Aunt Anne was delighted, and con- | with fir woods on either side. Gaps in sented at once.

the firs, and glimpses of the Surrey hills. “ I shall never forget your putting this distant and blue, of hanging woods and confidence in me. You have proved your deep valleys. The firs came to an end; affection for me most truly,” she said. and there were cliffs of gravel full of the * My dear Florence, your children shall holes of sand-martins. More woods, then have the most loving care that it is in my hedges of blackberry bushes, bare enough power to give them. I will look after now; gorse full of late bloom, heather everything till you come ; more zealously faded and turning from russet to black. than you yourself could. Tell me, love, Here and there a solitary house, masses where do you say the cottage is situ. of oak and larch and fir; patches of sunated ?"

shine; long wastes of shade, and the road " It is near Witley, it is on the direct going on and on. Portsmouth road; a sweet little cottage “Here we are at last,” Florence said, wiih a garden, and fir woods stretching as they stopped before a red-brick cottage on either side."

that stood only a few yards back from the “And how far is it from Portsmouth, road. On either side of it was a fir planmy love ?” Mrs. Baines asked eagerly. tation. There was a gravel pathway round

Florence divined the meaning of the the house, but the other paths were question instantly.

covered with tan. Behind stretched a wil. “Oh, I don't know, Aunt Anne; after derness of garden almost entirely uncultiWitley comes Hindhead, and then Lip vated. There was a little footway that hook, and then Petersfield, and then wound through it in and out among then I don't know. Liphook is the place beeches and larches and firs and oaks, where Mr. Wimple” – the old lady winked and stopped at last on the ridge of a dip to herself — " has friends and sometimes that could hardly be called a valley. goes to stay."

“Sometimes,” said Florence, as they “And how far is that?"

walked about, half an hour later, while the “ About six miles, I think – six or servants were busy within, “we go down seven.

the dip and up the other side, and so get “ Thank you, my love; and now if you over to Hindhead. It is nearer than gowill allow me I will retire. I must make ing there by the road." preparations for my journey, which is in- “Our house is over there," the children deed a delightfui anticipation."

said. Florence never forgot the October “ Their house,” explained Florence,“ is morning on which she took Aunt Anne a little, lonely, thatched shed, half a mile and the children to Witley. They went away. We don't know who made it. It from Waterloo. She thought of Walter is in a lovely part on the other side of the and the day they had spent at Windsor, dip, among the straggling trees. Perhaps and of that last one on which they had some one tethered a cow in it once. The gone together to Southampton, and she children call it their house now, because had returned alone. “Oh, my darling,” one day they had tea there. After I reshe said to herself, “may you grow well turn next week, we must try to walk and strong, and come back to us soon across to it." again."

But the old lady's eyes were turned Mrs. Baines, too, seemed full of memo- towards the distance. ries. She looked up and down the plat. “And the road in front of the house,” form; she stood for a moment dreamily she asked, " where does that go to ?”. by the book-stall before it occurred to " It winds round the Devil's Punch her to buy a cheap illustrated paper to Bowl, and over Hindhead, and on through amuse Catiy and Monty on the journey. Liphook and Petersfield to Portsmouth."

“My love," she said to Florence, with a Aunt Anne did not answer, she looked little sigh, “a railway station is fraught still more intently into the distance, and with many recollections of meeting and gave a long sigh. parting

" It is most exhilarating to be out of “And meeting again,” said Florence, London again, my dear Florence,” she longingly thinking of Walter.

said. “I sincerely trust it will prove ben“Yes, my love," the old lady answered eficial to your dear ones. I was born in tenderly, “and may yours with your dear the country, and I hope that some day I one be soon."

shall die in it. London is most oppres. There were three miles to drive from sive after a time.” Witley to the cottage. A long white road, “ I like London,” Florence answered; “still it does now and then feel like a | ling; mine to the past and yours to the prison.”

present.” * And the rows and rows of houses are “I think you ought to sleep in the best the prison bars, my love. May we enter room, Aunt Anne. the cottage ?." she asked suddenly. She “No, my love,” the old lady interwas evidently tired; she stooped, and rupted, "let me have this little one which looked older and more worn than usual. is next it. When you require the other,

“Poor old dear!” Florence thought. if I am still with you, I can lock the door "I hope she is not worrying about Ma- between. The best one is too grand for dame Celestine's bill, and that she will me; but sometimes while it is empty I will soon hear from Sir William Rammage. go in, if you have no objection, and look Then she will be happier.”

out at the fir-trees and the road that It was a little house, simple inside as stretches right and leftwell as out, with tiny rooms, plainly fur. “I like doing that,” Florence internished. The dining room had been newly rupted. “It always sets me thinking done up, with cretonne curtairs and a dado, the road from the city to the sea." and a buttery-hatch in unich Florence “ From the city to the sea,” the old took a certain pride as something rather lady repeated, “ from the voices to the grand for so small a place. The drawing- silences.” room was old-fashioned ; a stiff, roomy " Aunt Anne, we mustn't grow senti. sofa with hard, flat cushions at one end; mental” – Florence began. There was at the other a sweet, jangling piano. the sound of a tinkling bell. It seemed to There were corner cupboards with china come at an opportune moment. “Oh, bowls of pot-pourri on them; on either happy sound!” she laughed; "it means side of the fireplace a gaudt, high-backed that our meal is ready. Catty, darling," she easy-chair, and on the left of each chair called, " Monty, my son, roast chicken is an old-fashioned screen on which was waiting down-stairs. Auntie and mummy worked a peacock. Aunt Anne stopped are quite ready; come, dear babes”. and on the threshold.

patter, patter, came the sound of the little It seemed to Florence as if the room feet, and together they all went down. recognized the old lady, as if it had been An hour later the fly came to the door; waiting knowing that she would come. it was time for Florence to start on her There was something about it that said way back to town. more plainly than any words could have “I shall be with you at latest on Tues. said that the hands were still that had first day. Perhaps, dear Aunt Anne, if you arranged it, and many footsteps had gone don't mind taking care of the bad children out from its doorway that would never so long, I may go on Saturday for a day. come in at it more.

or two to an old schoolfellow," she said. “ It always depresses me,” Florence ex- " Then I should not be here till the midplained; " but it is just as we found it. dle of next week.” We re-furnished the diningroom, and sit “Dear child, you do, indeed, put con. there a good deal. It is more cheerful fidence in me," Mrs. Baines answered than this. Come up-stairs ” — and she led quaintly.

" And, Aunt Anne, I have ordered most The bedrooms were all small too, save things in, but the tradespeople come every one in front, that seemed to match the day if there is anything more you want, It looked like a room to and here is some money. Four pounds, die in. A quaint four-post bedstead with I think, will carry you through; and here dark chintz curtains, a worm-eaten bureau, is a little book in which to put down your a sampler worked in Berlin wool and expenses. I always keep a most careful framed in black cherry-wood hanging over account, you don't mind doing so either, the fireplace.

do you?" “This is the best room,” Florence said, My love, anything you wish will be a “and we keep it for visitors. There is a pleasure to me.' little one, meant to be a dressing-room I “ If you please, ma'am,” said Jane, en. suppose, leading out of it,” and she went tering, “ the driver says you must start at to a bright little nook with a bed in it. “I once if you want to catch this train." always feel that the best bedroom and “ Then good-bye dear Aunt Anne; good. the drawing-room belong to a past world, bye, dear dickie-birds; be happy together. and the rest of the house to the present You shall see me very soon again ; send one.”

me a letter every other day;" and with " It is like your life and mine, my dar- | many embraces Florence was allowed to

the way.


get out of the door. But Aunt Anne and “I came to see Mrs. Baines,” she said, the children ran excitedly after her to the coming forward in a shy, hesitating man. gate, and helped her into the little wagon- ner, “but hearing that she was in the ette, and kissed their hands and waved country I ventured to ask for you. What their handkerchiefs as she drove off, and have you done with the dear old lady?” called, "Good-bye, good-bye; " and so, Florence looked at her, fascinated by her watching them, Florence went along the beauty, by her clothes, that seemed to be white road towards the station.

a mixture of fur and lace and perfume, by

the soft brown hair that curled low on her CHAPTER IX.

forehead, by the sweet blue eyes – by The days that followed were busy ones every bit of her. “You know, probably, for Florence - busy in a domestic sense, that she was very angry when she left me? so that the history of them does not con- I thought by this time that she would, cern us here. Mr. Fisher called one after perhaps, forgive me and make it up; so: 1 noon; by a strange coincidence it was came." She said it with a penitent air. while Ethel Dunlop was helping Florence “I am afraid she is very angry,” Florwith an inventory of china. Miss Dunlopence answered, half laughing, for the readily promised to visit his mother, but pretty woman before her did not seem like she did not show any particular interest in a stranger. “Do you want her again?” the editor.

“Oh no," and Mrs. North shook her “ He has been so kind,” Florence said, head emphatically. “No, indeed, that “and don't you think he is very agree would be impossible; she led us a terrible able?”

life. But we loved her. I think we could “Oh yes, but you know, Florrie dear, have put up with anything if she had not be has a very square face.”

quarrelled with the servants." " Well?"

“ I was afraid it was that." “It is a good thing he never married, he “Oh yes," sighed Mrs. North, “she would have been very obstinate."

was horribly autocratic with them “But why do you say never did ? - as if "autocratic' is her own word. At last he never would. He is only forty.odd.” she quarrelled with Hetty and wanted me

“Ooly forty-odd !” laughed Ethel to send her away - to send away Hetty, “only a million. If a man is over eight- who is a born treasure, and cooks like an and-twenty he might as well be over eighty, angel. It would have broken our hearts it is mere modesty that he is not.”

we couldn't let her go, it was impos. “Walter is over thirty, and just as fas- sible, so the old lady fled." cinating as ever."

“I am very sorry. You were so very Florence was rather indignant.

kind to her, she always said that." “Ah, yes, but he is married, and mar- "I loved her," Mrs. North answered, ried men take such a long time to grow with a little sigh; "she was so like my old. By the way, Mr. Fisher said some dear dead mother grown old, that was the thing about a theatre party, when bis secret of her attraction for us; but she mother is here. Do you think I might ruled us with a rod of iron that grew more ask him to invite George Dighton as well ? and more unyielding every day; and yet George is very fond of theatres."

she was very kind. She was always givBefore Florence could reply, a carriage ing us presents.” stopped at the door; it looked familiar, it “Oh yes," said Florence, in a despairing reminded her of Aunt Anne in her tri- voice. umphant days. But a strange lady de- “We have had the bills for them since," scended from it now, and was shown Mrs. North went on, with a comical air. up-stairs to the, in which “She used to say that I was very frivoAunt Anne had sat and related her woes lous,” she added suddenly. “She thought and known her triumphs.

it wicked of me to enjoy life while my " Mrs. North, ma'am," said the servant, husband was away. But he's fifty, Mrs. and then Florence understood.

Hibbert; one may have an affection for a She left Ethel in the dining room with husband of fifty, but one can't be in love the inventory, and went up to receive the with him." visitor. Mrs. North was as pretty as "If she were very nice she would not Aunt Anne had declared her to be ; a have made that remark to me, whom she mere girl to look at, tall and slim. Flor- never saw before,” Florence thought, beence thought it was quite natural that her ginning to dislike her a little. husband should like her to have a chape. “Of course I am sorry he is away,"

Mrs. North said, as if she perfectly un.


[ocr errors]



derstood the impression she was making. for she thinks the old lady has vanished “ I shall be glad when he returns. He into space. She came to me yesterday. will rule me then. I took Mrs. Baines li seems that she went to you a few days because he wished me to have an old lady ago, but you were out, and she was glad about me; but I wanted my own way. I of it when she discovered that Mrs. Baines liked her to have hers when it amused me was your aunt, for she doesn't want to to see her have it; when it didn't I wanted offend you. She came to me again to-day. to have mine.” And Mrs. North looked She is very miserable. I believe it will up with two blue eyes that fascinated and turn her hair grey. Oh, it is too funny!” repelled, and laughed a merry, uncontrolled "I don't think it is at all funny." laugh like a child's. “Oh, she was very

“ But indeed it is, for I don't believe droll.”

Mrs. Baines will ever be able to pay the “ Perhaps it is very rude of me to say fifteen pounds; in fact, we know that she it,” Florence said primly, for deep in her won't. Probably it is worrying her a good heart there was a great deal of primness, deal. I have been wondering whether “but I can understand Mr. North wishing something could not be done; if you and you to have a chaperon, you are very 1, for instance, were to pay it between young to be left alone.”

us." "Oh yes, and very careless, I know that. “ You are very good, Mrs. North,” And Mrs. Baines used to provoke me into Florence said against her will. shocking her. I could shock her so easily, “Oh no, but I am sorry for her, and it and did — don't you know how one loves vexes and worries me to think of her power for good or ill over a human being ?” being annoyed. I want to get rid of that

“No, I don't,” Florence answered a vexation, and will pay something to do so. little stiffly.

That is what most generosity comes to," "I do, I love it best of all things in the Mrs. North went on, with mock cynicism, world, whether it leads me uphill or down. " the purchase of a pleasant feeling for hill. But I am intruding," for she saw a oneself, or the getting rid of an unpleas. set, cold look coming over Florence's face. ant one. There is little really unselfish “Let me tell you why I asked for you. I goodness in the world, and when one have been so embarrassed about Mrs. meets it, as a rule, it isn't charming, it Baines. She gave us presents and she isn't fascinating, when one feels that one bought all sorts of things; but she didn't wouid rather be without it.” She rose as pay for them. These bills came, and the she spoke. “Well," she asked, “what people wanted their money." She pulled shall we do? I'll pay one half of the old a little roll out of her pocket. She lady's bill if you will pay the other half.” probably forgot them, and I thought it You are very good,” Florence repeated would be better to pay them, especially as wonderingly. I owed her some money when she left “No; but I expect you are," and Mrs. which she would not take;" and she North showed two rows of little white laughed out again, but this time there was teeth. “I should think you are a model of an odd sound in her voice. “ They are virtue,” she added, with an almost child. from florists and all sorts of people.” like air of frankness, which made it impos.

Florence looked over the bills quickly sible to take offence at her words, though and almost guiltily. There were the pots Florence felt that at best she was only of fern and the flowers that had been sent regarded as the possessor of a quality to her and the children after Aunt Anne's that just before her visitor had denounced. first visit; and there were the roses with Why," she asked, smiling against her which she had triumphantly entered on the will, “ do I look like a model of virtue ?" night of the dinner-party. Oh, poor old “Oh yes, you are almost Madonna-like," lady!” she exclaimed sadly.

Mrs. North said, with a sigh. “I wish I • They are paid,” Mrs. North said. were like you, only — only I think I should “Don't be distressed about them and get very tired of myself. I get tired now; many others — lace-handkerchiefs, shoes, but a reaction comes. But a reaction to all sorts of things. Don't tell her. She the purely good must be tame at best.” would think I had taken a liberty or com- “ You are very clever,” Florence said, mitted a solecism," and she made a little almost without knowing it, and shrinking wry face.

“But what I really wanted to from her again. see you about, Mrs. Hibbert, was Madame " How do you know? My husband says Celestine's bill. I am afraid I can't pay I am clever, but I don't think I am. I am that all by myself ; it is too long. Madame alive. So many people are merely in the Celestine, of course, is sweetiy miserable, preface to being alive, and never get any

[ocr errors]


farther. I am well in the middle of the do- good and bad. Madonnas never book; and am eager, so eager that some- I know the world very well. Give my love times I long to eat up the whole world so to the old lady, and say I hope she has that I may know the taste of everything forgiven me. I am going to Monte Carlo Do you understand that ?"

next week, tell her that too. It will shock “ No. I am content with my slice." her. Say that I should like to have taken

“Ah, that is it. I am not content with her,” and with a last little laugh she went mine. You have your husband and chil-out-into the darkness it seemed to dren."

Florence. “ But you have a husband.”

But the next minute there were two Yes, I have a husband, too; a funny flashing lamps before the house; there old husband, a long way off - Florence was the banging of a door, and Mrs. North hated her — "and no children. I amused was driven away. myself with the old lady - Mrs. Baines Florence went slowly back to the dining- till she fled from me. Now I try other room and the inventory. Ethel Dunlop things. Good-bye.”

had gone. She was glad of it, for she Good-bye,” Florence said.

wanted to think over her strange visitor. As Mrs. North was going out of the “I don't understand her,” she said to door she turned and asked, " Have you herself. "Sie is unlike any one I ever many friends women friends ?”

met; she fascinated and repelled me. I “Yes, a great many, thank you,” Mrs. felt as if I wanted to kiss her, and yet the Hibbert said, with a little haughty inclina- touch of her hand made me shiver.” tion of the head. The haughtiness seemed Then she thought of Madame Celestine's to amuse Mrs. North, for the merry look bill, and of Aunt Anne, and wished that came over her face again, but only for a the dress had not been bought, especially momect.

for the dinner-party; it made her feel as " I thought you had," she answered. “I if she had been the unwitting cause of have none; I don't want them. Good Mrs. Baines's extravagance. She looked bye.”

into the fire, and remembered the events It was nearly dark, and the one servant of that wonderful evening, and thought of left to help Florence get the house ready Walter away, and the bills at home that had neglected to light the gas on the would have to be paid at Christmas. And staircase. Mrs. North groped her way she thought of her winter cloak that was down.

three years old and shabby, and of the "I want to tell you something,” she things she had longed to buy for the chilsaid.

“You said just now that I was dren. Above all she thought of the visions clever. I don't think I am, but I can she had had of saving little by little, and divine people's thoughts pretty easily. putting her savings away in a very safe You are very good, I think; but consider place, until she had a cosy sum with which this, your goodness is of no use if you are some day to give Walter a pleasant sur. not good to others; good to women espe- prise, and suggest that they should go off cially. The good of goodness is that you together for “a little spree," as he would can wrap others inside it. It ought to be call it, to Paris or Switzerland. The fire like a big cloak that you have on a cold burnt low, the red coals grew dull, the night, while the shivering person next to light from the street lamp outside seemed you has none. If you don't make use of to come searching into the room as though your goodness,” she went on with a catch were looking for some one who was not in her breath, “what is the good of it? - there. She thought of Walter's letter safe I seem to be talking paradoxes — you in her pocket. He himself was probably prove how beautiful it is perhaps, but that at Malta by this time -- getting stronger is all — you make it like the swan that and stronger in the sunshine. Dear Walsings its own death-song. One listens and ter, how generous he was; he, too, was a watches, and goes away to think of things little bit reckless sometimes. She wonmore comprehensible, and to do them. dered if he inherited this last quality from Good-bye, Mrs. Hibbert,” she said gently, Aunt Anne. She thought of her children and almost as if she were afraid she held at Witley having tea, most likely with out her hand. Florence took it, a little cakes and jam in abundance; and of Aunt wonder-struck. “You are like a Madonna, Anne in her glory. She wondered if Mr. very like one, as I said just now, but Wimple had turned up. “Poor Aunt though you are older than I am, I think I Anne," she sighed, and there was a long know more about some things than you l bill in her mind. Presently she rose,

VOL. LXXIX. 4070


« VorigeDoorgaan »