The Squire's Daughter - Being the First Book in the Chronicles of the Clintons
by Archibald Marshall
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"Well, I'll think about it," said Jim, who had no intention of prematurely disclosing his intentions to the Squire, "but you'll let me have her, Mr. Clinton? I thought of going over to see her now."

"Go by all means, my boy," said the Squire heartily. "You'll find her about somewhere, only don't make her late for lunch. You'll stay, of course. You haven't seen Hayles about anywhere, have you? He's not in the office."

Jim had not, and the Squire trotted off to find his agent, with a last word of dissuasion on letting Mountfield.

The ubiquitous twins were in the stableyard when he rode in, raiding the corn bin for sustenance for their fantails. "Hullo, Jim, my boy," said Joan. "You're quite a stranger."

"You'll stay to lunch, of course," said Nancy. "How are the birds at Mountfield? I think we ought to do very well here this year."

"Where is Cicely?" asked Jim, ignoring these pleasantries.

"She's out of doors somewhere," said Joan. "We'll help you find her. We ought to be going in to lessons again, but starling won't mind."

"I can find her myself, thanks," said Jim. "Is she in the garden?"

"We'll show you," said Nancy. "You can't shake us off. We're like the limpets of the rock."

But here Miss Bird appeared at the schoolroom window, adjuring the twins to come in at once. "Oh, how do you do, Jim?" she cried, nodding her head in friendly welcome. "Do you want to find Cicely she has gone down to the lake to sketch."

"Bother!" exclaimed Joan. "Starling is so officious."

"You will find our sister in the Temple of Melancholy," said Nancy. "It will be your part to smooth the lines of trouble from her brow."

"Oh, coming, coming, Miss Bird!" called out Joan. "We've only got an hour more, Jim—spelling and dictation; then we will come and look you up."

Jim strode off across the park and entered the rhododendron dell by an iron gate. He followed a broad green path between great banks of shrubs and under the shade of trees for nearly a quarter of a mile. Every now and then an open grassy space led to the water, which lay very still, ringed with dark green. He turned down one of these and peeped round the edge of a bush from whence he could see the white pillared temple at the head of the lake. Cicely was sitting in front of it, drawing, and his heart gave a little leap as he saw her. Then he walked more quickly, and as he neared the temple began to whistle, for he knew that, thinking herself quite alone. Cicely would be disagreeably startled if he came upon her suddenly.

Perhaps she thought it was a gardener who was coming, for she did not move until he spoke her name, coming out from behind the building on to the stained marble platform in front of it. Then she looked up with a hot blush. "O Jim!" she said nervously. "I was just trying to paint a picture."

"It's jolly good," said Jim, looking at it with his head on one side, although she had not as yet gone further than light pencil lines.

"It won't be when I've finished," she said hurriedly. "How is Mrs. Graham? I am coming over to see her as soon as I can, to tell her about Muriel."

"She's all right, thanks," said Jim. "She sent her love. Do you mind my watching you?"

"I'd much rather you didn't," she said, with a deprecating laugh. "I shall make an awful hash of it. Do you want to see father? I'll go and find him with you if you like."

"No, I've seen him," said Jim, going into the temple to get himself a chair. "I've come to see you, to tell you something I thought you'd be interested in. I want to stand for Parliament, and I'm going to let Mountfield."

She looked up at him with a shade of relief in her face. "O Jim," she said, "I do hope you will get in."

"Well, to tell you the truth, I don't expect to get in," said Jim. "They won't have fellows who think as I do in the party now if they can help it. But there's a good deal to do outside that. I kept my eyes open when I was travelling, and I do know a bit about the Colonies, and about land too. There are societies I can make myself useful in, even if I don't get into Parliament. Anyway I'm going to try."

"I am so glad, Jim," said Cicely. "But won't you miss Mountfield awfully? And where are you going to live?"

"In London for a year or two. Must be in the thick of things."

"I suppose you won't go before the spring."

"I want to. It depends on you, Cicely."

She had nothing to say. The flush that coloured her delicate skin so frequently, flooded it new.

"I want you to come and help me," said Jim. "I can't do it without you, my dear. You're much cleverer than I am. I want to get to know people, and I'm not much good at that. And I don't know that I could put up with London, living there by myself. If you were with me I shouldn't care where I lived. I would rather live all my life at Melbury Park with you, than at Mountfield without you."

"O Jim," she said in a low voice, bending over her drawing board, "you are good and generous. But you can't want me now."

"Look here, Cicely dear," he said, "let's get over that business now, and leave it alone for ever. I blame myself for it, I blame—that man, but I haven't got the smallest little piece of blame for you, and I shouldn't have even if I didn't love you. Why, even Dick is the same. He was angry at first, but not after he had seen you. And Walter thinks as I do. I saw him one day and we had it all out; you didn't know. There's not a soul who knows who blames you, and nobody ever will."

"I know," she said, "that every one has been most extraordinarily kind. I love Dick and Walter more than ever for it, because I know how it must have struck them when they first knew. And you too, Jim. It makes me feel such a beast to think how sweet you were to me, and how I've treated you."

Jim took her hand. "Cicely, darling," he said. "I'm a slow fellow, and, I'm afraid, rather stupid. If I hadn't been this would never have happened. But I believe I'm the only person in the world that can make you forget it. You'll let me try, won't you?"

She tried to draw away her hand, but he held it.

"Oh, I don't know what to say," she cried. "It is all such a frightful muddle. I don't even know whether I love you or not. I do; you know that, Jim. But I don't know whether I love you in the right way. I thought before that I didn't. And how can I when I did a thing like that? I'm a girl who goes to any man who calls her."

She was weeping bitterly. All the shame in her heart surged up. She pulled her hand away and covered her face.

"You never loved that man—not for a moment," said Jim firmly.

"No, I didn't," she cried. "I hate him now, and I believe I hated him all the time. If I were to meet him I should die of shame. Oh, why did I do it? And I feel ashamed before you, Jim. I can't marry you. I can't see you any more. I am glad you are going away."

"I am not going unless you come with me, Cicely," he said. "I want you. I want you more than ever; I understand you better. If this hadn't happened I shouldn't have known what you wanted; I don't think I should have been able to make you happy. Good heavens! do you think I believe that you wanted that man? I know you didn't, or I shouldn't be here now. You wanted life, and I had never offered you that. I do offer it you now. Come and help me to do what I'm going to do. I can't do any of it without you."

She smiled at him forlornly. "You are good," she said. "And you have comforted me a little. But you can't forget what has happened. It isn't possible."

"Look here, my dear," said Jim simply. "Will you believe me when I say that I have forgotten it already? That is to say it doesn't come into my mind. I don't have to keep it out; it doesn't come. I've got other things to think of. There's all the future, and what I'm going to do, and you are going to help me to do. Really, if I thought of it, I ought to be glad you did what you did, in a way, for all I've thought of since comes from that. I saw what you were worth and what you could make of a man if he loved you as I do, and you loved him. We won't play at it, Cicely. I'm in earnest. I shall be a better fellow all round if I'm trying to do something and not only sitting at home and amusing myself. We shall have to make some sacrifices. We shall only be able to afford a flat or a little house in London. I must keep things going here and put by a bit for an election, perhaps. But I know you won't mind not having much money for a time. We shall be together, and there won't be a thing in my life that you won't share."

She had kept her eyes fixed upon him as he spoke. "Do you really mean it, Jim?" she asked quietly. "Do you really want me, out of all the people in the world?"

"I don't want anybody but you," he said, "and I don't want anything without you."

"Then I will come with you, dearest Jim," she said. "And I will never want anything except what you want all my life."

He took her in his arms, and she nestled there, laughing and crying by turns, but happier than she had ever thought she could be. They talked of a great many things, but not again of Cicely's flight. Jim had banished that spectre, which, if it returned to haunt her thoughts again, would not affright them. They came no nearer to it than a speech of Cicely's, "I do love you, dear Jim. I love you so much that I must have loved you all the time without knowing it. I feel as if there was something in you that I could rest on and know that it will never give way."

"And that's exactly how I feel about you," said Jim.

Two swans sailed out into the middle of the lake, creasing the still water into tiny ripples. The air was hot and calm, and the heavy leaves of trees and shrubs hung motionless. The singing-birds were silent. Only in the green shade were the hearts of the two lovers in tumult—a tumult of gratitude and confident happiness.

The peace, but not the happiness, was brought to an end when the twins, relaxed from bondage, heralded their approach by a vociferous rendering of "The Campbells are coming." They came round the temple arm-in-arm. Cicely was drawing, and Jim looking on.

"Yes, that's all very well," said Joan, "but it doesn't take two hours to make three pencil scratches."

"Girls without the nice feeling that we possess," said Nancy, "would have burst upon you without warning."

"Without giving you time to set to partners," said Joan.

Cicely looked up at them; her face was full of light. "Shall I tell them, Jim?" she said.

"Got to, I suppose," said Jim.

"My child," said Joan, "you need tell us nothing."

"Your happy faces tell us all," said Nancy.

Then, with a simultaneous relapse into humanity, they threw themselves upon her affectionately, and afterwards attacked Jim in the same way. He bore it with equanimity.

"You don't deserve her, Jim," said Joan, "but we trust you to be kind to her."

"From this day onwards," said Nancy, "you will begin a new life."



To be read in the following order



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