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The Spinners
by Eden Phillpotts
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"Yours? You won't have any—except mine. You'll stop work then and live—not at Bridetown anyway."

"I was forgetting. It will be funny not to spin."

"You'll spin my happiness and my life and my fate and my children. You'll have plenty of spinning. I'll spin for you and you'll spin for me."

"You darling boy! I know you'll spin for me."

"Work! What's the good of working for yourself?" he asked. "Who the devil cares about himself? It's because I don't care a button for myself that I haven't bothered about the Mill. But when it comes to you—! You're worth working for! I haven't begun to work yet. I'll surprise Daniel presently and everybody else, when I fairly get into my stride. I didn't ask for it and I didn't want it; but as I've got to work, I will work—for you. And you'll live to see that my brother and his ways and plans and small outlook are all nothing to the way I shall grasp the business. And he'll see, too, when I get the lead by sheer better understanding. And that won't be my work, Sabina. It will be yours. Nothing's worth too much toil for you. And if you couldn't inspire a man to wonderful things, then no woman could."

This fit of exaltation passed and the craving for her dominated him again and took psychological shape. He grew moody and abstracted. His voice had a new note in it to her ear. He was fighting with himself and did not guess what was in her mind, or how unconsciously it echoed to his.

At dusk the rain came and they ran before a sudden storm down the green hills back to West Haven. The place already sank into night and a lamp or two twinkled through the grey. It was past eight o'clock and Raymond decided for dinner.

"We'll go to the 'Brit Arms,'" he said, "and feed and get dry. The rain won't last."

"I told mother I should be home by nine."

"Well, you told her wrong. D'you think I'm going to chuck away an hour of this day for a thousand mothers?"

When they sauntered out into the night again at ten o'clock, the Haven had nearly gone to sleep and the rain was past. In the silence they heard the river rushing through the sluices to the sea; and then they set their faces homeward.

But they had to pass the old store-house. It loomed a black, amorphous pile heaved up against the stars, and the man's footsteps dragged as he came to the gaping gates and silent court.

He stopped and she stopped.

His voice was gruff and queer and half-choked.

"Come," he said, "I'm in hell, and you've got to turn it to heaven."

She murmured something, but he put his arm round her and they vanished into the mass of silent darkness.

It was past midnight when they parted at the door of Sabina's home and he gave her the cool kiss of afterwards.

"Now we are one, body and soul, for ever," she whispered to him.

"By God, yes," he said.



CHAPTER XII

CREDIT

The mind of Raymond Ironsyde was now driven and tossed by winds of passion which, blowing against the tides of his own nature, created unrest and storm. A strain of chivalry belonged to him and at first this conquered. He felt the magnitude of Sabina's sacrifice and his obligation to a love so absolute. In this spirit he remained for a time, during which their relations were of the closest. They spoke of marriage; they even appointed the day on which the announcement of their betrothal should be made. And though he had gone thus far at her entreaty, always recognising when with her the reasonableness of her wish, after she was gone, the cross seas of his own character, created a different impression and swept the pattern of Sabina's will away.

For a time the intrigue of meeting her, the planning and the plotting amused him. He imagined the world was blind and that none knew, or guessed, the truth. But Bridetown, having eyes as many and sharp as any other hamlet, had long been familiar with the facts. The transparent veil of their imagined secrecy was already rent, though the lovers did not guess it.

Then Raymond's chivalry wore thinner. Ruling passions, obscured for a season by the tremendous experience of his first love and its success, began by slow degrees to rise again, solid and challenging, through the rosy clouds. His love, while he shouted to himself that it increased rather than diminished, none the less assumed a change of colour and contour. The bright vapours still shone and Sabina could always kindle ineffable glow to the fabric; but she away, they shrank a little and grew less radiant. The truth of himself and his ambitions showed through. At such times he dinned on the ears of his heart that Sabina was his life. At other times when the fading fire astonished him by waking a shiver, he blamed fate, told himself that but for the lack of means, he would make a perfect home for Sabina; worship and cherish her; fill her life with happiness; pander to her every whim; devote a large portion of his own time to her; do all that wit and love could devise for her pleasure—all but one thing.

He did not want to marry her. With that deed demanding to be done, the necessity for it began to be questioned sharply. He was not a marrying man and, in any case, too young to commit himself and his prospects to such a course. He assured himself that he had never contemplated immediate marriage; he had never suggested it to Sabina. She herself had not suggested it; for what advantage could be gained by such a step? While a thousand disasters might spring therefrom, not the least being a quarrel with his brother, there was nothing to be said for it. He began to suspect that he could do little less likely to assure Sabina's future. He clung to his strand of chivalry at this time, like a drowning man to a straw; but other ingredients of his nature dragged him away. Selfishness is the parent of sophistry, and Raymond found himself dismissing old rules of morality and inherited instincts of religion and justice for more practical and worldly values. He told himself it was as much for Sabina's sake as for his own that he must now respect the dictates of common-sense.

There came a day in October, when the young man sat in his office at the mills, smoking and absorbed with his own affairs. The river Bride was broken above the works, and while her way ran south of them, the mill-race came north. Its labour on the wheel accomplished, the current turned quickly back to the river bed again. From Raymond's window he could see the main stream, under a clay bank, where the martins built their nests in spring, and where rush and sedge and an over-hanging sallow marked her windings. The sunshine found the stickles, and where Bride skirted the works lay a pool in which trout moved. Water buttercups shone silver white in this back-water at spring-time and the water-voles had their haunts in the bank side.

Beyond stretched meadow-lands and over the hill that rose behind them climbed the road to the cliffs. Hounds had ascended this road two hours before and their music came faintly from afar to Raymond's ear, then ceased. Already his relations with Sabina had lessened his will to pleasure in other directions. His money had gone in gifts to her, leaving no spare cash for the old amusements; but the distractions, that for a time had seemed so tame contrasted with the girl, cried louder and reminded how necessary and healthy they were.

Life seemed reduced to the naked question of cash. He was sorry for himself. It looked hard, outrageous, wrong, that tastes so sane and simple as his own, could not be gratified. A horseman descended the hill and Raymond recognised him. It was Neddy Motyer. His horse was lame and he walked beside it. Raymond smiled to himself, for Neddy, though a zealous follower of hounds, lacked judgment and often met with disaster.

Ten minutes later Neddy himself appeared.

"Come to grief," he said. "Horse put his foot into a rabbit hole and cut his knee on a flint. I've just taken him to the vet, here to be bandaged, so I thought I'd look you up. Why weren't you out?"

"I've got more important things to think about for the minute."

Neddy helped himself to a cigarette.

"Growing quite the man of business," he said. "What will power you've got! A few of us bet five to one you wouldn't stick it a month; but here you are. Only I can tell you this, Ray: you're wilting under it. You're not half the man you were. You're getting beastly thin—looking a worm in fact."

Raymond laughed.

"I'm all right. Plenty of time to make up for lost time."

"It's metal more attractive, I believe," hazarded Motyer. "A little bird's been telling us things in Bridport. Keep clear of the petticoats, old chap—the game's never worth the candle. I speak from experience."

"Do you? I shouldn't think any girl would have much use for you."

"Oh yes, they have—plenty of them. But once bit, twice shy. I had an adventure last year."

"I don't want to hear it."

Neddy showed concern.

"You're all over the shop, Ray. These blessed works are knocking the stuffing out of you and spoiling your temper. Are you coming to the 'smoker' at 'The Tiger' next month?"

"No."

"Well, do. You want bucking. It'll be a bit out of the common. Jack Buckler's training at 'The Tiger' for his match with Solly Blades. You know—eliminating round for middle-weight championship. And he's going to spar three rounds with our boy from the tannery—Tim Chick."

"I heard about it from one of our girls here—a cousin of Tim's. But I'm off that sort of thing."

"Since when?"

"You can't understand, Ned; but life's too short for everything. Perhaps you'll have to turn to work someday. Then you'll know."

"You don't work from eight o'clock at night till eleven anyway. Take my tip and come to the show and make a night of it. Waldron's going to be there. He's hunting this morning."

"I know."

The dinner bell had rung and now there came a knock at Raymond's door. Then Sabina entered and was departing again, but her lover bade her stay.

"Don't go, Sabina. This is my friend, Mr. Motyer—Miss Dinnett."

Motyer, remembering Raymond's recent snub, was exceedingly charming to Sabina. He stopped and chatted another five minutes, then mentioned the smoking concert again and so took his departure. Raymond spoke slightingly of him when he had gone.

"He's no good, really," he said. "An utter waster and only a hanger-on of sport—can't do anything himself but talk. Now he'll tell everybody in Bridport about you coming up here in the dinner-hour. Come and cheer me up. I'm bothered to death."

He kissed her and put his arms round her, but she would not stop.

"I can't stay here," she said. "I want to walk up the hill with you. If you're bothered, so am I, my darling."

He put on his hat and they went out together.

"I've had a nasty jar," she told him. "People are beginning to say things, Raymond—things that you wouldn't like to think are being said."

"I thought we rose superior to the rest of the world, and what it said and what it thought."

"We do and we always have. We're not moral cowards either of us. But there are some things. You don't want me to be insulted. You don't want either of us to lose the respect of people."

"We can't have our cake and eat it too, I suppose," he said rather carelessly. "Personally I don't care a straw whether people respect me, or despise me, as long as I respect myself. The people that matter to me respect me all right."

"Well, the people that matter to me, don't," she answered with a flash of colour. "We'll leave you out, Raymond, since you're satisfied; but I'm not satisfied. It isn't right, or fair, that I should begin to get sour looks from the women here, where I used to have smiles; and looks from the men—hateful looks—looks that no decent woman ought to suffer. And my mother has heard a lot of lies and is very miserable. So I think it's high time we let everybody know we're engaged. And you must think so, too, after what I've told you, Ray dear."

"Certainly," he answered, "not a shadow of doubt about it. And if I saw any man insult you, I should delight to thrash him on the spot—or a dozen of them. How the devil do people find out about one? I thought we'd been more than clever enough to hoodwink a dead alive place like this."

"Will you let me tell mother, to-day? And Sally Groves, and one or two of my best friends at the Mill? Do, Raymond—it's only fair to me now."

Had she left unspoken her last sentence, he might have agreed; but it struck a wrong note on his ear. It sounded selfish; it suggested that Sabina was concerned with herself and indifferent to the complications she had brought into his life. For a moment he was minded to answer hastily; but he controlled himself.

"It's natural you should feel like that; so do I, of course. We must settle a date for letting it out. I'll think about it. I'd say this minute, and you know I'm looking forward quite as much as you are to letting the world know my luck; but unfortunately you've just raised the question at an impossible moment, Sabina."

"Why? Surely nothing can make it impossible to clear my good name, Raymond?"

"I've got a good name, too. At least, I imagine so."

"Our names are one, or should be."

"Not yet, exactly. I wanted to spare you bothers. I do spare you all the bothers I can; but, of course, I've got my own, too, like everybody else. You see it's rather vital to your future, which you're naturally so keen about, Sabina, that I keep in with my brother. You'll admit that much. Well, for the moment I'm having the deuce of a row with him. You know what an exacting beggar he is. He will have his pound of flesh, and he has no sympathy for anything on two legs but himself. I asked him for a fortnight's holiday."

"A fortnight's holiday, Raymond!"

"Yes—that's not very wonderful, is it? But, of course, you can't understand what this work is to me, because you look at it from a different angle. Anyway I want a holiday—to get right away and consider things; and he won't let me have it. And finding that, I lost my temper. And if, at the present moment, Daniel hears that we're engaged to be married, Sabina, it's about fifty to one that he'd chuck me altogether and stop my dirty little allowance also."

They had reached the gate of 'The Magnolias,' and Sabina did a startling thing. She turned from him and went down the path to the back entrance without another word. But this he could not stand. His heart smote him and he called her with such emotion that she also was sorrowful and came back to the gate.

"Good God! you frightened me," he said. "This is a quarrel, Sabina—our first and last, I hope. Never, never let anything come between us. That's unthinkable and I won't have it. You must give and take, my precious girl. And so must I. But look at it. What on earth happens to us if Daniel fires me out of the Mill?"

"He's a just man," she answered. "Dislike him as we may, he's a just man and you need not fear him, or anybody else, if you do the right thing."

"You oppose your will to mine, then, Sabina?"

"I don't know your will. I thought I did; I thought I understood you so well by now and was learning better and better how to please you. But now I tell you I am being wronged, and you say nothing can be done."

"I never said so. I'm not a blackguard, Sabina, and you ought to know that as well as the rest of the world. I'm poor, unfortunately, and the poor have got to be politic. Daniel may be just, but it's a narrow-minded, hypocritical justice, and if I tell him I'm engaged to you, he'll sack me. That's the plain English of it."

"I don't believe he would."

"Well, I know he would; and you must at least allow me to know more about him than you do. And so I ask you whether it is common-sense to tell him what's going to happen, for the sake of a few clod-hoppers, who matter to nobody, or—"

"But, but, how long is it to go on? Why do you shrink from doing now what you wanted to do at first?"

"I don't shrink from it at all. I only intend to choose the proper time and not give the show away at a moment when to do so will be to ruin me."

"'Give the show away,'" she quoted bitterly. "You can look me in the face and say a thing like that! It's only 'a show' to you; but it's my life to me."

"I'm sorry I used the expression. Words aren't anything. It's my life to me, too. And I've got to think for both of us. In a week, or ten days, I'll eat humble pie and climb down and grovel to Daniel. Then, when I'm pardoned, we'll tell everybody. It won't kill you to wait another fortnight anyway. And in the meantime we'd better see less of each other, since you're getting so worried about what your friends say about us."

Now he had said too much. Sabina would have agreed to the suggestion of a fortnight's waiting, but the proposal that they should see less of each other both hurt and angered her. The quarrel culminated.

"Caution seems to me rather a cowardly thing, Raymond, from you to me. I tell you that your wife's good name is at stake. For, since you've called me your wife so often, I suppose I may do the same. And if you're so careless for my credit, then I must be jealous for it myself."

"And my credit can go to the devil, I suppose?"

Then she flamed, struck to the root of the matter and left him.

"If the fact that you're engaged to me, by every sacred tie of honour, ruins your credit—then tell yourself what you are," she said, and her voice rose to a note he had never heard before.

This time he did not call her back, but went his own way up the hill.



CHAPTER XIII

IN THE FOREMAN'S GARDEN

Mr. Best was a good gardener and cultivated fruit and flowers to perfection. His rambling patch of ground ran beside the river and some of his apple trees bent over it. Pear trees also he grew, and a medlar and a quince. But flowers he specially loved. His house was bowered in roses to the thatched roof, and in the garden grew lilies and lupins, a hundred roses and many bright tracts of shining, scented blossoms. Now, however, they had vanished and on a Saturday afternoon John Best was tidying up, tending a bonfire and digging potatoes.

He was generous of his treasures and the girls never hesitated to ask him for a rose in June. Ancient Mrs. Chick, too, won an annual gift from the foreman. Down one side of his garden ranged great elder bushes, and Mrs. Chick made of the blooth in summer time, a decoction very precious for throat troubles.

Now Best stood for a moment and regarded a waste corner where grew nettles. Somebody approached him in this act of contemplation and he spoke.

"I often wonder if it would be worth while making an experiment with stinging nettles," he said to Ernest Churchouse, who was the visitor.

"They have a spinnable fibre, John, without a doubt."

"They have, Mister Churchouse, and they scutch well and can be wrought into textiles. But there's no temptation to make trial. I'm only thinking in a scientific spirit."

He swept up the fallen nettles for his bonfire.

"I've come for a few balls of the rough twine," said Mr. Churchouse.

"And welcome."

An unusual air of gloom sat on Mr. Best and the other was quick to observe it.

"All well, I hope?" he said.

"Not exactly. I'm rather under the weather; but I dare say it's my own fault."

"It often is," admitted Ernest; "but in my experience that doesn't make it any better. In fact, the most disagreeable sort of depression is that which we know we are responsible for ourselves. When other people annoy us, we have the tonic effect of righteous indignation; but not when we annoy ourselves and know ourselves to blame."

"I wouldn't go so far as to say it's all my own fault, however," answered Mr. Best. "It is and it isn't my fault. To be a father of children is your own fault in a manner of speaking; and yet to be a father is not any wrong, other things being as they should."

"On the contrary, it's part of the whole duty of man—other things being equal, as you say."

"We look to see ourselves reflected in our offspring, yet how often do we?" asked the foreman.

"Perhaps we might oftener, if we didn't suffer from constitutional inability to recognise ourselves, John. I've thought of this problem, let me tell you, for you are one of many who feel the same. So far as I can see, parents worry about what their children look like to them; but never about what they look like to their children."

"You speak as a childless widower," answered the other. "Believe me, Mister Churchouse, children nowadays never hesitate to tell us what we look like to them—or what they think of us either. Even my sailor boy will do it."

"It's the result of education," said Ernest. "There is no doubt that education has altered the outlook of the child on the parent. The old relation has disappeared and the fifth commandment does not make its old appeal. Children are better educated than their parents."

"And what's the result? They'd kill the home goose that lays the golden eggs to-morrow, if they could. In fact, they're doing it. Those that remain reasonable and obedient to their fathers and mothers feel themselves martyrs. That's the best sort; but it ain't much fun having a house full of martyrs whether or no; and it ain't much fun to know that your offspring are merely enduring you, as a necessary affliction. As for the other sort, who can't stick home life and old-fashioned ideas, they just break loose and escape as quick as ever they know how—and no loss either."

"A gloomy picture," admitted Mr. Churchouse; "but, like every other picture, it has two sides. I think time may be trusted to put it right. After the young have left the nest, and hopped out into the world, and been sharply pecked now and again, they begin to see home in its true perspective and find that there is nothing like the affection of a mother and father."

"They don't want anything of that," declared John. "If you stand for sense and experience and try to learn them, they think you're a fossil and out of sight of reality; and if you attempt to be young and interest yourself in their wretched little affairs and pay the boy with the boys and the girl with the girls, they think you're a fool."

"No doubt they see through any effort on the part of the middle-aged to be one with them," admitted Ernest. "And for my part I deprecate such attempts. Let us grow old like gentlemen, John, and if they cannot perceive the rightness and stateliness of age, so much the worse for them. Some of us, however, err very gravely in this matter. There are men who have not the imagination to see themselves growing old; they only feel it. And they try to hide their feelings and think they are also hiding the fact. Such men, of course, become the laughing-stocks of the rising generation and the shame of their own."

"All the young are alike, so I needn't grumble at my own family for that matter," confessed Mr. Best. "Their generation is all equally headstrong and opinionated—high and low, the same. If I've hinted to Raymond Ironsyde once, I've hinted a thousand times, that he's not going about his business in a proper spirit."

"He is at present obviously in love, John, and must not therefore be judged. But I share your uneasiness."

"It's wrong, and he knows it, and she ought to know it, too. Sabina, I mean. I should have given her credit for more sense myself. I thought she had plenty of self-respect and brains too."

"Things are coming to a crisis in that quarter," prophesied Ernest. "It is a quality of love that it doesn't stand still, John; and something is going to happen very shortly. Either it will be given out that they are betrothed, or else the thing will fade away. Sabina has very fine instincts; and on his side, he would, I am sure, do nothing unbecoming his family."

"He has—plenty," declared Mr. Best.

"Nothing about which there would not be two opinions, believe me. The fact that he has let it go so far makes me think they are engaged. The young will go their own way about things."

"If it was all right, Sabina Dinnett wouldn't be so miserable," argued John Best. "She was used to be as cheerful as a bird on a bough; and now she is not."

"Merely showing that the climax is at hand. I have seen myself lately that Sabina was unhappy and even taxed her with it; but she denied it. Her mother, however, knows that she is a good deal perturbed. We must hope for the best."

"And what is the best?" asked John.

"There is not the slightest difficulty about that; the best is what will happen," replied Mr. Churchouse. "As a good Christian you know it perfectly well."

But the other shook his head.

"That won't do," he answered, "that's only evasion, Mister Ernest. There's lots and lots of things happen, and the better the Christian you are, the better you know they ought not to happen. And whether they are engaged to be married, or whether they quarrel, trouble must come of it. If people do wrong, it's no good for Christians to say the issue must be right. That's simply weak-minded. You might as well argue nothing wrong ever does happen, since nothing can happen without the will of God."

"In a sense that's true," admitted Ernest. "So true, in fact, that we'd better change the subject, John. We thinking and religious men know there's a good deal of thin ice in Christianity, where we've got to walk with caution and not venture without a guide. One needs professional theologians to skate over these dangerous places safely. But, for my part, I have my reason well under control, as every religious person should. I can perfectly accept the fact that evil happens, and yet that nothing happens without the sanction of an all powerful and all good God."

"You'd better come and get your string then," said Mr. Best. "And long may your fine faith flourish. You're a great lesson to us people cursed with too much common-sense, I'm sure."

"Where our religion is concerned, we should be too proud to submit it to common-sense," declared Ernest. "Common-sense is all very well in everyday affairs; in fact, this world would not prosper without it; but I strongly deprecate common-sense as applied to the next world, John. The next world, from what one glimpses of it in prophecy and revelation, is outside the category of common-sense altogether."

"I stand corrected," said Mr. Best. "But it's a startler—to leave common-sense out of what matters most to thinking men."

"We shall be altered in the twinkling of an eye," explained Ernest, "and so, doubtless, will be our humble, earthly intelligence, our reliance on reason and other mundane virtues. From the heavenly standpoint, earth will seem a very sordid business altogether, I suspect, and even our good qualities appear very peddling. In fact, we may find, John, that we were in the habit of putting up statues to the wrong persons, and discover the most unexpected people at the right hand of the Throne."

"I dare say we shall," admitted Mr. Best; "for if common-sense is going by the board and the virtues all to be scrapped also, then we that think we stand had better take heed lest we fall—you and me included, Mister Churchouse. However, I'm glad to say I'm not with you there. The Book tells us very clear what's good and what's evil; and whatever else Heaven will do, it won't go back on the Book. I suppose you'll grant that much?"

"Most certainly," said the elder. "Most certainly and surely, John. That, at least, we can rely upon. Our stronghold lies in the fact that we know good from evil, and though we don't know what 'infinite' goodness is, we do know that it is still goodness. Therefore, though God is infinitely good, He is still good; the difference between His goodness and ours is one of degree, not kind. So metaphysics and quibbling leave us quite safe, which is all that really matters."

"I hope you're right," answered Best. "Life puts sharp questions to religion, and I can't pretend my religion's always clever enough to answer them."

Ernest took his twine and departed; but the subject of Raymond and Sabina was not destined to slumber, for now he met Raymond on his way to North Hill House.

He asked him to come into tea and, to his surprise, the young man refused.

"That means Sabina isn't at home then," said Mr. Churchouse blandly.

"I don't know where she is."

At this challenge Ernest spoke and struck into the matter very directly. He blamed Raymond and feared that his course of action was not that of a gentleman.

"You would be the very first to protest and criticise unfavourably, my dear boy, if you saw anybody else treating a girl in this fashion," he concluded.

"I'm going to clear it up," answered the culprit. "Don't you worry. These things can't be done in a minute. This infernal place is always so quick to think evil, apparently, and judges decent people by its own dirty opinions. I've asked Daniel to give me a holiday, so that I may go away and think over life in general. And he won't give me a holiday. It's very clear to me, Uncle Ernest, that no self-respecting man would be able to work under Daniel for long. Things are coming to a climax. I doubt if I shall be able to keep on here."

"You evade the subject, which is your friendship with Sabina, Raymond. As to Daniel, there ought to be no difficulty whatever, and you know it very well in your heart and head. Your protest deceives nobody. But Sabina?"

Here the conversation ceased abruptly, for Raymond committed an unique offence. He told Mr. Churchouse to go to the devil, and left him, standing transfixed with amazement, at the outer gate of 'The Magnolias.'

With the insult to himself Ernest was not much concerned. His regretful astonishment centred in the spectacle of Raymond's downfall.

"To what confusion and disorder must his mind have been reduced, before he could permit himself such a lapse," reflected Mr. Churchouse.



CHAPTER XIV

THE CONCERT

The effect of Raymond's attitude on Sabina's mind proved very serious. It awoke in her first anger and then dismay. She was a woman of fine feeling and quick perception. Love and ambition had pointed the same road, and the hero, being, as it seemed, without guile, had convinced her that she might believe every word that he spoke and trust everything that he did. She had never contemplated any sacrifice before marriage, and, indeed, when it came, the consummation of their worship proved no sacrifice to her, but an added joy. Less than many a married woman had she mourned the surrender, for in her eyes it made all things complete between them and bound them inseparably with the golden links of love and honour.

When, therefore, upon this perfect union, sinister light from without had broken, she felt it no great thing to ask Raymond that their betrothal should be known. Reason and justice demanded it. She did not for an instant suppose that he would hesitate, but rather expected him to blame his own blindness in delay. But finding he desired further postponement, she was struck with consternation that rose to wrath; and when he persisted, she became alarmed and now only considered what best she might do for her own sake. Her work suffered and her friends perceived that all was not well with her. With the shortening days and bad weather, the meetings with Raymond became more difficult to pursue and she saw less of him. They had patched their quarrel and were friendly enough, but the perfect understanding had departed. They preserved a common ground and she did not mention subjects likely to annoy him. He appeared to be working steadily, seldom came into the shops and was more reserved to everybody in the Mill.

Sabina had not yet spoken to her mother, though many times tempted to do so. Her loyalty proved strong in the time of trial; but the greater the strain on herself, the greater the strain on her love for the man. She told herself that no such cruel imposition should have been placed upon her; and she could not fail closely to question the need for it. Why did Raymond demand continued silence even in the face of offences put upon her by her neighbours? How could he endure to hear that people had been rude to her, and uttered coarse jests in her hearing aimed only at her ear? Would a man who loved her, as she deserved to be loved, suffer this? Then fear grew. With her he was always kind—kind and considerate in every matter but the vital matter. Yet there were differences. The future, in which he had delighted to revel, bored him now, and when she spoke of it, he let the matter drop. He was on good terms with his brother for the moment, and appeared to be winning an increasing interest in his business to the exclusion of other affairs. He would become animated on the subject of Sabina's work, rather than the subject of Sabina. He stabbed her unconsciously with many little shafts of speech, yet knew not that he was doing so. He grew more grave and self-controlled in their relations. Her personal touch began to lose power and waken his answering fire less often. It was then that she found herself with child, and knowing that despite much to cause concern, Raymond was still himself, she rejoiced, since this fact must terminate his wavering and establish her future. Here at least was an event beyond his power to evade. He loved her and had promised to wed her. He was a man who might be weak, but had never explicitly behaved in a manner to make her tremble for such a situation as the present. Procrastination ceased to be possible. What now had happened must demand instant recognition of her rights, and that given, she assured herself the future held no terrors. Now he must marry her, or contradict his own record as a gentleman and a man of honour.

Yet she told him with a tremor and, until the last moment, could not banish from her heart the shadow of fear. He had never spoken of this possibility, or taken it into account, and she felt, seeing his silence, that it would be a shock.

The news came to him as they walked from the Mill on a Saturday when the works closed at noon. He was on his way to Bridport and she went beside him for a mile through the lanes.

For a moment he said nothing, then, seeing the road empty, he put his arms round her and kissed her.

"You clever girl!" he said.

"Don't tell me you're sorry, for God's sake, or I shall go and drown myself," she answered. Her face was anxious and she looked haggard in the cold light of a sunless, winter day. But a genuine, generous emotion had touched him, and with it woke pangs of remorse and contrition. He knew very well what she had been suffering mentally on his account, and he knew that the frightened voice in which she told him the news and the trembling mouth and the tear in her eyes ought not to have been there. Every fine feeling in the man and every honest instinct was aroused. For the moment he felt glad that no further delay was possible. His self-respect had already suffered; but now life offered him swift means to regain it. He did not, however, think of himself while his arms were round her; he thought of her and her only, while they remained together.

"'Sorry'?" he said. "Can you think I'm sorry? I'm only sorry that I didn't do something sooner and marry you before this happened, Sabina. Good Lord—it throws a lot of light. I swear it does. I'm glad—I'm honestly glad—and you must be glad and proud and happy and all the rest of it. We'll be married in a month. And you must tell your mother we're engaged to-day; and I'll tell my people. Don't you worry. Damn me, I've been worrying you a lot lately; but it was only because I couldn't see straight. Now I do and I'll soon atone."

She wept with thankful heart and begged him to turn with her and tell Mrs. Dinnett himself. But that he would not do.

"It will save time if I go on to Bridport and let Aunt Jenny hear about it. Of course the youngster is our affair and nobody need know about that. But we must be married in a jiffey and—you must give notice at the mill to-day. Go back now and tell Best."

"How wonderful you are!" she said. "And yet I feared you might be savage about it."

"More shame to me that you should have feared it," he answered; "for that means that I haven't been sporting. But you shall never be frightened of me again, Sabina. To see you frightened hurts me like hell. If ever you are again, it will be your fault, not mine."

She left him very happy and a great cloud seemed to fall off her life as she returned to the village. She blamed herself for ever doubting him. Her love rose from its smothered fires. She soared to great heights and dreamed of doing mighty things for Raymond. Straight home to her mother she went and told Mrs. Dinnett of her engagement and swiftly approaching marriage. The light had broken on her darkness at last and she welcomed the child as a blessed forerunner of good. The coming life had already made her love it.

Meantime Raymond preserved his cheerful spirit for a season. But existence never looked the same out of Sabina's presence and before he had reached Bridport, his mood changed. He recognised very acutely his duty and not a thought stirred in him to escape it; but what for a little while had appeared more than duty and promised to end mean doubts and fears for ever, began now to present itself under other aspects. The joy of a child and a wife and a home faded. For what sort of a home could he establish? He leaned to the hope that Daniel might prove generous under the circumstances and believed that his aunt might throw her weight on his side and urge his brother to make adequate provision; but these reflections galled him unspeakably, for they were sordid. They argued weakness in him. He must come as a beggar and eat humble pie; he must for ever sacrifice his independence and, with it, everything that had made life worth living. The more he thought upon it, the more he began to hate the necessity of taking this story to his relations. Better men than he had lived in poverty and risen from humble beginnings. It struck him that if he went his own way, redoubled his official energies and asked for nothing more on the strength of his marriage, his own self-respect would be preserved as well as the respect of his aunt and brother. He pictured himself as a hero, yet knew that what he contemplated was merely the conduct of an honest man.

The thought of approaching anybody with his intentions grew more distasteful, and by the time he reached Bridport, he had determined not to mention the matter, at any rate until the following day. So great a thing demanded more consideration than he could give it for the moment, because his whole future depended on the manner in which he broke it to his people. It was true that the circumstances admitted of no serious delay; Sabina must, of course, be considered before everything; but twenty-four hours would make no difference to her, while it might make all the difference to him.

He reduced the courses of action to two. Either he would announce that he was going to be married immediately as a fact accomplished; or he would invite his aunt's sympathies, use diplomacy and win her to his side with a view to approaching Daniel. Daniel appeared the danger, because it was quite certain that he would strongly disapprove of Raymond's marriage. This certainty induced another element of doubt. For suppose, far from seeking to help Raymond with his new responsibilities, Daniel took the opposite course and threatened to punish him for any such stupidity? Suppose that his brother, from a personal standpoint, objected and backed his objection with a definite assurance that Raymond must leave the mill if he took this step? The only way out of that would be to tell Daniel that he was compromised and must wed Sabina for honour. But Raymond felt that he would rather die than make any such confession. His whole soul rose with loathing at the thought of telling the truth to one so frozen and unsympathetic. Moreover there was not only himself to be considered, but Sabina. What chance would she have of ever winning Daniel to acknowledge and respect her if the facts came to his ears?

Raymond thought himself into a tangle and found a spirit of great depression settling upon him. But, at last, he decided to sleep on the situation. He did not go home, but turned his steps to 'The Tiger,' ate his luncheon and drank heartily with it.

Then he went to see a boxer, who was training with Mr. Gurd, and presently when Neddy Motyer appeared, he turned into the billiard room and there killed some hours before the time of the smoking concert.

He imbibed the intensely male atmosphere of 'The Tiger' with a good deal of satisfaction; but surging up into the forefront of his mind came every moment the truth concerning himself and his future. It made him bitter. For some reason he could not guess, he found himself playing billiards very much above his form. Neddy was full of admiration.

"By Jove, you've come on thirty in a hundred," he said. "If you only gave a fair amount of time to it, you'd soon beat anybody here but Waldron."

"My sporting days are practically over," answered Raymond. "I've got to face real life now, and as soon as you begin to do that, you find sport sinks under the horizon a bit. I thought I should miss it a lot, but I shan't."

"If anybody else said that, I should think it was the fox who had lost his brush talking," replied Neddy; "but I suppose you mean it. Only you'll find, if you chuck sport, you'll soon be no good. Even as it is, going into the works has put you back a lot. I doubt if you could do a hundred in eleven seconds now."

"There are more important things than doing a hundred in eleven seconds—or even time, either, for that matter."

"You won't chuck football, anyway? You'll be fast enough for outside right for year's yet if you watch yourself."

"Damned easy to say 'watch yourself.' Yes, I shall play footer a bit longer if they want me, I suppose."

Arthur Waldron dropped in a few minutes later.

He was glad to see Raymond.

"Good," he said. "I thought you were putting in a blameless evening with your people."

"No, I'm putting in a blameless evening here."

"He's playing enormous billiards, Waldron," declared Motyer. "I suppose you've been keeping him at it. He's come on miles."

"He didn't learn with me, anyway. It's not once in a blue moon that he plays at North Hill. But if he's come on, so much the better."

They played, but Raymond's form had deserted him. Waldron was much better than the average amateur and now he gave Raymond fifty in two hundred and beat him by as much. They dined together presently, and Job Legg, who often lent a hand at 'The Tiger' on moments of extra pressure, waited upon them.

"How's your uncle, Job?" asked Arthur Waldron, who was familiar with Mr. Legg, and not seldom visited 'The Seven Stars,' when Estelle came with him to Bridport.

"He's a goner, sir. I'm off to the funeral on Monday."

"Hope the will was all right?"

"Quite all right, sir, thank you, sir."

"Then you'll leave, no doubt, and what will Missis Northover do then?"

Legg smiled.

"It's hid in the future, sir," he answered.

A comedian, who was going to perform at the smoking concert, came in with Mr. Gurd, and the innkeeper introduced him to Neddy and Raymond. He joined them and added an element of great hilarity to the meal. He abounded in good stories, and understood horse-racing as well as Neddy Motyer himself. Neddy now called himself a 'gentleman backer,' but admitted that, so far, it had not proved a lucrative profession.

Their talk ranged over sport and athletics. They buzzed one against the other, and not even the humour of the comic man was proof against the seriousness of Arthur Waldron, who demonstrated, as always, that England's greatness had sprung from the pursuit of masculine pastimes. The breed of horses and the breed of men alike depended upon sport. The Empire, in Mr. Waldron's judgment, had arisen from this sublime foundation.

"It reaches from the highest to the lowest," he declared. "The puppy that plays most is the one that always turns into the best dog."

The smoking concert, held in Mr. Gurd's large dining-room, went the way of such things with complete success. The boxing was of the best, and the local lad, Tim Chick, performed with credit against his experienced antagonist. All the comic man's songs aimed at the folly of marriage and the horrors of domesticity. He seemed to be singing at Raymond, who roared with the rest and hated the humourist all the time. The young man grew uneasy and morose before the finish, drank too much whiskey, and felt glad to get into the cold night air when all was over.

And then there happened to him a challenge very unexpected, for Waldron, as they walked back together through the night-hidden lanes, chose the opportunity to speak of Raymond's private affairs.

"You can't accuse me of wanting to stick my nose into other people's business, can you, Ray? And you can't fairly say that you've ever found me taking too much upon myself or anything of that sort."

"No; you're unique in that respect."

"Well, then, you mustn't be savage if I'm personal. You know me jolly well and you know that you're about the closest friend I've got. And if you weren't a friend and a great deal to me, I shouldn't speak."

"Go ahead—I can guess. There's only one topic in Bridetown, apparently. No doubt you've seen me in the company of Sabina Dinnett?"

"I haven't, I can honestly say. But Estelle is very keen about the mill girls. She wants to do all sorts of fine things for them; and she's specially friendly with Missis Dinnett's daughter. And she's heard things that puzzled her young ears naturally, and she told me that some people say you're being too kind to Sabina and other people say you're treating her hardly. Of course, that puzzled Estelle, clever though she is; but, as a man of the world, I saw what it meant and that kindness may really be cruelty in the long run. You'll forgive me, won't you?"

"Of course, my dear chap. If one lives in a hole like Bridetown, one must expect one's affairs to be common property."

"And if they are, what does it matter as long as they are all straightforward? I never care a button what anybody says about me, because I know they can't say anything true that is up against me; and as to lies, they don't matter."

"And d'you think I care what they say about me?"

"Rather not. Only if a girl is involved, then the case is altered. I'm not a saint; but—"

"When anybody says they're not a saint, you know they're going to begin to preach, Arthur."

Waldron did not answer for a minute. He stopped and lighted his pipe. To Raymond, Sabina appeared unmeasurably distant at this midnight hour. His volatile mind was quick to take colour from the last experience, and in the aura of the smoking concert, woman looked a slight and inferior thing; marriage, a folly; domestic life, a jest.

Waldron spoke again.

"You won't catch me preaching. I only venture to say that in a little place like this, it's a mistake to be identified with a girl beneath you in every way. It won't hurt you, and if she was a common girl and given to playing about, it wouldn't hurt her; but the Dinnetts are different. However, you know a great deal more about her than I do, and if you tell me she's not all she seems and you're not the first and won't be the last, then, of course I'm wrong and enough said. But if she's all right and all she's thought to be, and all Estelle thinks her—for Estelle's a jolly good student of character—then, frankly, I don't think it's sporting of you to do what you're doing."

The word 'sporting' summed the situation from Waldron's point of view and he said no more.

Raymond grew milder.

"She's all Estelle thinks her. I have a great admiration for her. She's amazingly clever and refined. In fact, I never saw any girl a patch on her in my life."

"Well then, what follows? Surely she ought to be respected in every way."

"I do respect her."

"Then it's up to you to treat her as you'd treat anybody of your own class, and take care that nothing you do throws any shadow on her. And, of course, you know it. I'm not suggesting for a second you don't. I'm only suggesting that what would be quite all right with a girl in your own set, isn't exactly fair to Sabina—her position in the world being what it is."

It was on Raymond's tongue to declare his engagement; but he did not. He had banished Sabina for that night and the subject irked him. The justice of Waldron's criticism also irked him; but he acknowledged it.

"Thank you," he answered. "It's jolly good of you to say these things, Arthur, because they're not in your line, and I know you hate them. But you're dead right. I dare say I'll tell you something that will astonish you before long. But I'm not doing anything to be ashamed of. I haven't made any mistake; and if I had, I shouldn't shirk the payment."

"You can't, my dear chap. A mistake has always got to be paid for in full—often with interest added. As a sportsman you know that, and it holds all through life in my experience."

"I shan't make one. But if I do, I'm quite prepared to pay the cost."

"We all say that till the bill comes along. Better avoid the mistake, and I'm glad you're going to."

Far away from the scrub on North Hill came a sharp, weird sound.

"Hark!" said Waldron. "That's a dog fox! I hope the beggar's caught a rabbit."



CHAPTER XV

A VISIT TO MISS IRONSYDE

On the following day Raymond did not appear at breakfast, and Estelle wondered at so strange an event.

"He's going for a long walk with me this afternoon," she told her father. "It's a promise; we're going all the way to Chilcombe, for me to show him that dear little chapel and the wonderful curiosity in it."

"Not much in his line, but if he said he'll go, he'll go, no doubt," answered her father.

They went to church together presently, for Waldron observed Sunday. He held no definite religious opinions; but inclined to a vague idea that it was seemly to go, because it set a good example and increased your authority. He believed that church-going was a source of good to the proletariat, and though he did not himself accept the doctrine of eternal punishment, since it violated all sporting tenets, he was inclined to think that acceptation of the threat kept ignorant people straight and made them better members of society. He held that the parson and squire must combine in this matter and continue to claim and enforce, as far as possible, a beneficent autocracy in thorpe and hamlet; and he perceived that religion was the only remaining force which upheld their sway. That supernatural control was crumbling under the influences of education he also recognised; but did his best to stem the tide, and trusted that the old dispensation would at least last out his time.

On returning from worship they found Raymond in the garden, and when Estelle reminded him of his promise, he agreed and declared that he looked forward to the tramp. He was cheerful and apparently welcomed Estelle's programme, but there happened that which threatened to interfere with it.

Waldron had retired to his study and a new book on 'The Fox Terrier,' which he reserved for Sabbath reading, and Estelle and Raymond were just setting out for Chilcombe when there came Sabina. She had called to see her lover and entered the garden in time to stop him. She had never openly asked to see him in this manner before, and Raymond was quick to mark the significance of the change. It annoyed him, while inwardly he recognised its reasonableness. He turned and shook hands with her, and Estelle did the same.

"We're just starting for Chilcombe," she said.

Sabina looked her surprise. She had been expecting Raymond all the morning, to bring the great news to Ernest Churchouse, and was puzzled to know why he had not come. She could not wait longer, and while her mother advised delay, found herself unable to delay.

Now she perceived that Raymond had made plans independently of her.

"I was coming in this evening," he said, in answer to her eyes.

"May I speak to you a moment before you start with Miss Waldron?" she asked, and together they strolled into Estelle's rose garden where still a poor blossom or two crowned naked sprays.

"I don't understand," began the girl. "Surely—surely after yesterday?"

"I'd promised to go for this walk with her."

"What then? Wasn't there all the morning? My mother and I didn't go to church—expecting you every minute."

"You must keep your nerve, Sabina—both of us must. You mustn't be hysterical about it."

She perceived how mightily his mood had changed since their leave-taking of the day before.

"What's the matter?" she asked. "I suppose your people have not taken this well."

"They don't know yet—nobody does."

"You didn't tell them?"

"Things prevented it. We must choose the right moment to spring this. It's bound to knock them over for a minute. I'm thinking it all out. Probably you don't quite realise, Sabina, what this means from their point of view. The first thing is to get my aunt on my side; Daniel's hopeless, of course."

She stared at him.

"What in God's name has come over you? You talk as though you hadn't a drop of blood in your veins. Were you deaf yesterday? Didn't you hear me tell you I was with child by you? 'Their point of view'! What about my point of view?"

"Don't get excited, my dear girl. Do give me credit for some sense. This is a very ticklish business, and the whole of our future—yours, of course, quite as much as mine—will depend on what I do during the next few days. Do try to realise that. If I make a mistake now, we may repent it for fifty years."

"What d'you call making a mistake? What choice of action have you got if you're a gentleman? It kills me—kills me to hear you talking about making a mistake; and your hard voice means that you think you've made one. What have I done but love you with all my heart and soul? What have I ever done to make you put other people's points of view before mine?"

"I'm not—I'm not, Sabina."

"You are. You used to understand me so well and know what was in my mind before I spoke, and now—now before this—the greatest thing in the world for me—you—"

"Talk quietly, for goodness' sake. You don't want all Bridetown to hear us."

"You can say that? And you go out walking with a child and—"

"Look here, Sabina, you must pull yourself together, or else you stand a very good chance of bitching up our show altogether," he answered calmly. "This thing has got to be carried out by me, not you; and if you are not going to let me do it my own way, then so much the worse for both of us. I won't be dictated to by you, or anybody, and if you're not contented to believe in me, then I can only say you're making a big mistake and you'll very soon find it out."

"What are you going to do, then?" she asked, "and when are you going to do it? I've a right to know that, I suppose?"

"To think you can talk in that tone of voice to me—to me of all people!"

"To think you can force me to! And now you'll say you've seen things in me you never thought were there, and turn it over in your mind—and—and oh, it's cowardly—it's cruel. And you call yourself an honourable man and could tell me and swear to me only yesterday that I was more to you than anything else in the world!"

"D'you know what you're doing?" he asked. "D'you want to make me—there—I won't speak it—I won't come down to your level and forget myself and say things that I'd break my heart to think of afterwards. I must go now, or that girl will be wondering what the deuce has happened. She's told her father already that you weren't happy or something; so I suppose you must have been talking. I'll come in this evening. You'd better go home now as quick as you can."

He left her abruptly and she sat down shaking on a stone seat, to prevent herself from falling. Grief and terror shared her spirit. She watched him hurry away and, after he was gone, arose to find her legs trembling under her. She went home slowly; then thoughts came to her which restored her physical strength. Her anger gave place to fear and her fear beckoned her to confide in somebody with greater power over Raymond than her own.

She returned to her mother, described her repulse and then declared her intention of going immediately to see Miss Ironsyde. She concentrated her thoughts on the lady, of whom Raymond had often spoken with admiration and respect. She argued with herself that his aunt would only have to hear her story to take her side; she told herself and her mother that since Raymond had feared to approach his aunt, Sabina might most reasonably do so. She grew calm and convinced herself that not only might she do this, but that when Raymond heard of it, he would very possibly be glad that the necessity of confession was escaped. His Aunt Jenny was very fond of him, and would forgive him and help him to do right. Sabina found herself stronger than Raymond, and that did not astonish her, for she had suspected it before.

Her mother, now in tears, agreed with her and she started on foot for Bridport, walked quickly, and within an hour, reached the dwelling of the Ironsydes—a large house standing hidden in the trees above the town.

Miss Ironsyde was reading and looking forward to her tea when Sabina arrived. She had heard of the girl through Ernest Churchouse, but she had never met her and did not connect her in any way with Raymond. Jenny received her and was impressed with her beauty, for Sabina, albeit anxious and nervous, looked handsome after her quick walk.

"I've heard of you from your mother and Mr. Churchouse," said Miss Ironsyde, shaking hands. "You come from him, I expect. I hope he is well? Sit down by the fire."

Her kindly manner and gentle face set the younger at ease.

"He's quite well, thank you, miss. But I'm here for myself, not him. I'm in a great deal of terrible anxiety, and you'll excuse me for coming, I do hope, when I explain why I've come. It was understood between me and Mr. Raymond Ironsyde very clearly yesterday that he was going to tell you about it. He left me yesterday to do so. But I've seen him to-day and I find he never came, so I thought I might venture to come even though it was Sunday."

"The better the day, the better the deed. Something is troubling you. Why did not my nephew come, if he started to come?"

"I don't know. Indeed, he should have come."

"I'm afraid he starts to do a great many things he doesn't carry through," said Jenny, and the words, lightly spoken, fell sinister on Sabina's ear.

"There are some things a man must carry through if he starts to do them," she said quietly, and her tone threw light for Raymond's aunt. She grew serious.

"Tell me," she said. "I know my nephew very well and have his interests greatly at heart. He is somewhat undisciplined still and has had to face certain difficulties and problems, not much in themselves, but much to one with his temperament."

Then Sabina, who felt that she might be fighting for her life, set out to tell her story. She proved at her best and spoke well. She kept her temper and chose her words. The things that she had thought to speak, indeed, escaped her, but her artless and direct narrative did not fail to convince the listener.

"You're more to him than anybody in the world, but me," she said; "but I'm first, Miss Ironsyde. I must be first now. Even if to-day he had been different—but what seemed so near yesterday is far off to-day. He was harsh to-day. He terrified me, and I felt you'd think no worse of me than you must, if I ventured to come. I don't ask you to believe anything I say until you have seen him; but I'm not going to tell you anything but the sacred truth. Thanks to Mr. Churchouse I was well educated, and he took kind pains to teach me when I was young and helped me to get fond of books. So when Mr. Raymond came to the Mill, he found I was intelligent and well mannered. And he fell in love with me and asked me to marry him. And I loved him very dearly, because I had never seen or known a man with such a beautiful face and mind. And I promised to marry him. He wished it kept secret and we loved in secret and had great joy of each other for a long time. Then people began to talk and I begged him to let it be known we were engaged; but he would not. And then I told him—yesterday—that it must be known and that he must marry me as quickly as he could, for right and honour. And he seemed very glad—almost thankful I thought. He rejoiced about it and said it was splendid news. Then he left me to come straight to you and I was happy and thankful. But to-day I went to see him and he had changed and was rough to me and said he must choose his own time! This to me, who am going to be mother of his child next year! I nearly fainted when he said that. He told me to go; and I went. But I could not sit down under the shock; I had to do something and thought of you. So I came to implore you to be on my side—not only for my sake, but his. It's a very fearful thing—only I know how fearful, because I know all he's said and promised; and well I know he meant every word while he was saying it. And I do humbly beg you, miss, for love of him, to reason with him and hear what he's got to say. And if he says a word that contradicts what I've said, then I'll be content for you to believe him and I'll trouble you no more. But he won't. He'll tell you everything I've told you. He couldn't say different, for he's truthful and straight. And if it was anything less than the whole of my future life I wouldn't have come. But I feel there are things hidden in his mind I can't fathom—else after what I told him yesterday, he never, never could have been cruel to me, or changed his mind about coming to see you. And please forgive me for taking up your time. Only knowing that you cared for him so much made me come to you."

Miss Ironsyde did not answer immediately. Her intuition inclined her to believe every word at its face value; but her very readiness to do so made her cautious. The story was one of every day and bore no marks of improbability; yet among Raymond's faults she could not remember any unreasonable relations with the other sex. It had always been one bright spot in his dead father's opinion that the young man did not care about drink or women, and was not intemperate, save in his passion for athletic exercises and his abomination of work. It required no great perception to see that Sabina was not the type that entangles men. She had a beautiful face and a comely figure, but she belonged not to the illusive, distracting type. She was obvious and lacked the quality which attracts men far more than open features, regular modelling and steady eyes. It was, in fact, such a face as Raymond might have admired, and Sabina was such a girl as he might have loved—when he did fall in love. She was apparently his prototype and complement in directness and simplicity of outlook; that Miss Ironsyde perceived, and the more she reflected the less she felt inclined to doubt.

Sabina readily guessed the complex thoughts which kept the listener silent after she had finished, and sat quietly without more speech until Jenny chose to answer her. That no direct antagonism appeared was a source of comfort. Unconsciously Sabina felt happier for the presence of the other, though as yet she had heard no consoling word. Miss Ironsyde regarded her thoughtfully; then she rose and rang the bell. Sabina's heart sank for she supposed that she was to be immediately dismissed, and that meant defeat in a quarter very dangerous. But her mind was set at rest, for Jenny saw the fear in her eyes.

"I'm ringing for tea," she said. "I will ask you to stop and drink a cup with me. You've had a long walk."

Then came tears; but Sabina felt such weakness did not become her and smothered them.

"Thank you, gratefully, Miss Ironsyde," she said.

Tea was a silent matter, for Jenny had very little to say. Her speech was just and kind, however. It satisfied Sabina, whose only concern was justice now. She had spoken first.

"I think—I'm sure it's only some hitch in Mr. Raymond's mind. He's been so wonderful to me—so tender and thoughtful—and he's such a gentleman in all he does and says, that I'm sure he never could dream of going back on his sacred word. He wants to marry me. He'll never tell you different from that. But he cannot realise, perhaps, the need—and yet I won't say that neither, for, of course, he must realise."

"Say nothing more at all," answered Jenny. "You have said everything there was to say and I'm glad you have come to me and told me about it. But I'm not going to say anything myself until I've seen my nephew. You are satisfied that he will tell me the truth?"

"Yes, I am. Don't think I don't trust him. Only if there's something hidden from me, he might explain to you what it is, and what I've done to anger him."

Miss Ironsyde did not lack experience of men and could have thrown light on Sabina's problem; but she had not the heart. She began to suspect it was the girl's own compliance and his easy victory that had made Raymond weary before the reckoning. There is nothing more tasteless than paying after possession, unless the factors combine to make the payment a pleasure and possession an undying delight. Miss Ironsyde indeed guessed at the truth more accurately than she knew; but her sympathies were entirely with Sabina and it was certain that if Raymond, when the time came, could offer no respectable and sufficient excuse for a change of mind, he would find little support from her.

Of her intentions, however, she said nothing, nor indeed while Sabina drank a cup of tea had Miss Ironsyde anything to say. She was not unsympathetic, but she was guarded.

"I will see Raymond to-morrow without fail," she said when Sabina departed. "I share your belief, Miss Dinnett, that he is a truthful and straightforward man. At least I have always found him so. And I feel very sure that you are truthful and straightforward too. This will come right. I will give you one word of advice, if I may, and ask one question. Does anybody know of your engagement except my nephew and myself?"

"Only my mother. Yesterday he told me to go straight home and tell her. And I did. Whether he's told anybody, I don't know."

"Be sure he has not. He would tell nobody before me, I think. My advice, then, is to say nothing more until you hear from him, or me."

"I shouldn't, of course, Miss Ironsyde."

"Good-bye," said the other kindly. "Be of good heart and be patient for a few hours longer. It's hard to ask you to be, but you'll understand the wisdom."

When Sabina had gone, Miss Ironsyde nibbled a hot cake and reflected deeply on an interview full of pain. The story—so fresh and terrific to the teller—was older than the hills and presented no novel feature whatever to her who listened. But in theory, Jenny Ironsyde entertained very positive views concerning the trite situation. Whether she would be able to sustain them before her nephew remained to be seen. She already began to fear. She saw the dangers and traversed the arguments. Though free from class prejudice, she recognised its weight in such a situation. A break must mean Sabina's social ruin; but would union mean ruin to Raymond? And if the problem was reduced to that, what became of her theories? She decided that since her theories were based in righteousness and justice, she must prefer his downfall to the woman's. For if, indeed, he fell as the result of a mistaken marriage, he would owe the fall to himself and his attitude after the event. He need not fall. A tendency to judge him hardly, however, drew Jenny up. He had yet to be heard.

She went to her writing-desk and wrote him a letter directing him to see her on the following day without fail. "It is exceedingly important, my dear boy," she said, "and I shall expect you not later than ten o'clock to-morrow morning."



CHAPTER XVI

AT CHILCOMBE

Meantime Raymond had kept his promise and devoted some hours to Estelle's pleasure. The girl was proud of such an event, anticipated it for many days and won great delight from it when it came. She perceived, as they started, that her friend was perturbed and wondered dimly a moment as to what Sabina could have said to annoy him; but he appeared to recover quickly and was calm, cheerful and attentive to her chatter after they had gone a mile.

"To think you've never been to Chilcombe, Ray," she said. "You and father go galloping after foxes, or shooting the poor pheasants and partridges and don't care a bit for the wonderful tiny church at Chilcombe—the tiniest in England almost, I do believe. And then there's a beautiful thing in it—a splendid treasure; and many people think it was a piece of one of the ships of the Spanish Armada, that was wrecked on the Chesil Bank; and I dare say it is."

"You must tell me about it."

"I'm going to."

"Not walking too fast for you?"

"Not yet, but still you might go a little slower, or else I shall get out of breath and shan't be able to tell you about things."

He obeyed.

"There are no flowers for you to show me now," he said.

"No, but there are interesting things. For instance, away there to the right is a wonderful field. And the old story is that everything that is ever planted in it comes up red—red."

"What nonsense."

"Yes, it is, but it's creepy, nice nonsense. Because of the story. Once there were two murderers at Swire village, and one turned upon the other and told the secret of the murder and got his friend caught and hanged. And the bad murderer was paid a great deal of money for telling the Government about the other murderer; and that was blood-money, you see. Then the bad murderer bought a field, and because he bought it with blood-money, everything he planted came up red. I wish it was true; but, of course, I know it can't be, though a good many things would come up red, like sanfoin and scarlet clover and beetroots."

"A jolly good yarn," declared Raymond.

They tramped along through a network of winding lanes, and presently Estelle pointed to a lofty hillock that rose above the high lands on which they walked.

"That's Shipton Hill," she said, pointing to the domelike mound. "And I believe it's called so, because from one point it looks exactly like a ship upside down."

"I'll bet it is, and a very good name for it."

The diminutive chapel of Chilcombe stood in a farmyard beside a lofty knoll of trees. It was a stout little place of early English architecture, lifted high above the surrounding country and having a free horizon of sea and land. It consisted of a chancel, nave and south porch. Its bell cote held one bell; and within was a Norman font, a trefoil headed piscina, and sitting room for thirty-four people.

"Isn't it a darling little church?" asked Estelle, her voice sunk to a whisper; and Raymond nodded and said that it was 'ripping.'

Then they examined the medieval treasure of the reredos—a panel of cedar wood, some ten feet in length, that surmounted the altar. It was set in a deep oaken frame, and displayed two circular drawings with an oblong picture in the midst. In the left circle was the scourging of Christ; in the right, the Redeemer rose from the tomb; while between them the crucifixion had been depicted, with armies of mail-clad soldiers about the cross. The winged symbols of the evangelists appeared in other portions of the panel with various separate figures, and there were indications that the work was unfinished.

Estelle, who had often studied every line of it, gave her explanations and ideas to Raymond, while he listened with great attention. Then they went to the ancient manor house now converted into a farm; and there the girl had friends who provided them with tea. She made no attempt to hide her pride at her companion, for she was a lonely little person and the expedition with Raymond had been a great event in her life.

Exceedingly happy and contented, she walked beside him homeward in the fading light and ceased not to utter her budding thoughts and reflections. He proved a good listener and encouraged her, for she amused him and really interested him. In common with her father, Raymond was often struck by the fact that a child would consider subjects which had never entered his head; but so it was, since Estelle's mind had been wrought in a larger plan and compassed heights and depths, even in its present immaturity, to which neither Waldron's nor Raymond's had aspired. Yet the things she said were challenging, though often absurd. Facts which he knew, though Estelle as yet did not, served to block her ideals and explain her mysteries, yet he recognised the girl's simple dreams, unvexed by practical considerations, or the 'nay' that real life must make to them, were beautiful.

She spoke a good deal about the Mill, where now her chief interest centred; and Raymond spoke about it too. And presently, after brisk interchange of ideas, she pointed out a fact that had not struck him.

"It's a funny thing, Ray," she said, "but what you love best about the works is the machinery; and what I love best about them is the people. Yet I don't see how a machine can be as interesting as a girl."

"Perhaps you're wrong, Estelle. Perhaps I wish you were right. If I hadn't found a girl more interesting—" He broke off and turned from the road she had innocently opened into his own thoughts.

"Of course the people are more interesting, really. But because I'm keen about the machines, you mustn't think I'm not keener still about the people. You see the better the machines, the better time the people will have, and the less hard and difficult and tiring for them will be their work."

She considered this and suddenly beamed.

"How splendid! Of course I see. You are clever, Ray. And it's really the people you think of all the time."

She gave him a look of admiration.

"I expect presently they'll all see that; and gradually you'll get them more and more beautiful machines, till their work is just pleasure and nothing else. And do invent something to prevent Sabina and Nancy and Alice hurting their hands. They have to stop the spindles so often, and it wounds them, and Nancy gets chilblains in the winter, so it's simply horrid for her."

"That's right. It's one of the problems. I'm not forgetting these things."

"And if I think of anything may I tell you?"

"I hope you will, Estelle."

She talked him into a pleasant humour, and it took a practical form unknown to Estelle, for before they had reached home again, there passed through Raymond's mind a wave of contrition. The contrast between Estelle's steadfast and unconscious altruism and his own irresolution and selfishness struck into him. She made him think more kindly of Sabina, and when he considered the events of that day from Sabina's standpoint, he felt ashamed of himself. For it was not she who had done anything unreasonable. The blame was his. He had practically lied to her the day before, and to-day he had been harsh and cruel. She had a right—the best possible right—to come and see him; she had good reason to be angry on learning that he had not kept his word.

He determined to see Sabina as quickly as possible, and about seven o'clock in the evening after the return from the walk, he went down to 'The Magnolias' and rang the bell. Mrs. Dinnett came to the door, and said something that hardened the young man's heart again very rapidly.

Sabina's mother was unfriendly. Since her daughter returned, she had learned all there was to know, and for the moment felt very antagonistic. She had already announced the betrothal to certain of her friends, and the facts that day had discovered made her both anxious and angry. She was a woman of intermittent courage, but her paroxysms of pluck soon passed and between them she was craven and easily cast down. For the moment, however, she felt no fear and echoed the mood in which Sabina had returned from Bridport an hour earlier.

"Sabina can't be seen to-night," she said. "You wouldn't have anything to do with her this afternoon, Mr. Ironsyde, and treated her like a stranger; and now she won't see you."

"Why not, Missis Dinnett?"

"She's got her pride, and you've wounded it—and worse. And I may tell you we're not the people to be treated like this. It's a very ill-convenient business altogether, and if you're a gentleman and a man of honour—"

He cut her short.

"Is she going to see me, or isn't she?"

"She is not. She's very much distressed, and every reason to be, God knows; and she's not going to see you to-night."

Raymond took it quietly and his restraint instantly alarmed Mrs. Dinnett.

"It's not my fault, Mr. Ironsyde. But seeing how things are between you, she was cruel put about this afternoon, and she's got to think of herself if you can do things like that at such a moment."

"She must try and keep her nerve better. There was no reason why I should break promises. She ought to have waited for me to come to her."

Mary Dinnett flamed again.

"You can say that! And didn't she wait all the morning to see if you'd come to her—and me? And as to promises—it don't trouble you to break promises, else you'd have seen your family yesterday, as you told Sabina you were going to do."

"Is she going to the mill to-morrow?" he asked, ignoring the attack.

"No, she ain't going to the mill. It isn't a right and fitting thing that the woman you're going to marry and the mother of your future child should be working in a spinning mill; and if you don't know it, others do."

"She told you then—against my wishes?"

"And what are your wishes alongside of your acts? You're behaving very wickedly, Mr. Ironsyde, and driving my daughter frantic; and if she can't tell her mother her sorrows, who should know?"

"She has disobeyed me and done a wrong thing," he said quietly. "This may alter the whole situation, and you can tell her so."

"For God's sake don't talk like that. Would you ruin the pair of us?"

"What am I to do if I can't trust her?" he asked, and then went abruptly away before Mary could answer.

She was terribly frightened and soon drowned in tears, for when she returned to Sabina and related the conversation, her daughter became passionate and blamed her with a shower of bitter words.

"I only told you, because I thought you had sense enough to keep your mouth shut about it," she cried. "Now he'll think it's common news and hate me—hate me for telling. You've ruined me—that's what you've done, and I may as well go and make a hole in the water as not, for he'll never marry me now."

"You told Miss Ironsyde," sobbed the mother.

"That was different. She'll keep it to herself, and I had to tell her to show how serious it was for me. For anything less than that, she'd have taken his side against me. And now he'll find I've been to her, and that may—oh, my God, why didn't I keep quiet a little longer, and trust him?"

"You had every right to speak, when you found he was telling lies," said Mrs. Dinnett.

And while they quarrelled, Raymond returned to North Hill in a mood that could not keep silence. He and Arthur Waldron smoked after supper, and when Estelle had gone to bed, the younger spoke and took up the conversation of the preceding night where he had dropped it. The speech that now passed, however, proceeded on a false foundation, for Raymond only told Arthur what he pleased and garbled the facts by withholding what was paramount.

"You were talking of Sabina Dinnett last night," he said. "What would you think if I told you I was going to marry her, Waldron?"

"A big 'if.' But you're not going to tell me so. You would surely have told me yesterday if you had meant that."

"Why shouldn't I if I want to?"

"I always keep out of personal things—even with pals. I strained a point with you last night for friendship, Ray. Is the deed done, or isn't it? If it is, there is nothing left but to congratulate you and wish you both luck."

"If it isn't?"

Mr. Waldron was cautious.

"You're not going to draw me till I know as much as you know, old chap. Either you're engaged, or you're not."

"Say it's an open question—then what?"

"How can I say it's an open question after this? I'm not going to say a word about it."

"Well, I thought we were engaged; but it seems there's a bit of doubt in the air still."

"Then you'd better clear that doubt, before you mention the subject again. Until you and she agree about it, naturally it's nobody else's business."

"And yet everybody makes it their business, including you. Why did you advise me to look out what I was doing last night?"

"Because you're young, boy, and I thought you might make a mistake and do an unsporting thing. That was nothing to do with your marrying her. How was I to know such an idea was in your mind? Naturally nobody supposed any question of that sort had arisen."

"Why not?"

Waldron felt a little impatient.

"You know as well as I do. Men in your position don't as a rule contemplate marriage with women, however charming and clever, who—. But this is nonsense. I'm not going to answer your stupid questions."

"Then you'd say—?"

"No, I wouldn't. I'll say nothing about it. You're wanting to get something for nothing now, and presently I daresay you'd remind me of something I had said. We can go back to the beginning if you like, but you're not going to play lawyer with me, Ray. It's in a nutshell, I suppose. You're going to marry Miss Dinnett, or else you're not. Of course, you know which. And if you won't tell me which, then don't ask me to talk about it."

"I've not decided."

"Then drop it till you have."

"You're savage now."

"I'm never savage—you know that very well. Or, if I am, it's only with men who are unsporting."

"Let's generalise, then. I suppose you'd say a man was a fool to marry out of his own class."

"As a rule, yes. Because marriage is difficult enough at best without complicating it like that. But there are exceptions. You can't find any rule without exceptions."

"I'll tell you the truth then, Arthur. I meant to marry Sabina. I believed that she was the only being in the world worth living for. But things have happened and now I'm doubtful whether it would be the best possible."

"And what about her? Is she doubtful too?"

"I don't know. Anyway I've just been down to see her and she wouldn't see me."

"See her to-morrow then and clear it up. If there's a doubt, give yourselves the benefit of the doubt. She's tremendously clever, Estelle says, and she may be clever enough to believe it wouldn't do. And if she feels like that, you'll be a fool to press it."

They talked on and Waldron, despite his caution, was too ingenuous to hide his real opinions. He made it very clear to Raymond that any such match, in his judgment, would be attended by failure. But he spoke in ignorance of the truth.

The younger went to bed sick of himself. His instincts of right and honour fought with his desires to be free. His heart sank now at the prospect of matrimony. He assured himself that he loved Sabina as steadfastly as ever he had loved her; but that there might yet be a shared life of happiness for them without the matrimonial chains. He considered whether it would be possible to influence Sabina in that direction; he even went so far as to speculate on what would be his future feelings for her if she insisted upon the sanctity of his promises.



CHAPTER XVII

CONFUSION

Mr. Churchouse was standing in his porch, when a postman brought him a parcel. It was a book, and Ernest displayed mild interest.

"What should that be, I wonder?" he said. Then he asked a question.

"Have you seen Bert, the newspaper boy? For the second morning he disappoints me."

But Bert himself appeared at the same moment and the postman went his way.

"No newspaper on Saturday—how was that?" asked Mr. Churchouse.

"I was dreadful ill and my mother wouldn't let me go outdoors," explained the boy. "I asked Neddy Prichard to go down to the baker's and get it for you; but he wouldn't."

"Then I say no more, except to hope you're better."

"It's my froat," explained Bert, a sturdy, flaxen youngster of ten.

"One more point I should like to raise while you are here. Have you noticed that garden chair in the porch?"

"Yes, I have, and wondered why 'twas left there."

"Wonder no more, Bert. It is there that you may put the paper upon it, rather than fling the news on a dirty door-mat."

"Fancy!" said Bert. "I never!"

"Bear it in mind henceforth, and, if you will delay a moment, I will give you some black currant lozenges for your throat."

A big black cat stood by his master listening to this conversation and Bert now referred to him.

"Would thicky cat sclow me?" he asked.

"No, Bert—have no fear of Peter Grim," answered Mr. Churchouse. "His looks belie him. He has a forbidding face but a friendly heart."

"He looks cruel fierce."

"He does, but though a great sportsman, he has a most amiable nature."

Having ministered to Bert, Mr. Churchouse retired with his book and paper. Then came Mary Dinnett, red-eyed and in some agitation. But for a moment he did not observe her trouble. He had opened his parcel and revealed a volume bound in withered calf and bearing signs of age and harsh treatment.

"A work I have long coveted—it is again 'a well-wisher,' Missis Dinnett, who has sent it to me. There is much kindness in the world still."

But Mrs. Dinnett was too preoccupied with her own affairs to feel interest in Ernest's pleasant little experience. By nature pessimistic, original doubts, when she heard of Sabina's engagement, were now confirmed and she felt certain that her daughter would never become young Ironsyde's wife. Regardless of the girl's injunction to silence, and feeling that both for herself and Sabina this disaster might alter the course of their lives and bring her own hairs with sorrow to the grave, Mary now took the first opportunity to relate the facts to Mr. Churchouse. They created in him emotions of such deep concern that neither his book nor his newspaper were opened on the day of the announcement.

Mrs. Dinnett rambled through her disastrous recital, declared that for her own part, she had already accepted the horror of it and was prepared to face the worst that could happen, and went so far as to predict what Ernest himself would probably do, now that the scandal had reached his ears. She was distraught and for the moment appeared almost to revel in the accumulated horrors of the situation.

She told the story of promise and betrayal and summed up with one agonised prophecy.

"And now you'll cast her out—you'll turn upon us and throw us out—I know you will."

"'Cast her out'? Good God of Mercy! Who am I to cast anybody out, Missis Dinnett? Shall an elderly and faulty fellow creature rise in judgment at the weakness of youth? What have I done in the past to lead you to any such conclusion? I feel very certain, indeed, that you are permitting yourself a debauch of misery—wallowing in it, Mary Dinnett—as misguided wretches often wallow in drink out of an unmanly despair at their own human weakness. Fortify yourself! Approach the question on a higher plane. Remember no sparrow falls to the ground without the cognisance of its Creator! As for Sabina, I love her and have devoted many hours to her education. I also love Raymond Ironsyde—for his own sake as well as his family's. I am perfectly certain that you exaggerate the facts. Such a thing is quite incredible. Shall I quarrel with a gracious flower because a wandering bee has set a seed? He may be an inconsiderate and greedy bee—but—"

Mr. Churchouse broke off, conscious that his simile would land him in difficulties.

"No," he said, "we must not pursue this subject on a pagan or poetical basis. We are dealing with two young Christians, Missis Dinnett—a man and a woman of good nurture and high principle. I will never believe—not if he said it himself—that Raymond Ironsyde would commit any such unheard-of outrage. You say that he has promised to marry her. That is enough for me. The son of Henry Ironsyde will keep his promise. Be sure of that. For the moment leave the rest in my hands. Exercise discretion, and pray, pray keep silence about it. I do trust that nobody has heard anything. Publicity might complicate the situation seriously."

As a matter of fact Mrs. Dinnett had told everything to her bosom friend—a woman who dwelt in a cottage one hundred yards from 'The Magnolias.' She did not mention this, however.

"If you say there's hope, I'll try to believe it," she answered. "The man came here last night and Sabina wouldn't see him, and God knows what'll be the next thing."

"Leave the next thing to me."

"She's given notice at the works. He told her to."

"Of course—quite properly. Now calm down and fetch me my walking boots."

In half an hour Ernest was on his way to Bridport. As Sabina, before him, his instinct led to Miss Ironsyde and he felt that the facts might best be imparted to her. If anybody had influence with Raymond, it was she. His tone of confidence before Mrs. Dinnett had been partly assumed, however. His sympathies were chiefly with Sabina, for she was no ordinary mill hand; she had enjoyed his tuition and possessed native gifts worthy of admiration. But she was as excitable as her mother, and if this vital matter went awry, there could be no doubt that her life must be spoiled.

Mr. Churchouse managed to get a lift on his way from a friendly farmer, and he arrived at Bridport Town Hall soon after ten o'clock. While driving he put the matter from his mind for a time, and his acquaintance started other trains of thought. One of them, more agreeable to a man of his temperament than the matter in hand, still occupied his mind when he stood before Jenny Ironsyde.

"You!" she said. "I had an idea you never came into the world till afternoon."

"Seldom—seldom. I drove a good part of the way with Farmer Gate, and he made a curious remark. He said that a certain person might as well be dead for all the good he was. Now what constitutes life? I've been asking myself that."

"It's certainly difficult to decide about some people, whether they're alive or dead. Some make you doubt if they ever were alive."

"A good many certainly don't know they're born; and plenty don't know they're dead," he declared.

"To be in your grave is not necessarily to be dead, and to be in your shop, or office, needn't mean that you're alive," admitted the lady.

"Quite so. Who doesn't know dead people personally, and go to tea with them, and hear their bones rattle? And whose spirit doesn't meet in their thoughts, or works, the dead who are still living?"

"Most true, I'm sure; but you didn't come to tell me that?"

"No; yet it has set me wondering whether, perhaps, I am dead—at any rate deader than I need be."

"We are probably all deader than we need be."

"But to-day there has burst into my life a very wakening thing. It may have been sent. For mystery is everywhere, and what's looking exceedingly bad for those involved, may be good for me. And yet, one can hardly claim to win goodness out of the threatened misfortunes to those who are dear to one."

"What's the matter? Something's happened, or you wouldn't come to see me so early."

"Something has happened," he answered, "and one turns to you in times of stress, just as one used to turn to your dear brother, Henry. You have character, shrewdness and decision."

Miss Ironsyde saw light.

"You've come for Raymond," she said.

"Now how did you divine that? But, as a matter of fact, I've come for somebody else. A very serious thing has happened and if we older heads—"

"Who told you about it?"

"This morning, an hour ago, it was broken to me by Sabina's mother."

"Tell me just what she told you, Ernest."

He obeyed and described the interview exactly.

"I cannot understand that, for Sabina saw me last night and explained the situation. I impressed upon her the importance of keeping the matter as secret as possible for the present."

"Nevertheless Mary Dinnett told me. She is a very impulsive person—so is Sabina; but in Sabina's case there is brain power to control impulse; in her mother's case there is none."

"I'm much annoyed," declared Miss Ironsyde—"not of course, that you should know, but that there should be talking. Please go home and tell them both to be quiet. This chattering is most dangerous and may defeat everything. Last night I wrote to Raymond directing him to come and see me immediately. I did not tell him why; but I told him it was urgent. I made the strongest appeal possible. When you arrived, I thought it was he. He should have been here an hour ago."

"If he is coming, I will go," answered Ernest. "I don't wish to meet him at present. He has done very wrongly—wickedly, in fact. The question is whether marriage with Sabina—"

"There is no question about that in my opinion," declared the lady. "I am a student of character, and had she been a different sort of girl—. But even as it is I suspend judgment until I have seen Raymond. It is quite impossible, however, after hearing her, to see what excuse he can offer."

"She is a very superior girl indeed, and very clever and refined. I always hoped she would marry a schoolmaster, or somebody with cultured tastes. But her great and unusual beauty doubtless attracted Raymond."

"I think you'd better go home, Ernest. I'll write to you after I've seen the boy. Do command silence from both of them. I'm very angry and very distressed, but really nothing can be done till we hear him. My sympathy is entirely with Sabina. Let her go on with her life for a day or two and—"

"She's changed her life and left the Mill. I understand Raymond told her to do so."

"That is a good sign, I suppose. If she's done that, the whole affair must soon be known. But we talk in the dark."

Mr. Churchouse departed, forgot his anxieties in a second-hand book shop and presently returned home.

But he saw nothing of Raymond on the way; and Miss Ironsyde waited in vain for her nephew's arrival. He did not come, and her letter, instead of bringing him immediately as she expected, led to a very different course of action on his part.

For, taken with Sabina's refusal to see him, he guessed correctly at what had inspired it. Sabina had threatened more than once in the past to visit Miss Ironsyde and he had forbidden her to do so. Now he knew from her mother why she had gone, and while not surprised, he clutched at the incident and very quickly worked it into a tremendous grievance against the unlucky girl. His intelligence told him that he could not fairly resent her attempt to win a powerful friend at this crisis in her fortunes; but his own inclinations and growing passion for liberty fastened on it and made him see a possible vantage point. He worked himself up into a false indignation. He knew it was false, yet he persevered in it, as though it were real, and acted as though it were real.

He tore up his aunt's letter and ignored it.

Instead of going to Bridport, he went to his office and worked as usual.

At dinner time he expected Sabina, but she did not come and he heard from Mr. Best that she was not at the works.

"She came in here and gave notice on Saturday afternoon," said the foreman, shortly, and turned away from Raymond even as he spoke.

Then the young man remembered that he had bade Sabina do this. His anger increased, for now everybody must soon hear of what had happened.

In a sort of subconscious way he felt glad, despite his irritation, at the turn of events, for they might reconcile him with his conscience and help to save the situation in the long run.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE LOVERS' GROVE

A little matter now kindled a great fire, and a woman's reasonable irritation, which he had himself created, produced for Raymond Ironsyde a very complete catastrophe.

His aunt, indeed, was not prone to irritation. Few women preserved a more level mind, or exhibited that self-control which is a prime product of common-sense; but, for once, it must be confessed that Jenny broke down and did that which she had been the first to censure in another. The spark fell on sufficient fuel and the face of the earth was changed for Raymond before he slept that night.

For his failure to answer her urgent appeal, his contemptuous disregard of the strongest letter she had ever written, annoyed her exceedingly. It argued a callous indifference to her own wishes and a spirit of extraordinary unkindness. She had been a generous aunt to him all his life; he had very much for which to thank her; and yet before this pressing petition he could remain dumb. That his mind was disordered she doubted not; but nothing excused silence at such a moment.

After lunch on this day Daniel spent some little while with his aunt, and then when a post which might have brought some word from Raymond failed to do so, Jenny's gust of temper spoke. It was the familiar case of a stab at one who has annoyed us; but to point such stabs, the ear of a third person is necessary, and before she had quite realised what she was doing, Miss Ironsyde sharply blamed her nephew to his brother.

"The most inconsiderate, selfish person on earth is Raymond," she said as a servant brought her two letters, neither from the sinner. "I asked him—and prayed him—to see me to-day about a subject of the gravest importance to him and to us all; and he neither comes nor takes the least notice of my letter. He is hopeless."

"What's he done now?"

"I don't know exactly—at least—never mind. Leave it for the minute. Sorry, I was cross. You'll know what there is to know soon enough. If there's trouble in store, we must put a bold face on it and think of him."

"I rather hoped things were going smoother. He seems to be getting more steady and industrious."

"Perhaps he reserved his industry for the works and leaves none for anything else, then," she answered; "but don't worry before you need."

"You'll tell me if there's anything I ought to know, Aunt Jenny."

"He'll tell you himself, I should hope. And if he doesn't, no doubt there will be plenty of other people to do so. But don't meet trouble half way. Shall you be back to tea?"

"Probably not. I'm going to Bridetown this afternoon. I have an appointment with Best. He was to see some machinery that sounded all right; but he's very conservative and I can always trust him to be on the safe side. One doesn't mean to be left behind, of course."

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