But he could not now regain—he tested his capacity to regain, out of curiosity—his feeling of outraged anger against her. Curious that, in the train, he had felt no very great annoyance against Mackenzie. He asked himself if he hadn't gone rather near to admiring the decisive stroke he had played, which few men would have attempted on such an almost complete lack of opportunity. But face to face with him his dislike and resentment had flared up. His anger now came readily enough when he thought of Mackenzie, and he found himself wishing ardently for another chance of showing it effectively. It was this, no doubt, that had softened him towards his little sister, whom he loved in his patronising way. The fellow had got hold of her. She was a little fool, but it was the man who was to blame. And his own resource had averted the danger of scandal, which he dreaded like any woman. He could not but be rather pleased with himself for the way in which he had carried through his job, and Cicely gained the advantage of his self-commendation. There was one thing, though—his father must never know. The fat would be in the fire then with a vengeance.
Turning over these things in his mind, Dick dropped off into a light doze, from which he was awakened by the entrance of Walter. Walter wore a tall hat and a morning coat. It was August and it was very hot, and in Bond Street he would have worn a flannel suit and a straw hat. But if he did that here his patients would think that he thought anything good enough for them. There were penalties attached to the publication of that list of wedding presents in the Melbury Park Chronicle and North London Intelligencer, and he had been warned of these and sundry other matters. He was not free of the tiresome side-issues of his profession even in Melbury Park. "Hullo, Dick, old chap!" he said as he came in with cheerful alacrity. "Is Cicely here, and what has happened?"
"Hullo, Walter!" said Dick. "Yes, Cicely is here and I have wired to the governor. She has led us a nice dance, that young woman. But it's all over now."
"What has she done? Run away with some fellow?"
"That's just what she did do. If I hadn't been pretty quick off the post she'd have been married to him by this time."
Walter sat down in the chair at his writing-table. His face had grown rather serious. He looked as if he were prepared to receive the confidences of a patient.
"Who did she go off with?" he asked.
Dick took a cigarette from the silver box, and lit it. "Mr. Ronald Mackenzie," he said, as he threw the match into the fireplace.
"Ronald Mackenzie! Where did she pick him up?"
"He picked her up. He was staying at Mountfield."
"I know, but he must have seen her before. He can't have persuaded her in five minutes."
"Just what I thought. But he did; damn him!" Then he told Walter everything that had happened, in his easy, leisurely way. "And the great thing now is to keep it from the governor," he ended up.
"Really, it's pretty strong," said Walter, after a short pause. "Fancy Cicely! I can't see her doing a thing like that."
"I could have boxed her ears with pleasure when I first heard of it," said Dick. "But somehow I don't feel so annoyed with her now. Poor little beggar! I suppose it's getting her away from that brute. He'd frightened her silly. He nearly got her, even when we were there fighting him."
"But what about poor old Jim?" asked Walter. "It's too bad of her, you know, Dick. She was engaged to Jim."
"Well, it was a sort of engagement. But I don't blame her much there. If Jim had gone off and married some other girl I don't know that any of us would have been very surprised."
"Well, you know him better than I do, of course. I must say, when he told me in the train coming up that he was as much struck on Cicely as ever, it surprised me. He's a funny fellow."
"He's one of the best," said Walter. "But he keeps his feelings to himself. He has always talked to me about Cicely, but I know he hasn't talked to anybody else, because Muriel was just as surprised as you were when I told her how the land lay."
"He told Mackenzie—that's the odd thing," said Dick.
"Yes. It makes the beast's action all the worse."
"Well, I don't understand that. Perhaps he had a suspicion and gave him a warning."
"I don't think so. He let him go off after her on Sunday afternoon, and didn't think anything of it. However, he's had a shaking up. He won't let her go now."
"Does he want to marry her still?"
"O Lord, yes, more than ever. That's something to be thankful for. It will keep the governor quiet if we can hurry it on a bit."
"But he's not to know."
"He knows she ran away here, without bringing any clothes. That's got to be explained. It's enough for the governor, isn't it?"
"I should think so. Enough to go on with. Didn't Jim want to throttle that fellow?"
"He did before we got there, but he knew he couldn't do anything. It would only have come back on Cicely. He behaved jolly well, Jim did. He didn't take the smallest notice of Mackenzie from first to last, but he talked to Cicely like a father. She says—I don't say it, mind you—that it was Jim who got her away from him; she wouldn't have come for me." Dick laughed. "I dare say we both had something to do with it," he said. "I got in a few home truths. I think Mr. Ronald Mackenzie will be rather sorry he came poaching on our land when he turns it over in his mind."
"Well," said Walter, rising, as the luncheon bell rang, "it's a funny business altogether. You must tell me more later. Like a wash, Dick? Is Cicely going to stay here for a bit?"
"Oh, yes," replied Dick, as they went out of the room. "Muriel says she'll keep her. We've wired for clothes." He lowered his voice as they went upstairs. "You must go easy with her a bit, you and Muriel," he said. "She's been touched on the raw. You'll find her in rather an excited state."
"Oh, I shan't worry her," said Walter. "But I think she's behaved badly to Jim all the same."
But Walter's manner towards his erring sister, when they met in the dining-room, showed no sign of his feelings, if they were resentful on behalf of his friend. She was there with Muriel when he and Dick came down. She was pale, and it was plain that she had been crying, but the parlour-maid was standing by the sideboard, and the two girls were talking by the window as if they had not just come from a long talk which had disturbed them both profoundly.
"Well, Cicely," said Walter. "Come to see us at last! You don't look very fit, but you've come to the right man to cure you." Cicely kissed him gratefully, and they sat down at the table.
The dining-room was Sheraton—good Sheraton. On the walls were a plain blue paper and some more prints. The silver and glass on the fresh cloth and on the sideboard were as bright as possible, for Muriel's parlour-maid was a treasure. She earned high wages, or she would not have demeaned herself by going into service at Melbury Park, where, however, she had a young man. The cook was also a treasure, and the luncheon she served up would not have disgraced Kencote, where what is called "a good table" was kept. It was all great fun—to Muriel, and would have been to Cicely too at any other time. The little house was beautifully appointed, and "run" more in the style of a little house in Mayfair than in Melbury Park. Muriel, at any rate, was completely happy in her surroundings.
They drank their coffee in the veranda outside the drawing-room window. They could hear the trains and the trams in the distance, and it seemed to be a favourite pursuit of the youths of Melbury Park to rattle sticks along the oak fencing of the garden, but otherwise they were shut in in a little oasis of green and could not be seen or overheard by anybody. There were certain things to be said, but no one seemed now to wish to refer to Cicely's escapade, the sharp effect of which had been over-laid by the ordinary intercourse of the luncheon table.
It was Cicely herself who broke the ice. She asked Dick nervously when he was going back to Kencote.
"Oh, to-morrow, I think," said Dick. "Nothing to stay up here for."
Muriel said, "Cicely would like Mrs. Clinton to come up. She doesn't want to ask her in her letter. Will you ask her, Dick?"
Dick hesitated. "Do you want to tell mother—about it?" he asked of Cicely.
"Yes," she said.
"Well, I think you had much better not. It'll only worry her, and she need never know."
"I am going to tell her," said Cicely doggedly.
"I wouldn't mind your telling her, if you want to," said Dick, after a pause, "but it's dangerous. If the governor suspected anything and got it out of her——"
"Oh, she wouldn't tell Mr. Clinton," said Muriel. "I think Cicely is quite right to tell her. Don't you, Walter?"
"I suppose so," said Walter. "But I think it's a risk. I quite agree with Dick. It must be kept from the governor. It's for your own sake, you know, Cicely."
"None of you boys know mother in the least," said Cicely, in some excitement. "She's a woman, and so you think she doesn't count at all. She counts a great deal to me, and I want her."
"All right, my dear," said Walter kindly. "We only want to do what's best for you. Don't upset yourself. And you're all right with Muriel and me, you know."
"You're both awfully kind," said Cicely, more calmly, "and so is Dick now. But I do want mother to come, and I know she wouldn't tell father."
"I know it too," said Muriel. "I will write to her to-night and ask her; only we thought Mr. Clinton might make some objection, and you could get over that, Dick."
"Oh, I'll get over that all right," said Dick. "Very well, she shall come. Do you want me to tell her anything, Cicely, or leave it all to you?"
"You can tell her what I did," said Cicely in a low voice.
"All right. I'll break it gently. Now are we all going to Lord's, or are you two going to stay at home?"
"Cicely is going to lie down," said Muriel, "and I think I will stay at home and look after her." She threw rather a longing look at Walter. He didn't often allow himself a half holiday, and she liked to spend them with him.
"Don't stay for me, Muriel," Cicely besought her. "I shall be perfectly all right, and I'd really rather be alone."
"No," said Muriel, after another look at Walter. "I'm going to stay at home." And she wouldn't be moved.
Walter telephoned for his new motor-car and changed his clothes. "Do you know why Muriel wouldn't come with us?" he asked, when he and Dick were on their way. "It was because she thought you and I would rather sit in the pavilion."
"So we would," said Dick, with a laugh. "But she's a trump, that girl."
THE WHOLE HOUSE UPSET
The twins arose betimes on the morning after Cicely's flight, determined, as was their custom, to enjoy whatever excitement, legal, or within limits illegal, was to be wrested from a long new summer day, but quite unaware that the whole house around them was humming with excitement already.
For upon Dick's departure the night before the Squire had thrown caution to the winds, and be-stirred himself, as he said, to get to the bottom of things. Not content with Mrs. Clinton's report of Miles's statement, which was simply that she knew nothing, he had "had Miles up" and cross-examined her himself. He had then had Probin up, the head coachman, who would have known if Cicely had been driven to the station, which it was fairly obvious she had not been. He also had Porter the butler up, more because Porter was always had up if anything went wrong in the house than because he could be expected to throw any light on what had happened. And when the groom came back from Mountfield with Dick's note to Mrs. Clinton, late as it was, he had him up, and sent him down again to spread his news and his suspicions busily, although he had been threatened with instant dismissal if he said a word to anybody.
Having thus satisfied himself of what he knew already, that Cicely had walked to the station and had taken no luggage with her, and having opened up the necessary channels of information, so that outdoor and indoor servants alike now knew that Cicely had run away and that her father was prepared, as the phrase went, to raise Cain about it, the Squire went up to bed, and breaking his usual healthy custom of going to sleep immediately he laid his head on his pillow, rated Mrs. Clinton soundly for not noticing what was going on under her very nose. "I can't look after everything in the house and out of it too," he ended up. "I shall be expected to see that the twins change their stockings when they get their feet wet, next. Good-night, Nina. God bless you."
So, to return to the twins; when the schoolroom maid came to awaken them in the morning and found them, as was usual, nearly dressed, they learned, for the first time, what had been happening while they had slept, all unconscious.
"Why can't you call us in proper time, Hannah?" said Joan, as she came in. "We told you we wanted our hot water at half-past three, and it has just struck seven. You'll have to go if you can't get up in time."
Hannah deposited a tray containing two large cups of tea and some generous slices of bread and butter on a table and said importantly, "It's no time to joke now, Miss Joan. There's Miss Clinton missing, and most of us kep' awake half the night wondering what's come of her."
Hannah had not before succeeded in making an impression upon her young mistresses, but she succeeded now. Joan and Nancy stared at her with open eyes, and gave her time to heighten her effects as they redounded to her own importance.
"But I can't stop talking now, miss," she said. "I'll just get your 'ot water and then I must go and 'elp. Here I stop wasting me time, and don't know that something hadn't 'appened and I may be wanted."
"You're wanted here," said Joan. "What do you mean—Miss Clinton missing? Has she gone away?"
"I'll just tell you what I know, Miss Joan," said Hannah, "and then I must go downstairs and 'elp. I was going along the passage by the room last night, jest when they was ready to take in dinner, and Mr. Porter came along and says to me, 'What are you doing here?' Well, of course, I was struck all of a 'eap, because——"
"Oh, don't let's waste time with her," interrupted Nancy, "let's go and ask Miss Bird what it's all about."
"Wait a minute, Miss Nancy," cried Hannah. "I was telling you——"
But the twins were at the door. "Lock her in," said Joan. "We shall want her when we come back." And they locked her in, to the great damage of her dignity, and went along the passage to the room which had sheltered Miss Bird's virgin slumbers for nearly thirty years. They were at first refused admission, but upon Joan's saying in a clear voice outside the door, "We want to know about Cicely. If you won't tell us we must go and ask the servants," Miss Bird unlocked the door, and was discovered in a dressing-gown of pink flannel with her hair in curl papers. The twins were too eager for news to remark upon these phenomena, and allowed Miss Bird to get back into bed while they sat at the foot of it to hear her story.
"Well, you must know some time," said Miss Bird, "and to say that you will ask the servants is not the way to behave as you know very well and I am the proper person to come to."
"Well, we have come to you," said Joan, "only you wouldn't let us in. Now tell us. Has Cicely run away?"
"Really, Joan, that is a most foolish question," said Miss Bird, "to call it running away to visit Walter and Muriel her own brother and sister too as you might say and that is all and I suppose it is that Hannah who has been putting ideas into your head for I came in to see you last night and you knew nothing but were both in a sweet sleep and I often think that if you could see yourselves then you would be more careful how you behave and especially Nancy for it is innocence and goodness itself and a pity that it can't be so sleeping and waking."
"I've seen Joan asleep and she looked like a stuck pig," said Nancy. "But what has happened, starling darling? Do tell us. Has Cicely just gone up to stay with Muriel? Is that all?"
"It is very inconsiderate of Cicely," said Miss Bird, "nobody could possibly have objected to her going to stay with Muriel and Miles would have packed her clothes and gone up to London with her to look after her and to go by herself without a word and not take a stitch to put on her back and Mr. Clinton in the greatest anxiety and very naturally annoyed for with all the horses in the stable to walk to Bathgate in this heat for from Kencote she did not go one of the men was sent there to inquire I wonder at her doing such a thing."
"Keep the facts in your head as they come, Joan," said Nancy. "She didn't tell anybody she was going. She didn't take any clothes. She walked to Bathgate, I suppose, to put them off the scent."
"But whatever did she do it for?" asked Joan. "Something must have upset her. It is running away, you know. I wish she had told us about it."
"We'd have gone with her," said Nancy. "She must have done it for a lark."
"Oh, don't be a fool," said Joan. This was one of the twins' formulae. It meant, "There are serious things in life," and was more often used by Joan than by Nancy.
"Joan how often am I to tell you not to use that expression?" said Miss Bird, "I may speak to the winds of Heaven for all the effect it has don't you know that it says he that calleth his brother thou fool shall be in danger of hell fire?"
"Nancy isn't my brother, and I'll take the risk," said Joan. "Didn't Cicely tell mother that she was going?"
"No she did not and for that I blame her," said Miss Bird. "Mrs. Clinton came to me in the schoolroom as I was finishing my dinner and although her calmness is a lesson to all of us she was upset as I could see and did my very best to persuade her not to worry."
"It's too bad of Cicely," said Joan. "What are they going to do now?"
"Your brother Dick went up to London by the late train and a telegram was to be sent the first thing this morning to relieve all anxiety though with Muriel no harm can come to Cicely if she got there safely which I hope and trust may be the case although to go about London by herself is a thing that she knows she would not be allowed to do, but there I'm saying a great deal too much to you Joan 'n Nancy you must not run away with ideas in your head Cicely no doubt has a very good reason for what she has done and she is years older than both of you and you must not ask troublesome questions when you go downstairs the only way you can help is by holding your tongues and being good girls."
"Oh, of course, that's the moral of it," said Nancy. "If the roof were to fall in all we should have to do would be to be good girls and it would get stuck on again. Joan, I'm hungry; I must go and finish my bread and butter."
"Thank you, starling darling, for telling us," said Joan, rising from her seat on the bed. "It seems very odd, but I dare say we shall get to the bottom of it somehow. Of course we shan't be able to do any lessons to-day."
"Oh, indeed Joan the very best thing we can do to show we——" began Miss Bird, but the twins were already out of the room.
They had to wait some little time before they could satisfy their curiosity any further, because, in spite of their threat to Miss Bird, and the excellent relations upon which they stood with all the servants in the house, they were not in the habit of discussing family affairs with them, and this was a family affair of somewhat portentous bearings. They kept Hannah busy about their persons and refused to let her open her mouth until they were quite dressed, and when they had let themselves loose on the house for the day paid a visit to Cicely's room.
Its emptiness and the untouched bed sobered them a little. "What did she do it for?" exclaimed Joan, as they stood before the dressing-table upon which all the pretty silver toilette articles lying just as usual seemed to give the last unaccountable touch of reality to the sudden flight. "Nancy, do you think it could have been because she didn't want to marry Jim?"
"Or because Jim didn't want to marry her," suggested Nancy.
But neither suggestion carried conviction. They looked about them and had nothing to say. Their sister, who in some ways was so near to them, had in this receded immeasurably from their standpoint. They were face to face with one of those mysterious happenings amongst grown ups of which the springs were outside the world as they knew it. And Cicely was grown up, and she and they, although there was so much that they had in common, were different, not only in the amount but in the quality of their experience of life.
They always went in to their mother at eight o'clock, but were not allowed to go before. They did not want to go out of doors while so much was happening within, nor to stay in their schoolroom, which was the last place to which news would be brought; so they perambulated the hall and the downstairs rooms and got in the way of the maids who were busy with them. And at a quarter to eight were surprised by their father's entrance into the library, where they happened to be sitting for the moment.
Their surprise was no greater than his, nor was it so effectively expressed. He saw at once, and said so, that they were up to some mischief, and he would not have it, did they understand that?
"We were only sitting talking, father," said Joan. "There was nowhere else to go."
"I won't have this room used as a common sitting-room," said the Squire. "Now go, and don't let me catch you in here again."
The twins went out into the big hall. "Why couldn't you cry a little at being spoke to like that?" said Nancy. "He would have told us everything."
"That's worn out," replied Joan. "The last time I did it he only said, 'For God's sake don't begin to snivel.' Besides I was rather frightened."
Just then the Squire opened his door suddenly. The twins both jumped. But he only said, "Oh, you're there. Come in here, and shut the door."
They went in. "Now look here," said the Squire, "you are old enough now to look at things in a sensible light. I suppose you have heard that your sister has taken it upon herself to take herself off without a with your leave or by your leave and has turned the whole house topsy-turvy—eh?"
"Yes, father," said the twins dutifully.
"Who told you—eh?"
"Miss Bird, father."
"I wish Miss Bird would mind her own business," said the Squire. "What did she tell you for?"
"Because she wanted us to be good girls, and not worry you with questions," replied Nancy.
"Oh! Well, that's all right," said the Squire, mollified.
"Now what I want to know is—did Cicely say anything to either of you about going away like this?"
"Oh no, father," replied the twins, with one voice.
"Well, I'm determined to get to the bottom of it. No daughter of mine shall behave in that way in this house. Here's everything a girl can want to make her happy—it's the ingratitude of it that I can't put up with, and so Miss Cicely shall find when she condescends to come home, as she shall do if I have to go to fetch her myself."
Neither of the twins saw her way to interpose a remark. They stood in front of their father as they stood in front of Miss Bird in the schoolroom when they "did repetition."
"Do either of you know if Cicely wasn't contented or anything of that sort?" inquired the Squire.
"She has been rather off her oats since Muriel was married," said Joan.
"Eh! What's that!" exclaimed the Squire, bending his heavy brows on her with a terrific frown. "Do you think this is a time to play the fool—with me? Off her oats! How dare you speak like that? We shall have you running away next."
Joan's face began to pucker up. "I didn't mean anything, father," she said in a tremulous voice. "I heard you say it the other day."
"There, there, child, don't cry," said the Squire. "What I may say and what you may say are two very different things. Off her oats, eh? Well, she'd better get on her oats again as quick as possible. Now, I won't have you children talking about this, do you understand?—or Miss Bird either. It's a most disagreeable thing to have happened, and if it gets out I shall be very much annoyed. I don't want the servants to know, and I trust you two not to go about wagging your tongues, do you hear?"
"O father, we shouldn't think of saying anything about it to anybody," exclaimed Nancy.
"Eh? What? There's nothing to make a mystery about, you know. Cicely has gone up to London to visit Walter and Muriel. No reason why anybody should know more than that. There isn't any more to know, except what concerns me—and I won't have it. Now don't interrupt me any more. Go off and behave yourselves and don't get in the way. You've got the whole house to yourselves and I don't want you here. Ring the bell, Joan, I want Porter to send a telegram."
The twins departed. They could now go up to their mother. "Don't want the servants to know!" said Nancy as they went upstairs. "Is it the camel or the dromedary that sticks its head in the sand?"
"The ostrich," said Joan. "It seems to me there's a great deal of fuss about nothing. Cicely wanted to see her dear Muriel, so she went and saw her. I call it a touching instance of friendship."
"And fidelity," added Nancy.
Their view of the matter was not contradicted by anything that Mrs. Clinton did or said when they went in to her. She was already dressed and moving about the room, putting things to rights. It was a very big room, so big that even with the bed not yet made nor the washstand set in order, it did not look like a room that had just been slept in. It was over the dining-room and had three windows, before one of which was a table with books and writing materials on it. There were big, old-fashioned, cane-seated and backed easy-chairs, with hard cushions covered with chintz, other tables, a chintz-covered couch, a bookcase with diamond-paned glass doors. On the broad marble mantelpiece were an Empire clock and some old china, and over it a long gilt mirror with a moulded device of lions drawing chariots and cupids flying above them. On the walls, hung with a faded paper of roses, were water-colour drawings, crayon portraits, some fine line engravings of well-known pictures, a few photographs in Oxford frames. The bedroom furniture proper was of heavy mahogany, a four-post bed hung with white dimity, a wardrobe as big as a closet. Nothing was modern except the articles on the dressing-table, nothing was very old.
Never later than eight o'clock the Squire would rise and go into his dressing-room, and when Mrs. Clinton had dressed and in her orderly fashion tidied her room she would sit at her table and read until it was time to go down to breakfast. Whenever he got up earlier she got up earlier too, and had longer to spend by the window open to the summer morning, or in the winter with her books on the table lit by candles. They were for the most part devotional books. But once the Squire had come in to her very early one October morning when he was going cub-hunting and found her reading The Divine Comedy with a translation and an Italian dictionary and grammar. He had talked of it downstairs as a good joke: "Mother reading Dante—what?" and she had put away those books.
She was a little paler than usual this morning, but the twins noticed no difference in her manner. She kissed them and said, "You have heard that Cicely went to London yesterday to stay with Muriel. Father is anxious about her, and I am rather anxious too, but there is nothing really to worry about. We must all behave as usual, and two of us at least mustn't give any cause of complaint to-day."
She said this with a smile. It was nothing but a repetition of Miss Bird's exhortation to hold their tongues and be good girls, but they embraced her, and made fervent promises of good behaviour, which they fully intended to keep. Then they read something for a few minutes with their mother and left her to her own reading and her own thoughts.
The morning post brought no letter from Cicely, and again the Squire remained standing while he read prayers. Immediately after breakfast he went down to the Rectory, ostensibly to warn Tom and Grace not to talk, actually to have an opportunity of talking himself to a fresh relay of listeners. He expressed his surprise in the same terms as he had already used, and said repeatedly that he wouldn't have it. Then, as it was plain that, whether he would or no, he already had had it, he rather weakly asked the Rector what he would do if he were in his place.
"Well, Edward," said the Rector thoughtfully, "of course it is very tiresome and all that, and Cicely ought not to have gone off in that way without any warning. Still, we don't know what is going on in girls' minds, do we? Cicely is a sensible girl enough, and I think when she comes back if you were to leave it to Nina to find out what there was to make her go off suddenly like that—well, how would that be, eh?"
"I can't understand it," said the Squire for the twentieth time. "Nina knows no more about it all than I do. I can't help blaming her for that, because——"
"O Edward," said Mrs. Beach, "whoever is to blame, it is not Nina. Cicely is devoted to her, and so are the dear twins, for all their general harum-scarumness."
"Well, I was going to say," said the Squire, who had been going to say something quite different, "that Nina is very much upset about this. She takes everything calmly enough, as you know, but she's a good mother to her children—I will say that for her—and it's enough to upset any woman when her daughter behaves to her in this monstrous fashion."
"How do you think it would be," asked the Rector, "if Nina were to go up to London and have a talk with Cicely there?"
The Squire hummed and ha'd. "I don't see the sense of making more fuss about it than has been made already," he said. "I told Nina this morning, 'If you go posting off to London,' I said, 'everybody will think that something dreadful has happened. Much better stop where you are.'"
"If she wants to go," said Mrs. Beach, "I think it would be the very best thing. She would bring Cicely to a right frame of mind—nobody could do it better; and you would be at home, Edward, to see that nothing was done here to complicate matters. I think that would be very important, and nobody could do that but you."
"So you think it would be a good idea if I let Nina go up to her?" said the Squire.
The Rector and Mrs. Beach both thought it would be a very good idea.
"Well," said the Squire, "I thought perhaps it would, but I hadn't quite made up my mind about it. I thought we'd better wait, at any rate, till we got an answer to my wire to Walter. And that reminds me—I'd better be getting back. Well, good-bye, Tom, good-bye, my dear Grace. Of course I needn't ask either of you not to let this go any further."
The non-arrival of an answer to his message had a cumulative effect upon the Squire's temper during the morning. At half-past eleven o'clock he gained some temporary relief to his discomfort by despatching another one, and did not entirely recover his balance until Dick's telegram arrived about luncheon time. Then he calmed down suddenly, joked with the twins over the table and told Miss Bird that she was getting younger every day. He also gave Mrs. Clinton her marching orders. "I think you had better go up, Nina," he said, "and see what the young monkey has been after. I'm excessively annoyed with her, and you can tell her so; but if she really is with Walter and Muriel I don't suppose any harm has come to her. I must say it's a relief. Still, I'm very angry about it, and so she'll find out when she comes home."
So another telegram was despatched, and Mrs. Clinton went up to London by the afternoon train accompanied by the discreet and faithful Miles.
That night Cicely and her mother sat late together in Mrs. Clinton's bedroom. Mrs. Clinton was in a low easy-chair and Cicely on a stool at her feet. Outside was the continuous and restless echo of London pushing up to the very feet of its encircling hills, but they were as far removed from it in spirit as if they had been at home in still and spacious Kencote.
Mrs. Clinton had arrived at Muriel's house in time for dinner. Walter had come home from Lord's soon enough to meet her at the station and bring her out in his motor-car. He had made Miles sit in front with his servant and he had told his mother what Dick would have told her if she had waited to come to Cicely until after he had returned to Kencote. She had listened to him in silence as he unfolded his story, making no comment even when he told her of Dick's opening her daughter's letter to her; but when he told her that Cicely had asked that she should be sent for she had clasped her hands and said, "Oh, I am so glad."
Muriel had met her at the door, but Cicely had stayed in the drawing-room, pale and downcast. She had gone in to her alone and kissed her and said, "I am glad you wanted your mother, my darling. You shall tell me everything to-night when we go upstairs, and we won't think about it any more until then."
So the evening had passed almost pleasantly. At times even Cicely must have forgotten what lay behind and before her, for she had laughed and talked with a sort of feverish gaiety; only after such outbursts she had grown suddenly silent and trembled on the verge of tears. Walter had watched her and sent her upstairs before ten o'clock, and her mother had gone up with her and helped her to undress as if she had been a child again. Then she had put on her dressing-gown and gone to Mrs. Clinton's room, and resting her head on her mother's knee had told her everything with frequent tears and many exclamations at her own madness and folly.
It was more difficult to tell even than she had thought. When all was said about her discontent and the suddenness with which she had been urged towards a way of escape from surroundings that now seemed inexpressibly dear to her, there remained that inexcusable fault of leaving her mother without a word, for a man whom she couldn't even plead that she loved. With her mother's hand caressing her hair it seemed to her incredible that she could have done such a thing. She begged her forgiveness again and again, but each time that she received loving words in answer she felt that it must be impossible that they could ever be to one another again what they had been.
At last Mrs. Clinton said, "You must not think too much of that, my darling. You were carried away; you hardly knew what you were doing. It is all wiped out in my mind by your wanting me directly you came to yourself. We won't talk of it any more. But what we ought to talk of, Cicely dear, and try to see our way through, is the state of mind you had got into, which made what happened to you possible, and gave this man his opportunity. I think that six months ago, although he might have tried to behave in the same way, you would only have been frightened; you would have come straight to me and told me."
"Oh yes, I should, mother," she cried.
"Then what was it that has come between us? You have told me that you were discontented at home, but couldn't you have told me that before?"
Cicely was silent. Why hadn't she told her mother, to whom she had been used to tell everything, of her discontent? A sudden blush ran down from her cheeks to her neck. It was because she had judged her mother, as well as her father and brothers, her mother who had accepted the life that she had kicked against and had bent a meek head to the whims of her master. She couldn't tell her that.
"The thing that decided me," she began hesitatingly, "when I was sitting in my room that night not knowing what I was going to do, I heard father and Dick talking as they came up, and they had decided to turn Aunt Ellen and Aunt Laura out of the house they had lived in nearly all their lives and let it to those MacLeod people. It seemed to me so—so selfish and—and horrible."
"You cannot have heard properly," said Mrs. Clinton. "It was what they had decided not to do. Father woke me up to tell me so. But even if——I don't understand, Cicely dear."
"O mother, can't you see?" cried Cicely. "If I was wrong about that, and I'm very glad I was, it is just what they might have done. They had talked it all over again and again, and they couldn't make up their minds—and before us!"
"Yes. We are nobodies. If father were to die Dick would turn us out of the house as a matter of course. He would have everything; we should have nothing."
Mrs. Clinton was clearly bewildered. "Dick would not turn us out of the house unless he were married," she said, "and we should not have nothing. We should be very well off. But surely, Cicely, it is impossible that you can have been thinking of money matters in that way! You cannot be giving me a right impression of what has been in your mind."
"No, it isn't that," said Cicely. "I don't know anything about money matters, and I haven't thought about them—not in that way. But father and the boys do talk about money; a lot seems to depend upon it, and I can't help seeing that they spend a great deal of money on whatever they want to-do, and we have to take what's left."
"Still I don't understand, dear," said Mrs. Clinton. "Certainly it costs a great deal to keep up a house like Kencote; but it is our home; we are all happy there together."
"Are you quite happy there, mother?" asked Cicely.
Mrs. Clinton put by the question. "You know, of course," she went on, "that we are well off, a good deal better off than most families who have big properties to keep up. For people in our position we live simply, and if—if I were to outlive father, and you and the children were still unmarried, we should live together—not in such a big house as Kencote—but with everything we could desire, or that would be good for us."
"And if we lived like that," said Cicely, "wouldn't you think some things good for us that we don't have, mother? If we had horses, wouldn't you let me have one to ride? Wouldn't you take me to London sometimes, not to go to smart parties, but to see something of interesting people as Angela and Beatrice do at Aunt Emmeline's, and see plays and pictures and hear music? Wouldn't you take us abroad sometimes? Should we have to live the whole year round in the country, doing nothing and knowing nothing?"
Mrs. Clinton's hand stopped its gentle, caressing movement, and then went on again. During the moment of pause she faced a crisis as vital as that which Cicely had gone through. She had had just those desires in her youth and she had stifled them. Could they be stifled—would it be right to stifle them—in the daughter who had, perhaps, inherited them from her?
"You asked me just now," she said, "whether I was happy. Yes, I am happy. I have my dear ones around me, I have my religion, I have my place in the world to fill. I should be very ungrateful if I were not happy. But if you ask me whether the life I lead is exactly what it would be if it rested only with me to order it—I think you know that it isn't?"
"But why shouldn't it be, mother? Other women do the things they like, and father and the boys do exactly what they like. If you have wanted the same things that I want now, I say you ought to have had them."
"If I had had them, Cicely, I should not have found out one very great thing—that happiness does not come from these things; it does not come from doing what you like, even if what you like is good in itself. I might almost say that it comes from not doing what you like. That is the lesson that I have learned of life, and I am thankful that it has been taught me."
Cicely was silent for a time. She seemed to see her mother, dear as she had been to her, in a new light, with a halo of uncomplaining self-sacrifice round her. Her face burned as she remembered how that morning in church, and since, she had thought of her as one who had bartered her independence for a life of dull luxury and stagnation. It came upon her with a flash of insight that her mother was a woman of strong intelligence, who had, consciously, laid her intellectual gifts on the altar of duty, and found her reward in doing so. The thought found ineffective utterance.
"Of course it is from you that Walter gets his brains," she said.
Mrs. Clinton did not reply to this. "You are very young to learn the lesson," she said. "I am not sure—I don't think it is a lesson that every one need learn—that every woman need learn. I should like you to make use of your brains—if that is really what you have been unhappy about, Cicely. But is it so, my dear?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Cicely. "I suppose not. If I had wanted to learn things, there are plenty of books at Kencote and I had plenty of time. It was in London—it was just one of the things. First I was jealous—I suppose it was that—because Dick and Humphrey had always had such a good time and seemed to belong to everything, and I was so out of it all. I still think that very unfair. Then when I went to Aunt Emmeline's and saw what a good time Angela and Beatrice had in a different sort of way—I wanted that too. And I think that is unfair. When I talked to them—I like them very much, but I suppose they wanted to show how much better off they were than I am—the only thing they seemed to think I was lucky in was my allowance, and even then they said they didn't see how I could spend it, as I never went anywhere. I felt so ignorant beside them. Once Angela said something to me in French—the maid was in the room—and I didn't understand her. I was ashamed. Mother, I think I ought to have had the chances that Angela and Beatrice have had."
Mrs. Clinton listened with a grave face. How could she not have believed most of it to be true? She knew that, in marrying her, her husband had been considered to be marrying rather beneath him. And yet, her brother's daughters were—there was no doubt of it—better fitted to take a place, even a high place, in the world than her own daughter. Her husband could never have seen it, but she knew that it was true. Her younger niece was already engaged to be married to a man of some mark in the world, and she would be an intellectual companion to him. If Cicely had caught the fancy of such a man she would have had everything to learn. Even in this deplorable danger through which she had just passed, it was her ignorance that had laid her open to it. Perhaps her very ignorance had attracted the man to her, but he certainly would not have been able so to bend her to his will if she had lived more in the world.
"There is one thing, darling," said Mrs. Clinton, "that we have not spoken of. I don't want to complicate the troubles you are passing through, but it has a bearing on what you have been saying."
"You mean about Jim," said Cicely courageously.
"Yes. Father and I have both been very glad of what we have always looked upon as an engagement, although it could not be a recognised one when—when it was first mooted. You must remember, dear, that we are country people. It seems to us natural that our daughters should marry country gentlemen—should marry into the circle of our friends and neighbours. And the prospect of your living near us has always given us great pleasure. You seemed to me quite happy at home, and I thought you would have the best chance of happiness in your married life in another home not unlike ours. I thought you were well fitted to fill that place. I did not think of you—I don't think it ever crossed my mind to think of you—as wanting a different life, the sort of life that your cousins lead, for instance."
"Jim was very good to me, this morning," Cicely said, in a low voice. "I love him for it. Of course I do love him, in a way, just as I love Dick or Walter. I was very much ashamed at having left him like that, for somebody who—who isn't as good as he is. Jim is good, in a way a man ought to be. But, mother—I can't marry Jim now, after this."
"It is too soon to talk of it, or perhaps even to think of it. And you have no right to marry anybody unless you love him as a woman should love her husband, not as you love your brothers. We need not talk of marriage now at all. But, my dearest, I want you to be happy when you come home again. If you come back to think that you are badly used, that——"
"Oh, but, mother," Cicely interrupted her, "that is all over. I have only been trying to tell you what I did feel. I never thought of the other side at all. Last night I lay awake and simply longed for home. I have been very ungrateful. I love Kencote, and the country and everything I do there, really. I never knew before how much I loved it. It was a sort of madness that came over me."
"I am glad you feel like that. You have a very beautiful home, and you are surrounded by those who love you. You ought to be able to make yourself happy at home, even if you have not got everything that you might like to have. Can you do so?"
"Yes, mother, I can. I was happy enough before."
"Before you went to London."
"Oh, yes, I suppose it was that. I must be very foolish to let a visit to London upset me. I don't want to see London again now for a long time. O mother, I have been very wicked. You won't be different to me, will you?"
She buried her face in her mother's lap. She was overwrought and desperately tired. Mrs. Clinton felt that except for having done something towards healing the wound made by her late experience she had accomplished little. Cicely's eyes had been partially opened, and it was not in her mother's power to close them again. It was only natural that she should now turn for a time eagerly towards the quiet life she had been so eager to run away from. But when her thoughts had settled down again, when weeks and months had divided her from her painful awakening, and its memory had worn thin, would she then be content, or would these desires, which no one could say were unreasonable, gain strength again to unsettle and dispirit her? It was only too likely. And if they did, what chance was there of satisfying them?
Mrs. Clinton thought over these things when she had tucked Cicely up in her bed and sat by her side until she was asleep. Cicely had begged her to do this, Cicely, her mother's child again, who, the night before had lain awake hour after hour, alone, trembling at the unknown and longing for the dear familiar. There was deep thankfulness in the mother's heart as she watched over her child restored to her love and protection, but there was sadness too, and some fear of the future, which was not entirely in her hands.
Cicely was soon asleep. Mrs. Clinton gently disengaged the hand she had been holding, stood for a time looking down upon her, fondly but rather sadly, and crept out of the room. It was nearly one o'clock, so long had their confidences lasted, but as she came downstairs, for Cicely's room was on the second floor, Walter came out of his bedroom dressed to go out.
"Hullo, mother!" he said. "Not in bed yet! I've been called up. Child with croup. I don't suppose I shall be long, and Muriel is going down to make me some soup. If you'd like a yarn with her——"
Muriel came out in her dressing-gown. "I said I would always make him soup when he was called out at night," she said, "and this is the first time. I'm a good doctor's wife, don't you think so, Mrs. Clinton? Is Cicely asleep?"
"Yes, I have just left her. I will come down with you, dear, and help you make Walter's soup."
So they went down together and when they had done their work, bending together over a gas stove in the kitchen, which was the home of more black beetles than was altogether desirable, although it was otherwise clean and bright and well-furnished, they sat by the dining-room table awaiting Walter's return.
There was sympathy between Mrs. Clinton and her daughter-in-law, who recognised her fine qualities and loved her for them, privately thinking that she was a woman ill-used by fate and her husband. Mrs. Graham thought so too, but she and Mrs. Clinton had little in common, and in spite of mutual esteem, could hardly be called friends. But the tie which had bound Muriel to Kencote all her life had depended almost as much upon Mrs. Clinton as upon Cicely, and until the last few months more than it had upon Walter. They could talk together knowing that each would understand the other, and Muriel's downrightness did not offend Mrs. Clinton.
She plunged now into the middle of things. "You know it is Jim I am thinking of, Mrs. Clinton," she said, "now that this extraordinary business is over. I want to know where Jim comes in."
"I am afraid, my dear," said Mrs. Clinton, with a smile, "that poor Jim has come in very little."
"Did you know," asked Muriel, "that Jim was head over ears in love with Cicely, or did you think, like everybody else, that he was slack about it?"
Mrs. Clinton thought for a moment. "I have never thought of him as head over ears in love with Cicely," she said.
"And I didn't either, till Walter told me. But he is. He behaved like a brick to-day. Dick told Walter. And Cicely told me too. It was Jim who got her away from that man—the horrible creature! How can a man be such a brute, Mrs. Clinton?"
"I don't want to talk about him, Muriel," said Mrs. Clinton quietly. "He has come into our life and he has gone out again. I hope we shall never see him again."
"If I ever see him," said Muriel, "nothing shall prevent my telling him what I think of him. How Cicely could! Poor darling, she doesn't know how she could herself, now. She told me that she saw him as he was beside Jim and Dick. He isn't a gentleman, for all the great things he has done, and somehow that little fact seemed to have escaped her until then. Don't you think it is rather odd that it matters so tremendously to women like us whether the men we live with are gentlemen or not, and yet we are so liable at first to make mistakes about them?"
Mrs. Clinton was not quite equal to the discussion of a general question. "It would matter to any one brought up as Cicely has been," she said, "or you. Can you tell me exactly what you mean when you say that Jim is head over ears in love with Cicely? I don't think he has shown it to her."
"Nobody quite knows Jim, except Walter," replied Muriel. "I don't, and mother doesn't; and dear father never did. I suppose there is not much doubt about his being rather slow. Slow and sure is just the phrase to fit him. He is sure of himself when he makes up his mind about a thing, and I suppose he was sure of Cicely. He was just content to wait. You know, I'm afraid Walter thinks that Cicely has behaved very badly to him."
"Do you think so?" asked Mrs. Clinton.
Muriel hesitated. "I think what Walter does," she said, rather doggedly. "But I don't feel it so much. I love Cicely, and I am very sorry for her."
"Why are you sorry for her?"
"Oh, well, one could hardly help being after what she has gone through."
"Only that, Muriel?"
Muriel hesitated again. "I don't think she has had quite a fair chance," she said.
"She has had the same chances that you have had."
"Not quite, I think," said Muriel. She spoke with her head down and a face rather flushed, as if she was determined to go through with something unpleasant. "I'm not as clever as she is, but if I had been—if I had wanted the sort of things that she wants—I should have had them."
"I think she could have had them, if she had really wanted them," said Mrs. Clinton quietly. "I think I should have seen that she did have them."
"Oh, dear Mrs. Clinton, don't think I'm taking it on myself to blame you. You know I wouldn't do that. But I must say what I think. Life is desperately dull for a girl at houses like Kencote or Mountfield."
"Kencote and Mountfield?"
"Well, don't be angry with me if I say it is much more dull at Kencote than at Mountfield. Cicely isn't even allowed to hunt. I was, and yet I was glad enough to get away from it, although I love country life, and so does Walter. We never see anybody, we never go anywhere. I am heaps and heaps happier in this little house of my own than I was at Mountfield."
"Muriel," said Mrs. Clinton "what is it that Cicely wants? You and she talk of the same things. First it is one thing and then it is another. First it is that she has had no chances of learning. What has she ever shown that she wants to learn? Then it is that she does not go away, and does not see new faces. Is that a thing of such importance that the want of it should lead to what has happened? Then it is that she is not allowed to hunt! I will not add to Cicely's trouble now by rebuking these desires. Only the first of them could have any weight with me, and I do not think that has ever been a strong desire, or is now, for any reason that is worth taking into consideration. But the plain truth of the whole trouble is that Cicely had her mind upset by her visit to London two months ago. You should not encourage her in her discontent. Her only chance of happiness is to see where her duty lies and to gauge the amusements that she cannot have at their true value."
"I haven't encouraged her," said Muriel, "I said much the same as you have when she first talked to me. I told her she had had her head turned. But, all the same, I think there is something in what she says, and at any rate, she has felt it so strongly as nearly to spoil her life in trying to get away from it all. She'll be pleased enough to get home now, if—if—well, excuse my saying it, but—if Mr. Clinton will let her alone—and yet, it will all come back on her when she has got used to being at home. Do you know what I think, Mrs. Clinton? I think the only thing that will give her back to herself now is for her to marry Jim as quickly as possible."
"But Kencote and Mountfield both are desperately dull for a girl!"
Muriel laughed, "She wouldn't find Mountfield so if she really loved Jim. I don't know whether she does or not. She won't hear of him now."
Mrs. Clinton was silent for a time. Then she said slowly, "It was Jim who rescued her to-day from a great danger. I think it is only Jim who can rescue her from herself."
"When Cicely comes, send her in to me at once," said the Squire, with the air of a man who was going to take a matter in hand.
Cicely, convoyed by the reliable Miles, was returning to Kencote after having stayed with Muriel for a fortnight. Mrs. Clinton had left her at Melbury Park after a three days' visit.
"And I won't have the children meeting her, or anything of that sort," added the Squire. "She is not coming home in triumph. You can go to the door, Nina, and send her straight in to me. We'll get this business put right once for all."
Mrs. Clinton said nothing, but went out of the room. She could have small hopes that her husband would succeed when she had failed in putting the business right. She told herself now that she had failed. During her many talks with Cicely, although she had been able, with her love and wisdom, to soothe the raw shame that had come upon her daughter when she had looked back in cold blood to her flight with Mackenzie, she had not been able to do away with the feeling of resentment with which Cicely had come to view her home life. Her weapons had turned back upon herself. Neither of them had been able to say to each other exactly what was in their mind, and because Cicely had to stay herself with some reason for her action, which with her father, at any rate, must be defended somehow, she had fallen back upon the causes of her discontent and held to them even against her mother. And there was enough truth in them to make it difficult for Mrs. Clinton to combat her attitude, without saying, what she could not say, that it was the duty of every wife and every daughter to do as she had done, and rigidly sink her own personality where it might clash with the smallest wish or action of her husband. She claimed to have gained her own happiness in doing so, but the doctrine of happiness through such self-sacrifice was too hard a one for a young girl to receive. She had gained Cicely's admiration and a more understanding love from the self-revelation which in some sort she had made, but she had not availed to make her follow her example, and could not have done so without holding it up as the one right course. Cicely must fight her own battle with her father, and whichever of them proved the victor no good could be expected to come of it. She was firm in her conviction now that in Jim Graham's hands lay the only immediate chance of happiness for her daughter. But Jim had held quite aloof. No word had been heard from him, and no one had seen him since he had parted with Dick on the evening after their journey to London, when they had dined together and Jim had said he would bide his chance. If he were to sink back now into what had seemed his old apathy, he would lose Cicely again and she would lose her present chance of happiness.
The twins, informed by their mother that they must not go to the station to meet Cicely, or even come down into the hall, but that she would come up to them when she had seen her father, of course gathered, if they had not gathered it before, that their elder sister was coming home in disgrace, and spent their leisure time in devising methods to show that they did not share in the disapprobation; in which they were alternately encouraged and thwarted by Miss Bird, whose tender affection for Cicely warred with her fear of the Squire's displeasure.
Mrs. Clinton was in the hall when the carriage drove up. Cicely came in, on her face an expression of mixed determination and timidity, and her mother drew her into the morning-room. "Father wants to see you at once, darling," she said. "You must be good. If you can make him understand ever so little you know he will be kind."
It was doubtful if this hurried speech would help matters at all, and there was no time for more, for the Squire was at his door asking the servants where Miss Clinton was, for he wanted to see her at once.
"I am here, father," said Cicely, going out into the hall again.
"I want you in here," said the Squire. They went into his room and the door was shut, leaving Mrs. Clinton alone outside.
The Squire marched up to the empty fireplace and took his stand with his back to it. Cicely sat down in one of the big chairs, which seemed to disconcert him for a moment.
"I don't know whether you have come home expecting to be welcomed as if nothing had happened," he began.
"No, I don't expect that, father," said Cicely.
"Oh! Well now, what is the meaning of it? That's what I want to know. I have been pretty patient, I think. You have had your fling for over a fortnight, the whole house has been upset and I've said nothing. Now I want to get to the bottom of it. Because if you think that you can behave in that way"—here followed a vivid summary of the way in which Cicely had behaved—"you are very much mistaken." The Squire was now fairly launched. It only rested with Cicely to keep him going with a word every now and then, for she knew that until he had wrought himself into a due state of indignation and then given satisfactory vent to it, nothing she could say would have any effect at all.
"I am very sorry, father," she said. "I know it was wrong of me, and I won't do it again."
This was all that was wanted. "Won't do it again?" echoed the Squire. "No, you won't do it again. I'll take good care of that." He then went on to bring home to her the enormity of her offence, which seemed to have consisted chiefly in upsetting the whole house, which he wouldn't have, and so on. But when he had repeated all he had to say twice, and most of it three or four times, he suddenly took his seat in the chair opposite to her and said in quite a different tone, "What on earth made you do it, Cicely?" and her time had come.
"I was not happy at home, father," she said quietly.
This set the Squire off on another oration, tending to show that it was positively wicked to talk like that. There wasn't a girl in England who had more done for her. He himself spent his days and nights chiefly in thinking what he could do for the happiness of his children, and the same might be said of their mother. He enumerated the blessings Cicely enjoyed, amongst which the amount of money spent upon keeping up a place like Kencote bulked largely. When he had gone over the field a second time, and picked up the gleanings left over from his sheaves of oratory, he asked her, apparently as a matter of kindly curiosity, what she had to grumble about.
She told him dispiritedly, leaving him time after each item of her discontent to put her in the wrong.
Item: She had nothing to do at home.
He said amongst other things that he had in that very room a manuscript volume compiled by her great-great-grandmother full of receipts and so forth, which he intended to get published some day to show what women could do in a house if they really did what they ought.
Item: She hadn't been properly educated.
That was wicked nonsense, and he wondered at a daughter of his talking such trash. In the course of further remarks he said that when all the girls in the board schools could play the piano and none of them could cook, he supposed the Radicals would be satisfied.
Item: There were a great many horses in the stable and she was not allowed to ride one of them.
Did she think she had gone the right way to work to have horses given her, bolting out of the house without a with your leave or a by your leave, etc.? Had her six great-aunts ever wanted horses to ride? Hunting he would not have. He might be old-fashioned, he dared say he was, but to see a woman tearing about the country, etc.——! But if she had come to him properly, and it had been otherwise convenient, he gave her to understand that a horse might have been found for her at any time. He did not say that one would be found for her now.
Item: She never went anywhere.
A treatise on gadding about, with sub-sections devoted to the state of drains in foreign cities, the game of Bridge, as played in country houses, and the overcrowded state of the Probate and Divorce Court.
Item: She never saw anybody interesting.
A flat denial, and in the course of its expansion a sentence that brought the blood to Cicely's face and left her pale and terrified. "Why, only the other day," said the Squire, "one of the most talked of men in England dined here. I suppose you would call Ronald Mackenzie an interesting man, eh? Why, what's the matter? Aren't you well?"
"Oh yes, father dear. Please go on."
The Squire went on. Fortunately he had not noticed the sudden blush, but only the paleness that had followed it. Supposing he had seen, and her secret had been dragged out of her! She gave him no more material on which to exercise his gift of oratory, but sat silent and frightened while he dealt further with the subject in hand and showed her that she was fortunate in living amongst the most interesting set of people in England. Her uncle Tom knew as much as anybody about butterflies, her Aunt Grace played the piano remarkably well for an amateur, Sir Ralph Perry, who lived at Warnton Court, four miles away, had written a book on fly-fishing, the Rector of Bathgate had published a volume of sermons, the Vicar of Blagden rubbed brasses, Mrs. Kingston of Axtol was the daughter of a Cambridge professor, and the Squire supposed he was not entirely destitute of intelligence himself. At any rate, he had corresponded with a good many learned gentlemen in his time, and they seemed anxious enough to come to Kencote, and didn't treat him exactly as if he were a fool when they did come.
"The upshot of it all is, Cicely," concluded the Squire, "that you want a great many things that you can't have and are not going to have, and the sooner you see that and settle down sensibly to do your duty the better."
"Yes, father," said Cicely, longing to get away.
The Squire bethought himself. He had nothing more to say, although as he was considering what to do next he said over again a few of the more salient things that he had said before. He hoped he had made an impression, but he would have liked to end up on a note rather less tame than this. With Cicely so meek and quiet, however, and his indignation against her, already weakened by having been spread over a fortnight, having now entirely evaporated by being expressed, as his indignation generally did evaporate, he had arrived somehow at a loose end. He looked at his daughter for the first time with some affection, and noticed that she was pale, and, he thought, thinner.
"Come here and give me a kiss," he said, and she went to him and put her head on his big shoulder. "Now you're going to be a good girl and not give us any more trouble, aren't you?" he said, patting her on the sleeve; and she promised that she would be a good girl and not give any more trouble, with mental reservations mercifully hidden from him.
"There, don't cry," said the Squire. "We won't say any more about it; and if you want a horse to ride, we'll see if we can't find you a horse to ride. I dare say you think your old father a terrible martinet, but it's all for your good, you know. You must say to yourself when you feel dissatisfied about some little twopenny-halfpenny disappointment that he knows best."
Cicely gave him a hug. He was a dear old thing really, and if one could only always bear in mind the relative qualities of his bark and his bite there would be no need at all to go in awe of him. "Dear old daddy," she said. "I am sorry I ran away, and I'm very glad to get home again."
Then she went upstairs quite lightheartedly, and along the corridor to the schoolroom. The twins, arrayed in long blue overalls, were tidying up, after lessons, and Miss Bird was urging them to more conscientious endeavour, avowing that it was no more trouble to put a book on a shelf the right way than the wrong way, and that if there were fifty servants in the house it would be wrong to throw waste paper in the fireplace, since waste paper baskets existed to have waste paper thrown into them and fireplaces did not.
After a minute pause of observation, the twins threw themselves upon Cicely with one accord and welcomed her vociferously, and Miss Bird followed suit.
"My own darling," she said warmly, "we have missed you dreadfully and how are Muriel and Walter I suppose as happy as anything now Joan 'n Nancy there is no occasion to pull Cicely to pieces you can be glad to see her without roughness and go at once and take off your overalls and wash your hands for tea I dare say Cicely will go with you."
"Have you been to your room yet, darling?" asked Joan.
"Not yet," said Cicely.
"Now straight to your own room first," said Miss Bird, clapping her hands together to add weight to her command. "You can go with Cicely afterwards."
"All right, starling darling, we'll be ready in time for tea," said Nancy. "You finish clearing up" and one on each side of Cicely, they led her to her own bedroom, and threw open the door. The room was garlanded with pink and white paper roses. They formed festoons above the bed and were carried in loops round the walls, upon which had also been hung placards printed in large letters and coloured by hand. "Welcome to our Sister," ran one inscription, and others were, "There is No Place like Home," "Cicely for Ever," and "No Popery."
The twins watched eagerly for signs of surprised rapture and were abundantly rewarded. "But that's not all," said Joan, and led her up to the dressing-table, upon which was an illuminated address running as follows:
"We, the undersigned, present this token of our continued esteem to Cecilia Mary Clinton, on the occasion of her home-coming to Kencote House, Meadshire. Do unto others as you would be done by.
"Signed, Joan Ellen Clinton Nancy Caroline Clinton."
"I think it's rather well done," said Nancy, "though our vermilions had both run out and we didn't like to borrow yours without asking. Starling bought us the gold paint on condition that we put in the Golden Rule. It doesn't look bad, does it, Cicely?"
"I think it's lovely," said Cicely. "I shall always keep it. Thanks so much, darlings."
After the subsequent embraces, Nancy eyed her with some curiosity. "I say, there was a dust-up," she said. "Have you made it up with father, Cis?"
"Don't be a fool," said Joan. "She doesn't want you bothering her. It is quite enough that we're jolly glad to have her back."
"I was rather dull," said Cicely, with a nervous little laugh, "so I went away for a bit."
"Quite right too," said Joan. "I should have done the same, and so would Nancy. We thought of putting up 'Don't be Downtrodden,' but we were afraid mother wouldn't like it, so we put up 'No Popery' instead. It comes to the same thing."
"We're doing the Gordon Riots in history," Nancy explained further. "Father was awful at first, Cis, but he has calmed down a lot since. I think Dick poured oil on the troubled waters. Dick is a brick. He gave us half a sovereign each before he went up to Scotland."
"We didn't ask him for it," said Nancy.
"No," said Joan, "we only told him we were saving up for a camera, and it took a long time out of a bob a week each pocket-money."
"Flushed with our success," said Nancy, "we tried father; but the moment was not propitious."
"It was your fault," said Joan. "You would hurry it. Directly I said, 'When we get our camera we shall be able to take photographs of the shorthorns,' you heaved a silly great sigh and said, 'It takes such a long time to save up with only a shilling a week pocket-money,' and of course what could he say but that when he was our age he only had sixpence?"
"I don't believe it for a moment," said Nancy.
"It doesn't matter. He had to say it. I was going to lead up much more slowly. How often has starling told you that if a thing's worth doing at all it's worth doing well?"
Here Miss Bird herself appeared at the door and said it was just as she had expected, and had they heard her tell them to do a thing or had they not, because if they had and had then gone and done something else she should go straight to Mrs. Clinton, for she was tired of having her words set at nought, and it was time to take serious measures, although nobody would be more sorry to have to do so than herself, Joan and Nancy being perfectly capable of behaving themselves as they should if they would only set their minds to it and do exactly as she told them.
Cicely heard the latter part of the address fading away down the corridor, shut the door with a smile and began to take off her hat with a sigh. The chief ordeal was over, but there was a good deal to go through still before she could live in this room again as she had lived in it before. If, indeed, she ever could. She looked round her, and its familiarity touched her strangely. It spoke not of the years she had occupied it, the five years since she had left the nursery wing, but of the one night when she had prepared to leave it for ever. It would be part of her ordeal to have that painful and confusing memory brought before her whenever she entered it. She hated now to think of that night and of the day and night that had followed it. She flushed hotly as she turned again to her glass, and called herself a fool. Then she resolutely turned pictures to the wall of her mind and made herself think of something else, casting her thoughts loose to hit upon any subject they pleased. They struck against her aunts at the dower-house, and she grappled the idea and made up her mind to go and see them after tea, and get that over.
She found them in their morning-room, engaged as before, except that their tea-table had been cleared away. "Well, dear Aunt Ellen and Aunt Laura, I have come back," she said, kissing them in turn. "Muriel's house is so pretty. You would love to see it."
But Aunt Ellen was not to be put off in this way. The Squire had come down to them on the afternoon of the day after Cicely had disappeared, and had gained more solid satisfaction from the attitude taken up by Aunt Ellen and Aunt Laura when he had unfolded his news than from any reception it had before or after. Cicely was still in their black books.
"Oh, so you have returned at last," said Aunt Ellen, receiving her kiss, but not returning it. Aunt Laura was not so unforgiving. She kissed her and said, "O Cicely, if you had known what unhappiness your action would cause, I am sure you would have thought twice about it."
Cicely sat down. "I have made it all right with father now," she said. "I would rather not talk about it if you don't mind, Aunt Laura. Muriel sent her love to you. I said I should come and see you directly I came back."
"When I was a girl," said Aunt Ellen—"I am speaking now of nearly eighty years ago—I upset a glass of table ale at the commencement of luncheon, and your great-grandfather was very angry. But that was nothing to this."
"I have seldom seen your dear father so moved," said Aunt Laura. "I cannot see very well without my glasses, and I had mislaid them; they were on the sideboard in the dining-room where I had gone to get out a decanter of sherry; but I believe there were tears in his eyes. If it was so it should make you all the more sorry, Cicely."
"I am very sorry," said Cicely, "but father has forgiven me. Mayn't we talk about something else?"
"Your father was very high-spirited as a child," said Aunt Ellen, "and I and your aunts had some difficulty in managing him; not that he was a naughty child, far from it, but he was full of life. And you must always remember that he was a boy. But I feel quite sure that he would never in his wildest moments have thought of going away from home and leaving no word of his address."
"I sent a telegram," pleaded Cicely.
"Ah, but telegrams were not invented in the days I am speaking of," said Aunt Ellen.
"Pardon me, sister," said Aunt Laura. "The electric telegraph was invented when Edward was a boy, but not when we were girls."
"That may be so, sister," said Aunt Ellen. "It is many years since we were girls, but I say that Edward would not have run away."
"Certainly not," said Aunt Laura. "You should never forget, Cicely, what a good father you have. I am sure when I heard the other day from Mr. Hayles that your dear father had instructed him to refuse Lady Alistair MacLeod's most advantageous offer to rent this house, solely on account of your Aunt Ellen and myself, I felt that we were, indeed, in good hands, and fortunate to be so."
"It is quite true," said Aunt Ellen, "that this house is larger than your Aunt Laura and I require, I told your father that with my own lips. But at the same time it is unlikely that at my age I have many more years to live, and I said that if it could be so arranged, I should wish to die in this house as I have lived in it for the greater part of my life."
"He saw that at once," said Aunt Laura. "There is nobody that is quicker at seeing a thing than your dear father, Cicely. He spoke very kindly about it. He said we must all die some time or other, which is perfectly true, but that if your Aunt Ellen did not live to be a hundred he should never forgive her. He is like your dear Aunt Caroline in that; he is always one to look at the bright side of things."
"But didn't he tell you at once that he didn't want to let the house?" asked Cicely. "Did he leave it to Mr. Hayles to tell you afterwards?"
"There was a delicacy in that," replied Aunt Laura. "If there is one thing that your dear father dislikes, it is being thanked. And we could not have helped thanking him. We had gone through a week of considerable anxiety."
"Which he might have saved you," Cicely thought, but did not say.
"When we lived at Kencote House with our father," said Aunt Ellen, "it was never thought that the dower-house possessed any advantages to speak of. I do not say that we have made it what it is, for that would be boasting, but I do say that it would not be what it is if we had not made it so; and now that the danger is past, it causes both your Aunt Laura and myself much gratification, and would cause gratification to your other dear aunts if they could know what had happened, as no doubt they do, that it should now be sought after."
The topic proved interesting enough to occupy the conversation for the rest of Cicely's visit. She kept them to it diligently and got through nearly an hour's talk without further recurrence to her misdoings. Then she took her leave rather hurriedly, congratulating herself that she had got safely over another fence.
Mrs. Graham, in spite of her good points, was not overburdened with the maternal spirit. She had little love for children as children, and when her own were small she had lavished no great amount of affection on them. In the case of other people's children she frankly averred that she didn't understand them and preferred dogs. But she was equable by nature and had companionable gifts, and as Jim and Muriel had grown up they had found their mother pleasant to live with, never anxious to assert authority, and always interested in such of their pursuits as chimed in with her own inclinations; also quite ready with sensible advice and some sympathy when either was required of her, and showing no annoyance at all if the advice was not followed.
It was not altogether surprising then that Jim, when he had been back at Mountfield for three or four days, should have taken her into his confidence. She had heard what, thanks to the Squire, every one in that part of the county had heard, that Cicely had run off to London without taking any clothes with her—this point always emerged—and that Dick, and, for some as yet unexplained reason, Jim, had gone up after her. But when Jim returned, and told her simply that Cicely was staying with Muriel and that everything was all right, she had asked no further questions, although she saw that there was something that she had not been told. She had her reward when Jim, sitting in her drawing-room after dinner, told her that he would like to talk over something with her.
The drawing-room at Mountfield was a long, rather low room, hung with an old French paper of nondescript grey, upon which were some water-colours which were supposed to be valuable. The carpet was of faded green, with ferns and roses. The curtains were of thick crimson brocade under a gilt canopy. There was a large Chippendale mirror, undoubtedly valuable, over the white marble mantelpiece, upon which were three great vases of blue Worcester and some Dresden china figures. The furniture was upholstered in crimson to match the curtains. There was an old grand piano, there were one or two china cabinets against the walls, a white skin rug before the fire, palms in pots, a rosewood table or two, and a low glass bookcase with more china on the top of it. There was nothing modern, and the chairs and sofas were not particularly comfortable. The room had always been like that ever since Jim could remember, and his mother, sitting upright in her low chair knitting stocking tops, also belonged to the room and gave it a comforting air of home. She had on a black gown and her face and neck were much redder than the skin beneath them, but, like many women to whom rough tweeds and thick boots seem to be the normal wear, she looked well in the more feminine attire of the evening.
"Talk away, my dear boy," she said, without raising her head. "Two heads are better than one. I suppose it is something about Cicely."
"When Cicely went away the other day she didn't go to see Muriel; she went to marry Mackenzie."
She did raise her head then to throw an astonished look at her son, who did not meet it, but she lowered it again and made one or two stitches before she replied, "She didn't marry him, of course?"
"No. Dick and I found them, and got her away just in time. That is all over now, and I can't think about that fellow."
"Well, I won't ask you to. But I suppose you won't mind telling me why she did such an extraordinary thing."
"Because she is bored to death at Kencote, and I don't wonder at it."
"And do you still intend to bring her to be bored to death at Mountfield?"
"Yes, I do, if she will come. And I'll see that she's not bored. At least that is what I want to talk to you about. Muriel could tell me what she wants to make her happy, but I can't go to Muriel as long as Cicely is there, and I can't write; I've tried. You've been happy enough here, mother. You ought to be able to tell me."
Mrs. Graham kept silence for a considerable time. Then she said, "Well, Jim, I'm glad you have come to me. I think I can help you. In the first place, you mustn't play the martinet as Mr. Clinton does."
"It isn't likely I should treat her as he does Mrs. Clinton, if that is what you mean."
"I mean a good deal more than that. If Mr. Clinton knew how disagreeable it was to other people to hear him talk to her as he does, he probably wouldn't do it. But even if he didn't he might still make her life a burden to her, by taking away every ounce of independence she had. I don't know whether her life is a burden to her or not; I don't pretend to understand her; but I do know that you couldn't treat Cicely like that, and I suppose this escapade of hers proves it."
"The poor old governor was a bit of a martinet," said Jim, after a pause.
"He thought he was," said Mrs. Graham drily.
Jim looked at her, but did not speak.
"I know what it all means," his mother went on. "I think things over more than you would give me credit for, Jim, and I've seen it before. This quiet country life happens to suit me down to the ground, but I don't believe it satisfies the majority of women. And that is what men don't understand. It suits them, of course, and if it doesn't they can always get away from it for a bit. But to shut women up in a country house all the year round, and give them no interests in life outside it—you won't give one woman in ten what she wants in that way."
"What do they want then?"
"It is more what Cicely wants, isn't it? I don't know exactly, but I can give a pretty shrewd guess. If you want to find out something about a person, it isn't a bad thing to look at their parentage on both sides. On one side she comes of a race of yokels."
"Oh, come, mother. The Birkets are——"
"I'm not talking about the Birkets, I'm talking about the Clintons. Poor dear Mr. Clinton is a yokel, for all his ancestry. If he had been changed at birth and brought up a farm labourer, he wouldn't have had an idea in his head above the average of them; he would only have had a little more pluck. Any Birket's brains are worth six of any Clinton's in the open market. Mrs. Clinton is a clever woman, although she doesn't show it, and her dear, stupid old husband would smother the brains of Minerva if he lived with her. You've only got to look at their children to see where the Birket comes in. Dick is exactly like his father, except that he is not a fool; Humphrey is a fool to my thinking, but not the same sort of fool; Walter—there's no need to speak of him; Frank I don't know much about, but he isn't a yokel; Cicely simply hasn't had a chance, but she'll take it fast enough when she gets it; and as for the twins, they're as sharp as monkeys, for all their blue eyes and sweet innocence."
"Well, what does it all lead to, mother?"
"It leads to this, Jim: I believe Cicely will be as happy living in the country as most girls, but at Kencote she doesn't even get the pleasures that a woman can get out of the country; those are all kept for the men. You must take her about a bit. Take her to other houses and get people to come here. Don't shut her up. Take her to London every now and then, and try and let her see some of the sort of people that go to her Uncle Herbert Birket's house. I believe she could hold her own with any of them, and you'll be proud of her. Let her stir her mind up; she doesn't know what's in it yet. Take her abroad. That always helps; even I should have liked it, only your father didn't, and I wasn't keen enough to let it make a disturbance. Give her her head; that's what it comes to. She won't lose it again."
Jim thought for a long time while Mrs. Graham went on knitting.
"A woman wants some brightness in her life, especially before the babies begin to come," she said, before he spoke.
"Thanks, mother," he said simply. "I'll think it all over."
"I have thought it over," she answered, "and it's all sound sense."
Jim's next speech was some time coming, but when it did come it was rather a startling one.
"I've given Weatherley notice to leave the Grange at Christmas."
Mrs. Graham's needles stopped, and then went on again rather more quickly. Her voice shook a little as she said in a matter-of-fact tone, "I suppose you won't mind altering the stables for me. There is only one loose-box."
"I thought it would be best to add on a couple under another roof," said Jim, and they went on to discuss other alterations that would be necessary when Mrs. Graham should leave Mountfield to go to live at the Grange, but without any approach to sentiment, and no expressions of regret on either side.
When they had done, and there had followed another of those pauses with which their conversations were punctuated, Mrs. Graham said, "You are making very certain of Cicely, Jim."
"I'm going to claim her," said Jim quietly. "I was a fool not to do it before. I've wanted her badly enough."
Perhaps this news was as fresh to Mrs. Graham as it had been to all those others who had heard it lately. Perhaps it was no news at all. She was an observant woman and was accustomed to keep silence on many subjects, except when she was asked to speak, and then she spoke volubly.
"I have often wondered," she said, "why you left it so long."
Jim did not reply to this, but made another surprising statement. "I'm going to stand for Parliament," he said.
Mrs. Graham's observation had not covered this possibility. "Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "Not as a Liberal, I hope!"
"No, as a Free Trade Unionist."
"I should think you might as well save your time and your money."
"I don't expect to get in. But if I can find a seat to fight for, I'll fight."
"Well, I'll help you, Jim. I believe the others are right, but if you will give me something to read I dare say I can persuade myself that they're wrong. I like a good fight, and that is one thing you don't get the chance of when you live with your pigs and your poultry. Excuse me asking, but what about the money?"
"I've settled all that, and I'm going to let this place for two years at least."
Mrs. Graham dropped her knitting once more. "Well, really, Jim!" she said. "Have you got anything else startling to break to me, because I wish you would bring it out all at once now. I can bear it."
"That's all," said Jim, with a grin. "I shall save a lot of money. I shall take a flat or a little house in London and do some work. There are lots of things besides Free Trade; things I'm keener about, really. I don't think Cicely will mind. I think she will go in with me."
Mrs. Graham took up her knitting again and put on another row of stitches. Then she said, "I don't know why you asked my advice as to what Cicely wanted. It seems to me you have thought it out pretty well for yourself."
* * * * *
Jim rode over to Kencote two days after Cicely's return. It was a lovely morning, and harvesting was in full swing as he trotted along between the familiar fields. He felt rather sad at being about to leave it all; he was a countryman at heart, although he had interests that were not bucolic. But there was not much room for sadness in his mind. He was sure of himself, and had set out to grasp a great happiness.
He met the Squire on his stout cob about a mile from Kencote, and pulled up to speak to him.
"How are you, Jim?" he said heartily. "Birds doing all right? Ours are first-class this year."
"I was coming to see you," he said. "I've got something to say."
"Well, say it here, my boy," said the Squire, "I'm not going to turn back."
So they sat on their horses in the middle of the road and Jim said, "I want to marry Cicely as soon as possible."
The Squire's jaw dropped as he stared at the suitor. Then he threw back his head and produced his loud, hearty laugh. "Well, that's a funny thing," he said. "I was only saying to my wife this morning that Cicely would die an old maid if she looked to you to come and take her."
Jim's red face became a little redder, but the Squire did not give him time to reply. "I was only joking, you know, Jim, my boy," he said kindly. "I knew you were all right, and I tell you frankly there's nobody I'd sooner give my girl to. But why do you want to rush it now? What about those rascally death duties?"
"It's only a question of income," said Jim shortly. "And I'm going to let Mountfield for a year or two."
The Squire's jaw fell again. "Let Mountfield!" he cried. "O my dear fellow, don't do that, for God's sake. Wait a bit longer. Cicely won't run away. Ha! ha! Why she did run away—what? Look here, Jim, you're surely not worrying yourself about that. She won't do it again, I'll promise you that. I've talked to her."
"I think it is time I took her," said Jim, "if she'll have me."
"Have you? Of course she'll have you. But you mustn't let Mountfield. Don't think of that, my boy. We'll square it somehow, between us. My girl won't come to you empty-handed, you know, and as long as the settlements are all right you can keep her a bit short for a year or two; tell her to go easy in the house. She's a good girl, and she'll do her best. No occasion to let down the stables, and you must keep a good head of game. We'll make that all right, and it won't do you any harm to economise a bit in other ways. In fact it's a good thing for young people. You might put down your carriage for a year, and perhaps a few maids—I should keep the men except perhaps a gardener or two. Oh, there are lots of ways; but don't let the place, Jim."