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Title: Mignonette
Author: Marjorie Bowen (writing as Joseph Shearing)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Mignonette

by

Marjorie Bowen
(writing as Joseph Shearing)

Cover Image

First US edition: Harper Co., New York, 1948
First UK edition: William Heineman Ltd., London, 1949



PRODUCTION NOTE

There are two "parts" in the paper book from which this ebook was made. No chapter headings are indicated. A few words of capitalised text mark the beginning of each "section."

Numbered sections have been added to this ebook, at the point of each occurrence of capitalised text, to aid in navigation. The capitalised text has been replaced with appropriate upper and lower case text.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Part 1.
§ 1
§ 2
§ 3
§ 4
§ 5
§ 6
§ 7
§ 8
§ 9
§ 10
§ 11
§ 12
§ 13
§ 14
§ 15
§ 16
§ 17
§ 18
§ 19
§ 20
§ 21
§ 22
§ 23
§ 24
§ 25
§ 26
§ 27
Part 2
§ 28
§ 29
§ 30
§ 31
§ 32
§ 33
§ 34
§ 35
§ 36
§ 37
§ 38
§ 39
§ 40
§ 41
§ 42
§ 43
§ 44
§ 45
§ 46
§ 47
§ 48
§ 49
§ 50
§ 51
§ 52
§ 53
§ 54
§ 55
§ 56
§ 57
§ 58
§ 59
§ 60
§ 61
§ 62
§ 63
§ 64
§ 65
§ 66
§ 67
§ 68



PART 1.


§ 1

"Leave well alone, my dear Miss Lawne."

"But perhaps we are leaving evil alone," replied the lady, smiling.

"In that case also, have nothing to do with it."

"I mean that we may be allowing evil to happen when we could prevent it," she urged softly.

"In either case it is meddling," the lawyer persisted. "All is arranged, provided for."

"Too much an arrangement and a provision, nothing left to love, affection, family ties."

"You think that I advise according to my profession. Why, so I do, but also as your friend and the friend of your late father."

"I know you do so." A warm sentiment showed in her fair features. "But I have been thinking for days over this case, ever since I knew of it." She paused, then added emphatically, "A marriage contrived through a matrimonial agency is revolting—not to be endured."

"French custom allows it, as you know. In this case, all parties are agreed—the girl, her mother, the man."

"Oh, I understand it is their way, but to us—how disgusting!"

"Why should not this marriage be as satisfactory as the thousands of others made in like fashion? It is particularly suitable for a young lady whose birth is irregular and who cannot hope for entry into any social circle."

"She is to be married for her money—that is what is so distasteful."

"It happens everywhere. Your father has been generous, the lady has been well educated and has the dowry without which marriage in France would be impossible for her."

"But she is only eighteen years of age and has had no chance. Why this haste to dispose of her entire future?"

Mr. Bompast smiled indulgently. He found this tender feminine caprice endearing, but still, what Barbara Lawne was proposing was, as he had said, meddling, and he repeated his advice against such imprudence, adding, "Your father would not have wished it."

Barbara Lawne had no immediate answer to this objection. The wishes of the dead had, she knew, a leaden weight, but her father had not expressed any with regard to this secret daughter who had been so carefully hidden. He had merely acknowledged her in his will, left her five thousand pounds and an allowance of three hundred pounds a year to her mother.

"A sufficiently heavy charge on your fortune," remarked Mr. Born-past, "is made by these ladies. You have no obligation toward them."

"I know, of course. As for the money, of course again, I do not grudge it. As sole heiress I can afford it, besides, there my father lays commands. He does not restrict me as to how much further I might go. Indeed, perhaps he trusted me to go much further—in affection and kindness."

"He never spoke to you of these ladies," the lawyer reminded her carefully. "Had he wished you to become intimate he could have, at least, told you of their existence."

"My mother died but five years ago, and since then my father was ailing, sick, closed away—perhaps he would have liked to have told me."

"Mr. Lawne, even when ill, never lacked decision of character," replied the lawyer. "Had he wished you to know, he would have told you."

"Yet he makes no concealment in his will, he was aware that one day I should know."

"The dead are readily forgiven."

"That might apply to my mother, not to me."

"You do not feel that you have anything to forgive?"

"You stress the point, Mr. Bompast. No, I do not. I feel bewildered, even after thinking of this for three months. Shall we go out? We seem to have talked so long."

The lawyer readily followed her out of the French windows onto the verandah of the small hotel that ran the entire length of the one-story building. This gave onto a slope of well-kept turf surrounded by bushes of myrtle, poets' laurel, and groups of ash and beech trees that were broken by rocks that led to the shore, on which a springtime sea slowly rippled.

The city man found the scene soft and that it had an exotic air of luxury, extremely agreeable. The celebrated Undercliff was all, he considered, that it was claimed to be, a retreat from the cares and dullness of urban life. The ocean breeze blew sweetly on his face, with a delicate hint of perfume from the flowers that grew with such uncommon richness in these sheltered coves, helping to gain for the Isle of Wight the name of the Madeira of England. The cloudless heavens and the unflecked sea were overspread by a pale silver haze that seemed to diffuse a balmy essence over the prospect. There was an air of holiday abroad, of children playing, of invalids languorously returning to health, of all the dreary commonplace of everyday being stayed and put aside.

But Barbara Lawne in her cumbersome suit of black mourning seemed out of place. Her youth was eclipsed, the luster of her gentle beauty tarnished, by this parade of grief. The lawyer, whose profession so often brought him in touch with death, wished that its visits could be disposed of more quickly as they were so frequent. It seemed time for one so good, patient, and pretty as Barbara Lawne to taste something of the livelier side of life. She had lost a brother and a sister through the sudden maladies of childhood. Her drooping mother had, during years of undefined illness, claimed her services, then died slowly, and Barbara had barely been out of mourning for her before she had had to nurse her father. Now she was free, rich, and had escaped from the large somber house in Portsmouth to the Sandy-rock Hotel, but Mr. Bompast thought she did not know what to do with her freedom, and was weighed down by her bombazine and crape. He remembered also that she was twenty-seven years of age, and that devotion to her parents had caused her to refuse to entertain any offers of marriage.

"Pray," he insisted on a warm impulse, "do not concern yourself with these French ladies. Leave that to me."

Barbara sighed, as if regretting the necessity of being obstinate. "It is not in my power to forget them, Mr. Bompast. The daughter, at least, is my concern whether I like it or not."

The lawyer found no answer. The fact that he had always known she would take this revelation generously did not decrease his admiration for her behavior. She was showing, he considered, a rare Christian charity in her attitude toward this startling secret.

She had said that she was, after several months of reflection on the matter, still bewildered.

Mr. Bompast could understand that; he had been Edward Lawne's friend as well as his lawyer, but even so had no clear comprehension of what tale of whim or passion lay behind the birth of this girl, now by his will acknowledged by the dead man, whose mother was to receive a pension, who was herself to be handsomely dowered. Mr. Bompast had written to the Frenchwoman at the address he had found in the will and had received a reply in crabbed English. Madame Falconet knew of the sum to be paid by Mr. Lawne upon his daughter's marriage, and in expectation of it, a suitable match had been arranged through a respectable agency. Death, it seemed, had made no difference to this transaction. Edward Lawne could hardly have transferred so large a sum to his daughter without the knowledge of Mr. Bompast, but he had died without speaking of it and the lawyer had had to make the best he could of the bequest, Madame Falconet's colorless letter, and its implication that Edward Lawne had approved of the marriage the Frenchwoman had already settled.

Barbara had from the first said that the whole affair seemed heartless, a washing of the hands of an affair of honor. Something more than money was due.

And the lawyer had reminded her that her father had never seen this daughter, nor met her mother for many years, for it was long since he had left England, and not possible that the Frenchwoman had visited the well-ordered household in Portsmouth.

It was at this point they were now, as they stood on the verandah of the little hotel and looked with a touch of laziness at the scene that to both of them, the elderly man used to his busy cabinet and precise bachelor rooms, and the young woman used to sickness and a domestic routine, had the allure and sparkle of the outlandish, the fantastical, a fairy tale.

The few strollers in their summer clothes were idling, the children with balloons or kites, erratic in the capricious breeze, the boats on the silver blue of the sea seemed idle too, the sails hardly stirred, they seemed to be drifting.

"Leave well alone," repeated Mr. Bompast. After all the debate, everything he had to argue was summed up in these trite words. "Madame Falconet has not asked for anything beyond what your father's will leaves her."

"You always speak of Madame Falconet, I always think of the daughter."

"You are willful, my dear," smiled Mr. Bompast. "I speak of the mother because I know how French girls are brought up—she will not even desire a will of her own, everything is in the mother's hands."

"She is a human being, whatever the customs of her country! Could you not discover something about her—and the mother?"

Barbara Lawne had asked him this before and he had no different answer to give her now. Such an action would be meddling in another person's affairs. It would mean the employment of agents or spies.

"Even if I went myself to Paris, should I learn anything of them from a formal interview?" the lawyer asked again. "This Madame Falconet is circumspect, as appears from her letter and the fact that she has administered the funds for herself and her daughter all these years."

"Perhaps my father advised her, they may have corresponded," suggested Barbara, and thought, He could have received letters at his office, but shrank from the idea.

"Certainly he handled much of his business himself; he was a resolute, a secretive man, though in all honorable."

Barbara looked at him quickly, almost reproachfully. His comment, spoken in obvious good faith, condoned the intolerable offense against her mother, even against herself. While they had all seemed bound together by uprightness, faith, and understanding, there had been this secret woman, this secret child, secretly pensioned. And Edward Lawne had been a church warden of St. Peter's, and Sunday after Sunday had faced the board on which were written the Ten Commandments, at first with his wife by his side, then with her name on the mural tablet above that which commemorated his children.

The lawyer did not notice the glance. He liked and respected Barbara Lawne, he did not want her to be entangled with foreigners, with dubious women, with anything painful and furtive.

He could not form any opinion of Madame Falconet, neither of her birth, her character, her appearance. All was a blank to him. He did not know if she was married, the title might be honorary. He did not know how she explained herself, or her daughter, nor how she had, nineteen years ago, met Edward Lawne, whose business as a shipbroker took him, as a younger man, to foreign ports with sojourns in foreign cities. Nor did he feel it his duty to inquire into these matters. The affaire, he used a decorous word even in his mind, was long over, the child provided for, and how better than by a marriage—"suitable" the mother had termed it—where her assumed or doubtful name would be replaced by that of her husband, some careful Frenchman, well paid to overlook his wife's lack of pedigree?

So Constant Bompast, after the first shock of astonishment, would have left the subject of Madame Falconet and her daughter, without even much interest or curiosity, for in the course of his profession he had come upon many bizarre stories and learned not to concern himself in any of them beyond the legal details that were his work.

He regarded Barbara Lawne's interest in these two unknown women as fanciful, feminine, romantic.

"Now, the formalities of the marriage are completed, it only remains to transfer the money to the notary appointed by Madame Falconet."

"Write first," said Barbara impulsively. "And ask some details—of the man, the settlement."

The lawyer sighed.

"I was hoping to avoid that question. Madame Falconet has given me all these particulars."

"And you never told me!"

"I did not want to speak of it at all—it is really dull. Madame Falconet sent me a large dossier, references, legalities, all exact. The man is young, of a good family. The dowry is to be settled on Mademoiselle, but she will lend some of her capital to her husband at a low rate of interest. There is nothing to be argued about."

"How distasteful!" exclaimed Barbara.

Mr. Bompast supposed she was confused by the candor of the set terms, her own mother had brought her father a fortune that had purchased wharves and shipyards. But in England there was always a sentimental gloss over matrimony.

"So you see," he said, with what he hoped was a final air, "there is nothing that you can do."

She perceived that he would not talk any more of this and was silent. She even thought that he was wise—men were obviously wiser than women in all worldly concerns—and that it would be advisable "to leave well alone," as he argued, and not to interfere in lives that seemed so carefully, so neatly settled.

Yet this stranger with a name like a posy of flowers, Aimée-Violette-Marguerite Falconet, was her half sister, and Barbara was lonely, a little desolate, lately robbed of that fondness that she had taken for love and reduced to a paid companion to ease her solitude.

They had now crossed the turf and passed between the bushes of myrtles, the sea was close before them; behind the cliff rose steeply, sheltering the little hotel.

A new road ran between the rocks and trees and there Mr. Born-past's carriage, square, open, and furnished with linen curtains, waited to take him back to the White Lion in the village of Niton, where he was glad to linger for a night before returning to Portsmouth.

"I hope there are no more papers for me to sign," said Barbara. The banality of the remark and her reserved smile closed the subject of the Falconets.

Relieved, Mr. Bompast in his turn commented on the improvements in the island since his last visit some years ago, the new plantations, the splendid gentlemen's seats to be glimpsed between the trees, the excellent roads, all of which, amid a scenery sometimes soft and sometimes rugged, had the effect of some magical transformation, as if groves, villas, and gardens had been conjured into place overnight.

"It is very pleasant," agreed Barbara. "I dread the prospect of returning to Stone Hall—perhaps I shall ask you to sell it for me."

"I could get a good price for it," he smiled, and he thought, How much sickness, how many deaths she has seen in that gloomy old mansion. She ought never to go back to it. She ought to get married.

To cover this reflection that he felt might show in his pause, in his expression, for she was looking at him fixedly, as if challenging his opinion of her, he said, "Whose house is that? The park overhangs the cliff."

He did not expect her to know, he had intended only a distraction, but she replied at once.

"Sir Timothy Boys—it is named Mirabile and is in the Italian taste. Miss Atwood desires to see it, so I have sent in a note to Sir Timothy—my father knew him slightly."

Mr. Bompast thought that this was agreeable and said so. Barbara Lawne had returned to her usual manner of a charming lady whose placid temperament lent a luster to her polished manner. He hoped, as he drove off in his little carriage, that she would not again ruffle herself or him with uneasy and perhaps dangerous concerns over these foreigners, who could be forgotten by ignoring them. That had been Edward Lawne's way, by cutting out of his life the consequence of some rash flightiness, he had effaced them. Save for that sudden declaration in the will, it was as if they had never existed. Money had squared that account. The lawyer hoped that Barbara would continue to allow it to be a matter of money and that the Falconets need never be mentioned again. But Barbara had turned away along the path that led up the slope between the walls of Mirabile and the grounds of the hotel, thinking of nothing but her half sister.

How expect a man and a lawyer to understand? She regretted that she had disclosed her heart to him; she had done so in the hope that he would be of use, and he had done nothing, indeed, she felt, was resolved to do nothing.

For herself, she had no guile, and no knowledge of anything beyond what had happened in her own confined existence, passed with people much older than herself, for she was the last child of a late marriage, and in a narrow society where she had made few friends.

As she sensed the holiday world about her she was stirred by some indefinable nostalgia for what had never been, the light joyousness of youth, adventures of the spirit and of the heart. The laughing child flying the fluttering kite of rose-colored paper seemed herself as she had never been, and so did the young girl in her pale new gown, leaning on her husband's arm.

These trembling dreams that were almost formless were overlaid by sharp memories of deaths and illness, of medical men and nurses, of brief visits from acquaintances who left fruit and flowers and were relieved to escape from hushed rooms and the odor of medicine. Memories of other flowers also, formal wreaths and crosses of white blooms that appeared never to have been grown anywhere, so unnatural seeming were they with black-edged cards attached and streamers of crepe.

All these memories were shut in by the gray bulk of Stone Hall in the gray-walled garden, the large ill-lit rooms, the high ceilings, the heavy furniture, the shut-up nursery, the disused schoolroom, the cupboards of toys and lesson-books belonging to dead children.

She had half-wondered, sometimes, why her grandfather had ever built such a place and why her parents lived in it, and what force it was that held them in this colorless routine when they had the means to alter it. But custom, tradition, and a natural timidity had always overcome these faint stirrings of rebellion in Barbara's unawakened heart. She had little with which to compare her life in Stone Hall, only the existences borne by her father's clerks and workmen that she winced to contemplate, and half-stories told by sea captains who dined at her father's table and which gave her stray sparkles of worlds so far away—India, Cuba, Madagascar, the Barbary Coast.

She must have been ten years of age when her father had brought her a silver-embossed casket from Paris, and the coromandel wood desk for her mother.

She recalled clearly his few gifts and his frequent remark, not without a bitter reflection on the sharp loss of his son, "When I am gone you will have everything."

Yes, that must have been the date nineteen years ago, when her father had met Madame Falconet—or, perhaps, he had known her for a long while before the birth of the child.

Barbara could not conceive this situation realistically. She could not imagine how such relationships began, how any woman could be approached with any offer below that of marriage, how the birth of a child out of wedlock could be contrived, how money could pass on such a matter, how a clandestine correspondence could be undertaken. Her father had taught her that lying was sinful and punished her for childish untruths, and now he was revealed as one who had engaged for a lifetime, yes, for the lifetime of Aimée-Violette-Marguerite, in an elaborate deception.

She flinched from judgment of the dead and reflected again, vaguely, on the prettiness of these names.

Mr. Bompast had not been favorably impressed by them, he said they were theatrical and showed the girl's origin; no family names, the saint's name last.

Probably the girl had been educated in a convent, Mr. Bompast had remarked on that, adding: "That will help to make her different in all from you."

Barbara paused in the hotel verandah, and leaned against one of the supports, now clad with a close-clipped, rosy-leaved creeping plant.

The prospect was very pleasant—the smooth sea, the placid sky, the fresh green of trees and shrubs, flushed with rich hues of amber and gold in the breaking buds, the beds of purple iris, lavender-hued primula, and pale blue hyacinth, bordered with the stiff pink of thrift, had the carefree air of an ordered peace soothing to Barbara's spirit, fatigued by monotony and sadness.

She even forgot, standing there at ease, that faint sense of being set apart, of belonging to no one, that had at first troubled her. A pang for a lost childhood, for a youth fast being lost, for dull in meekly doing her duty, the envy, wholly without malice, of the romping child, the newly married girl, the young mother with her babies.

She ceased to think of time steadily flowing away, as the sands flowed away in the hourglass, that frightening symbol of mortality.

Instead, she paused, and her dreams steadied about her into a tremulous satisfaction with the quiet scene, the sunshine, the first flowers of the year, the warm breeze upon her face.

And with this relaxation of her anxieties came a resolve to have done with the niceties she had herself raised, as to Madame Falconet and her daughter. She would leave them, as Mr. Bompast advised, alone. It was her father's affair. He had succeeded in keeping it from her mother, at the cost of lies, but he had succeeded and doubtless paid for his success by much secret and acrid remorse and self-contempt.

His account was now in other hands, reflected Barbara with a chilled recognition of the awful God she had always accepted without believing in, and she must go her way and take up her own life.

She turned into the little parlor with the French windows that she had hired for her particular use.

Caroline Atwood was at the desk. Barbara was glad to see her comely and elegant person, who always had the air of reassuring everyone that all was well with the world, and life worth living.

Distantly connected with the late Priscilla Lawne, Caroline Atwood, left with straitened means and uncultivated talents, had never lacked a comfortable livelihood as companion in the homes of relatives or friends.

"Oh, Caroline!" exclaimed Barbara on an impulse born of the easy day, the pleasant woman, the resolution to have done with trouble, "Could we not go abroad somewhere? Switzerland, or even Italy? We could sketch," she added, as if excusing her boldness, "and keep a diary and learn languages."

Caroline Atwood looked at her kindly.

"Why, Barbara, what an excellent proposal. You should have been abroad before. I always thought that you were kept too close."

"You'll come then?" Barbara flushed with excitement. Why had she never thought of this before? She had been weighed down with futile grief, with senseless speculations.

"My dear, how vexing! I should have liked it above everything. I know the Continent pretty well, but I had a letter this morning from Marian Savile and she wants me at once."

"Need you go?"

"I must. It is extremely sad. Her eldest girl is threatened with a consumption and ordered to Teignmouth. Another baby is expected in the summer, and Marian is distracted."

Barbara, though naturally sympathetic, felt unreasonable.

"Oh, Caroline, I am so grieved, but could not Marian find someone else? You are promised to me."

"We said six weeks, dear, and it is now three months. I never supposed you would want me much longer. Of course, I shall not leave you immediately, but I don't see how I could go abroad in face of this appeal from Marian."

"Of course," Barbara agreed quickly. "How selfish of me to have tried to detain you. After all, it was only a sudden thought, a whim I suppose Mr. Bompast would call it. I had no idea of going abroad even ten minutes ago."

"But you should go," replied Caroline Atwood warmly. "It is the most natural suggestion in the world. You have been moped so long in that great house."

"But I have no one to go with," smiled Barbara.

"Oh, there are any number of ladies who would be so delighted."

"I don't know of one."

"An advertisement—an agency."

"No, I could not. That would mean a stranger."

"Then perhaps you would travel with Harding as a maid."

"Poor Harding! She would be frightened into spasms at leaving Portsmouth and so, perhaps, should I. No, if you cannot come, Caroline, I shall not think of it. You are so clever and managing and know how to deal with couriers and hotels."

Miss Atwood was distressed. She was accustomed to people disputing her capable services, but this time it was a sharp conflict of duties that the conscientious woman felt. She liked Barbara Lawne and realized her loneliness, a situation for which Miss Atwood blamed her parents, but she had not expected to remain with her for more than a short time, and her heart was with Marian Savile, daughter of her dearest friend.

She thought, too, shrewdly, Barbara ought not to be so dependent on me just because she knows me. She ought to meet other people and shake off her timidity and unworldliness.

Aloud, she said, "I wish I had told you of Marian's letter at breakfast. I did not want to distract you before you saw Mr. Bompast."

"Of course it does not matter. I was selfish. Poor little Jane! Indeed you must go."

"But you must not alter your plans either, Barbara. It will really do you good to get rid of me. You must see some company."

"I think I am too old to change my ways."

"You soon will be if you talk like that," replied Miss Atwood briskly. "I am sure that you have worried too much over everything. There is much that you have not yet taken into account."

"Surely I have considered all," said Barbara rather wearily. "Mr. Bompast is most thorough."

"And so are you, I'm sure, in all business matters. But have you given any consideration to the fact that you are a very rich woman?"

"I know there is a large fortune. I am selling the business and all the assets. But this makes little difference to me. I have always had all I wanted."

"That is not true," said Miss Atwood cheerfully. "Money is more important than you suppose—remember that you are not only rich, you are free."

"I certainly had never thought of myself as free-only as lonely," said Barbara.

"No, how could you? So strictly kept and with such burdensome duties. You know, I ventured to tell your parents years ago that they should have given you a brighter sort of existence with more company."

Barbara was silent. "Years ago" had a dismal sound, as if the best of youth had flown.

"Of course I was reproved," smiled Miss Atwood. "They did not wish to alter their habits. I suppose that they never really recovered from the loss of the elder children."

"Mother was not well, and shrank from society."

"I know. It wasn't fair to keep you so enclosed. Your father once told me that he detested matchmakers, and after that I never felt welcome at Stone Hall."

"Were you trying to make a match for me?" smiled Barbara.

"I was not so far presumptuous. I merely made a suggestion that some genteel young men should be entertained at Stone Hall."

Again Barbara was silent. To have married and escaped—perhaps ten years ago. Aimée-Violette was marrying soon after her eighteenth birthday. And when her father had harshly put aside this kind advice, he must have been conducting his foreign and underhand intrigue.

"Is there not anyone with whom you could stay?" asked Miss Atwood, mentally running over some of her long list of acquaintances. "The Elliotts, Mrs. Bryant, the Mollisons, with a charming daughter your own age? The Bethertons?"

"Oh, pray!" laughed Barbara nervously. "I am out of touch with all those people. And do not concern yourself with me, Caroline. You must go to Marian Savile as soon as you can."

"In a week or so. There are a thousand things to attend to, in this removal to the seaside."

"And I must return to Portsmouth," said Barbara with an assumed air of energy. "There is so much to be settled. Here, with nothing to do, one feels lazy."

"It is excellent for you to feel lazy and to be lazy. This is a charming spot and you should remain here, everyone is very genteel and friendly, and with Harding it would be perfectly decorous."

"I'll see," replied Barbara, anxious not to be pushed to a decision. "Oh, I had a note, brought in while Mr. Bompast was here, from Sir Timothy Boys, giving a courteous permission to see over his villa. Do you still care to go?"

Miss Atwood, disturbed by her friend's sad letter, was no longer in the mood for sight-seeing, and Barbara had only written to Sir Timothy in order to pleasure Miss Atwood so neither of the ladies now wished to undertake this little expedition. But both thought that it would be discourteous not to visit Mirabile after asking permission to do so.

"There are supposed to be some marvelous Italian pictures there," said Barbara, making the best of tedium and thinking how little she cared for Italian pictures or, indeed, for anything she was likely to see in Mirabile. "Sir Timothy," she continued, "is an agreeable kind of man. He came to see father about the buying of some figureheads from old men o' war, Dido, I recall, Neptune, and a White Lion."

"Why, what should he need them for asked Miss Atwood, always interested in oddities.

"I think to set up in his grounds, in some place he has in Wiltshire or Hampshire. I suppose he is rich, quite old, and his wife just dead then, about four years ago."

"You are nothing of a gossip!" exclaimed Miss Atwood good-humoredly. "You hardly notice anything, and never remember anything."

"Why, what is the interest? So many elderly men came to dinner or luncheon, just once, on business."

"But I daresay they were sometimes droll or entertaining, and had wives and families."

"You know, we never entertained, so what was the use of concerning oneself with occasional visitors?"

And Barbara reflected, While we had that dull life, there was Madame Falconet and her child growing up in France.

She fancied that country as a fabulous region, golden, radiant, shimmering; the Frenchwoman and her daughter as beings of an unearthly brightness, though she had never ventured to voice this foolishness to Mr. Bompast.


§ 2

"Rich and free," Barbara repeated to herself. It was hard to accept the meaning of the words. There was no one to thwart her, to scold her, to warn her, to advise her; there was only Mr. Bompast who had no authority over her and whose dry prudence would be ignored.

She could not even be checked if she did anything eccentric.

Her heart glowed at this reflection. She sat at the desk Caroline Atwood had just left and swiftly wrote a note to Sir Timothy Boys thanking him for his civility and asking if they might call at Mirabile on the afternoon of the following day. Then she at once forgot about this, drew a little ivory-covered pocketbook from the net of black silk at her waist, opened it and read with eager eyes a minutely penciled entry:

Madame Falconet, Rue Arques-la-Bataille 8, Paris.

Replacing the diary, she took a sheet of writing paper from the stand, repeated to herself "Rich and free," and began to write, "My dear Aimée."


§ 3

The letter had been sent on an impulse. Barbara was soon alarmed at what she had done. She would have recalled her action if she could. She was relieved that it had not committed her to much, but had been tentative, a mere suggestion of a meeting, of a postponement of Aimée's marriage until other possible plans could be discussed, a hint that Aimée might come to visit Stone Hall—"I am sure that could be arranged."

Had not Caroline Atwood reminded her that she was rich and free, she would not have written to Aimée. Had Caroline Atwood been able to go abroad with her, she would not have written. Had she not sensed in this holiday retreat her own youth passing unregarded, she would not have written.

She made a fine issue of it, assuring herself that she acted in deference to her father's unexpressed desire. He had been silent, leaving all to her judgment, but he had certainly expected the generous gesture from her, or so she tried to persuade herself, but after all she knew little of the real nature of that reserved man, who had given her his name, his money, a protected life, a narrow education, and nothing else.

The French girl would answer formally, of course. There was nothing else that she could do, and there would be an end of the matter.

Meanwhile she shyly grasped at daydreams: Aimée responding warmly; Aimée visiting her in Portsmouth; Stone Hall refurnished for her use; young company invited for her entertainment; everything that she had missed herself provided for the loving sister. "It would be an object in life," she thought, then was startled at this unconscious admission that her existence was futile now that no one any longer needed her as a patient nurse, a docile companion, a careful housekeeper.

She wished she could explain her dilemma to the kind common sense of Caroline Atwood, but did not dare to do so. No one must ever know of the existence of Madame Falconet. If the daughter ever came to England some fiction must account for her, but of course, precisely because of this, she would never visit, probably never see Barbara.

The letter had ignored the mother. Barbara had not had the tact or the courage to touch on that, and now she realized that this omission made her friendly overture a mockery. Aimée might indeed refuse to reply to a letter that passed no courtesy to the one parent to whom she felt loyalty and love.

Mr. Bompast had assured Barbara of that—Madame Falconet had made it plain in her letter—"the girl is devoted to her mother, who has told her who her father is and the circumstances of her birth."

Considering this, Barbara was ashamed of her awkwardness, yet how could she, remembering her own mother, as much as mention Madame Falconet?

I wish I had not written. She tied on her hat, and adjusted her black veil, with resigned discontent.

The sunshine was so balmy, all the prospect so inviting, and she was apart from all of it, even the pellucid light fell dully on her lusterless bombazine. As if swallowed into the shadow of her mourning, the unpolished jet of her brooch and deep square bracelet gave no sparkle. She glanced with distaste at the reflection of her finely cut, rather broad features, with the narrow shortsighted eyes, and the hazel-colored hair, dressed in an old fashion by Harding. Pale, without emphasis or meaning, those features looked to her, in the long mirror that showed her full-length figure, like the fashion plate of a lady in full mourning.

Caroline Atwood tapped at her door and entered. Accustomed to chaperon the orphan and the widowed, she was dressed discreetly in gray, but her cheerful face and delicate appointments, her air of breeding and purpose, made her appearance at once self-contained and entertaining.

"We shall be late, Barbara, and as Sir Timothy is to be our cicerone himself—"

"Oh, I wish he were not! We should be done quicker with a servant!"

"Why, Barbara, I would never have asked to go if I had known you thought of the visit as tedious."

"It is not that especially, but merely that I have no heart for anything."

"You must be done with that moping. Come, even to see this place will distract you. Consider, you could build yourself such another if you wished."

Barbara thought of Aimée, or the tender dream to which she had given the name of "Beloved," enshrined in a charming holiday villa like Mirabile, or was it herself as she had been ten years ago that she saw in that quickly dismissed vision?

"It would not interest me," she smiled.

They left the hotel and took the sloping path through the grounds to the Niton road. As they turned along this toward the handsome iron gates that shut off the little fanciful domain of Mirabile, they could see to the right some of the scenery of the Undercliff that visitors to the island termed romantic, and that many considered was being spoiled by the building of genteel pleasure seats.

An ancient landslide had here broken the rock into steep knolls and sunken dells, boulders of naked stone having been tossed over the surface of the precipice that fell directly to the shore, and directly overhung the blue, hazy ocean.

Caroline Atwood stepped a little out of her way to view this gloomy ledge of rock that leaned forward and shadowed the road, and seemed to be the entrance to another region from that of the neat, flowering hotel garden, and one of wild, barren ruin, in bold contrast to the clear weather that tinged sky and sea with so deep and beautiful an azure.

"It is very striking!" exclaimed Miss Atwood. "So luxuriant a villa placed near so wild a prospect, and with so wide a view over the ocean! The house is quite hidden by groves, and the gardens are richly designed. See, the gates are open."

The ladies entered the grounds of Mirabile, on which taste and money had been liberally expended. All the shrubs and plants that flourished in this soft climate expanded early leaves and blossoms, protected by the high stone walls and the noble clusters of pines, all that remained of the former house and grounds that had been destroyed to give place to Mirabile.

The villa mansion soon appeared before them, at the end of a trim carriage road, with groups of fine beech trees either side the gray stone frontage elegantly adorned with Corinthian pilasters.

A precise terrace stretched either side of the porticoed door, and there Sir Timothy Boys waited for the ladies with a courtesy touched by eagerness.

Barbara thought at once, with a pang of surprise, Why, he is lonely also.

As she greeted him she observed that he was younger than she had remembered him to be; a man who could scarcely be termed elderly, but who might be taken as being in the prime of life. This was largely owing to his erect and graceful bearing, and his healthful look; his hair that had been reddish was still abundant, of an ashy rust color, his complexion florid, his features aquiline.

He thanked the two ladies for their visit that, he declared gratefully, broke the monotony of his days on the island, "where I know few people," he said, "nor indeed am I much fitted for a social life since the death of my wife for whom this villa was designed."

"It makes a charming memorial to Lady Boys," said Miss Atwood cheerfully, and entering the hall she added, easily and prettily, clever and civil comments on the pictures, statues, and tapestry that adorned the small but sumptuous vestibule.

Barbara thought, How sad even a place like this is when one is alone—it is as dreary as Stone Hall. He is still grieving for his wife. I wish I had not come.

"It is rather too luxurious for a holiday retreat," remarked Sir Timothy, opening the door of a round drawing room with green-watered satin on the walls and Spanish furniture in ebony and mother-of-pearl, "but my wife amused herself with the appointments and the collections."

Barbara agreed that it was very rich, handsomely proportioned, and well arranged, and Miss Atwood made some critical observations on the two opulent portraits by Anthony Van Dyck that hung either side of the yellow alabaster mantelpiece, an ancestor and ancestress of the late Lady Boys, "and she much resembled him," Sir Timothy remarked, glancing at the painted cavalier, a youth with soft, fair features.

So they proceeded through the villa mansion that had many features, both commodious and curious, and which was embellished with many treasures of virtue.

But Barbara took no pleasure in any of it; she saw only a home built for a dying woman, one that had never been lived in. She wanted to escape into the sunshine, to return to the trim and modest hotel that was so much more in keeping with the English scene than the exotic splendors of Mirabile.

Sir Timothy conducted them to an upper room where there was, he promised, a superb view over the uplands and beech woods at the back of the villa estate.

This room was arranged as a studio or workshop, and seated at a table covered with drawings and books was a young man who resembled Sir Timothy in coloring and figure.

"My nephew, Francis Shermandine."

Miss Atwood was easy over the introduction, but Barbara, who had supposed the house empty save for servants, was embarrassed. The room and the young man were different from anything she had seen in the villa mansion. It was like walking into a picture.

Francis Shermandine also seemed surprised. He put his papers aside with a hurried hand and colored slightly as he rose. His expression was thoughtful and his eyes brilliant. He soon recovered complete composure and expressed a civil welcome.

"We have so few visitors," he smiled, as if in excuse of his flurried spirits.

Barbara smiled also, she felt now not only that she entered a picture, but another life. She moved forward into a pulsing shaft of sunlight and felt warmed to the heart.

"My nephew is an architect," explained Sir Timothy with pride, and Barbara knew that there was a close attachment between the two men. Her pleased glance fell on the drawings, and in the flowing pencil lines she recognized dream vistas, perspectives and palaces.

"We disturb you in order to see the view," said Miss Atwood, and Francis Shermandine stood aside to allow them to gaze through the large window. They saw sunny uplands, deep glades, the misted sheen of young golden leaves of beech and oak, the uncertain purple of the distance and the tender azure of the summer sky, set off in the foreground by the villa garden with the clusters of rich flowers planted with a care disguised as idle grace beneath blossoming shrubs. Across this scene, and they appeared incongruous, flew sea birds in strong flight, flashing pearl-colored pinions in the radiant air.

Miss Atwood realized that she was being asked to admire cunning landscape gardening, and her praise was discriminate as she discussed charming aspects of the scene with the man who had planned it for the delight of a dead woman.

Barbara stood silent by Francis Shermandine. She was more conscious of his designs spread on the table than of the prospect beyond the window. Some of these had an oriental extravagance and showed gigantic flights of steps leading to gateways into clouds that swirled into fringed canopies. Others were minutely precise drawings of plants where the marking of the petals were delicate and distinct as the lines on maps.

The room was bare, save for easels and portfolios, the walls light Barbara could not shake off the sensation of having intruded into someone else's life. It was one she had never felt before.

"You are accustomed to these views on the island, Miss Lawne," the young man suggested, as if excusing her from conventional compliments.

"No, nothing like this. I am staying at the Sandyrock Hotel that is closed in by cliffs at the back and slopes to the road in front."

"It is your first visit?"

"No, but I never stayed long—my mother was an invalid, my father an occupied man."

"I am sorry you are in mourning, Miss Lawne."

"For my father, Mr. Shermandine. Both my parents are dead."

"Mine also. I have two sisters, one is in India, the other in Portugal." It was as if he offered her his isolation in exchange for her own. Although they spoke of death, she felt no sorrow in the room.

Looking at him intently, though sidelong, she found his countenance kind and sensitive. A great longing to be the object of someone's affection—she did not yet think of his affection—possessed her. Her eyelids trembled and she turned away, crushing the ends of her thrown back veil on her bosom.

"I think," remarked Francis Shermandine, "we make too doleful a matter of death, with so much parade of sorrow that must so soon be merely formal."

"I feel," she replied, "that my heavy black clothes are an offense, in particular here, where young bridal couples and children come for light enjoyment."

"I think of you, Miss Lawne—how oppressive mourning must be to your spirits."

"They have never been high," she admitted. Then Sir Timothy claimed her attention for a clump of Algerian vines, and asked if the soft purple of the rainbow flowers, whose flags grew by a shallow blue pool, did not set off effectively the dark foliage and the flesh pink buds of the camellia.

Barbara felt that this graceful triviality disguised a deep feeling and, always timid and sensitive, she feared that their host was already weary of a visit that at first had been a novelty and now longed to be alone with the dreams with which she believed he filled Mirabile. And she felt a touch of shame for her own undefined pleasure that had moved her when she first entered this sun-filled room.

But Caroline Atwood, so well trained to social subtleties as never to make a false move, was already offering excuses and leave taking.

Refreshment was suggested and refused; they left the bright upper chamber and Barbara looked back over her shoulder to see Francis Shermandine returning to his fantastical drawings.

As they passed through the ornate drawing-room, she noticed the tea equipage ready, the Dresden porcelain amongst the old, plain silver, the Chinese bowl of golden luster filled with lilac primroses. She felt shut out. Surely the meals at Stone Hall, though lavish and well appointed, had never had this air of delicate taste and charming intimacy.

"I wish that we could have stayed," she said as soon as they were beyond the gates again.

"I did not think that we could have done so on a first visit," returned Caroline Atwood, comfortably. "But you can see them again, if you wish to do so."

"Do you know anything about them?"

"Oh yes, I have heard a great deal, that was why I wanted to see the villa."

"You contriving creature!" cried Barbara, half-smiling, half-vexed.

"Why, you don't suppose that I should have allowed my curiosity to encourage useless acquaintances for you? Though the villa is very well and tastefully arranged."

They paused on the Niton road, to look out toward the unruffled sea and the purple Hampshire hills.

"They are men of distinction and not cumbered by relations," remarked Caroline Atwood. "Sir Timothy is tolerably wealthy—plumbago and coal mines in the north, where he has a vast old mansion he never visits; a place in Wiltshire and a town house; political ambitions once, but too fastidious for public life; a dilettante in art and horticulture."

"I liked him," said Barbara. "I wish we had known more of such people. But he is bereaved, and lonely."

"And that, as it were, tarnishes his attractiveness? So I noticed. I understand that his marriage was not a love match, but that his wife, whimsical and exacting, became his sole occupation. There were two children who died of cholera."

Neither of the ladies, returning along the path by the walls of the Mirabile estate, spoke of Francis Shermandine.

The afternoon was taking on a richer, deeper golden hue; lawns and beaches were emptying of the holiday-makers, the white-sailed ships were slowly tacking for port, taking advantage of a sudden side wind; there seemed a deep pause of content in an idle day.

"We will have our tea on the verandah," said Caroline Atwood, "then I must write some more letters in time for the evening post."

The last word startled Barbara into a sudden remembrance. She had forgotten she had written to Aimée Falconet, had even forgotten that girl's existence.


§ 4

Before she left the Sandyrock Hotel, Caroline Atwood gave Barbara cheerful and sincere advice.

"I have a happy disposition," she said, "and I have always enjoyed my life, but mine is not an example to be followed, dear Barbara, it does not suit most women to remain single. Oh, I know I have numerous friends and shall never want for anything."

"You think that a woman should marry at any cost?" asked Barbara thoughtfully.

"I do, for what is the alternative? One merely acts as a deputy for another woman's domesticities—again, it suits me quite well."

"Yes, you seem a happier woman than my mother was," said Barbara. "I don't know that marriage is more than—" she sighed and Caroline Atwood laughed.

"A poor best," she completed the sentence. "But there is nothing else in this time and place, save, as I said, having all the cares of another's family, and none of the advantages."

"I wonder what the advantages are," murmured Barbara.

"You would know if you had never had them—ease and security are not to be held lightly. Yours was a hard lot, an only surviving child, and parents ill and elderly."

"But now, as you reminded me, I am rich and free, and you suggest—marriage?"

"You might be happy," continued Caroline Atwood. "I don't think you have a demanding nature."

Barbara was silent and the older woman added with sympathy: "You are very romantic and high-minded—you will want to be sure of so many things, too many things, and you may wait too long."

"Do you not believe in falling in love?" asked Barbara timidly.

"I know that it is rare, and made too much of in stories and legends; it is something most women like to think of—it puts a golden veil over a great deal one doesn't want to think of. Of course, one is very lucky if it comes one's way."

"I always wanted to be married," admitted Barbara suddenly, "since I was a young girl—partly because of those dreams you speak of, partly to get away from home. I never liked Stone Hall. There, I've never said that before."

"It is natural," replied Caroline Atwood quietly. "Perhaps some day women may have lives and work of their own. At present, unless one is eccentric—" she laughed and added, "You are not eccentric, Barbara."

"No, I am most conscious how ordinary a woman I am. I don't even know what to do with this money I have."

She thought, as she spoke, I wish I could make a handsome present to Caroline, but she is so independent I dare not suggest it.

"Have you never met anyone for whom you could care?" asked Miss Atwood gently.

Barbara knew what she wanted to ask and evaded the unspoken question.

"Oh, Caroline, I shall always do the ordinary thing."

Miss Atwood kissed her and left the subject. Their parting was warm, and when she was alone with the amiable but colorless Harding in the hotel full of holiday-makers, Barbara felt very lonely.


§ 5

She had kept, she hoped, her thoughts inviolate, even from this thoughtful friend, and it was with a pang of dismay that she heard the question, "Have you never met anyone for whom you could care?" which was a genteel way of asking if she had ever considered any man as a possible husband.

She could recall, with mingled shame, delight and regret, several fancies of her early youth, some violent, some slight, that had all withered for lack of an opportunity in which to flourish. But she had been vigilant over her emotions and for years they had been tranquil to melancholy.

Now all her fancies, and even all her hopes, were gathered round Francis Shermandine, whom she had only seen on three occasions, once in the villa house of Mirabile, twice when he had called at the hotel and she and Caroline Atwood had given him tea on the lawn.

"Twice when he had called"—there lay her secret happiness. He had sought her out, shown some interest in her. She could not remember when anyone besides Caroline Atwood had ever done that before, and this was a man, young, intelligent, personable, such as she vaguely felt belonged to a superior order of beings.

The first visit had been one of formal courtesy, but not necessary had he not wished to continue and enlarge the acquaintance. On the second visit, he had brought her a portfolio of his drawings. If he came for a third time she would feel sure that he was interested. She was dismayed by the dreary fall in her spirits when she reflected that he might never come again. Perhaps it was Caroline Atwood's pleasant company that had attracted him. She checked herself—how absurd these reflections were, and how humiliating!

The man's affections might be engaged for all she knew. It was shocking to her pride to know herself so vulnerable, to be made so sharply aware of this invincible need for love, not so much to love as to be loved.

Naturally, she advised her incoherent emotions, she had been loved and loving in a united family.

But this was different, this was a desire to be of importance to someone, not to be, as hitherto she had been, merely useful.

How often she had been interviewed by doctors, nurses, acquaintances, even dependents and tradespeople, who had anxiously discussed or inquired after her father or her mother, both so much more valuable she was made to feel than herself; the man with his position and money, the woman with her married status and invalidism.

She had been merely the unmarried daughter, a go-between the world and her parents.

Humility beat down her spirits. She seemed to have nothing to offer a man like Francis Shermandine. Money he did not need, she was certain that there was nothing vulgar in his nature. And her almost secret, totally unheeded interests in the delights of the mind seemed to her own judgment those of an amateur, almost of a schoolgirl.

Then she shrank even from touching on these reflections. He was almost a stranger, he had offered her no more than agreeable civilities. She likened herself to a thirsty traveler crossing a desert, finding a thin trickle of clear water, and imagining in the partial delirium of his long deprivation that he had found an inexhaustible well.

It would be wiser, she thought wistfully, for me to return to Stone Hall.

To take up again that dull routine would be a punishment for her presumption in allowing herself to consider Francis Shermandine as other than a slight holiday acquaintance. The word "holiday" hung in her distracted mind. I must leave this place, I haven't any right here.

She found a reflection of her mood when she told Sarah Harding to pack her trunks.

"I'm glad, Miss, I feel fair out of things here with everyone enjoying themselves. And it don't seem right to be even thinking of that with the master a few months dead."

"Don't you ever expect to enjoy yourself, Harding?" asked Barbara pensively.

The placid, middle-aged woman was surprised.

"Expect?" she pondered. "I don't know that I do, Miss, or ever have. At least," she amended, "not in this way, holiday-making, picnics and music, and idleness. The master always kept a strict household. I suppose I got used to that."

"Yes, I know. But I might go abroad, Harding."

"Oh, Miss Barbara!"

"Do you think that I am too old, or too young?"

Barbara tried to speak lightly, but she had read her defeat in the old servant's honest exclamation. She had herself spoken in a useless defiance of her conviction that she would never go abroad.

"I don't think that you are the kind of lady," replied Harding. "The master would not have liked it, or the mistress either."

"They are dead."

The vehemence with which she spoke startled Harding, who looked at her as if she had committed an indiscretion.

"One respects the wishes of the dead, Miss."

Barbara was silent. She suddenly thought of her father and Madame Falconet. Denying his daughter everything that would have made her existence more than merely endurable, he had indulged himself in a manner that he himself would have judged as sinful.

But Barbara was pitiful, even in this judgment. She did not believe that her father had gained any happiness from Madame Falconet, only remorse, nor any pleasure from Aimée, whom he could hardly have seen. Very likely this episode had been soon and sternly repented; the announcement in the will had been meant for atonement, perhaps. But Barbara had asked for the clause relating to the two Frenchwomen to be left out of any report of the will. As there were no legacies, no one had a right to demand to see a copy; Edward Lawne's secret was kept, whether he had wished this or not.

Barbara had been generous on his behalf, she had distributed pensions and legacies to all his dependents. The fortune left when all this was done was still too large, Barbara thought, although she did not yet know the full extent of her possessions.

"What do you think I shall do, Harding?" She challenged fate in the person of the placid, rather stupid woman in the servant's mourning, a large brooch of hair from the dead shining on her wide bosom.

"I suppose you will take another lady to live with you until you get married, Miss."

"I do not know of any possible suitors, Harding."

Harding looked uncertain, slightly uneasy.

"There are matrimonial agencies, Harding."

"Oh, Miss Barbara!" Vicarious shame flushed the stout woman's shapeless features. "How can you talk so!"

"I was joking," replied Barbara hastily.

"Where ever did you hear of such things?" wondered Harding.

Barbara knew that she was humiliated by the mere remark, her code had been deeply outraged. Everything was permissible in covert matchmaking, but an overt bargain in matrimony was an utter disgrace.

Barbara replied, "Oh, Miss Atwood heard something about it from a friend in Paris—they do have such arrangements there."

"Nasty foreigners," remarked Harding shortly, as if offended. "I'm sure I should never have thought that ladies—English ladies—would have ever thought of anything so shocking."

"I did not. I do not even know if there are any in England," Barbara smiled. She noted that the problem of where she was to find a husband had been evaded by Sarah Harding, who must be well aware that no possible suitor had for years come to Stone Hall.

But the confidential servant, belying her own stupidity, remarked, "There is that Mr. Shermandine, he's been here twice."

Barbara, taken by surprise, retorted sharply.

"That is really shocking, far more so than mentioning matrimonial agencies. How can you, Harding? You must never speak of gentlemen in that manner."

"Why, that's all right, Miss. I thought you might be looking round—though, of course, it would be a long time yet, with mourning. But you would want to be settled."

"A mere acquaintance," protested Barbara. "He may have come to see Miss Atwood, she is very attractive."

"But not the marrying sort, Miss, and I thought Mr. Shermandine looked at you."

Barbara turned to the window to hide her face; the sea and sky were one azure, shot with gold.

"When ever did you see us, Harding?"

"I was passing along the verandah, Miss, and gave just a glance."

"And a glance told you so much?"

"Mr. Shermandine was looking at you," repeated Harding, obstinately. "And I thought to myself—"

"You had no right to think so."

"Well, Miss, I suppose not," replied the servant meekly. "And I am sure I beg your pardon."

"You have no cause for that either, I am being ridiculous." Barbara turned quickly to the large hair trunk that Harding was laboriously sorting out, piling the clothes on the bed. "There, take those cambric petticoats with the lace. I shall never want them again."

"All those, Miss?" Harding exclaimed incredulously. Barbara was a generous mistress, but the petticoats were expensive and almost new.

"Yes, I cannot wear them with mourning."

Barbara went downstairs into the sparkling air. She had scarcely cast her glance around than she saw Francis Shermandine coming between the myrtle, the sunlight reddish on his bare head. He held a small book that he waved at her as if he had long been a friend. It was the happiest moment of her life. She moved toward him and greeted him without conscious volition. He asked her if she would care to visit Niton Church with him. It was such a short distance away that she had been there to the Sunday services, but she accepted at once.

"It is familiar to you, of course," said Francis Shermandine, "but if you are interested in architecture, I might show you some unusual features, and in the Wolverton ruins nearby."

She would have gone anywhere with him, but it was not an affectation for her to protest she liked the expedition for its own sake. Her knowledge was self-taught and random, her taste was untrained, but she was sensitive to beauty and strangeness, to the associations that gathered round ancient buildings, to the memories they evoked.

They entered the light carriage, with the clean linen curtains tied back, and drove along the Niton road while Francis Shermandine showed his companion the book he carried, a guide to the island, with some fine plates of Quarr Abbey, the Priory of Austin Canons, and Mountjoy's Tower, at Carisbrook Castle.

Barbara was animated into giving a confidence.

"I can make such drawings as those, Mr. Shermandine. I take care—they are better than the usual schoolgirl's attempts."

"Why, you never told me."

"I have only seen you three times," she spoke in wonder, as much as in explanation.

"It seems much oftener," he remarked. "Pray show me some of your work."

"I should be ashamed to do so."

The village lay in a hollow; on the heights grew fine trees, the cliffs were higher than Niton and hid the sea. Through the village ran a clear stream. The church was ancient and to Barbara seemed to have some profound and majestic meaning.

On the south side, where the carriage drew up, was a cross of roughhewn stone, and wide steps leading to another scooped-out block, a primitive font. A small child was seated on these steps, tying with a faded blue ribbon bunches of wild speckled and purple orchis. As Barbara and Francis approached she went shyly away, leaving some of her limp flowers on the warm stone.

Barbara picked them up. She could not endure to see flowers wither, especially today when she felt so happy. She was conscious of her need to be tender to everything. Her happiness increased when her companion said: "They will soon revive in water; we can get a vase at the inn."

Never before had she met this delicate treatment. She had grown to be ashamed of what she felt was her weakness, her morbid horror of suffering and distress in others. She tried to hide her foolishness by saying: "Oh, they are only wild flowers."

"But they are beautiful and you dislike to see them fade."

The breezes from the unseen ocean fanned her face, she had turned back her veil. She had wished that she need not have worn it just for today.

He showed her what interested him in the ancient church and she saw this through his eyes, and regarded it keenly, as of deep importance. He told her that this church and others in Hampshire had been exchanged by a desperate king for the plate of a famous college at Oxford, and this circumstance fascinated her; the gold and silver vessels had long since been melted down and the church remained, but little changed after more than two hundred years.

They wandered to the Wolverton ruins, and stood within the walls on a circle of fresh grass, daisies, red sorrel, and yellow dandelions.

They paused here, Francis Shermandine with his fingers between the pages of the guidebook, Barbara Lawne with the drooping orchis in her hand.

She had no power over herself, the moment dominated her, warm feeling surged over her entire being, she was conscious only of the wish to be loved.


§ 6

Francis Shermandine was also concerned with love. He was austere and studious, and had lived in uncommon peace and luxury, indulging all his fastidious tastes and elegant talents, for his uncle, Sir Timothy, had received him into his life and made him his heir. For a long time Sir Timothy had been urging him to marry, he had felt it his duty to obey; now he thought that it might also be his inclination. She might be the woman, he reflected. Barbara Lawne.

She possessed the essential qualities, she was gentle, kind, pliant, well bred, intelligent; her family was "good enough." Sir Timothy had told him that the Lawnes were gentlemen of coat armor before Walter Lawne built Stone Hall and founded the shipping firm.

Also she shared his interests. He was quick to see that her enthusiasm was not feigned, and he knew it was rare to find these inclinations in a woman. His compassion was aroused by her loveliness and her candor. And she was defenseless. In the first few moments, when she had stood by his drawing table, he had guessed all her simple history.

Thus far the musings of Francis Shermandine were prosaic, a mere casting over of worldly prospects, but love was in his mind as powerfully as it was in hers, only whereas she was sure of her need of it and shaken by her secret hope of it, he wondered if it would be any regret if he never felt it, if he never came to feel for Barbara Lawne more than affection and respect.

Francis had always protested Sir Timothy's insistence that he should marry, as his sisters had married, for a fair, honorable settlement in life. He liked work, he liked dreams. But Barbara Lawne had caught his fancy, he might term it that. And Sir Timothy had argued that her request to see Mirabile, her coming suddenly on them in their solitude, had seemed like one of those events that men pride themselves on being the work of destiny. Neither the baronet nor his nephew saw the skillful matchmaking hand of Caroline Atwood in the meeting that seemed to have taken place so casually.

The day and the place had their enchantment for the young man also. He had deliberately brought her to Niton Church in order to provoke the magic of the place.

She did not mar it, for all her ugly black clothes, her old-fashioned jet ornaments. She was delicately colored with the sweet English delicacy, faint tints of amber in her hair, of coral in her lips, of the native hazel nut in her eyes, the endearing, ancient similes were justified in her case. He liked the broad, noble brow, and narrowed lids; her height and proportions were perfect.

Why disappoint the old man any longer? he thought. I shall do no better.

He was not an adventurous or hopeful spirit, and in everything except his special interests, indolent.

Neither was he vain, but he believed that he could make her contented with what he had to offer. He regretted that she had, according to Sir Timothy's vague report, a large fortune, but there were honest ways of disposing of money and he was sure that she would be willing to help him to soften distress. There was so much misery in the world, though he could not face it, the weight of it was always over his spirit, perhaps he could be bolder in enduring the pains of others with this gentle creature's encouragement.

She was walking slowly over the daisies, not troubling him with speech. The amber-colored wallflowers branching out of the stones above her head, the blue speedwell hanging by her hand, above her the sunshine like a canopy of light. He crossed over to her and asked her how long she had lived in Portsmouth. He knew this famous town but slightly.

"All my life. In Stone Hall at Portsea."

"You have an affection for the place?"

"Perhaps. The walk on the ramparts, under the elms, is agreeable in summer, with the view of the Haven and the hills beyond. But the town has so formal an air with so many barracks, government offices, and docks."

"My uncle is growing timber for the navy here, in the island, but I never took any interest in that."

"Oh, then he came to see my father on that business? I thought it was for the figureheads."

"That, too. I know that he has set them up in his grounds at Judith Spinney. He has a fantastic taste. But he is shrewd also, and for any extravagance will earn money from the estate."

"I know nothing about such matters. I am ashamed of that; I have always taken ease, luxury, for granted."

"So have I—as a man I have no excuse. My mother married an officer in the Indian Army, who left me nothing."

They seemed to try to outvie one another in generosity, in disclaiming any merit. They had been idle, dream-ridden, he with his passion for architecture and painting, she with her passive abnegation, he with his uncle's money behind him, she with her father's; for both of them death had made an ample space, removing her brother, sister, mother, his parents, his cousin and aunt, Sir Timothy's children and wife. All the provision these would have enjoyed had they lived had now come to them. They confessed themselves abashed. Barbara had not concerned herself with her father's affairs partly because he had always sternly, even contemptuously, refused to speak of home. When business guests dined at Stone Hall only commonplace was spoken of during the stately meal. Visits to the handsome offices near the quay gates, on the road to the dockyard and the Gun Wharf, were not allowed.

Barbara admitted, also, that the shipping in the harbor did not attract her; the dockyards and wharf represented to her scenes of toil, hardship, and confusion. The ships seen close had a repulsive foulness, the sailors were coarse, ugly, frightening; the buildings of the blockhouse, arsenal, customs, and offices of the various brokers and government, naval and military, grim and depressing. Only when the sailing ships, clippers, men o' war, frigates, and brigs were in the blue purple distance did they appear desirable, romantic.

"I do some charitable work," she explained, half-ashamed of a life that seemed so dull and indolent. "Stone Hall is in St. Peter's Square, near the Gun Wharf, and in the Old Rope Walk is an institute for poor children—" She paused, unable to complete the sentence. She went so seldom to the Old Rope Walk, because she disliked to see the tired faces of the drilled children. She saw that money was sent regularly, her father had always supported all the local charities—but it was easy for rich people to send money. "I mean to do better than I have done!" she exclaimed, startled out of her shyness by the vehemence of her resolution.

This was like a confession of love for him, as if she admitted that he inspired her to try to make something honest of her life, if not noble; she was too timid to aspire to anything other than the commonplace.

Francis Shermandine smiled tenderly. He was touched by her enthusiasm, he believed her to be a faultless creature who had given up the best of her youth in ungrudging service to others. It was he who felt that he was indolent, perhaps useless. He had been waiting too complacently for dead men's shoes. Often he had felt that prick. Sir Timothy was all that was generous but he kept a tight hand on the reins of his own kingdom; each of his estates had a capable steward, and Francis, as heir presumptive, was never allowed to interfere—"You will have more authority when you are married." His uncle would offer this, authority, as a bribe. Francis had often thought, and said, that at fifty-five years of age, Sir Timothy might himself marry again, but the baronet had been harshly emphatic here. "If you have forgotten your aunt, I have not."

"When do you return to Stone Hall?"

"Soon. I have lost my delightful companion, Caroline Atwood."

"You must have a deal of tedious business with Mr. Bompast."

"Yes, and I shall have for some time."

They left the ancient chapel. The air had an added brightness as if the seasons were shifting, spring into summer, at this very moment, and the buds instantly breaking into richer flowers, the trees into stronger leaf, the sky tingeing with a deeper blue.

Why don't I make sure of her now? mused Francis Shermandine. I shall never meet anyone I like better.

But convention hindered him. Their acquaintance was too short; she was so recently bereaved. And in his heart he was sure of her already, her dovelike passivity gave him confidence that she would not resist his sincere offer. Besides, he liked to dally over what was a delightful episode. Though not in love, and aware of this, yet the prospect of marriage with this amiable woman filled him with something of love's tenderness.

"Will you come with me to Quarr Abbey?" he asked. "You might make some sketches."

Barbara knew that she ought to refuse. She flushed with disappointment, like a child who must deny a tempting pleasure.

"Bring your maid and a picnic basket," he added. "And I will ask Sir Timothy to accompany us."

Barbara colored painfully, relieved of her social embarrassment, yet fearful that she had exposed her intense desire for a further meeting. "My mourning," she objected, "it is too soon."

"I am sure that your doctor would advise you to take these little excursions, Miss Lawne. You have been mewed up so long."

"He is not here for me to ask him and I am quite well."

They passed out of the churchyard and he gave, she thought, a sidelong look at the gravestones, from many of which the inscriptions were defaced by spreading orange and silver lichens.

"Will you waste another summer?" he asked in a tone from which all formality had now gone.

This question held, for Barbara, a note of warning. She felt a touch of panic. She must be older than he was, she was not a girl, hardly even young. She had given the dead so much, almost all she had. Perhaps this was her last chance of getting what she wanted most. She also glanced at the gravestones. Life seemed to contract about her. In a short while she also would be gone, and, if she were not courageous, empty handed.

"I shall be pleased to come, of course," she said, without disguise. "You know, I have no other diversion."

"But you hesitate, not being used to making decisions, I know—I feel lethargic, also, but mine is the inertia of the lotus eater, you are merely overtired."

"Oh, I don't think so!" Then, bewildered, like a bird let out of a cage into the sunlight, "How powerful the sun has become—do you notice it?"

"Yes, I like it."

She returned to the carriage while he went to the White Lion for water for her flowers. She felt a passion of gratitude that he had gravely undertaken this foolishness for her, without comment.

It was a pause of pure happiness for her as she watched him from between the linen curtains of the carriage. She forgot to try to hold down her heart; she allowed it to rejoice.

Surely he is—concerned—with me? He is kind, thoughtful; he wants to see me again. Oh, if I could go to Quarr Abbey without this mourning, at least without this heavy veil.

She regarded him with so much gratitude that she forgot also the impiety of disregarding her dead father so soon. Francis Shermandine, she liked the name, and the man's thin face and thick reddish hair, the high nose, and the sensitive mouth, the eyes, very bright for so much poring over drawing and reading, green-brown and humorous under the rather heavy brows. He was well made and easy in his movements, indeed he possessed all the merits she had ever desired in a man. For his qualities, she had a trusting nature, and though she knew evil existed, hardly believed in it; she was prepared to give, humbly, her entire life to this stranger, with complete faith in his virtues. But convention checked her as it had checked him. She instinctively held off anything more than these subtle and delicate promises for the future. The range of her feeling did not include any instant felicity, all was vague, warm, and soothing.

She wished well to all the world, she smiled at the old driver lazily flicking his whip, at the stout little horse stamping the ground, at the children passing along the village street, at the birch trees blowing showers of glistening leaves by the ancient massive font, and her shortsighted eyes peered for further objects of love. She wanted to give money to the man, oats to the horse, sweets to the children, as she had given the costly petticoats to Harding for saying that Francis Shermandine had looked at her alone.

He returned with a wide-mouthed jar full of water and put the drooping orchis in, setting the jar on the floor of the carriage.

"They will soon revive," he said.

She was too pleased to speak as they drove to the Sandyrock Hotel. She smiled faintly, nodding slightly to the sea birds that flew overhead, at the wild roses in the briars in the sheltered hollows of the cliff, at the white butterfly that for an instant rested on her black glove.


§ 7

It was when Barbara returned from the excursion to Quarr Abbey that she found the letter from France. The maid gave it to her with others that had come during her absence. She saw the foreign stamp at once. "It must be from Aimée, I have no other acquaintances abroad."

How long ago was it? Ten days, a fortnight? She had forgotten. If she had not quite forgotten Aimée, at least she had put her from her thoughts, certainly she had never expected an answer to her hesitant, vague, embarrassed letter, sent on an impulse now completely vanished.

She even found it difficult now to understand why she had ever been interested in Madame Falconet and her daughter. She thought, They have nothing to do with me, they are provided for.

She tried to bring back that lost mood when Caroline Atwood had told her that she must leave, when the young company, the holiday air had oppressed her. I must have been lonely. And almost immediately afterward she had met Francis Shermandine.

Barbara was ashamed. But she had not, she assured herself, worked any mischief. She would never interfere again with the Falconets, no, nor either anyone else. She would answer civilly, she would send a sumptuous gift.

Before her dressing table she sat, gazing at the thin gray envelope, the fine handwriting that seemed to be traced in ink mixed with vinegar, the French stamp. She turned it over, and on the point of the flap was a small seal of pale green wax, stamped with a small flower and the letter M.

Not from Aimée, after all? But it must be.

She took off her hat and veil, the twilight was spreading in the room. They had had supper as well as luncheon near the ruins of Quarr Abbey. Nothing save formalities had passed, mostly in the presence of Harding and Sir Timothy's servant, but it had been a happiness and Barbara felt herself betrothed. Even her timid modesty did not doubt the meaning of this attention on the part of Francis Shermandine and Sir Timothy Boys. These agreeable, elegant, and kindly men were certainly going to ask her to be the wife of Francis Shermandine, the mistress of the gracious, ordered, polished life they shared.

She felt astounded by her brilliant luck, as if a star of heaven-sent flame had darted into her bosom to light and warm her existence that, by contrast with this magic glow, seemed dull as a heath at winter.

At first she had been startled to see the French letter, even slightly alarmed, as if some indiscretion had returned to her with painful consequences. But her new sense of security was too strong to be easily shaken, and the sight of the childish seal moved her to compassion.

The letter was in English, written correctly. As Barbara read she flushed, the blood coming quickly into her sun-warmed face.

Aimée had accepted the very tentative and now regretted advance from Barbara with enthusiasm. She wrote that this affection, sympathy, and friendship was deeply valued, that she had postponed her wedding until the autumn, and that she was coming to England to accept her sister's generous invitation. The problem of her mother she faced with ease. "Madame Falconet realizes that she will not be acceptable to you. She desires nothing save not to trouble my future, she will never trouble you, she will make a little plan to account for me, and the next time I write I tell you this. For the journey we make all arrangements, so as not to trouble you. We think it better I come to Stone Hall, when you go home. I come soon, to be with you in your trouble for your dear father. Please do not call me Aimée, that is never used, I am your loving sister, Mignonette."

Barbara folded up the letter slowly.

"How often she uses the word 'trouble.'"

The little seal came under her glance, a mignonette flower, she supposed, and again her tenderness revived after her first dismay. This must be a loving, simple creature to have read into her own halfhearted letter so much more than she meant, one, perhaps, as anxious for loving friendship as she had been. The warm-hearted creature wanted to be with her "sister," as she named her, in her grief for her father, and she, Barbara, had nearly forgotten him, in the company of Francis Shermandine.

Her sense of shame, so easily aroused, for the moment almost overwhelmed her, blotting out the keen pleasure of the day.

Here was a true, faithful heart, and Barbara's impulse was to answer this letter at once.

But she was tired, her hand trembled, her eyes were heavy. It would be impossible to compose suitable phrases tonight. She put the letter in the bottom of her lacquer and mother-of-pearl trinket box.


§ 8

The letter from Paris was followed by another, written immediately after; Barbara calculated that the first must have been answered by return of post and the second written at once.

This was even more affectionate than the first. Aimée could not express the gratitude that she felt for this unexpected kindness and sisterly feeling. She (the "we" was now dropped, as if she had resolved not to mention her mother again) had contrived everything for her visit to England. A sober friend and his wife, who often made business trips to England, would escort her. She would arrive in two weeks' time. She ran over her little accomplishments. She would be useful in the ménage. She had been well educated. She was sorrowful that she would not wear mourning. That would be indiscreet. As for anything else, Barbara need not trouble, she had no resemblance to Mr. Lawne (as she now termed her father). As for the story, the contrivance, it was very simple. She could keep her name, she was sure that no one in England had heard it, her mother had for long passed as a widow, très comme it faut. It needed now only to add that she had been a friend of the late Madame Lawne, who had been at school in Brussels, and that her daughter, desirous of seeing England, had been invited to stay with Mademoiselle Lawne for a brief visit.

Aimée gave all this a breathless air of childish enthusiasm. As a screen for the secret it was well enough, but Barbara did not like the girl's calm acceptance of her equivocal position, and she winced at the use of her mother's name, but she believed these to be the blunders of innocence.

Probably the little creature had been taught to respect her mother's long repentance and to believe all the world in charity with this meek sinner. But Barbara, when she wrote agreeing to this needful deception to shield a dead man's reputation, substituted the name of a friend for that of her own mother.


§ 9

Barbara was leaving the island a little sooner than she had intended in order to get Stone Hall ready for Aimée, by this name she still thought of her, Mignonette seemed a leap too far ahead. She hoped for a warm familiarity with her unknown sister, but dared not be sure of it. After all, Aimée was coming for a short visit, her marriage was only postponed, she would return to France by the early autumn.

Barbara still thought of this union with distaste, but not with her former disgust. The truth, that she did not admit to herself, was that she no longer took such an ardent interest in the affair of Aimée now that she was emotionally so deeply involved with Francis Shermandine. The coming of the French girl would now be an intrusion, at least upon her musings, but she would not confess to this, even to herself.

And there was much pleasure to be gained from the prospect of having this young girl's company. Even though it was her first year of mourning, there were modest diversions they could enjoy together; of course Aimée should also be in black, but Barbara was relieved to know that she would not be.

A little nervous about the story, innocent as it seemed to her, that Aimée had invented, she told it tentatively to Harding, who received it in good part and without question.

"It will be pleasant for you to have a young lady at Stone Hall."

"She would have come before, but when she was a child Mamma was not well, then Papa did not like company." Barbara embroidered the fiction in order to give it stability for her own support.

Harding accepted this with a faith that gave Barbara a pang. How far indeed was the placid servant from guessing the truth! Yet she was relieved, also, for it was a sign that her father's reputation was so secure that no one would doubt it.

"I had forgotten that my mother was ever educated in Brussels, Harding. I don't think that she was there long. I do recall, now, some sketches in her album."

"The mistress never spoke of herself, Miss Barbara," replied Harding, who had been at Stone Hall only twenty years and knew nothing of Mrs. Lawne's youth. Nor of anything, thought Barbara, save her own languors and vexations.

She would always remember her mother on a couch, wrapped in a rare Paisley or Andalusian shawl, her banded hair the color of a dead bay leaf, her long skirts of surah silk drawn over her little pointed bronze slippers, a vinaigrette in her thin hand, her rings slipping round her bony fingers.

"We can prepare the Chinese room for Aimée—Mademoiselle Falconet," said Barbara bravely, thinking, Was it not rash not to change the name? Supposing someone knew of it.

Harding was doubtful. Mary Lawne, wife of the builder of Stone Hall, had in a mood of youthful exuberance, soon quenched, ordered the Chinese apartment, and for two generations it had been unoccupied.

"It is the only cheerful room," insisted Barbara. "We can soon make it ready."

"I don't think, Miss, that you should be getting a cheerful room ready during your first year of mourning."

"Oh, I shall make no show, it shall be done quietly within the house."

After this success with Harding, Barbara ventured on telling her story to Sir Timothy and Francis Shermandine. They had come to bid her farewell, but they left the future brilliant, for Francis was coming to Portsmouth within the month and had asked if he might wait on Barbara, who did not doubt that he would request at least the continuation of her friendship.

"I shall not be alone, Sir Timothy."

When the two men had heard her account of the visitor, she noted them with anxiety. Both accepted the situation as the most natural in the world.

"This youthful company is exactly what you need to help you through your mourning," remarked Sir Timothy. "A pity that you will not be able to take her about."

"She will have her own connections, perhaps friends here," suggested Francis Shermandine.

"Oh," exclaimed Barbara quickly. "Her mother has long been a widow—they live a retired life. I have corresponded with them since my father's death. Madame Falconet was an old school friend of my mother's, you understand—Aimée is to be married in the autumn."

In her nervousness she did not notice how she was repeating herself. But neither of the men attached any importance to the matter. They did not know quite how enclosed her life had been, and how rare an excitement was a visitor to Stone Hall, so they did not see anything strange in this French girl's stay with the daughter of her mother's friend. Entertaining was part of an everyday routine to Sir Timothy; only since his wife's death had he lived somewhat withdrawn, while Francis Shermandine had moved easily in many societies.


§ 10

With perceptions made keen by the emotional crisis in her life, Barbara stood in the verandah the last day of her stay in the Sandyrock Hotel. The simple scene appeared to her as one of overwhelming beauty.

The air was full of sounds, the distant fall of the sea on the shingle, a distant quarter clock striking, a child in the lit room behind Barbara turning a musical box that played an Italian air, the warble of a thrush on an elm bough. Barbara had never noted before the intense beauty of such commonplace music, nor the entrancing loveliness of such ordinary visual delights.

It was, she was aware, because her own life had fallen into harmony. She was no longer set aside, unheeded. Francis Shermandine would surely ask her to marry him. She was too inexperienced to detach love from marriage. If he wanted her for his wife, he must love her, she argued, astonishing as this seemed, and if she felt such happiness at the thought of this, then she must love him.

She saw the whole of an ordered life spread before her, years filled with opportunities and blessings, and she felt humble before her great good fortune.

The world appeared to dance. The same graceful movements united the waves casting shells on the shore, the leaves bowing before the breeze, the rooks flying home, Barbara's own body as she sighed beneath her dull mourning.


§ 11

Barbara had a letter from Francis Shermandine in the reticule swinging at her waist as she directed Harding and the maid in arranging the Chinese room. He wrote frequently, friendly, charming letters expressing his interest in drawing, painting, architecture, the additions to Judith Spinney, his uncle's place in Wiltshire where he had gone on leaving the Isle of Wight.

Barbara had never expected more than this; she still thought of their short acquaintance, her own mourning, though several weeks had gone by since they had first met, and her father was split into vague figures in her mind, the bizarre and unknown adventurer who was also the father of Aimée, and the bleak businessman she recalled every Sunday, when kneeling in St. Peter's she saw his new-cut name on the gray mural tablet.

The Chinese room was very well preserved. The long dead grandmother's youthful whim came to light in brilliant hues of parrot and heron, peony and hawthorn blossoms in the Chinese paper, and the removal of the holland covers revealed delicate furniture with frets in friezes, galleries and sketches.

The household presses contained chintz that matched the wallpaper. Blue apple blossom pots for the lattice shelves and other fine porcelain were found in the china cupboard, and the elaborate bed, in the Eastern style, was soon fitted with hangings and coverlet in a thick silk of a saffron yellow that Barbara thought was a Chinese color. The dressing table was japanned in black and gilt, and Barbara equipped it with a toilette service in white Bristol paste. Harding thought the whole effect "outlandish" but conceded that it might suit a foreigner.

"She will not be in mourning," emphasized Barbara, "and will like to have the appointments gay."

The morning of Aimée's arrival, Barbara placed a large beau pot of multicolored roses on the bedside table, with a pile of anxiously chosen books, Keepsakes, The Lady's Almanac, and the Sermons of Dr. Tillotson, an old volume, but one that her father had often said "could not be bettered." Barbara hoped that the tolerant divine's comfortable moralizing would not offend even a Papist.

She hesitated over the room, adjusting this, altering that, nervous through the long habit of trying to please.

Then depression shook her; this was a stranger, an alien, she was having into her home. She felt shy, awkward, already looking forward to the autumn when Aimée would be returning home.

The secret was a weight, also; it was buried deeply, certainly, but she was afraid of it. Then there was the problem of Aimée's marriage. If the girl was satisfied with that, Barbara did not mean to interfere, it no longer seemed such a coarse and repulsive method of settling her destiny. But supposing she was to throw herself on the mercy of the woman whom already she termed her "benefactress?" Then Barbara would have to consider some fresh scheme for Aimée. And her whole being was now absorbed in her own plans.

But there was Francis Shermandine. He would help her, with his masculine wisdom and experience, though it would be difficult to explain to him precisely why she had to take on the responsibility of settling in life the daughter of a friend of her mother's—and a girl, at that, whose acquaintance she had just made.

Harding had already remarked that Barbara was taking a deal of trouble over the visit of a foreigner and a stranger.

Barbara had excused herself by protesting that she desired some young company, and Harding had murmured something about her mistress having herself to think of, and Barbara was pleased to know that the meaning of this was the old servant's expectation of a marriage soon in Stone Hall.

To Francis Shermandine she wrote casually "of my little French friend, to whom I am to give a glimpse of English life."

Then she wondered if Aimée was little. Surely one to whom the name Mignonette was given must be what the French termed petite.

Barbara often tried to visualize Aimée. French girls were not pretty, she believed, but vivacious and smart. "Not like Monsieur Lawne." Barbara had only known her father since he had been worn by ill health, unremitting work, and the heavy burden of a self-imposed routine, but he had been good-looking, with her own hazel coloring.

Aimée would be dark, of course, almost certainly plain, in Barbara's reasoning, or she would not have had to resort to a matrimonial agency for a marriage.

Mr. Bompast might argue as he would, Barbara could not believe that in any country a pretty, charming girl would lack for suitors.

Neither would Aimée, living so retired, with this painful blight over her birth, be chic in the sense that the Parisian fashion plates Barbara studied, without the least intention of copying, were chic. No, she was likely to be shy, neat, appealing, suppressed—yes, she was sure to feel her position acutely, to be decorously dressed, rather like an upper servant. That discreet, careful Madame Falconet, who was probably not, Mr. Bompast had thought, a lady, would certainly have a daughter of that kind.

Barbara planned their common activities. She could improve her copybook French, and Aimée was no doubt a dainty needlewoman. She hoped that Harding would like her, and such acquaintance of the Lawnes who still called at Stone Hall, such as Mrs. Mildmay, the doctor's wife, for Barbara wanted much of her own time free in order to spend it with Francis Shermandine.


§ 12

Barbara Lawne, with Sarah Harding in attendance, drove to Southampton, where the cross-channel steamers from Le Havre docked. She felt extremely nervous, tilting a black silk parasol against the sun, sitting erect in the well-built glossy brougham, with the imitation basket-work body, behind the two liveried menservants.

Francis Shermandine was due at Portsmouth in a few days' time and it was hard to think of anything but that. She had been induced to send him verses and drawings—his reports had been tender and encouraging, he was bringing them with him, and they were to discuss them together. No prospect could have been more entrancing to Barbara.

Harding had said that it would not do for a lady to struggle amid the crowds on the landing shed by the quay side, so Barton, the groom, was sent to identify and fetch Mademoiselle Falconet, who had promised to wear a dark green pelisse.

"I think I ought to have gone," murmured Barbara, straining her shortsighted eyes toward the crowd, to her a confused mass of color.

"Barton will do very well," returned Harding. "But I always do say, Miss, it is very awkward when there isn't a gentleman in a family."

How keen she is for me to be married! thought Barbara. Yet she would be shocked if anything was settled before I am out of mourning.

Barton was adroit in shouldering his way through passengers, porters, and welcoming friends, and soon had brought three people to the carriage. As she saw him, Barbara, despite Harding's muttered protests, stepped quickly onto the road. A middle-aged Frenchman wearing English tweeds, and his wife in a handsome shawl and gray bonnet, began introducing themselves, presenting Mademoiselle Falconet, praising the smoothness of the sea voyage, all at once.

Barbara stammered in French, was diffident in English; the luggage became everyone's concern. Nothing else was talked of until this was found, checked, and decisions taken as to how it was to be sent to Portsmouth. Mademoiselle Falconet withdrew from this breathless debate and, at Barbara's shy request, entered the carriage. Her escort refused all invitations, he was taking the London train; all business over, the carriage drove off along the road that bordered Southampton Water.

"You did not think that I should come?" smiled Aimée. "It is strange to you to find me—solid?"

"Yes, a little. It must be strange for you also." Barbara's glance swept Harding. "Your first visit abroad."

Mademoiselle Falconet's glance also gravely considered the correct servant in her substantial mourning.

"I hope I do not impose," she said. "Your mother arranged with mine this visit so long ago."

Barbara wished that her mother need not have been mentioned; she did not feel mistress of the situation, but Aimée Falconet leaned back on the gray velvet cushions and studied the view as they drove along. She was in nothing as Barbara had supposed her to be, so slightly made as to appear tall, hair of a pale umber color, and eyes of a light tawny hue. Her dark green dress and mantle were extremely well made, fine gloves were pulled to her elbows, and she carried a reticule of silver mesh.

Barbara felt pleased and excited. Aimée, though what Harding would have termed "outlandish," was surely pretty. Not that the short nose, wide mouth, and eyebrows dipping until they almost met were what Barbara had been taught to regard as beauty—but, without doubt, attractive.

Yet in Barbara's mind there was a doubt. She would have liked to have had her tentative opinion confirmed. Of the fresh splendor of Aimée's youth there could be no question. She was an elegant, self-possessed child. Barbara felt herself middle-aged, and saw Harding as old, and both of them as dowdy beside Aimée Falconet.

Whatever ruffling the journey had brought to her appearance, she had repaired it—her eyes and hair had a luster, her cheeks a bloom, her figure a rounded outline in the close-fitting green gown.

And she observed, fascinated, that Aimée had a handkerchief, a brooch, a bracelet (and no other ornament whatever) exactly the color of her eyes.

She's well bred, certainly, thought Barbara. She is taking everything as a matter of course. I wish that I could be as easy.


§ 13

When the two young women were alone in the heavy cold drawing-room of Stone Hall, Aimée spoke at once.

"You want to know something about me? I was thinking as we drove here, how little you knew."

Barbara murmured a conventional platitude.

"But you must want to know," insisted Aimée. "Surely Mr. Born-past, the only one in possession of this secret, advised you against me?"

"He does not even know I asked you," said Barbara, flushing. "He certainly told me not to interfere."

"With me? Why did you?"

"I thought that I ought to do so—that it was my part." Barbara tried to be honest, and found this difficult, but struggled on. "The whole affair was a shock. I disliked—the arranged marriage. Oh, need we speak of it? I mean—I was lonely, I thought, as there were only two of us—"

"You are very good and sweet," smiled Aimée. "I, also, I am well bred—my mother was always very careful with me. She hoped that one day I might come to England, so I was brought up as an English girl."

"Not in a convent?"

"Oh, no! Always as a philosopher—though I think that sounds different in English—and with an English governess."

"You have not been in England before?" Barbara asked, lamely.

"Oh, no! Mr. Lawne paid us to stay away, that was the understanding, always."

Aimée glanced round the room, and added, "So this was where he lived. From here he wrote those letters!"

"From the office, near the Gun Wharf; I suppose," said Barbara. "I think that we ought to forget it."

"We need not mention it in future," agreed Aimée. "But first we must have everything clear."

She went to the window and glanced curiously out at the garden overcrowded with expensive shrubs and plants, drawing off her musketeer gloves, yellow brown, like her eyes and hair. Barbara saw her clearly now. Her features were most precisely and delicately formed, her eyes wide apart in shadowed sockets, the lines of the lips and nostrils, full, sweeping, and sensitive. Although appearing more than her height because of her slenderness and presence, she was really small and merited her French name.

Barbara thought, Francis will not like her. It was a mistake bringing her here, but I must make the best of it—she is charming, of course.

"Shall I call you Amy?" she asked shyly, but the French girl replied at once:

"Oh, no—Mignonette! I have never been known by any other name."

Barbara was afraid to say that this seemed to her foolish, and offered to show her guest to her room.

"I have no maid," said Aimée. "We have lived very carefully—every sou was to educate me, you understand?"

"Yes," said Barbara awkwardly, wishing that the other would not talk of herself as if she were an investment.

"But was there not—enough?"

"Money? No. Mr. Lawne was also careful. We had to make economies."

Barbara felt ashamed of her father's wealth and her own inheritance.

"We had the promise of the dot—the dowry—he was one to keep his word. We could always trust him."

"You say 'we,' but how long have you known all this? Your mother told you—so young?"

"Naturally. What else was there for me to know? This was all my life, all my fortune. My mother arranged my marriage—so young—to secure the money. He would not pay it before. He wanted to be rid of me."

"I don't think we should discuss this," said Barbara, blushing with the effort of giving a rebuke. "At least not until we know one another."

"I wanted to be candid with you, that is all."

"I do value that. I want to help you if I can."

Barbara could say no more. She felt priggish, dull. She had intended to offer Aimée presents, money, a very handsome contribution toward her marriage, but now she did not know how to put this generosity into words.

"You help me by having me here," smiled Aimée. "It is a great change for me."

"I wish it were gayer. Portsmouth must be dull after Paris."

"A great port is never dull. I saw many officers as we drove along. Presently you will entertain a little?"

"When I am out of mourning? Yes, a little, but we never knew any of the officers."

Aimée ran up to her and slipped her hand under Barbara's arm. Seen close, in her green clothes, she reminded Barbara of a close folded rosebud on a dull spring day, bright, cold, exquisite.

"I should be in mourning also! But I never saw him—and now he is gone I get my dowry."

"You would have had it on your marriage."

"Now I get it without the marriage," smiled Aimée. "Perhaps I put off this marriage."

"Oh, you did not wish for it! That is what I always feared!"

"I don't say that—it is quite a good parti, some day I tell you about him."


§ 14

Aimée expressed admiration and gratitude for the Chinese room, fingering the furniture and hangings, and exclaiming at their merits. When she took off her green hat, her heavy hair fell out of the knotted net, in full curls on her shoulders.

She remarked on the austerity of her life in Paris. She had been into no society at all—how was it possible? A neighbor or two, her music master, and her drawing master—that was all.

"And the English governess?" asked Barbara.

"That was my mother. She had been an English governess, as we say, that is, a governess for English families. In that way Mr. Lawne met her—he was engaging a governess for you."

"Oh!" Barbara was startled. "I never had a French governess."

"No, I suppose not." Aimée looked at herself in the mirror with the crimson lacquer frame. "My mother was always comme il faut and she is of a good family, also. You can see that in me."

"Yes. I never thought you would look common."

"I might have been. You don't know much of the world, do you?"

"And you seem to know a great deal."

"Alas, no. I have only my wits, and my mother, and one or two intelligent acquaintances she had. Also, I have read a great deal. But I am ignorant, of course. I hope that here in England, I know something, I mean, learn."

"There is nothing here," said Barbara lamely. "It has always been very quiet at Stone Hall, with so much sickness, and I am the only surviving child."

"Except for me," smiled Aimée. "But now we will forget that. I am merely the daughter of a family friend, Madame Falconet."

"It would be better," agreed Barbara. "There is nothing to say that does not seem like a judgment."

What Aimée had just told her had made the story even more incredible than it had been before. The thought of her father interviewing a governess, one of the women whose very livelihood depended on their quiet respectability, and falling in love with her, seemed grotesque.

Aimée seemed to sense her perplexity, for she said, "Some day I shall tell you all I know."


§ 15

Barbara wrote to Francis Shermandine, with a hint of trepidation: "I have the young French girl staying here I told you of, an old promise redeemed. I fear it is not very cheerful for her as I am in mourning and know so few people. Really, I do not quite know what to do with her, pray be indulgent when you see her—to one of your tastes, she will seem frivolous."

Barbara's anxious hand covered the pages rapidly, for she did not want his first visit to Portsmouth spoiled; she did not want Mignonette (she forced herself to use that name in her mind) to have her pride hurt, for the girl was, no doubt, not at all likely to please Francis, with his keen sensitiveness, his intellectual interests, his lofty ideals.

He had written Barbara pages of closely reasoned philosophy, art criticism, delicate probings into life, musings on religion, and she had read all with tender eagerness and ventured, encouraged by his confidence, on expressing some long dormant, timid opinions of her own.

She, therefore, felt that she knew him well, and she could see no point of contact between him and Mignonette, charming, well behaved, in a way lovable, but, Barbara judged, not in the least intellectual or spiritual.

Musing, with her pen poised, she thought, Mignonette is different from anyone who has ever been in this house before.

But she did not put that on paper.

There was no fault to be found with the French girl, she fitted exactly into the rather somber routine of Stone Hall, giving no trouble to the servants, being punctual, tidy, and cheerful. She even attended with decorum the family prayers that Barbara held out of respect to the memory of her father. She had few clothes, but these were in good taste and neat to a degree that Barbara could never achieve. Her fashions, very plain, without ornament, were such as Barbara had never seen. Her embroidery, that she kept covered with jealous care in muslin, was so particular and fine that it did not seem to Barbara as if it were the work of mortal fingers.

She had smiled aside a suggestion that she should sing or play in a house of mourning, but Barbara believed her to be a good musician.

On the other hand, she evaded what Barbara termed "serious conversation," showed no interest in the historical curiosities of Portsmouth, nor in the weighty topics of the day that filled the columns of The Times, and though she gave no sign of boredom, Barbara could not believe that life in Stone Hall really interested her. I wonder why she stays—she will not like Francis, he is much too grave for her—and I have no companions for her.

The few attempts that Barbara had made to introduce Mignonette to some local society had not been successful. The people who still occasionally called at Stone Hall were very dubious about the French girl, as if they guessed her story. Barbara was not clever enough to "place" her guest with any precision. Disliking lies, she kept the girl's background too vague. Aimée Falconet knew no one, she had no introductions. Her appearance was not liked. She was too different from the English people, too peculiar to be received unless she had been backed by powerful credentials. The vicar of St. Peter's was stiff and, though Mignonette went regularly to church, his wife was barely civil.

Barbara was known to be wealthy, alone, unworldly. Several of her father's friends hovered on the verge of warning questions: Who was the foreign girl? Did Barbara Lawne really know sufficient about her to receive her into her home? Had she not presumed on some very slight acquaintance her mother had had with poor Mrs. Lawne?

Barbara sensed this atmosphere and it made her feel uneasy and a fool, and that the invitation had been a mistake. No one was getting anything out of it but annoyance, even Mignonette herself could not be enjoying this dull visit.

In an effort to do the duty that she had impulsively set herself Barbara touched on the question of her half sister's marriage.

Mignonette was candid about this. It had been arranged, according to French custom. The man had a good character, a good family.

"There is my irregular birth to overlook, you see. The agency had no great hopes for me, even with a good dowry."

"Perhaps the dowry is not large enough," said Barbara with distaste, feeling her way to offering more.

"It is not much," agreed Mignonette. "We raised some of it at a high rate of interest to pay for my education."

"You mean that it is not all yours!"

"Less than half of it. My mother went to a moneylender."

"I did not know that you could," said Barbara, astonished and bewildered.

"Oh, it was quite good security—Mr. Lawne's promise, his will."

"Did he know that you ere doing this?"

"No."

"Could you not have asked him to increase your pension?"

"We did."

"And he refused?"

"Yes."

"How could he—if you were pressed?"

"Mr. Lawne had different ideas from my mother about my education. He thought that it could be managed cheaply."

"It isn't expensive, surely," said Barbara, thinking how little had been spent on her own upbringing.

"No? But I have a voice, a really good voice, and talent—I speak three languages really well. I can dress my own hair and make my own clothes, I have many accomplishments."

Mignonette spoke without boasting, even gently.

"But what was the need?" asked Barbara. "I mean, for a woman this is not happiness. It sounds ambitious."

"It was. I had nothing. Neither money nor connections," she emphasized. "There was only marriage. With accomplishments one has a higher price."

"I wish you would not put it in that way."

"I suppose it is the same in England, only you are more hypocritical."

"Here we hope for—love."

"Oh, love!" echoed the French girl.

"At least," said Barbara hurriedly. "All this trouble and expense—what did it get you?"

"The marriage was not brilliant, but not impossible. Perhaps money, and a place in Parisian society."

"Have you made up your mind to accept it

"I suppose so. You see, I have no chance of anything else." Barbara pressed boldly into the matter, blushing at her own temerity.

"I wish you would wait until you can love someone, Mignonette. You are so young and so pretty—any day you might meet someone—"

She remembered the odd chance by which she had met Francis Shermandine.

"Do wait, Mignonette."

"I cannot afford to wait for love." The French girl spoke so reasonably, even sweetly, that Barbara was encouraged to freer speech, turning her narrowed shortsighted eyes on to the other's fresh face as she spoke.

"I ought to tell you, dear, that I can't help you. I fear now that you came here thinking that I could introduce you to some likely families." Barbara flushed, feeling this an odious thing to say, and hurried on. "Where you could find a better marriage—but I know so few." She rambled on, listening to her own voice, feeling ashamed, trying to persuade Aimée to return to France. She could do nothing for her, and, though she did not admit this to herself, she no longer wanted her at Stone Hall.

"You see, dear, though I know so little of society, I do know that without introductions—"

"I know—but there are ways of getting in."

"I did not think of them, of any of this," sighed Barbara. "But only of how we might make a pleasant, perhaps a loving acquaintance."

"I know, I know," interrupted the other with warmth, but not, Barbara thought, with feeling. "We are so grateful, my mother and myself. If you wished, she would write and tell you so."

"You have nothing to be grateful for, and I could not receive a letter from Madame Falconet."

"She knows that. She has not intruded."

The two young women came to a pause before a bed of tall evening primroses, the pale flowers luminous in the deepening shade. They had been turning round the garden paths for half an hour and Barbara, at least, had not observed the heat leaving the air, the ruby glow overspreading the ruby sky, the enchantment of shadow falling over the commonplace garden.

Now she looked closely, peering with her shortsighted eyes at Mignonette, who appeared very young, childish even, in her slenderness, with her hair in curls on her low forehead, like the buds of a hyacinth, and a forlorn pride in her erect little figure, as if she expected misfortune and was brave to face it.

"I want to make up your dowry," whispered Barbara nervously. "I can do that, at least, I shall speak to Mr. Bompast about it."

"If you are very wealthy and it makes no difference to you."

"No, I have a large fortune; there is a good deal of furniture here, also, silver and plate, far more than you see, if there is anything you care for."

"You are kind," said Mignonette simply.

Barbara thought, I wish I could discuss all this with Francis, he would help me so much. I suppose he will ask me to marry him when he comes to Portsmouth—when I am married I might help Mignonette to find an English husband, but, no, it is better she should return to France and that her mother should manage everything for her.

They moved slowly toward the house, past the red valerians, the sweet Williams, above which the night moths fluttered. Overhead a swift darted home.

"Tomorrow night," said Barbara, "I have a few friends to dinner—I am so sorry I could get no one amusing for you."

"Perhaps you would rather that I did not come down at all."

"Oh, no, of course not. But I fear it may be dull for you."


§ 16

Francis Shermandine came to Stone Hall with the intention of asking Barbara Lawne to be his wife. He had thought over this prospect frequently and discussed it often with Sir Timothy; it was so familiar to him that it seemed to him as if it had for very long been part of his designs, though he had known Barbara only for a few weeks.

His uncle had keenly approved the quiet lady with her sensitive intelligence that was not in the least aggressive but had, rather, a feminine timidity. She had many other advantages, a family not altogether obscure, a fortune sufficient to replenish the Boys estates for any charges she might make on them. This pleased Sir Timothy, who liked to be careful in some things that he might be extravagant in others.

However, she was conveniently isolated; she had no relations to be tiresome or difficult. Sir Timothy would have the marriage of his heir entirely his own way, as he had had everything his own way, as far as was humanly possible, all his life.

Barbara Lawne was not only a woman who could be guided into the pattern desirable for the mistress of the Boys fortune, but one who would be grateful to the trainer. The two men had gone far ahead in their discussions. Sir Timothy had suggested that the first son should be named Boys, and the first daughter Geraldine, after his late wife.

Apart from such calculations, he liked Barbara. He valued all that was uncommon about her. She was really different from all the young women whom he had considered as possible wives for Francis. Her almost cloistered existence, her unconscious self-sacrifice to her parents, her life in Portsmouth, neither of the city nor the country, as Sir Timothy knew the city and the country, gave her a rare quality that this sensitive man, himself so enclosed from the ugly and the commonplace, greatly prized.

He had been delighted with her letters to Francis, so impersonal that he could read them without question. He dwelt gratefully on the prospect of showing her his properties, of planning a suite of rooms, a garden for her special delight.

Francis shared all these sentiments and added to them a warm tenderness. He knew himself to be shy and fastidious, and he considered that he had been extremely fortunate in meeting Barbara Lawne, by one of those chances that had been given the name of destiny or fate.

When Sir Timothy had first seen her at her father's table, he had hardly noticed her—she had been so effaced and stayed so short a time and she had been most unbecomingly dressed. He often reflected on that. Her mourning was hideous, but the dull, heavy black did set off her pure coloring, and concealed, Sir Timothy suspected, her indifferent taste. In that matter, also, she could be trained.

Francis Shermandine, arriving at Stone Hall, was also disturbed by this question of taste.

The stern house, in a pretentious Palladian style, the overcrowded garden, the wide sweep of the gravel, the heavy portico, depressed him. His mental picture of Barbara against the background of exotic Mirabile, or the trim verandah of the Sandyrock Hotel, was blurred.

The interior cast a further gloom over his spirits. He was accustomed to avoiding such places. The rooms were overfurnished and everything was large and dark, from the gloomy pictures and prints in massive frames, to the sideboards like sarcophagi, and the marble vases like funeral urns. The radiant summer evening was shut out by thick curtains of dun-colored damask, and even the roses, stiffly arranged in cut glasses set where they could not catch the light, looked artificial.

How could she write those letters in this place? he thought, then told himself that this room was her father's fault. Probably the preoccupied man, with an invalid wife, had given upholsterers the order to furnish the home and never questioned anything but the accounts. Some of the pieces, good in themselves, had probably been purchased by the grandfather, the builder of this pompous, ugly house.

Barbara entered and her black dress blended sadly with the gloom of the surroundings, but the gentle, peering eyes, the sweet expression, warmed Francis. He took her hands gratefully, as if he wanted to snatch her away from Stone Hall.

"I am half an hour before my time," he began, and she interrupted with a nervous account of her little dinner, given expressly for him, "Dr. Mildmay and his wife, Mr. Latimer, a business friend of her father's—"

"I wanted to see you alone," said Francis, smiling. "We have come to know each other pretty well from our letters. I have brought you some small portfolios of drawings."

"You know that I value that." Her sincerity was touching, she flushed. "Perhaps I shall find the courage to show you mine, but, please, one request."

"Anything you like." He thought she was about to say how she detested the dismal house she had inherited, instead she brought up a subject that he had forgotten.

"I have my French friend staying here—it is very dull for her, I'm afraid I asked her on an impulse, without thinking of that."

"Of course, I remember."

"You will think her frivolous—but really she is accomplished, only not intellectual."

Francis understood that Barbara was asking him to be kind to an empty-headed girl, and smiled pleasantly. She thought how attractive was his narrow, authoritative, aquiline face with the brilliant hazel eyes, and he thought, She is the dearest creature. I shall tell her at once that I want her for my wife.

At that moment Mignonette entered the room. She paused inside the door as they fell a step farther apart.

"This is Mademoiselle Falconet," said Barbara smiling.

"I am called Mignonette." The girl advanced. "I did not know that anyone was here yet."

She made a civil conversation to cover the discomfiture of the other two interrupted at an emotional moment. Barbara had guessed what Francis was going to ask her. She felt deeply moved, but in no way resentful of Mignonette's intrusion, she was even pleased that her excited happiness was still to come, a treasure in reserve. Francis made perfunctory replies to the French girl, who, like a bird trying to escape from a cage, had gone to the window and kept glancing out as she spoke, so that she seemed to dissociate herself from the ugly room.

Barbara had never seen her look like this before; her hair was plastered in close curls, as if it had been molded, and surrounded by a tight coronal of amber-colored velvet buds, round the base of her throat was a necklace of square yellow topaz, and her dress simple green, cut heart shape over her bosom, with a tucker of Brussels lace.

"Shall I see if the table is quite ready—the flowers, the napkins?" Aimée asked, and, without waiting for an answer, was gone as quickly and gracefully as she had come.

"How old is she?" asked Francis.

"Eighteen." Barbara flushed, recalling that she had never asked the day of Aimée's birth. "She looks older."

"The dress is older, yes, for one so young."

Barbara sensed his disapproval, she herself thought she would not have known how to express her objections, thought that Aimée's appearance was not correct.

"What is her name?"

"Aimée. I wanted to call her Amy, in the English way, but she will have Mignonette, which is rather silly."

"But it suits her perfectly—the little Eastern reseda, with green flowers."

"Oh, is it?"

"Yes, Egyptian, the French have a sense for this kind of thing—'little darling.'"

"I am glad you don't dislike her," said Barbara, pleased.

Francis gave her an alert glance.

"Why should anyone dislike Mademoiselle Falconet?"

"Indeed, I don't know. I thought you might find her frivolous, people seem to think her odd."

"No doubt. Why is she here?"

Barbara put forth a plain tale too plainly. Francis, who had never before shown the slightest interest in her friend, now seemed to consider the matter closely.

The girl was without relations, friends, introductions; she was to be married in the autumn?

"Yes, yes, and yes," smiled Barbara.

"I cannot imagine why she wanted to come to Portsmouth."

Barbara did not doubt that this seemed strange. She wished that the secret was entirely her own so that she could confide it to Francis. She was grateful that he had taken serious notice of Aimée, and told him so warmly.

"She is lovely," he replied abruptly.

The other guests arrived and the commonplace of the evening absorbed Barbara, but not entirely. Deep in her mind was the new realization of her half sister as a lovely woman. Francis had said so, and she respected his fastidious taste. Several times she glanced at Aimée, who had behaved charmingly during the long, dull dinner, but who looked, behind that snowy damask, those cut-glass vases of pink roses, that silver-gilt epergne loaded with hothouse fruit, decidedly out of place, a foreigner, a woman dressed differently from the other women, too much at ease for a young girl, for her dubious position. For always, even in the midst of her generous impulses toward Aimée, Barbara had had an unacknowledged feeling, deep bred from her Puritan ancestry and upbringing, that Aimée ought to be ashamed of her origin. And again with a light shock of surprise there echoed in her mind—Aimée is lovely—Francis thinks she is lovely. Barbara peered across the table to where Aimée sat beside the doctor, and wondered wherein this beauty consisted. It seemed to her that perhaps she had never understood about beauty.

It was a heavy evening, but Barbara did not care or even notice. She was serenely confident in the future. She felt sure, before the evening was out, that Francis would make another appointment to see her, and then all their affairs would be settled. Then, too, perhaps, as he admired Aimée, he might in some way help her by introducing her to some of the many young people he must know. But she dismissed these kind reflections. It would be much better for Aimée, who was so different from everyone Barbara knew, to return to Paris and her marriage.


§ 17

In the drawing-room, after the coffee, Aimée stood up from her ugly crimson chair and crossed over to Francis, who had quickly come up from the dining-room with the other men.

"Would you take me to see the Gun Wharf and the Blacksmith's Shop, Mr. Shermandine?" she asked.

Impulsively Barbara exclaimed, "Oh, you never said that you wished to go!"

"You are not interested," smiled Aimée, "so how could I tease you?"

"No one goes to these places except the naval people," protested the doctor's wife.

"I understand, because you live here, you are so used to it." Aimée's smile deepened. "But Mr. Shermandine and I are strangers, so I thought we might go."

"Of course," said Francis. "I, too, want to see these curious sights—Barbara must come also."

"I suppose I would like to see them," said Barbara, surprised at this situation. "I never thought of it."

The expedition was arranged and when they were alone together Barbara told Aimée how sorry she was not to have thought of this pleasure herself.

"I suppose there are many amusing things in Portsmouth, we have lived so very quietly. Father met many of the naval officers, but very few came here, and we never had any invitations because of Mother's health."

Aimée flicked this laborious explanation aside by remarking, "Oh, it will be a little distraction!"

"I feared you were finding it dull."

Barbara thought, Why doesn't she see that this visit is a failure? Why doesn't she go home, where she is liked, even loved?

She kissed Aimée good night, on the threshold of the Chinese room, and murmured, "I think that you dress in too old a style, Mignonette, like a married woman."

"Oh, but it is so simple." She drew back into her room, and looked at herself in the long cheval glass.

"I know, but it is different—and your hair—"

"I did it with pomade glycerine. You don't like it?"

"It is odd. In England one must not look odd. Then for young girls there are only pearls."

"I have only the topaz."

"You should have some pearls." Barbara was uneasy. She felt that she ought to have given this advice before the dinner party, and that she had allowed Aimée to make a bad impression. Everyone had been very distant to her save Francis, and he was obviously trying to be kind.

"How anxious you are that no one should be different from anyone else," smiled Aimée.

"I am—it doesn't do," said Barbara awkwardly. "It was odd, dear, to want to see the Gun Wharf."

"Was it?"

"And I could have arranged it through Mr. Bompast if you had really wanted to go. Mr. Shermandine is an architect, an artist."

"Then he will be interested in the Gun Wharf."

"How do you know about it, dear?"

"Oh, I bought a guidebook," Aimée laughed. "There is some of my lip salve on your cheek! Let me wipe it off."

Barbara hurried to the glass and saw a faint crimson mark on her tired face.

"Oh Aimée, you use paint!"

"When there is a party, on the lips and cheeks."

"At your age!" Barbara, shocked, scrubbed at her cheek with a hasty handkerchief. "Really you should not, over here it would never be tolerated."

"In France it is the custom, and at the court."

Barbara recalled that she had always heard the French court referred to as extremely vulgar, and avoided by the French gentlefolk.

She turned away, distressed. The evening seemed to have been a failure, and that moment when Francis had taken her hands so warmly in his was already a long time ago.

He had left without speaking of his portfolios or mentioning hers; everyone's attention had been taken up with this proposed visit to the Gun Wharf and the Blacksmith's Shop.


§ 18

Francis Shermandine had arranged the visit to Portsea smoothly. The ladies drove through the quay gates where he met them with a guide, a man employed in the Arsenal, and they dismounted by the King's Mill, that, driven by a stream of salt water from the harbor, ground the grain for the Victualling Office. Then they proceeded on foot to the Gun Wharf. It was a cloudless day, and Aimée held up a little parasol of yellow silk with a deep fringe that cast a glow over her face under the chip straw hat.

"What do you want to see?" asked Francis.

About them was the Grand Arsenal, the Armory, storehouses, smiths' and carpenters' shops, those of collar makers and armorers.

The guns of the men o' war were laid by themselves, each in a pyramid with the highest bores at the bottom, with the name of the ship painted on the first gun. Beside these were the bomb shells in the same order.

As a background were the genteel houses of the officers of the yard, with trees in full leafage before them.

"It has a very grotesque effect," said Francis. "Here are the very implements of war, quite useless and stupid looking—and all these men we see hurrying about plan nothing but destruction."

"It is pleasing," said Aimée. "So neat and quiet."

"So deceptive," answered Francis. "Next to this wharf is the greatest naval arsenal in the world, from which huge flotillas have been fitted out."

"It is hot," remarked Barbara, fearing that he was wearied by this whim of Aimée's. "And a strange place to be at full noon—there is no shelter."

"But a sea breeze," said Aimée. "I do not mind the heat. I desire to see the Blacksmith's Shop."

To Barbara this seemed a boisterous entertainment, and she suggested that they should visit the model of the Victory, the warship that had gone down with a thousand men near the race of Alderney, and Mr. Wright's Orrery. Both these curiosities were in the naval college, and she had heard her father mention the building of the five-foot model vessel with the twisted silk rigging.

But Aimée was insistent. And the three followed their guide to the Blacksmith's Shop where all the anchors for the fleet were forged.

A blast of heat met them, and standing in the doorway they looked upon an awful and unnatural scene.

Noise and glaring light encompassed them, the glowing furnaces roared, the huge hammers clanged on the anvils, sparks of fiery metal flew into the crimson air, the workmen, naked to the waist, moved about, sweating, intent on their heavy tasks.

Monstrous pairs of bellows were worked by a windlass, and a gigantic man, suspended by slings under his arms, helped to emit the air from the huge nozzles by pressing first one and then the other bellows with his foot as they rose.

The spectators had come in idleness, Barbara unwillingly, and what they saw had been going on every day for the whole of her life, and her father's life at Stone Hall, but the glaring display seemed to her not only an astonishing novelty, but important.

She felt as if something had happened that made her even days commonplace; though she had seen death at close hand more than once, it had always been neat and decorous. Here was a spectacle grand, alien, and terrible. The shapes of the huge anchors darkling through the intense glow, the shooting up of the orange flames, the showers of metallic sparkles, the man slung aloft, with his feet moving on the bellows in a straining rhythm, the others moving about as she had never seen human beings look before, the continuous blows of the ponderous hammer, all impressed her as a reality that made her own experience appear shadowy.

She glanced at Francis Shermandine, and in the thick light could hardly focus him. He was nearly blotted out by the brilliancy. His figure, with the gray summer jacket buttoned to the chin, appeared insubstantial; his face, narrow and high featured, was scarcely to be seen, and changed by the usual pale coloring being flushed red from the glow.

Aimée appeared expressionless, a wraith, her thin clothes in the flame light seemed flames themselves, as if she were already consumed by the overpowering strength of the furnaces. She and Francis seemed transformed and sullied by the monstrous place.

"I feel faint," murmured Barbara. No one heard her because of the noise. She pulled at the guide's sleeve, he drew her outside, and the others followed. She did feel giddy and put her hands to her ears, for the hammer blows were ringing in her head.

"I shall never forget it!" she exclaimed. "And to think that it has been there all the time!"

The sunlight shimmered before her sight. Aimée took hold of her with a gesture of comfort.

Her vision steadied and she saw them as they had been, and was reassured.

"But you liked it, Mr. Shermandine?" asked Aimée, still holding Barbara lightly. "It is for a painter, is it not?"

"Yes," he replied. "It is something one could not think of unless one saw it—why did you think of it, Mademoiselle?"

"Curiosity," she replied. "I wanted to see the great anchors being forged in fire that will lie so cold in the ocean."

Barbara thought this an odd remark, and Francis did not reply. "Come back with us to Stone Hall," continued Aimée, "and I shall sing to you, Mr. Shermandine."

Barbara pressed the request, thinking, She never offered to sing for me.

Francis accepted and fee'd the guide, and they returned to their carriage at the quay gates.

Aimée looked about her in disarming friendliness, as if she meant well to all the world. Barbara tried to speak of indifferent matters. She was sure that Francis had not wished to see the gigantic forge, and did not desire to hear Aimée sing. She felt, uneasily, that his fine taste was above these schoolgirl accomplishments.

Again she reflected that Aimée was a failure. Surely she would soon be returning to France. She wrote so many letters for the foreign post, surely to her mother and her future husband, yet she only spoke of them when Barbara forced her to do so.

When they reached Stone Hall, Barbara wanted to rest and have tea served in the heavy drawing-room, but Aimée went at once to the pianoforte and sang her French song, accompanying herself.

Barbara was not surprised to hear that she was, after all, an excellent musician and had a beautiful voice. She had tossed off her little green hat, and shaken back her thick rolls of hair that untwisted over her shoulders. On her deeply curved upper lip was a little dew of heat. Her fingers were alert and swift, as if they scattered gold into the room. She sang with warm feeling and a touch of passion, as if she addressed someone beloved who was withdrawn from her for a while.

Barbara was forced to watch her and only looked away when Aimée rose, saying, "That is enough, now I shall go to my room. Good afternoon, Mr. Shermandine."

She was gone.

Barbara wanted to say she was sorry that her guest had suggested the forge that they did not want to see, and had sung without being asked, but was awkwardly silent.

"You must also be tired," remarked Francis kindly.

"Yes, a little."

She did not know what to say to him. The song that she had not understood at all had shattered her thoughts not yet composed after the visit to the Blacksmith's Shop. What had it meant? She had not understood the words.

"You forgot to bring the portfolios," she added.

"No, indeed," he took this up eagerly. "But they were too bulky—there is so much that I want to show you. Sir Timothy wishes me to ask you to stay at Judith Spinney. He is inviting my widowed cousin, Mrs. Nicolas Dursley, and please bring Mademoiselle Falconet."

"She is soon returning to France—she would not wish to disturb you."

"It is such a large house," he smiled. "We hope to ask several people. Sir Timothy has not entertained since his wife's death. Do come, I have so much to show you."

"You dislike this place?" she asked wistfully.

"No, indeed," he protested, but unconvincingly. Barbara was sure that he wanted to escape from the need of visiting her at Stone Hall; that he was irked by everything she had about her in that cold home.

"It is ugly and overcrowded," she admitted. "I think you would like the Chinese room—Aimée has it now."

"Mignonette—she desired you to call her that, and it suits her."

"Mignonette, then." Barbara smiled, but she felt that the afternoon had been a disappointment. Francis Shermandine, she was sure, was out of place in Portsmouth. They had both lost a romantic background when they had left the Isle of Wight. She knew that their relationship was in suspension, that it was something that could not flourish here, but that would revive in the beautiful seclusion of Judith Spinney.

She smiled at him gratefully and did not suggest that he stay to drink tea. The last details of their visit were arranged easily, for she found that he had everything planned. He must have meant to ask her for some time.

When she went to the Chinese room she found Aimée seated at the window, with that keen upward gazing look she had, as if she strained to be away. She accepted at once the invitation from Sir Timothy Boys with her usual cool sweetness.

"It is very hot here, it will be agreeable to be in the country."


§ 19

When Barbara woke she knew that she had been assaulted by a dream and she lay still, endeavoring to dismiss the vision.

Only the evil of the dream remained, the scenes and figures had vanished. The familiar pieces in her room did not reassure her. She had always disliked the smooth red ponderous mahogany without being aware of this, now she knew that the solid furniture against the pale faded blue lattice-patterned wallpaper was depressing, and that the thick blue rep curtains defeated the brightening day. The bed was too large, with massive head and foot boards; the steel engravings on the walls, showing infernal and celestial scenes, that she had before hardly noticed, intruded on her with alarming clarity. The winding perspectives, the shouldering mountains, the impenetrable chasms, the lofty, fire-edged clouds were alike terrible. She shrank both from Heaven and Hell. Yet there was no comfort in her earthly surroundings. Everything was tainted by the dream and she wondered what it had been. Almost she could recall it; surely Francis had performed in that ghastly pantomime, and so had Mignonette and another woman, surely Madame Falconet. Barbara felt no difficulty now about the idle, childish name. Aimée had been Mignonette in her dream, and involved with the odd stiff green flowers, and Barbara would never think of her otherwise or without recalling the little plant that Francis said was a green reseda from the East.

A shaft of sunlight fell into the room, for Barbara slept with the curtains drawn back, but this brought no comfort, only an added melancholy.

She brooded, feeling both the futility of the actual scene and of her forgotten dream. She wondered why her happiness had been lost. For she had been happy in the Isle of Wight when she had met Francis Shermandine and believed that he was interested in her timid existence.

Nothing had changed. She believed that he meant to ask her to be his wife, and this prospect was more brilliant than anything she could have hoped for a few months ago. Yet happiness seemed remote. It was, surely, the coming of Mignonette, the visit to the hideous furnace, the girl's French song, that had not only broken the delicate enchantment that had lain over Barbara, but even menaced her peace.

I am still dreaming, she thought, sitting up in bed with a shudder. Nothing untoward has happened, it must still be the dream.

She blamed Stone Hall for her disease. She was astonished that she had lived so long in the gaunt house, she even considered that it might be pulled down. Yet nothing horrible had happened there; built by commonplace people, it had merely been the background for their pretentious lives and deaths.

I must get away. Barbara rose, pushed her feet into her slippers and her hands into her hair. I am so glad that we are going to Sir Timothy Boys' place.

She peered at herself in the cheval glass. The mirror hung straight on the uprights, and she saw a figure in a long white gown, with falling locks, that resembled the insipid angels in the gloomy prints on the walls.

I wonder, she considered in the bewilderment left by the forgotten dream, what song it was Mignonette sang—neither Francis nor I asked her.


§ 20

Mignonette had only four frocks, a black dress in reserve, and two pelisses, as she termed her mantles, no jewels save the topaz necklet, and no furs. She gravely explained this to Barbara who replied that this wardrobe was sufficient for the visit to Judith Spinney.

"I am still in mourning, and Mrs. Nicolas Dursley, who is there as a chaperone, will be very quiet."

"Why?"

"Because of the mourning," explained Barbara. She would like to have repeated that Mignonette's dresses were too old and too odd, but thought this would be a hopeless protest. But there was one matter on which she might be explicit.

"When are you returning to France?"

"In September—perhaps the last of September. Madame Dumarais, who is my godmother, is preparing my corbeille and Maman is completing my trousseau."

Barbara noticed that though Mignonette had at first spoken of herself as quite friendless and isolated, she continually mentioned different people who were rendering her services. Neglected as she had been, she now claimed a godmother.

"It is all very modest," added Mignonette. "But all of the best quality—my mother has good taste and judgment."

Madame Falconet had not been mentioned since her daughter's first arrival and Barbara inwardly winced.

"You must see Mr. Bompast, if you will," she nerved herself to say. "I do not know sufficient business to act without him; you recall that I want to transfer some money to you."

"You need not," replied Mignonette, with a ready but indifferent smile. "Mr. Bompast knows I am here?"

"Of course."

"And he is angry?"

"Oh, no. He is a lawyer and my friend—he does not think it wise."

"But he is safe—I mean he will not tell?"

"Of course." Barbara was shocked. "Why should he? He respects Papa's memory." At once feeling, as she often felt when speaking to Mignonette, that she had been betrayed into a rebuke, Barbara added quickly, "Is not your fiancé disappointed at your long absence?"

"He is employed in starting his factory."

To Barbara this had an odious sound.

"Has he no profession?"

"Yes—that—a manufacturer. My dowry is to help him but he has some capital. His estates do not pay at all."

"What will the factory produce?" asked Barbara shyly, thinking of iron and earthenware.

"Paste jewelry and watches."

Barbara was surprised. She had never considered anyone making a living out of such trivial articles.

"It is interesting," added Aimée. "Do you want to know anything more of him? He is a country gentleman aged about twenty-seven years, and his name is Etienne Gerard St. Germer de Berteaucourtnot, as you might suppose St. Germains, of the palace at Laye. He went to the agency to find a wife with a little money for his enterprise, but he wanted an agreeable person."

Barbara thought that the civil way in which Mignonette spoke was unfriendly, even spiced with mockery. She could not bring herself to say more than, "I hope that Mr. Bompast has paid you your legacy."

"Maman has just received it," smiled Aimée. "She will pay off what we owe on this sum, and keep the balance for my marriage settlement."

What a failure, thought Barbara, this impulse of mine was—we are not like sisters, or even close friends! She gives one no confidence, she is always well behaved, and quite reserved. She cares nothing about me—it is painful to have her here. How different was Caroline Atwood.

"What was the name of that French song you sang?" she asked, in order to say something.

But Mignonette had forgotten, not only the song but the incident.


§ 21

Judith Spinney, for whose solace and protection Barbara's heart panted, was a small handsome mansion set in a wide shallow hollow. The style was classical, and it was little more than a century old. Built of pleasant-colored gray stone, there was a well-proportioned portico, and in front, giving an air of serenity, a plot of lawn, divided from the double carriage sweep by short white posts linked by chains. Beyond was turf again and a grove, surrounding the house, of beech trees. No shrub or flower was in sight, and the effect was severe but not dismal, for house and lawn stood clear to the sky, unshaded, the grove being well set away from the mansion.

Francis Shermandine had described the place in his letters to Barbara. The odd name came from a chapel believed to have been once attached to the Benedictine monastery that had stood on this site. It had been dedicated to St. Jude, the name had been taken to be Judas and of ill omen, and changed to Judith and attached to the ancient spinney that had formerly grown on this spot. A handsome house, after the Reformation, had been built out of the stones of the monastery by Edward Boys. On this being destroyed by fire, Sir John Boys had built the present mansion in the Italian taste of his day. But part of the Benedictine buildings were, the young architect had written, still standing, and it was in these ruins that he was employed on rebuilding.

Mrs. Nicolas Dursley received the guests. She was an amiable woman who had had her day and remained a helpful and amused spectator of life. She reminded Barbara of Caroline Atwood, but she was obviously less intelligent and better dressed.

The interior of the house was beautiful. The large rooms were designs in light and space, with a few splendid or lovely objects carefully arranged. The sun seemed to be everywhere, there were windows even on the walls of the white alabaster staircase, with the fine brass baluster.

Barbara's room was at the front, and filled with the radiance of an August afternoon. The furniture was of the last century, delicate, glistening with a shining patina. Studies of children in pastels were on the walls covered with straw-colored silk; the bed was spread with a rich brocade. Barbara felt ashamed of the mourning and of Stone Hall. But her heart lifted, like a delighted bird set free from a trap.


§ 22

Lucy Dursley was an accomplished hostess, and there was no other guest besides the vicar of the village that lay beyond the beech woods, the Rev. Erasmus Swan, who had been invited to balance the first dinner, and give it a slightly formal air.

Barbara felt intensely grateful to Sir Timothy for allowing her into his home, and, as she supposed, into his life. Here, in his own place, he was stately and impressive as well as courteous and animated; more definitely a personage than when she had seen him at Mirabile, that freakish residence. He seemed to belong to a world in every way desirable.

The sight of him dispelled the unaccountable melancholy and uneasiness she had felt since Francis Shermandine had left Portsmouth. Sir Timothy was so stable, so sure of himself, despite his sadness, loneliness, and gray hair; he seemed so permanent, to represent a world so well ordered that she herself felt her certainties renewed.

She was sure that she would always admire and respect him, and she earnestly hoped when she was mistress of Judith Spinney that she would contribute to his happiness.

Sir Timothy, his house, the service he commanded, the deference shown him by Lucy Dursley and the vicar, all soothed Barbara and made her feel that life was simple, luxurious, and safe.

Mignonette came last to the reception room that was lit, in the old style, with candles. This was her first appearance before Sir Timothy and his nephew. Barbara noted that she wore the dress with the heart-shaped décolletage and the ruffle of Brussels lace. She had declined Harding's assistance as lady's maid, and had herself achieved an exquisite neatness. To Barbara it was as if she had never seen her properly before, so brilliantly was she set off against the pale pinewood walls, by the light of the candles sparkling through the crystals of the central candelabrum. Not until now, when she stood so close to her in this soft light, did Barbara perceive how perfectly her eyes matched her topaz brooch, and how their sparkling colors blended with the hue of the velvet roses in her smoothly rolled hair.

Her coming brought a pause in the civil talk, and Barbara thought, They are displeased that I brought this foreigner. But Mignonette, as always, was calm. "My name is the same as yours," she said on hearing that the vicar's name was Erasmus Swan. No one understood her, all seemed, Barbara was sure, disturbed.

But Mrs. Dursley brought the chatter to life again and Francis said, "Yes, they were the same."

Now Mignonette contradicted herself and remarked that, "Beloved was not the same as desired," and they went into the dining-room.

Barbara was still happy because of this good company and beautiful surroundings, and because Francis Shermandine was there, smiling on her, but she felt a note of discord.

Surely it was Mignonette, so different from the others, who had caused this constraint. She herself spoke freely, with correct tone and subject, but Barbara felt that she embarrassed Sir Timothy, Francis, and Lucy Dursley alike. Their manners were not easy, for all their good breeding, and they answered the French girl in a perfunctory fashion.

Barbara wished she had not brought her. It had been too complaisant of Francis to ask her, nor would the visit be any use to Mignonette, there was no young company for her; besides, she had her future settled in another country.

Probably they think that I have been very indiscreet, she reflected, and this was a flaw on her contentment. And her never ceasing wonder as to why her half sister remained with her flickered in her mind. But when Mignonette, as soon as all were in the noble saloon with the sumptuous tapestry and the gilt chairs filled with green cushions, offered to withdraw as if she were a dependent, Barbara felt remorseful about her thoughts.

"Please don't go, unless you are tired," said Lucy Dursley. "Usually we have music."

"Yes, I am tired," smiled Mignonette. "I have a most charming apartment and I shall sleep well."

She was gone, and it seemed to Barbara as if something in the room flickered, and went out. Perturbed, she said at random, "Mignonette does not remember the name of the French song she sang."

"It is not French," replied Francis at once. "But Mignon's own song, from 'Wilhelm Meister,' Shubert, you know."

Barbara was abashed, she knew one only of this cycle. She murmured, "Knowest thou the land where the palm tree grows."

Francis replied that Mignonette had sung Heiss mich nicht reden in French, and Sir Timothy remarked that he would like to hear her. Mrs. Dursley thought this would be charming, and the evening passed languidly until Barbara saw through the crystal ball that held the clock that the hour was nearly on the stroke of ten.

She then rose and it seemed like an escape.


§ 23

"You have not seen my black dress," said Mignonette. "I am sure you will say that it is too old for me, but it will keep you in countenance with your mourning."

Barbara replied, "You must order some new clothes—as a wedding gift from me. I have some jewels for you, also."

"I could not have my clothes made save in France," smiled Mignonette gently. "I am used, you know, to that style."

"Oh, dear—I wish you could be more friendly," sighed Barbara. "Everyone is very kindly here, and I had so hoped we would be like sisters."

Her words sounded feeble even to herself and she wished that she had not spoken.

"But I am most grateful, and fond of you, dear Barbara, but one cannot always be saying so."

"No," replied Barbara. "I would rather be frank. I acted rashly, and it has been a failure."

"Why do you want to talk of it? It is a pity even to think of failure."

"Because I feel this constraint, this reserve."

"You think that I am not liked here?" Mignonette had a soft caress in her voice. "That my three dresses are too mean? Well, tonight I wear the other. I, too, will be in mourning for Mr. Lawne."

"It seems wrong when you speak of him so."

"Wrong when I speak of him at all?" smiled Mignonette. "Poor Barbara, well, soon I shall be gone."

The words were welcome, ashamed as she was of this, to the listener. Mignonette fitted exquisitely into the beautiful backgrounds of Judith Spinney, yet to her half sister she seemed more out of place than she had been at Stone Hall.

It was not that she intruded on Barbara and Francis Shermandine. She kept to the company of Lucy Dursley or Sir Timothy, patiently admiring his collections, his plantations, and his stovehouses. Never did she interfere when Francis showed his portfolios or when he and Barbara walked in the gardens that, in the Scotch fashion, were detached from the house. It was not, therefore, that Barbara felt the slightest sparkle of rivalry with the French girl, but rather a remorse that she had, at a whim, as it were, brought her from her home, and then not been able to make a companion of her, much less to love her as a sister.

The deception weighed on her also. Sir Timothy had questioned her about Mignonette, and she had then realized that her evasions were really lies, and not convincing. Sir Timothy had not pressed her, but she wondered if he were convinced of the truth of what she said; perhaps he thought it odd that Barbara should know so intimately a foreign girl from "nowhere." Yes, that is how Mignonette would appear—from "nowhere"—and Barbara recalled that first impression she had of the country from which her half sister had come as a region of fabulous radiance.


§ 24

Mignonette wore the black dress. It had long sleeves, a tight bodice, and was cut low in front. Barbara could see nothing in it different from her own mourning. Mignonette's hair was combed in a heavy fringe, and rolled at the back with small jet combs.

She promised to sing after supper, and when she sat at the pianoforte, she was outlined against the gray walls, every detail of her appearance exact, as if she had been trained to sit in public, showing off her figure, her hands, and her head, bent slightly on the erect neck.

Now Barbara knew what she sang, and could follow the words, for she repeated Heiss mich nicht reden. Barbara remembered that she had spoken of the money spent on her musical training. She had, besides this advantage, a beautiful contralto voice. She sang two other songs from "Wilhelm Meister"—"Mignon songs," she said. These were in the German language and Barbara did not understand them at all, though the singer announced the titles. So lorst mich scheinen and Nur Wie die sehnsucht kennt.

Lucy Dursley thanked her warmly, the two men murmured civilities. Barbara felt that the lovely music had been out of place.

Mignonette left the drawing-room at once, as was her habit. She never stayed after she had sung.

"We have a ghost at Judith Spinney," remarked Sir Timothy.

"Why speak of it?" smiled Lucy Dursley. "I am sure that Barbara has not seen it."

Barbara glanced at Francis, who sat thoughtfully, half-turned away from her, and asked him if he had ever seen a phantom.

"Yes," he admitted. "But I know they are phantoms. I am not deceived. They are not what one would expect. I know the history of this place, and I never see any of the former inhabitants."

"Idle imaginings," remarked Sir Timothy. "But why do they come into your mind?"

Uncle and nephew sat down to their usual game of chess. Barbara watched their fine hands move over the pieces of ebony and ivory. Mrs. Dursley was reading and Barbara sat in idleness, faintly disturbed, yet soothed by the peaceful, luxurious room, the quiet occupation of the two men, the sense of security that filled the house, as if it were a great ship becalmed on summer seas.

Before they parted for the night, Francis Shermandine asked her to visit the Benedictine ruins with him on the following day.


§ 25

They had crossed the walled garden and the beech groves, and passed through some fields divided by a stream almost hidden by forget-me-not, hairy catstail, mint, and sedges.

"The summer declines," said Francis Shermandine.

"Yet it is still a sweet and warm repose," said Barbara. She gazed on the placid scene that seemed to shame her heavy mourning, the dark muslins that dragged in the grasses.

It had been a temperate season, with sufficient rain to preserve the greenness of nature. The sun was well past the zenith, and all the details of the scene showed in a flushed and sparkling light. The golden disks of the tansy gleamed in thick clusters above the stream, the paler yellow of the hag's taper rose in lofty spikes. As they approached the hedge, Barbara observed the bright pink flowers of the centaury, the brilliant violet clusters of the purple veitch, and the white bells of the convolvulus spreading over the bank and into the twisted hawthorn and bramble of the hedge itself, the swelling green berries already overrun with fumitory, everlasting pea, and traveler's joy.

All these little flowers were bright as paintings in a book of miniature to Barbara, but the man beside her seemed insubstantial, as he had seemed when they had visited the gigantic forge.

In the next field stood the ruins. They leaned against the five-barred gate, looking at the gray masonry, the broken shafts, and shattered columns still rising about the distant oaks. The mountain ash trees growing in the open aisles showed the flushing of their clustered berries between the stone framework of the windows. One of these, of noble proportions, was being repaired; the stone tracery that made three roses or marigolds within the one large rose or marigold, was complete, new, and clean.

In other parts the walls had been rebuilt, but the ragged hawkweed, the elegant fern, the blotched veitch embellished most of the ancient structure.

Francis told Barbara that his work on the chapel was largely the result of whim and very costly. Therefore, he felt that he could not overcharge his uncle's generosity. He only put in practice, now and then, the plans and drawings he delighted to make. He was not reconstructing the chapel, that would have been too easy, but using it as a basis for fantasy.

They entered the ruined church. It had no meaning for Barbara. The natural beauty of the scene impinged on the forsaken place of worship. She was conscious most of all of the sunshine and the flowers that seemed to enchain her to earth. Here it was impossible to think of heaven. There seemed nothing left to desire, nothing left to pray for. Francis conducted her up the wooden stairs that led to the scaffolding behind the Eastern window. There, on a platform, they could look out across a far perspective, beyond the yellowing oaks in the hollow, and see woods, meadows, reaped cornfields spread in a level radiance.

Barbara thought, Why am I not more moved, standing here with Francis? Why do I only notice the scene? He is going to ask me to be his wife and I shall be most happy. I must be entranced with joy, afterwards I shall remember every second of this—

"Do you feel giddy?" he asked. "There is a steep drop through the window—I recall that you felt giddy in the Blacksmith's Shop."

"No, I had not even considered it." Barbara rested her hand on the sharp curve of the stone tracery and looked out across the lovely prospect; clear of the circling framework, she could see a wide campaign.

"But it is dangerous," said Francis. "Give me your hand." They descended, and stood in the grassy aisle, the light was receding from the clear sky above their heads as they paced up and down.

"Barbara, you are such a dear creature," he said tenderly. "I hope that you will always think well of me. I hope that you will always be a friend of mine even if you don't think well of me."

"Of course. I have every reason to be grateful to you."

"Don't say any more, Barbara. I am impelled to be candid with you, because I respect you so much. I was going to have asked you to be my wife."

She felt a chill, a darkening, but forced herself to keep step with him, pace by pace across the late summer grass.

"Perhaps you would, in your innocent kindness, have agreed. It would have been wrong for both of us."

"Oh, what is it!" The exclamation broke from her and she put her left hand to her eyes.

"It is Mignonette," he replied earnestly. "Don't you see that it is Mignonette?"

Barbara was incredulous.

"But she is going away. She won't be part of my life much longer—if she—if you don't like her—"

"I love her, Barbara. That can't be helped. She is so very beautiful." Barbara turned aside and leaned against the wall. A great mullein grew before her, waist high, the pale yellow flowers like a spike of unnatural light—hag's taper.

"You are beautiful also," added Francis gravely. "To another, you would be more beautiful, but for me, it is Mignonette. She resembles you also."

"Ah, you think so?"

"Yes, to a painter's eye. Will you help me, Barbara? I have not even spoken to her alone."

"She is going away. She is to be married in France next month."

"That must be prevented."

"Why should it be?" she demanded, with a sudden rise of passion. "Why should you overturn all these plans?"

"Don't be angry with me, dear, dear Barbara. You see, you don't love me. I know that now."

"You know it?"

"Yes, because of what I feel for Mignonette."

He was standing between her and the last sunlight, his shadow was over her and the hag's taper was in her path, as if preventing her from moving.

She tried to think if what he said was true. She felt desolate, disappointed; many rainbow prospects had faded from her future, yet surely, if she had loved him, she would have been more terribly moved.

"I think we pleased one another," she smiled faintly.

"And many people marry on no more than that, but you are far above that."

"I ask no more." She still tried to smile. "I shall be candid also. I would have taken you, and the place you hold, and been grateful. But it may be that I do not love you—in the fashion that you mean. I wanted to get away from Stone Hall," she hurried on. "And when you noticed me at Sandyrock, I was really happy, then the portfolios—"

Childish tears came to her eyes. "I am saying too much."

"I admire you deeply, Barbara. I can't explain, I don't admire Mignonette, I don't know anything about her—but from the first moment, when she sang—"

"What did the words mean?"

"'Do not bid me speak.'"

"It was a message to you?"

"I don't know. That is where I want you to help me."

"I don't know either." Barbara retreated from the witch's flower and, crossing to the scaffolding under the window, sat down on one of the planks. She was exhausted and conscious of the beating of her heart.

"I asked her to come to Stone Hall because I was lonely. I thought, in a foolish way, that we might be friends. We never have been. And she is returning to France."

"Who is Mignonette?" asked Francis.

Barbara repeated the story she had told Sir Timothy. She thought that it sounded like an invention, even as it left her lips.

"I thought that no one liked her—that she was considered odd."

"Oh, could you not see—" He checked himself. "Yes, perhaps she would seem just that."

"What does it matter? You must ask her yourself about the future."

"I hoped that you might advise me."

"No, I cannot. I never met her mother." This came before Barbara realized how startling an evasion it was, considering how well she had known Mignonette's father. She hurried on. "I cannot tell you anything about her."

"You can ask her to see me."

"That, yes, if you wish. But she is to be married next month."

"It is an arranged affair. The fellow cannot feel for her as he should, or he would not have let her go away for so long. Yet it is strange that anyone—" Again he paused and Barbara asked:

"Do you mean that it is strange that everyone should not love Mignonette?"

He did not answer and Barbara rose. She supposed that she ought to thank him for his confidence, but she felt numb, stupid, again thrust out, as she had felt at Sandyrock, from the warmth and the light of life.

Francis Shermandine offered her his hand, but she rose without touching him. She had no repulsion from him, but he seemed remote. Already she was astonished to recall that she had been willing to marry him, it was as if she had taken a bandage off her eyes. Before, in blindness, she had imagined him insubstantial, but familiar; now he was clear to her new vision, but alien. Still she felt wistfully sorry for him and for herself.

"Oh, poor Francis!"

At that his control almost gave way.

"I wish that I had never met her!" he exclaimed.

Her pity then overwhelmed all her other emotions and she approached him frankly.

"If you feel that, cannot you forget her?" she asked warmly. "It cannot be more than a fascination."

"Darling Barbara," he responded eagerly. "I need a friend, will you always be my friend? I have been lonely—I was not mistaken in turning to you."

"Yes, oh yes, indeed, but what use could I ever be to you?"

"By being there, dearest Barbara. And, who knows, some day—I might need you." He seemed to shudder and turned his face upward in the paling light.

She noted that he did not expect happiness, or even peace, from his love for Mignonette. And he came close to her thought when he said, pressing her hand, "I wish we could have loved one another, Barbara."

"Is it to be wished?" she sighed.

"Not for you—some day you will find someone—"

"No. I am twenty-seven years old."

"You are lovely and kind," he answered. "Remember, if I need you I shall come to you."

This soothed her ache. She touched his hand.

"I should always be ready to—what? I am so useless."

Francis Shermandine shook his head.

"I don't know, but I shall always feel that you are my friend."

They went home across the fields, by the hidden stream, through the walled garden to Judith Spinney that rose, clear-cut in the twilight, as if built of gray alabaster.

"You," said Francis, "could have such a home; you are rich, no need to go back to Stone Hall."

"I suppose I could. I don't know how my affairs stand. I don't want to talk of them."

They parted under the portico, and Barbara went at once to her room.

She was much shaken, her limbs felt heavy and languid. An interlude was over, and it was difficult for her to adjust herself to the cessation of her expectations. There were problems to be considered also. Ought Francis Shermandine be told who Mignonette really was? What should her attitude be toward the girl? Once she had been strongly opposed to the mercenary French marriage, therefore if Mignonette loved Francis—loved—she could no longer use the word lightly.

The young man talking to her with such engaging frankness had given her a new meaning to what had hitherto been to her a romantic dream.

He had not seemed happy in avowing his feelings for Mignonette, but rather disturbed, vexed, alarmed. "I wish that I had never met her!" he had exclaimed, and he had made a gesture of bent head and outflung arms, as if he had been a child turning to his mother for protection.

She ought to go back to France, thought Barbara. I cannot see her as mistress here. She would not make anyone happy.

But Barbara hesitated to interfere; she felt that here were matters of which she knew very little.

Going upstairs, she glanced down to see Sir Timothy Boys crossing the hall, and she thought, with a pang, how he would resent her bringing Mignonette to Judith Spinney when he knew that Francis—she paused here in her thought. Francis had not said that he wanted, hoped, to marry Mignonette, he had only implied this, he had said, "I love Mignonette."

The figure of the baronet was dim to Barbara's shortsighted gaze, but she could discern a large vase of azure-colored porcelain in his hands.

They had meanly intruded on his orderly, exquisite life; he would be disturbed, perhaps angry. She had had no right to bring this foreign girl to Judith Spinney, and under false pretenses. She must persuade Mignonette to return to France, at once, and then, perhaps, Francis Shermandine would go abroad.

Barbara, with these vague and remorseful plans in her mind, went to Mignonette's room. She was admitted at once. The girl sat at the dressing table, between the lights of two candles. She wore a white wrapper over her black dress and was combing her thick, fair fringe.

"We must leave, quite soon," said Barbara. "We ought never to have come. I am so sorry."

Mignonette looked at her in the mirror.

"Yes. I suppose we shall soon have to go," she agreed.

Barbara was thankful that she made no protest and asked for no explanation, yet she thought this calm was callous.

"I wish you would not be so reserved with me; if you saw what was happening, you might have told me."

"Did you not understand?"

"No—only this afternoon Francis told me."

"Does it matter to you. Barbara?"

With the stupidity that goes with an attempt at complete honesty, Barbara replied:

"I don't know. I suppose it does in a way. It is so surprising, we have been here so short a time."

She sat down on the little buttoned satin chair at the end of the bed. She felt not only a deep gulf, but a secret conflict between herself and Mignonette.

"I suppose you will return to Paris."

"Did you come to persuade me to do that?"

"I am not sure why I came. I do feel we should get away—there is your marriage arranged."

"You disliked that, did you not? It quite shocked your romantic notions."

"But you would not listen to me."

Mignonette turned on her stool, the white wrapper, the black dress, the luxurious pale brown curls were reflected in the oval mirror, that sent back a spectral effulgence from the candlelight.

"You are so genteel, Barbara, you understand nothing—not even that you have nothing to expect from me."

Her tone, her look, were baffling to the older woman, already exhausted.

"You asked me to England out of sentiment," continued Mignonette, resting her hands in her lap, in the attitude in which she sat at the pianoforte before she began to play. "And then you are dismayed. It had been a bold action, and you repented it."

"Yes, a little—for your own sake."

"For your sake, too. You were judging me, and disliking me, in silence."

"Oh, please!"

"I want to make it clear to you. I came only for what I might get, of course."

"It is detestable to hear you say so."

"That is because you are a hypocrite," smiled Mignonette. "How could I have had any affection for you? A wish to be friendly with you? I had nothing but your father's doles."

"I tried."

"I know—money, clothes, jewels, promises—so kind," said Mignonette gently. "But all to be checked by Mr. Bompast, all a sort of hush money. You don't want anyone to know who I am."

"Nor do you. The secret is for you, too." Barbara felt as if she were being dragged, defenseless and shivering, from a careful shelter.

"What do I care? We can get no more from Mr. Lawne—I was being quiet to please you, to get what I could from you."

"How can you bear to say so!"

"It could not be otherwise, but you will not use your wits. That makes me angry. Have you no imagination—can you not conceive what your letter, your offer, meant to us? A chance such as we had never had before."

"There was your marriage already arranged." Barbara felt feeble before the stark lucidity of the girl's speech.

"Because we never supposed you would be so rash and foolish—all we had had always depended upon our discretion. The marriage was the best we could do—but I did not desire to be the wife of a struggling provincial manufacturer. Maman had always educated me for something better."

"So you came to me to try to find it."

"Of course." Mignonette was exasperated. "And it is only what you have done—you came to Judith Spinney hoping to marry Francis Shermandine."

Barbara winced. Their faded relationship lay between them like a barrier.

"You are right," she said, as if she confessed to something shameful. "I did not even think it out, as you did. I assumed we loved one another. Now I know that I don't love him. I don't blame you. What have I done with my life?"

"Wasted it," answered Mignonette fiercely. "I don't mean to do that—I tell you," she added passionately, rising, "if I couldn't have my own way, I would rather not live at all."

She turned to the mirror again and combed her fringe that reached to her eyebrows. She smiled brilliantly at herself.

I am waiting for nothing, thought Barbara. All this is ridiculous. I should never have come here.

Mignonette, still erect, added:

"Why be so distracted? I shall be no trouble to you. The truth need never come out." She skillfully fastened the full curls with the fine tooth jet combs. "It can all be arranged with my mother."

"You are not returning to Paris, then?"

"Of course not."

"I don't know why I go on talking," said Barbara. "My head aches. Will you marry Francis Shermandine?"

"You are not thinking of what you are saying," remarked Mignonette, seating herself at the dressing table. "But pray listen to this—my mother did not know that Mr. Lawne was married. She was like you, her head in the air. It was what you would term an idyll. And there was a ceremony before a Roman Catholic priest."

Barbara was too profoundly shocked to speak. This seemed to make her father a criminal and to be worse than the illicit love affair.

"Legally, it was worthless," added Mignonette. "But she did not know that—and it makes her what you would term a good woman."

"Why do you tell me this now?" Barbara spoke with constraint. She hardly believed this statement. Mignonette was sly, untruthful, scheming. "You might think of the man you promised to marry—with his factory." She found herself speaking at random, in a low rapid voice.

"I have thought of him." Mignonette looked darkly in the mirror. "You can understand none of it, you have always been so placid, never run any risks."

"It was not my fault," Barbara excused herself. "I had to take what I found."

"I suppose so." Mignonette laughed slightly and was silent, regarding herself in the mirror. She was posed as if for a portrait in the dark frame; her pale neck and bosom, her light brown hair, the white wrap, her smooth features reminded Barbara of one of the sugar angels, with candy tresses, on the Christmas cakes. She peered at this stranger whose face was impenetrable, and her eyes began to smart.

"Do you intend to marry Francis Shermandine?"

"I won't spend my life in the provinces," said Mignonette. "What questions you ask!"

Her half-profile was toward Barbara. This unlined, childish face looked drowsy and cruel, the older woman thought, yet how could this be? The smooth features were quite expressionless.

The dense warmth of the summer was in the room; Barbara felt dizzy, as she had felt at the forge, almost, she reflected, as she had felt ever since Mignonette had come to Stone Hall. Surely nothing had been the same since then; her former life had been futile and dreary, but it had had order. Routine had kept her up like crutches, her dreams had been secret and her own. Then had come Francis Shermandine and their attachment, and that had been delightful, not disturbing at all, something joyful yet looked for, the crown of her waiting. But since Mignonette had come all had been disrupted, extravagant, and vexatious.

"There is the first dinner bell," she said. "And I have not changed." She rose, adding, "If you won't give me your confidence."

She felt as if Mignonette was some physical torment that she carried round with her privately, and of which she dared not complain. She felt "tired out," yes, that was the expression, she was no longer fit for anything.

But Mignonette appeared cool and well, though slightly sad. Barbara tried not to see her face as subtle and instructible—she was merely a good-looking young girl. Not beautiful, Barbara did not think she was beautiful, that opinion coming from Francis Shermandine must only mean that he was in love—that was what people tried to convey by that term "in love," that nothing looked or seemed as it really was. It was true what Francis had said, she was not in love with him, in that sense, though she felt the loss of him, as if a hollow was inside her heart.

She left Mignonette before her mirror and went to her own room. Moved by a senseless impulse, she lifted the brocade curtains on the landing window and saw the shadows of the night pressing against the panes as if anxious to invade the house. Harding, gazing at her with steady innocence, told her that she looked ill, and suggested that she not go down to dinner.

But to Barbara this would have been too cheap a surrender. She shook her head, though she wanted to cry because of the old woman's kindness.

"I see how it is," said Harding, with harsh dryness, lifting up the high-necked mourning dress that was Barbara's utmost effort in fine clothes. "That French girl, she's used to getting all she wants!"

I wonder that Harding doesn't see the likeness, thought Barbara. Francis did, unconsciously, it must be that—

Aloud she said, "No, I think she has had a hard life—much harder than mine. You see, Harding, it is all my own fault if I have lived stupidly." Barbara was struggling with discomfiture. "I have it in my power to alter everything, Miss Atwood reminded me of that—money and freedom."

"That's not true, begging Miss Atwood's pardon," retorted Harding aggressively. "You can't do what you like, not with the standards you've been used to, and the bringing up, and the good examples you've had. You've been bred different," continued the old servant breathlessly. "But she, this Miss Falconet, she has been brought up to get what she can."

"Hush," interrupted Barbara. "She is my guest."

"There you go—that is what I said. There is not much you can do, Miss. But what would she stop at?"

No scruples, Barbara thought. I suppose Harding is right. Well, it cannot matter to me. I must go on living, somehow.

There was much restraint at the dinner table, only Mignonette was at ease, and she had very little to say. Barbara, on her way downstairs, had looked again behind a lifted curtain. The night was warm, glimmering with stars. She wanted to be away now, to escape. Even the beauty of the home seemed artificial, even the sight of Francis Shermandine, for whom she felt a warm pity, was distressing.

And Sir Timothy seemed to have lost his sure and gentle touch, as if he guessed the turmoil that was being hidden from him. She had thought him wise and compassionate, but now she wondered how he would receive the news of the headlong infatuation of his heir for this foreign stranger.

I don't understand people at all, she reflected. She had a piteous desire to hasten back to her mediocre life, to withdraw, like a sensitive plant curling back into the darkness of its own whorls, into the safe drabness of Stone Hall.

Afterward Mignonette sat at the pianoforte until the two men came up, in order, Barbara supposed, not to speak. Indeed, there was nothing to say.

Barbara knew now the meaning of Mignon's songs, with their subtle invitation to curiosity—"Entreat me not to speak," "Entreat me not to appear," and "If you knew my longing"—in some such way the poems went. What did it matter? Mignonette had achieved exactly what she had set out to get when she had accepted the silly, sentimental invitation to Stone Hall, a husband worth more to her than the wretched little provincial manufacturer that was all her dowry could purchase at the matrimonial agency.

When the two men came up, Mignonette continued playing. She did not look round, and Barbara felt an ache to notice how Francis looked at her, all his poise and assurance gone.

In order not to see him, she studied Sir Timothy who began to talk of his purchase of Chinese porcelain that he had just unpacked.

Barbara did not know what she was feeling and trying to think. Francis was bringing out sheets of music from the cabinet, setting them before Mignonette, and begging her to play a few bars. Always she shook her head slightly, and then he would try another sheet. Her smooth hair was becoming loose under the jet combs.

Sir Timothy continued to talk about ceramics, measuring off vases and bowls in the air with his fine hands. He was dressed in an unusual fashion, a collarless waistcoat was buttoned high to a black silk foulard that showed only a glimpse of collar; a very long watch chain was of gold in minute links, his jacket was black velvet. His face was pale, with an uncertain smile. The wing-like brows were impressive, and his keen eyes still clear, the sweep of the nose and the chin still firm. It would have been a face to remember and respect if the man had ever done anything. As the countenance of a dilettante, it had an air of futility, like his talk about his china. While Francis was bending over Mignonette at the pianoforte, Barbara forced herself to speak. It was like breaking an enchantment; she thought she sounded rude and abrupt, but she could not think of any civil excuses.

"We must return to Stone Hall, Sir Timothy, quite soon. It is so delightful here, one forgets—what is still to be done."

"Surely we need not discuss that tonight?"

"It has not to be discussed, it has to be done." She heard her voice, out of contact, growing louder. "You have been too kind, of course."

"That always means that one has not been kind enough," replied Sir Timothy. He glanced at the couple and their low music.

"But we must go," repeated Barbara. She spoke in an undertone now, to keep her voice steady and below the music. In a tired way she was wondering about Sir Timothy, what was behind that handsome, dignified face, those conventional words. Before she had not concerned herself with this, everything had been superficially so pleasant. But after Francis's self revelation, she wondered about everybody. "Really we must go," she repeated again. "To Stone Hall," she added, spreading out her hands. "At least, I must."

She could not speak for Mignonette, could not add, "Mademoiselle Falconet ought to be in Paris soon. For her wedding."

There was a slight pause. Mignonette had ceased playing, her hands were folded daintily in her lap.

"I have something to say." Sir Timothy spoke with less than his usual assurance, and Francis, quick to notice this, looked up, with an air of tension.

"It has been arranged for some days," added the baronet, "but—as plans must be made—altered—I am obliged to tell you now that Mademoiselle Falconet is engaged to marry me."

Barbara felt that she was being smothered in shadow. Her first thought was for Francis, she rose and crossed over to him, ignoring Mignonette. A vague, deep anger disturbed her, she caught Francis by the arm.

"Mr. Shermandine, this is indecent. Mademoiselle Falconet is engaged to a Frenchman, her marriage is to be next month."

She felt Francis, so desperately, so suddenly struck, hardening under her touch, her voice.

Sir Timothy had turned to face the group by the pianoforte. He spoke as if a painful nerve had twinged him, his shoulders were slightly hunched, as if against a blow.

"I am afraid I startled you both. Please forgive me. Of course Mademoiselle Falconet has written to her home, breaking off her betrothal. It was the merest formal affair, arranged by Madame Falconet."

"You can't do it!" broke out Francis furiously. "Mignonette is only eighteen!"

"My dear Frank—of course there will have to be the guardian's consent, but equally, of course, I cannot discuss my affairs with you in the drawing-room, after dinner."

Barbara knew that all her placid certainties were scattered. The two men were moving closer together, as if they had forgotten they were not alone. Sir Timothy looked lean and stiff, as if every muscle, every nerve was at the stretch. Francis was gazing beyond him, as if facing some nameless expected enemy.

"This is absurd," sighed Mignonette gently, rising, "that there should be any—difficulty—over me."

Sir Timothy relaxed at once, and fell back to his place before the mantelshelf.

"There is none, of course," he said. "Francis will want to know about the future, but that is not for here and now. Miss Lawne is startled, naturally."

"Yes, I am. I had not the least suspicion."

"That is not an agreeable word, Miss Lawne, and you are not, forgive me, very observant."

She accepted the rebuke.

"No. And suddenly I am very tired. I shall leave as soon as possible. I must be in the way—but you?" She half-turned to Mignonette.

"Oh, pray don't trouble yourself about me—I shall be staying with Mrs. Dursley until my marriage."

The girl spoke pleasantly, as if really unwilling that people should concern themselves about her fortunes.

Francis Shermandine left the room without any salutations.


§ 26

Harding said it was scandalous and that they must leave at once. She spoke as if the French girl were likely to taint everyone in her neighborhood. Barbara, from the depths of her weariness, tried to be fair. She had always opposed the formal French marriage. Mademoiselle Falconet was free, it was a splendid match, how many girls would resist—and so on.

Harding, putting away Barbara's clothes, would have none of this. "He must be thirty years older than she is."

More, thought Barbara, startled. Thirty years would only make him forty-eight, he is much more.

"If it had been Mr. Shermandine it would have been more decorous," said Harding sternly.

"Do you think it could have been?" asked Barbara, curiously.

"Of course, Miss."

So everyone had seen, except herself. Probably the servants had been talking about it. Lucy Dursley must have known, she had arranged a retreat for Mignonette.

"Do you think she is pretty, Harding?"

"Yes," replied the servant reluctantly. "The sort that men think pretty."

Barbara felt fooled and bereft. She had not discerned what manner of creature her half sister was, she had merely thought her odd. She had supposed people would resent her, and instead, she had enchanted. How superficial her own hold on this household was!

A short while ago she had thought that Judith Spinney might be her own home. Sir Timothy had seemed delighted to welcome her as the future wife of his heir. Francis, in his friendly honesty, had admitted that; now there was formality, rebuke, "Miss Lawne," where there had been "Barbara."

When Harding had gone and she was alone in a room that had become strange and frightening, the importance, even the horror of what had happened raised a conflict in her heart. She was exhausted with pain and anger, she could not sleep, but lay gazing at the spokes of light cast by the watch light in the lantern-like container that stood in the hearth.

Ought she to tell Sir Timothy what she knew about Mignonette?

And what would happen to Francis? He surely had lost his home, his gracious secure life, his inheritance. She had never seen people look at one another as he had looked at his uncle in the drawing-room. It had been shocking to make the announcement like that. Barbara felt that the proposed marriage was shocking also. Mignonette was ten years younger than she was, and Sir Timothy seemed to her as old as her own father when he died.

Barbara felt oppressed with griefs and regrets, many of them not new. She sat up in bed, the dim wavering light over her anxious face and fallen hair.

The worst had not overtaken her, but her loss was great. She might easily have been "in love" with or "loved," as people said, Francis Shermandine. He would have married her, except for Mignonette. And if she had taken him without love, it would have been unconsciously, and he himself had said that many happy marriages were based on no more than kindness and respect.

She had lost that because of Mignonette, and she might never have another chance of marriage.

She was bewildered, but checked the swell of self-pity. The person really in need of compassion was Mignonette, who was so young, and who had been trained, taught to attract men, to find a rich husband.

Perhaps Mignonette loved Francis, and was denying herself because of the title and the money; it sounded vulgar put like that, even in thought, but the girl could have no worthy motive in marrying that elderly man.

And she has not a friend here—perhaps none in France—her mother must be a wretched sort of woman.

Barbara rose from bed, she longed for action and to help Mignonette. She put on her plain gray, cashmere dressing gown and slippers, and went out into the corridor. She felt guilty, and afraid of being outside her own room in the dark. There was one small lamp at the turn of the passage that cast a faint halo into the shadows. Beyond was Mignonette's door, and beneath it a radiant line.

That was a brighter gleam than the watch light gave. Barbara hurried on, no longer afraid, and rapped gently on the door, as she had learned to rap when waiting to hear if her mother, and then if her father, was awake. Not waiting for an answer, she entered, as she had so often entered on loneliness, illness, sleeplessness, in the dark of night.

A small lamp burned on the table by the bed. It showed the room in disorder, and a stranger, yes, a strange child, face downward on two pillows that had been dragged to the floor.

Barbara, startled into discretion, closed the door softly, as she had long ago learned to close doors. "Oh, Mignonette, is it you!"

The girl looked up, her hair was tumbled, and she wore a plain cambric shift. She was barely recognizable, and now seemed as much less than her eighteen years as she usually appeared older. Not only had she been passionately weeping; her features were distorted. She spoke swiftly in French, staring. Barbara did not understand her but she thought she knew her meaning.

"Mignonette, dearest, you must not do this. I do realize that it might seem a temptation."

The girl sprang up, quick, lithe, and scowling.

"Do I confide in you? Do I ask help that you break in on me?"

"I am so sorry, but I am used to night watches, and I felt sure that you could not sleep."

"As you see—now you come to preach."

"I don't mean to seem like that," said Barbara earnestly.

Mignonette took a sprigged cambric peignoir from a chair and flung it over her shoulders. Barbara thought that her prettiness had gone. Only her bare shoulders and arms had showed lovely for a moment before she put on the dressing wrap. Her face was swollen and she was sobbing. Barbara noticed her eyes between the inflamed lids, they were really tawny, a lion color.

"Oh dear!" sighed Barbara, melting in pity. "I wish I had never brought you to England."

"I have spoiled your plans for you, eh?"

"I am thinking of you, for me it is only—a mistake, a dream. All that is over for me."

Mignonette gave a miserable laugh.

"You are so foolish." All her quiet arrogance had gone, and with it her air of maturity. She was trembling and she could not still her sobs.

"Of course," implored Barbara, "it was all a silly mistake. You must tell him so."

"Please leave me alone." Mignonette opened a drawer in the dressing table, found a handkerchief, and pressed it to her eyes. Barbara wanted to take her in her arms and kiss her, surely if they could weep together a little, everything would be normal again. This proposed marriage was unreal, grotesque. But she did not dare to touch Mignonette, but stood irresolute, feeling ineffectual, and, as Mignonette had said, foolish.

"It is Francis," she murmured. "Surely this can be put right."

Mignonette looked at her with sad hostility, but was too spent for a reply. All her defenses were swept away by some deep passion, and she could not control her insistent sobbing.

"Do believe that I want to help you," persisted Barbara.

"I believe you do," admitted Mignonette, putting her hands before her disfigured face.

She looked so forlorn, that Barbara overcame her shyness and impulsively embraced her with words of comfort such as Harding had used to her in her childish distress. The girl did not resist, but nestled her face onto Barbara's shoulder with a half-sigh.

The elder woman felt almost happy, almost honored. She held Mignonette closely without speaking. Warmth, perfumed with orange water, rose from her body and her hair. Barbara noted, with a pang, evidences of the girl's poverty, neatness, and coquetry. The black dress was hanging carefully over the back of a chair, the matching slippers were set side by side, on the massive dressing table were some worn, very clean brushes, a tiny pot of pomade, the jet combs laid out precisely.

Barbara was moved to observe how little Mignonette possessed. She held her closely. Surely her father's allowance must have been very meager.

"I am sure that Sir Timothy would be generous," she murmured. "He must understand how absurd it is, and give way to Francis."

The girl did not answer, she lay slackly in Barbara's arms as if she were asleep.

It must be Francis, thought Barbara. She said she would not return to Paris.

"Try to sleep now," she murmured. "I shall stay with you if you wish."

Mignonette looked up suddenly.

"This old house is haunted, they said so, I think I saw the specter."

Barbara was startled, even horrified.

"Why, no, it is a most cheerful place."

"No, no," moaned Mignonette. Her delicate skin was scorched by the salt of her tears, her lips swollen. "It is a house full of dread. The phantom came at me, when I opened the clothespress it walked out."

"Darling Mignonette, you are excited."

"Yes. It was a young girl who had lost something. Imagine that—losing something and shut out for centuries and centuries."

"Please do not think so—it could not have been—only an ugly fancy."

"Helas!" Mignonette shuddered and drew herself from Barbara's embrace. "You are very kind, very gentle." She did not move, but with every word seemed to be drawing farther away. "Now I must not disturb you any more, please."

Barbara was disheartened by this quickly regained control. She began to entreat the girl for her trust, for her confidence. But Mignonette withdrew as if she slowly turned from warmth to ice.

"It is understood," she smiled, "that sometimes there is a little storm."

"Do not thrust me away, dear. You are so alone, at least return to Paris and think this over."

But Mignonette's spirit was gone from Barbara as completely as a blown-out flame.

"I would really like to sleep now," she said, and turned down the lamp, so that the room was in darkness save for the watch light.

Barbara returned to her own room, shaken, desolate. She felt that she had failed and blamed herself because Mignonette had actually been in her arms, and yet eluded her, even then.


§ 27

Forcing herself to appear at the breakfast table as usual, Barbara found only Lucy Dursley for company.

This lady made no attempt to gloss over the situation. She discussed it with well-bred candor.

"Sir Timothy has been too much of a hermit since his wife's death—there is sure to be a reaction against that kind of life. Of course, at his age, there is a sort of desperation."

"Why?" asked Barbara.

"Oh, for life itself—he has only artificial interests, no children. He must be nearly sixty years of age."

"I don't understand."

"Yet the situation is not uncommon."

"Youth is not always something to be regretted."

"It is all we have," smiled Mrs. Dursley. "When that has gone—well, one must be a philosopher, or, as I said, desperate."

"Is she, do you think, so pretty?"

"Don't you think so?"

"I can't see people very well, I am so shortsighted. I thought she was strange."

"So she is. Pretty is not the word. She has a power, people bow before it. One can't make a catalogue of charms, but there it is. I am astonished that a very good marriage was not found for her in France."

Barbara, with remorse, repeated her stories as to the seclusion in which the girl had been brought up. But Lucy Dursley was still surprised.

"The French take such trouble with relationships, even a widow will find friends to arrange a good match—and this just broken off was very poor, I gather. I wonder the girl's father—" She shrugged.

How odd, thought Barbara. You are speaking to me of her father's people.

"You don't know much about the Falconets?" asked Mrs. Dursley. "The name might be anything."

"No, I don't know much."

"It was very generous of you to ask her to England, very impulsive, dear Miss Lawne."

"Yes. Now you are asking her to stay with you."

"Oh, I have to—I was really asked here to give the party a little countenance."

For me, thought Barbara. Not for Mignonette, and yet Francis had seen Mignonette, perhaps I was only asked here because of her.

Aloud she said, "Do you think she will go through with this marriage?"

"Of course. It is a wonderful chance for her, and he is really charming. I am under considerable obligations to Sir Timothy," added the lady suavely, "and the least I can do is to come to his assistance now. I live quite near and they can be married from my house, very quietly, of course."

Barbara felt herself ignored, dismissed. She rose, saying hastily, "I am leaving today. Where is Mademoiselle Falconet? I ought to say good-by."

She felt that there was much she ought to do; she had made many promises to Mignonette.

"She sent for me this morning, early," smiled Mrs. Dursley. "Poor child, she is quite upset—some scene in the drawing-room yesterday; I am so vexed I was not there—I really had a headache."

The sum of all these excuses was that Mignonette did not want to see Barbara.

Sir Timothy had also left his regrets, he had gone to London by early train.

"To see his lawyers, I suppose," said Mrs. Dursley, demurely.

But Francis Shermandine appeared to say good-by to Barbara. She had a few hours to while away before her earliest possible departure, and he met her as she stood hesitant in the hall that had appeared so splendid when she had first come to Judith Spinney.

He appeared far more composed than she had expected him to be, and she was grateful to him for his steady friendliness and the warmth with which he asked her to forgive what he termed his uncle's ill behavior.

"No, no. I only wish that I could leave at once, but the only possible train goes this afternoon."

"She will not see you?"

Barbara shook her head. She could never speak to anyone of that useless interview last night when Mignonette had wept in her arms.

"Lucy Dursley is with her, I suppose." He put his hand under Barbara's elbow, guiding her from the house. "I am leaving today also. Tonight my uncle will be alone, somehow it all seems absurd."

"It is," said Barbara. She had come to feel that all horror was slightly absurd. Even the pleasant English landscape looked slightly grotesque.

They crossed the shaven plot, and went into the beech wood.

"Who is the specter who haunts Judith Spinney?" she asked, hastening to keep pace with his quick stride.

"What makes you think of that?"

"I suppose I was disturbed yesterday, and I thought that I saw her."

"It is the ghost of a man."

"Oh, tell me his story—so that I can forget my own, or rather that I have no story."

"There is only one ghost and one story," he replied. "When one is heartsick, one sees phantoms."

"Where are we going?"

"I do not know."

The sky was a shining purple blue. He pushed open the iron gate in the brick wall of the flower garden, and they walked up and down the neat paths, rose bushes on either hand.

"Does not one forget?" murmured Barbara.

"I do not know," he replied bitterly. "I can think of nothing but my loss."

"Yet you have only known her for a few weeks."

"And my uncle not that. Of course it is senseless to speak of it. I shall go to Rome."

She blenched, hurt by the delusion that to go to a foreign place would be to escape herself. Stone Hall would be intolerable.

"Time is nothing," he said. "Once a thing has happened it is there for always. I cannot remember what life was like without Mignonette. In a way she will always belong to me."

"You have your work."

"Yes." He spoke eagerly, as if he clutched at some prize. "I can find a refuge there. I also have some money of my own. Not much. But I shall be independent."

Barbara wanted to cry out, What shall I do? I have no interests, but suppressed her pain with a shudder.

Not wholly selfish, even now, Francis spoke of her future.

"All this is nothing to you, it will pass. There is so much for you to do."

"I know, but I lack courage. I am too used to obedience—to set ways." She doubted if she would ever leave Stone Hall.

"I do not like this garden," he said, abruptly. "Let us walk in the beech wood. Dear Barbara, you have been so gentle with me."

She wondered if he recalled that through that chance encounter with her at Sandyrock, he had met Mignonette.

"Will she marry him?" she asked as they left the garden.

"I think so—he has much to offer."

"But you, could you not try?" Barbara spoke earnestly, believing that the hazard of this meant the happiness of two people. "Could you not persuade her?"

"No," he answered coldly. "I do not suppose that she has noticed me. Why should she?"

"But your uncle is too old."

"She will be a comely young widow."

Barbara had not thought of that. She shuddered, glimpsing death behind the marriage bargain. This seemed to her blasphemous.

Francis Shermandine noticed her shrinking, and added: "My uncle must be aware of this, he has reckoned up all the chances. He had every right to do what he did."

"Will he not want to know about her family?"

Francis laughed sadly.

"No one would—with Mignonette."

They were in the beech wood, and walking, unheeding of their direction, toward the broken rocks the stream, that ran so smoothly through the meadows, plunged between. Here some of the oldest beeches grew, their twisted silver boles rooted in the most grotesque forms, into the rifted stones. The thick, clear leaves, spread on the mounting boughs overhead, made a twilight recess of this part of the grove. The water fell from stone to stone with a gurgling sound. Fresh leaves of a dark gold color had fallen on the thick, rotting beech mast.

Francis stooped.

"See this little herb—no flowers grow under beech trees, but this derives some life from the decayed roots. See its withered aspect and brown flowers—see it grows in circles within the dense shadow of the tree."

"Why do you think of it now?"

"One can find an allegory in everything. Besides, I have made many drawings of this." He plucked a plant from a labyrinth of rootlets; from the graceful brown drooping flowers, and the fungoid filaments about the fibers a strong perfume arose, fresh as that of a primrose yet resembling beeswax.

"I had made a design of them for Mignonette's needlework," said Francis Shermandine, and dropped the monotopa plant.

Barbara knew then what an association there was for him in this uncommon looking floweret, her name meant a tiny greenish brown blossom also.

They left the wood, and before they came in sight of the noble, simple white façade of Judith Spinney, Francis Shermandine paused and pressed Barbara's cold hands with great warmth of feeling.

"You must never forget me, when you are far away and happy. I shall write to you, of course. I cannot hope to be of any help to you, but I shall always come to you, Barbara, if I need comfort."

I shall be far away, she thought, but not happy. This is a splendid compliment that he pays me.

"You must promise me that you will—come to me," she said, "for anything that I can give."

She wondered what there was between them; they had certainly something that was not between him and Mignonette—common tastes, standards, virtues.

They parted, and Francis Shermandine turned back into the beech woods.

Barbara went toward the house. The carriage was waiting, Harding was ready, her small quantity of baggage was on the gravel sweep.

I had better leave without any farewells, thought Barbara.

The door opened and Mignonette came running between the pillars of the portico. Her hands were full of colored silk.

"Oh, Barbara, there is a gift for you!" She shook out the radiant length of shimmering material. It was white and strewn with wreaths and posies of flowers. Millions of exquisite stitches that shone in the sunlight like the sheen on blossoms. "I worked them," she smiled. "I am always happy when I do my embroidery—you must please take this. I have nothing else," she added with a look of disappointment.

Barbara longed to weep, to embrace her, but servants were present and awkwardness overcame her as she took the needlework in shaking hands.

"What am I to do with it?" she asked, then, in a trembling whisper, "Do consider again, dear—do please think."

But Mignonette was gone. The door stood wide on the hall, as if it gave on an empty house. Barbara and Harding drove away.


PART 2.


§ 28

Mr. Bompast was angry. In his opinion, all the conventions had been outraged. He considered that his client had been foolish and headstrong. The marriage of Sir Timothy Boys and Mademoiselle Falconet was a scandal. There would be trouble and all would be owing to the failure of Barbara Lawne to accept good, sober advice.

As for the present situation, the lawyer declared that it was nothing to do with anyone save the people immediately concerned, Sir Timothy and the Falconets.

Barbara could not feel this. Surely it was her responsibility, this secret parentage of her half sister?

"Not legally. Morally, yes. I have said so. But it is her affair."

"She told me that she had no desire to conceal it—her birth I mean—that she was only doing so for my sake and my father's."

"She is shrewd then," observed the lawyer. "It does mean more to you and to Mr. Lawne's memory. Sir Timothy is obviously infatuated, and would hardly care who she is."

"I could not approach him," said Barbara. "Even if it were my duty to do so."

"It is not."

"There is the position of Mr. Shermandine."

"Yes, I suppose that he is disinherited, but that has nothing to do with us. After all, these people are mere acquaintances and Mr. Shermandine is really responsible himself for asking Mademoiselle Falconet, of whom he knew nothing, to his uncle's house."

"At least I desire to give her the dowry money. I promised that, and other things."

"I can understand that. I shall write to Madame Falconet expressing your wishes."

There was no more to be said. Barbara knew herself cut off from all these people who had entered her life, profoundly disturbing it, and who now were gone, leaving her confounded by the emptiness of her days. A deep inertia enfolded her; she had not the energy to sell Stone Hall. Indeed that ugly but familiar place seemed to her in some measure a retreat; here, if she could not enjoy life, she could escape all of it save the surface routine.

She was too disheartened to alter anything. Compared to Judith Spinney, the place was indeed hideous. Even the Chinese room, that had seemed to her rare and beautiful, now looked clumsy. She felt ashamed of that odd latticed furniture, the bright wallpaper, the Bristol glass that she had set out with so keen a pleasure.

She was afraid that Mignonette had not liked this room, had really, perhaps, smiled at the crude, old-fashioned taste of the sham Eastern designs.

Francis Shermandine wrote to her from Rome, long, impersonal letters about his studies, his sight-seeing, his new acquaintances. He often enclosed drawings of splendid fountains, magnificent ruins, broken colonnades, arches and bridges, and minute studies of plants found growing in the Coliseum or Monte Pincio. It seemed to Barbara as if she had never met him, but only read of him in some chance found book, and dreamed about him during solitary walks or sitting alone by the fire.

So much of her life had been like that, musing and dreaming, that this reality soon faded into the shadows with which she was all too familiar.

There was nothing in Stone Hall to remind her of Mignonette. The girl had taken almost everything she had brought from France away with her; it was, after all, very little. There remained the silk embroidery, the clusters of fantastic flowers, defined sharply by the gleaming threads. Barbara put this away in a drawer and tried to forget it, but there were days when she seemed to see it everywhere about the house, on every chair and table where she turned.

Harding brought her the announcement of the wedding of Sir Timothy Boys and Mademoiselle Falconet. It had been celebrated very quietly. They had gone to Italy for the honeymoon.

The indignant old servant pointed out that there had been no French people at the ceremony. "You see, Miss, she is a nobody, and I expect that the gentleman who gave her away is a friend of Sir Timothy's. I must say I should have thought her mother would have come over—she was always writing to her."

"It is no business of ours," said Barbara, and she thought, I suppose Sir Timothy knows her story. They had gone to Italy—but not, surely, to Rome. How could they avoid stopping in Paris, and avoid seeing Madame Falconet? He must know everything.

Harding termed the marriage "wicked." She considered that Barbara had been cheated of a husband, and Francis Shermandine out of his inheritance, and said so frankly. Her mistress knew that it was hopeless to try to check her, since both Sir Timothy and Mignonette had exposed themselves to the full fury of vulgar comment.


§ 29

Barbara Lawne went to Teignmouth to be near Caroline Atwood. The change of surroundings made no impression on her, nothing could have been more unimportant than the pleasant seaside town.

When she had gone to the Isle of Wight, her spirits had lifted and the whole aspect of life had been changed by the near sight of the chalk cliff, grown with samphire, and the prim little hotel had shut her away from all that was dull and commonplace. Though she had felt cut off from the youth and laughter, the holiday gaiety about her, she had also felt a sense of release from the iron pressure of her daily drudgery. But now she had brought her unspoken discontent with her, and the mild winter seascape bounded her like the walls of a prison.

Caroline Atwood thought that Francis Shermandine would want to marry her, and confidently pointed to his long and frequent letters. But Barbara did not tell her what longing love Francis had confessed he felt for Mignonette.

"He writes because he is lonely," she explained. "And never, never will he wish me to be his wife."

Miss Atwood did not agree. She believed, having seen her friend and Francis Shermandine at Sandyrock and Mirabile, that they were made for one another, and in love.

How providential that Barbara has so much money, she thought, for this foolish marriage has deprived him of his uncle's fortune. I suppose they are waiting until she is out of mourning—poor soul, she is so correct, and has so little time to lose.

Barbara wished that she could confide in this close friend. She longed to discuss the story of Madame Falconet and Mignonette, still to her so strange, almost incredible.

Bound to secrecy on this point, she appeared reserved, almost dull to Caroline Atwood, who became good-humoredly impatient of her silences and evasive answers.

Mr. Bompast wrote to say that Madame Falconet had accepted the five thousand pounds through her notary, with no more than civil, formal gratitude.

"I daresay the lady expects a great deal more," he wrote, "but you have now satisfied even the most quixotic sense of obligation. Lady Boys will be able to look after her mother."

Barbara sensed the finality of this letter. There seemed to be nothing to say on the subject of the Falconets.

She had written to Mignonette on her wedding, wishing her happiness with simple sincerity, for she could not forget the childish, weeping creature who had clung to her, even though that moment had been brief. Mignonette had replied, kindly, but with no reference to any future meeting.

Barbara admitted this to Caroline Atwood, who remarked that she thought that it would be very awkward at Judith Spinney now, with such an ill-assorted host and hostess.

"I wonder what they will do with their time," she added. "It will be a comfortless life—she will hardly be accepted socially, and I suppose her tastes are not in tune with Sir Timothy's."

"I don't know," said Barbara. "She is very accomplished and well educated. But really, you know, Caroline, I cannot understand this marriage—I mean, how could she have endured it? Sir Timothy is a stranger and a foreigner, as well as an old man."

"If you had ever been poor perhaps you could have understood, Barbara."

"Yes—I know, but she is so young, she could have waited."

"It is because she is so young that she is impatient, and think what a chance this must have seemed to her."

"A chance of what?"

"Oh, we don't know! It is for her to make something of it. She may induce Sir Timothy to indulge her, say, with a season in London."

"What would that mean to her?" persisted Barbara, still curious.

"I suppose she wants to be admired," said Miss Atwood. "At her age, her character cannot be stable. Already she has allowed herself to have one marriage arranged for her, then chosen another. We do not know how she was brought up. Oh, well bred, I know. I was thinking of other things, she may be crafty, even treacherous."

"The Frenchman was probably odious." Barbara still felt impelled to defend Mignonette in the question of that distasteful engagement through the matrimonial agency.

"Maybe, but she made a bargain and broke it—you cannot have her both intelligent and honest; either she was her mother's puppet, or she is dishonorable. And her snatch at Sir Timothy does not look as if she were a fool."

"This is dismal talk," said Barbara. She felt that it was not fair to Mignonette to discuss her without telling her whole story. If Caroline Atwood had known how much of a social outcast the French girl really was, she would surely have taken a kinder view of her behavior.

Yet these people of whom she could not speak became of transcendent importance in Barbara's life. She had known them briefly, but no one had ever impressed her as deeply as Mignonette and Francis Shermandine or, after them, as Sir Timothy Boys.

Caroline Atwood, not knowing this but suspecting only an attachment to Francis Shermandine, tried to lift Barbara out of what she considered was a drift toward melancholy. She suggested the regulation foreign travel, as soon as spring should appear. But Barbara shrank from the advice. Where were they to go? France and Italy were banned because of poignant associations. Caroline Atwood had been educated at Baden Baden and Karlsruhe and suggested these stiff German towns, or Switzerland. But Barbara would not make this effort for the pursuit of happiness. Early in the New Year she returned to Stone Hall.

"You should have had more vanity," said Caroline Atwood on parting from her. "Perhaps more pride."

Barbara pondered over this remark. She knew that her admirable and respected friend regarded her with steady affection, but thought her lazy, futile, timid, and she admitted the charges to herself, while wondering, What can I do? Nothing ever happens to me. Even Mignonette and Francis just touched my life and went away.

She wondered what she would do if called upon for decisive action, in a crisis. Her only strong impulse had been that of asking her half sister to Stone Hall, and that had affected the lives of others, leaving her, as she had always been, in a "back-water" as Caroline Atwood termed Stone Hall.

The acquaintances of the Lawnes—they had no friends—gathered complacently round Barbara, the pleasant, well-behaved young woman who had inherited a fortune. There were invitations to tea and dinners and numerous requests for subscriptions to worthy charities. Barbara went punctually to the Sunday services at St. Peter's and sat in her parents' pew, near the mural tablet that bore their names.

Custom reclaimed her; it began to seem absurd that she had ever thought of selling Stone Hall. Where else could she live? Where find anyone who knew her? She was comfortable, the servants liked her, Harding petted her; rich and easy, she indulged everyone and gave no trouble, and the pattern of her days was very easy compared to what it had been during the tyranny of her parents.

So, insidiously, her middle-class respectability hemmed in Barbara Lawne. She was disconcerted when she recalled the impression made on her by Mignonette and Francis Shermandine.

Only in her dreams did she explore wild and darkling landscapes, sail turbulent oceans, and see upon rocky and distant shores, glittering with an unearthly radiance, the hardly recognizable figures of the man and woman who had come so unexpectedly into her life, then so swiftly, and after so brief a time, gone.


§ 30

The Lent wind was blowing strongly and Barbara walked in her town garden, looking at the vernal crocus, the yellow, the cloth of gold, the pale lilac, the striped and the blue. Low luminous clouds floated overhead, the afternoon sunlight glowed in the almost transparent vapor. In front of the red brick wall showed the scarlet waxen flowers of the japonica, and the apricot, grown as an espalier, bore the first few flowers. The elm by the gate that gave, by its immense size, a somber air to the enclosed garden, was flushed at the summit with purplish blossoms, a tender coronal above the broken boughs, the knotty, ragged, and hollowed bole—A gray old tree and one that Barbara could remember all her life, more ancient than the house, more dignified and beautiful, and having a deeper meaning to a solitary child than the ineffectual lives of those about her loneliness.

As Barbara turned from the crocus plot and glanced at the ancient elm, pleased to see the blossoms for yet one more spring, for that winter the grand tree had seemed lifeless, she saw a carriage draw up at the gate.

She was not expecting anyone and it was late for a call, so, on an impulse of natural shyness, she was turning back into the house.

But a footman had opened the carriage door, and then the gates, and a lady was coming along the gravel path.

"Oh, Mignonette!" exclaimed Barbara, and stood staring without moving, watching the other woman approach through the Lent wind. She seemed then to have known her all her life and to have been separated from her but a few days instead of months.

"Did you realize I lived so near to you?" asked the visitor. "But I fear I have used the horses badly—we stopped, too, at midday. Can they stay here tonight, and the men?"

She seemed concerned about this, and spoke of nothing else as she followed Barbara into the house.

Stone Hall was modestly staffed, and Harding, Barbara's intermediary in all matters domestic, suggested, as soon as she was summoned, the livery stable nearby.

"May I stay the night?" asked Mignonette. "The old Chinese room?"

"Of course—but there is nothing ready."

"Anything will do. Oh, this is not an elopement. Sir Timothy knew I was coming. I have my maid, too—it will only be for one night, Barbara."

Josephine, a plain Frenchwoman, went upstairs to the Chinese room with a dressing case and a valise. The coachman had his orders.

"It was a long way to drive," said Barbara, oddly shaken by this sudden appearance by one so constantly in her thoughts.

"No—it is farther by train, and tiresome. There is a pleasure in driving behind two fine horses. Oh, how dark the room is becoming!"

The tempestuous cloud, tinged with purple, had lowered over the fading azure of the heavens, and the gloomy apartment was filled with shadow.

"I wanted to see you," said Mignonette with slight defiance. "That is my sole reason for coming."

"Why, Mignonette?" The name came naturally to Barbara now. "I did not think you remembered me."

"Naturally I did—it was an astonishing event to me, to be asked here."

"You did not seem astonished," murmured Barbara. "It was rather I—"

"Yes, you were astonished to learn of my existence."

Barbara was silent. Mignonette had taken off her gloves; she wore a striped dress, candy pink and white, and a hat of chip straw with pink velvet bows.

"I am afraid that the Chinese room is really ugly, Mignonette."

To her mortification, the other agreed immediately.

"Yes, but you prepared it for me. It was your grandmother's room—gay once, at least. You did the best that you could for me, Barbara."

Why have you come? Barbara thought. Something has happened that has disturbed you.

She was uneasy. Her half sister had grown away from her, and was now an elegant lady, perfumed, laced tightly into her clothes, with a diamond brooch at her neck, and her hair rolled so precisely into curls that it did not seem as if it could ever fall in disorder.

"It is very soothing here, Barbara. I don't think that anything ever happens here."

"It is very dull. But I am used to it. I do not suppose I shall ever change."

"No, you must not change," smiled Mignonette. "It is good to think of you as always here—with the ugly Chinese room."

"I never thought that you liked Stone Hall."

"Like it? No. But it is peaceful."

Barbara had not supposed that peace was the word to describe Stone Hall, she suspected mockery, but Mignonette appeared serious, even interested in her gloomy surroundings, and pleased to be there.

"Is not Judith Spinney peaceful?"

"Yes," replied Mignonette. "I do not complain of my husband, I have not come for that. He is manly, kind and unselfish."

"Yes, I always considered him so."

Barbara was still shy, surprised, but pleased and flattered also. She contended against the sensation that she only lived when she was with Mignonette. Her existence in Stone Hall was life, also, she reminded herself; there was nothing really important about her half sister, or anything that she did.


§ 31

They went upstairs to the Chinese room, and Mignonette glanced round eagerly at the odd latticed furniture, the brilliant birds on the wallpaper.

Josephine had already unpacked the dressing case, and Barbara noted little articles of gold on the table.

"It seems so long ago since I came here," Mignonette remarked.

"I shall have a fire lit," said Barbara. "No one has slept here since you went away, and it is chilly."

Mignonette flung off her hat. She seemed to take a great interest in the room. When the fire of clean logs had burned up, and the lamp had been lit, she asked Barbara to sit with her on the hearth.

Unpinning the brooch from her throat, she held it out for admiration. It was in the shape of a true lover's knot.

"It is very pretty," agreed Barbara civilly. "The sparkle in the firelight is splendid."

"You suppose that these stones are diamonds?"

"Yes, of course." Barbara thought that this must be one of Sir Timothy's gifts that Mignonette was displaying.

"It is paste strauss."

"I am shortsighted," said Barbara. "It looks brilliant to me." She held the finely made ornament in her hand.

"It is an excellent imitation—held next to a real diamond, you would notice the difference." Mignonette pinned the brooch again at her neck. She wore no other stone.

"You must have some beautiful jewels, Mignonette, I suppose you wear this for a whim."

"Just that."

"And you came here for another whim."

"No, not exactly—well, if I did, it is the first whim I have had since I came to England."

"I did not know you were fond of me or Stone Hall."

"Fond? I don't know. You are so dependable—and this house is like a refuge."

"Yes, I felt that when I left Judith Spinney, but then it is my own home."

"Perhaps I feel that it is also mine." She meant that the father she had never seen had lived there, Barbara supposed. "I have only a short time to stay," she added. "I must return early tomorrow."

Barbara's impatience was mounting into exasperation.

"Why have you come?" she asked. "Are you running away from something?"

"No," replied the other at once. The lamp was behind her and the glow of the flames did not touch her face that Barbara could only dimly see. "I wanted to have this experience again—of coming here, where nothing ever happens."

"Except you."

"Do I disturb you?"

"Yes, you did before, and you do now. You say that you don't know if you are fond of me—I don't know either if I am fond of you, but I think of you constantly." Barbara spoke seriously, seated on the beaded fender stool, her head propped on her hands, her elbows on her knees. "Why have you come suddenly? Almost in a secret sort of way."

"I've told you," said Mignonette. "Merely to be alone here with you, for a few hours."

"Do you want any service from me?"

Mignonette looked at her gravely.

"I want to know you are there," she replied.

Barbara felt that she was not to receive any confidences, that there was not to be another scene of tears and distress, however brief. Mignonette was perfectly in command of herself. She was merely using Barbara's presence for some private purpose of her own.

They dined in some constraint, afterward they returned to the Chinese room. The fire had burned to a heart of gold, the air was warm, and the lamp, shaded by a pink globe, gave a rosy light.

Barbara wished that she had the skill to move her half sister to a self revelation.

Perhaps I could do so if I cared more for her, she thought remorsefully. But it is as if I had not the capacity of caring for anyone.

But curiosity moved her to speculation on the cause of Mignonette's trouble, for surely she was troubled behind that calm exterior. The likeliest cause would be a quarrel with her husband, or a cold disagreement, but she had forestalled any debate on that point. She had announced that this astonishing marriage was, outwardly at least, successful, and that she had not only no complaint against her husband, but recognized his good qualities.

"Would you care to come to Judith Spinney, Barbara?" Mignonette spoke as if she counted on her inability to offend.

Barbara was startled into a warm refusal of this strange offer. "Why not? It is a delightful place. We are all very good-natured. Francis Shermandine is there."

Barbara was even more profoundly shocked. Here, revealed so casually, was Mignonette's terrible dilemma.

"Should I help you, if I came?" she asked impulsively, hardly knowing what she said, then, desperately, "How could you allow him to come?"

"He is still the heir presumptive," smiled Mignonette. "I have my settlements, but I did not wish to cause a feud between him and his uncle. It is natural that he should visit the house that was so long his home."

Memories of all the legends and stories she had read or half-read and half-heard, of young wives and old husbands and young lovers crowded on to Barbara's agitated mind. Tragic, dreadful stories, ending in violent death.

"Send him away, Mignonette."

"I could not, if I would, for Sir Timothy is very resolute for him to stay. You recall how many tastes they have in common? Francis is again working at the chapel."

As Barbara did not speak, she added with a note of irony, "You should be pleased that I have not disturbed the harmony of my husband's household."

"Why do you wish me to visit Judith Spinney, Mignonette? I was almost turned away when I was there before."

"I was not the mistress then. I assure you that everything runs smoothly now."

"Is there anyone else with you besides Francis Shermandine?"

"Lucy Dursley—and other people come and go."

Barbara had conquered the harshness she had felt toward her half sister for coming so suddenly to Stone Hall, after neglecting her for so long, and then withholding her confidence. For now it was obvious that her terrible difficulty was one that she could not confide to anyone, or so it seemed to Barbara who now believed that Mignonette and Francis secretly loved each other. It had been certain before where his affections lay, and now there could be little doubt of the state of Mignonette's heart. That was why she had fled, to gain a snatch of repose, a little peace of mind.

"What are you thinking of?" asked Mignonette, and she added, suddenly: "You are a good little thing."

This did not seem absurd though Barbara was so much older and taller than she was, for Mignonette had an air of considerable authority and dignity, and seemed both wise and self-reliant. Yet she had a moonbeam quality, fugitive, remote, though brilliant.

"If you had been fond of Francis, I should not have asked you to meet him again."

"I am fond of him, Mignonette. But I understand what you mean. It would not pain me to see Francis. But I do not wish to go to Judith Spinney."

"Will you stay here? Why don't you get rid of this place? You are wasting your life."

"You said just now that you liked to find me here."

"Oh, yes, one cannot be consistent—for me, yes, I like to come, but for you—"

"I suppose it is a very dull life, but it is all I seem fitted for."

"And with all that money you have!" exclaimed Mignonette with vehement bitterness. But before Barbara could answer, she had controlled herself and added, "I ought to thank you for what you sent to us, we found it very useful."

"You could hardly have needed it."

"Sir Timothy is careful," replied Mignonette steadily. "Very just, I have all that I require, but no extravagance would be permitted to me—he has too many of his own."

Barbara recalled that the timber of Mirabile had been grown for the Portsmouth dockyards to pay for that luxurious toy.

She was too inexperienced to be able to advise Mignonette even if she had been able to break through her reserves. To her candid, conventional nature, the situation was appalling, and she could not conceive how Mignonette could endure it for one single day. What was so terrible to Barbara was the possibility of scandal, of unbecoming, undignified behavior, of a quarrel between the two men, of the aching and thwarted fondness between the two young people. Knowing nothing, guessing little of passion, Barbara did not glance beyond these probable affronts to decorum.

Mignonette, watching her, suddenly laughed.

"What would you do in my place?" she asked, leaning forward into the firelight, her face flushed.

Barbara was silent. She did not know. She had heard of divorce as something disgraceful, perhaps wicked. She remembered the marriage service that she had often read in her thin-leaved, ivory-covered prayer book.

"What would you do?" insisted Mignonette.

"He ought to go away, of course," murmured Barbara.

"But supposing that he refuses to go?" Mignonette laughed again, on a note of rising excitement.

"I cannot believe that Francis would refuse to do that—he is a man of honor—besides, you treated him so badly. Oh, Mignonette, was this marriage worth while?"

She dropped her voice on a half-sigh. If she had had the chance, she would have been eager to give Mignonette sufficient dowry for a love match. She felt guilty and ashamed of her part in the past. She ought to have seen that Francis and Mignonette were netted in a common attraction, instead of supposing that he intended to ask her, a woman so much older and plainer than her half sister, to be his wife. And yet, the thought followed quickly, "He would have asked me, except for Mignonette, he said so."

"Don't look so serious. I suppose you are blaming yourself about my fortunes. I expect you are always blaming yourself about something, eh?"

"You are playing with me, you will not be serious. You know that you will not take the only advice that I could give and that is that Francis should go away."

"Your company is a help to me," said Mignonette, yet as she spoke, she seemed to fend off Barbara with an outflung arm, a lazy gesture, but one with meaning.

Silence surrounded them. No household noise penetrated the thick doors. Barbara placed a billet of wood on the clear fire and the flames sprang up. She noticed Mignonette's feet in tawny velvet shoes. Her gown was very plain, the color of a cyclamen. Barbara grew these plants in her stovehouse, and Francis had sent her drawings of them from Italy. Until today she had believed him to be in Rome, it was barely a month since his last letter. He had written with deep pleasure about the Roman spring. Mignonette was looking at her—Why did I think her eyes were the color of a lion? I only saw a lion once, at a circus, and I forget the exact color.

Mignonette's hair, so smooth, so heavy, had fallen out of the full curls and poured over her shoulders; she appeared much younger.

There were so many questions that Barbara wished to ask, about the past as well as the future, but she did not speak.

"Where is the embroidery that I gave you, Barbara?"

"I have put it away, it does not suit this house."

"Nor you, perhaps."

"Yes. I admire it greatly—you are very clever."

"I do not care to be idle. I have some new designs—one is the common thorn apple."

"You are speaking like this in order to mislead me, you will not take me into your confidence."

"Can we ever any of us do that?" asked Mignonette sadly.

"Words obscure feelings. I do not even know what I want to say."

"Yet the case is clear."

"No, no. Nothing is clear. Mignonette, you are only nineteen years old—"

"Not so much until next June. I wish I had brought my embroidery."

But she sat as if sunk in indolence, and not willing to move. The lamplight and the firelight were mingled over her soft contours, her head was pressed in the cushion of Chinese brocade that Barbara had so anxiously brought out, nearly a year ago, for her entertainment.

"I had not the courage to ask when your birthday was. I should have liked to give you a gift. Now there is nothing that you want."

As if she had not heard this, Mignonette said, "You are very pretty, you know, Barbara, but you make nothing of it—is it not time you were out of mourning?"

"Yes, in a short while now, but then I shall be in gray. What does it matter? Tell me—for I will be bold, and speak of matters you don't wish to hear of—have you ever again seen the ghost at Judith Spinney?"

"I never saw it—there are tales, of course."

Barbara flushed before this plain denial. She did not believe that it was possible Mignonette had forgotten her talk of the phantom. "Please come to Judith Spinney, Barbara."

Common sense as well as distaste for the proposal prompted a refusal. What could she, so ineffective, so out of it all, be expected to do? She was a stranger to Sir Timothy, and, when she had last encountered him, he had seemed hostile toward her. She was sure that he would resent having her in his house. Then how could she hope to influence Francis Shermandine to leave Judith Spinney? She would, too, have her secret relationship with Mignonette on her mind, as well as her knowledge of the position of Francis. She would, indeed, be enmeshed in intrigues that she would be quite incapable of handling.

Speaking more resolutely than was her wont, her peering shortsighted eyes narrowed, she replied.

"I cannot come, I could not face it."

"Would you if Francis asked you?"

"No," replied Barbara with, what was for her, violence. "And why should I? I have nothing to do with all this."

"Ah, well," Mignonette sighed. "If you would come, I would give you promises to be very, very discreet."

Barbara interrupted.

"No, I don't wish to come. I should be no use. I told you, I am not fond of you, nor of Sir Timothy, only of Francis—and how could I interfere with him? He would think I was jealous."

"Would that matter? You could easily marry someone else and prove him wrong. Yes, that is something we could do. I would entertain for you and find you a husband."

She is fickle and incalculable, thought Barbara, deeply hurt. I shall have nothing to do with her.

But staring, slightly bewildered, at her half sister, she saw no mockery in that fair face, but only anxiety, perhaps fear.

"No, I cannot come, Mignonette, pray do not ask me again. I don't know what you have told your husband about yourself."

"Do you suppose that he desired to know anything?"

"There, you see, there would be this secret between us and one day he might chance to see the resemblance."

"There is one," sighed Mignonette.

"Yes, Francis Shermandine noticed it, without realizing in the least what it meant."

They were silent. Mignonette kept her hands clasped behind her head on the cushion. Barbara stared into the fire. She felt quite resolved not to go into the home of Sir Timothy Boys. She felt agitated, resentful.

"I cannot think why you asked me, Mignonette."

"I have always liked gambling, taking chances. Of course I have never had an opportunity with the cards, but I'll take a risk, when others would not do so. I took one when I came here first."

Barbara did not understand. Mignonette continued to talk in a low, rather eager voice.

"One is in a pass, and one tries this and that." She sat up and moved her hands, usually so carefully controlled, quickly. "I decided, a second time, I will take a chance and visit Stone Hall."

She is idle and irresponsible, thought Barbara. I daresay if I were to go to Judith Spinney she would ignore me, refuse to see me, as she did last time.

"It is late," said Mignonette suddenly. "Go to bed—I am very tired."

It was a command and Barbara rose at once. She was surprised when Mignonette kissed her warmly, startled to find her cheeks wet with tears.

"Do tell me what I can do," cried Barbara, foolishly forgetting she had refused the only thing Mignonette had asked of her, but the other seemed to remember, for she pushed Barbara gently aside, and closed the door on her precisely.


§ 32

Barbara lay awake, making resolutions that she knew she would never keep. I act according to tradition and custom, I shall never have the courage for any original action. Then, what does she want of me? Support, perhaps deceit. I am to come to terms with her affairs without knowing anything about them. Yet, though it is true that she has behaved badly to me, I should like to have helped her. What do I really feel about the situation at Judith Spinney—fear, disgust, as well as curiosity?

Sitting up in bed, restless, almost distracted, Barbara thought, If Francis had come to me, how easy it would have been. I could have implored him to go away, and I believe I could have persuaded him to do so.

The night seemed long, her random reflections stumbled on the edge of dreams. She became drowsy, then woke with a start, pulling at the coverlet, and wondering where reality lay.

But when she had drunk the hot tea Harding brought her early in the morning, she felt ready for every difficulty, sacrifice, and task. She sprang up, put on her gray dressing gown and was about to run to the Chinese room when Harding told her that Lady Boys had already left Stone Hall.

Barbara received this news with humility. It seemed to denote a disaster, but as the day wore on in its monotonous routine, the flashing entrance of Mignonette seemed not only remote, but grotesque. It seemed as if she had come merely to tease, perhaps to torment, and that nothing she had said was to be taken seriously. She was a changeable, unreliable creature, and it would be unwise to have anything to do with her capricious destiny.

Barbara thought constantly of Francis Shermandine, of his lean, aquiline face, his expression that was at once lofty and appealing, of his rare enthusiasm for rich and beautiful objects, of his modesty, learning, and agreeable manners. It was not easy for Barbara to understand what he could find to love in Mignonette. The passion that must have overset his sober judgment was only glimpsed by Barbara, the little of it she could comprehend she could not justify. She desired to save him from this infatuation and she evoked his image to give it long pleading looks into which she put an earnest entreaty.

Meanwhile she endeavored to "take up," as she termed it, the only pursuits she knew, botany, needlework, water-color drawing and music. But in each she came so soon to the end of her small ability that she was disheartened. She could not even endure to look at the drawings in the portfolios that she had once ventured to show to Francis; she was ashamed of those feeble scribblings.

It was some relief to write to Caroline Atwood, but she could not set on paper what really concerned her. Caroline did not even know who Mignonette really was, and nothing about the sentiments of Francis Shermandine. The advice she received in return from this dear friend was excellent—she should go abroad, see more company, widen her interests—but Barbara would not act on this sage counsel.

She took, instead, drives into the country, near Judith Spinney, and tried to relish the sights, scents, and sounds of early spring. The slow opening of the English year, the low cooing of the ring dove or quite, the carmine or sulphur-winged butterflies, the white, lilac, mulberry-colored, or deep purple blue violets, that, with windflowers, delicate as shells, grew in clusters in the clearings. These were open to the light after centuries of shadow, for only last season had the gigantic trees been felled, and it was around the roots and stumps that these fragrant and too early flowers grew.

Too early, for tempests lay ahead, and Barbara, in her solitary wandering, was often splashed by rain and blown by gusts of wind that sent her hastening back to the carriage waiting on the long desolate road.

She had a half-formed hope that she might meet Francis Sherman-dine on one of these walks, but she encountered only the woodman going about his work, the farm laborer in his smock, the ploughman with his team of horses, and rustic children hurrying home before the sudden storm that tossed the purple edges of the windflowers.


§ 33

Barbara Lawne began to be overpowered by her dreams, or rather by one dream, as she thought, that was merely interrupted by the garish incidents of the day. Yes, one dream perpetually continued or renewed, that formed for her a hideous life, impossible to describe even to herself, for it was always concealed from her on waking.

The impression left on her returned senses was always one of terror, yet she would frequently try to re-enter this mysterious, perhaps agonizing world she visited in her sleep, to meet these people, perhaps strangers, even enemies, who were more important than anyone she met in the weary daytime, or, possibly, were these same people, sharply exposed in their essential truth.

It was toward the middle of May that these dreams suddenly revealed their meaning; instead of only vaguely remembered menaces and obscure perils, decisive action was demanded.

Barbara had delayed going to bed, because of dread of these dreams. She disliked her austere, well-ordered bedroom, the dark prints of gloomy, infernal, and celestial subjects that she did not dare to ask the servants to remove since her father had hung them there when she was a small child.

When they had been taken down for the annual retesting of the cords, she had longed to say: "Please don't put them up again," but she had been silent out of awkward timidity.

When the last blue of day had slowly faded from the large window, Barbara lit the watch light in the holder, placed it on the hearth, and got into bed. She felt so sad that she wished she had someone with whom she could weep.

She faintly wondered why, on this warm night, there was a deadening chill about her. Even under the sheets an icy air seemed to circulate, her limbs were heavy and the only part of her mind still alert registered, "I am going to be ill, that is why all has seemed so strange, why I must be mistaken in everything—why I have neither will nor judgment."

She tried to move, but her head was lifeless as a block of wood on the pillow. Harassed by desperate thoughts, she stared about the room. The beams of the watch light had faded, yet she could see quite well, it could not have been really dark when she went to bed, it was nearing the longest days of the year. Her anguish seemed eternal and intolerable, she was among shadows and phantoms who had no right to torment her with this terrible invasion of her blameless privacy. She was sunk in a stupor, but not at rest. Her body seemed to her no more than a little heap of dust in the middle of the large bed, but her spirit was struggling with some dreadful reality. She was no longer shortsighted, but saw everything with a devastating clarity.

On her somber dressing table gleamed Mignonette's toilet articles. She noticed them without surprise.

Now she was standing on the hearth, observing a cleaned patch on the carpet, where a stain of furniture polish had been removed. She remembered the maid on her knees working on that. She was dressed now, in her gray gown, but that pile of dust seemed still to be in the bed. Hanging to one of the brass-topped posts was Mignonette's embroidery, resplendent with brilliant flowers, white violets, and purple-edged petals of the anemone. And Francis Shermandine was there.

"How did you get in?" asked Barbara.

He grimaced, stammered and could not speak. Never had she seen him so distinctly. They sat down either side of the hearth and faced one another.

"It is an affair of outposts," he said. His lips did not move.

"What do you want?" asked Barbara.

"You told me I could come. I said I would come."

"Yes, but why?" insisted Barbara, leaning forward.

"I came back—" His voice was hesitant and full of woe, he was making an anguished effort to tell her something. She, too, was beset by pain, heavy and cold, in a void now, and far from the false, icy hearth.

She groped with aimless hands.

"Oh, I am very ill. I am losing my sight."

She was sitting up in bed, gazing at the faint yellow beams on the ceiling.

"I must send Mignonette's golden vanities after her." Then, "Why, it is wrong that they should be here, in my room."

A pearly radiance was in the air. Barbara looked at the dressing table and there was nothing there but her own plain toilet brushes and combs. No embroideries hung from the bed rail.

Barbara's heart beat like a muffled drum. She put her hands to it with an exclamation of horrified astonishment. The pallid glow increased in the familiar room. Everything was in its place as she had always remembered since, as a small child, she had been allowed to leave the nursery and have an apartment of her own.

The space either side of the hearth was bare, no one could have sat there.

Her prized security and comfort, all that she possessed and for which she had sacrificed so much, had vanished. She felt defenseless and too frightened to show her fright.

The thick bell rope hung above her head, but she never considered using it. An awful desolation engulfed her, but already she knew what she must do.


§ 34

"Harding, Lady Boys has asked me to pay a visit to Judith Spinney and I think I shall accept."

The day was stormy, and an ill-hued half-light was in the somber room.

The old servant gave her opinion vigorously. Knowing nothing from so reserved a mistress, she, nevertheless, suspected much. She had disliked and feared the French girl on sight, and associated her with scandal and disgrace because her family was never mentioned, and she was married to an old man. Moreover, she blamed her for Barbara's failure to marry Francis Shermandine.

To Harding, the hurried and unexpected visit of Lady Boys had been sinister, and she said all she could think of in an attempt to dissuade her mistress from going to Judith Spinney.

Barbara was so little moved, that the old nurse began to be alarmed. She thought that her mistress, or rather her charge, for so Barbara always seemed to her, was acting as if under some compulsion.

"I hope you are not ill, Miss."

"No—if I look rather pale, it is the effect of this gloomy light. Please pack my clothes, the half-mourning suits. It is too far for the horses, though I am in great haste I must not be thoughtless. What do you think of dreams, Harding?"

"That there is a vast deal of nonsense talked about them."

"Which means that none of us knows anything—who can say what sleep is, or from whence come those ideas that force themselves on us in our sleep?"

"Have you been dreaming, Miss?"

Barbara did not answer.

"I have heard talk of visions, also, my mother spoke of them—that while one is lying motionless in bed, one's spirit may converse with other spirits."

"You have a fever, Miss. Surely you won't travel, you look quite ill, I declare."

Barbara protested that she was perfectly well, though she could not conceal her forlorn heaviness, and Harding dare say no more, though she noted how changed her mistress was, as if her imagination was deeply tainted with some illusion, so that she continually started and looked round, as if expecting something to be lurking near, ready to confront her at any turn.

The old servant was a little comforted to know that she might accompany her mistress, who seemed, indeed, to care little whether she went alone or not.

This sudden, unexpected journey, though so short, had the air of an emergency and even of fear.

It was well into the afternoon before all arrangements were complete and Barbara Lawne and her elderly companion were driven to the Portsmouth railway station to catch the train for Didbury, the nearest village to Judith Spinney.


§ 35

The storm had passed and the evening was of a flashing splendor. The season had been warm and all the trees were in full leaf. The yellow flowers of the elder bush and the golden catkins of the willow brightened the hedges as Barbara drove in her hired carriage toward Judith Spinney. Lilac and laburnum were brilliant in cottage gardens and, where the woods sloped to the road, they showed radiant glades of bluebells.

When the gates of Judith Spinney were passed, the flowers ended. There was only the smooth, shaven green plot, the white pillars and chains, the plain façade of the house that, even to Harding, had a solemn air, but she persuaded herself that she was affected by the low spirits of her mistress, who appeared as if answering some dreadful summons, and hastening toward some desperate situation.

It is a splendid place, thought the old servant. The little foreign hussy did very well for herself.

But the scorn and the curiosity were but mechanical, and Harding wished herself away.

The visitors had only one small valise apiece, and that was soon deposited in the portico, and the hired carriage on its way again and the two women in their dark clothes standing in the bright sunlight of the brilliant day, that was again being overtaken by clouds.

There was no immediate answer to the bell that Harding set ringing by pulling at the elegant iron chain, and Barbara impatiently seized the massive door handle.

"There used to be a servant always in the hall," she said. "See, the door is open, come, let us enter."

"Everyone must be away," replied Harding, shrinking back. "I think we had better wait, Miss, as it is an unexpected visit."

But Barbara had already crossed the threshold, and the old servant followed her into the cool, spacious vestibule.

"The house is very silent, Harding, I do think that everyone must be out—perhaps on a picnic. Did you notice that the upper windows were shuttered?"

"That would be against the sun, Miss—the house faces west."

Barbara stood at the foot of the graceful stairway, looking expectantly upward and listening to the silence that was heavy with those incoherent murmurs that fill the air in the pauses of human sound.

"I'll go out and ring again," said Harding uneasily, but keeping close to her mistress.

"No—perhaps there is someone in here, this is the breakfast-room." Barbara turned to a door on her left that stood ajar and pushed it open.

A sensation of almost inexpressible relief almost overwhelmed her; her shortsighted gaze beheld a tall young man in a light overcoat standing with his back to her, Francis Shermandine, after all the alarm and hurry.

He turned at the sound of her step and Barbara, stepping eagerly forward, saw that she confronted a stranger.

"How did you get in?" he asked, and her senses reeled with the familiarity of those words. She seemed to have heard them in some terrible situation, recently.

The man was fair, with tangled curly hair on a high forehead, with heavy lidded eyes far apart, one slightly larger than the other, a short nose with flaring nostrils and very full lips. The features would have been gross had they not been so well shaped, and balanced by so firm a chin. He did not smile, and his level stare had an expressionless dignity.

Barbara stared also. She was still trying to remember.

The young man shrugged slightly; he had broad shoulders and a graceful figure.

"You want to see Lady Boys, perhaps?" he asked, and she then noticed that he was a foreigner.

A bell rang. Barbara saw that Harding had left them. She had, no doubt, again clutched at the pulley of light iron work by the open door.

The young man stood motionless and watchful, yet at ease, and seemed to be gazing beyond Barbara.

She withdrew her glance, murmured some broken words.

"I have come on a visit, I was asked some while ago, pray is there no one at home?"

"Everyone is at home, Mademoiselle, but they do not, I think, expect visitors."

Barbara put her hand to her head, tried to leave the room, and pulled at her gray skirts that seemed to be weighted round the hem with lead.

"I have had doings with something unlawful," she whispered. "What is this sensation of having been disembodied and embodied again?"

The stranger opened the door for her, it was as if he had not heard her disjointed words.

"I am grievously ill," she muttered, and passed into the vestibule. Mignonette was on the turn of the stairs, her hand on the curve of the elegant baluster. She was looking down.

Barbara heard a heavy beating and held her heart, but she said, "The storm has come up again, that is thunder."

The sunlight in the hall had been swiftly obscured. The bare marble walls and floor were enveloped in clear gray shadow, purple blue clouds showed through the transom light.

Dark memories hung in Barbara's mind with a booming din, keeping time to the thudding of her heart and the rolling thunder. She tried to speak, but could not; inarticulate and confused, she gazed up at Mignonette, recognizing that elegant figure in the stiffly starched muslins, though her short sight could not distinguish the girl's features blurred by the sudden darkness the leaping storm had cast into the house.

"It is a visitor for you," remarked the young man, looking up at the mistress of Judith Spinney.

"Too late," replied Mignonette, and descended into the hall.

Barbara contrived to speak. "Why am I too late?"

"The fair day is overcast," said Mignonette quickly. "Now we have only the tempest. And I shall not be able to prepare a fine room for you tonight—a rarity like the Chinese chamber."

"I shall not stay," whispered Barbara.

"Oh, Miss, you must stay tonight, there is a great storm blowing up," protested Harding.

"I made a grievous mistake in coming," said Barbara. "It was under I know not what impulse. I see I am not welcome."

"Yes, welcome to Judith Spinney," answered Mignonette, but she did not hold out her hand or approach her guest.

The foreigner was standing, as if at attention, close behind Barbara. She was between him and Mignonette, as a prisoner is between guards.

"God be about us!" exclaimed Harding, as the lurid lightning struck through the transom light, illuminating the hall with instant green fire followed by a roll of thunder echoing in the void.

The words gave some strength and comfort to Barbara. She asked, "Is Francis Shermandine here?"

"I do not know," replied Mignonette. She passed the question to the fair young man. "Is Francis Shermandine still here, Etienne?" He shook his head, without speaking.

"If Francis Shermandine has left this house," said Barbara, "then I want to know nothing else. And I shall depart despite this sudden storm, as soon as you please to send the carriage for me."

"Why are you concerned with him?" asked Mignonette. "You had better come upstairs. It will not make any difference whether you go or stay." She turned to the young man. "I am astonished that you wear that coat," she remarked thoughtfully.

He returned to the breakfast-room in silence.

"Go up, Miss," entreated Harding, in an anxious tone, and pressing close on Barbara, who felt a support from the presence of one, however humble, who was partial to her cause though she could not understand what this might be.

The two young women ascended the graceful, delicate stair and entered the large chamber giving on the front of the house, where Sir Timothy had announced his marriage engagement.

Nothing in the room had been altered, but the aspect was changed by the dark purple blue swollen thunderclouds that filled the large windows from which the curtains had been drawn back, so that it seemed as if one side of the room was hung with dark tapestries.

So intense was this impression of a menacing storm falling directly into the chamber—that was cleared, as if company was expected—with threat of lightning and thunder, that Barbara drew back on the threshold, with the instinctive recoil of one who suddenly steps into danger.

Mignonette sat on the stool by the pianoforte where she had sung Mignon's songs. She looked sideways at the encroaching tempest and folded her hands in the lap of her spreading skirts.

Barbara sat down on the chair nearest the door. She could not have looked at Mignonette openly even if her half sister had not had her face averted, for she was in a panting alarm, and felt out of her judgment, as if she had no control of her mind or sense.

"Francis Shermandine is dead," said Mignonette.

"I knew it," whispered Barbara. "That is why I came."

"But you asked for him."

"And you replied that you did not know if he was here."

"Nor do I. Who can tell where they lurk?" answered Mignonette. "He might be with us now, for all that I can tell." She added, without curiosity, "How were you aware of this?"

Barbara could not reply. Never would she have dared to put into words her experience of the previous night.

"His body is upstairs," continued Mignonette.

Barbara's head sank down so that her face was in darkness. The thunder was rolling away, as suddenly as it had come, and the rain, swiftly breaking from the dark vapor, was dashed in heavy drops against the shining glass of the tall windows. The last rays of the sun sparkled in this gilded shower, and cast a pale watery light into the chamber.

"He died violently?" whispered Barbara.

"Yes—it was an accident. He fell from the scaffolding of the rose window he was restoring in the old chapel."

"Yet he was so often there, and knew the place so well."

"It might well have been nothing, but the dusk was coming on, he took a false step, and broke his neck on the stones below."

A reeling flicker of lightning played across the room and revealed to Barbara that there was a third person present. At first she thought that Mignonette had moved her place, so like to her was the other woman, in a greenish muslin, who had been sitting silent at the other end of the chamber, holding up her hand to shield her face, as if from the storm, with a solemn gesture.

Then, as the normal shade of the evening fell again, Barbara, peering, saw enough of this third person to realize that she was a stranger. Mignonette rose.

"Have you seen Madame Falconet?" she asked.

The lady bowed indifferently.

"It is your mother!" exclaimed Barbara with a rush of wild thoughts.

"Yes, she is residing with me."

"A friend of yours, Mignonette?" asked Madame Falconet.

"Yes, perhaps, but I do not know. It is Barbara Lawne, and she has come to inquire after Mr. Shermandine."

"He was killed last night," said Madame Falconet, gravely. "You will find the house very quiet, Mademoiselle. Sir Timothy is indeed distressed."

"I am leaving at once," said Barbara. Her senses were still bewildered, and she hardly knew what she saw. Marguerite Falconet had a pale and wistful beauty and a delicacy of address that she had never expected. Rather she had always pictured her as violent and brilliant, a restless creature at odds with life.

"You must remain for the night," said Madame Falconet with a softness that was almost tender. "The storm has abated, but it may arise again. Come, this is a matter easily settled, you can sleep away from the death chamber, and from me."

"You know who I am?"

"You are Barbara Lawne," smiled the lady, "who was so kind to my daughter. I did not think that we should ever meet."

She remained in her place, but standing now, the empty shining floor between her and Barbara, to whom she was but a dim figure.

Mignonette put her arm round Barbara's waist, and with familiarity, but little show of kindness, led her from the room.

When the door had closed behind them, Barbara began to weep. Mignonette paused and offered her a handkerchief to wipe her face. Barbara tried to put her aside with a feeble struggle, but the younger girl held her firmly.

"You must have some courage, you know. You did not love him, it was only a fondness."

"I am shocked," murmured Barbara. "And exceedingly perturbed—this is no common loss."

She held herself up by the banisters.

"How can you endure it?" she added. She was crying most pitifully and felt in a hopeless stupor. "I am taken by surprise and quite confounded," she sobbed. She was not thinking of Francis Shermandine but of the two strangers she had just met. Escape was uppermost in her disordered mind. She wanted to go away, at once, even into the rain and the dark, but she had no force to resist Mignonette who drew her gently, with a steady arm, up the stairs.


§ 36

Harding had the peasant's solace for her trembling mistress. "He is at peace until the Last Day," she said. "And from what I could see of him, he had no need to fear the mercy of God."

"The mercy of God," repeated Barbara. "What does that really mean?"

"That our sins shall be forgiven us," replied the old woman, with great fervency.

"What can our sins be to God?"

"Nothing to Him, but a great matter to us."

"Oh, kneel with me, my dear nurse, and let us pray, I do not wish to dream tonight. I have often heard you entreat His presence be about us—let us pray for that."

Barbara went on her knees in her gray mourning, and the old servant beside her as they so often kneeled at family prayers. Their cold hands clasped and clung, and they bowed their heads, shuddering.

The room was strange about them, and to both of them bleak and desolate as any heath solitary under the full rain.

Barbara repeated the prayer familiar to her since her earliest childhood. She had so often heard her father speak these words, she believed that he had composed this petition.

"For Thy mercy's sake, have pity on Thy sinful servants; bless and prosper us, as we do Thy will, for Christ's sake. Amen."

"It should have been a longer and more forceful prayer," said the old woman, not rising from her stiff attitude. She was for singing the psalms, but Barbara rose and sank into a chair. Of all the Biblical images crowding into her mind, only one came clearly: "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion and Pleiades, and the Chambers of the South."

"I have never understood that," murmured Harding. She rose and bent over Barbara, who now seemed to her like her own child. "Now be easy from this terror and amazement, Miss, it was a horrible accident, and a dreadful thing that you should have come here to know of it."

"I was sent," whispered Barbara. "But indeed I do not know if that was a dream, or a fantasy. It is hard of belief, but he said that he would come to me for comfort, and I think he came, but what comfort can I give him now?"

"There, I never saw you in such a state of perplexity and grief. We must be away early in the morning, and we should never have come."

"Indeed, I do not see the good of it," agreed Barbara wearily. She restrained her most bitter secret, that the presence of Madame Falconet made Judith Spinney impossible for her; it was all her own fault that she was under the same roof with that woman.

She thought of her mother with remorse and wished that she had loved her more. Her father she thought of in the terms of his last illness and funeral, a peaked, somber figure in a vast bed; medicine bottles and hushed voices, a coffin that appeared solid and heavy as iron, flowers clipped and pressed into white wreaths, holland blinds drawn down and the first fragile sunshine of the year beating at them in vain.

Yet that dead man had once been the lover of the woman she had seen in the salon, they were the parents of Mignonette.

This reflection was so powerful that she had almost forgotten Francis Shermandine.

Her supper had been sent to her room, the servant carefully explaining the disorder of the household upon this dreadful occurrence, but all the old nurse's persuasions had not induced Barbara to take more than a cup of milk.

Harding then tried to persuade her to go to bed, confident that she would sleep through utter weariness, but Barbara insisted that she should keep that night as a vigil, in respect for the dead who lay in the same house, for though she could recall so little of Francis Shermandine, she sensed well enough that death was near.

With the patience of one born to servitude, the old nurse prepared the room for the watch, setting cushions in the deep chair for Barbara, shading the lamp and turning it low, and, at last, opening the window on the night to let in the sweet air.

The storm had gone and with it all oppressive heat. The moon was high in the luminous sky and cast into full relief the magnificent white spikes of the chestnut trees, the pyramidal flowers rising pure and splendid above the fanlike leaves, that grew beyond the shaven lawn, and before the beech forest.

"It is fair and seasonable," said Harding. "That storm was so sudden come, so sudden gone, I can scarcely believe in it."

"We must depart very early," murmured Barbara. "As soon as it is light you must find some servant to order a carriage or to hire us one—it does not matter if we have to wait at the station, as long as we get away from this house at once."

"Ay, we'll get away, Miss," replied Harding with great vehemence of feeling. "You would never have come, and that is certain, if you had been in your right and proper senses."

"But what do you know against this house, Nurse?" Barbara unconsciously used the old familiar name. "And the people in it?"

"It is not for me to say. You talked of dreams, Miss, but what I take note of is a sad reality, an unnatural marriage, and a dreadful accident."

"What do you think of those two foreigners?" asked Barbara fearfully.

"I saw but one—a man in a light coat, with tangled hair."

"Then what of him?"

Harding appeared embarrassed and cold. She shuddered as she gazed at the white spikes of the chestnut trees in the unclouded moonlight.

"I know nothing of him."

"He is a Frenchman, and must have come with Madame Falconet."

"She is the mother of Lady Boys?"

"Yes. I never thought that I should meet her."

"There is no need for you to meet her again," replied Harding severely. "We shall be gone early in the morning."

There was an insistent scratching outside that seemed nervous and timid. Harding hastened to open the door and there was Sir Timothy, holding a small lamp.

Barbara had forgotten him, she started with remorse and even a sense of present guilt.

"Will you come and speak to me in the library for a few minutes, Miss Lawne?"

Barbara was swept toward him by the sense of his terrible sorrow. He could hardly command himself, and the lamp was shaking in his hand, the flame smoking against the glass.

Barbara took his arm, hearing, faintly, Harding's protesting cry. They seemed to move with unnatural velocity down the corridor and found themselves, as by a trick, in the library.

She had certainly been here many times before, and though she had now nearly lost all her powers through terror and despair, still she knew this place. They had reached it by a crooked stone stair that they seemed hardly to touch in ascending, and it was warmly lit, and lined with books, safe behind glass that returned the trembling flame of the baronet's lamp, with many facets of light.

These volumes, with the vellum spines and the indigo ties, seemed to Barbara companions of her childhood, but she could not have told the name of one of them. In some such windowless room surely she had passed many years of her childhood. Yes, windowless, for curtains of leather shut out the natural light of the moon that she had dimly observed, over Harding's shoulder, lighting the chestnut trees.

"Why did you come?" he asked.

She peered at him, seeing him seated, huddled, and dismayed, the other side of a vast desk of inlaid wood, set with black marble ink wells.

"I don't know, I can't get this clear. I came, as I thought, on a summons."

"A summons from whom?"

"From Francis Shermandine."

But Barbara felt she had to modify that blunt statement.

"I feel as if I were struggling in deep waves," she whispered. "But how may that be? I have had dreams, but what are they? All of us know them and disregard them. I believed he was in trouble."

"Who?" asked Sir Timothy.

"Why, Francis,—I thought, last night—you see, he had said that if ever he was in trouble he would come to me."

"And do you think he came?"

"Oh, I do not know! But, indeed, I had a dream! Tell me what happened!"

The baronet seemed to make an effort to answer her soberly. She hardly knew who he was, so changed was he from the man she had last seen as master of Judith Spinney.

"This is the most horrible event. He went as usual—you must understand that, as usual—to the chapel, to oversee the great west window. The storms have been frequent and the work interrupted."

Sir Timothy paused, and Barbara, clasping his hands across the handsome desk, asked, "Did you still feel an affection for him?"

"Why not? Why not

"I don't know. I must always say that, before everything else, that I do not know. Truly, I do not know! But this death, so sudden and unmerciful. This summons that I had!"

"Ah, indeed then, he called you?"

"Do you think that he might have done so?"

"I can say with you that I know nothing."

"Nor I. Listen, Sir Timothy, you are a stranger to me—almost—I don't understand why he came to me last night for a little solace."

"You loved him, then? He was like a son to me."

"Why did you marry Mignonette?"

"Now you ask an impossible question."

"I believe you loved her."

"But you must tell me, Miss Lawne, what is love."

She laughed dismally, and fixed her nearsighted glance on the rows of books with the names of Tacitus, Pliny, and Aristotle on the spines. The ceiling lamp hung directly overhead and cast a pool of shadow where they sat. Surely she had known this room all her life, and, what was more important, visited it in her dreams. She believed that she had read all those tomes with their sepia lettering, and pondered, during quiet midnight hours, on the meaning their close-packed pages contained.

"I do not know anything about love," she replied quickly. "I didn't know why you married Mignonette. I am sure that I did not love Francis. It is a word too often used."

"You have so much wisdom. Of course you thought I was a fool. A young girl of whom I knew nothing."

This came near the center of her secret and she was silent.

"Do you know anything of her?" he persisted. With a heavy effort (indeed she did not know if she was awake or dreaming) she endeavored to change the bitter matter of which she spoke. Muffled by emotion she struggled after reason, that, indeed, was only known to her by hearsay.

"I can see that she is young and charming."

Barbara, though she felt herself in a trance, still was painfully guarding her secret. "Yes, only that, and that I was the means by which you met her."

"That is no matter. And now that he is gone, I have nothing to fear."

"What did you fear before?"

"Losing her—but what am I saying? It is the most terrible disaster that I have lost my sister's son."

"Why do you want to keep Mignonette?" she asked ruthlessly.

His gray head sank in his hands. He was abashed before her, bowed upon the spacious desk. Barbara's pity was profound. She was deeply conscious of the airless room, of the lamplight overhead, of the rows of books, ancient garnered wisdom—so useless to all of us.

"Will you see him?" asked Sir Timothy, looking up. "He lies apart and no one cares to watch with him."

"Do we know if it is he—or only a heap of ash, of bones, left within the bed?"

She had experienced that, and, surely, recently, being free and looking back on that pitiful residue in the great bed.

"Do you think that there are supernatural interventions?" she asked eagerly. "Why did I have that dream last night? Why was I impelled to come here?"

"Dreams are delusions. How many do we not have that come to nothing and are forgotten? I have to deal with other matters than dreams."

"With Mignonette?"

"She is my wife."

"Oh, yes," sighed Barbara. "And why are we in this windowless room, closed in with old books that no longer mean anything, while somewhere in this house, in Judith Spinney, is Mignonette?"

"My wife," he repeated, rising.

And Barbara was moved to mournful laughter.

"Why did you marry her She rose, staring with distaste at the grandiose desk. She wished that she was back in the rooms that had been allotted to her, safe in the company of her old nurse.

"Let us forget all this," said Sir Timothy, rising to his full height, "and visit my nephew, Francis Shermandine, to whom I promised to be as a father."

"But Mignonette prevented you," sobbed Barbara, clinging to him. He looked at her astounded, as if he would have disowned what she said but dare not do so.

They left the library together and passed along corridors familiar yet strange to Barbara. She felt herself right away from ordinary affairs and in some desperate place. The pleasures and hopes of youth, she was sure, had forsaken her finally, and all that was left to her were these forlorn adventures, linked with unseen powers that were of so terrible a nature, that they might well be termed those of the Prince of the Power of the Air.

"What is this!" she cried. "Am I forced along by some energies beyond human capacity?"

"No," replied Sir Timothy strongly. "You are going to see the body of my nephew."

She was conveyed toward the fatal chamber, she did not know by what means.

I am now fairly under the power of some hellish craft, she thought, as far as thought was possible to her. I am entangled, enchanted, enslaved—and the fault is my own. I have been changed, and changed against my will, and I know not who I am.

She was recalled to some measure of actuality by Sir Timothy's taking her by the elbow and leading her yet farther from that dreaded, too familiar library.

Francis Shermandine lay wrapped in a fine linen sheet, as the doctors and the nurses had left him. The shroud was raised at a peak above his forehead and the linen folds were neatly arranged round his stiff limbs.

This was what Barbara had always expected. She would not have known this poor remnant of humanity for the man who had walked with her through the beech woods and shown her the gray flower growing among the knotted roots.

This corpse seemed more pitiful than had that of either her mother or her father, for they had always been (or seemed to her) so passionless, that the final stillness had not been shocking. But this sudden quenching of one who had been so earnest and vital was heart-rending.

Barbara knelt to say a prayer. The cold edges of the dimity valance brushed her cheek.

"It is beyond my reach, beyond my power," she said, rising and leaning on the old man. "May he, wherever he is," she added in a whisper, "persist in traveling, until he is able to find me."

Sir Timothy did not appear to hear her; he was gazing with an anxious curiosity at the pinched and glazed features of the corpse that was laid out on a large glossy frilled pillow, and on a clean starched white coverlet, so that the bed was all in white, every fold of the linen, and every line of the body emphasized in cold shadow. The sheet that had been chosen for the shroud was too short, and the feet looked monstrous in unworn white socks.

"This is not Francis Shermandine," murmured Barbara. "He is carried away by the wind, or vanished into the sunlight."

Sir Timothy pressed her hand, and seemed to gain some comfort from her sympathy that she expressed so wildly. He began, in low hurried tones, to tell her of the accident, how Francis had been missed, and sought for, and found dead beneath the great marigold window in front of which was a narrow scaffolding.

Lately the rebuilding of the chapel had become an obsession with Francis. It was in order to work at this that he had returned to Judith Spinney.

"I thought he was still in Rome," said Barbara, who had hardly followed this rambling, agitated account of the accident. "He used to write to me, friendly letters."

Sir Timothy shook his shoulders, like one rousing himself to a sense of reality.

"It was very curious that you came here, Miss Lawne. I was so distracted that I hardly realized how curious—a dream, did you say, because of a dream?"

He led her away from the bed and they stood in the window place. The shutters were closed and from between the chinks a long ray of moonlight fell into the room that was lit only by a small lamp standing in the hearth.

Barbara made a powerful effort over her senses.

"I should not have spoken of that, I must not make anything of it, when one is nervous one dreams. I live too much alone, there are so many dreams that one forgets or that come to nothing, you yourself said so, sir, just now in the library."

"Did I?" he replied vaguely, and Barbara felt a frantic mistrust of that library, for fear that it also had been a dream.

"Mignonette," she said, forcing on with the common sense of the situation, "asked me to come here, some weeks ago, and I would not, and then changed my mind. I have been most overcast in my spirits and uncertain of myself."

"This tragedy has greatly moved you, my poor child. Do not be affronted—you cared greatly for him?"

"No," said Barbara. "I liked him and would have married him once."

"Then—this dreadful grief—" Sir Timothy's emotion increased. "What has caused that?"

His pleading gaze, his grip on her hand, implored the truth. Barbara desired to be candid, but hardly knew what the truth was. She feared that Sir Timothy suspected that she knew something of Francis Shermandine's love for Mignonette—or had he not discovered that? Barbara believed him possessed of this knowledge and that there had even been some dispute between the two proud high-spirited men that now caused the survivor a desperate remorse.

Her concern was to put away from her, entirely, all this. If Francis had died with his secret intact, she would not betray it, and if Mignonette had returned his love, she would have to bear hidden her pain and sorrow.

"Come," insisted Sir Timothy. "You came here strangely and at a strange moment."

"That accounts for my excitement of spirits," she replied desperately. "It seemed a summons from the dead."

"Was that all that dismayed you? You have yourself accounted for this feverish hallucination. You say, in face of his corpse, that you had no more than a liking for Francis."

"Yes, yes, that is true, and I do not know why I was so deeply troubled. The sight of the dead has in some measure restored me—the hours before were like a confused vision. I told you as a relief—yes, one must have some companionship. The prayers that my old nurse and I shared helped me. Can we not leave this room?"

"Wait a little longer. I came to seek you out of this same desire for company. I want to watch here, but not alone."

He guided her to the long settee at the foot of the bed. They seated themselves. The old words "watch and pray" came into Barbara's mind. But they were not even thinking of the dead man or talking of him but of something that had nothing to do with him, something that made Barbara, at least, forget the dead.

"The man I saw downstairs—"

"Ah!" whispered Sir Timothy. "You met someone?"

"A young Frenchman."

"There is nothing in that—nothing."

"Of course not."

"But he—disquieted you?"

"What shall I say?" Barbara dared not mention Madame Falconet, there was no need for her to do so.

"You met the lady?" he asked.

"Yes."

"It is quite natural for Mignonette to wish her mother to be with her."

"Of course."

"She is very well bred."

"I saw that," replied Barbara. She pitied him for being so miserably on the defensive. "You must take no notice of my fancies. The strange manner of my coming, this dreadful accident—I was agitated, and somehow these two people alarmed me."

"Did they say, do anything?"

"Nothing. Oh, I assure you! The merest commonplace."

"Yes," he agreed. "There is nothing in it all, it is all perfectly ordinary, perfectly ordinary."

"Who is the man?"

"A certain M. Berteaucourt."

Barbara remembered the name instantly; it did not appear to have any associations for Sir Timothy, who added, "He is a friend of Madame Falconet's, a manufacturer of paste jewelry."

"Why should he be here?" Then they had not told Sir Timothy. How had they kept the knowledge from him?

"He hoped for orders, introductions. He has some novelties to dispose of."

"And he is to stay here?"

"For a while, yes. I cannot very well disoblige Madame Falconet."

"But how can he intrude on your distress?"

Sir Timothy turned his head away, only the bed board prevented him from seeing the corpse of Francis.

"My nephew," he said hurriedly, "had taken a warm liking to this Frenchman, who is very expert in art, in the Gothic of his own country. I should feel it disrespectful to the memory of Francis to cut short my hospitality."

This formal speech baffled Barbara. Why were not these people, wife, wife's mother, the man whom Francis had been linked to in friendship, here in her place? Why was Sir Timothy alone with the dead, save for her chance company?

Barbara tried to reflect calmly on all this, but she was trembling from exhaustion and ready to weep again.

"There was really nothing to alarm you, either in M. Berteaucourt or Madame Falconet," persisted Sir Timothy.

"No, nothing, indeed, but the other circumstances are sufficient in themselves. Oh, I cannot remain here! It is beyond my strength to do so."

"Then I shall take you back to your room."

"You said you would watch here."

"I shall return—the Rev. Erasmus Swan is coming to sit with me." He rose, supporting himself with difficulty against the bed board. "It is not," he added unexpectedly, "on any trivial occasion that the dead return, but who attached credit to these fancies? One cannot be at the mercy of any idle dream."

"I can assure you that it was a dream," whispered Barbara, trying not to look at the bed, but seeing before her inner eye the long white figure, wrapped in the cold linen. "Some illusion of the fancy."

When they were in the corridor she said: "I have been so discomfited or I should before have asked you to forgive me for coming here uninvited. I am leaving tomorrow morning as early as I can get away."

"I entreat you to stay."

"Oh, surely you would not think of mere civilities now?"

"It is not that," he replied, almost sternly. "I much desire your company."

"I am a stranger. And I beg you, Sir Timothy, do not consider anything I may have said about Francis returning from the unseen world—these are very ancient fables."

"Yes, indeed, I do not think of them, but I ask you to stay."

They passed along the devious corridors that she found so confusing, so disordering to the senses, and presently had arrived at her chamber door.

"It would look very strange," said Sir Timothy, "if you were to leave before the funeral, and I must entreat you to remain."

She did not know how to refuse such an earnest request, yet to accede to it gave her intense disquiet. The promise was forced out of her and she escaped into her room.

Harding was at the window, looking at the white spikes of the chestnut trees as if they were company and comfort. The moon was setting, a gray twilight lay over the outer scene, and filled the room where the lamp was turned low.

"Oh, Miss, and you are returned safely!"

The foolish words had a warm sound to Barbara, she began to weep.

"I have seen him, Nurse, he lies quiet enough. There is something else here."

"We'll be away early."

"No, the old man entreated me to stay. We cannot. I think that he is lonely."

"Ah, indeed, he has his fine young wife, her lady mother, and their friend."

"I must stay until after the funeral," whispered Barbara, groping toward the bed. "He made me promise. We must not raise imaginary evils, Harding."

The old servant unlaced her bodice and helped her on to the bed.

"There, there, don't talk any more now, Miss."

Barbara had indeed an irresistible desire for sleep, for any oblivion. Partially undressed, she sank into the bed, conscious only of the hope that all this might prove to be a dream from which she would soon awake, before she fell into a profound slumber.


§ 37

Once she had realized that her mistress intended to remain for a few days at Judith Spinney, Harding did her utmost to put a good face on affairs.

This was the less difficult for her to do as she knew nothing of Barbara's relationship to Mignonette, and nothing of the strange reason Barbara had had for her visit. The old nurse believed that her mistress was unwell and uneasy on account of Francis Shermandine, and she bitterly mistrusted the four foreigners who were at Judith Spinney. But having no stronger reasons than these for her desire to return to Stone Hall, and being, in the strong May morning light, considerably recovered from her fright of the night before, she was soon induced to take a sensible view of the situation, and even to agree that it would be more decorous to remain at Judith Spinney until after the funeral.

Barbara looked upon what was before her as a space of time that had to be lived through and endured, and she, also, now that the sun was bright about her, tried to feel no more than a natural sorrow for the dead, and to regard Mignonette and her fellow guests without abhorrence.

The hurry and confusion in the household had somewhat passed away by the afternoon of that day, and all was set in the mournful routine, so familiar to Barbara, of an approaching funeral.

Sir Timothy was supervising the details himself with a meticulous care. He was seldom seen, being closeted in the library with those who were to do all that remained to do for Francis Shermandine.

Mignonette and Barbara took their luncheon alone, no mention was made of the other guests. Afterwards they went for a stroll, beyond the shaven grass plots, the white pillars and chains, the chestnut trees, the beech trees, into the fields with the running brook where Barbara had last walked with Francis Shermandine.

It was toward the hay harvest, the lime beginning to flower, the clover being out of bloom, and the yellow rattle shedding its seeds.

Barbara could not be insensible to this lovely season. She felt soothed by the balmy air, and by the fact that Mignonette had sought her out and seemed to desire her company. Doubtless it was the shock of the fatal accident that made the mistress of Judith Spinney appear so aloof yesterday.

Mignonette was not in mourning. She wore her starched muslins of a clear white and a fine Andalusian shawl with a maroon border, black lace mittens, and bracelets of round coral beads. A wide-brimmed green hat shaded her face.

"I am so relieved that you did not hasten away, Barbara. You will stay until after the funeral?"

This was the first allusion she had made to the subject that Barbara had not had the courage to touch upon.

"Yes, I promised Sir Timothy I would do that:"

"He asked you, then?"

"Of course. I am not so capricious, I really wished to go away."

"You do still so wish?"

"Yes, but not so keenly. But you know that I cannot remain long in the same house with Madame Falconet."

"She has been careful to keep out of your way, naturally she understands perfectly."

"Why did she come, Mignonette?"

The younger girl shrugged as if not quite sure if she would answer or not.

"Let us go no farther," said Barbara. "In the next field are the ruins, you would not wish to visit them."

"No, no—but one must not create haunted spots—it is all in oneself, the terror, you know. What place is there that has not been the scene of some disaster? Where we walk now—so peaceful, is it not?—might have been a battlefield."

Barbara did not understand if she spoke with the desperation of woe or with indifference.

They paused and, without speaking more, sat down in the grasses, not far from the stream hidden from them by cresses, mints, and yellow flag flowers.

"This man," Barbara asked, for she must know the answer. "This man who is staying here—"

"You were surprised to see M. Berteaucourt?" asked Mignonette gently. "You seemed amazed when I saw you together in the hall."

"Yes, I thought he was Francis Shermandine."

Mignonette was so startled that Barbara was sorry she had said this. "Oh, forgive me! I was so shocked at seeing a stranger, when I had thought to see him."

"How could you have mistaken him?"

"I saw his back only."

Mignonette put her hands quickly before her eyes.

Perhaps she loved him, thought Barbara, but her half sister was speaking resolutely, as if determined to be done with a matter she had set herself to dispose of quickly.

"M. Berteaucourt is in England on business," she said. "It is quite natural for him to stay at Judith Spinney."

"He is the man you were to have carried?"

"You have remembered the name!—I thought perhaps you would not."

"At once, yes."

"It is the same. My mother became interested in him and considers him worthy of assistance."

"Does Sir Timothy like him?"

"I suppose so, why not? But pray do not tell him I was ever affianced to him. I have not told him, and but for you, no one knows what the name of my fiancé was. Perhaps it was unwise to use it here. It was such a formal affair, you remember how opposed you were to it, but an Englishman would hardly understand that."

"I wonder that he cares to come to your husband's house—does he bear no resentment?"

"No, indeed. I told you, his visit to England is for purely business reasons." Mignonette's soft tones were in contradiction to her prosaic words. "You are intelligent," she added, "but possibly you do not understand what it means to be without fortune."

Barbara tried not to be startled and disturbed. She could not forget the shrouded corpse in Judith Spinney, and the elderly man, with trembling energy, preparing for the massive funeral.

"You will be glad to escape, even to Stone Hall," said Mignonette.

"You seem eager for me to leave. Why did you ask, no, implore me to come?"

"Did I not say that it was a whim? One must, at my age, be allowed a few caprices."

"Now is not, however, the moment for these indulgences," said Barbara. "Surely you should be glad of some companionship."

"I have Madame Falconet."

"But you are not with her, you prefer instead to come here with me." Barbara flinched as she spoke, for all her attempt at courage, for Mignonette had spoken abruptly in a tone of rebuke.

"Madame Falconet is taking some repose—she is quite overborne with the incidents of yesterday."

"Oh, Mignonette! I cannot think of anything but that—the terrible death of Francis Shermandine."

"Hush!" commanded the younger girl, raising her hand that looked pearly white in the black lace mitten and coral bracelet. "Is it not peaceful here? The air balmy with the scent of summer? Let us enjoy this tranquillity."

Barbara thought that these words sounded false as well as stiff. She was herself too deeply touched to feel more than slightly the charm of the placid sky, the genial landscape, the air that was indeed perfumed by the ripening flowers opening to the purple skies.

"I am sorry," said Mignonette, after waiting for the other to speak, "that I have the misfortune to offend you."

"My whole life offends, I think," murmured Barbara. "I do not know why I was brought here, to sit and shiver in the sun."

"A young man who was a mere acquaintance of yours is violently dead, and you take it as an overpowering calamity."

"I told you, it is not that, but something else."

Mignonette gave her a stare and a smile.

"There is nothing else it can be, save your excited imagination."

"I suppose that is so." Barbara could not come by a reasonable explanation of her great anxiety that sometimes was a painful vivid apprehension, and sometimes no more than a vague darkening of her mind.

She disliked being alone in the meadow with Mignonette, though once she had wished for, and tried to gain her confidence, now she found her half sister's lovely presence almost repulsive. Her nerves shrank at the sound of that soft voice that once she had listened to with pleasure and even affection.

She tried to reason away these sinister oppressions and to forget the feverish delusions that had brought her to Judith Spinney, and to believe that her strong distaste for Madame Falconet was entirely the result of prejudice. As for the manufacturer of paste jewelry, what could she possibly have against him, save his appearance that was different from that of any creature she had ever met?

"None of this," remarked Mignonette, speaking steadily into her reverie, "has anything to do with you. I am married into this family, and must accept their fortunes, even the sudden death of this young man."

"You speak of it so coldly!" broke out Barbara. "Do you not know what he felt for you?"

"Have I a right to know? Have you a right to ask that?"

"You are quick and clever in your answers." Barbara checked herself, she was sure that any contention with her half sister would be useless. She rose awkwardly, treading in her gray skirt and stumbling in the long, flowering grasses.

Mignonette remained seated, at ease in the summer afternoon, her broad-brimmed hat hiding her face.

"You are too taken up with mysteries," she said. "The effect of your secluded life, and spirits not buoyant enough to support solitude."

"That may be. I dislike this meadow, so near the ruins, and I should like to return to the house."

"I think it more melancholy there."

"It is more than melancholy here," said Barbara. "I feel much oppressed."

Mignonette rose now, in a graceful, well-taught movement.

"Come, let us be sensible, I do want us to understand one another," she urged. "If there is anything that puzzles you, pray tell me what it is."

"There is nothing—only, perhaps, one trifle that comes into my mind—why did you rebuke M. Berteaucourt for wearing that light coat?"

Mignonette brushed away some of the flower grasses that, powdery dry, had clung to her muslin skirts.

"Francis Shermandine was wearing it when he was killed. What a curious thing for you to notice."

"How was it that he was wearing it?"

"It lay in the hall, on the Italian chest, and he picked it up in error, I suppose. It is M. Berteaucourt's coat."

"And Francis Shermandine was found dead wearing it! I do not wonder that you were astonished."

"M. Berteaucourt put it on carelessly, not observing what he did. I do not suppose he will wear it again. This has been a time of great commotion for us all."

Mignonette gave this explanation in a practical way. There was nothing more to be said on the subject, her manner implied.

She cannot have loved him, decided Barbara, nor even have had a tenderness for him.

They walked slowly along the little path trodden by Barbara and Francis before, beside the stream and the clusters of mints, sedges, and water flags.

Mignonette had a cool, remote air, yet she employed a winning manner with some art, as she slipped her hand through Barbara's arm and began to make arrangements for her half sister to leave Judith Spinney, immediately after the funeral.

Barbara neither agreed nor disputed, and by the time they had reached the shaven plots, the chestnut trees, the plain white façade of the house, both had fallen into a discontented silence that seemed to conceal cross-purposes.


§ 38

"The master has entreated me to stay and the mistress wishes me away," Barbara told Harding. "And I would sooner be away. Yet something besides Sir Timothy urges me to remain."

The old servant was superstitious and she much wished to be gone from Judith Spinney.

There had been an inquest on Francis Shermandine and a verdict of accidental death had been brought in; the funeral had taken place and the house was now quiet again after the hushed, yet bustling company this event had brought to Judith Spinney. Madame Falconet and M. Berteaucourt, who had decorously kept out of the way until the body of Francis Shermandine had left the upper earth, now appeared at ease in the handsome chambers, assuming, modestly but decisively, definite places in the household.

Barbara had a keen desire to avoid everyone, but Sir Timothy had seized the opportunity of a chance encounter in one of the corridors to beg her once more, most earnestly, to remain.

"I try to use my reason that tells me to go home," said Barbara. "But my heart is against me. I have such a deep compassion for this old man, who seems to me mortally struck."

"Why does he not bid these foreigners go packing?" mused Harding. "When I saw him at Sandyrock, Miss, I did not think him a timid gentleman."

"He has altered so greatly since then. I did not know him well, but it is easy to see that he is a changed man."

"It is his wife—-and now she has brought her mother in, and a friend, and the poor gentleman is quite overborne."

"Why should he be?" asked Barbara, more of herself than the servant. "He has the power—they have nothing."

"Ah," said Harding darkly. "There is no end to the hold a young wife can get over an old, doting husband."

"He seems to me rather to avoid her, I have not yet seen them together, save at table, and then they hardly speak."

"There is some trouble that you are better out of, Miss. Sir Timothy must have other friends and maybe relations."

"But they all seem to be keeping away—even those who came to the funeral did not even remain for the night."

"It will be the foreign wife who has estranged them, Miss. But there is no reason why he should ask you, who are nothing to any of them, to stay here."

But Barbara thought, Through me he met Mignonette. Mr. Bompast warned me not to ask her to England, but I was headstrong. Did he not say "Leave well alone" and I replied "Perhaps we are leaving evil alone"—by evil I meant her mercenary marriage. Yes, if it had not been for my interference she would have married M. Berteaucourt.

"What are you thinking about, Miss?" asked the old nurse shrewdly. "You look exceedingly troubled."

"So I am," admitted Barbara. "I feel impelled to remain here, for a little while at least."

She could not forget the hours she had passed in the library with the baronet on the night of her arrival, though these were now mingled with her dream of the night before in a continuous phantasmagoria. Yet they formed a bond between her and this distressed man for whose wretchedness she felt responsible. She was sure that he had been deeply unhappy since he had married Mignonette. She felt uneasy, though she could not have explained why, about the continued presence in Judith Spinney of Madame Falconet and M. Berteaucourt. The very thought of these people filled her with some overpowering emotion.

She wished that she could have confided in Harding her relationship to Lady Boys, but not only did she dare not do this because of her respect toward her father's memory, she also knew that the old servant, shocked and frightened by this revelation, would refuse to remain for a second under the same roof as Madame Falconet.

With a coaxing voice and gesture she persuaded Harding to compliance in her designs.

"You are such a darling friend to me, Nurse, and I am safe and comfortable with you, and indeed we are very well lodged, and the house is not at all gloomy."

"Eh, well, Miss, if you care to stay; it is a fine establishment, indeed, and I am relieved that you had not fixed your heart on poor Mr. Shermandine."

But having said this, Harding did not seem to have said all, and moved about the room with a self-conscious air, pulling the folds of the bed valance straight and adjusting the long curtains of glazed flowered chintz.

"What is on your mind, Nurse?" asked Barbara gently.

"The staff has all been in service here a great while, Miss, and are attached to Sir Timothy, and though they do not talk disrespectfully, of course, in front of me—"

"You have heard something, I suppose, in the servants' hall?" Barbara completed the lagging sentence. Not only had she been trained never to listen to the gossip of underlings, she could guess what this gossip was. The English servants, of course, detested the young, foreign wife.

"I am not repeating anything," remarked Harding shrewdly. "But it is an ill mistress who has all her servants against her—if she is a right-minded, rightly behaved lady, she'll win some of them, even if she is foreign and young, but the four of them are hated."

"The four of them, Harding?"

"There is the maid, Josephine."

"Ah, yes, she came to Judith Spinney. I thought her a very ordinary sort of woman. And I expect that her sole fault is that she minds her own affairs and won't chatter with the others."

Harding pursed up her lips in silence. Convention prevented Barbara from discussing the situation fully with her. She would much have liked to know exactly what was being said by the servants of Judith Spinney.

She turned away, and looked at the white spikes of the chestnut trees the other side of the shaven lawn, and felt wearily lonely.

With an effort at concentration she tried to think out some plan of action, to put into set terms just why she was at Judith Spinney, and what part she intended to play there. As it was because of Sir Timothy's earnest entreaty that she was remaining, it seemed to her, as a first step, reasonable to have another interview with him, not under the stress of shock and pain, as the conversation in the library had been, but quietly, with the intention of finding out why he wanted her company and for how long, for he had not shown beyond that chance whisper for her to remain, any intention of seeking her out, but went about the house in an abstracted fashion, taking no more than a mere civil notice of those about the place.

Barbara turned from the window to the delicate little desk in the alcove, and was about to write a note to Sir Timothy, when she was forestalled.

There was a tap at the door, and Josephine left a billet, skillfully twisted into the form of a cocked hat.

It was from Madame Falconet, and requested that Barbara see her that afternoon in the music room at four o'clock.


§ 39

Barbara kept the appointment with a sense of deep apprehension. She had not, she told herself reproachfully, had the wit or the courage to refuse to keep it, moreover, she had an almost acknowledged wish to come face to face with this woman of whom she had thought so much.

Madame Falconet came at once to the point, rising politely when Barbara entered the music-room, then seating herself gracefully on the high-backed chair.

"I know that you wished to avoid me, and that it was a shock to you to find me here, but you, Miss Lawne, are the uninvited guest."

"I realize that and I could not explain under what impulse I came."

"Probably on some whim sprung from inexperience and a lively imagination. I hear that you lead a very lonely life."

"I don't think it is so lonely." Barbara felt obliged to defend Stone Hall, her mother's home.

"Come nearer and take that chair. I see you are shortsighted, like your father was."

"Was he? I did not know that—he always wore spectacles."

"You took him for granted, like a dutiful daughter," said Madame Falconet quietly. "You have thought hard, perhaps bitter things of me, but you tried to be generous, and, since we have met, you should hear my side of the story."

"I don't wish to interfere," murmured Barbara, the nervous half-protest coming almost without her own volition.

"You have interfered, Miss Lawne, when, in a blundering sort of way, you asked my daughter to your home."

"You think it blundering?" asked Barbara, flushing.

"You gave me money also," continued Madame Falconet steadily. "And it was welcome. Pray come a little nearer so that you can see me. I am not disfigured, or tainted, or different from any other well-bred woman."

Barbara seated herself on the chair the lady indicated with a graceful hand. She felt foolish, yet angry too, and determined to give no ground to one she regarded as an adversary.

Marguerite Falconet had a peaked and wistful beauty. All the lines of her face were finely drawn, her brows and lips emphasized by delicate pencilings of brown and red; a pale gauze scarf was tied round her head and fastened lightly under her chin; her dress was of a very rich gray brocade with an iris flush.

"My family is as ancient as yours," she continued with a smile. "My father was a noble émigré who married an Englishwoman. A follower of the Bourbons, he lost everything under the Bonapartes, and I had nothing but a good education, that my parents had largely given me themselves."

"But I do not wish to hear this."

"I insist. I have nothing of a singular nature to disclose, but I am sure that you have—with the intolerance of the virtuous—mistaken me."

"As you will," conceded Barbara uneasily.

"There is very little to say. My story must be that of thousands of other women whose parents were involved in the disorders of Europe. My knowledge of languages, in particular of English, because of my mother, being good, I became a governess in wealthy families, and lived, as it were by false pretenses, the life of a lady of fashion."

"That is certainly what you appear to be," said Barbara.

Madame Falconet inclined her head.

"I had a longing to see England, my mother's country."

"Why, of course, you have never been here before." Barbara wondered why she found this fact so surprising.

"No. To return, I put my name on the books of a very respectable agency, and refused several offers. I felt myself entitled to take my time and my choice. I also declined several suggestions of marriage, because none was in the least brilliant, and I was ambitious."

The lady paused, but Barbara had nothing to say, nor did she suppose that Madame Falconet was expecting her to speak.

"It was in this manner that I met your father. He was, he said, in Paris on business, and had arrived, I think, from Le Havre. There is no need to dwell on the details of this friendship. I was young, too young, Mr. Lawne said, to undertake the education of his daughters. From the first he told me he was a widower."

Madame Falconet paused on that and Barbara trembled.

"I thought he was in love, I thought I was, also," continued Madame Falconet. "A little it was ambition, too, this was the best match that had come my way. I had the conventional attitude toward the church. We were married by a priest, in an obscure quarter of Paris. I asked no more. We went away together to a place in Normandy where I had stayed with my parents. It would be unknown to you."

Barbara averted her face, but the lady continued steadily.

"After quite a short time he disabused me. I learned that he was married—it was bigamy, a crime that used to be punished by death in France, but now the church ceremony is not legal in his country or mine. I was dependent on his conscience."

"I do not recognize my father in this," murmured Barbara.

"No, you would not. And I cannot explain to you now how we adjusted this terrible situation. His remorse was miserable and I had strong good sense. I agreed not to disturb his family life and he promised me a reasonable income. He returned to England and next year my daughter was born."

This narrative began to jar on Barbara. She did not know why she should be forced to listen to it. Besides, it seemed to her too smooth, without feeling.

"Mignonette became my sole care and occupation," continued the soft, yet implacable voice. "Though I had to surround her with fiction, yet I told her the truth about her parentage. I had every right to regard myself as an honorable woman. Mignonette has always respected me."

Barbara was silent, and Madame Falconet added, in a different, sharper tone of voice, "And you should be grateful to me, Miss Lawne, for my long continued discretion."

"I suppose you found the arrangement to your convenience," said Barbara reluctantly. "In your place I should have acted differently."

"You think so? We will not, if you please, discuss that. I wanted you to understand that I have nothing to be ashamed of."

"Yes, I realize that, but you cannot expect me to blame my own father—it seems to me he tried to make amends."

"Is that your sole comment on my story, Miss Lawne?"

"No. I have thought about it a great deal, too much, since Mignonette first told me. And there are things that appear strange to me."

Madame Falconet looked amazed, offended, as if she had never expected to be questioned. But Barbara persisted.

"Nineteen years ago, when you say my father was looking for a governess, I was already in the charge of a German lady, and I never recall any talk of her being displaced—she left only when I was too old for lessons, and my mother would not have had a Frenchwoman in the house as she was prejudiced against them."

"Nevertheless, your father came to an agency looking for a French governess."

"It is odd. I did not think of it at first, but it is hardly to be understood."

"Perhaps," she suggested carelessly, "you had sisters?"

"Yes, and one was living then, but that does not alter the strangeness. I get confused myself, trying to think things out. You were married by a priest and so were religious, but Mignonette told me that she had been brought up as a skeptic."

"The priest deceived me," replied Madame Falconet, sternly. "He should have told me that I was married only by the canon law. After the shock of his behavior I left the church."

Barbara rose. She wished to escape from this sunny room, this graceful lady.

"And now I hope," insisted Madame Falconet, rising also, "that you will realize that I am not mysterious, or corrupt, or dangerous—and that you will leave Judith Spinney."

"Why do you want me to leave?"

"Do you not see that you are quite out of place? That my daughter does not desire you in her household?"

"Yes, and I wonder at it," Barbara sighed. "I wished to be a good friend of Mignonette."

"Leave her alone," advised Madame Falconet. "It was a great mistake for you ever to have met," she added in the most moving tone she had yet used.

"Why should you not wish to see us—as sisters?"

"Because it cannot be—it is unnatural, in everything you are different. Come, I have been candid with you, return this frankness. Your place is at Stone Hall, I ask you to return there."

"By what right?" demanded Barbara.

As if astonished at this temerity, Madame Falconet frowned and her face was changed into narrow and bitter lines. She pulled at the gauze round her head, as if uncertain what to say next, and Barbara, impelled by terror, hastened away.

In the corridor was Sir Timothy, obviously waiting for her. He held himself upright with difficulty and gripped the back of one of the tall Italian chestnut wood chairs that were set against the polished wall.

"Why have you been so long with Madame Falconet?" he whispered fearfully.

Barbara was about to answer truthfully instinctively, when she recalled how enmeshed she was in secrecy and that the anxious man speaking to her knew nothing of the true story of Madame Falconet, who had no doubt told him some pretty fable that he had been too infatuate to doubt.

But part of the truth she felt she could tell her host, so she informed him that Madame Falconet was insisting on her own departure from Judith Spinney.

"And you ask me to stay, Sir Timothy."

"Yes, I do, I most earnestly do ask you to stay."

"But why?" she asked, deeply disturbed, and so exhausted that she sank on the chair where Sir Timothy leaned.

"I am a sick man," he replied hastily. "I have not recovered from the blow given by the, by the—Did you," he added in a voice almost out of control, "care for him deeply?"

"No," said Barbara. "I have indeed almost forgotten him—he is like someone I have read of. I told you so, before, sir."

"I knew him in his infancy—I promised his father to be at his charges. I am sorry I forgot what you said."

"Pray, sir, you distress yourself very much." She made an effort over her own weakness in order to support his and, rising, offered him her arm. "Let us walk out into the garden, or the woods, into the open air, at least."

"She did not—threaten you?"

"No—but her attitude was not kindly. She much wants me to leave this house. Madame Falconet was at much pains to show herself to me as a blameless woman, but I do not like her, Sir Timothy."

"No, no." This seemed an agreement, not a protest, and Barbara was encouraged to add: "Why, sir, do you not ask her to return to France?"

"My wife wishes her mother's company."

Now Barbara ventured on the heart of the trouble, spurred by desperation to this courage.

"M. Berteaucourt, he, at least, has no right here?"

"It is a young man whom Madame Falconet desires to help."

The feebleness of this reply was like an evasion to Barbara. She thought, What a power Mignonette must have over him that merely to please her he tolerates these people—and why does she wish them to stay?

Their looks encountered and then fell away again. They turned under the chestnut trees, round the trunk of the largest of these was a seat. There Barbara led the old man—old now he appeared to her, though when she had last seen him he seemed to her to be in the prime of life. They sat side by side and the fans of ribbed leaves through which the sun showed, making the green brilliant, shut them in.

"You reminded me that I was forgetful," said Sir Timothy. "And I agree that I am much distracted, but you also—there is something that you do not recall."

"What is that?"

"Why, you questioned me before about M. Berteaucourt, and I answered you."

"That is true, I remember now."

"This shows that you think of him too much."

"No, no," replied Barbara strongly. "What could he be to me?"

"What indeed? The merest stranger."

She agreed hastily.

"Very well, then," said Sir Timothy firmly. "We will not speak of him again. As for Francis, I am sorry I importuned you about him. I had it fixed in my mind that you and he would one day take my place here."

"Then you met Mignonette, and I went out of your thoughts," smiled Barbara wanly.

"She is an exceptional creature," he said, obviously defending himself. "It was not only her charming youth, it was her intelligence, her appeal. I suppose you hardly imagine that she appealed to me?"

"I had not thought of that."

"She did. She flattered me, she deferred to me as the most powerful man she knew, her mother a widow in mean circumstances, a wretched marriage arranged to give her a bare maintenance."

"To whom was this marriage to be?"

"Some miserable tradesman. You know, in France, the dowry is essential and she had none."

Barbara was silent.

"I thought that possibly Francis, forgive me—"

"I know what you would say, sir, first you thought of me for Francis, then you thought he had turned to Mignonette."

"It seemed to me possible—he showed a strange temper, like jealousy, that night in the music-room, then hastening away to Rome."

"Need you go over the past, sir, and these old emotions? He of whom you speak is dead."

"And I am married to Mignonette."

Why, thought Barbara, do they try to justify themselves to me? Sir Timothy continued.

"If they had told me they were attached, I should have helped them —but she appealed to me, and he went away without saying a word. And when he came back they were perfectly self-controlled. No, not for an instant should I have come between young lovers, but she was pleased to defer to me."

"It is not my affair," interrupted Barbara.

"But I know what is being said, that I am senile, that I lost my head." Barbara rose.

"Let us walk in the woods. I am tired, and so, sir, I think, are you, but there seems no repose here."

He came with her without replying, and continued, though in a manly fashion, to defend his marriage that he could not endure to have regarded as an old man's half-crazed fancy for a lovely young girl.

Barbara could reconstruct Mignonette's cajolings from his speech. In those days, when she and Francis had never imagined such a marriage as this, Mignonette had been with the baronet looking at his collections, sympathizing with his plans, applauding his tastes, and representing herself as the ill-used victim of sour fortunes being forced into a hateful wedlock. There evidently had been delicate but persistent appeals to chivalry and sighing wistful glances toward the noble, serene, and useful life that Mignonette hoped to lead under the guidance of Sir Timothy's wisdom, experience, and generosity.

This, to Barbara, was a new side to her half sister, but one that she did not find difficult to credit. She allowed her companion to talk, feeling that this relieved him of something worse than bitterness.

At last he came to a pause, with a short remark that held the key of his mood, perhaps, for all that Barbara knew, of his tragedy. "Afterwards," he said, "she changed."

Barbara did not venture to press him for a deeper explanation. She had observed that he had been careful not to blame anyone, in particular not to blame Mignonette, but rather to try to sort out his thoughts and actions in order to come at some explanation of the pass in which he now found himself.

They wandered into the deep recesses of the woods, far beyond the grove of beeches with the twisted silver roots, and found a well-trodden path, with a thicket either side, overhanging the slopes darkened by great oaks and elms. Here were some bright adornments that Barbara noted with gratitude, the fine red spikes and pallid blooms of the enchanter's nightshade, the small drooping petals of the wintergreen, the unfurled fronds of elegant ferns and the dim whitish green spikes of the bee orchis. While deepest in the shade she could see a withered-seeming brown stem bearing sulphur flowers, the bird's-nest orchis, that reminded her of the strange little plant, so like a symbol of decay, that Francis Shermandine had plucked from the rotting roots of the beech trees.

They passed out of the wood in silence and came upon meadows rich in the glow of the unclouded sun, now well past the zenith.

Nothing could have been more peaceful than this prospect and Barbara felt that even the torment of her companion was soothed. She supposed that he was looking at his own land, but that he had forgotten this, for there was no pride of possession in his intent glance, but rather a questioning humility, as if he asked the answer to some riddle that was consuming him with perplexity.

"I do not know," he said at length and in a steadier tone than he had used for some time, "how my life will work out, but the matter must be decided, one way or another, very soon."

"Sir, I cannot advise you," put in Barbara hurriedly, fearful that he was going to touch on his complete awakening from his delusion with regard to Mignonette, and his decision on a separation from his wife.

"I do not ask it," he replied with dignity. "You might be my daughter, and once I thought, hoped, that you would stand in that relationship. I have already drawn too much on your kindness."

He was going, Barbara knew, to give her permission to leave Judith Spinney, but she resolved, suddenly, that she would not do so.

Her excited imagination saw the four foreigners of whom Harding had spoken as arrayed against the master of Judith Spinney, and herself and the old nurse as standing by him to guard and protect. A fanciful picture, as even she knew, but she could not control the imagination that painted it, that forced it on her, with a rapid clarity that concealed from her conscious mind that it was a mask for something else.

"I should like to remain at Judith Spinney," she said steadily. "I am not frightened."

"Frightened? Why should you be?"

"Of course there is no reason. I meant to say that I was not frightened because of the death of Francis Shermandine."

Her companion seemed to shiver in the sunlight and Barbara trembled also, but she continued in commonplace tones. "I should not care to return to Portsmouth now, in the heat of the summer."

"Then you must remain here, that is understood." Sir Timothy was the courteous, pleasant host, much at his ease, on his own ground. He took Barbara lightly by the arm and began to point out places in the bright scene, a form, a glade, an upland, that had been known to him since his earliest youth and with which he had the most charming associations. But Barbara felt that they had made a pact.


§ 40

When the situation was put to Harding, she translated it at once into terms of good and evil, herself and her mistress against the four foreigners, and this clear-cut definition so much like her own had been made Barbara feel as if she were one of an opposing force faced by alert enemies.

"It is not like that at all," she argued aloud. "We know nothing whatever against these people."

"They are foreigners," Harding emphasized, as if they were aliens from virtue as well as from England.

"That is your prejudice, you know," smiled Barbara nervously. "And it is absurd. We are remaining because our presence is a kind of solace to Sir Timothy. He thinks of me," she added wildly, "almost as if I had been his nephew's wife."

"As you ought to have been," agreed Harding, accepting this sedately, "if Mademoiselle had not come along, bewitching everyone."

"You know better than that, Nurse, there are no such creatures as witches."

But Harding had the Bible to support her, and she desired to know what was this power one person could have over another if not enchantment?

"There is a kind of fascination," admitted Barbara slowly, against her will, yet longing to speak to someone on this subject, then checked and spoke of something else. "We must be commonsensical, Nurse, dear. We arrived here at a dreadful moment when all was in disorder, but the grief and horror must pass, and we should not," she was almost repeating what Mignonette had said to her in the water meadows, "create any specters or fables of our own."

"Then, Miss, if you don't believe that you are helping to fight evil, why are you remaining here!"

"Fight evil! Why, Nurse, how silly and presumptuous that sounds! Really, you must not talk so. We must behave like reasonable creatures. Do, pray, recall that there is nothing against Lady Boys, her mother or—her friend."

"I can hold my tongue, as well as the next, and keep a watchful eye, too. I am glad that I am sleeping near you in the little closet."

These words alarmed Barbara. Was it possible that Harding knew more than she admitted? That she had seen something of which she did not care to speak? But it would be wiser to take no heed of what the faithful but ignorant and obstinate old woman said.

"Harding, I am weary of this mourning, even though it is gray—and my dresses are so ill cut beside the gowns of Lady Boys and her mother."

"That is the first time I have heard you complain of your clothes, Miss! And you should go into black again, with Mr. Shermandine's hatchments over the door."

Barbara felt the rebuke and flushed. She was peering at herself in the mirror on the dressing table and thought that the color became her. She thought, Why should I not do as they do? The next time I am in Portsmouth I shall ask the chemist for some rouge and a brown pencil for my eyebrows.

Harding came up behind her and put the white dressing wrapper round her shoulders.

"You are not thinking of your looks, Miss?" she asked suspiciously. Barbara smiled.

"Supposing I did, for once? For the first time? To take my mind off worse things?" she asked, and her smile deepened because of the picture she made with her hazel-colored hair fallen on the white wrapper as Harding pulled out the combs, and that rosy hue still in her cheeks.

"You were pretty yourself once, Harding."

"What a thing to be saying, Miss!" The old woman looked stern, her comely features were unbending beneath the frilled cap and thick smooth gray hair. She did not raise her eyes from Barbara's tresses to glance at her own reflection in the mirror.

"It is no time to be thinking of such matters," she added sharply. "Besides, if one were as fine as a peacock, there is no one here now to put on gay dresses for, is there, miss?"

"No one, of course."

"Then don't be thinking of it, with the rest of the house held in mourning."

"But Lady Boys and her mother are not actually in mourning though they wear plain pale colors and no jewelry."

"It is a heathen disgrace," said Harding.

Barbara wished she had not made this criticism. The comment had escaped from her unwittingly. She said no more of her full gray gown and she suffered Harding to bind her hair back from her forehead in an unbecoming fashion, and to confine the naturally curling locks into a plain net of black chenille.


§ 41

The dinner that evening passed so pleasantly that Barbara was ashamed to remember that she had ever supposed anything wrong with the household. Sir Timothy had completely recovered his composure and spoke to his wife easily, while she affectionately responded with a pretty deference.

Madame Falconet and M. Berteaucourt drew Barbara with skill and tact into a light discussion of what her interests might be supposed to be—the dockyards at Portsmouth, the naval, military, and civil life of that great town; then to botany, of which she knew something, and to sketching in water colors.

Madame Falconet did not seem to be the same woman as that firm creature who had so coolly related her story to Barbara in the music-room. She was now feminine, hesitant, deferred to everyone else, but without servility.

M. Berteaucourt spoke modestly and openly of his business plans, and respectfully engaged Sir Timothy in descriptions of famous gems, cameos, and renowned ornaments, one of which, an opal bracelet named the Fire of Troy, he was endeavoring to reproduce in paste.

There were single white roses opening into golden hearts on the table among the candles, and the windows were set open on the sweet night air.

Barbara felt almost happy. She was astonished to recall the foolishness of her old nurse and her talk of good and evil, and ashamed to think that she might have said something foolish and excited to give cause for Harding's talk, which was really that of a peasant woman, for the old woman was very lowly born, had entered into service very young, and could scarcely read or write.

Barbara glanced across the roses, the candles, the shining damask at Madame Falconet.

It was difficult to realize that such an elegant, fashionable woman had nearly been her own governess. Indeed, such an idea seemed grotesque.

Fräulein Weissmann, yes, that was the name (Barbara had almost forgotten it, so little impression had the effaced shy personality of the German made on her mind), had been the only governess who had ever been in Stone Hall.

Her charges had not seen much of her. With her timid, sentimental nature she had attached herself to the invalid Mrs. Lawne, and the two women had passed a good deal of their time together, talking, knitting silk purses, or reading aloud pious poetry to one another. When Barbara was eighteen years old Fräulein Weissmann had slipped away to Hanover where a widowed father had suddenly claimed her care.

At random, Barbara thought, What would have become of the poor Fräulein if Father had brought home a French governess, young, dashing, and pretty?

And what would have become of Mrs. Lawne, who loathed the French because of terrible stories of the Jacobins she had heard from her own mother, and who had always declared that she would never hear French spoken in her house?

That was partly the reason why Barbara was at such a disadvantage now, the French language had always been taught in a hurried, apologetic way, and she had known Italian and German far better.

"What are you thinking of, Miss Lawne?" asked Madame Falconet smiling directly at her, and Barbara started.

She could not say that her mind had idly traveled back to schoolroom days, nor mention her mother, or Fräulein Weissmann in this company, and, as she realized that, she colored, for it was suddenly clearly apparent to her that she was tolerating the presence of Madame Falconet in a way that a short time before she would not have thought possible.

She had even taken it for granted that she could not remain in the same house with the Frenchwoman, and yet she was seated at the same table with her as a matter of course.

"I was feeling lazy," she excused herself, and M. Berteaucourt, as if coming to her rescue, asked her, in an impersonal manner, if she would care to see some of his collection of model pieces.

This suggestion gave Barbara a little thrill of emotion, and she accepted the offer as if she were interested in the subject, of which she knew nothing.


§ 42

In the music-room Mignonette was playing the pianoforte and Barbara was thinking of the two men left downstairs over their wine. She could see them, in her fancy, as if she looked down through the floorboards and observed them seated either side the roses, the candles, the bowls of the first strawberries, not speaking, but looking apart.

Mignonette no longer sang the songs of Mignon, her small fingers picked out some light French air.

"Do you know," asked Madame Falconet politely, "that there are large shells beneath the floor, for the improvement of the sound?"

And with a slow and dignified movement she took some embroidery from a small table of variegated marble near her, and cast it on her lap, where the brilliant stitched blossoms showed like a cascade of natural blossoms against her pale green skirt.

She did not speak and Barbara glanced at her timidly and sidelong, noticing with shy wonder that fine profile, worn, sweet, and yet almost expressionless.

Again Madame Falconet had a delicate lace scarf over her head and knotted under her chin, a style that was so out of fashion as to appear odd, but that suited her very well.

"Will you not travel, Miss Lawne?" she asked without looking round. "Now that you are free you might see something of the world." This had been Caroline Atwood's advice. Barbara supposed it would be that of everyone who knew her position.

"It is not easy to travel when one is so used to staying at home, Madame Falconet."

"Money will solve all difficulties," replied the other with gentle irony. "You could hire a courier, servants; you have already an excellent chamber woman."

"You mean Harding, my old nurse. She is very faithful."

"Very zealous," smiled Madame Falconet, still with an averted face. "Very watchful. Josephine seems to think that she is always on guard for you with the other servants, almost as if she thought you were in danger."

"I hope she has not given offense," replied Barbara quickly. "She is a devoted but ignorant woman—but even she would not be so foolish as to imagine that I was in danger here."

"Offense? No, Josephine is very sensible, she was rather amused. She has already noticed, of course, the deep prejudice against foreigners here."

"Harding means no harm."

"Eh, well, why should she? But Harding, like yourself, would be so much more in place at Stone Hall."

At this renewed attempt to suggest that she leave Judith Spinney, Barbara was silent. Something of the ease that she had felt at the formal dinner table was vanishing. Madame Falconet's next remark, given casually, increased her perplexity.

"Mrs. Lorimer the housekeeper, Brent the butler, and Davidson the head gardener are all leaving Judith Spinney."

"But I understood that they had been with Sir Timothy for years!"

"That is the trouble. The late Lady Boys was not a good manager, then there was Sir Timothy's widowhood. Of course these people took advantage of the situation. There have been extravagances, but extravagances!"

"I had no idea of this."

"Why should you have?" asked Madame Falconet sweetly. "Of course it could have nothing remotely to do with you."

The rebuke was just, but Barbara wondered that Sir Timothy had not told her of these changes in his household that she could not doubt had been brought about by Madame Falconet.

"It is startling," she murmured. "Three of the chief servants at once."

"Not at all startling. From the first my daughter did not like these people who, being in one place so long, have become very forward and familiar. Moreover, they hold together in a dangerous way, and support each other's stories and complaints."

"It will not be easy to find servants as well trained and as used to the house."

"There will not be the least difficulty in finding good servants."

Barbara did not feel able to say any more. The state of the case seemed clear to her. Madame Falconet, acting for her daughter, intended to fill Judith Spinney with creatures of her own. This was perhaps reasonable as the young wife might well feel that she was encountering a prejudiced hostility from servants so long established in her husband's home, but Barbara felt regret at the departure of the kindly, attentive Mrs. Lorimer, at the butler, both of whom had, she was sure, performed their duties very well and, in the little she had seen of them, regarded her with friendliness.

She was forced to remind herself yet again that this was no concern of hers, and therefore could give her no cause for dismay. Yet there was something about the shifts and ambiguities of Madame Falconet that she did not like.

Mignonette left her music and joined them, a smiling Mignonette who picked up the embroidery, found where the threaded needle was gleaming amid the silks, and began to work at a carnation in a pure tint of carmine.

"Mother has been telling you of the changes here?" she asked, thus showing that for all her apparent absorption in her playing of the pianoforte, she had overheard the conversation. "It will be so much more comfortable for me with a staff I have chosen myself and who do not keep comparing me with my sainted predecessor."

Before Barbara could answer, M. Berteaucourt entered the room. He carried a long case of coromandel wood, the rich brown and black serpentine markings highly polished, and placed this on the table from which Madame Falconet had taken the embroidery.

"Do you really care to see these trifles?" he asked Barbara. "They seem, perhaps, foolish but the making of them employs a number of skilled workmen and will, I hope, ensure a livelihood for me, and perhaps permit me to leave the timber on my small estate standing."

"They are quite pretty," said Mignonette, without looking up, "and may interest you—"

"I don't suppose you have ever thought of such things, Miss Lawne," put in Madame Falconet.

"My father did not like jewelry," replied Barbara awkwardly. "I believe there are some pieces put away with Mr. Bompast. It is useless to think of them until I am out of mourning."

She wished that Sir Timothy would come up, she had the sensation of being surrounded, as she had had on the afternoon of her arrival at Judith Spinney, when the two foreigners had stood either side of her like guards. Now there were three of them.

Of course it is absurd, she told herself. I must control my nerves.

M. Berteaucourt placed a soft leather over the table and began to open his case.

"Like a peddler showing his wares," smiled Mignonette, suddenly looking up into the young man's face.

"Exactly like a peddler," he replied and took out a tray of brooches, rings, buckles, and necklets, inviting Barbara to inspect them. She was close to the table and could see the display without moving.

There were some unmounted cameos, cut on agate, jacinth, mother-of-pearl, and shells; there were pieces of amber and coral, in varying shades and density; there were some glass copies of these miniature carvings, made a hundred years before, M. Berteaucourt said, by a Scotch stonemason named Tassie, and other cameos by Wedgwood in cut steel mounts.

Then M. Berteaucourt showed some paste, Strauss, or imitation diamonds, very prettily set. He put them beside some other substitutes for the precious gem, natural crystals, of which he declared marcasite flashed the most brilliantly when held in the lamp or candlelight.

Barbara noticed that Mignonette was wearing the brooch with the lovers' knot design, and M. Berteaucourt showed several others of this kind, pointing out the softness of color in the paste, cleverly foiled and cut, table, step, or rose in imitation of the real stone.

"These are quite old," he explained. "I keep them as models, the designs are excellent and every stone is set separately, all in silver, if not in silver gilt. These marquise rings, also, are of fine workmanship, both the blue and the green are charming. These old pieces were made in Switzerland for the courtiers of Marie Antoinette, and I am sure that copies of them would sell very well today."

"Do you not already make them?" Barbara asked the first question that came to her lips.

"Yes, I have a small factory, but it is my wish to enlarge it. See these puzzle rings that fall into several parts, and these are what you call gimmal rings—it should be 'jumelle' you know. They can be worn separately, as by two parties to a contract, and then they slip together and are joined—so."

"Ingenious, is it not?" asked Mignonette. "But Etienne tires you—these things are very interesting to him, but to you not so much."

"For me they are novelties," answered Barbara. "If I ever saw them before I have not observed them."

"Allow me, Mademoiselle, to show you these ancient rings giardinette, see, on each bezel is a little bouquet of flowers—some in a vase, some in a basket—they are suitable for children, or to be worn on the little finger. Will you not amuse yourself by trying one on, Mademoiselle?"

He leaned toward her, across the elegant table.

"This marquise ring of blue enamel, over ribbed gold, should suit you. You observe it is mounted with diamonds like minute stars, what we term en firmament, should the stones be colored it would be en enfantement."

He put out his hand, holding the ring between his finger and thumb. Barbara drew back, and asked, sharply: "Is not Sir Timothy coming up?"

"No, he has gone to walk outside," replied M. Berteaucourt and withdrew his hand.

There was a pause, and, for Barbara, a moment like a dreadful hallucination.

No one moved, and she thought of a waxwork show that she had seen long ago, as a child. It must have been a traveling show, perhaps attached to the circus where she had seen the lion and it must have been Fräulein Weissmann who had taken her to stare at this curiosity.

It had been a group of people in evening dress, seated round a table, yes, a dainty little marble table like this on which had been Mignonette's embroidery, and where now stood the coromandel case. The horrible rigidity of these wax works had alarmed Barbara, but before she could understand what the scene meant she had been taken hastily away. There had been some story connected with that group that she was not meant to hear. Something not to be talked about or remembered, something that had particularly to do with the young woman who was the center of the little party, and who had been holding out her hand to a young man who was about to clasp a string of diamonds on her waxen wrist.

Never until now had Barbara remembered this incident, though she believed that she had dreamed of it, and then forgotten the dreams, for they surely had come back to her, dim, confused when M. Berteaucourt leaned forward to put the blue marquise ring on her finger.

And they were all seated, stiff and silent like the wax works, by the pleasant lamplight, in the music-room that had echoing shells buried under the polished floorboards.

Everyone retained the posture they had held when Barbara had withdrawn her hand and asked where Sir Timothy was. Madame Falconet in an attitude of listening, Mignonette with her needle suspended, M. Berteaucourt still holding out the blue marquise ring, while his elbow rested beside the coromandel box on the elegant little table. And Barbara was staring at all of them, dimmed as they were by her short sight, until they flickered into the resemblance of reflections in water that has been disturbed.

Madame Falconet was the first to speak.

"How silent we are! It is said that when a sudden pause falls like that, someone is walking over a grave."

"Whose grave?" asked Barbara.

"The grave of the person who first ceases to speak," smiled Madame Falconet. "In this case yourself—so if you had a little frisson it would be that the place where you are to be buried is being walked over. As it well may be, it is a fine summer evening."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Barbara. "I remember now, my German governess used to say that if one of these silences fell, it was an angel passing."

"That is extremely sentimental," laughed Madame Falconet and Mignonette, passing her needle again into the silk, asked:

"She was odd, your governess?"

The slight stress on the last word was not lost on Barbara. She could think of nothing to say, and Mignonette added, rising quickly:

"But you are right, we must find Sir Timothy—he should not be alone now that he is still so sad. Come, Maman."

The ladies were gracefully gone and Barbara was alone with Mr. Berteaucourt.

"I have been unlucky in trying to interest you," he said. "Indeed there might be a better employment for so fair an evening. You think my business a paltry one for a man of an active, stirring disposition?"

"Why should I think of you at all?"

"You might, perhaps, have given me a passing thought."

"Indeed, I have not done so."

"No? That is well."

"It would be strange if it were otherwise. We are met only as chance acquaintances."

"You are hurried, even distressed. I think you have been harassed ever since you came here."

"Yes," Barbara replied as if on the defensive. "I arrived in a fearful moment."

"Why do you stay? The house is not cheerful. Sir Timothy is of a sullen and unaccommodating nature."

"Indeed, I do not think so," replied Barbara. "And I remain at his direct request."

"That of a distempered man who has become repulsive to himself. He has the company of his wife."

"He, nevertheless, asked me to remain at Judith Spinney."

"And you intend to do so?"

"Yes." But Barbara trembled and looked aside.

"It is a mistake," said M. Berteaucourt firmly. "I advise you to return home."

And carefully, one by one, he returned the cameos, the rings, brooches, and necklets of paste and steel into the coromandel-wood box.

Now, thought Barbara, they have all given me this advice, I must have been left alone with him on purpose, so that he could so talk to me.

The Frenchman spoke again, in a gentle, almost a caressing tone, clasping the casket carefully.

"Mademoiselle, I am sure that you are a person of sensibility—you will have understood what this ménage is, the elderly husband, the young wife, admirably discreet, of course, but there was this Mr. Shermandine, and I assure you he made no secret of his sentiment for Lady Boys. There had been scenes. Ah, of a bitterness! And Mr. Shermandine was leaving definitely, when the accident occurred. One understands that his emotion made him, in the half-light, clumsy."

"I did not know," said Barbara.

"The event is, for Sir Timothy, a shock. Suddenly he becomes an old man, you have noticed?" M. Berteaucourt had closed the Coromandel box. "Before this accident Lady Boys had sent for her mother. She thinks, 'Never will I have a relief from this insufferable jealousy until my mother is my constant companion.'"

"But the arrangement is intolerable for Sir Timothy."

"You think so? At least he knows she is safe. It is, perhaps, a little intolerable for her."

"What is your part in this?" ventured Barbara staring at the floor. "A simple one. Madame Falconet asked me to escort her to England and I was glad to come because of my business."

"But you need not stay."

"Of course not," he agreed at once. "I remained at the entreaties of these ladies—the confusion was frightful. But I am leaving at once, for London, perhaps tomorrow. These charming people must settle their affairs for themselves."

This was so cool and sensible that Barbara could see nothing to object to. The statements of M. Berteaucourt certainly made the situation appear commonplace. But Barbara knew that it was nothing of the kind.

"I shall go into the garden also," she said, standing up.

"Have you not decided to leave Judith Spinney?" he asked, rising quickly.

"I am incapable," she answered, "of coming to a decision. If Sir Timothy asks me, there is no need why I should not stay," she added, moving slowly toward the door. She tried to shun her companion who was looking after her over his shoulder, she was sure. She saw him as clearly as if he were before her, his blunt features, heavily lidded eyes, and high-piled, very thick fair hair. His appearance had been impressed on her since she had first seen him, and now she felt an emotion for which she could only think of the word "enchantment," that drew her toward him, as if he had her tightly by the hand and was staring at her, though in reality she had her back to him.

There was a labor and a tumult in her thoughts that was desperately oppressive. She wondered how such things could be. She said to herself, They cannot be.

M. Berteaucourt was opening the door for her, but she could not pass through, although she longed to retreat.

"Leave this mournful house," he advised, with a touch of tenderness. "And return to your pleasant life."

Barbara made an effort to break from him and, shaking her head, passed out into the passage.


§ 43

"What is the matter with you, Miss?" cried Harding, starting to her feet. "My dear nursling, what ails you?"

"Why, nothing, it is this dim light. I see you have only two candles lit. I came for my shawl."

"Ah, no, you are very ill, you are quite changed." She took hold of Barbara's arm, with an appearance of great dismay. "What has happened? Something fatal once more, or something out of the course of nature?"

"Nurse, I am perfectly well. I wanted a coat or a wrap, though the night is warm enough. I am going out into the garden."

"Let us get away!" cried Harding, and Barbara hushed her vehemently, but in a low tone.

"Hush, someone will hear you, and indeed there is nothing to exclaim about, we are making too much ado."

"It was your intention to leave here as soon as you could, Miss."

"I was excited, I admit that, arriving here in a sudden storm and on the occasion of that accident."

"The head servants are going," said Harding sullenly. "Mrs. Lorimer told me so herself just now."

"There is nothing in that—of course they have been pampered and cannot endure the least opposition."

"It is not that, Miss. It is the Frenchwoman, Josephine, making mischief."

"It is all gossip," interrupted Barbara hurriedly. "Here, give me my shawl. How dull and heavy it is—I would like to have an Andalusian or a cashmere with a delicate pattern."

The two women spoke together, one against the other, neither listening to the other, then Barbara hastened away.


§ 44

When she was outside the house she did not know where to go, but stood lost in the starlight. She seemed to be also lost in space, the faintly seen objects about her were intangible. The place was very different from what it appeared in the daylight.

There was no one about. She looked up at the house and saw a dim light in the music-room, and another in her own apartment. Harding, perhaps, was peeping at her from behind the holland blind.

Barbara hurried across the grass plots and into the dark shadow of the chestnut trees. Between her short sight and the rapidly deepening twilight, she lost her way, but hastened on, as if pursued.

She called out, but too timidly to be heard beyond a little space, "Mignonette, where are you?"

The gate of the garden was in front of her without her knowing it. She hurt her outflung hand on the iron bars. The other side of the wall her way was easier, for the gravel paths gleamed straightly and the clusters of lilies remained bright, as if they held all the lost light of the day.

Here, in this peaceful solitude, she should, she told herself, be able to still her disturbed mind, and come to some conclusion about her affairs. But her agitation was so extreme that she could not concentrate her thoughts. She walked about like one anxious to escape, and now and then glanced at the dark lines of the walls as if they formed a prison enclosure.

Yet there was nothing to prevent her leaving Judith Spinney immediately. Indeed, her hostess, two of her fellow guests and her old nurse, who she might count as her nearest and most faithful friend, had warmly urged her to return to her own place.

Her only reason for remaining was Sir Timothy's plea, and that might be discounted as coming from one who admitted to distress and illness, and who had no right to burden an inexperienced young woman, a stranger to him, with the troubles that he had brought on himself by a most imprudent marriage.

So far could Barbara get in her reasoning, then all was incoherent. She knew that she was playing false with herself and would not admit the true reason why she did not wish, did not intend to leave Judith Spinney.

She paused by a bank of lilies, grown cunningly so that the plants were raised in tiers and so close together that the air was sickly with sweetness, and tried to patch up some defense for herself, her heart vibrating to the strength of her emotions.

"It is quite reasonable, there is nothing against it. I am rich and free, why do I not remember that instead of being so cowardly? It is quite practicable and I should contrive it."

She was speaking aloud, without knowing it, and seemed to be addressing the lilies in a stupor, as if their perfume had been a cruel drug that had loosened her senses, when someone came up out of the dusk. It was a second before she recognized Sir Timothy.

"Oh, I really came here to find you," she said. "It was so oppressive in the house." She took his arm and they paced up and down.

"Yes, I also found that," he agreed. She thought that he spoke in considerable despondency. "This must be tedious enough for you here—"

"No, no, on the contrary I could not endure to return to Stone Hall."

"I can hardly bear to see these lilies shining in the dusk—but wherever one goes in the garden they are visible. I have been in the woods but it is too dark there now."

He continued to speak, much at random, about his affairs and the need of a settlement of them, and the courage required to take up life again after the loss of Francis Shermandine, then his voice forsook him and they walked in silence until Barbara asked, "What do you know of M. Berteaucourt?"

Sir Timothy did not reply and Barbara thought, The Frenchman can be of no interest to him, he thinks of nothing but Mignonette and Francis Shermandine.

Indulgently, she repeated her question.

"He is a Norman, I believe," came Sir Timothy's tired voice. "Is he a relation of Madame Falconet? I forget—he is remaining here to be of some use to—me."

"Do you know nothing of him beyond that he is a friend of Madame Falconet?"

"No, indeed, how should I? They arrived shortly before this terrible event. Why do you ask?"

"I am interested in him. He showed me his paste jewelry this evening. I noticed him at once, the afternoon I arrived." Barbara forced herself on in a false frankness, glad of the dark that was now eclipsing even the brilliant lilies.

"I have not observed him at all. He is well bred—I suppose he will be leaving soon?"

This remark seemed to be thrown into the form of a question and Barbara replied, "So he says—he is going to London."

Again Sir Timothy fell into silence and Barbara could no longer put her emotions into speech. Their steps were hurried and the carnations that nodded from their beds brushed against Barbara's skirts as she moved uncertainly.

"Why does not Mignonette come out?" she asked at length, and her companion replied:

"Leave her alone, leave her alone."

"Does she not have too much of her own way, Sir Timothy? Is she not a little willful? Are you not being too kind?"

"You think, perhaps, that there was an attachment between her and Francis Shermandine?"

"Oh, you will touch on that!"

"It is a sore point that will not heal. Yes, there was this affection, but they did nothing against my dignity nor to render me ridiculous."

"I never supposed it—and I should tell you, sir, that Mignonette came unexpectedly to Stone Hall, and begged me to visit her, she was much moved."

"Yes, yes. And not being able to obtain your companionship she sent for Madame Falconet, nothing could have been more prudent."

"Of course she never encouraged Francis," said Barbara eagerly. "But this fatal accident must have affected her spirits."

"Precisely—that is why I indulge her and, pray, Miss Lawne, understand that my nephew was intending to return to the Continent the very day after his last visit to the chapel."

His voice whistled past Barbara. She wondered, with only a flickering interest, what had happened between these three people—if there had really been any scenes of jealous recriminations, if Mignonette had really acted with such deliberate decorum, of if M. Berteaucourt had lied. What did these speculations matter? She had her own affairs to think of—it might give her a pang to recall how Mignonette had turned to her for help, and she had refused, but that remorse was soon solaced.

She thought, If I had come with her then to Judith Spinney what difference would it have made to her fortunes? If she wanted me to stand between her and Francis, she soon found someone else to do her this service, and she and Madame Falconet, of course, understand one another much better than she and I could.

Sir Timothy was speaking again, in a high voice, on the defensive, pleading the delicacy of the situation and Mignonette's right to be left to her mother's care after the horrible shock she had received.

This jarred on Barbara, who broke in sharply.

"If she was so concerned with Francis Shermandine, she should never have married elsewhere, sir."

But Sir Timothy emphatically took this blame on himself.

"I should never have tempted her," he said harshly. "But this is something that it is impossible to discuss."

His sudden, nervous formality did not chill Barbara. She still felt excited, but now clearheaded. All these people had revealed themselves to her, she could understand all their parts. It was, even her inexperience could realize, a very commonplace story, except for the rare chance that Francis Shermandine had been killed by a stumble in the twilight.

Mignonette had probably acted exactly as most young girls would have acted in her place. She had accepted a brilliant match with an elderly man, and tried to cast out her affection for a more likely lover.

Madame Falconet, also, had done the usual thing. She had agreed to her daughter's breaking off a match that was no more than fairly good, for one that was unexpectedly splendid.

Francis Shermandine had, certainly, not been able to endure his misfortunes with the strength he should have shown, and his sudden return from Rome had caused painful distresses, but Mignonette had been more than discreet in sending for her mother to support her against her husband's possible jealousy. Francis Shermandine, also, had soon recovered his sense of honor and was again returning abroad, probably never intending to see Mignonette again.

Thus did Barbara see it all distinctly, the story, the characters, their motives, the actions that sprang from them, and that one terrible accident with which no one had anything to do, but which might have happened to anyone.

She felt relieved of a weight of surmise, of mystery, of bewilderment. How she had, in her nervous state, exaggerated everything! She had quite forgotten her dream.

Now it even seemed natural to her that everyone save Sir Timothy should desire her to leave Judith Spinney. That was, naturally enough, because of Mignonette who was offended still because Barbara had not come when she had implored her to do so. Doubtless she had asked her mother, who, in her turn, had asked her friend to beg Barbara to go away. Her presence could only remind Mignonette of Francis, and her own attempt to gain her half sister as a friend in her stand against an indelicate situation.

Sir Timothy's part was not obscure either to Barbara as she walked up and down thus in the enclosed garden in the dusk. He was shaken by remorse knowing that he had been unjustly estranged from his nephew so shortly before the violent death of Francis.

Her mind checked at these words and repeated them, "the violent death of Francis," and she paused and whispered, "I wonder how long he took to die and what his last thoughts were."

Sir Timothy recoiled at her side. A white owl, with a wide spread of wing, flew close to them, low over the flowers and away.

"I dislike these pale shapes in the dusk!" exclaimed Sir Timothy, clutching her arm. "Let us go into the house."

The complacency of Barbara's understanding of the situation at which she had just arrived was disturbed by the swift dim shape of the great bird and the sharp startled comment of her companion—but only slightly disturbed.

"Yes, it is late," she agreed. "Do you lead the way, sir. I can no longer see anything but the lilies."

When they reached the house they found it in darkness save for a dim glow in the window of Barbara's room. Sir Timothy turned away, saying that he was going to the library. Barbara tried not to think of that room, nor of the interview that they had had there. She did not wish her newly found peace of mind to be disturbed.

When she reached her own apartment she found Harding asleep in a chair by the bed, an open Bible on her knees.

Barbara closed the book and woke the old woman, who looked round astonished.

"How easily you are frightened!" smiled Barbara. "As for me, I am quite at ease. Now, pray, go to bed, there is a good soul."

"The house is so silent," grumbled Harding.

"You should not have waited up for me, you see you only fell asleep in your chair."

The old woman rose and lit the candles on the dressing table, was about to speak but, seeing that her mistress paid no attention to her, she took her own candle and retired into her closet.

But Barbara did not immediately go to her bed. She allowed her tapers to burn to their sockets while she stared at herself in the mirror, turning her head this way and that, gazing at the turn of her brow and cheek, the line of her neck and throat, the fall of her hair that she had taken from the confining net, and studying her narrowed eyes that saw so little.


§ 45

Barbara went again through the water meadows but not, this time, toward the field where she had sat with Mignonette. She crossed in the opposite direction toward the village of Didbury, leaving the stream with the clusters of mint, sedges, campion, and flowering water weed, to skirt the meadow where the hay was now being cut. Swathes of the fragrant grasses, studded with ox-eyed daisies, exhaled a sweet perfume into the warm air. Barbara wore a dress of pink muslin, and a leghorn hat. She put out her hand to touch the dark green leaves and frail, shell-like flowers of the sweet briar and the dog rose that twisted in the hedge with wild clematis, bryony, and the trailing, hairless field rose. There was an excitement in her heart that nothing could keep in bounds, never before had she felt such pleasure in life.

As she entered the village street the women at their doors with babies in their arms, and passing from the pump with buckets, turned to look at her because she was a stranger, and so brightly dressed, coming from the mansion house that was in mourning.

Barbara did not observe this curiosity, she was concerned only with her own thoughts that were tender and dreamlike, and with her errand that was to lay the wreath of white camellias she carried on the grave of Francis Shermandine.

She had seen the gardener's boy bringing it from the stovehouse where these delicate plants grew, and had felt a warm desire to take the wreath, so skillfully yet so coldly made by hired fingers, herself.

It was understandable that neither Sir Timothy nor Mignonette should have felt the courage for this duty, but Barbara did not like to see it undertaken by a servant.

For herself she felt no shrinking from the thought of Francis Shermandine or of his grave. She could sorrow for him, but he was gone. He had never much affected her and now she recalled only with difficulty that lean aquiline face, those brilliant eyes, the keen accents of the voice that once had given her pleasure. The hours they had passed together in the Isle of Wight seemed to belong to another life, she was utterly astonished to recall that once this dead man had been the only brightness in her existence, and that she had believed herself happy and excited in the hope of becoming his wife.

Believed herself—how she had been deceived!

It was grotesque to think how she had mistaken her feelings. She would have laughed at this mistake had not Francis Shermandine been dead.

She passed through the churchyard without noticing the tombstones and came into the dusk of the church so swiftly that for a second she could not see at all.

There was to be a monument to Francis Shermandine. She had heard Sir Timothy discuss this with men from London who had brought drawings and plans, and she had seen him turn over the contents of his nephew's own portfolios, with the view of finding there a design that would serve.

But there was at present nothing to mark the grave of Francis Shermandine, save his name on the stone of the Boys vault.

There Barbara laid her wreath of flowers, thinking how cold and conventional the pure white petals looked, and how she would sooner have made a posy from the warmly colored wildings of the hedge.

Then she went her way, with no thought of the dead man now, not even a wonder at having ever been concerned with him, but drawn instinctively to the sunlight and out of the cool dimness of the church.

The vicar was in the churchyard, lingering as if he was waiting for her. She smiled and was passing on when he asked her if she would come into the vicarage for a moment.

Barbara, used to generosity, thought at once of charities, and smiled, eager to be kind. She followed him with pleasure into the low house with the garden giving onto the churchyard.

Once through the little white gate Barbara was in a small square as neatly laid out as a chamber, the flowers of high summer were carefully arranged in the parterre topped by the tall sunflowers, made brilliant by the fairy hues of the tiger lilies, and rich with' the yellow of snapdragons and the blue, white, and pink of Canterbury bells.

The vicar ushered his guest into a parlor that gave on the back of the house where there were a few beds of lilies and carnations, a stone-topped well, and then a small orchard where pears and apples were beginning to swell and color amid the curling leaves.

The room was very prim and smelled of cleansing herbs. A diminishing mirror above the sanded hearth reflected it in little; there were corner cabinets filled with painted china, a round polished walnut table in the center, and four chairs, padded with pale blue cotton, drawn up to it; the hearth was swept clean and garnished with a jar of carnations, crimson, sulphur, and white.

It was beside this that the Rev. Erasmus Swan invited Barbara to sit.

She had never been in the vicarage before nor seen the vicar anywhere save at Judith Spinney or in church, but she saw that he fitted exactly into this modest and exquisite background.

She was pleased to be there, and rested peacefully in the worn old chair, lulled by the warm shadow in the low ceilinged room, and her persistent daydreams. She had never thought of the vicar at all, save glancingly as an elderly man suited to his place, and now she expected that he would make one of the conventional requests for charity to which she, as a wealthy young woman, was accustomed. But what he had to say startled her considerably.

"There should be a close friend to speak to you, Miss Lawne, but that failing, I, after much debate, have decided to take this office on myself."

"Why, what can this be?" asked Barbara.

"Your situation—Miss Lawne, you should not remain at Judith Spinney."

Mr. Swan took off his glasses, polished them, and snapped his case on them. He spoke in a very kindly, reluctant fashion but Barbara colored hotly, like a small child suddenly reprimanded.

"You will wonder," he added, "what this has to do with me, and really, nothing at all. But seeing you so alone and sitting under me every Sunday since you have been here, and observing you at the mansion house, I made up my mind to speak to you."

"What can you say!" exclaimed Barbara.

"Indeed, I do not know, my dear young lady," he smiled, as if asking for her indulgence. "You may consider that I, a childless widower, who have been here for twenty years in this little village, know very little about anything, but I have read much, I have had a good deal of experience of human nature in my way, a good deal."

Barbara did not doubt his wisdom, he had always seemed to her a dry, alert, steadfast sort of man, and Harding had frequently impressed on her that he was "much respected," but she winced from his interference in her affairs. He saw this and endeavored to reassure her alarm.

"I could merely show you," he said, "what the situation looks like to an outsider."

"I do not wish to know!"

"But you ought to—I must beg you to do so."

"Why?" she asked childishly on the defensive.

"My dear Miss Lawne, there are a few gentlefolk in this neighborhood and they have spoken of you, in the most respectful, kindly way, but you have not made friends with any of them, you remain shut up in the mansion house or the grounds, it is seldom that you come as far as you did today."

"Yes, I can see it like that," replied Barbara with an effort at steadiness. "It appears odd—the suddenness of my visit—the way I linger in a house of mourning."

"You are out of mourning yourself, Miss Lawne."

"I know that it is too soon. I have just this one bright summer gown, I sent for it from Portsmouth. Neither Lady Boys nor her mother is in mourning."

"Miss Lawne, what do you know of Lady Boys?"

The sudden question woke an old disquiet in Barbara's heart. It was some time since she had ceased to trouble herself over the secret that she and Mignonette shared.

"Very little," she replied and repeated the story that she and her half sister had contrived at Mignonette's coming to Portsmouth. Mr. Swan did not appear satisfied.

"Sir Timothy was very popular," he remarked, "and kept open house. The late Lady Boys, though eccentric and, lately, in ill health, was respected. You can, perhaps, Miss Lawne, understand what effect this second marriage, so plainly the result of infatuation, has had on the society of the county."

"This has nothing to do with me," protested Barbara.

"No—though it was through you that Sir Timothy met this lady, but it certainly has nothing to do with you if you leave Judith Spinney."

Barbara tried to explain herself and Sir Timothy. She used all the arguments on his behalf that he had used to her, in order to prove that it was not a mere vulgar infatuation that had drawn the elderly man to the young girl.

"That does not increase my regard for Lady Boys," said Mr. Swan. "But of course Sir Timothy should have known how to deal with such a situation. You are aware that there was, inevitably, what we may term gossip about Lady Boys and the unfortunate Mr. Sherman-dine?"

"I suppose so—no one was to blame."

"I did not say that there was," replied the vicar sternly. "It is a case of Caesar's wife. Lady Boys is in a most conspicuous position and has not taken the least trouble to be civil to anyone. She pays no calls, she returns home—it is very strange for a pretty young woman to make a match of this kind in order to shut herself up in her country house."

"What are you trying to tell me, sir?"

"How the situation looks from the outside, Miss Lawne—there cannot have been any reason for the marriage of this poor French girl with a man like Sir Timothy, save ambition, and she has done nothing to gratify her ambition."

Barbara thought, Mignonette is secretly grieving over Francis, but I cannot say that.

"How, sir," she asked aloud, "are we to account for human nature?"

"It can be accounted for," he replied. "But in this case we lack the knowledge. The mother also, this Madame Falconet, has she no life of her own, in her own country? Who was her husband? Where are the relations? Who are these secretive people?" he demanded. "And what are they doing here?"

As Barbara did not answer, the vicar, rising and standing in his neat black, close to the bowl of brilliant summer flowers, asked another question.

"And why does not Sir Timothy rule in his own house?"

"He does," replied Barbara, at a loss. "He has asked me to stay."

"Why?"

"He said he was a sick man."

"Dr. Bellamy says there is nothing the matter with him but his nerves; it is true that that may be a deadly sickness."

"And if it suits me to stay at Judith Spinney," stammered Barbara, "where is the harm?"

"Ah, if it suits you—why should it suit you, Miss Lawne?"

Barbara felt discomfited. She wanted to get away into the fields again where she had been so unreasonably happy. The charming little parlor began to feel oppressive. She rose, with no disguise of her uneasiness.

"We have not mentioned," said the vicar, "M. Berteaucourt."

Now, thought Barbara, it is out, now we are at the heart of it, now we have come to what I am to be faced with and scolded about.

She stood still, looking down.

"Who is he?" asked Mr. Swan.

"Sir, you know as well as I do."

"I daresay I do, the story that is put about. But perhaps I can guess more."

"Surely you have not the right."

"Yes, I think I have the right, and your old nurse, Miss Lawne, came to me in deep discomfort."

"Sarah Harding came to you!"

"She is probably your truest friend."

"Yes, yes, but to come to you, behind my back."

"She says that she argued with you in vain."

Barbara caught at the words that Caroline Atwood had said to her some time ago, that she had never forgotten and that she found so encouraging.

"I am rich and free, Mr. Swan."

"Of course, otherwise you could not behave as you do. You are also singularly alone. Do, pray, listen to an old man who can have only your good at heart."

"There is nothing to talk of, nothing at all."

"Miss Lawne, this man is a stranger—"

"Lady Boys and her mother know him."

"Miss Lawne, you are resolved to refute everything that I say."

"No, no."

"You are also profoundly troubled. M. Berteaucourt is admittedly in need of money, of capital. You are a rich woman—"

Barbara smiled, turning her head aside. How odd to hear this put into words!

"Why does he stay at Judith Spinney?" demanded Mr. Swan sternly.

"He has been to London twice."

"But he returns."

"I think that Madame Falconet is helping him and that he wishes to consult her."

"All these are excuses."

"What do you think I wish to excuse?" parried Barbara.

"The fact that you are not staying at Judith Spinney because Sir Timothy asked you, but because of M. Berteaucourt."

"Did Harding tell you that?" asked Barbara, still looking aside.

"Yes, she thought that you were fascinated, taken out of your proper judgment and senses by this man."

"I have scarcely seen him alone."

"I can believe that. It is because I respect you so sincerely, Miss Lawne, that I speak to you."

"What is your advice?"

"I advise you to leave Judith Spinney and take up your life where you left it when this French girl first came to visit you."

"I could never do that—everything altered for me then. I do not believe that I was alive before." She turned and faced the earnest old man.

"I fear that you will think me very impertinent," he said, but met her gaze steadily.

"No, indeed. I can see how it must appear to you, Mr. Swan, and to other people." She hesitated, then asked: "Could you tell me what you mean by a fascination?"

"Some people have this power over others. I do not think that we can explain it—a fascination, yes, it used to be considered evil."

He looked at her keenly and saw that he had not won in this long battle of words. She appeared not only obstinate but pleased.

"I have tried to take your father's place."

"I am grateful, Mr. Swan, indeed, but my old nurse is too fearful for me."

"Why did you come to Judith Spinney, Miss Lawne?"

"Did Harding tell you anything about that?"

"No, but she said your decision was sudden, and that there was, as she put it, 'no sense in it.'"

"Lady Boys had asked me some time before—it was most natural for me to come."

Mr. Swan sighed. "These people have no religion," he said. "They do not come to church here, neither do they go to the Roman Catholic church in Winchester." Seeing her irresponsive, he checked himself. "I promised not to preach. If ever you want any help, come to me."


§ 46

Barbara was glad to be away. She walked by the unfenced cornfield, the hedge on one side, the wheat on the other. The air was dry and warm. Barbara paused, alone and at peace.

The vicar thought he was right, she was sure, in what he had said. She could allow that. He had spoken as an outsider, and she could understand that to an outsider the situation would appear as he had described it. She must seem, of course, friendless, foolish, wrong-headed.

And she did not care in the least how she appeared to anyone.

She felt, for a short while, a certain remorse in having concealed from the vicar her relationship to Mignonette and her knowledge that M. Berteaucourt had once been betrothed to his present hostess. But she soon dismissed these pricks of conscience. Mr. Swan would only have been more disturbed, and what did either of these facts matter? They were not, anyhow, her secrets and were, she was sure, of no importance.

What was of importance was that Harding and the vicar and, by implication, several other people should have supposed that she and M. Berteaucourt were attached to one another.

The austere old clergyman was afraid that she might be married for her money—that was how Harding would put it. Looking across the rich corn, Barbara laughed aloud. The most important use to which she could put her money would be to secure with it the husband she desired.

This warning against a possible fortune hunter had set her on calculating how much money she actually had. She would have to go to Portsmouth and see Mr. Bompast.

She had not troubled before about her wealth, now it became a vital matter. How much had she got? How much did he want? She had more, at least, than Mignonette had ever been able to offer.

The vicar's conversation had focused all her vague, trembling, and bewildering thoughts.

Of course M. Berteaucourt had returned to Judith Spinney for her. He had said nothing serious, made no opportunity to be alone with her, but she was sure that he regarded her with intense interest. He watched when he thought she was not aware of it, paid her civil attentions with a grave smile, and seemed to pause and listen whenever she spoke.

Barbara resented this slow courtship being hastened by the vulgar superstitions of servants and the worldly anxieties of clergymen, but she soon forgot this annoyance. And it was all so simple, so clearly to be understood. She took off her hat and allowed the sun to hang like a veil over her hair.

She had made a pitiful mistake with Francis Shermandine but now there was no mistake. She was glad that she was, as Caroline Atwood had said, "rich and free." She repeated the words like a refrain, swinging her hat against the corn, gently, so that the heavy, ripening ears quivered.

A lovely day, a lovely mood. She had forgotten the grave of Francis Shermandine and what Erasmus Swan had said.

She wanted to delay the hour, to stand there indefinitely, to hold the sun at that particular place in the sky; the corn at that stage of ripening, the green into gold, to stay ever thus, with her hat in her hand, the light over her from head to foot, striking her through the thin pink muslin of her sleeves and bodice.

How had he achieved such a supremacy over her? He had exercised it from the first moment she had seen him, when she had arrived at Judith Spinney in the storm and mistaken him, in his white coat, for Francis Shermandine. She had disguised her plight from herself, never admitting why she lingered in the mansion house, pretending, rather, that it was because of Sir Timothy's request.

What art had he, what winning address, so to enthrall her? It pleased her to wonder, to turn over in her mind a thousand pictures of him, moving about the house, the lawn, the garden, usually alone, or with Madame Falconet.

Always, she was sure, watching her, with his elegant courtesy and his alert air.

And then, suddenly, her loneliness came on her like a pang, and she became grieved that he was not there, only the corn and the flowers one side and the hedge and the brambles and creepers the other.

Turning she walked, thus enclosed, until she came to the water meadows, the swathes of cut hay, the mint, the sorrel, the flags outlining the hidden stream.

Barbara looked over her shoulder, she could see the summit of the gray broken masonry of the chapel rising above the groups of mountain ash that were set in the dividing hedge of the fields.

She could see the scaffolding poles and the new stone that had been put into place under the direction of Francis Shermandine.

It was all part of an enchanted background to Barbara, something that was no more real than the diaphanous country touched on in a delightful dream where beloved memories blend with beguiling visions.

"Rich and free," she sighed. And now that, for the first time, she was aware of what she wanted from life, she was prepared to take active steps to obtain it, and her wits and even her capacity for cunning were roused, as far as her fairy world allowed her reason and wisdom.

What she must do first was obvious, and, suddenly energetic, she moved swiftly through the bright day toward Judith Spinney. Everything seemed possible.


§ 47

Harding was sulking in her closet, disliking the new housekeeper and butler, and refusing to have anything to say to Josephine. She remained upstairs save when forced to go in search of her meals.

"Nurse," said Barbara quickly, coming in on her suddenly, "you must return to Stone Hall. I have thought it all out and I will have no argument."

"Return without you, Miss!"

"Yes, indeed, and tomorrow early, so you must please make ready now."

"And you to be left here alone!"

"You know that I really look after myself, and Josephine can help me if need be."

Harding flushed darkly.

"This is what I would never have believed," she exclaimed. "That they should have got hold of you like this—and you to put that Frenchwoman in my place."

"You know it is not that at all, Nurse, and you must not, please, be tiresome. I have allowed myself to be dominated too much. I must, I will, have my own life."

"And that is why you sent for that gay gown, and why you go about like a scandal, with your hat in your hand, alone roving the countryside!" cried the old woman bitterly.

"Harding, I learned that you have been to see the vicar on my account."

"Someone had to," was the obstinate reply. "Someone had to look after you."

"Indeed I will not have it; I am my own mistress. Of course, being once my nurse, you have always treated me like a child. I don't know why I endured it, but now it is over. Mr. Swan spoke to me, and did his duty no doubt—"

"But he did not convince you."

"Of course not—I can understand what the situation looks like to outsiders, but I have thought it all out for myself, I tell you, and it is perfectly simple."

"No, Miss, it is not. It is not in the least what it seems. Why did Sir Timothy have all the lilies taken up?"

"Did he?" asked Barbara, startled.

"All uprooted. I heard the new gardener giving orders about it today."

"The perfume is rank, it is late in the season for them. Sir Timothy is ill."

"Excuses, Miss, those are."

"Excuses for what, do you suppose?"

"Excuses because you are confounded with the Frenchman, as I told the vicar," muttered Harding.

"Confounded!" exclaimed Barbara gaily. "That is a strange word!"

"I can't think of another."

"If I should be—confounded—with him, I'm free."

"I am weary of hearing you say that, Miss—free! Who is free? And you are not, nor have been since you have been at Judith Spinney." Altering her tone, the old woman began to plead vehemently. "Some day you will look back and be grieved that you did not listen to good advice."

Impressed by this cry, Barbara asked keenly, "Do you know anything, Nurse, that I should know, about the people in this house?"

Reluctantly and sullenly, Harding replied: "No, everyone is very careful. They would not be so watchful if there was not something to hide, but I know there is some horrid secret."

"Oh, be quiet!" interrupted Barbara. "I did not know that you could be so foolish! You are making mischief here—you must return to Stone Hall tomorrow."

And, dreading any further outburst from Harding, Barbara went into her own room and turned the key in the closet door.

She then sat before the mirror, rearranging her hair and her pink muslin dress.

Her impatience was like that of a young and volatile mind, eager to cast off restraint and to experience the joys, perils, and pleasures of the common lot. This impatience was the more ardent that it had been restrained so long and because all the natural instability of her girlhood had been repressed by vigorous discipline, and all her natural inclinations thrust aside in order that she might be obedient to stern, aging, and sickly parents.

Now she, after so long a period of inward looking, of daydreaming and resignation, was roused and determined as she had never been before, and she felt it a settled matter that she should go forward, even at a headlong pace, and take what might offer.

Some bitter recollections came over her mind with regard to the life she had led, and what she had lost, and her heart trembled within her when it came over her that she might have passed year after year in Stone Hall, and died there at last, withered and senseless, leaving all her money to St. Peter's Church.

And was she to be rebuked and scolded by strangers and her own servant because an attractive man looked at her with interest and she was passionately eager to keep that interest?

She did not care in the least if he was poor. She was glad that she had the money with which to help him; if he wanted his factory for paste jewelry, let him have it, she would give it to him! He need not take a penny from Madame Falconet, who could keep for herself the Lawne money Mr. Bompast had sent her for Mignonette's dowry.

Everything came back to Mignonette. As she stared into the mirror Barbara realized that not only her whole life, but her whole nature had altered with the coming of Mignonette to Stone Hall.

Barbara hastened into the alcove, wrote a letter to Mr. Bompast, unlocked the door into the closet and, hastening downstairs before Harding could interrupt her, put the letter in the posting bag.

Then she hurried upstairs again and along the corridors and tapped at the door of Mignonette's room.


§ 48

Mignonette said, "Come in." And Barbara, stepping across the threshold, said:

"Perhaps you are sleeping, it is so very hot."

Mignonette was on the bed, wearing a loose gown of white muslin with green ribbons and a green veil about her hair. She answered, "No, it is pleasant to see someone. The day is long as well as hot."

Barbara glanced round the room. It had recently been decorated and furnished and was all light and gay; fine silk panels on the walls, satin-covered chairs, a gilt dressing table, a bed, all flounces of lace, raised on two steps.

"Oh, Mignonette, how different from the Chinese room. I feel quite ashamed of that now!"

"I told you I thought that it was a pleasant place. Why have you come to see me?"

"I had an impulse—you see, I have been thinking over the position here, and then the vicar spoke to me and I discovered that Harding had been to speak to him."

"Yes?" Mignonette did not move. She looked like a child in the large opulent bed, so small, delicate, and fresh.

"Is anyone likely to come?"

"No. Since he has been ill, Sir Timothy has had his own rooms at the end of the corridor. Josephine will only come if I ring for her."

"Then I would like to talk to you, I seldom have an opportunity now."

"When I wanted you, you would not make the effort to please me."

"Pray, do not hold that against me," said Barbara earnestly, seating herself on the bed-step. "I really did not understand much then, this room for instance, I had no idea of your taste."

"The furnishings come from Paris," replied Mignonette without interest. "What did you wish to say to me, Barbara?"

"You seem to be very thoughtful and heavy-hearted, Mignonette, and spend so much time shut away as if you were ill."

"I am quite well. But there is nothing for me to do in this place."

"Why not? You used to be so busy at Stone Hall and would never waste time."

"Here it is different."

"Yes, indeed, you are mistress and may do as you please. But I know what is saddening you, Mignonette, and casting you into a despondency."

"Do you?"

"Yes, it is the memory of Francis Shermandine," said Barbara wistfully, and she leaned forward and gently stroked the slack hand of Mignonette that lay curled on the padded coverlet. "I understand it all."

"Do you understand?" Mignonette turned away her face on the pillow.

"Yes. It was wrong, of course, your marriage. And I am sure Sir Timothy knows that too, and takes the blame. And Francis was wrong to return from Rome, and it all makes a tragedy, but he has gone and you are freed from a dreadful dilemma." Barbara felt as if she were preaching, but there were no other terms she could think of in which to say what she had to say. "You are so very young, Mignonette, you have so much time, even to waste."

"I am wasting it."

"Sir Timothy is shockingly unhappy. He seems to wither and die. He asked me to stay, for the sake of my company—could not you help him a little, Mignonette?"

The other girl smiled faintly, moving her head to look at Barbara, her greenish yellow eyes matched the veil and the locks it intertwined.

"You are not helping me either," added Barbara. "I am doing what I can for you. How long will you grieve for Francis Shermandine?"

Mignonette asked a counter question.

"How long are you staying here?"

"I am sending Harding away."

"Harding! Why is she to go?"

"She makes mischief. I told you, she has been running to the vicar about me. I am tired of having a nurse set about me."

"What had the vicar to say?"

"He thinks you lead an eccentric life and please no one, and you are under suspicion for a foreigner. But, Mignonette, I kept your secret—I did not say that we were half sisters."

"I have told you, it is your secret, not mine."

"But you would not care for Sir Timothy to know?"

"He would not even be interested."

It seemed to Barbara as if this might be true.

"I did not tell Mr. Swan," she repeated. "If I had done so, it would at least have explained you—people don't understand who you are, where you come from, how I found you."

"It does not matter."

"You seem indifferent to everything, Mignonette, but this room looks as if you were very worldly."

"Why did you really want to see me, Barbara?" Mignonette shifted sideways on her deep flounced pillows and glanced under her lashes at the figure in the rose pink, seated on her bed-step.

"Mr. Swan warned me against M. Berteaucourt," said Barbara. "As a fortune hunter—Harding thinks the same."

She spoke rapidly, nervously, but determined to bring this vital matter into the light, to have it regarded reasonably.

Mignonette was silent for a brief while, then replied slowly.

"I suppose that they are right—it would be the vulgar point of view, and that of a pious pastor. Certainly, if Etienne were to pay attention to you it would put him in an odious light."

"Why?" asked Barbara, narrowing her eyes.

"He is a poor man, struggling to make his way. You are rich and unprotected. There it is, in simple terms. You must see this for yourself."

"I do not see it like that."

"At least, he has taken no notice of you."

"Oh, Mignonette, you know he is always looking at me!"

"That is nothing." Mignonette sat up in the bed. "He has not spoken to you alone, written to you?"

"No. But I think that he has returned here for me from London, twice, that he stays here for me."

A kind of convulsion shook Mignonette, she sprang from the bed and the green veil fell from her head to her shoulders.

"You are utterly mistaken," she said earnestly. "Etienne has some business transactions with my mother. She is more comfortable here than she would be in London, and he visits her here."

A poignant disappointment nearly overwhelmed Barbara; she had felt sure that Mignonette would repay her candor by sympathy and even help.

"Is it so impossible that he should like me?" she exclaimed bitterly.

"No, no, I am sure that you will marry well, someone who will make you happy."

"You know that those sentiments are out of a copybook—one has no thought of happiness, but merely of love."

"Love? You use that word?"

"I did not mean to, but it came."

"Surely you cannot have thought of Etienne as of anyone of the least importance to you?"

Barbara was driven beyond what she had intended to say.

"Why not? I am free and rich. May I not have a liking for him, as you had for Francis Shermandine?"

"You fool!" cried Mignonette.

"Yes, I should not have said that!" cried Barbara wildly. "I should not have reminded you of the dead! Yet you must see that there is nothing, no obstacle between me and this man. Why is everyone against him? I thought you would have been pleased—but no, you are too absorbed in your own loss."

Barbara sank on the bed-step again and began to weep. Mignonette sat down beside her and held her firmly by the arm, speaking with great force.

"I never considered this! You are so moping and drowsy, and with that short sight you never seem to see much, and I thought you wholly taken up with comforting the old man."

Barbara shuddered and buried her face in the wadded quilt.

"You did not stay here for him, for the old man, but for Etienne?"

Trying to quell her fit of trembling and angry with herself for this collapse, Barbara forced herself to bring out the truth.

"Yes, it was, it is, for him. I have been drowsy and dreaming, as you say, and stupid, but now I perceive the truth I will be honest."

She put up a shaking hand to coil up her hair and tried to get away from Mignonette who held her fast.

"Listen, Barbara, you know nothing of this man!"

"You were prepared to marry him," sobbed Barbara, raising her head to peer at Mignonette.

"And you know why, and what you thought about it."

"I had not seen him then."

"We are talking foolishly," said Mignonette with a long and deep sigh. "You must return to Stone Hall with Harding tomorrow."

"I shall not go."

Mignonette made an obvious effort to control herself. She touched Barbara with a comforting gesture.

"I think you are a coquette, unstable and whimsical. First it is Francis Shermandine, then you soon forget him—"

"I never loved him," put in Barbara desperately. "I was his good friend."

"Then you love Etienne?"

Realizing that she had utterly betrayed herself, Barbara again dropped her head on the coverlet. Then, after a struggle with herself, she pulled out her handkerchief, wiped her eyes and stood up.

"It is not unnatural or unlawful," she murmured, shuddering from emotion, but speaking with dignity. "I am not old or crooked nor even the fool you said I was."

"The man is not for you, such a match would be impossible."

"If you are thinking of our respective fortunes, I have told you I make no count of that. I have written to Mr. Bompast to know what I have."

"You are a fool," interrupted Mignonette sternly. "If you mean that you would turn over all your money to this man—"

"What have you against him? He bears you no ill will for deserting him, and you and your mother receive him as a friend and even transact business with him, and allow him to stay in your house."

"All this is nothing!" cried Mignonette. "I may tell you that I know something of this man that makes him entirely unfit for your regard."

"What is it?" demanded Barbara, then, observing that Mignonette, thus pressed, hesitated, she added instantly, "You do not know what to say. You are unkind, Mignonette, more, you are cruel."

Mignonette wound up her hair in the green veil, trepidation in her manner.

"Do forget this," she entreated, speaking rapidly. "It must be some fancy."

"And if it be," interrupted Barbara, now no longer endeavoring to control herself, "I am rich and able to indulge my fancies."

"You did not used to speak so."

"I was timid, overborne—but I acted so when I asked you to come to Stone Hall. That was a fancy, an impulse, if you will, and I was sternly warned against it by the only person to whom I spoke of it—Mr. Bompast."

"Why do you remind me of that?"

"Because you had the advantage of it, and did not scruple to take it."

"I know, through coming to England I made my fine marriage."

"Yes, and if I get something out of our meeting, also, you should not rebuke me."

"This is fearful," whispered Mignonette. "Do you think that I spoke to you for my own advantage? I was thinking of you, yes, precisely because I feel I owe you something. I am trying to protect you though you will not believe that!"

"Mignonette," said Barbara, who began to feel dizzy and as if a fever was mounting in her veins, "do not give me those strange unearthly looks—there is nothing in any of this that is not ordinary. You married entirely to suit your own designs, and so shall I. You had, I suppose, to give up your love for fortune—I need not."

"Yes, I had to give up my love."

Seeing Mignonette, usually so cool, now overwhelmed by confusion and dismay and beginning to weep, Barbara felt strengthened.

"You need not have done so, had you confided in me. I would have shared my fortune with you and Francis Shermandine would have been alive today. Oh, what a mistake you made, Mignonette! Now you have this grand position you cannot enjoy it, but remain hidden away, grieving."

"If only you were not so wealthy, it is that I am afraid of," sighed Mignonette, suppressing her tears.

"You think, as all the others do, that he might marry me for my money? How vulgar it sounds, put like that, but it is exactly what you did, dainty as you are, and you told me it was the regular custom in France, and I know that it is done every day over here."

"Listen," interrupted Mignonette, who had by a considerable struggle regained some strength. "We are only repeating the same stories to one another, there are many things about which we cannot come to a right understanding. But I tell you that you must not trust Etienne, nor believe him; he is a man who is after nothing but his own advantage, soon he will be gone from here, and you must forget him, see, you are excited and I am not much better myself."

She bent her head and wiped her tears again, and added in a whisper, "I cannot endure much more."

All this, thought Barbara, has made her think of Francis Sherman-dine.

Aloud she said, "I am sorry for this distress, Mignonette. I hoped that you might have met me in a kindly spirit. If you think I am rash or foolish, remember the temptations—I am rich, and I am not any longer a girl."

Then, without giving the other time to answer, she left the room.


§ 49

The old nurse refused to speak to Barbara until the carriage was at the door ready to take her to the station, and then she drew her solemnly aside in the closet where her mistress, ignoring her ill humor, had come to bid her "good-by and a pleasant journey."

"Though you will not believe it, Miss, there is something I must say to you."

"Dear nurse, now pray don't make any more trouble for me or yourself. You know that there will be nothing for you to do at Stone Hall but embroider linen."

"I can always find work to do," put in Harding. "I am not thinking of myself. I hate to leave you here, I am sure that you are in danger. Now don't ask me what kind of danger," she hurried on, "for I don't know, and I've no hope that you're not benighted or bewitched."

"Don't run on so," smiled Barbara. "Though it is natural that you should be concerned for me, you have nothing to go on for these apprehensions."

"Nothing to go on, that is the worst of it, and I cannot do anything for you but put a few markers in your Bible."

The old woman stood resolute and neat, her plump face composed beneath the gray bonnet, her cotton-gloved hands folded over her breast.

"They are secretive," she added. "And you ought to know what that is a sign of."

"Nonsense—you don't hear anything because there is nothing to hear."

"Ah, but last night I did hear something," said Harding, trembling and lowering her voice. "What were you doing yesterday, Miss, after dinner—and the others?"

"Why, Sir Timothy was teaching me chess in the music-room; Lady Boys and her mother were outside, it was very hot,—but really I should not explain myself to you, you are quite crazed, Harding."

Barbara had spoken nervously, fearful that the old servant might have guessed at the painful conversation she had had with Mignonette yesterday afternoon.

"And where was the Frenchman?"

"He went into Portsmouth and came back late, and, Nurse, the horses are getting restive, I can hear them."

"They can wait a little. I came out of my closet last evening, Miss, knowing it would be the last chance I should get. I tried to find out a few things from the servants."

"And, of course, learned nothing."

"No. Then I saw where everyone was and I began to creep about the house a little, like a maid can, as if I was looking for you. Madame Falconet was in the breakfast-room, and Lady Boys and the Frenchman were in the library."

"What of it?"

"To begin with, Miss, they weren't either of them where you thought they were. I listened at the door, coming back after they'd gone in."

"Oh, Nurse, I did not suppose you did that!"

"I have not needed to, before." Harding hurried on with her story, regardless of the censure of her mistress, who did, however, remain listening. "Well, they were speaking in French, so I could make nothing of it, and I was just going away in disgust, when she says in English, 'I think the maid is at the door, take care.' And he answered, in English, too, 'I dare say your are right, she wants to know too much.' Now I had a horrid stroke of terror at that, for I thought I must have made a noise, not being used to eavesdropping, and that they must be meaning me, but quick as quick, it came, they would not be talking English to hide up their meaning from me, so I waited, and she said, very warmly: 'You dare to try this and I'll find some means of stopping you. We've made a bargain, the lawyers will be here tomorrow,' she said, 'and I won't have it broken, because it is more money this way.' And he said: 'The money is a considerable temptation.' And she was crying out at him, when out of the corner of my eye I saw that toad Josephine sidling up the passage, so I slipped along before she could see I was listening."

Barbara laughed.

"It is certainly time you were back at Stone Hall, Nurse. You are getting into sad ways. Now even you must see that there is no sense in what you overheard."

"If you stay here long enough you'll find the sense of it. What I heard shows that those two, who don't take any notice of one another, have got a secret understanding and a bargain, and that someone is bribing him to break it, also, that they don't trust the Frenchwoman, though she is one of them, and brought here to help them."

The old nurse picked up her carpetbag, her face puckering with the effort to control tears. She saw that she had made no impression on Barbara, and must go away unbelieved and rebuked. Her shoulders heaved under the merino mantle. She hurried away, without any farewells, though Barbara called after her, "Nurse, Nurse, everything is well," and then ran to the window and watched her get into the carriage. Barbara waved from the window, but Harding did not look up, and the watcher at the window felt a creeping loneliness as she saw the carriage go round the grass plot, and out at the white gates.


§ 50

Barbara did not believe anything that Harding had said. The ignorant, obstinate old woman was much out of humor and had taken a passionate dislike to the four foreigners, as she termed them. She had also, no doubt, been much disturbed by the sudden manner of the visit to Judith Spinney and Barbara's own behavior. She could not be blamed for making mischief, being sulky, or even for lying, Barbara considered, for she had never before left Stone Hall save for brief visits with the family to some holiday place, and must be quite lost without the monotonous routine of that gloomy household.

Yes, her mistress decided, the poor woman must really be excused, if she had misused the liberty that was allowed her, first to run to the vicar with silly tales, then invent the story of her spying.

It was likely enough that Mignonette should be talking with M. Berteaucourt in French, though Barbara did not believe that they were shut up in the library, but that they had suddenly spoken in English for fear that Josephine was listening to them, was absurd. And what nonsense the sentences were that Harding pretended she had overheard!

Barbara could not recall them exactly though poor Harding had said them over very carefully, as if she had made a great effort to keep them in her memory. Some remarks about "lawyers coming here tomorrow" and a bargain that Mignonette would not have broken, and the money being a considerable temptation.

Of course, thought Barbara, her mind was running on the danger I am supposed to be in from a penniless suitor, but she might have invented something more telling than those random words.

Then she reflected how annoyed and distressed Mignonette had been when she had tried to confide in her—was it possible that her half sister, two of whose secrets she had so loyally kept, had hastened to M. Berteaucourt and exposed her, by accusing him of being a fortune hunter? And warning him to leave a foolish, wealthy woman alone?

Barbara could not credit this supposition, though the words "the money is a considerable temptation" fitted it perfectly. No, Mignonette would surely not behave with such a lack of delicacy, knowing her own unscrupulous behavior in her matrimonial affairs and the candid way in which Barbara had trusted her, really trusted her unwittingly, for she had said far more than she had intended to say, owing to the emotional stress of the moment.

She could not for a moment persuade herself that Mignonette would discuss her with M. Berteaucourt, or even that she was on sufficiently intimate terms with him to do so. They had always been most formal together, which was what Barbara would have expected, for, after all, they had once been betrothed, though in such prosaic circumstances, and M. Berteaucourt could hardly feel very friendly toward the woman who had so callously thrown him over for a better match.

Had she been in a temper to see a fault in him, she would have seen it in his continued acquaintance with Mignonette and Madame Falconet, but it did not occur to her to blame him for anything he did or was.

That day of Harding's departure there was a considerable change in the attitude of the Frenchman toward Barbara. Where before he had looked, he now spoke, and in the afternoon he asked her to visit the fruit garden with him; they had, he said, permission to gather peaches, then at the first ripeness.

Barbara accepted with a trembling distaste, fearful that Mignonette had indeed betrayed her, but M. Berteaucourt soon put her at her ease. It was the presence of the ancient duenna, he declared, truly a figure out of an opéra comique, that had daunted him. "I often wanted to speak to you," he said, "but I felt that I was spied upon—I mean, speak to you alone."

Barbara laughed in her rush of relief.

"Oh, please, you must forgive an old servant, she has never been away from Stone Hall before." And out came all the excuses for Harding as they crossed beneath the chestnut trees on which the green, spiked berries were now hanging, to the fruit enclosure that, like the flower garden, was detached from the house and formed a large square, surrounded by a double brick wall in which there were spaces for heating stoves.

In the middle were four large beds intersected by paths, two caged for currants and raspberries, one set with dwarf apple trees, one with pear trees, each were edged by strawberry beds. Along the walls of a rosy brick grew peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries, the first tied up in muslin bags.

At the end of the garden, opposite the gate, was a vinery, through the clean glass on which the sun glittered could be seen the dusky purple bunches of grapes, the finely cut leaves, the thick reddish stems and tendrils.

"I have never been here before," said Barbara. "Sir Timothy used to speak of it when we met him in the Isle of Wight. I fear that he has lost interest in his gardens and, indeed, in almost everything."

"Yes, but he is not an old man yet," replied the Frenchman cheerfully. "Dr. Bellamy thinks he is making a good recovery."

Barbara was surprised. She had thought, only that morning of Harding's departure, how listless and haggard Sir Timothy was, how despondent was his speech and gesture.

M. Berteaucourt seemed to notice her astonishment, for he added: "This is indeed so. Nothing remains save the melancholy, but of that we must be careful."

He paused before a spreading tree of apricots where the sun-flushed fruit was golden crimson against the rose-colored bricks.

"You are a very good friend, Mademoiselle, to this poor gentleman, since you stay here because of him."

He seemed to expect a contradiction, but Barbara dared not speak. She was as conscious of him as if he held her by both hands.

I will not, she vowed to herself, be timid or foolish. I have defied them all and sent Harding away, and he has turned to me, sought me out.

Yet she could not nerve herself to say anything.

"You have no basket, Mademoiselle, how many peaches can you carry?"

"May we pick them?"

"Yes, we have permission."

He leaned forward, across the well-raked earth and put his hand under the brilliant fruits, one after another. Barbara picked up the pannier of her pink muslin dress and held it out until she had collected six peaches and as many more nectarines.

Then she and her companion pulled off the muslin bags, showing the fruit in the full glowing color and they both laughed as they hung the little white bags on the stripped branches among the long curling leaves.

"I am very shortsighted," stammered Barbara. "I cannot tell one fruit from another unless I hold it close."

She was not thinking of the peaches, apricots, or nectarines but of the man beside her. Never had she been so near to him before, his face, hitherto half-seen, was now clearly visible. He had been close enough when he had held out the blue marquise ring across the variegated marble table, but then she had been dazzled, taken by some dreadful hallucination, the memory of the wax works show. Her heart and spirit failed even now at this recollection, and she stepped back against the row of cockleshells that divided the long bed of warm, newly raked earth from the gravel path.

"I think sometimes you have ugly dreams," remarked M. Berteaucourt gently.

His words broke her alarm.

"Why, it was nothing," she smiled. "Sometimes the oddest thoughts come to me. I have lived alone too long, and with sickness, I am nervous."

"But not when you are with me?"

"Indeed, no."

And it was true there was something most reassuring to Barbara in the cool air, alert carriage, and massive appearance of the Frenchman, who, although elegant and dressed more carefully than anyone she had ever met, yet had an air of reposeful authority that appeared as if it could never be shaken. Even his very heavy lidded eyes set so far apart, his overfull though clearly cut lips, and his thick neck that she had at first almost disliked, now seemed to her to denote a firm and impressive character.

"It is a pity," he said, "that you have so much money, Mademoiselle."

Barbara was startled into saying, "It is the one thing that I have."

"Indeed, no—" Youthful, strong, slightly insolent, but not, Barbara was sure, at her expense, he looked from her face to the ripe fruits in her pink apron, and added, "I despise dreamers."

"Oh, I dream too much."

"Do you? I was not thinking of you, but of the way the world goes, dazed by dreams. Action is all that matters."

"But action comes from dreams," she said, trying to face his hard, bright eyes, his swift, eager smile.

She felt weak, languid, almost vacant, as if the warmth of the golden day, the perfume of the fruit, and the earth were exhausting her, as if some terrible fascination was over her, making her powerless to move.

"There is a storm coming," she whispered, and M. Berteaucourt glanced up at the sky in an attentive silence.

"You should give your money away," he said, after a drowsy pause, "or leave it tied up, you call it, and then a man who admired you might say so, without this fear of a fortune hunting."

Barbara was entranced. Never would she have thought of this. While hoping that he liked her, she had always believed that he would want all her money.

"Why should I?" she asked, stammering in her excitement. "It would be natural to share my fortune with—" She could not say the word, but he supplied it.

"—a husband? No, that would be the cause of untold trouble later on. A man does not care to marry an heiress unless he, too, is wealthy."

"But you—" She was silent.

"I was going to marry for the sake of capital to put in my business? Yes, but five thousand pounds! I might balance that with my property. Now you have a great deal more."

"Oh, yes." An undefined but powerful joy filled her heart and spirit. "I have written to Mr. Bompast to know just how much I have." She babbled on about the shipbroking business and her father's will, leaving everything to her save for a few legacies. Full of secret delight she smiled, explaining her riches.

"None of this matters," said M. Berteaucourt. "I would rather not know. Shall we say that you have a hundred thousand pounds?"

"More than that."

"It is enough. No honest man could marry a woman with that dowry, unless he, too, had money."

"What should the woman do if she wished to marry a poor man?"

"I told you, Mademoiselle," he replied promptly. "Tie it up with the lawyer so that the fellow cannot touch it."

There was softness, even affection, in his voice but his eyes were full of curiosity, as if he marveled at her. She was near enough to see this, and believed, with a thrill of pride, that he was testing her. She felt shoots of brightness, more brilliant than the sun. She had forgotten the passing oppression that had been like that of a storm coming up.

"I have no one to whom to leave my money," she said. "Mr. Bompast said I should make a will, but I have no relations. Caroline Atwood, perhaps, but she is older than I am."

"You could leave it to Mignonette."

"So you know that she is my half sister!"

"But naturally, when our marriage was being arranged I had to know."

He made so little of this that it ceased to be of importance to Barbara, indeed it was of no importance compared to the splendor of this moment.

"Mignonette is wealthy already."

"That would not matter. It would be a gesture, it would prevent your husband getting anything." He smiled on her encouragingly. "Do you not see what I mean? It is, perhaps, too romantic for you? You could not, really, marry a man on what he had; you could not cut yourself down, say, to what Mignonette had, five thousand pounds?"

"Of course I could," she assented eagerly. "What has the money ever meant to me?"

Unperturbed by her flushed excitement, he went on speaking carefully.

"Leave it all, then, to your half sister. As you have so many years to live it is rather a joke. Besides, you will have children and there should be something for them, but only when they are of age. The will should be, that if you die before then, before your eldest child is twenty-one years of age, everything goes to your half sister."

He suddenly laughed.

"A strange conversation for this sunny afternoon when we come to pluck peaches! Perhaps I am being very impertinent, Mademoiselle."

"Please don't play with me," whispered Barbara. "If you mean what I think you mean—it would not be endurable if you were jesting." Her voice faded into stillness. She stood as if expecting a judgment.

"I spoke for myself, of course." He gave her a proud, direct glance. "If you could get rid of the money, if we could meet as equals."

"Do you, then, like me?"

"You know that I do, but until this money has been disposed of—"

"How that weighs with you!"

"I have sufficient to start my factory. And that is your money already. See how I am placed! I could not touch any more. Yes, Madame Falconet invested the dowry her daughter did not require in my works. You see, they felt it unfair that I should be disappointed."

"They are generous women," said Barbara. She longed to be done with all this talk of money, she wanted him to forget everything and everybody save herself.

But, as if still teasing or testing her, he held off, even turned a little aside.

"Yes, they are generous. Though Mignonette married for money she now regrets it."

"Ah, yes, because of the death of Francis Shermandine! It is pitiful she cannot forget!"

But Barbara did not want even to pause to pity this tragedy. She wanted this golden blue afternoon entirely to herself.

"She has persuaded Sir Timothy to leave all his money to the sisters of Francis Shermandine, with just a pittance for herself."

Barbara had forgotten the existence of these women who were far away and who could hardly have heard of the death of their brother.

"As I said," continued M. Berteaucourt, "Sir Timothy will live a long while yet, and there may be children that will alter everything, but Mignonette is so anxious about this that she has induced Sir Timothy to send for his lawyers."

He looked at her searchingly, and spoke with implacable firmness, but Barbara could not see that any of this was of importance. Mignonette's action seemed to her just, but only natural, a tribute to Francis Shermandine.

Observing her, M. Berteaucourt smiled with a humorous earnestness. "These lawyers could make your will, also," he suggested, with a tender look that made Barbara feel loved, comforted, secure.

"You will always," he added, "find life dull, empty, and even terrible, as long as you have so much money. But I have talked too long." He spoke quickly, and, for the first time, a little awkwardly. "I suppose that you understand."

"Oh, I understand!" cried Barbara. Her joy was childlike, and so was her flush, and her parted lips, and her air of being in a delighted enchantment, and pleased and grateful.

"You are a very remarkable woman," said M. Berteaucourt, and for a second his assurance left him and he seemed baffled, as if he had faced an enigma, then he was alert and smiling again, full of himself and his own fortunes.

Barbara asked no more of that magic day. She turned slowly from the fruit garden, her returned love, the golden future were one with the golden day; the ripe fruit, the newly turned earth, the magnificence of the whole universe seemed to lie with the apricots and nectarines in her pink muslin pannier. Every secret desire and hidden hope that had been overlaid, controlled, dismissed, was now triumphant; she was so exultant that she hardly noticed the cause of this rapture, her companion, who walked beside her in silence.


§ 51

Outside the garden gate was a small beautiful tree that grew on a heap of gardener's rubbish. The fruit was bright green among strong leaves of a darker shade, and some pure white flowers still remained.

"How lovely that is!" exclaimed Barbara. "I never noticed it when we came in!"

She was surprised that she had noticed it now, it seemed to break into her self-absorption, to attract her attention in a strange way, she supposed because it was growing alone outside the garden, and on a pile of poor, broken earth.

"What is it?" she asked, pausing for pure pleasure in the brilliant little tree.

"I think you call it a thorn apple, it is a kind of weed."

They passed on through the end of the beech wood and under the chestnut trees. Sir Timothy was seated on the wooden bench that surrounded one of them. As the young couple, stepping quickly and lightly, came up to him, he rose, leaning on his stick. Barbara smiled at him, tenderly, affectionately, out of the excess of her happiness and the joy of the golden warmth of the summer day.

But Sir Timothy looked bitter and somber and, as they halted to salute him, he spoke in a tone that Barbara had never heard him use before.

"The fruit was not ready to be plucked, we always leave that to the gardener. Who gave you permission?"

Barbara was startled into a sense of shame, she began to stammer excuses, but M. Berteaucourt said civilly, "Mignonette gave us permission, sir."

Barbara ran up to the seat and piled the fruit out on it, the gold, crimson, and warm yellow shapes beneath the dark green shade of the thickly leaved chestnut tree.

Sir Timothy clutched her hand and begged her to sit with him. "I am not very well today, please forgive an old man."

"It is regrettable," smiled M. Berteaucourt. "But the fruit is ripe."

He raised his hat and went on toward the house.

"You were a long time in the garden," said Sir Timothy. "It is a great while since I saw you go past."

"I did not see you," smiled Barbara. "I suppose it is getting late, we stood by the wall, in the sun, it is such a wonderful day one doesn't notice time."

"I thought a storm was blowing up."

"Why, so did I, but there was nothing." And again Barbara apologized about the fruit. She thought that Mignonette should not have given this permission without asking her husband. It was a little thing, but obviously the old man suffered from it. One by one, with a trembling hand, he pushed the apricots and nectarines off the seat so that they fell bruised and broken in the dust. He was so quiet while he did this that she did not like to speak, feeling embarrassed she looked away.

But this could not spoil her afternoon. She was content to sit there in the cool green shade, flushed and warm, and think of Etienne Berteaucourt and his little Norman estate, and his eager desire to work and to succeed, and his refusal to take her money. As if it would not be the easiest thing in the world to strip herself! If he did not want her fortune neither did she. Her eager excited mind ran over the future, but she could not get far with any plans, she was thinking of his warmth and charm, his flexible voice, the way he had looked at her, curiously, intently, testing her, wondering if she would give up her worldly goods for him, speaking to her directly in his pleasing voice. There had been something fabulous about the time they had spent in the fruit garden, she would always remember it like a legend. Already she could hardly believe in it, everything down to the crumbled earth had had such a peculiar richness of hue and scent; the air had been so warm, they had been so enclosed by the rose-colored brick walls that it was difficult to credit that it belonged to the tedious world that she had hitherto known.

"I've never seen you with that fellow before." Sir Timothy's acid voice cut sharply into her luxurious reverie, that had been like a wakeful sleep. She did not answer, she knew what he was going to say; like the vicar, like Harding, he would give her cold warnings and prudent advice. There is no need to reply, she thought with superb joy. In time they will all know, but now I want it for my secret. She laughed to herself in the leafy shadow.

And the old man continued saying what she had expected to hear. It was plain that he disliked the Frenchman, he labored at that point, the fellow was only at Judith Spinney to oblige Madame Falconet, his wife's mother. Soon he would go away.

Barbara suddenly realized that the old man had ceased to speak. She turned and peered at him, in sympathy and kindness.

"It is no use," he said. "I have come to an end."

He spoke as if he saw nothing ahead of him but weariness and horror. His shoulders were hunched up, and with heavy boots he was crushing the apricots and nectarines into the dust.

Barbara wanted to comfort him, but when she began to speak he silenced her, asked her pardon for his boorishness.

And, after all, there was nothing she could say that would be of any use to him. How could she hope to make this old, lonely, and embittered man see that the world was lovely?

He did not seem to want her companionship, so she left him, radiant, even gay, with a desire to laugh with someone who found life untarnished.


§ 52

Mignonette was in the large vestibule when Barbara entered the house. She had come from the kitchen and wore a cambric apron. She often had moods when it pleased her to cook French dishes, to make sweetmeats, preserves, and jellies.

In her hair was the green veil and she looked tired. Barbara wondered that she should spend such a warm afternoon in the still-room or the closet of the great kitchen, where she concocted her dainties.

"Sir Timothy is under the chestnut trees, Mignonette. I think that you should go to him—he is sick and lonely."

"He likes solitude."

"This is because he is ill. I recall him as active and fond of company."

Mignonette's small enigmatic face appeared wan even in that rosy afternoon glow that fell through the transom light. She wiped her fingers on a square of linen.

"Were you with Etienne?" she asked.

Barbara refused to display her fantastic and fabulous happiness.

"I was in the fruit garden." She would not speak of Sir Timothy's displeasure about the apricots, either, and almost at random, for Mignonette seemed to stand in her way, and at the foot of the stairs, as if challenging her to disclose herself, she asked, "Where are the figureheads my father sold to Sir Timothy? Were they not for this estate?"

"Your father," said Mignonette.

Barbara passed her now, and ran upstairs. One cannot exist without it, she thought, even if it is an illusion. I will not have it destroyed. She went into her room, thinking, At least I can justify him to Harding. I shall tell her that he does not want the money.

But, as she glanced at the open door of the closet, she recalled that Harding was not there, and that she had watched the carriage taking her away pass out through the white gates.

And recalling that, she recalled what Harding had said to her about the overheard conversation. Part of it at least, then, had been true; lawyers were coming to Judith Spinney.

What did that matter? They were coming for a good purpose.

Barbara flung off her sense of loneliness and went to the window, opening it on the rich sunshine. It was still the same day as that on which she had stood in the fruit garden and filled her pink pannier with the apricots that Sir Timothy had afterward bruised and crushed.

What have I to do with any of them? With their reasonings or their warnings? If only this will stay with me, if only I shall never feel lonely and frightened, desolate and unwanted again.

She was amazed at her capacity for joy. Never would she, who had thought her friendly feeling for Francis Shermandine was happiness, have believed her present state of exultation was possible.

Yet something that was secret and menacing lurked behind this brightness that was too brilliant.

The azure purple of the sky, the gold-red of the sunshine, the rich green of the chestnut trees, merging into her dreams and memories so that they had a supernatural meaning, glittered with an unearthly radiance, the beauty of a spell that any moment might be broken.


§ 53

Josephine came to help Barbara with her hair, and to hook up her bodice. She was pleasant and commonplace and knew very little English.

In her own language she asked Barbara how long she was staying at Judith Spinney, and why the old chambermaid had left.

Barbara tried to answer in the French she could recall from Fräulein Weissmann's lessons. She was so happy that she found this amusing. She also admired the fashion in which Josephine rolled her hair off her forehead and in long curls falling on to her shoulders.

Speaking slowly and distinctly the Frenchwoman tried to make herself understood, while her small brown eyes stared at Barbara in the mirror.

"Have you any friend who knows that you are here, Mademoiselle?"

Though she was cheerful and quiet she showed a fluent energy in every movement. Barbara responded, thinking that she meant to be friendly, to these rather random questions.

"Why, Harding knows."

"Ah, the good Harding! So simple and a little malicious I think! But I was wondering about the friends of Mademoiselle?"

Barbara reflected that no one did know that she was at Judith Spinney, and this brought into her mind that she must write to Caroline Atwood, whom she had neglected of late.

"I have not so many friends, but a large number of acquaintances," she replied. "I don't suppose that any of them think of me."

"Has not Mademoiselle a kind, fatherly lawyer who looks after her interests?"

"Yes, indeed," smiled Barbara, adding emphatically, "But I am quite free, you know."

"And Mademoiselle is very rich, is she not?"

Josephine coaxed a pearl-gray band through the thick hazel locks. "Oh, where did you get that ribbon?"

"From Lady Boys, she told me to bring you something new. It is pretty with your hair, is it not? French moiré." Josephine spoke on a humble note, her glance in the mirror besought Barbara's approval of her handiwork, but her deep-set eyes were shrewd, perhaps ironical.

"I should like some new gowns," said Barbara. "Everything I have is half-mourning save the pink muslin that is shabby."

"Mademoiselle should go to Paris for her gowns."

"Yes, that would be delightful. Tell me about Paris, Josephine."

At this such a flow of words broke from the Frenchwoman that Barbara could only understand the gist of what she meant.

"Oh, Josephine! You mean to say it is a splendid place! But really I forget my French," she said in English. "Now thank you very much, and I can manage by myself." She stood up, dismissing the maid who went quickly with a deferential gesture.

Barbara, returning to the mirror, turned down the collar of her dark gray silk dress and placed a necklet of jet squares set in gold round her neck, that looked full, smooth, and white by contrast.

Her gaze came to rest on the reflection of herself in the mirror. Anything sad or unhappy was unthinkable, her view of the future was entirely hopeful. She looked, also, worthy of her excellent fortune, a blooming woman made to be loved.

She would at last, and before it was too late, fulfill herself in this marriage with Etienne Berteaucourt. She reminded herself that though she would have been eager to offer him her money, it was a superb triumph that he would not take it, and she decided that she would leave all she possessed, save the small sum suggested by the Frenchman, to Mignonette. This would be, as he had said, merely a gesture, for it was not likely that her half sister would ever inherit. Then she wondered how she should make this will. If it was drawn up by the lawyers coming to Judith Spinney, it would have to be done in some way that disguised her relationship to Aimée Boys. But these thoughts did not hold her long. Like the insistence of a spell of sorcery came the remembrance of the impressive, almost formidable personality of Etienne Berteaucourt and what he was going to mean to her, and she felt a deep thrill of emotion as she realized what power it gave her to be the only surviving child of rich parents. For, though he might refuse to take her wealth, it was through that that she had met him, for her independence had permitted her to send for Mignonette.

She smiled at her reflection, at the charming woman, still young, in whose lap the future lay, like golden fruit, like a crystal ball full of rainbow images.


§ 54

After dinner Sir Timothy went to his rooms. Barbara thought that he must miss Brent, the butler, who had acted as his valet, but he refused all offers of service, preferring, he said, to be alone.

Madame Falconet looked after him, keeping her glance on the closed door through which he had passed.

"He should have a nurse," she remarked to her daughter.

Without replying, Mignonette took up her needlework; the length of rich embroidery cascaded down her full skirt of lilac taffeta silk. She seemed withdrawn and as if unaware that she was with other people.

M. Berteaucourt smiled at Barbara, a joyful smile of understanding that rendered his blunt, almost massive features amiable, even cheerful. But it was to Madame Falconet he spoke.

"These gentlemen are coming tomorrow?"

"Yes, all the arrangements are made. But Sir Timothy seemed to have changed his mind. He says now that he will not sign."

"Ah, that is his nervous illness," smiled the Frenchman, his glance took in Barbara. Madame Falconet also looked at her, it was as if they took her into the family and all its secrets.

Madame Falconet explained what Barbara had already heard about, the will that was to leave the Boys' property between the sisters of Francis Shermandine.

"They have children, and it is just."

Barbara wondered, in a vague way, if these remote women, one in Portugal, one in India, had yet heard of the death of their brother, and what they would think of this fortune so unexpectedly to be divided between them.

"It is just," she agreed, and then she wondered again if Mignonette herself might not have children to inherit this fine property, and glanced at her with an appealing air, hoping she would speak.

But Mignonette was silent and Madame Falconet answered for her daughter.

"We want to be done with all this and go on living," she said with a note of resolution. "We want to come to an end of all this waiting."

The last word rung in Barbara's mind. Waiting—that was what they were all doing. That was why Mignonette was so often idle, shut in her room, or making unwanted piles of sweetmeats. She was waiting, so were Madame Falconet and M. Berteaucourt with their saunterings and games of chess.

But why waiting? For what? Surely this will was not so important? M. Berteaucourt, who was observing her closely, seemed to understand her bewilderment.

"It has not been so long," he smiled, as if revealing to her the heart of everything. "It was the shock of the accident that upset everyone. When the atonement is made, things will be better."

"I understand," said Barbara, and she believed that she did. The atonement was for the death of Francis Shermandine who ought to have married Mignonette and of whom Sir Timothy had been cruelly jealous.

"Come to the window, Mademoiselle," said M. Berteaucourt.

Barbara followed him as he rose. She saw Mignonette looking after them, her needle poised, while Madame Falconet set out the chess pieces on the variegated marble table and began to play a game against herself.

Barbara stood in the window place. The sky was pale green behind the deep colored fans of the chestnut trees. M. Berteaucourt unlatched the casement and the warm breeze lifted the fine locks of Barbara's hair in the pearl-gray ribbon.

"You will keep all that I said to you in the fruit garden a secret?" he asked.

"Yes." There was a touch of constraint, even of fear in her voice that he at once noted.

"I do not ask an unnatural silence—only until these money questions are settled." He spoke with a slight disgust, impatience. "I, too, am weary to get on with life—all this is a sad trouble, but it will soon pass."

He gave her a radiant look, and she whispered, leaning toward him: "Am I not to speak of my will?"

"No. Let that be between us."

"I did not think of telling anyone," she replied simply. Her happiness, slightly baffled, had begun to reassert itself. "I will wait for a while. Your instructions."

"Only for a while."

He made a slight gesture, dismissing her; she turned back into the music-room. Mignonette was still watching her, Madame Falconet was absorbed in her game of chess.


§ 55

Barbara lay in her bed, warm, rosy, her hair loose on the pillow, and her dreams flowed by, like the stream through the water meadows, hidden under perfumed flowers; she stretched out her fingers in the dusk to caress them as they went past, and to beckon them with a smile.

There was no cause for dejection or alarm, her love held her by the hand and she was steadfast. The shadows of the room seemed to swim in the purple-blue of the sky, the deep green of the chestnut leaves; the just-glimpsed walls to be hung with the glowing richness of the espalier fruits; the carpet to be the heavy, newly turned aromatic earth, fragrant with dead berries, flowers, and leaves of other years.

The stream seemed to widen beside her bed and to spread under beech trees with silver boles and long roots among which grew the little greenish flowers that Francis Shermandine had shown her, and there was another tree with glistening apples and strong dark leaves, rooted in garden rubbish, that seemed to bend over Barbara as she lay, as if it were the curtain of her bed.

"Beautiful," she murmured, holding up her hand. The illusion wavered and sank.

Barbara lay still. The house was silent, and seemed like a great ship moored in the ocean of the night. Barbara thought of the ghost of Judith Spinney, and how Mignonette had said she had seen it, and that it was a young girl, lost, lonely, was not that it? But someone else had said—was it Francis Shermandine?—that the phantom was not a girl.

Barbara grieved for Mignonette, who had lost her lover and who was married to an old man.

There was a light but insistent tap on the door. Barbara sat up in bed, and thought of the specter as her dreams dissolved about her and the images she had created scrolled away.

"Who is there?" she asked, and she heard that her voice was altered.

For answer, the door opened and Barbara thought she saw in the figure that slowly entered, the wraith that Mignonette had encountered. Barbara crouched back in the bed, and the moon, rising above the chestnut trees, sent a tremble of silver into the room. In this radiance the intruder advanced; it bore the figure and features of Mignonette herself, but so changed that Barbara drew yet further against the head-post of the bed. A chilliness came over her, and though she struggled to cast off this deadly depression, she almost lost consciousness and could but whisper, "Mignonette, is it you?"

"It is I," repeated the other, approaching the bed. "Why are you so shocked?"

"You are so altered."

"It is this wan light, and I have not slept."

Mignonette's eyes were turned up and her long hair appeared silver; she held her white wrapper at the neck, and her feet were bare.

"I know that you are unhappy," stammered Barbara wildly. "But why infect me with your distress? Since you entered, the room is dark and hollow."

"What has M. Berteaucourt been saying to you?"

"Nothing that is not agreeable," sighed Barbara. She wished that she could speak of his generous action in regard to the money, but still more she wished that Mignonette would leave her with her dreams.

"I am so weary and distressed in mind, Barbara, that I had to come to you—Oh, what a tormenting night! And you could help me, Barbara."

"No, no, you are too far away."

"You could leave Judith Spinney."

"That—again! But you shall not provoke me."

"Leave us," insisted Mignonette, forlorn and helpless as a lost child, as the little ghost she said she had seen. "Leave this house, leave our lives."

"Poor Mignonette!" Barbara was overcome with sympathy now, and put out her hand to the other girl, who withdrew. "What a strange creature you are, now so passionate, now so cold!"

"Is there nothing that you can say to me!" urged Mignonette with an earnest sorrow. "Nothing that you can confide in me?"

"Nothing," said Barbara, thinking with a superb and secret pride of her promise to M. Berteaucourt.

"You know that two lawyers come tomorrow? A Mr. Fernlie and his assistant. It was spoken of tonight."

"Yes, of course I know."

"What do you suppose they come for, Barbara?"

"Some matter of Sir Timothy's will. I know no more than that, and it is no affair of mine."

"Yes, it is Sir Timothy's business. But what did M. Berteaucourt say to you in the window place?"

"I am not such a flippant, unstable being," smiled Barbara, "to have to account for every word I say. Why, it was some civil conversation."

Mignonette rose and turned away.

"Why did you not bring a light?" asked Barbara. "I usually have a watch lamp, but Harding being away it has been forgotten."

"I know all the stairs and passages in this house," answered Mignonette. She stood drooping, as if lonely and hopeless.

She cannot forget Francis Shermandine, thought Barbara, but she did not know how to comfort this obstinate grief.

As if suddenly swept by cold, Mignonette shuddered, opened the door, and was gone.

She had been but a darkling intruder, now she had left the moonlit chamber Barbara stretched easily in the bed.

Does she think that I have no will and power of my own? Is she indeed so anxious to save me from a fortune hunter, or did she want to tell me about her dead love?

Barbara sighed and smiled together. Restless, she could no longer think of sleep, and flung herself from the bed, as if summoned, and went to the window and looked out, as if searching for someone in the moon mist.

The night was again still, the massive shapes of the chestnut trees rose into an ariel silver and were outlined with a brilliant radiance.

Into this dim, yet luminous air floated a monstrous white shape, gave a hoarse cry, and circled away toward the dim, dark wood.

Barbara watched the white owl, more like a vision than a natural creature, disappear into the distance with bright flitters of the wings into the silver dusk.


§ 56

Lucy Dursley called at Judith Spinney and no one could be found but Barbara, who received her in the music-room.

The visitor declared that she had been before, but never saw any of the ladies.

"We go abroad in the gardens or the fields to watch the harvest taken in," said Barbara, wishing to be away from this commonplace woman, who reminded her of the dull life she wished to set so far behind her present happiness.

"This is a sad household for you," remarked Mrs. Dursley glancing round with curiosity. "I hear that poor Sir Timothy is not so well again."

"How did you hear that?" asked Barbara, knowing how few contacts Judith Spinney had with the outside world.

"Oh, I met Dr. Bellamy—besides, Miss Lawne, a village always knows everything of the affairs of the mansion house."

"I never lived in a village before."

As if she were determined to break down this reserved simplicity that she suspected to be feigned, Mrs. Dursley persisted, "Come, now, it is dull here, and good of you to stay to keep poor Lady Boys company, but don't you think that they are odd people? Everyone is talking, of course."

"Yes, Mr. Swan told me," admitted Barbara. "And 'everyone' is just the few gentlefolk round about."

"You have no idea how different it used to be!" interrupted Mrs.

Dursley, ignoring this remark. "Such elegant company! Always eccentrics, of course, but these foreigners!"

Barbara retreated into her secret, fiercely protecting it. She longed to be away, in that distant country, shimmering with romantic gold, that had been Paris, France, to her when first she had heard of Mignonette, to be free of the prying people, with their inquisitive eyes and gossiping tongues.

"They are very ordinary French people," she smiled coldly. "I am quite happy here."

"Even without old Harding? Your nurse, was she not?"

"Yes."

"Well, my dear, you don't seem to want to talk about it."

"There is nothing to discuss."

Mrs. Dursley laughed.

"I wish you would get some of your friends to visit you here."

"It is not my house," replied Barbara, disinterested in this conversation.

"I daresay that you think that I am officious," smiled Mrs. Dursley.

"And I admit that I am the only person who has the courage to persist in coming—no one has been made to feel welcome."

Barbara was silent.

"And as for Lady Boys, no one can find out who she is."

"Do they try?"

"Of course."

"There is nothing to find out."

"But Madame Falconet is no ordinary woman."

"She is unusually intelligent and charming."

"You will not take my meaning, Miss Lawne. She must have relations, friends, even acquaintances."

"I suppose so, in France."

"If one is placed socially in France one is placed socially in England," replied Mrs. Dursley shrewdly. "Of course, the present French court is parvenu." She shrugged, as if to say, "Better that than nothing!"

Barbara smiled, ready for the next thrust, that soon came.

"And the man—surely impossible!"

After all, Barbara could not help wincing. She did not want to see Etienne Berteaucourt as the outer world saw him. She was not sufficiently experienced to turn her visitor's curiosity; she unwillingly, timidly, went to the defense, repeating what she had heard of the good birth of the Frenchman.

"There is only his word for it, I suppose?" Mrs. Dursley raised her eyebrows. "You don't mind my speaking so candidly? Of course he can be of no interest to you."

"Why are you so vexed and hostile?" interrupted Barbara.

"It is known that you are an heiress," replied Mrs. Dursley boldly. "And you seem so unprotected."

"That again!" cried Barbara. "I can assure you that M. Berteaucourt has no interest whatever in my money."

"I am relieved to hear it—but, forgive me, are you quite sure?"

"Indeed I am." Barbara flushed angrily.

Mrs. Dursley opened another line of attack.

"These people never come to church, yet they do not seem to be Roman Catholics either."

"Sir Timothy would resent these reflections on Lady Boys, Mrs. Dursley."

"And on M. Berteaucourt?"

"As his guest, yes."

Mrs. Dursley rose and shook out her blue silk flounces.

"I see that you are not to be spoken to," she said kindly, even a little wistfully. "And the lawyers you have staying here, they keep themselves very close—afraid of the gossip, I suppose!"

"They have some affairs to transact with Sir Timothy and at present he is not very well."

"And the new housekeeper and butler are leaving, so soon!"

"Madame Falconet prefers to attend to everything herself."

"Madame Falconet!" repeated Mrs. Dursley. "Is she the mistress here?"

"She takes all the trouble off her daughter's hands."

Barbara pulled the bell as she answered and went toward the door. Lucy Dursley followed her at once.

"I did not send my carriage away. I did not mean to stay even so long as this. Of course I shall not come again."

"I am afraid that it is not of much use," replied Barbara smiling. "You see, your dislike of everyone here—"

Mrs. Dursley interrupted.

"No—I don't dislike them. I think that they are charming."

"You said that M. Berteaucourt was impossible!"

Barbara could not resist trying to obtain some light on this puzzling point.

"I meant it—so is Madame Falconet. Lady Boys one must not discuss, and she has, really, the bearing of a gentlewoman."

"But the others? Pray, what is amiss with them, Mrs. Dursley?"

"Cannot you observe anything?"

"No. I am a provincial myself, I have not traveled at all."

"You don't know Paris?" said Mrs. Dursley thoughtfully, then answered her own question. "No, of course not. That is why I came." Barbara opening the door, closed it again and interrupted. "Do you know anything against these people?"

"Nothing."

"Neither did Mr. Swan or Harding. It is just evil thoughts and spite against foreigners."

"No," replied Mrs. Dursley gently. "One must explain oneself in society."

I wonder, thought Barbara, if she would be satisfied if she knew the truth about Mignonette. I suppose that would be a worse scandal. Aloud she asked, "Do, pray, explain 'impossible.'"

"Oh, my dear! The clothes, too elegant, not English, the satin foulard—I speak of the man—the hair, even, I think, perfume. A dandy, you may say, but he is not of that class, but pretends to be a manufacturer of paste, yes, paste indeed, and false metal, all of them."

"What else?" asked Barbara, at once offended and fascinated.

"Do you want any more? There is not the slightest excuse for him to be here. All the men detest him—I think there is something very unpleasant in that physique of a prize fighter set off like a figurine in Les Modes."

Barbara laughed with real amusement. This was such an absurd description of Etienne Berteaucourt that she was no longer vexed.

"Well," shrugged Mrs. Dursley, slightly taken back. "As I said, I can't really come again although I am an impudent sort of creature—but you know where I am if ever you want me."

She looked at Barbara with a friendly compassion that the young woman did not observe, and when they parted at the door, Mrs. Dursley showed a certain reluctance to leave her hostess.


§ 57

As soon as the visitor's carriage had turned out of the white gates, Mignonette appeared on the stairs. Barbara was still in the vestibule.

"Oh, you might come down and see people."

"Who ever comes?" asked Mignonette slightly.

"You make them feel unwelcome."

"So they are. They come to spy, to look me over, to find out things to talk about. Why do you not tell them, Barbara, who I really am, and put a stop to all this curiosity?"

"You know that I cannot do that—besides, it is not you they wonder about, but M. Berteaucourt."

"They are right," replied Mignonette sullenly. "I told you he is no good—that is what you say?"

"That is a vulgar expression," broke in Barbara, "that servants use. You know nothing against him, Mignonette, I can't think why you dislike him so."

And once more she wished that she had permission to tell Mignonette of M. Berteaucourt's generosity. She had asked him several times if she might not do so, and he had refused permission. The matter of Sir Timothy's will must be got out of the way first he had said, and that had been delayed by the baronet's illness.

Nor was there much opportunity of speaking to the Frenchman. He was so frequently away from Judith Spinney, coming and going unexpectedly, on matters, he said, connected with his business. But when he did have a chance to speak secretly to Barbara, it was so affectionately, so warmly, that she was happy to remain in her waiting dream.

"Is Sir Timothy no better, Mignonette?"

They went idly into the breakfast-room. Mignonette began to rearrange a dish of pierced silver full of fruit, grapes with untouched bloom, long bronze-colored pears, polished crimson plums clouded with blue, and clear green apples with a rosy shine, all set off with vine leaves. Behind, on the gilt console table was a tall alabaster vase holding huge peonies, the white petals marked with gaudy stains of crimson.

"Let us go into the garden," said Barbara.

"It is too hot."

"I like the heat, and there is nothing to do in the house save wait."

"What are you waiting for, Barbara?"

"I don't know, I merely said that, the whole house has an air of waiting," replied Barbara, thinking of M. Berteaucourt, who was due to return from London that evening.

"It is the illness," said Mignonette.

"Yes, I asked you how he was."

"The same. My mother is with him now."

"And he will not see Mr. Fernlie?"

"Not yet—tomorrow perhaps."

"Have you heard from the sisters of Francis? I forget their names."

"Mrs. Carew and Mrs. Ridley. From the first, yes. There has been no time to hear from India."

Barbara dared go no farther on this subject, for fear of offending M. Berteaucourt who had said that Mignonette did not wish her generosity spoken of as yet.

"Mignonette, do you not think we might take some garlands to the church?"

"You mean for Francis Shermandine? No, I do not like to see flowers dying on graves."

She touched a peony and the petals fell on the table, over the silver basket of fruit.

These reminded Barbara of the apricots that Sir Timothy had crushed into the dust. To be rid of this disagreeable thought she spoke of the brilliant little tree outside the fruit garden wall. When she had last seen it (and now she was frequently there because of enchanted memories), most of the bright apples had been plucked.

"Who could have taken them, Mignonette? It is only a weed, but so beautiful!"

"I do not know!" the other girl laughed. "I think that I have never seen this tree—you spoke of it before—perhaps some bird takes the fruit."

"Perhaps. Is it not odd about the lilies? They were all rooted up before they died, and no more are to be planted."

"How curious you are!"

"Well, that is because I am idle, and really, I would like to go out. See, another peony has fallen."

"It is so late for any of the flowers, we must have those from the stovehouses soon."

"I don't like the man Bradley, the new head gardener, Mignonette, and is it not awkward being without a housekeeper and a butler?"

"What questions you ask!" smiled Mignonette. "No, my mother does very well, there was great waste and idleness here. The cook is leaving also, ah, she was pampered, but one of the kitchen maids will work with us—that will give us something to do."

"But this is such a large house for so few servants—and a sick man."

"Better a few who are willing than a crowd of lazy ones who feed and sleep. You see, we are thrifty; we have been poor, and so these spoiled, fat ones will not like us."

Mignonette began to eat the grapes, slowly, daintily, clipping them off the stem with a tiny pair of silver scissors. Her long gown was of lilac-colored cotton and she wore white lace mittens and her coral bracelets; her hair had grown very long, and hung in a fleece of ringlets almost to her waist, it was held back from her forehead by a narrow flame-colored ribbon.

"I have been asleep this afternoon," she remarked. "I sit up at night with Sir Timothy."

"I would gladly share the watch with you, dearest Mignonette."

"I do not feel it. I have a big chair and sometimes I doze—you say that?—a little, and sometimes I read a novel."

"You are a very devoted nurse. Between you and your mother, he is never left."

"No, he is never left."

The idle talk faltered, was spun out like fine silken threads. Barbara wore the rose-colored muslin that Josephine had exquisitely laundered, her jet necklace, and the pearl-gray moiré ribbon in her hair. She continually looked at herself, with innocent satisfaction, in the mirror above the alabaster vase of peonies. The last time that she had seen him, M. Berteaucourt had whispered to her that she was "truly beautiful." This remark had been like a jewel over her heart ever since, a hidden brilliance of which she was deeply conscious.

Mignonette gave her a troubled and inquiring glance, then returned to her delicate eating of the grapes.

The sunshine, now coming full in at the window, was woven like a web about them, joining them like a golden net.

"They have cut the bean field," remarked Barbara. "It was a very gale of sweetness to pass there—I used to, going by unfrequented ways to the church."

"The harvest is all taken in," replied Mignonette idly.

"Are you not sorry to know that the autumn is approaching?" asked Barbara. "It has been such a beautiful summer."

"Do you feel that?"

"Yes, but I should not have said it. I am so forgetful—for you, of course, it must be the season of death and loss. Forgive me, Mignonette."

The other girl was silent, and, with a warm desire to make amends for a careless speech, Barbara again offered to help in the nursing of Sir Timothy.

"I am used to sick people and quite properly trained. Do, please, let me."

"There is so little to do. Josephine assists us—she also is trained."

"Very well, I shall go upstairs and write to Caroline Atwood."

"Why have you suddenly thought of her

"Mrs. Dursley asked if any of my friends knew that I was here."

"What was that to her

"She is sharp and curious, and her question made me think of Caroline Atwood, she is my nearest friend. I suppose that she will be still at Teignmouth—I shall send her my news."

"What is it, your news?" asked Mignonette.

"Merely that I am peaceful here," replied Barbara. She had wanted to say "happy" but felt that this would be an insult to the other's grief.

"Tell her that you will be returning to Stone Hall, and soon."

"Yes," smiled Barbara, not wishing to provoke an argument on this point. Besides, she thought, When everything is arranged I shall be going home if only for a short while, if only to sell the hateful place and all that is in it.

She went lightly to her room and to the desk in the alcove, and wrote an affectionate letter to Caroline Atwood at her Teignmouth address.

It was still early in the afternoon when she had finished this, and looking at the clock, she sighed to think how many hours must pass before she saw Etienne Berteaucourt.

She picked up a piece of embroidery. She could only use large stitches because of her short sight, and with disappointment she compared the piece of petit point with Mignonette's exquisite needlework. Wools to complete the design were also lacking and she thought that she would ask Mignonette if she had any of the required colors. To put the needle in and out of the canvas would be, at least, one way of passing the time.

With this intention she returned to the breakfast-room, found it empty, and went to Mignonette's chamber, thinking that she must be there.

There was no response to her knock, and entering she found no one in the pretty, frivolous room.

On a small, muslin draped table at the end of the bed were heaps of silks, wools, rolls of linen, and cambric and satin-lined work baskets.

Barbara turned them over but could not find the shades of yellow and blue she needed.

A square of purple velvet covered something at the end of the table. Supposing that other embroidery materials might be thus protected, Barbara raised the velvet. Underneath was a pile of thorn apples.

As she stared at the bright and pleasing shapes in astonishment, Mignonette quickly entered the room.

Barbara started, as if guilty of some indiscretion, and dropped the square of velvet.

"I was searching for some skeins of wool—I could not find you," she explained. "But I came on these, the thorn apples. I told you they had gone from the tree, and you said, did you not, that the birds must have eaten them."

"I had forgotten I had taken them, indeed I hardly knew what you meant by thorn apples," replied Mignonette. "I am copying them for a design for a valance, I believe I mentioned this some time ago."

"Oh, I think you did so. They are pretty, are they not? But they looked charming on the tree," added Barbara regretfully.

"I saw you come into my room, and I wondered what you wanted," said Mignonette steadily. "Which color do you require?" She turned over the wools and silks with an expert hand. "I am never far away, you need not enter my room like this."

Barbara apologized, flushing.

"I did not think—"

"Why, it is no matter." Mignonette smiled. "There are all the colors that I have." She spread them out on the muslin cover of the table. Barbara selected some blue and yellow skeins, feeling embarrassed, and thanking Mignonette, hurriedly left the room.


§ 58

M. Berteaucourt did not return that evening or the next, and Barbara was doubly impatient to see him, once for his own sake, and again because she had, at last, received a long letter from Mr. Bompast.

This contained what she had asked for, a full list of all her investments, properties, and assets, and Mr. Bompast's estimate of what all these amounted to, or would amount to, when the sale of the shipyard offices and good-will of her father's business was completed. It was a very much larger sum than Barbara had expected, and the inventory of personal possessions included several cases of jewels, lying at the bank, that she hardly knew were hers; they had not been looked at since her mother's youth, and Mr. Bompast wrote that although they required resetting they must be worth a good deal of money.

This information was accompanied by heavily worded warnings. The lawyer advised Barbara to return home and to consult him before she disposed of the smallest portion of her property. In his guarded legal language he informed her that Mrs. Harding had waited on him in considerable distress, and while allowing for her ignorance and affection, he agreed with her that this long intimacy with a certain lady and her mother was ill advised, and that any of their friends were likely to be people to be avoided.

Barbara read into this the warning against a fortune hunter that she had already several times received.

Her first intention had been to dismiss the mischief-making Harding and transfer her affairs from the care of Mr. Bompast. She really wanted to be free of both of them, since they obviously knew too much about her, but her kind heart and good nature prevailed. She was willing to credit them with loyal intentions. She would ask Etienne Berteaucourt what she should do.

Poor, foolish Harding might be pensioned and sent out of Portsmouth, while it would be quite natural for her future husband to take all of her affairs into his own hands. Mr. Berteaucourt must have some lawyers, if not English, at least used to English law, who could handle her business. And there would be very little left to trouble anyone if she was to sell everything she possessed and "tie up," as M. Berteaucourt termed it, the resultant capital for Mignonette.

He had mentioned also her possible children and Barbara remembered this with deep joy. She had understood him to mean that her money was to be invested in some way so that neither he nor she could touch it, and that on her death without children it was to go to Mignonette, and if she, Barbara, had sons and daughters, to them when they came of age.

This seemed to Barbara not only a reasonable arrangement but one that, by putting her money out of the reach of her future husband, had something noble about it. She wished fervently that she might tell everyone of this splendid plan that put M. Berteaucourt in such an excellent light, and longed, with every moment more intensely, for his return to Judith Spinney.

There was one person to whom she felt she might broach the subject, and that was Mr. Fernlie, Sir Timothy's lawyer.

This man, elderly, morose, and grave, occupied with his clerk, Mr. Bannerman, a suite of rooms in which they had their meals served. Barbara was sorry for the idle, solitary life that they led and wondered that they could spend so much time over one client's affairs.

Sometimes they walked in the garden, but neither looked at the flowers or even seemed to notice the sweet air they breathed, for each, spectacles on nose, would be absorbed in a book, held close before his eyes. Barbara was often curious as to what they read. She had tried to make conversation with Mr. Bannerman, who had a pathetic, worried air and a mean browbeaten appearance, but he had always escaped from her, as if alarmed, with a few muttered words.

With Dr. Bellamy, on one of his visits, Barbara did speak, offering her sincere grief for the sick man.

"He has something on his mind," said the physician, who had met Barbara in the vestibule. "The nursing is certainly excellent. But I should like another opinion. One would hardly have thought that the shock of his nephew's death would have endured so long."

Dr. Bellamy's kindly face was clouded and puzzled.

"I cannot induce him to say a word," he added. "Yet he is capable of speech, as I have heard him talking to himself with great speed."

Pulling on his gloves he remarked, "Lady Boys, her mother, and the maid are doing far too much—the place has never been so understaffed."

"English servants don't like foreigners," said Barbara. "I would help, but they will not allow me to do so."

"Well, they certainly are very efficient," smiled Dr. Bellamy. "It would be well to get rid of those lawyers, gloomy-looking fellows. I advised Sir Timothy to transact whatever business he has with them and to send them off. At first I thought that this business would be too much for him—now I think he had better get it over."

"It is only to sign a will," said Barbara.

"Is it?" Dr. Bellamy looked doubtful. "I always thought that Sir Timothy's affairs were in such excellent order. A mistake for a man in his condition to alter a will, and a pity that he doesn't send for his own lawyers."

"But Mr. Fernlie is Sir Timothy's lawyer!"

"No—unless he has changed his men," replied the physician. "Mr. Jessamy—Basil Jessamy—had all his affairs in hand, I often met him here."

Madame Falconet came down the stairs, Dr. Bellamy bowed to both the ladies and left the house. They heard his gig driving away.

"How curious you are, Miss Lawne," said the Frenchwoman coolly. "Always you wait about to speak to visitors, or you go into other people's rooms, looking at things. What is it that you wish to find out, eh?"

Barbara was astonished at the injustice of this rebuke. All her behavior had been open and natural and she was not inquisitive.

"What could there be for me to find out?" she exclaimed, flushing.

"Why, nothing. But it is the prying that is so disagreeable, Miss Lawne." Madame Falconet turned her beautiful, compelling eyes full on the shrinking girl. "Because we are foreigners you think we are strange, is it not? You wonder a little about us?"

"I know about you—and Mignonette," replied Barbara in a low voice. "And so I understand it all, it is those who don't know, who wonder who you are, of course."

"So you think you understand it all?" Madame Falconet seemed to hesitate, then added: "Perhaps we have a little talk?" She gracefully indicated the breakfast-room.

Barbara followed her, a little disturbed. She could not forbear thinking of her own parents and of the dubious history of her companion.

The alabaster vase had now been filled with the last roses, sulphur yellow, with glossy spiked leaves, and the silver basket beneath on the console table held peaches and nectarines that brought to Barbara's mind the fruit that Sir Timothy had bruised into the dust beneath the chestnut tree.

"Now, you, the daughter of Mr. Lawne," said Madame Falconet with a sly smile, "you tell me what you think about, why you stay here. What you mean to do with all your money."

"What odd questions!" exclaimed Barbara. "And I cannot answer them."

"No? And why not?"

"It is all my own business."

"But you would let it be the business of someone else, eh? You would marry and give all your fortune for a little love, eh?" The Frenchwoman spoke with a peculiar intonation that Barbara found most objectionable. Seeing her discomfiture, Madame Falconet added, "Do not be foolish, perhaps I help you."

"I cannot think what you mean!"

"We see about that. Mignonette wants you to go home, she thinks you lose your heart to Etienne Berteaucourt, and she does not like him—she thinks he get your money, I suppose. Oh, yes, Mignonette wants you to go away."

"Yes, she does," murmured Barbara. "I believe she is sad and uneasy."

"She is, the poor Mignonette! But perhaps I don't want you to leave, perhaps I help you," replied Madame Falconet thoughtfully. "It is amusing, the daughter of Mr. Lawne!" Turning her clear, steady eyes full on the blushing young woman, she added, "It means everything to you and you would go to any lengths—never have you been admired by such a man, eh?"

This pleased Barbara. It was a confirmation of the fact that Etienne Berteaucourt appeared openly as her suitor.

"One does when one is in love, Madame Falconet. All I possessed would go to my husband, or be disposed of, as he wished."

"Ah, you are so much the fool! Like I was once, and Mignonette also."

"Yes, Francis Shermandine—it is heavy for her, and the old, kind man so ill," said Barbara with warm sympathy. "But what did you mean, Madame Falconet, by saying that you would help me?"

"Perhaps I take your side against Mignonette, perhaps I have some interest in your love affairs," replied the Frenchwoman with an air of aloof severity. "I will see, I think it over."

Barbara moved to the door, she felt restless, and the Frenchwoman's presence began to worry her slightly.

"But I have already decided what to do," she said. "Everyone treats me as weak and childish, but indeed I have made up my mind."

"I think I help you," smiled Madame Falconet. "I think I and Etienne Berteaucourt have our way and defeat poor Mignonette."

"It cannot be so much to her to save me from a man she dislikes."

"We will see how much it is to her. Do not look so sad, I am going to help you."

"Do you know about the will? How generous M. Berteaucourt is being?" Barbara felt impelled to say this, even though she recalled her promise to be silent on this matter, for she felt that Etienne Berteaucourt was being cruelly misjudged.

"Yes, I know. He tells me everything—I am like his own mother."

"Then you should admire him immensely," said Barbara nervously. "And I wish it would all be settled. Cannot Sir Timothy be induced to sign his will? Perhaps if you sent for his own lawyer."

"Mr. Fernlie is his own lawyer."

"Dr. Bellamy said he was not. Dr. Bellamy mentioned a Mr. Basil Jessamy."

"The good doctor talks too much. I have noticed it. This Mr. Fernlie is sent by Mr. Jessamy, of course." Madame Falconet gave her sudden smile that always seemed to Barbara unnatural. "Well, my child, enjoy yourself." She half-turned away and Barbara saw her still smiling into the mirror.

"I don't like waiting." Barbara heard her own voice, almost out of control, bickering away feebly.

Madame Falconet interrupted with an air of finality.

"Etienne returns tonight, you speak with him, I shall keep Mignonette with her husband."

"I should like us all to be friends," said Barbara childishly.

But Madame Falconet, with a deepening of her nodding smile at herself in the mirror, left the room, as having nothing to say, even while Barbara was fumbling for words.

That afternoon there was a letter from Teignmouth for Barbara from Caroline Atwood to state that she was going with her charges to Switzerland for several months.


§ 59

Barbara sat at the pianoforte where Mignonette no longer played and dared not touch the keys. Now that she had heard her half sister's delicate and exquisite performances she felt that she could never perform again.

She recalled the Mignon songs in which the French girl had so artfully and so falsely expressed her reserve, her mystery, and her longing. The bold and cunning determination to ensnare the rich man that Mignonette had shown seemed difficult to reconcile with her subsequent behavior; her actions seemed to show indifference to all outward events and to indicate that she was moved wholly by an inner secret passion that could be nothing but love and remorse because of Francis Shermandine.

Barbara marveled how Mignonette could have brought herself to marry the uncle when she had cared so deeply for the nephew, thereby grasping at material advantages that, once she had achieved, she seemed to despise.

"What are you pondering over, Mademoiselle?" asked M. Berteaucourt, entering the room quickly and advancing to the music stool.

They were there by appointment, and he was late, so that she was startled, dragged from her reverie, and said nervously, "Oh, you have been so long away! Where do you go and why keep me in this uncertainty?"

"How charming you look!" he replied, taking and kissing her hand, then deftly clasping round her wrist a bracelet that seemed a shower of little flames on a gold thread.

"Is that some of your paste?" she asked joyously. "It is very pretty!"

"No, those are diamonds."

He seemed to take great delight in her almost poignant pleasure and repeatedly kissed the hand he had adorned, and his expression, usually so impassive but now eager, seemed to Barbara to show a passionate interest in her acceptance of the gift.

"It must be valuable!" she exclaimed.

"And you think that I am poor and should not be so extravagant? But sometimes one wants something so much that one pays all one has for it."

"You wanted this so much?"

"To give you a gift worthy of you, yes."

Barbara did not observe that the words were banal. She was reflecting that the diamonds—surely very costly!—must have been bought with Mignonette's dowry, the Lawne money, and this thought was disagreeable.

"I would rather have had some of those pretty trinkets you make in your factory," she murmured, releasing her hand.

"Ah, no, they are not for you! If you feel shy to take this, surely you have other jewels at your bank, with your lawyers—"

"I could give them to you," she said swiftly. "Yes, I see what you mean. And you could have them reset for me, and perhaps copied."

"As you like, and now we need not talk of this, eh? We have so little time together."

"Oh, please tell me when all these affairs will be settled! There is such an air of waiting here, and no one is happy."

"You notice that?"

"Yes, I do, of course. We are all idle and waiting, and everything seems to depend on you."

"It depends on Sir Timothy, but he is better today, and tonight he signs the will."

"Then I can have mine prepared, and be rid of all my money?" M. Berteaucourt laughed.

"You are enchanting, Mademoiselle!"

"I am willing to do what you asked me to do," replied Barbara earnestly.

She gazed at the diamonds flashing on her wrist; the gems hung down, like the petals of some radiant flower, from the fine chain.

"And then," she added shyly, "we can go away and forget Judith Spinney, though I never want to forget the fruit garden."

She tried to brace herself to speak candidly, but the surge of his presence, the glitter round her wrist, made her hesitate and fall into silence. She wished that she did not think of themselves as they had been before, seated together by the variegated marble table, when he had offered her the blue marquise ring, when they had reminded her of the wax works group that commemorated some dreadful story.

She looked down at the polished floor as if she heard the echoes trembling in the buried shells beneath the boards. Her fears, needs, and hopes struggled for utterance but she could not express this insatiable yearning.

"Everything shall be as you wish," he said, and he laughed again, away from her, into the air.

Barbara drew off the bracelet and held the stones in a cluster in her palm. He seemed to her to be secure and aloof, and she, before him, frail, foolish, her very happiness as uncertain as it was piercing and intense.

Barbara wanted to hold the moment, yet knew that it could not be held and longed to pass on to other moments that would be, surely, even more entrancing.

"You are a very rare woman," said M. Berteaucourt. "You are brave, loyal, and discreet. I cannot tell you how I admire these qualities."

Barbara, returning the bracelet to her wrist, did not recognize herself in this description, but she felt a thrill of strong emotion at his praise that was given with the utmost emphasis of glance and voice.

She leaned forward with a childlike expectation of being clasped and kissed. But the Frenchman did not move, though his ardent smile was unchanged. Barbara's poignant dream confused her with an unwavering radiance.

As if on a signal, Madame Falconet entered the room. Her gaze went at once to the glitter round Barbara's wrist.

"Ah, you had better hide that," she remarked. "This is no time for love tokens, eh? Sir Timothy is very ill again, at last he means to sign that will."

Barbara slipped the bracelet into her pocket. She resented this atmosphere of death that checked the expression of her happiness.

"It will soon be over," whispered M. Berteaucourt affectionately. "He will be better when he has signed."

"Why urge him so?" asked Barbara. "What does it matter? The sisters of Francis Shermandine are not expecting this money."

"Mignonette has set her heart on it," interrupted Madame Falconet. "She must be indulged."

"Yes," assented M. Berteaucourt. "The will must be signed." In a tone of warm admiration he added, "Miss Lawne has a wonderful patience."

"She knows I am her friend and shall help her," said Madame Falconet slightly. "She will be, as you say, patient—it is a house of grief and sickness, is it not?"

She touched M. Berteaucourt on the sleeve, and he followed her from the room.


§ 60

Judith Spinney was lonely in the autumn sunshine. No one called now and Barbara missed the head servants. Madame Falconet and Josephine were in charge of everything, only the most stupid and humble of the underservants had remained. House and garden were beginning to look neglected compared to the shining order that they had once shown. Barbara passed from one splendid room to another splendid room and found them all empty.

She wandered into the fields and followed the stream to a pool where she had been once before. The place was solitary, but not so lonely as the house. Putting aside the long trailing branches of the willow trees and the stiff spikes of the rushes, she gazed at the water, a liquid mirror. The late afternoon was tranquil, no breeze disturbed the purple woof of the sundew's leaves, the pale red blossoms of the rose pimpernel, the St. John's wort, frosted with silver round a gold corolla, the fairy-like rosemary, that grew at the edge of the still water.

Barbara wished for company, for Harding, for Caroline Atwood, even for the vicar with his worldly advice and kindly ways. Indeed, she found herself longing for the presence of any friendly creature.

Close by was the vervain, lifting a wand of pale purple flowers, and Barbara recalled the hag's taper that had once stood in her path, as if with a sudden menace. Her mother had told her long ago, when she was showing her the cases of pressed flowers and in the botany lessons, that vervain, "simpler's joy," was a sacred herb and used as a charm against enchantment.

Smiling, she plucked the blossom and examined it closely, wondering why it had had so long a fame. It was no different from any other weed, and Barbara thought that if any plant was to be credited with magic powers, it should be the thorn apple, with the white, funnel-shaped, plaited corolla and spinous fruit, that had so deeply impressed her with its beauty when she had seen it growing by the rubbish heap. She wondered what design Mignonette would evolve from the pile of thorn apples she had placed under the square of velvet.

Minded to see if she could not emulate her half sister's exquisite needlework, Barbara placed the vervain carefully in her pocket, where the diamond bracelet was hidden.

Impelled by she knew not what emotion, she turned aside now toward the ruins where Francis Shermandine had met his death.

Nothing had been touched since then. Even over the restored portions of the building, where the young architect had blended his fantasy with that of men long dead, the broken fabric was already invaded by withered grasses, succulent stone crop, golden tansy, pearly everlasting, strong shoots of ivy, and unwholesome looking wormwood, while the shattered walls and arches were richly hung with green pellitory, and the jutting ledges showed clumps of wild parsley.

Barbara could hardly recall the dead man, or realize the grief of Mignonette. It was all as remote as a tragedy in a ballad.

Yet the scene was sad and touched her. She thought, When I am very far away and very happy I shall weep for this, and perhaps one of my children will be named Francis.

She returned slowly to the house, breathing golden air.


§ 61

Barbara dined alone that evening. Josephine, who waited on her, said that everyone was with Sir Timothy who was much recovered in health. Dr. Bellamy had come and gone while Barbara was away from the house.

"That is good news," smiled Barbara, pleased at this lifting of the cloud over Judith Spinney.

"And where did you go, Mademoiselle?"

When Barbara had told her, the Frenchwoman exclaimed at such a melancholy expedition.

"No," responded Barbara earnestly. "I felt nothing sad. Though I believe I am the kind of person who sees ghosts, or, at least, has dreams, hallucinations." She paused, not wanting to remember why she had first come to Judith Spinney. "But there is nothing by the ruins—all is empty, a void. It is the house that is lonely," she added. "So few servants, and no one ever comes."

"Soon there will be new servants, from London, and when Sir Timothy is better, visitors."

They spoke in French. Barbara was becoming accustomed to the sound of that language, old lessons came back to her, and tedious conversations with Fräulein Weissmann, but she was still shy of speaking in any but her own language. Some day Etienne Berteaucourt would teach her French.

She would have liked to talk, even to gossip with Josephine, but the Frenchwoman had her duties, and Barbara, a solitary evening ahead of her, went to her room and tried to occupy herself by drawing the vervain plant that she had placed in a glass of water on her desk.

Josephine came punctually to light her lamp and prepare her bed. Sir Timothy was in good spirits and hoped to be downstairs on the morrow was her news.

When she had gone, Barbara felt a return of a deeper loneliness. The house was so still. After the echo of Josephine's feet had died away down the corridor, there was no sound.

Barbara wished that she had not sent Harding away. She went into the little closet that the old nurse had occupied and felt a pang of remorse at the sight of the narrow bed, the modest table beside with the Bible, dimly visible in the dusk.

Barbara recalled that Harding had said she had marked some passages in the Holy Book.

Idle, lonely and moved by curiosity, Barbara took the heavy volume, clasped in brass, to the lamplight of her own room.

There was a quantity of scarlet markers, of fine china silk, and these had been inserted in various places. Barbara opened at one of them. It was the Gospel of St. Matthew. Some lines had been touched with a quavering pencil:—

"Then he saith: I will return again to my house, from whence I came out. And when he is gone, he findeth the house empty and swept and garnished. Then he goeth his way and taketh unto him seven other spirits worse than himself, and so enter they in and dwell there. And the end of that man is worse than the beginning."

Barbara pulled out another scarlet ribbon. Here the lines to which attention had been called by a trace of lead in the margin were:—

"Therefore take heed to thyself and beware of thine own fantasies and imaginations."

Barbara closed the Book.

"What had poor old Harding in her mind," she murmured, "when she underlined this warning of St. Paul's?"

She tried another marker, and here the lines to which attention was drawn were from the First Epistle to the Corinthians:—

"We shall not all sleep: but we shall all be changed, and that in a moment, and in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trump. For the trump shall blow."

Does she endeavor to frighten me? Barbara asked herself. I shall try one more.

This was:—

"For that earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them that dress it, receiveth the blessing of God. But that ground that beareth thorns and briars is reproved, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned."

Barbara closed the book, and took it to the table by the empty bed in the closet. Thorn apples, she thought idly. It was still early but she put out the lamp, lit the watch light, and went to bed.

A gentle rain was falling, she could hear it pattering on the porch below her window. She thought of the words she had just read, and of the fine drops crinkling the pool, swelling the stream, hanging in moisture on the weeds growing in a medley over the deserted ruins. With this soft sound in her ears and these tranquil images in her mind, Barbara slept.


§ 62

She woke thinking that someone had cried out, but she sat up listening, and the silence was complete. I must have dreamed. But she had no recollection of her dream.

Wide awake and alert, she rose and went to the window. The rain had ceased. The moon was high in the heavens and continually blotted by fast-moving, dark, and ragged clouds that cast strong scudding shadows over the bare grass plot, the yellow leaves of the chestnut trees and the thinning woods beyond.

Barbara shivered, the night seemed chilly. She returned to the room and put on her gray dressing gown and her slippers. She was too shy to ring her bell but she wanted company, as she had wanted it when standing by the lonely pool. Surely someone was watching by Sir Timothy and would not object to her presence. She might again offer to relieve with the nursing. Timid and undecided, she went softly out into the corridor that was lit by a small bracket lamp, and tiptoed, from natural nervousness, in the direction of Sir Timothy's room. She half-hoped to meet Josephine, but there was no one about. Under the old man's door showed, however, a line of light. Cautiously Barbara opened this, fearful of disturbing the invalid. A screen had been placed round the door and she stood within this, brought to a pause by a sound of voices murmuring together, then she peered round the screen.

All the light in the room was from the candles on a table at the foot of the bed. This showed Sir Timothy propped up on pillows, wearing a nightcap, his head sunk on his chest. On one side of him was Mignonette, on the other Madame Falconet, both wearing greenish gowns and with veils over their fallen hair. At the end of the bed, by the table with the candles, stood M. Berteaucourt, with a sheaf of papers in his hand, Mr. Fernlie, and his assistant. The dark clothes of the men were blended into the shadows, their faces brightly lit by the reddish candlelight, that fluttered into the depth of the alcove where the bed-head was placed, to pick out the white-clad, deathlike figure of the sick man, and the delicate shapes of the two women bending over him. They appeared indistinct in their gowns and veils the color of pond water.

It was the two lawyers and the Frenchman who were talking all together in a careful mutter. Barbara heard M. Berteaucourt say, "I think that secures everything," and Mr. Fernlie reply, "Yes, it is safe enough," and she softly withdrew in a fright lest she should have been caught intruding on a private family scene.

She recalled that Madame Falconet and Mignonette had both chided her for prying and looking into other people's affairs, and she fled swiftly to her own room.

But she was pleased with what she had seen. It meant that Sir Timothy's money was to go, if not where it had always been meant to go—to Francis Shermandine—at least to his nearest relations, for surely what she had witnessed had been the signing of the will that would leave Mignonette with nothing but a meager provision from the mercenary marriage she now so deeply regretted.

Barbara thought also of her own fortunes. Everything would be different now and go easily and swiftly to a climax. Etienne Berteaucourt had himself said so.

Soothed and soon drowsy again from the warmth of the bed, Barbara slept. The sparkle of the bracelet was hidden under her pillow, the vervain faded in the glass of water.


§ 63

Madame Falconet appeared at the breakfast table and told Barbara that Sir Timothy had signed the will and was now much easier in his mind than he had been since his nephew's death.

"He feels that an atonement has been made," she smiled.

"Is he still very ill?" asked Barbara, thinking of the wan figure she had glimpsed last night, if indeed she had peered into the sickroom, and not dreamed the whole episode. But, no, what Madame Falconet had said had confirmed Barbara's recollection.

"I should like to see Sir Timothy," she said, impulsively. "It is so long since I waited on him—need I be kept out?"

"You are not being kept out," replied Madame Falconet with a sharp look. "Of course you may see him—come with me after breakfast. Mignonette is resting, she was up last night, and Etienne is with the lawyers."

"Did Sir Timothy sign the will in the middle of the night?" asked Barbara. "It seems so odd to keep everyone up for what had better be done in the day."

"It is a sick man's whim," said Madame Falconet sweetly, with an elegant shrug. "He wakes, he feels a little stronger—he sends for us all." She paused. "I did not say that we were all there, did I?"

"No," answered Barbara, flushing. "But there would have to be lawyers and witnesses."

"There were." Madame Falconet's smile deepened. "Do not bother your head about it! Now, when we are ready, you pay your respects to Sir Timothy."

Barbara found the large bedchamber exactly as she had seen it in the middle of the night.

Josephine was watching by the baronet, who, withdrawn between the bed curtains, appeared to be asleep.

Barbara thought he looked very ill, much as her own father had looked in his last illness, and she timidly regretted the warm impulse of kindness that had brought her here.

"Here is Miss Lawne to see you, Sir Timothy," said Madame Falconet as Josephine rose respectfully.

The old man opened his eyes.

"Oh, sir," cried Barbara warmly. "I do ache to see you thus, indeed I do! The weather is so beautiful, the sun so golden—could you not come out?"

Sir Timothy stared at her fixedly. She would not have known him for her host at Mirabile, hardly have known him for the man with whom she had passed those dreadful hours in the library.

He stretched out his hand to the bedside table, withdrew the curtains, and clutched a small, clasped book.

"For you," he whispered, and with a feeble thrust put it into her hands. "Read it."

"Ah, a little prayer-book!" smiled Madame Falconet. She took it from Barbara, opened it and fluttered the pages. "Sometimes some rubbish gets in the leaves, but this is quite clean." She returned the little volume to Barbara. "And now you must go, Mademoiselle, he is not so strong yet, as you can see."

"I shall stay with him, sit here and watch—please say that I may, Sir Timothy," pleaded Barbara. But the sick man closed his eyes and turned his head away on the pillow.

"You see?" whispered Madame Falconet. She guided Barbara from the room as Josephine silently resumed her place of watcher.

A prayer-book—after the Bible! Barbara glanced at Sir Timothy's gift. She had never supposed him to be a pious man. The book was common in print and binding, and looked as if it had once been in the possession of a servant. There were no markers. Barbara put it beside the Bible in the little closet. Her own Book of Common Prayer was far handsomer and endeared to her by long possession.

Later in the morning M. Berteaucourt approached her as she was idly in the music-room, hoping that he would come to find her. She wore a dress of gray linen that Madame Falconet had bought for her, a wide leghorn hat with a black velvet ribbon, and long soft pale yellow gloves. The diamonds on the gold chain were hidden inside her bodice.

"You have come for me?" she asked joyously, advancing to him.

"Yes," he answered with a pleasing boldness. "These two lawyers leave tomorrow, their work is done, but will you do as I asked you, before they go?"

"You know I will!"

"Very well. Madame Falconet can be one witness, and I another."

"I should like to tell Mignonette."

"Surely not. The thing is a gesture, a farce, as far as she is concerned. Never will she inherit what you leave her."

"But I should like her to know my regard."

"Oh, no!" His voice was caressing. "It will embarrass her—she is sad, is she not, the poor Mignonette? Leave her alone."

As he spoke, Mignonette herself entered the room and spoke rapidly in French to M. Berteaucourt, he cutting in as swiftly, as if he silenced her.

Barbara thought she understood what her half sister said in an expressionless voice—surely it was, "This is monstrous, too difficult, and you shall not do it, consider if three—"

Barbara had not caught the meaning of what he had replied, but he appeared tranquil and smiling. Mignonette had been silent at once, as soon as he had spoken, and had turned aside, her hand to her mouth.

"Mignonette is tired," said M. Berteaucourt. "This long illness! She should go away."

"Yes, I should like to go away," murmured Mignonette, without turning round. Her exquisite shape appeared childlike in the green muslin, and her head drooped as if in grief. Barbara was approaching her with a comforting gesture, when Madame Falconet entered.

"Ah, Madame!" smiled M. Berteaucourt. "Please take care of the poor Mignonette."

The Frenchwoman put her arm round her daughter's waist and led her out of the room.

"Did you understand what she said?" he added lightly.

Barbara repeated what she believed she had heard, adding, "But that sounds so foolish!"

"It is foolish." But he spoke with an air of charming compliment. "I must teach you French, yet why, when you are so perfect in English!"

"What did she say? She seemed distressed."

"It was about her husband. She is so devoted. She said it was monstrous he should suffer, and would be insupportable, too difficult, if he was awake three nights."

"Oh, I am so sorry!" Barbara's pity was instantly awakened. "I do think that she is overwrought and not so strong, and then, this tragedy—the death of Francis Shermandine."

"Precisely. But there is nothing you can do. You are not to think of it. She has her mother."

"And now that the will is signed, surely she can be easier?"

"Certainly she is easier. Come, you must not think of it any more." Madame Falconet returned.

"I have put Mignonette in charge of Josephine, she will make her go to bed with a sleeping powder. She wakes too much, do you not agree, Mademoiselle?"

"Yes," responded Barbara eagerly. "Do let me help. Surely there is something I can do."

"Why not sign this will, that Etienne asked of you? Then we have all this dull business done together and we are free for things more joyful, is it not?"

"Of course," agreed Barbara.

They went into the library where Mr. Fernlie and his assistant soon joined them. The lawyer read out a document, simple enough, whereby Barbara left everything she possessed, in the event of her dying unmarried, to Lady Boys. In the event of her marriage her properties were to be held in trust for her children until the eldest was of the age of twenty-one years, when it was to be divided between them. If there was only one child, he or she was to inherit the entire fortune. In all events the properties were, principal and interest, tied up so that neither Barbara nor her husband could touch them until the eldest child was of age. If there were no children, the money was to go to Lady Boys or her heirs.

There were many legal phrases and terms, of which Barbara understood nothing. The gist of the matter pleased her. Of all her fortune there would be left to her but five thousand pounds. She smiled, recalling the sum that she had sent to her half sister to enable her to marry this very man, and she looked up at him triumphantly with her narrowed, shortsighted eyes.

"Yes, my dear," he replied at once, smiling directly at her where she sat, flushed and excited, after signing her name. "We have now done with this."

"I am so glad!" cried Barbara. "So relieved!" She checked herself, seeing Mr. Fernlie's narrow glance on her. "I mean, so large a fortune is a heavy responsibility. I did not earn it, I do not want it. Well, I have written my name, it is over."

"It is over," agreed M. Berteaucourt.

Barbara rose and shook hands with the two lawyers. For want of something better to say she asked the senior of the two, Mr. Fernlie, if he were Sir Timothy's usual man of law.

"I do not know who put that into my head—was it Mrs. Dursley? And I forget the name of the solicitor—Mr. Basil—. No, I forget, but you would know—do you represent him?"

Mr. Fernlie bowed, a somber figure with a dull, sickly face. "Madam, I have the honor to be Sir Timothy Boys' solicitor."

"Yes," smiled Barbara, fearful lest she had given offense. "Of course, I understand—it was just some idle talk."

"And now we have done," put in M. Berteaucourt with a touch of vehemence unusual to his cool self-control. "Mr. Fernlie, this lady has enough of your dull papers." He pushed the will, on which Barbara's signature still glistened wet, toward the man of law. "We want to hear no more of this."

He seemed excited. His heavy-lidded eyes gleamed and he gave Barbara a sidelong look, taking her hand and drawing it to his heart. The lawyers bowed again, and, gathering up the papers, withdrew from the library.

Madame Falconet had been one of the witnesses to Barbara's signature, but since writing her name beneath that of Edward Lawne's daughter, she had withdrawn to the shadows at the farther end of the library, and it was with a start that Barbara saw her now come forward.

"Eh, well, that is done," remarked the Frenchwoman. "And that leaves but little to do—what do I say?" She glanced from one to another. "I give my blessing, perhaps to Edward Lawne's daughter?" There rushed over Barbara memories of the past. Stone Hall, and the bleak nursery with the gate at the top of the stairs; the chamber in which both of her parents had died, and the Chinese room that her grandmother had prepared for her own expected happiness that had never come, the room that had been long shut up, and that she, Barbara, had prepared for Mignonette. Her mother! She felt stricken, ashamed. But Madame Falconet was smiling at her straightly.

"Do not be afraid, little one, I know of what you think."

"She does," smiled M. Berteaucourt. "She is a clever woman."

"But why is she looking at me like that?" asked Barbara, "I recall so many things, I become confused. Stephen! I must call you that! Indeed I cannot venture on these French names! Have I not done all that you asked of me! Will you not call me your darling!"

"No, he cannot—for that means Mignonette," smiled Madame Falconet.

"Ah, yes," sighed Barbara. "I am stupid, I see he cannot say that, but he has not said he loves me, he has not kissed me. Stephen, I am a poor woman now, I have done everything you asked of me."

"Indeed, indeed, you have," interrupted Madame Falconet with a brilliant smile. "Take her in your arms, Etienne, reward her, the good sweet English girl, Edward Lawne's daughter."

"Why do you remind me of my father?" asked Barbara. "Is it not seemly that he should not be mentioned between us?"

"Ah, la, la," put in M. Berteaucourt. "Leave all this, and let us think of the future. Come, my pretty one—Barbara, eh, I must think of another name."

"You don't like it?" Never had she thought of this. She was dismayed and drew back.

Now they were either side of her as they had been when she had arrived at Judith Spinney the first day. Yes, the day of the thunderstorm, when the blue lightning had flashed through the transom window on M. Berteaucourt coming from the breakfast-room, and Mignonette looking down from the elegant staircase.

"There are other names," he smiled.

She wanted to be left alone with her lover, to hear his praises, his consolations, for she felt exalted and, at the same time, forlorn. But Madame Falconet took her by the elbow and led her from the library, nor did M. Berteaucourt try to stay her from going. The Frenchwoman saw her to her room; by then Barbara was weeping with emotion.

"A pity you have lost the good Harding," smiled Madame Falconet. "Lie down a while, is not that best? I shall draw the curtains. Then this day will pass, like other days." She checked herself suddenly. "Do you love him very much?"

"Yes, I do."

"How strange! How odd! I know not in the English how to say it!" Madame Falconet, indeed, broke into a voluble French that was quite incomprehensible to Barbara, who sank on to the bed, grateful for the dusk brought by Madame Falconet's drawing of the curtains across the windows.

"It is very queer, my little Barbara, Edward Lawne's daughter."

Barbara, face down on the pillows, and grateful for this approach to oblivion, murmured. "Mignonette does not like him—she has a bad opinion of him—but I—!"

Madame Falconet stood over her, drawing the coverlet over her shoulders, gently.

"Has he kissed you, said he loved you, asked you to be his wife?"

"No, no, and I do not care. It is like a dream, I wait and wait. He looks at me, he gave me a diamond bracelet. Oh, Madame Falconet, have pity on me! Have some mercy!"

"Hush, hush. What is it now?"

Barbara half-started from the bed and from the restraining hand of the elder woman.

"If you know of any reason why I should not love him—if you think that he does not love me—"

"Hush. Why should I think so?"

In the half-light her face appeared haggard. She sat by the bed, and held Barbara's hand.

"I have had most things—birth, love, death. I gathered them up and looked at them and let them go! We women, we are all fools—I in one way, you another."

"But this man, I love him."

"Do you know what love is?"

"Yes, oh, yes!"

"Then you understand all the pain there is, the doubt and the longing."

"You speak of your own case, Madame Falconet. It is so strange to know that you think of my father—I remember him as an old, gray man."

"And what is this man we nurse now, in this house, is he not old and gray? But he loved Mignonette!"

"And you were like Mignonette when you were young!" Barbara drew away her hand and sat up in bed. "I wish I knew if you were my friend or not."

"Why should I be anything but your friend?"

"I don't know." Barbara stared at the pale, delicate, proud face bending over her. "Please let me sleep, I am so tired."

"Sleep, then. I shall not disturb you."

Barbara sank back into the pillows as she had seen Sir Timothy fall back on his stately bed.

"A little folding of the hands to slumber, a little sleep—how does it go?" whispered Madame Falconet, smoothing back the heavy hair from Barbara's moist forehead.

"What made you think of that, Madame Falconet?"

"Eh, I do not know! It comes into my mind from being in England. I heard it, I read it, somewhere."

Barbara's senses failed her. She fell into some enchanted place where the water weeds bloomed monstrous about some deep stream that ran into a still pool with ruins nearby. She wandered in a lovely landscape beneath a half-lit sky, and by a high wall against which bloomed the funnel-shaped blossoms and spinous fruit of the thorn apple, while all the sky overhead was blown with great purple clouds.

She put out her hand, seeking, and found no one. Yet, grave, vague shapes were on the horizon, advancing on the hills; her father was one, Sir Timothy another, their shadows overclouded the upward path she was trying to travel, they were imploring yet menacing.

She woke with a start and Madame Falconet was still smiling down at her through the dimness of the curtained room.

"While you slept, Etienne came, he wants you to go out with him into the fresh air when you wake."

Barbara sat up, stretched.

"Oh, please let the light in! How good of you to watch by me! I don't know why I slept!"

Barbara felt refreshed, joyous. She sprang from the bed, wondering indeed why she had fallen asleep.

Madame Falconet drew the curtains and helped her to adjust her dress and arrange her hair. The vervain faded in the glass.


§ 64

Barbara and Etienne Berteaucourt walked across the meadows toward the ruined chapel. The dusk was closing in, but the early autumn day was very fair.

"The lawyers are going soon," he told her. "And I am glad—they were so gloomy! Now we can laugh!"

"But now while Sir Timothy is so ill?"

"He will soon recover."

"I saw him this morning. I thought he looked very ill."

"Poor Mignonette! But soon he will be well again. Now, we do not need to speak of him."

He offered her his arm, and she leaned on him, gratefully.

"I want you," he said soberly, "to come with me to look at some of the work this unlucky young man did in the chapel."

"I have seen it."

"But carefully? To admire? It seems to me that everyone forgets him too soon."

"I thought he had been too much remembered!"

"Yes, but not in the right way—as a sorrow, as a remorse, as a burden, yes, but who remembers his work, what it meant to him? Who ever opens his portfolios in which he took such pride?"

"Sir Timothy did, to search for some designs for the monument, for Francis."

"That is some time ago, lately, you must admit, there has been no talk of a monument."

"That is so, but Sir Timothy has been too ill," murmured Barbara.

"Yes, but the effect is the same. The young man is forgotten. He has a plain stone in the church, and these ruins in which he took such pride are overgrown with weeds."

"That is true, I saw them the other day." Barbara was shamefaced, wanting to forget Francis Shermandine. "But what can we do?"

"Why should not the chapel be his monument? Sir Timothy is very wealthy, it would not cost so much."

"You mean, the chapel to be restored to his memory?"

"Yes, why not?"

"Indeed, it is a beautiful idea."

"I knew you would think so," he responded warmly. "I want you to look at it with me, the first day we are free—of the money, of the doubt."

"There is no doubt?" she whispered, leaning on him as they followed the course of the sedge-bordered stream.

"None. I know exactly what I am doing. What I have undertaken, I have the courage to finish."

"But why need we go to the chapel? I agree with all you say."

"I want you to stand where he stood."

"Yes—and I with him, once. But why should I go there again? It is melancholy!"

"No! You are too happy—with me—to be affected. We can get some clear idea of what he meant. I have his plans in my pocket."

She was perfectly satisfied to obey him and to go with him anywhere. She saw the ruins rise up sharply before them from the flat meadows, into the evening sky, and she felt not the slightest apprehension.

"It would please Mignonette," she murmured. "We must respect the love of Mignonette."

"We must," he agreed gravely. "See how fine the outlines of the broken windows are against the pale green sky, he would have made a splendid building of this ruin—all his fantasy."

"It is growing dark, I think we should come in the morning."

"So we shall, and many times, but is it not beautiful to see it thus? As he saw it for the last time."

She drew back suddenly, for a pale shape had swooped across her path.

"The white owl!" laughed M. Berteaucourt.

"I have seen it twice before!" she exclaimed. "It always startles one! It comes so suddenly! Sir Timothy does not like it—or the lilies," she added. "He had the lilies rooted up before their time—something white in the dusk."

"Francis Shermandine wearing my light coat," he said, in a different tone from any she had heard him use before. "It was, for him, an unfortunate mistake."

They had reached the ruins. The sky was paling into the most luminous green behind the broken masonry, the shattered arches, the scaffolding poles.

"We will go up where he went—and with you too, also, I think." She drew back.

"The light is so uncertain."

"It is strong enough to show you what I want you to see—the designs he had up there, he would never point them out himself. Come, you are not afraid—with me?"

Barbara paused at the foot of the scaffolding and laughed pleasantly. "Of course, I am not the least afraid, but with my short sight—"

"You will still see."

"I do see—something else white, moving toward us."

"Another night owl?" he laughed now, and gripped her arm, so that she thought of nothing else but that he touched her, at last.

It was not a bird, but a pale object, a mere blur to Barbara, that seemed to skim toward them across the darkling meadows with an unnatural velocity.

"I see nothing," said M. Berteaucourt. "Let us go up the scaffolding before the light fails."

But Barbara hung back. She thought of the ghost that Mignonette had seen. This pallid shape might be a specter. No, it was running, it was hastening, it was before them, it was Mignonette herself.

"Why, dearest, what is the matter!" exclaimed Barbara affectionately, for the girl fell forward and seemed to faint in her arms.

"This is folly," said M. Berteaucourt, adding something vehement in French.

Panting in Barbara's embrace, Mignonette whispered, "He is worse, you must go for Dr. Bellamy," and broke into wild weeping.

"Did you come running here for that?" asked Barbara, deeply moved. "One of the servants could have gone to the village."

"Come back," implored Mignonette, clinging to her. "It is too late, too dark to be here."

"I was looking at the ruins, dear."

"It is not safe."

"Bah!" cried M. Berteaucourt. "Am I not with Mademoiselle?"

"I must tell her," said Barbara. "Mignonette, I am going to marry him—Stephen."

"Stephen?" asked Mignonette desperately.

"Etienne—M. Berteaucourt—please bless us, say you wish us well, perhaps love us. We are here to do honor to his memory."

Tears were on Barbara's cheeks as she pressed her half sister close.

"Let it end now, Mignonette, all the unhappiness, please, please. I love him."

"Ah!" The girl drew from Barbara's embrace, and stood a pale shape in the dusk that seemed to have increased suddenly over all three of them into a blotting darkness.

"We could not venture on the scaffolding now," said Barbara. "How quickly it is dark! Let us go home, and Etienne will fetch Dr. Bellamy."

"It is not so important," murmured Mignonette as they turned from the ruins across the water meadows. "One of the servants will have gone. I wanted to fetch you."

They walked home in silence. The light held faintly until they reached Judith Spinney.


§ 65

Barbara, alone, felt impelled to implore protection. She knelt by her bed and prayed for herself and Francis Shermandine in the conventional words taught her by her mother.

The dinner had been silent, a gloom was over everyone. Dr. Bellamy had not arrived and Sir Timothy was, Barbara was told by Madame Falconet, in an uneasy sleep watched over by the careful Josephine.

After waiting in vain to see either Mignonette or Etienne alone, Barbara had retreated to her room. She could no longer conceal from herself that her happiness was overclouded. She felt cut off from the outer, the natural world and sinking under the power of some drowsy spell. Her only respite, her only truth seemed to be in dreams. She wished for the company of Caroline Atwood, of the Rev. Erasmus Swan, of Harding. How should she spend the evening? Perhaps a sleepless night? Her bliss seemed now a poignant hallucination from which she had half-recovered.

She went to the window to gain some contact with reality, to see the autumnal chestnut trees, the cloistered woods beyond, the soft, still fleeces of the moon-whitened clouds.

There was lamplight below from the porch, the yellow glow flooded with the silent night, then there was sound, a carriage approached, drew up, with stamp of hoofs and jingle of harness. Nothing could have been more commonplace, it was Mr. Fernlie and his assistant leaving. Barbara watched the two dark figures enter the carriage, holding the portfolios that reminded her of those in which Francis Shermandine had kept the designs of his shattered dreams, watched the carriage draw away, round the grass plots, out at the gates, lost in the silvered shadow. Then it was silent again, both within and without the house. Dark clouds hastened from the left, overwhelming the moonshine vapors.

I am glad that I am going away, thought Barbara. Etienne and I. Her thought checked, the name was awkward. "Stephen," that was unfamiliar also. Even in her mind, even the image of the man, her love, seemed to waver and recede. Yes, we will go away—France, Paris. And what will happen to Mignonette? How strange she looked when she came to the ruins, like the ghost she said she saw, a lost girl, a lost child. I don't like those ruins, after all. I said that they were not haunted, but now I wonder.

Barbara shivered, loneliness had penetrated even her happiness. She seemed fumbling in a solitude, understanding nothing. She wanted to escape to dreams where she had dwelt so long, cowering from the reality she had never learned to face.

It seemed as if there might be more sense of company in Harding's room, the old nurse's presence would dissolve even a nightmare. Barbara took up her polished lamp and went into the closet, tears touched her eyes at the sight of the humble bed, the two books on the modest table where she set her light, a dull yellow flame in the clear glass globe that was sprinkled with opaque stars. Never having expressed her emotions, she was alarmed at the punishment inflicted on this suppression.

She picked up the Bible, but dared not open it at any of the old nurse's markers. She wanted no more warnings of death and judgment, only Harding herself, with her comfortable ways. What had menaces to do with her? She set down the heavy worn volume and took up the prayer-book, wondering why Sir Timothy had given her this shabby, valueless gift. She opened it. Yes, he had had it from one of the servants, "Eliza Summers her book" with the date, was written in a laborious script inside the cover. The master of Judith Spinney must be in possession of many rare and costly books, why had he borrowed this and then given it to Barbara? She, sitting in the little closet, next to the empty bedroom, feeling the house silent about her, like a deserted ship in the still ocean of the night, and beyond the landscape, silent also, empty under the sinking moon save for the monstrous white owl flying away across the fading forest, along the stream with pallid tufts of hair grass and purple-spiked wood reed, to the unwrinkled pool where gray willows trailed above the lodden lily, the melic grass, flying away. Barbara, thus sitting, crouching on the straw chair by the modest bed, in the yellow light of the lamp, stared at the inside cover of the prayer-book.

There was a faint tracing, as if made by a pin, by a sharp point indenting the paper, the scratch, perhaps, of a dry pen, stained here and there a faint dull red, appearing at first like marks in the cheap paper.

As Barbara gazed, these twists and dots resolved themselves into words, into a sentence, into a message. One that was addressed to her, Barbara Lawne, and signed by the man who had given it to her, Timothy Boys.

This message, discerned at first by peering, by an incredulous concentration of her short sight, finally appeared so startling as to seem written in letters of fire on the shadowy walls.

"Get away—any how—for your life."

These words Sir Timothy had written, or someone using his name. And he had given her the book with a beseeching look.

Fear, the shock of fear, braced Barbara's soul, as a plunge into cold water may brace the body. She crouched very still, wondering, understanding nothing, but afraid, staring out of her dreams at last. She had thought, What have I to do with menaces? Now there seemed a menace in every word, glance, gesture she remembered. Yet, the meaning behind this menace? She could not think of one.

Her money she had parted with, and to Mignonette. M. Berteaucourt, at least, was absolved from any evil.

But Madame Falconet?

Barbara bent there before an image of terror. The woman had reason to dislike her—but what could she do? How did she stand to gain by any evil? The word hung now, dark, in Barbara's alert, yet bewildered mind. She might plan?

These questions stung her mind like thorns, the spines of the thorn apple. She saw them lovely, strange, the funnel-shaped white flowers with the plaited corolla, and the white owl and the uprooted lilies, something pale, luminous in the dusk, a ghost, a man in a light coat?

Barbara stared at the message again, but she had no need to do so, it had struck to her soul.

Taking the lamp with her, she returned to her own chamber. It now seemed vast, surrounded by caverns of shadow. The mirror was the entry to unknown and terrible worlds. Overhead was a dome of darkness. The ground seemed sliding under her feet.

"For your life."

It was the first time that Barbara had realized that she loved life—loved, was that too strong? She wanted to live. She wanted to escape. She began to know herself and her infatuations, one the sentimental, one grotesque—the fruits of her stunted life. She was sorry that she had admitted that, conventionality gripped her again. Of course she had been wanting to escape for a long time. But she had not known it. Obscure forces had been working with her, urging her to flee, and she had not heeded them. She did not want to admit it now. Under her false bewitched happiness had always been darkness as under a bright wave, sparkling in the sun with a thousand colored bubbles, is a deep and gloomy shade.

Now she knew this and thought with terror of all the scenes about Judith Spinney, the ruins, the stream, the pool, the harvest fields, even the fruit garden seemed tainted.

She must have been possessed to have sent Harding, dear, kind Harding, who loved her, away. Only such as Harding could break the spell that held her in prison. Barbara began to whimper, like a child waking in the dark, alone.

"A silly woman." She had often heard her father say that of her mother and of herself. "A silly woman"—"silly women." Now she knew what he had meant. She understood nothing. She had lived by her dumb hidden heart and that had betrayed her. But her lover was true, she clung to that. Her lover? The words rang hollow. Was he her lover? Ah, yes, she did, she must, believe in him. What had he to gain from her, now that she had parted with all she possessed in favor of Mignonette?

Weary of questions that she could not answer, she thought of the sender, the writer of the message. And before her inner eye flashed the scene on which she had intruded. The three women, the three men, surrounding the bed in which the invalid lay, so drooping, his head on his chest, the light from the candles at the end of the bed falling on those figures, picking out their hands, their faces, out of the darkness, watchful faces, grasping hands.

Now her one purpose was a resolve that she must speak to Sir Timothy, force, at any cost, into his awful privacy and find an opportunity to speak to him. Surely they could not forbid her seeing him.

She had not taken off the rose muslin dress that was all that she had of gaiety, but she felt so cold that with icy hands she took one of her long mourning pelisses from the wardrobe and put it over her shoulders. Then, as if impelled by a strong wind, she went into the corridor and gazed along that dimly lit perspective with a sensation of giddiness.

But with the sick man, who had warned her, who had once been kind to her, who was of her own people, lay hope.

She hastened toward the apartments of the master of the house. Crossing her path, from a side passage, came Madame Falconet, suddenly, unexpectedly, barring her progress.

"Where are you going, Miss Lawne?"

Barbara could not speak. The Frenchwoman seemed stretched to a supernatural height. Her usually placid face was distorted with lines of age, the dark veil she wore over her head cast a gloomy shadow on her brow, her robe was greenish and blended with the flickering obscurity of the corridor that ran behind her into complete blackness.

"I want to see Sir Timothy." Barbara forced the request at last. "I have something to say to him."

"Too late."

Barbara had once heard Mignonette say those words, in this house. She stammered and could not make herself understood.

"Your anxiety," smiled Madame Falconet, "is admirable. My poor child, you look quite cold."

"Why—too late?"

"Because, just now, it may be half an hour, he is dead."

"I don't believe it, I don't believe it."

"No? It is sad, is it not? But expected, eh? Now, you must go to bed, like a good young lady."

"You speak as if you were mocking at me!"

"Why should I mock at any one, least of all at the daughter of Edward Lawne?"

Barbara drew back. The older woman did not move, she stood under the small wall lamp at the juncture of the corridors, and the dim light faintly illuminated her shadowed and haggard beauty, her restless eyes, her veiled brow.

"Please don't speak of my father."

"Whether I speak or not, you will not forget."

"Where is Mignonette?" asked Barbara wildly.

"Ah, the poor Mignonette! Josephine looks after her, isn't it? Figure you—" Madame Falconet checked herself. "I forget my good English that I teach so long. Already the nights are cold, go back to bed."

A slight contortion passed over her face, that settled into an expression of surprise and menace, as if someone doing evil had been struck by lightning and that frightful countenance impressed on a face that would remain so until decay dissolved it into dust.

Before that set visage, that unbending figure, Barbara fled, and, when in her own room, would have locked herself in, but, as for the first time she noticed, there was no key to her door. She went to the window and sat there, staring at the sky, waiting for the dawn that, when it came, had for her no radiance.


§ 66

As soon as there was any light Barbara hurriedly changed to her dark mourning traceling cloak over the rose muslin, and put in her pockets all the money she had with her, not very much, together with the diamond bracelet and, on some deep impulse, the withered sprig of vervain.

She determined, with a sick resolve, to see M. Berteaucourt, in whom she had every reason to believe, but if she were prevented by Madame Falconet, then she intended to escape to the village, and entreat the help of the Rev. Erasmus Swan, once so freely offered.

Her first project was soon abandoned. The house was so large, so silent, no servants came with her ringing of her bell. She decided, in a panic, to forgo all hopes of seeing M. Berteaucourt, and to hasten to the vicarage.

In the vestibule was Madame Falconet, advancing from the breakfast-room.

"So early abroad?" she smiled. "Without any food?"

"I have to go to the village," whispered Barbara, leaning against the door.

"You cannot go," replied the Frenchwoman. "I forbid it."

"Why? How can you

"Very well. There is smallpox there. No one must go."

Josephine appeared behind her mistress.

"It is true, Mademoiselle. Dr. Bellamy said so when he was here for poor Sir Timothy."

"Ah, Dr. Bellamy was here, last night?"

"Of course, did you not hear him?" smiled Madame Falconet. "Sir Timothy had a heart attack."

Barbara controlled herself. As she had sat at her window during most of the night hours she could not understand how it was that she had missed the coming and going of the medical man.

"Very well," she submitted, and turned into the breakfast-room. Her meal was served to her alone by Josephine, and she could not eat it. As soon as she could slip away she went out into the grounds. The great gates were locked, the lodges empty. She tried the postern door and found that barred. There was the long way to the village through the water meadows. She began to run, blindly, foolishly, in that direction. But she had only, panting, arrived as far as the rose-red brick wall of the fruit garden, where the stripped thorn apple tree grew on the heap of waste, when Josephine slid across her path, took her by the arm, and led her back to the house.

"The infection, Mademoiselle," she said pleasantly. "We must not have the infection, eh?"

Barbara hurried up to her room, and sank down by the bed. She had not even dared to ask the trim servant any news of M. Berteaucourt.

Like any trapped creature she recoiled on herself, waiting.

Mignonette entered, her finger on her lips, and closed the door, that was no protection, behind her small figure.

"Is he really dead?" sobbed Barbara.

"Yes, out of his pain, at last."

Mignonette was now a widow, the thought came strangely to Barbara. She stared at her half sister, who approached her softly.

"Listen, you fool," said Mignonette wearily. "I am trying to save you."

"Oh, from what!"

"Speak low, be careful—for you I have had some dreadful quarrels." Suddenly she bent down, gripped Barbara's shoulders and shook her, while she added, a great weight of anguish in her voice, "Do not ask me who we are, where we come from, how we live."

"Why, I know!"

"Nothing, nothing, do not ask! You are a fool. I am your half sister, that is so, for the rest, let it go. I am as I was bred," Mignonette exclaimed to herself in French, pressing on Barbara's shoulders, holding her down, as with a burden of woe too heavy to sustain alone. "Yet I am not of their company! Have you noticed nothing!" she lamented after a pause and her voice sank, as for the third time she said: "Nothing!"

"What should I have noticed?" Barbara quailed away.

"That you were never long alone, that one of us came upon you—always, that. Oh, did you never notice this! He did not kiss you, hardly touched you—always we were there to interrupt. You were stupid, you did not know yourself. You could never say what you felt, and so you did not know yourself, but did you not, even you, notice he never touched you?"

"Why? Why?"

"Because we love one another, since I was fifteen years! You signed away all you had to me and I shall marry him."

"You and Etienne?"

"Yes. You cannot even speak his name! I gave it to you at Stone Hall, because I liked to speak it. He is not that man I should have married, his name you never heard, but no one, poor, our accomplice. Did I not weep at your dreadful, dreadful home, thinking I had to marry—someone else—search for a husband." Mignonette's voice quavered to a whisper. "The old man never touched me, no one save Etienne touched me. We had to have money—they gamble."

"Is he—Sir Timothy—dead?"

"Yes—after he signed, leaving all to me."

"Not to the sisters of Francis Shermandine?"

"Eh, I said what a fool you are," sighed Mignonette sadly. "You made it so easy for him—the old man knew, as soon as he saw Etienne, and tried to murder him, but I beguiled Francis Shermandine into wearing that light coat and in the dusk—"

Mignonette relaxed her hold and leaned against the window.

"The old man was in our power," she added. "We made him sign, and now I have it all, and we shall go away but first I'll save you."

"How did he die?" whispered Barbara.

"His heart failed—don't ask—Etienne wanted your fortune, too." Again in an accusing tone she said: "I tried to warn you, but you tempted him, you made it so easy—he has no pity, no mercy, only his love for me!"

"And you, you love this man?"

"Did not you? But, no, you do not know what love is! Yes, we love—the end is not here, it is something beyond this life—" Abruptly she broke off, to add, "Do you want to live?"

"Yes, yes!"

"You doomed yourself, signing that will. He would have made it look so natural a fall from that scaffolding; you were supposed to be grieving for Francis Shermandine—now it will be the stramonium."

Barbara fell to her knees.

"I can't get out. I can't get out, they bar the way."

"He is so reckless, he thinks he could defy them; we should be away, to South America, but I'll save you, you doting wretch. You never had a chance, the way you were bred, nor did I—we are what they made us."

"Save me, save me."

Mignonette dragged the trembling creature to her unsteady feet.

"Come with me, be quiet. They don't suspect me—seem to talk with me."

"Who are you?" stammered Barbara.

"I warned you, don't ask. Have you some money?"

"A little. I'll go to the vicarage."

"Swear to say nothing of us."

"I'll be silent."

"Come with me, as if we were taking the air."

Mignonette had a pale Andalusian shawl over a disordered linen dress, her hair was unbound, the green veil tied under her chin. To Barbara she now appeared withered, tarnished, almost wizen. Behind her dazzled the specter of Etienne Berteaucourt like a stuffed puppet, pricked and bleeding sawdust. The man Barbara had loved had never existed. The hallucination of the wax works overcame her. They were all arranged on a stand, in a fair, for people to stare at, he was giving her a marquise ring; they grinned at each other for eternity, no, for a little while, until they dropped to rags.

"I am going out of my mind," she muttered.

Mignonette, dragging at her with clawing fingers, got her down the stairs, out of the house, across the grass plots. The sun was clouded by manes of vapor that lay still as silver pools in the deep blue sky.

"If you had not been so stupid, he had not been tempted too far. For the old man, that arranges itself—he is jealous, he strikes out, and pays to escape the rope, for we had evidence—we saw. But you! What do you know of jealousy, or love? First, seeing you so doting, he would have married you, but I forbade it, as he forbade the old man should touch me; then he thinks of this—ah, the fool they made of you, and of me."

Mignonette whispered this breathlessly, with sighs and frowns.

"I cannot go any farther," sobbed Barbara. "My heart bursts. I was too happy."

"You were kind to me—you gave me the precious, ugly Chinese room," said Mignonette.

They were beyond the chestnut trees, they stood with their faces from the house, clinging together, by the hedge where the pink woodbine, mingled with the waxlike fruit of the wild bryony, the deep sable of the blackberries, the blue bloom of the clustered sloes.

"Go to the village quietly," added Mignonette. "Say it is a quarrel. Don't give the alarm. Dr. Bellamy is satisfied, you know."

"I can hardly hear what you are saying. You must come with me, I cannot walk alone. Oh, it does not matter what you say. Is there smallpox in the village?"

"Why do you want to live?" asked Mignonette. "Walk on, carefully, I think we might be seen from the house. No, of course, there is no smallpox. Why will you live?"

"I don't know. Just to see Harding again and Caroline Atwood. Francis Shermandine died because of you."

"They should have left me alone. The old man forgot his dead wife, and Francis forgot you because of me. And what am I? Have they no sense? Do they not see the creature I am? Walk carefully, as if we talked pleasantly."

"I did not see what you are."

"You have no experience, no sense! I! If I died today I should not be twenty years old, but I know something."

"What? What do you know?"

"It would blast you to hear. I am what they made me. My mother I detest! But Etienne I love. Maybe, in another world—God have mercy upon sinners—it is explained. Why we love. Money, he must have it, a gambler—and I, I like the luxuries."

"What do you mean—love?"

They were crossing the fields. About their trembling feet was the yellow and purple of the little bright eye, they turned by the stream fringed by the last flowering plants of the year.

"What do I mean by love? Not what you do. Passion, have you heard of it? Poor English lady, I am sorry for you—please be sorry for me."

"I don't know why you are taking me away."

"Because I have this struggle in me. Perhaps if I had been bred like you, I had been a fine demoiselle, so delicate, so stupid, so tender, who does not know herself. We are both lost, lost, lost!"

"You speak as if you were the older, you seemed like a child to me."

"The devil comes that way—like a child. Now, I think they can no longer see us from that accursed house, well named after Judas." The water meadows lay before them, golden in the purple haze of the autumn day. Barbara turned to look at her companion.

"Tell me who you are, what you are."

"Never. It is a different language, to you I cannot say it."

Mignonette stood frowning, her arms crossed on her breast, the warm breeze ruffled her crumpled dress, the sedges, the melic grass, the comfrey came to her waist as she looked into the stream.

"You can't do it," whispered Barbara. "Francis had to die, Sir Timothy had to die for you to get this money, it will be like a curse."

"Etienne and I, we do not care."

"You are right, I must be a fool, I don't understand love like that. I think safely. Twice I've been deceived, but never could I love like that."

"It is the only way to love. You live in dreams, that is the only way you were allowed to live—ease and comfort for you, for me," she repeated, "I do not belong to this company I am in."

"Don't go back to them," implored Barbara. "Come with me, we could go away."

"Always this talk of going away."

"To escape."

"Do you think I could escape?" She held out her small pale hands. "They ought to be red."

"I can't feel you are guilty."

"Guilty! Who is my judge!" Mignonette laughed softly. "I am as I was trained. Guilty! How you use big words! Stupidity—is not that a crime?"

"Come with me, I'll look after you. I can't believe these horrors, no, they are not true."

"You know not what truth is, either," smiled Mignonette, and she began to weep wildly, as Barbara had seen her weep before. "Oh, I am lost! A lost child, girl, woman."

"That was the ghost you saw."

"Myself," sobbed Mignonette, pressing her veil to her eyes. "Does one ever see any ghost that is not oneself?"

"Stay with me."

Mignonette turned toward her, but drew back from the embrace that Barbara offered.

"I love Etienne," she whispered. "We have been tested, and always it is that. He is wicked, what you would call wicked—but you were always safe, respectable, wealthy. What were we—how do you say? Misbegotten. Ah, his estate, his fortune. He does not know who he is." She touched the paste brooch of true lover's-knots on her breast. "Nor do I. Perhaps my mother blackmailed Edward Lawne for a little pleasure that he took from his life so bleak."

"Don't say it, please. Really I cannot understand, there was the money left to you."

"Yes, he thought so, I think so. There is a likeness, is there not? But what do I know with a woman like that?"

"Your mother!"

"My mother. What was yours? Lying on a sofa, shielded—lies, and lies, and lies, round her, like silken garments, like a shroud, yes, even when she is dead, such a woman is wrapped in lies. Do you read epitaphs?"

"Mignonette—"

"Do not call me that. Aimée is my name, and how foolish too, in that way I was never loved."

"Mignonette, I do not care what happened, I would have been the same as you. He enchanted me also, I did not see that he was wicked."

"How infantile the word sounds, like a fairy tale! You would not like him if you knew what I know."

"Yes, a fairy tale. I recall that Harding told me of things like this."

"Harding, the old nurse," interrupted Mignonette. "I liked her. Tell me of this nursery, and these fairy stories. Always I was shut out, but I think of it. I look through a window and see it. A nursery, and old nurse. Tea on the table, toys and the firelight, and the little beds turned down, and all so safe, so secure. And the old nurse tells tales, always of the dark forest, and the—coming home. Never did I have a home, nor did Etienne. Lost! Lost!"

She put her arm up across her face and seemed no more than one of the tall sedges amongst which she stood, in her greenish gown, with her dusky veil, and the straight lines of her childlike figure.

"You belong with me," said Barbara with sudden firmness. "Not with him, nor to her. I'll take you away."

"After a week I should hate you, and go to him."

"But would you not also hate him, and return to me?"

"I never even liked you. I advised you to go away. I took the maid's prayer-book and helped the old man to write in it—I thought, If it comes from him she may be warned."

"He struggled against you, how pitiful."

"Yes, he was obstinate, he did not want to leave me the money, knowing Etienne would get it. What of it? He had had his life, he should have left me alone."

Mignonette spoke as if the matter was indifferent to her. The veil and her hair, blended, lifted in a light breeze.

"He had," she added, "killed his own nephew."

"But you tricked him."

"Yes, yes, but what is that?"

She turned and looked toward the faded forest, the decaying chestnut trees. The sunlight flashed in the paste brooch at her throat. Barbara pulled the sparkling bracelet from her pocket, twined with it was the withered sprig of vervain.

"Mignonette, he gave me these."

The girl turned again.

"They are paste—clever? What is the flower? A love token, too?"

"It was to keep me from enchantment."

Mignonette took the bracelet. "Charming, is it not? Like water!"

She dropped it in the stream, then put the vervain in Barbara's pocket, and once again was about to turn.

Now Barbara seized her.

"But you saved me."

"Did I? I advised you to go away."

Now Barbara held Mignonette by the shoulders as Mignonette had once seized her, and spoke to her strongly.

"You can't go back. I seem to be in a dream. I dream too much. I dreamed I had to come to Judith Spinney because of Francis Shermandine, but I came too late. 'Too late'—where did I hear these two words?"

"Everywhere! Always!"

"Help me, Mignonette, Aimée, my sister."

"I have helped you. Now you are in the water meadows, free of the house. Don't trust Mr. Fernlie, he is an accomplice of ours, nothing to do with the old man's lawyer."

"I don't care about that, help me to save you."

"I was lost before I was born."

"No, if you don't go back—"

"I must, he draws me, commands me. I decide my own conflict, eh?"

Mignonette suddenly drew herself erect.

"Please go, and quickly," she added sternly.

Barbara saw a smiling gleam in those wet yellow eyes from which she recoiled. Lifting her skirts, she turned and ran, as well as she could, across the meadows, toward the village. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw Mignonette appearing of no more importance than a bulrush, a hag's taper, among the water weeds by the stream.


§ 67

Barbara was very careful. With the very failing of her senses she impressed on herself care. Lack of discretion would open the gates of hell.

The Rev. Erasmus Swan was in his library when she came in.

"Please send to Stone Hall for my old nurse," she said. "It is nothing. But Sir Timothy is dead, and it is sad up there with those foreigners."

He pressed the bell. She saw a great kindness, a great relief in his tranquil face, as he looked up from his old, old book, the only book in the world.

His housekeeper came, and seemed to understand him without any ado.

There has been talk in the village, of course Lucy Dursley said so, thought Barbara wildly. Aloud, in a forced voice she cried, "There is nothing the matter, nothing, I say, nothing! Oh, where did I hear that word before? Nothing! And there are other words—too late!"

"The poor lady," said the housekeeper sweetly. "Come and lie down, my darling, come and rest, my lamb."


§ 68

Barbara woke in a darkened room, fever swayed in her body, but she struggled for control, gripping the warm hand of Mrs. Tyler, the housekeeper.

"Can we pray for someone?" she asked, not knowing who was there.

"Surely, surely," the vicar answered. He was close, watching.

"Pray for Mignonette, for Aimée Falconet, that she may decide aright, that she may come to me. Pray for her soul! What am I saying?" Netted by commonplace, she was alarmed to find she had expressed herself.

"I have heard nothing of what you say," replied the vicar. "You are ill, you have had a shock, and not for the first time. But we will pray for those tonight in peril of their bodies, or their souls."

The darkness closed over her in circles, warm, comforting. She thought that Dr. Bellamy was there and that she asked him, What is stramonium? and that he answered, you would know it as thorn apple.

Barbara woke and the sunlight was heavy about her, lying like bars of gold in the strange bedroom. She thought of the coral berries of the mountain, with the goldilock manes at the foot.

"Harding is here," Mrs. Tyler told her. "And the French people have gone from Judith Spinney."

"Harding." Barbara's wan lips trembled to a smile, but she asked to see the vicar, and by the time he came she had left her bed and was dressed in the rose-colored muslin and the mourning cloak found in the wardrobe. In the pocket was a dry crackle that had been the vervain flower.

"You must tell me the truth—how long have I been here?"

"You had some brain fever. Harding is here. Caroline Atwood has returned."

"Yes, I am safe."

"You should not have dressed. I must send Harding to you."

"Not yet. I want to know. I must know."

"Sir Timothy is buried. The French people left."

"All of them?"

"Lady Boys—"

"Who was she?"

"Sir Timothy's wife, Amy Boys."

"Yes, I remember—well."

"You have, I think, a right to know—the night you came here, she was drowned in the Fairlass pool."

"By herself? She drowned herself?"

"I think so. It was decided so."

"Mignonette!"


THE END

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