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Title: Ice in June
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100081.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2011
Date most recently updated: February 2011

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Ice in June
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Queenslander on 6 February, 1909

*


CHAPTER I.


"That," said Ethel Marsh judicially, "is the least stupid remark you
have made during our five weeks' acquaintance."

"Which means that I am improving," John Chesney murmured. "There is hope
even for me. You cannot possibly understand how greatly I
appreciate----"

The sentence trailed off incoherently, as if the effort had been all too
much. It was hard to live up to the mental brilliance of Ethel Marsh.
She had had the advantage, too, of a couple of seasons in town, whilst
Chesney was of the country palpably. She also had the advantage of being
distractingly pretty.

Really, she had hoped to make something of Chesney. It seemed to her
that he was fitted for better things than tennis playing and riding and
the like. It seemed strange that he should prefer this little cottage to
the broader delights of surveying mankind from China to Peru.

The man had possibilities, too. For instance, he knew how to dress.
There was an air about his flannels, a suggestion in his Norfolk suits.
He had the knack of the tie so that it sat just right, and his boots ...
A clean cut face, very tanned, deep, clear, gray eyes, very steady. He
was like a dog attached very much to a careless master. The thing had
been going on for five weeks.

Ethel was staying with the Frodshams. They were poor for their position,
albeit given to hospitality--at a price. Most people call this kind of
thing taking in paying guests. It was a subject delicately veiled. Ethel
had come down for a fortnight, and she had stayed five weeks. Verily the
education of John Chesney was a slow process. Chesney was a visitor in
the neighbourhood, too, he had a little furnished cottage just by the
Goldney Park lodge gates, where a housekeeper did for him. As for the
rest, he was silent. He was a very silent man.

It was too hot for tennis, and the two had wandered into the woods. A
tiny trout stream bubbled by, the oak and beech ferns were wet with the
spray of it. Between the trees lances of light fell, shafts of sunshine
on Ethel's hair and face. It was at this point that Chesney made the
original remark. It slipped from him as naturally as if he had been
accustomed to that kind of thing.

"I am afraid you have got that from Mr. John Kennedy," Ethel said. "I am
sure that you have seen Mr. Kennedy's comedy, 'Flies in Ointment.'
Confess now!"

"Well, I have," Chesney confessed accordingly. "I--I saw it the night it
was produced. On the whole it struck me as rather a feeble thing."

"Oh, really? We are getting on, Mr. Chesney. Let me tell you that I
think it is the cleverest comedy I have ever seen."

"Yes! In that case you like the part of Dorothy Kent?"

Ethel's dainty colour deepened slightly. She glanced suspiciously at the
speaker. But he was gazing solidly, stolidly into space--like a man who
had just dined on beef. The idea was too preposterous. The idea of John
Chesney chaffing her, chaffing anybody.

"I thought perhaps you did," Chesney went on. "Mrs. Kent is a bit of a
butterfly, a good sort at the bottom, but decidedly of the species
lepidopteroe----"

"Stop!" Ethel cried. "Where did you get that word from? Whence comes it
in the vocabulary of a youth--a youth? Oh, you know what I mean."

"I believe it is a general name for insects," Chesney said humbly. "Mrs.
Kent is a good sort, but a little conceited. Apt to fancy herself, you
know. Young widows of her type often do. She is tired of the artificial
existence of town and goes off into the country where she leads the
simple life. She meets a young man there, who, well, upon my word, is
rather like me. He was a bit of an ass----"

"He was nothing of the kind," Ethel cried indignantly. "He was splendid.
And he made that woman love him, he made her acknowledge that she had
met her match at last. And he turned out to be one of the most
brilliant----"

"My dear Miss Ethel, after all it was only a play. You remind me of
'Mrs. Kent,' and you say that I remind you of the hero of the play
who----"

"I didn't, Mr. Chesney. I said nothing of the kind. It is unfair of
you----"

"When the likeness is plain enough," Chesney said stubbornly. "You are
Mrs. Kent, and I am the hero of the comedy. Do you think that there is
any possibility that some day you and me--of course, not yet, but----"

Miss Marsh sat there questioning the evidence of her coral-pink ears.
She knew that she was furiously angry because she felt so cool about it.
She knew that the more furious one was, the more calm and self-contained
the senses become. The man meant nothing, either--one could see that by
the respectful expression of his eye. Still---

"You are quite wrong," Ethel said. "You have altogether misunderstood
the 'motif' of the play. I presume you know what a 'motif' is?"

"I think so," Chesney said humbly. "It is a word they apply in music
when you don't happen to understand what the composer--especially the
modern composer--is driving at."

"Oh, let it pass," Ethel said hopelessly. "You have misunderstood the
gist of the play, then! Walter Severn' in the comedy is a man of
singular points. He is a great author. Instead of being that woman's
plaything, he is her merciless analyst. The great scene in the play
comes when she finds this out. Now, you do not for a moment presume to
put yourself on a level with Walter Severn, do you?"

Chesney was bound to admit the height of his audacity. His eyes were
fixed humbly on his Minerva, he was Telamachus seated at the feet of the
goddess. And even yet he did not seem really cognisant of the enormity
of his offence. He saw the sunlight on that sweetly serious face, he saw
the beams playing with the golden meshes of her hair. No doubt he was
fully conscious of his own inferiority, for he did not speak again. It
was for him to wait. The silence deepened, in the heart of the wood a
blackbird was piping madly on a blackthorn.

"Before you go away," Chesney hazarded, "I should very much like----"

"But I am not going away, at least not yet. Besides, I have a purpose to
serve. I am waiting until those impossible people leave Goldney Park. I
understand that they have already gone, but on that head I am not sure.
I want to go over the house. The late owner, Mr. Mainbrace, was a great
friend of my family. Before he died he was so good as to express a wish
that the heir to the property should come and see us, and--but that part
is altogether too ridiculous. And as an only daughter----"

"I see," Chesney said reflectively. "The heir and yourself. It sounds
ridiculous. Now, if you had been in the least like the romantic type of
young woman, perhaps----"

"How do you know that I am not? Am I like Byron's woman: 'Seek roses in
December, ice in June.' Well, perhaps you are right. After all, one
doesn't find ice in June. However, the heir to the Goldney Park estate
and myself never met. He let the place to those awful Gosway people for
three years, and went abroad. There was not even the suspicion of a
romance. But I am curious to see the house all the same."

"Nothing easier, Miss Marsh. Let us go and see it after luncheon. The
Gosways have gone, you may take my word for that, and only a caretaker
is in possession. Will you come with me this afternoon?"

The prospect was not displeasing. Miss Marsh poised it in her mind for a
few moments. There was Chesney's education to be thought of as well. On
the whole, she decided that there might be less pleasant ways of
spending a hot August afternoon.

"I think I'll come," she said, "I want to see the old furniture and the
pictures. I love old furniture. Perhaps if the heir to the property had
gone on his knees whilst I was seated on a priceless Chippendale settee,
I might----"

"You might, but I don't think you would," Chesney interrupted. "What
ever your faults may be I am sure you are not mercenary."

"Really! How good of you! The thing that we are apt to call
depravity----"

"Is often another name for the promptings of poor human nature."

Miss Marsh turned and stared at the speaker. Really, his education was
progressing at a most amazing rate. Without the least sign of mental
distress he had delivered himself of an epigram. There was quite a
flavour of Piccadilly about it. And Chesney did not appear in the least
conscious of his achievement. Ethel rose and shook out the folds of her
dainty muslin dress.

"Isn't it getting late?" she asked. "I'm sure it is lunch time. You can
walk as far as the gate with me, and I will meet you here at three
o'clock."

She passed thoughtfully across the lawn to the house, her pretty brows
knitted in a thoughtful frown. Was she giving her pupil too much
latitude? Certainly he had begun to show symptoms of an audacious
presumption, which in the earlier days had been conspicuous by its
absence. Whereupon Miss Marsh sighed three times without being in the
least aware of the painful fact.




CHAPTER II.


"This," said Chesney, "is the Norman Tower, built by John Mainbrace, who
was the original founder of the family. The first two trees in the
avenue of oaks that leads up to the house were planted by Queen
Elizabeth. She also slept on several occasions in the house, indeed, the
bedroom she occupied is intact to this day. The Virgin Queen seemed to
pass most of her time apart from affairs of state, in occupying
bedrooms, so that the descendants of her courtiers might be able to
boast about it afterwards. Those who could not give the royal lady a
shakedown had special bedrooms fitted up and lied about them. It was an
innocent deception."

Miss Marsh eyed her pupil distrustfully. The educational progress was
flattering, and at the same time a little disturbing. She had never seen
Chesney in this gay and frivolous, not to say, excited mood before. The
man was positively glib. There were distant flashes of wit in his
discourse, too. And where did he get so close and intimate a knowledge
of the old house from?

He knew every nook and corner. He took her through the grand old park
where the herd of fallow deer were grazing, he showed her the Dutch and
Italian gardens, he knew even the history of the sun-dial on the
terrace. And yet they had not been within the house, though the great
hall door stood hospitably open. They moved at length out of the glare
of the sunshine into the grateful shadows. Glint of armour and gleam of
canvas were all there. Ethel walked along in an ecstacy of quiet
enjoyment. Rumour had not lied as to the artistic beauties of Goldney
Park. The Mainbraces must have been a tasteful family. They had it all
here from the oaken carvings of the wandering monks down through
Grinling Gibbins and Pugin, and away to Chippendale and Adam, and other
masters of the Georgian era. They came at length to the chamber sacred
to the Virgin Queen, they contemplated the glorious view from the window
in silent appreciation tinged with rapture.

"It's exquisite," Ethel said in a low voice. "If this were my house I
should be very much tempted to commit an act of sacrilege. I should want
this for my own room. I'm afraid I could not resist such an
opportunity."

"Easily done," said Chesney. "No trouble to discover from the family
archives that a mistake had been made and that Elizabeth of blessed
memory had not slept in this room. Being strong minded she preferred a
north aspect, and this is due south. You would get a reputation for
sound historical knowledge as well."

Certainly the education was progressing. But Ethel let it pass. She was
leaning out of the latticed windows with the creamy roses about her
hair, she was falling unconsciously under the glamour of the place.

"It is exquisite," she sighed. "If this were only mine!"

"Well, it is not too late. The heir will be here before long probably.
You have only to introduce the name of Mr. Mainbrace and say who you
are, and then----"

"Oh, no. If I happened to be in love with a man--what am I saying? Of
course, no girl who respects herself could possibly marry a man for the
sake of his position. Even 'Mrs. Dorothy Kent,' to whom you compared me
this morning was above that kind of thing. She married the man she loved
after all, you know. But I forgot--you did not think much of the
comedy."

"I didn't. I thought it was vague and incomplete. I am certain of it
now. This is the real thing, the other was merely artificial. And when
the hero brought 'Dorothy Kent' to the home of his ancestors he already
knew, that she loved him. And I am glad to know that you would never
marry a man like that because it gives me courage----"

"Gives you courage! Whatever for?"

"Why, to make a confession. You laughed at me just now when I presumed
to criticise your favourite modern comedy. As a matter of fact, I have
every right to criticise it. You see, I happen to be the author. I am
'John Kennedy!' I have been writing for the stage, or trying to write
for the stage for years. I got my new idea from that old wish of my
uncles that you and I should come together. It struck me as a pretty
suggestion for a comedy."

"Stop, stop," Ethel cried. "One thing at a time, if you please.
Positively you overwhelm me with surprise. In one breath you tell me
that you are 'John Kennedy' and then, without giving a poor girl a
chance, you say you are the owner of Goldney Park."

"But I didn't," Chesney protested. "I never said anything of the kind."

"No, but you inferred it. You say you got the idea from your uncle--I
mean the suggestion that you and I--oh, I really cannot say it."

"I'm afraid I'm but a poor dramatist after all," Chesney said lamely. "I
intended to keep that confession till after I had--but no matter. At any
rate, there is no getting away from the fact that my pen name is 'John
Kennedy.'"

"And you wrote 'Flies in Ointment?' And you have been laughing at me all
this time? You were amused because I took you for a simple countryman,
you whom men call the Sheridan of to-day! After all the pains I took
with your education."

Ethel's voice rose hysterically. Points of flame stood out from the
level of her memory of the past five weeks and scorched her. How this
man must have been amused, how consumedly he must have laughed at her!
And she had never guessed it, never once had she had an inkling of the
truth.

"You have behaved disgracefully, cruelly," she said unsteadily.

"I don't think so," Chesney said coolly. "After all is said and done, we
were both posing, you know. You were playing 'Mrs. Kent' to my hero. It
seemed a pity to disturb so pleasant a pastoral. And no harm has been
done."

Ethel was not quite so sure of that. But then for the nonce she was
regarding the matter from a strictly personal point of view.

"I hardly think you were playing the game," she said.

"Why not? I come down here where nobody knows me. It is my whim to keep
quiet the fact that Goldney Park belongs to me. As to my dramatic
tastes, they don't concern anybody but myself. I take a cottage down
here until those tenants of mine are ready to go. They are such utter
bounders that I have no desire to disclose my identity to them. And so
it falls about that I meet you. Then I recollect all that my uncle has
said about you. I cultivate your acquaintance. It wasn't my fault that
you took me for a countryman with no idea beyond riding a horse and
shooting a pheasant. Your patronage was very pretty and pleasing, and I
am one of those men who always laughs or cries inside. It is, perhaps, a
misfortune that I can always joke with a grave face. But don't forget
that the man who laughs inside is also the man who bleeds inside, and
these feel the worse. Come, Ethel, you are not going to be angry because
you have lost the game playing with your own weapons."

The education was finished, the schoolmaster was abroad--very much
abroad. In his cool, masterful way Chesney had taken matters into his
own hands. He was none the less handsome because he looked so stern, so
sure of his ground.

"You are a man and I am a woman," she faltered.

"Of course, how could the comedy proceed otherwise? Now where shall we
move these Elizabethan relics? After what you said just now they could
not possibly remain here. Among the family archives I dare say----"

Chesney paused, he was conscious of the fact that two large diamond
drops were stealing down Ethel's cheeks. It seemed the most natural
thing in the world for him to cross over and take her hands in his.

"My dear child, what have I said to pain you," he said. "I am truly
sorry."

"You--you take too much for granted," Ethel sobbed. "You make me feel so
small and silly. And you have no right to assume that I--I could care
for anybody simply because he happens to possess a p--p--place like
Goldney Park----"

"But, my darling, I didn't. I was delighted when you said just now that
you would never marry a man you did not care for, even if he could give
you Chippendale for breakfast, so to speak. I watched your face then. I
am sure that you were speaking from the bottom of your heart. I have
been watching you for the last five weeks, my sweetheart. And they have
been the happiest weeks in my life."

"Laughing at me, I suppose. It's all the same if you do laugh inside."

"No, I don't think I laughed," Chesney said thoughtfully. "I only know
that I have been very much charmed. And besides, see how useful it has
been to me to be in a position to hear all the weak points in my
literary armour. When I come to write my next comedy it will be far in
advance of 'Flies in Ointment.' I have learnt so much of human nature,
you see."

Ethel winked the tears from her lids, her eyes were all the brighter for
the passing shower, like a sky in April, Chesney thought. A smile was on
her face, her lips were parted. As a lover Chesney was charming. She
wondered how she was playing her part. But she need not have had any
anxiety. There was nothing wanting in the eyes of the man opposite, and
his face said so.

"You are going to put me into it?" she asked.

"Why, of course. There is no other woman so far as I can see. Why are
you pulling my roses to pieces like that? Do you know that that
rose-tree was planted a hundred years ago by Thomas a'Beckett, after the
battle of Agincourt? My dear, I am so happy that I could talk nonsense
all day. And I say, Ethel----"

The girl broke off one of the creamy roses and handed it shyly to
Chesney.

"Vae victis," she said with a flushing smile. "It is yours. You have
conquered."

"Yes, but I want all the fruits of victory. I ask for a hand and you
give me a rose. Am I not going to have the hand as well as the rose,
dear?"

He had the hand and the rose and the slender waist, he drew her towards
him in his strong, masterful way, and his lips lay on hers in a
lingering pressure. It was a long time before the girl looked up, then
her eyes were full of shy happiness.

"What are you thinking about, darling?" Chesney asked.

"'Mrs. Kent,'" Ethel said demurely. "I know now why she met her master.
And I know now why I met mine. And the new comedy----"

"Will be played out here between you and me, and it will never be
written for the sake of a dull and indiscriminating public, sweetheart.
I'll play my part----"

"And I'll try to play mine," Ethel whispered, as she laid her head
cosily on the shoulder of her lover. "I will not be very original, Jack,
and I hope you will not be disappointed."

"No fear," Jack said pithily. "No fear of that--'Mrs. Kent.'"


THE END



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