most iniquitous thing, for was not Angus, Lord Pelter,
in a few years to come into a property worth four
thousand pounds a year?
They talked of Alison's Blue, of his delicious way of
saying wevver for weather, rawer for rather, etc., and, in
this Cuckoo as well as Rachel absolutely believed, of the
sublime certainty that true Love can never die.
The moors, wind-swept and vast, beheld the two in
their walks, their young heads nodding heavily with
wisdom; the early-year sunshine on their dreams lent
them something unforgettable.
Once they walked over to Clavers to see Mary Watlass,
who had known Rachel as a baby and who made an ad-
mirable listener to the great story. While Rachel sat
by the fire, conscientiously neglecting not the smallest
detail as she poured out what she honestly considered
her troubles, Cuckoo stole quietly out and wandered
up the road along which she and George had made their
way home on Christmas Day.
How sad she had been, how heavy literally, materially
heavy her heart had been.
Just by that old hayrick, with its sail-cloth cover,
George had looked at her with such troubled eyes!
Dear George. Her queer, one-sided little mouth curved
into softness as she took his last letter from her pocket
and read it while she walked. It is an odd thing that
whereas all the romance of Rachel's difficulties appealed
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
to her strongly, she had none of the same feeling about
her own engagement.
She had enjoyed the tale of how Rachel received Mr.
Jackson's letters through the intermediary services of
the Planings' housekeeper, but she was very glad that
her own love-letters came to her without the smallest
difficulty, owing to the fact that old Jimmy Bridlegoose,
the postman, brought the Roseroofs' post only as far
as the letter-box nailed to the may-tree under which
poor Chris Greening had waited one morning for the
present Mrs. Isaac Vosper.
It had always been Cuckoo's duty to go down by the
kitchen-garden gate to the may-tree every morning at
half-past nine, to open the box and bring up the letters.
The key of the box was fastened to the little curb
bracelet given to her by the aunts on her sixteenth
So her daily letter from George had never been seen by
anyone but herself.
His letters were inexpressibly dear to her; tender,
proud little letters they were, full of trust and hope. She
loved them something as she loved George himself, with
an indescribable mixture of protectingness and pity.
And she saw with a kind of hushed feeling of amuse-
ment that George as strongly wanted to protect and shield
her as she wanted to protect and shield him. He wrote
about her thinness just as she wrote about his colds, and
his indigestion ; he spoke about his little love of the milky
eyes exactly as she wrote about his blessed rabbit-nose.
It was wonderful!
He called her his darling, bonny blessing, and she loved
to be called his darling, bonny blessing. She was very
George, of course, had been told about Mr. Jackson
and had written Rachel a note of sympathy and encour-
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
agement, and in the last letter Cuckoo now re-read what
her lover had suggested for the future. This wonderful
idea was nothing less than that the young couples should
settle in two neighboring cottages in a pleasant suburb,
somewhere. For, and this was a great surprise, George
had decided to devote himself to painting !
Hampstead Heath, he wrote, would be the place, of
course, but Golder's Green could be made to do. He had
sent for and studied prospectuses of the latter paradise,
and wanted to know what Cuckoo thought of the plan?
He had, all told, nearly two hundred a year, and there
was no doubt of their being, in a modest way, exceedingly
comfortable on that sum. Also, he could see no reason
for putting off their marriage. Mr. Fleming knew that
he was going to give up his job at the bank and thor-
oughly sympathized with him. "He says lots of men can't
stand the close confinement, and that Hampstead is nearly
as good as Wiskedale "
Dear George what a darling he was, and what a baby !
For Cuckoo, although her ambitious plans had been shat-
tered by the force of her own youth, was by no means
as easy about the future as George was.
Neither was she purified of all regrets for past dreams.
She loved George, but she loved him against her will, and
there were times when she wished that she had not caught
him in her mad race back from Thornby Lodge that day.
If she had missed him, she had more than once told her-
self, she "would have been all right in a few days," and
her old, well-considered dreams would in time have
That blowy afternoon, as she waited for Rachel to have
done with old Mary, Cuckoo decided that she was just a
little tired of Mr. Alison Jackson and that she did almost
wish that she had not seen George again!
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
After all, there were in the world things beside Love.
She knew, although George did not, that life in a London
suburb on two hundred pounds a year would not be a life
of ample pleasures and generous distractions. However,
she sighed as Rachel, satiated with self-revelation, came
out from the cottage ; it couldn't be helped now ; the mis-
chief was done, and George was the sweetest, dearest
thing in the whole world.
George did not write the next day, nor the next, and on
Sunday, after church, the Vicar told the Roseroofs* la-
dies that his grandson had been ill.
"One of his very bad throats, I am afraid," the old
man said with a sigh. "I wish he could be in a better
climate you know, his poor mother died of laryngal con-
After lunch Cuckoo dragged the indolent Rachel over
the Edge and across the High Moor to Flaye, where she
roused the sleepy postmistress and wrote out a telegram
to be sent the very moment the post-office was open on
the Monday morning.
Cuckoo was nervous with the nervousness of a mother
over an absent child who is ill. Her scarlet mouth,
thinned and drawn, looked old; her eyes seemed to have
shrunk back under her brows.
"It's only a sore throat," expostulated the ungrate-
fully, but not unreasonably, bored Rachel. "Once
Alison was thrown from his horse, and I had no news
for twenty-four hours. You don't know what that was,
Nicky what I went through!"
"George is very delicate," returned Cuckoo shortly.
When the postmistress (she was a Skelton, and her
mother had been a Greening) had promised several times
to send the wire by 8.30 the next morning, and also, when
the answer came, to send little David, her son, to bring it
over and put it into the letter box he was on no account
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
to bring it to the house on pain of losing his promised
sixpence the two girls walked back to Roseroofs. Ra-
chel talked hard all the way, about Alison and his various
illnesses and hair-breadth escapes, not ceasing at accom-
plished mishaps but venturing into the realms of specu-
lation and wondering; for instance, what she should do
if he ever had typhoid fever or lost a leg in a railway ac-
Cuckoo walked along in almost unbroken silence. More
than ever, now that he was ill, did she love George. With
a passion utterly unknown to her before, did she long to
be physically near him. She wanted to hold him in her
arms, to stroke that soft, wonderful hair of his, to give
him his medicine, to give him broth and milk. . . .
" In spite of all that they could say," Rachel was
declaring dramatically, "I would. Nothing on earth could
prevent me, the poor angel."
"Couldn't prevent you what?" snapped Cuckoo.
Rachel looked at her reproachfully. "I don't believe
you've been listening to a word I said: marrying him if
he was paralyzed and had to be pushed about in a bath-
Cuckoo did not answer. She was counting the hours
till she could have an answer to her wire, which in its cold
phraseology: "Anxious, please wire here. CUCKOO," was
only half meant to deceive the friendly and humane Mrs.
Monday afternoon, at their third visit to the may-tree,
the little, longed-for, tangerine-colored envelope was
found in the box. Cuckoo walked away from her com-
panion and stood with her back turned while she read it.
Don't worry, darling much better. Writing. GEORGE.
"Idiot !" exclaimed Cuckoo, her voice sharp with anger.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"Good gracious, Nicky! What is it?"
" 'Darling !' To go and put 'darling' in a wire," Cuckoo
answered, tearing the paper to bits and slipping it into
her pocket. "Now everyone in Flaye will know, and
everyone in Warcop, too. Mrs. Skelton was a Greening,
and her daughter's husband, John Oughtenshaw, keeps
the draper's shop at Warcop. Oh, the the fool!"
Poor Rachel was aghast. Not thus did she treat her
Alison's telegrams! And the worst was that she knew
that Cuckoo was absolutely sincere in her scorn and
"How can you say such awful things, Cuckoo Blun-
dell?" she gasped. "I don't believe you love him at all.
"Oh, bother Alison. I'm sick to death of Alison. He
has no chin, anyhow. And I'm sick of George, and of
you and of myself, and everybody. Tell the Aunts I
sha'n't be home for lunch, will you? I'm going for a
And off she sprinted (Rachel's word) up the hill, past
the Bench, and onwards, leaving the bewildered and in-
sulted Rachel staring after her. Cuckoo's thoughts as
she walked one might almost say flew over the wet
country-side, were difficult to analyze. She did love
George Loxley, and her misery when he was ill had been
nearly unendurable. Why then, now that he was well,
should she be so angry? To be sure, their engagement
was to be kept a secret until Easter, and Mrs. Skelton the
postmistress was not only sworn to keep telegraph secrets,
but a kind and worthy woman, and was not likely to give
Vaguely the girl felt her resentment was not wholly
towards the unlucky word in the telegram: it lay deeper
than that, and was directed towards herself as well. She
was in a whirl of anger, not only because George had
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
called her darling in a telegram, but because her own
misery over his illness had strained her nerves to break-
ing-point, and because she loathed being so weak as to be
unable to bear with calmness the fact that anyone on earth
had a sore throat!
Deeper than this, even, lay the roots of her mental con-
dition. She resented, with the most unchildlike bitterness,
the fact that this feeling for George should so utterly have
upset her plans for the future. Her love was a weakness,
not a strength; a disease, not a fine condition of soul.
By the time she had skirted Flaye, made a big half-circle
round Clavers, and was half-way up Laverock, her hur-
rying, impatient mind had nearly reached its goal, and
when, after a big climb, too steep for any consecutive
thought, she stood at the edge of an old lead mine, a
rough hollow, filled with piles of stone and coarse gravelly
soil, she sat down on a stone and waited for her breath
and mental clarity to come to her. It was as if she had
done a mental, as well as a steep physical, climb and as
if she had only to wait for quiet breathing, to be able to
see clearly that for which she had been struggling.
And she was right. Gradually, as her panting breatK
and hurrying brain slackened, she saw, clearly and well.
Below her lay Wiskedale, the beck in the middle ; oppo-
site lay Widdybank Bottom, with its great cluster of
leafless trees; the church, Vicarage and village being
hidden just beneath where she stood. Opposite her
stretched Meldon Edge, across which, two hours before,
she had walked. On to the right lay Warcop, in its tangle
of river and bridges, and beyond the broad bend of the
She studied all the familiar landmarks for a few min-
utes and turned to her mind-scape.
She loved George Loxley, but it was against her
'interests and against her will to love him. And she wished
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
from the bottom of her heart that she didn't. It was a
mistake; it was worse than a mistake: it was almost a
betrayal of herself to have let herself go in such a sense-
less and ridiculous way. She hated herself for having
done it. That, however, was now past, and George was
away and going to stay away, and therein lay her salva-
tion. She must for her own sake forget him and forget
him she would.
After standing for a long time thus instinctively fortify-
ing herself, she started homewards, her mouth firmly set,
her brows drawo down in her old scowl of determination.
She loved him, she could not help it, but she could and
would refuse to let this weakness of hers ruin her life.
It would be madness to marry him and she would not
marry him. He must suffer, and she would suffer, but
they must endure the pain. And the first thing to be
done was to forget him.
She would begin at once.
THE next day it rained, and after lunch the four
ladies settled down for an afternoon's work in-
doors. Miss Effie and Miss Flora, according to
their custom, were shut each in her own room to do what
they called "their private mending"; and the two girls
were in the drawing-room, one on each side of the fire.
They were, despite Cuckoo's rudeness the previous day,
quite on their usual terms, for, on her return from her
walk, Cuckoo had plainly shown that she had forgotten
that she had given cause for offence, and Rachel was
afraid to remind her of her outburst. Cuckoo was pale
and looked very tired, but Miss Effie explained at dinner
that the walk she had taken was enough to make a strong
man weary, and no one said any more.
That morning the girls had a perfectly uneventful walk
to Warcop, during which Rachel gradually trickled back
to her talk about Alison, and Cuckoo listened with a sym-
pathy that of late had been, Rachel considered, somewhat
Alison's letter that morning had been very delightful,
full of quotations from Keats and Byron and Ella Wheeler
Willcox and other great poets, so that even Cuckoo was
impressed by it. She, too, had had a letter, a long letter
Rachel knew, from George, but she had not 'communicated
any of its contents to her friend, and Rachel had not
bothered to ask questions. As a matter of fact, Rachel
found George rather boring and Cuckoo's love-affair quite
devoid of the delicious cloud of romance that overhung
and enriched her own. Cuckoo had studied George's let-
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
ter very carefully, and despite her splendid resolutions of
the evening before it had weakened her a little. There
was something so touching, what she considered so child-
like, in his absolute trust in her; she, knowing herself to
be by no means so trustworthy in this matter as he be-
lieved, could not resist a rush of helpless tenderness to-
wards him as she read. She was, moreover, thoroughly
tired out and inclined for the moment to put thought aside
and let matters take their own course. She knew., or
thought she knew, that she was a fool to love George, and
yet for that one afternoon she could not help loving him.
So his letter was in her pocket as she went downstairs and
joined Rachel, who was busy with a catalogue from Har-
rod's, marking with red ink a number of things she con-
sidered indispensable to her future home.
Cuckoo cast a disparaging eye over this list. She her-
self would hate buying pots and pans and brooms, and
Rachel's monologue on the relative merits of two kinds
of brass polish left her completely cold.
"Things like that," she declared, "ought not to cost
money, they ought to grow on bushes. Bah! how detest-
able it is to be poor !"
However, a moment later she had settled to her darn-
ing, allowing her thoughts to drift to Glasgow without
further resistance. She had made up her mind not to
marry George, and she was not going to marry him, but
just for this one afternoon, when she was so tired, she
wouldn't worry. Suppose, after all, she was not to "have
things"; suppose she was to do without things? Dear
George! It is possible, although she did not suspect it
and would have resented help from such a quarter, that
the fact that the spoiled Rachel should be giving up her
superior possibilities for the sake of a young man as poor
as George Loxley, inclined her the less to face the neces-
sity for giving George up. Rachel was a goose, but she
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
was a goose of title, a goose belonging to the highest of
flocks, yet there was no doubt that luxurious and pam-
pered as she had always been, she was marrying her poor
man, not with Cuckoo's ceding to an irresistible force, but
gladly, even proudly, and for this superiority Cuckoo did
not love her the more.
Looking up from her stocking the younger girl studied
Rachel's unconscious face. Rachel was darning her first
stocking under her friend's guidance, and it was clear to
Cuckoo's shrewd eyes that only theoretically was it a
stocking of her own that, so far as Rachel was con-
cerned, it was in reality a sock of Mr. Jackson's. After a
moment's reflection, Cuckoo decided that she herself might
just as well try to believe that afternoon that she was
darning George's socks, and enjoying darning them, and
being, despite her wavering in the matter of her engage-
ment, fundamentally a thorough-going, determined crea-
ture, she gave up the next few minutes to trying to' emu-
late Rachel's mood of high romance. It was in the midst
of this mood of emulation, when she had succeeded in con-
juring up the feeling of inexpressible tenderness that was
her culmination of love, that Nellie brought in the tele-
gram. Cuckoo, with a flash of terror lest her indiscreet
lover should have gone and wired "darling," or even
worse, direct to Warcop, half started out of her seat and
held out her hand. Nellie shook her head.
"Not for you, Miss Cuckoo. It is for Lady Rachel."
Rachel, very pale, tore open the envelope and read the
message, turned pink, and then a tremendous, deep flush
overran the pinkness, as a flood might sweep over a dew-
"What is it, Ray?"
"Yes," echoed Miss Effie and Miss Flora, who, being
told by Esther Oughtenshaw that "f telegraph lad was
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
cooming oop t' hill," had hastened down to hear the news.
Rachel paid no attention to them; instead she gave the
telegram to Cuckoo, and then, throwing her arms round
Miss Effie's neck (Miss Effie stood nearer to her than
Miss Flora) she kissed that good lady soundly.
"To Paris, Nickums, to Paris, and no mamma! Just
think of all the things she will give me !"
Then, more quietly, Rachel explained to her older
hostesses that she must leave that very day, by the four
o'clock bus; or no, she could get the "Grouse" fly; that
her sister, Lady Rosamund Brinkley, was going to Paris
for a month, and that Phil, her husband, who really was
rather a love after all, was allowing her to take Rachel too.
"He's paying all my expies, of course, or mamma
wouldn't let me go, and he's frightfully generous to Rosie,
and she's a sweet pet, so I shall come back with some really
The disagreeable Jeanne was sen!; to pack, and Nellie
flew down for the "Grouse" fly.
Cuckoo listened quietly to Rachel's babble of joy and
plans. She was very pale and breathed hard, as if she
had been running. When the girls were alone and Rachel
was enlarging on her ideas for evening frocks which she
meant to get in the rue de la Paix no "clever little
woman" for her Cuckoo at last spoke.
"And will you wear these grand frocks in the cottage
for Alison's benefit?"
"How disagreeable of you, Nicky! Why shouldn't I
have pretty clothes, even though we are poor? It's only
very silly women," she added, with an air of tremendous
wisdom, "who give up looking nice when they are mar-
ried. 7," she went on proudly, delighted with her entirely
exceptional solution to the quandary, "shall always look
my best for my husband."
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"Quite right, only most of these frocks, I should think,
would do only for the very smartest balls."
Rachel's eyelashes, which, embellishment she already
darkened with a little pencil, were wet. Hers was the
gift of the facile tear.
"I think you are very unkind," she declared.
"There's the Season coming, isn't there? and we aren't
going to be married till September, anyhow. Anyone
would think that you were jealous, Cuckoo," and she
marched upstairs, leaving Cuckoo face to face with the
unpleasant fact that the indirect accusation was true.
She was jealous, painfully, bitterly, furiously jealous;
jealous, not only of Rachel's prospective new frocks, but
of her month in Paris; of the things she would see, the
new and interesting people she would meet, the very things
she would have to eat! Jealous of all these little things,
but above all jealous of the elder girl's whole life and its
conditions. Rachel was to have the "Season," balls, din-
ners, admirers and theaters, and she, Cuckoo, was to have,
nothing, just as she had always had nothing at Roseroofs.
For a moment she stood there in the shabby, faded draw-
ing-room, hating Roseroofs and all that belonged to it
with a strength of hatred that most people luckily go
to their grave without feeling, and even when the thought
of George came to her, she only frowned with impatience
as if a fly were buzzing in her face. Rachel had Alison
^besides all the other things, so her, Cuckoo's, possession of
George, did nothing to even things up. Rachel was rich,
in everything rich, and she, Cuckoo, was poor, vilely and
miserably poor. She still stood there, the stocking she
had been darning stretched over her left hand, when Ra-
chel came back.
"Oh, Nicky dear," Rachel said, kissing her. "I
didn't mean it, I'm so sorry."
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"Didn't mean what ?" growled Cuckoo, in the voice that
had so amused her father.
"That that you were jealous; of course I didn't mean
it. Come along upstairs, darling "
But Cuckoo didn't care a fig whether Rachel had
meant it or not. It was true. She was jealous, and she
knew that Rachel's extreme affectionateness and generos-
ity of words meant only that Rachel was violently, ir-
repressibly happy. Rachel gave her two frocks, one of
her best nightgowns, four pairs of silk stockings, and a
hat, and Cuckoo accepted them with the proper expres-
sions of gratitude but without enthusiasm. They were
given, she knew, only because Rachel was so soon to have
new and more beautiful ones. They were like Aunt Mar-
cia's annual offerings to her sisters Tads.
When the old fly had lumbered off in plenty of time to
catch the train, and Rachel's waving hand had finally
disappeared, Cuckoo went back to the house and up to her
room. The Tads lay on her bed. They were undoubtedly
the very best of their kind, but Tads they were, and the
sight of them filled their new owner with a kind of cold
rage. They seemed to be a sort* of prophecy and symbol
of her life as it was to be. Nothing fine and beautiful and
first-hand was to be hers only Tads. Her aunts were
good and kind to her, but they were not her father and
mother, and thus they, too, were Tads; Roseroofs was
small and humble, but to the aunts it was a real home;
to her, Cuckoo, who didn't really belong there, it too was
a Tad, and worse, worse than all, George was a Tad.
Yes, she loved him because she couldn't help it oh, his
dear rabbit-nose ! but he had no money, he had no posi-
tion, he had no looks, he had really not even proper health,
so he was a Tad.
At last, overwhelmed, beaten down, buffeted as if by
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
a great storm, the girl lay prone on the bed and cried.
Mrs. Skelton, the postmistress of Flaye, was in her
kitchen getting the supper ready, about half-past six that
evening. The door between the kitchen, which was
"home," and the front room belonging to the King,
as the children and grandchildren thought, was open,
but the good woman was not expecting any more cus-
tomers that day. It had been a busy day, for she had
sent four telegrams and sold two postal orders, one
for four pounds, as well as in all nearly three shillings'-
worth of penny and half-penny stamps, but the day was
over now, and in an hour and a half Mrs. Skelton would
unhang the telephone receiver and bar the door and be-
long to her family again. The two youngest Skeltons
sat by the table in the lamplight studying their next day's
lessons, and in the little old oak cradle lay, sucking its
comforter, the youngest of Oughtenshaw the Warcop
draper's five daughters.