugh when I wake up.
Thank you so much for telling me that you think I'm behaving pretty well, considering. But I wonder what you'll say in your next, after my last?
Every day since then I've been meaning to write, if only a short note, but we've had early starts and late stops; and then, from not sleeping at night, I'm often so tired when the end of the day comes that I feel too stupid to try and earn your compliments.
It is morning, and I'm writing out of doors, sitting on a rock, close by the sea. But before I begin to describe Lulworth, I must tell you a little about the glorious things of which I've had flying glimpses since the letter dated Compton Arms. This is our first all-night stopping place since we left Stony Cross "for good," but I've picked up many a marvellous memory by the way.
People who haven't seen the New Forest haven't seen England.
I had no idea what it was like till we stayed there. I knew from guide-books that there were thousands of acres of woodland still, though much had been "deforested"; but I didn't know it hid many beautiful villages, and even towns. It's a heavenly place for motoring, but I'm not sure it wouldn't be even better to walk, because you could eke out the joy of it longer. I should like a walking honeymoon (a whole round moon) in the New Forest—if it were with just the right man.
Oh, I mustn't forget to say I'm glad I didn't see Rufus's Stone by daylight. Mrs. Senter and Dick went the morning after I wrote to you, but I wouldn't go again, because I didn't want to lose the enchanted picture in my mind. She laughed when I refused. I could have slapped her. But never mind.
When they came back they were disgusted, and said there was a ginger-beer woman and a man with the game of "Aunt Sally," and a crowd of cockney excursionists round them and the Stone. Talk of malfays!
Sir Lionel had made out an itinerary for the day, and we were to start for Lyndhurst, Beaulieu Abbey, Lymington, Brockenhurst, and Mark Ash, all of which we were to visit before evening, coming back by way of Lyndhurst again, and stopping there for tea. But before we got off, such a comic thing happened.
I didn't think to mention it in a letter, but one day we passed a motor-car that was having tire trouble by the side of the road. The chauffeur was rolling on a new tire, with a curious-looking machine, in which Young Nick was passionately interested, as he'd never seen one before. Sir Lionel explained that it was an American tool, not very long invented, and said to be good. He added, in an evil moment, that he wished he'd thought to buy one like it before leaving London, as probably the thing couldn't be got in the Provinces.
Well, just as we were about to spin away in great style from the Compton Arms, one of our tires sighed, and settled down for an unearned rest. But instead of looking black-browed and murderous, as he did when the same thing occurred before, Nick smiled gleefully. He jumped down, and without a word produced a machine exactly like the one his master admired a few days ago.
"Where did you get that?" asked Sir Lionel.
"Last night, sahib," returned Nick, imperturbably. (He can speak quite good English.)
"What! Since we had our trouble?"
"Yes, sahib." An odd expression now began to play among Nick's brown features, like a breeze over a field of growing wheat.
"How's that? There's no shop."
"The sahib says true. I found this thing."
"But a little way from here. In the road."
"You rascal," exclaimed Sir Lionel. "You stole it."
Young Nick made Buddha eyebrows and a Buddha gesture. "The sahib knows all. But if I did take it? Those men, they were going again to the big city. We away. They never miss this. They buy another. It is better we have it."
Trying to look very angry, though I knew he was dying to laugh, Sir Lionel reproached Nick for breaking a solemn promise. "You swore you'd never do such a thing in England if I brought you with me. Now you've begun again, the same old game. I shall have to send you back, that is all."
"Then I die, and that is all," replied Young Nick, calmly.
The end of the story is, that Sir Lionel found out the names of the men, who had spent the night at the Compton Arms, and had written their address in the visitors' book. He sent the tool to them, with an explanation which I should have loved to read. And it appears that, though Nick is honest personally, he is a thief for the car, and in Bengal took anything new and nice which other motors had and his hadn't.
Now, Mrs. Norton is afraid that, if Sir Lionel scolds him much, he will commit hari-kari on the threshold of the hotel, which would be embarrassing. And it does no good to tell her that hari-kari is a Japanese or Chinese trick. She says, if Nick would not do that he might do something worse.
Gliding over the perfect roads of the Forest, Apollo seemed actually to float. I never felt anything so delicious, and so like being a goddess reclining on a wind-blown cloud. No wonder motorists' faces, when you can see them, almost always look madly happy. So different from "hay motorists," as The Blot says. They generally look grumpy.
The little wild ponies were one of the Forest's surprises for me. We met lots of them, mostly miniature mothers giving their innocent-faced, rough babies an airing; delightful beastkins. And I almost liked Mrs. Senter for having a cousin who owns one of these ponies as a pet, a dwarf one, no bigger than a St. Bernard dog. It wears a collar with silver bells, follows her everywhere, thinks nothing of curling up on a drawing-room sofa, and once was found on its mistress's bed, asleep on a new Paris hat.
The enticing rose-bowered cottages we passed ought to have told me that we were back in Hampshire again, if the New Forest hadn't seemed to a poor little foreigner like a separate county all by itself. It would be no credit to a bride to clamour for love in such a cottage, and turn up her nose at palaces. She might be married at the beautiful church of Lyndhurst (a most immediate jewel of a church, with an exquisite altar-piece by Lord Leighton, a Flaxman, and a startlingly fine piece of sculpture by an artist named Cockerell), then, safely wedded, plunge with her bridegroom into the Forest, and be perfectly happy without ever coming out again. I wish I had had the "Forest Lovers" to re-read while we were there. I think Maurice Hewlett must have got part of his inspiration in those mysterious green "walks" which lead away into that land where fairy lore and historic legend go hand in hand.
Lyndhurst, which King George III. loved, is pretty, but we didn't stop to look at it, because we were coming back that way. After seeing the church which, though modern, I wouldn't have missed for a great deal, we spun on to Beaulieu Abbey, the home of a hero of motoring. There we saw a perfect house, rising among trees, and sharing with the sky a clear sheet of water as a mirror. Once this was a guest-house for the Abbey; now it's called the Palace House, and deserves its name. Its looking-glass is really only a long creek, which spills out of the Solent, but it seems like a lake; and you've only to walk along a meadow path to the refectory of the old abbey. From there you go through a mysterious door into the ruined cloisters, which used to belong to the Cistercians—the "White Monks." King John provided money for the building; which proves that it's an ill wind which blows no one any good, because the stingy, tyrannical old king wouldn't have given a penny to the abbots if they hadn't scourged him in a nightmare he had. I shan't soon forget the magnolia and the myrtle in the quadrangle, and if I were one of the long-vanished monks, I should haunt the place. There couldn't be a lovelier one.
From Beaulieu we went to Lymington, a quaint and ancient town, with a picturesque port. Everything there looked happy and sleepy, except the postillions on the Bournemouth coach, which was stopping at the hotel where we had an early lunch. They were wide awake and jolly, under their old-fashioned, broad-brimmed beaver hats.
After Lymington, we skimmed through the Forest, hardly knowing or caring whither, though we did manage to find Brockenhurst, and Mark Ash, which was almost the finest of all with its glorious trees. Our one wish was to avoid highways, and Sir Lionel was clever about that. The sweetest bit was a mere by-path, hardly to be called a road, though the surface was superb. Young Nick had to get down and open a gate, which led into what seemed a private place, and no one who hadn't been told to go that way would have thought of it. On the other side of the gate it was just another part of forest fairyland, whose inhabitants turned themselves into trees as we, in our motor-car, intruded on them. I never saw such extraordinary imitations of the evergreen family as they contrived on the spur of the moment. It was a glamorous wood, and throughout the whole forest I had more and more the feeling that England isn't so small as it's painted. There are such vast spaces not lived in at all, yet haunted with legend and history. One place we passed—hardly a place, it was so small—was called Tyrrel's Ford; and there Sir Walter Tyrrel is said to have stopped to have his horse's shoes reversed by a blacksmith, on his flight to the sea, after killing the Red King. Or no, now I remember, this was next day, between Ringwood and Christchurch!
When we were having tea at Lyndhurst on our way back, at a hotel like a country house in a great garden, we found out that it once had been the home of your forty-second cousin, the Duc de Stacpoole, who came to England with Louis Philippe. There's his beautiful tapestry, to this day, in the dining-room, and his gorgeous magnolia tree looking wistfully into the window, as if asking why he isn't there to admire its creamy flowers, big as fat snowballs.
On our way home the rabbits of the New Forest were having a party, and were annoyed with us for coming to it without invitations. They kept "crossing our path," as people in melodramas say, so that we had to go slowly, not to run over them, and sometimes they galloped ahead, just in front of us, exactly in the middle of the road, so that we couldn't pass them. Dick kept longing to "pot" at the poor little pets, but Sir Lionel said he had lived out of England long enough to find a good deal of pleasure in life without taking that of any other creature. That isn't a very dragonish sentiment, is it?
Next day we had a delicious run (there's no other adjective which quite expresses it) through Ringwood, which is a door of the Forest, to Christchurch, another Abbey—(no, it's a Priory; but to me that's a detail) which stands looking at its own beauty in a crystal mirror. It's Augustan, not Cistercian, like Beaulieu; and it's august, as well; very noble; finer to see than many a cathedral. You and I, in other lands, have industriously travelled many miles to visit churches without half as many "features" as Christchurch. One of its quaintest is a leper's window; and a few of the beauties are the north transept, with unique "hatchet" ornamentation; a choir with wonderful old oak carvings—and the tomb of the Countess of Salisbury, of whom you read aloud to me when I was small, in a book called "Some Heroines of History." She came last in the volume because she was only a countess, and not a queen, but I cried when she said she didn't mind being killed, only being touched by a horrid, common axe, and wanted them to cut off her head with a sword. There are lots of other beautiful things in the church, too, and a nice legend about an oak beam which grew long in the night, and building materials which came down from a hill of their own accord, because one of the builders was Christ himself. That's why they named it Christchurch, you see, instead of Twyneham, as it would otherwise have been.
We stopped only long enough, after we had seen the Priory, to pay our respects to a splendid old Norman house near by, and then dashed away toward Boscombe and Bournemouth, which reminded me a little of Baden-Baden, with its gardens and fountains and running waters; its charming trees and exciting-looking shops. Just because it's modern, we didn't pause, but swept on, through scenery which suddenly degenerated. However, as I heard Sir Lionel say to Mrs. Senter: "You can't go far in this country without finding beauty"; and presently she was her own lovely self again, fair as Nature intended her to be. I mean England, not Mrs. Senter, who is lovelier than Nature made her.