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handy except a cleft log - used by the boys as a block for chopping
sticks. On this uncomfortable seat Mr. Warde poised himself.

[Illustration: The man, looking at her, thought he might take hope.]

"But that wouldn't be fair, would it?" asked Marjorie.

"Oh! we judged the poems yesterday. I didn't propose to alter
anything. Mrs. Adeane's is the best, and Lady Esther's next.
But - your usual imagination was wanting this time," he said gently.

"I thought it was bad - it seemed so prosaic," Marjorie said humbly.
"You see, father's advice always is, not to let imagination go
further than it knows."

"Have you never imagined, never thought about love?" he asked softly.

"Often, lately," frankly. "I thought it was a very silly subject to
choose."

"Not silly, Marjorie. The loveliest poetry has been written about
it, as it is the loveliest subject. Why 'lately'?" he asked.

"To get ideas. They don't come, if you don't think - not to me, at
least."

"That way of putting it is new," he said, considering. "Well,
Marjorie, I want you to think of it, to imagine all you can of what
it means - the new brightness, the new beauty it gives to life;
how it transforms all things, even the commonest, so that - - " He
paused. Marjorie was looking at him in wonder.

Was it something in his glance that brought irresistibly back to her
remembrance that look in Mr. Pelham's dark eyes, of which more than
once that afternoon she had been thinking? She coloured brightly,
and her beautiful eyes grew soft.

"Ah! I see you know what I mean," Mr. Warde said gently.

"Oh! I don't," said Marjorie confusedly. But the man, looking at
her, thought he might take hope. He went on:

"It is expressed in all beautiful music, as well as in the best
literature and art. It appeals to everyone, because it is natural to
all, and answers to something in the heart of every one of us. So
you see, Marjorie, knowing you and your gift of imagination, I am
disappointed at this bald little verse."

"Father says it is dangerous imagining on nothing," Marjorie
replied, plucking up her spirit. "First get facts, absolutely
accurate. Then build on them."

"Well, Marjorie, don't you realise that the facts are all about
you, that I - - Whatever's the matter?"

A yell broke across the summer air, and Marjorie, springing up, bent
over the edge of the crater-like hole. At the bottom lay Orme, his
basket beside him, its contents upon him. In a second Marjorie had
descended underground, and Mr. Warde was left gazing into space.

When she emerged, Orme was in her arms, muddy tears bedewing his
cherubic cheeks. "Fall'd," he announced, in a self-pitying tone, to
the visitor.

Marjorie reseated herself, her little brother's head upon her
breast. As she comforted him, the man observing her grew more in
love than ever. Marjorie, soft and gentle, unconsciously rehearsing
Madonna attitudes, gave him a thrill of delight. Presently the boy,
his conscience uneasy over neglected work, slipped from her knee,
and, with muttered remarks on "er, nasty ground," descended again
into its bosom.

He had learnt the imprudence of engaging in another man's labour.
Resenting the meaner part of filling the baskets for the more stolid
and surefooted Ross to ascend and empty, he had been promptly
punished for his ambition. His little soul was now sore with the
injustice of things.

"Er, nasty steps slipped poor Orme," he said to Ross, watching his
careful ascent.

"You not big anuff," Ross answered importantly. "Go and fill er
basket. Do what David bidded you."

Meanwhile Mr. Warde had glanced at his watch. Soon, all too soon,
this semi-solitude in which he had been fortunate enough to find
Marjorie would be invaded by the schoolboys. He was no nearer the
end for which he had come, and he could not again drag in Marjorie's
little verse for criticism. She glanced at him, as she drew the
alluring book towards her, and said, not too politely:

"If you are going to stay, I'll just fetch my work," rising as she
spoke.

"No, Marjorie, don't go. There's something I specially wished to
say, to talk to you about," he said, becoming a little confused
under her unconscious gaze. Could he, after all, disturb this
serenity by the suggestion of love and marriage? He felt somehow
that the time was not ripe - that they would seem incongruous to her
in connection with himself. And yet, if he did not speak, and be
quick about it, another man might step in.

"I have had a letter to-day," he said, "offering me a college
living."

"Have you?" said Marjorie in a not altogether flattering manner, and
looking at him rather as though she were much surprised. She stood
poised, ready to fetch the threatened work; her attitude altogether
an unflattering one to a lover who has just made an important
communication.

"You won't go, shall you?" she went on, her glance going past him
to the wall which divided the gardens. Over the top big clusters
of the roses in which Mr. Warde delighted nodded gaily, whilst
further on the square face of his house was gay with bloom, amid
which the two lines of windows stared a little baldly. The blind in
each was arranged symmetrically, and in spite of its prim tidiness,
even its outside showed that no loved woman ruled within. From her
neighbour's house Marjorie's eyes jumped to her own home.

Here there was no symmetry, but its character as a home stood out
plain. The nursery windows, distinguished by their guarding bars,
were wide open, and the blinds drawn to the top, whilst in the three
open windows of her mother's room adjoining the curtains flopped
lazily, and the blinds had been adjusted to the sun. Somehow the
sight and the difference brought a feeling into Marjorie's heart
which had not yet stirred it in connection with Mr. Warde. Hitherto
he had not seemed to her to need pity. But now, when he went
back into his house - away from her and the homely garden, where
vegetables, and currant bushes, and the untidy quarter of the boys,
were of more account than flowers, where little feet pattered, and
boys' voices were never silent - what would he go back to? The blank
windows lit up empty rooms, where no foot but his own stirred. He
would find no companionship but that of his music and his books.
Marjorie never guessed of the visions that peopled his fireside.

"Shall you go?" she asked, looking at him - then speaking out
suddenly the pity her thoughts had called up: "Won't it be very
lonely?"

"Very. Sit down please, Marjorie, and listen to me."

Then, as she complied: "When first I came here, ten years ago, your
father and mother were very kind to me, and I grew so attached to
them and theirs, that I wanted nothing more. I felt no need of the
ties other men have or make, because I had - you." Then his tone
grew tender. "Do you remember how you used to come round and climb
into my study window for your lessons, when the boys began to go to
school? You were a bit forsaken then, Marjorie. And then, when you
were good - as you weren't always - how a little pony accompanied me
on my rides, and then when the pony and the child who rode it had
each grown bigger, one day they both disappeared. The child went
to school, to come back, nearly grown up, with music oozing out of
her fingers' ends. Well, Marjorie" (he had risen, and his face was
paling, his self-control vanishing, as he stood looking down on
her), "I have waited a long time for that little girl - who has yet
seemed always mine - I want her for my wife. Will you go with me,
dear, if I go?"

Marjorie gazed blankly into his face. "I? Of course, it is
me," she said slowly. "I don't know - I didn't think - how can I
leave - everybody?" her voice faltered.

She rose suddenly, putting aside the hand that would have stayed
her. There is nothing so cruel as a young thing who has no notion of
her power and of the devotion she has stirred.

"I didn't think," she said, cuttingly, "that you wanted payment. I
thought - I thought - - " And then, not trusting her voice further,
she sprang away from his detaining hand, and fled.




CHAPTER V.

MARJORIE'S TROUBLE.


"Dear Marjorie, - You gave me no answer yesterday, and I am afraid I
took you by surprise, and perhaps shocked you. A girl is a tender
thing, I know. Will you send me just a little line of hope and
forgiveness? I love you - how dearly you cannot guess - and I want you
to be my wife. But I will press nothing against your will, and I
have written 'No' to the offer of that living. I think you will like
to stay near home. Whatever you decide, whether you say 'Yes' or
'No,' believe always that my love is too great to change, and that I
am ever your attached friend, - W. ST. J. WARDE."

* * * * *

Marjorie was reading this letter with an expression which certainly
did not augur well for its writer. She had been seeing to household
matters for her mother, and had sat down with an armful of boys'
clothes to mend, when the note had been handed to her.

"I do not know what to say to him, mother. I wish - oh, I do so wish
he hadn't done it."

"He is a good man, Margie," her mother said simply. "A man, I think,
to make you happy."

[Illustration: "He is a good man, Margie."]

"Happy, mother? I am happy now. What should I do next door? I should
always be running in to see you. And how could you get on without
me?"

"We shall manage. And next door with Mr. Warde would be so much
nicer than a long way off with someone else. It would scarcely be
losing you."

"Do you want me to go, mother?" asked Marjorie, struck by her
mother's tone.

"Not in one sense, dear; but you will go. It is natural for girls to
marry. You will marry, I hope; it is the happiest life, with a good
man you can look up to."

[Illustration: "You have been very good to my boys," Mrs. Bethune
said.]

"But do I look up to him? I think we - Charity and I - often laugh at
him."

"But you can laugh, and yet look up, or life would be very dull. Who
do you go to when you want to know anything that father can't teach
you?"

"To Mr. Warde," acknowledged Marjorie.

"And when you want to go anywhere?"

"Yes; but only because he has a carriage - and we haven't."

"And when you want to see the picture galleries?"

"He can go; he always has time. But all that doesn't mean that I
want to marry him," she added.

"But it is just that. You already look to him for most of your
pleasures. That is a long way towards loving him. You would find him
a very kind husband and friend."

"Oh! mother, what must I do?" entreated Marjorie, the tears
coming into her eyes. "He has spoilt everything. It is Charity's
garden-party this afternoon, and I shall be so uncomfortable.
Couldn't you go, mother, in your chair?"

Mrs. Bethune's face changed.

"I could, dear. Yes, I will go; perhaps it will be difficult for
you." She sighed softly; she was hardly as yet reconciled to her
helplessness in public, in spite of the cheery spirit which enabled
her to bear suffering with such courage.

Mrs. Bethune's spirit made her the idol and confidante of her boys.
Her fun was unquenched, even when the fire of life would seem to
have gone out for ever; after the terrible fall, when, to save the
infant in her arms, she had laid herself upon her back for life. The
baby - Orme - was found unhurt, folded round, so it seemed, by the
broken body of his mother. Ross, the most thoughtful, she averred,
of her six sons, once said to her:

"Mummie, you do laugh mor'n anybody. Is it 'cos you can't walk?"

"Yes, little son, perhaps it is; to make up, you know."

And Sandy, butting his bright head into her knees one day,
inconsolable about something, was won to laughter by, "Sandy, laugh!
Look at me!" - and he had looked. And the irresistible witchery
of the beautiful dark eyes had cured his woe. She was always the
sunshiny centre of the house, and only her husband, or Marjorie in
rare moments, guessed how sometimes the bright spirit quailed.

* * * * *

The Dean was popular in the county. When Mr. Pelham came into the
Deanery garden somewhat late, he found Mrs. Bethune's chair under
the chestnut trees, a centre of laughter and conversation. Marjorie
was standing by her mother, with a wistful look on her face, he
thought at first sight, wondering at its expression. Love, when
presented first to a girl brought up as Marjorie had been, comes
as a great shock. That it should be Mr. Warde of all men who
should cause her this disquiet filled Marjorie with a sense of the
unsatisfactoriness of the world. It disturbed things that had seemed
to her as settled as the hills round Norham that this old friend
should want to be her lover.

Before going to the Deanery she had sent a little note in answer to
his letter, in which she had said -

"There is nothing to forgive. But you must not think of me like this
any more. You have always been so kind to all of us that it grieves
me to say 'No' to anything you want. Still, it must be 'No.'"

She hoped he would not be present at the Deanery. It was his turn of
duty at the cathedral. She would bring her mother away early, before
he arrived. The afternoon was quite spoilt for her.

And then Mr. Pelham had come up, and she had introduced him to her
mother with a tremulousness and agitation quite unlike her usual
serenity.

"You have been very good to my boys," Mrs. Bethune said gratefully.

"Your boys have been very good to my little girl," he answered,
admiring the delicate beauty of the face, scarcely looking older
than the unquiet one of the tall daughter beside her.

"They're very enterprising," their mother said. "I hope she will not
come to any harm with them. They're apt to give us surprises."

"I wonder if you will give me some advice about her," he went on,
drawn by some magic in the dark eyes to appeal to their owner for
sympathy, "if I may consult you. It is about clothes," he said,
smiling. "My nurse is kind and careful, but surely a baby in the
country does not really need expensive dresses from a Regent Street
outfitter. I should be so grateful if you would tell me where you
get those pretty things your little boys always look so nice in."

"Even when they are grubby?" laughed the mother. "I do not know
where they could be bought. My nurse, and Marjorie, and I make them."

"Then, if you do, surely my nurse ought to have time. I do not like
my baby's over-dressed look; at least, white satin seems to be out
of keeping with mud-pies and digging. She is great on digging just
now."

"Quite so," said Mrs. Bethune. "If you will send your nurse down to
see me, I will have a talk with her."

The Duchess of Norham, a very great person indeed now came up to
greet Mrs. Bethune. She was not one who troubled about dress.
To-day, in her grey silk, and round hat, she was the most plainly
dressed woman on the Deanery lawn. Charity, by her side, was an
effective contrast, in soft, shimmering pink.

"Glad to see you out again, my dear," she said to Mrs. Bethune. "And
this is your girl come back to you - grown past all knowledge. I hear
wonders about her music," kindly. "Charity, may I take her away for
a few minutes, presently? I want to hear this music Mr. Warde extols
so. Where is he?" looking round.

Marjorie's cheeks, in spite of her usual self-control, turned
scarlet. But the Duchess's gaze was arrested by the look on Mr.
Pelham's face. He, still standing with a hand on Mrs. Bethune's
chair, was looking at Marjorie with a surprised appeal in his
expression, as if he, too, was wondering at her sudden flush.

"Oh!" thought the Duchess, "I imagined it was Charity. Was I
mistaken then? Not about the girl, if those rosy cheeks are to be
trusted."

"Why isn't Mr. Warde here?" she asked of Marjorie, who, in obedience
to her gesture, turned with her towards the house.

"He is at the cathedral. It is his week."

And the Duchess thought she guessed rightly the reason of the
agitation she detected in Marjorie's voice.

"The Blackton man will be unsuccessful," she settled. "But Charity
is pretty enough to console him, and it will be a good marriage for
them both."

This great lady was never more happy than when arranging marriages
amongst her friends.

Marjorie did not dream how her sudden flush had betrayed her, and
forgot lovers and the difficulties they caused when she sat down
to the piano. But perhaps it was the perplexity in her mind that
conveyed itself to the listener, through the plaintive melody ending
in a staccato phrase which fell from her fingers.

The Duchess sat at a little distance, viewing with approval the
delicate face, framed in its bright hair.

[Illustration: "Hush! Barbe, don't call!" entreated Sandy. - _p.
168_.]

"Good, pure, true, and strong," she settled; "and," as a sudden
conviction struck her, "she is beautiful, like her mother was ten
years ago. Dressed" - her thoughts following along the same way as
Charity's - "well, she would be a success. She is wasted on Mr.
Warde. Shall I interfere?"

She was so deep in thought, working out a sudden plan, that she did
not notice when Marjorie ceased playing.

Marjorie, glancing at her, asked softly -

"Was that too sad? Shall I try something else?"

But in a moment the Duchess rose briskly, and put her hand kindly on
Marjorie's shoulder.

"No, my dear. I shouldn't like that spoiled by anything else. Mr.
Warde is right. You have a gift. But a girl like you should not be
sad or - or perplexed. Forgive an old woman. Is something troubling
you?"

Marjorie looked up into the keen eyes above her.

"Not troubling," she hesitated, "only things are sometimes
perplexing."

As she spoke her eyes travelled to the window, through which came
the sound of low-voiced chatter and delicate laughter. The older
woman, looking at the girl, saw a sudden arrested look come into her
eyes and, following their direction, was again puzzled. Charity,
standing by Mrs. Bethune's chair, was smiling up into Mr. Pelham's
face. She had the manner of one who is pleased, and who wishes
to please, and her pretty daintiness of pose and dress was very
attractive. Mr. Pelham's whole attention, as he conversed, was given
to her. In his courteous attitude were expressed, in the eyes of the
two lookers-on, both deference and admiration.

"That girl has grown very pretty," the Duchess said, "and Mr. Pelham
seems to think so. He is quite an acquisition here, though I am
amused to hear you sniffed at him at first."

"Yes," agreed Marjorie, a little pang at her heart.

The keen eyes travelled back again to Marjorie's face.

"But your mother was prettier than any of you. The sweetest,
merriest creature ever seen, with you babies at her feet. I am glad
to see her so much better, able to do even this little, poor soul,
poor soul!"

The sudden tears welled up into Marjorie's eyes at the appreciation
and tenderness of the tone.

"And, my dear - forgive an old woman again - but I think I have
guessed Mr. Warde's hopes for a long time, and he is a good man.
There, there" - as Marjorie's face grew agitated - "nothing could have
happened better. Your mother will have you at hand, and though she
is so unselfish and brave, she has missed you sadly; and there is
plenty of money."

Marjorie listened in silence, with a feeling as though chains were
being bound round her. As she walked back by the Duchess's side to
her mother's chair she strove in vain to recall her courage. In the
eyes of the man who watched her, as she came towards him, the shadow
on her face had deepened with that little excursion into the house.




CHAPTER VI.

A MIDNIGHT VISIT.


The boys had seized the opportunity of the attention of their elders
being engaged elsewhere to get into mischief. Although they had
made so much fuss about their right of way to school, it was not
the only way they used. They had, in fact, several ways. One was
by train to Baskerton, a village on the river five miles away, and
thence, by lanes and the parks, home. This, however, required time
and the absence of authorities. Another way was through Easton and
the parks, up the course of the little stream, which at one point
nearly touched the Court gardens. In this stream, its shallow waters
splashing up against their ankles, the boys were walking, and the
baby was prancing between them.

"Should we take Barbe with us?" David had asked, pausing on the
Green.

"If we can get her," Sandy had replied.

The boys reconnoitred, and the piercing whistle, which set the baby
all a-quiver with expectation, sounded through the garden.

"There then, go!" said nurse somewhat crossly, as Barbe began to
stamp; and she went. Her education was proceeding apace. Her father
sometimes listened aghast at the things which, in her baby prattle,
she reported herself to have done.

"See, Barbe, there's a rat!" Sandy said eagerly, as a flop and a
splash made them jump. "See, it's swimmin' away."

"'Wimmin' away," said the baby, stooping to look, her two hands
on her two knees, and the front of her frock sailing on the water
before her.

"Oh, Barbe, you're all wet!" David said, as they landed, and
strolled up the field.

"Wet!" she echoed delightedly. "Foots - f'ock!"

"You'll have to be dried."

"I know," said Sandy cheerfully; "we'll dry you by the Bishop's
fire - almost sure to be a fire."

But the study window, to which they crept warily by sheltered ways,
was shut. The Bishop was absent.

"Now what's to be done?" said David.

"I know where there's a fire," Sandy said. "Was this morning, 'cos
of that lead. Let's take her to the little room."

Again they slipped by leafy ways out of the Palace garden into the
cathedral yard. The baby's wet skirts flopped round her, and David
lifted her into his arms.

The approach of Mrs. Lytchett, returning from the Deanery in
unwonted bravery of attire, prompted them to seek refuge behind a
tomb. Here it took the boys' whole attention to prevent Barbe's
chatter drawing unwished-for notice upon them.

"Hush! Barbe, don't call!" entreated Sandy.

"Barbedie good girl," announced the baby in a loud voice, lifting
herself on tip-toe to see the passer-by.

Mrs. Lytchett's ears were good, and, besides, she felt certain at
this point that her eyes had seen something fluttering. She stepped
off the pathway, and examined a tomb near.

"Hush! - sh - sh!" cautioned David, holding up his finger to his
mouth - a movement which so pleased Barbe that she proceeded to copy
it.

Mrs. Lytchett passed on; the danger was over. David lifted up the
baby and carried her into a little octagon room near by, built in
the wall of the cathedral, and used frequently as a workroom or
office.

Here the boys were at home. It was the head-quarters of their
greatest friends - the masons engaged on the renovations always in
progress at the cathedral.

In the grate were the slowly dying embers of a fire, and the room
was empty.

"Mr. Galton ain't locked up yet, knowed he wouldn't," said Sandy.
"He likes his tea punctual - 'spects it's time. Now, Barbe, come an'
get done."

Whilst David was holding the baby to the fire, Sandy disappeared,
presently returning with an excited face.

"They've nearly done," he said. "It's prime up there. Seems to me,
we'd best settle as soon as possible."

"This baby won't get dry," said David, gloomily. "Just look at her!"

"I know," said Sandy, regarding the bedraggled Barbe. "We'll take
it off an' leave it here. An' I'll fetch her somefink. Sure to be
somefink stored in Margie's basket - know Orme made holes in himself
last week."

So it happened that it was a little blue girl - clad in one of Orme's
shabbiest overalls - who met Mrs. Bethune's returning chair, and was
lifted to her knee for a "yide."

"But what has happened? where are her own clothes?" Mrs. Bethune
asked, recognising the substitute.

"We thought they were just a little damp," said Sandy in
explanation, climbing up the back of the chair to kiss his mother.

"Good boy, Sandy!" said his mother, "to take care of her."

"But how did they get damp?" asked Marjorie suspiciously.

"Just a little water p'raps got on them," he replied, feeling the
tone unkind after his mother's praise.

"Then you have been in mischief?" asked Marjorie.

"Barbedie walked in er water," the baby replied, as if she had been
doing a good work.

"You shouldn't have let her," Mrs. Bethune said caressingly.

"Barbe don't want lettin'," answered Sandy philosophically. "She
does wivout."

* * * * *

The sweets of mischief whetted the boys' appetites for more. They
applied themselves with zeal to a work they had in hand, and for the


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