called lamb, new potatoes and salad, she had managed to
"borrow" a few trout from Mrs. William Christie who
had been an Oughtenshaw and the little beauties, boiled
and with butter sauce, were greatly enjoyed by the in-
valid. The gooseberry-fool caused a moment of emotion,
for it was served in the little handleless blue-and-white
cups that Blundell remembered as having been favorites
of his wife in her maiden days.
"Ah," he cried as he saw them, "poor May's Chinese
cups ; how she loved them !"
His feverish, bright eyes closed for a moment; he
flourished at them with an extremely fine cambric hand-
kerchief and went on talking about something else. But
Miss Effie and Miss Flora could not take the reference
so lightly. Their eyes were dry but their lips stiffened
for a moment and Miss Flora's throat made a violent
movement ; neither of the ladies spoke for several seconds.
They rarely referred to their dead sister and when they
did, it was in a certain way, in certain voices, almost in
a certain language; Robert's emotionality offended them
nearly as much as did the quickness of his recovery ; they
disliked his wiping his eyes.
Miss Flora was still under the influence of this episode
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
when she stole away in the lucent evening and went down
to the river.
Even here the view was noble; an ample spread of
broad-looking, uncrowded moors rose on all sides, and to
her left lay the village, Warcop, with its three old bridges
and its broad, irregular green, some three miles from
where she sat under the may-tree.
The sounds reaching her were the lowing of cows as
they marched steadily back to their pasture-lands
after milking, and the voices of sheep farther away, the
small cries of the lambs sounding in the distance almost
like the tinkle of little bells. Opposite her, far up, two
cows, a white one and a brown one, stood against the sky-
line. She knew whose they were and her vaguely-drifting
thoughts turned for a minute to Joss Skelton's over the
Ridge ; she wondered how poor Lizzie Skelton was, and if
the poor little baby that had come too soon would live or
die. Then her mind flew back to the queer, dark child
now asleep in the blue room at Roseroofs.
The child knew, to the surprise of the sisters, but little
English, and Miss Flora's French was fragmentary and
apt to retreat in confusion at the approach of what she
innocently considered a French accent, so she had been
able to make but little headway with her small niece.
Luckily, Miss Effie had once lived for three years at An-
gouleme, so she could, at least, make herself under-
Blundell seemed to be amused with the difficulty of
communication between his sisters-in-law and his very
diminutive daughter. "It is a good thing you cannot
understand her," he remarked casually, as the little crea-
ture stamped and vociferously refused her food, "she is
swearing like a pirate, you know "
Then it appeared that the child was demanding cheese
for her supper.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"It certainly is cheese," Miss Effie declared, in a puz-
zled voice. "Fromage isn't it, Bob?"
It was the first time either of the sisters had made use
of the old nickname, but Miss Flora at least did not
notice it, and Blundell himself did not appear to.
"Yes, it is cheese," he returned; "she has been for
nearly a year on a farm near Orange, with her foster
mother you know, while I was in Switzerland at that
damned place in the snow I beg your pardon," he added
in a purely perfunctory way, "she is used to cheese."
And cheese she obtained by the time-tested plan of
roaring till she got it.
Miss Flora made sure that cheese must prove fatal to
a child of four and Esther Oughtenshaw tried to side-
track Miss Cuckoo's attentions to the joys of bread and
jam, but all in vain.
"Give her a slab of cheese," the insouciant parent sug-
gested, as he stood, his hands in his trousers-pockets, in
a pose both the sisters vividly remembered, looking on as
all his life he had seemed to look on at everything, "no
bread, just a lump of cheese, they eat it like that in
France;" and the pacified though tear-mottled Cuckoo
had proved the truth of his words by eating as much
cheese as the two sisters, with the usual aids of bread
and water, could have consumed at two meals.
Under her may-tree, a pink one in all the fragrant
glory of its first flowering, Miss Flora thought despair-
ingly of the cheese, and sighed.
Meantime, in the long, low, faded drawing-room which,
shabby and worn as it was, seemed to have absorbed some
of the sun that had faded it, so mellow-looking was it, sat
Miss Effie and Robert Blundell, facing the western sky
that even now at nine o'clock was glowing as if with the
memory of its just departed beauty.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
Miss Effie sat in her own chair, a so-called easy chair,
covered with yellow-and-white chintz of a recent pur-
chase, which seemed in its flashing coloring to cause the
old curtains, chairs and sofas, to pale with shame at their
Blundell sat opposite his hostess in an old, low, long-
seated basket-chair, which he had not forgotten, in the
seven years of his absence, as the most comfortable one
in the house. His very long legs stretched out across the
floor were painful to see in their horrible thinness; the
knees stood out like cobble-stones under the thin blue
serge of his trousers, and the way the cloth fell in above as
well as below the knees made his fleshlessness cruelly ap-
parent. He lay back at full length, his hands clasped
behind his dark head and his bright, hollow eyes nearly
closed. He was very carefully studying Miss Effie's face,
a fact unobserved by her as she gazed fixedly out of the
window to where the purple shadows creeping up Aycliffe
Head announced that night had come, despite the glories
of the sky.
"How old are you, Effie?"
The words seemed to his hearer to ring out like a pistol-
shot. Miss Effie turned and looked at him.
"What do you say, Robert?" she asked icily.
A graceless grin flashed over the man's face but his
apology was prompt and adroit. "I beg your pardon,
my dear," he said, "I was thinking aloud. I was only
thinking that you seem not a day older than you did at
"Do I not? Yet it is seven years."
"It is, and so far as I am concerned, except for my
memories of you it might be seventy. Poor Flora has
aged, you know," he added dreamily, but with a wary
gleam in his eyes.
Miss Effie made a little movement and frowned; he
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
knew that she was ashamed of the pang of gratification
his words gave her.
"You are good, as always, to take us in," he went on,
using his opportunity in the half innocent, half reprehen-
sible way he had used his opportunity all his life. "I was
half afraid you might refuse."
Then Miss Effie, to punish herself for her base feeling
of a moment before, spoke out and hurt herself. "You
gave me no chance to refuse, even if I had wanted to,
Robert," she returned.
Blundell burst out laughing and his laughter, though
his speaking voice was husky and weak, had kept some-
thing of its old ringing quality.
"So I didn't ! Ah, Effie, you have indeed not changed !"
Drawing his chair closer to hers, he sat up and
joining his long, thin hands looked at her across
"Effie," he began very seriously, "I am remarkably
well for me to-night, but it is quite on the cards that
I may be too ill to speak to-morrow. Let us have a little
talk this evening, just you and me."
"Very well, Robert."
"You were all of you very good to me, in the old days,
even Marcia, but I think you know that you were always
my favorite after May."
"After May," she repeated quietly. "Was I? Well?"
"So when that medico in Switzerland told me to come
home and make my soul, and I had to arrange Cuckoo's
life for her, poor little thing, as best I could, I thought
She did not speak for a moment, and then she said :
"Why not of Flora? it was always Flora who was
your friend, who took your part against Marcia, and
sometimes against me."
"I know, I know, but I want you to love and care for
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
my poor little thing; I want you to teach her, Effie, as
you used to teach the Bingham girls. Will you?"
Her face softened and he watched her as he went on.
"I saw Viola Bingham two or three years ago in Seville
Lady Didcot she is now and I thought then how beau-
tifully she had been educated ; she talked to me about you,
and said she wished she could find a Miss Flues for her
own girls "
As he paused, he could hear Esther Oughtenshaw sing-
ing a Wesleyan hymn in the kitchen and listened
for a moment, for the old woman's voice was still
Presently he heard Miss Effie speak.
"Lord and Lady Gifford say that Flora was a wonder-
ful governess." At something in her voice he looked up
"Flora was always on your side," she went on, "it was
always she who was your friend, Robert, not I."
"Dear Effie, how appallingly honest you are; need you
so insist on never having liked me? It seems hard when I
always so greatly liked you "
But his blandishing voice had no effect on her ; her face
looked as hard as one of the gray stones that edged the
"I thought it right to remind you, Robert. I feel
Flora would do her very best for Cuckoo. Is that her
real name, Robert?"
In the growing dusk he leaned still further forward in
his chair, and his ravaged face filled with dark hollows and
lines was almost terrifying to her. .
"No, she was christened Nicoleta, for my grandmother
who, you may remember, was an Italian and who brought
me up. It was poor May who called her Cuckoo."
After a moment he took her bony hand in his own, the
quality of whose bonincss was so different from that of
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
hers, and his voice fell to a depth at which for a moment it
nearly lost its huskiness.
"Effie," he pleaded, "you won't refuse to take care of
Cuckoo? Remember she is not only mine; she is half
"I know, Robert."
"And on the other hand," he went on urgently, "just
because she is mine, she will need the wisest care." After
a pause he added, "What was it you called me that time ?"
Whatever her words had been, she would not let him
"Don't, Bob," she cried, "don't talk about things that
are dead and gone years ago ! Tell me what you want me
to do, what you want me to do now, and I'll try to do it
for May's sake."
He raised her hand to his lips, and at their hard and
dry touch she shivered; it was like the touch of a dead
"I want you," he said, after a moment, lying back
again in his chair and speaking very gravely, "to try to
counteract the Me in her; to harden and toughen her
fiber if you can ; to make her like yourself."
Miss Effie nodded slowly. She said: "I quite under-
stand. Poor May was not very strong, either, and
I will try. But Robert," she added a moment later,
in a softer tone, "Flora must not know of this talk. She
was always your friend, you know, and she will want a
share in bringing up the little Nicoleta. Do you see
what I mean?"
Of course he saw. Robert Blundell had always seen
at once what people meant, and with all his faults he had,
to do him justice, often seen the nobility of things he had
never even attempted to emulate. He was not being
single-hearted, even now at the end of his life, but he
meant what he said.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"You mean that dear Flora must not know that I
want my child to have your strength and your resolu-
tion rather than her her sweet ways? Of course she
must not. And I give you my word," he added, rising,
"that I will never mention this talk to her. Hush, here
Half an hour later, when the moon had risen and Miss
Effie had been called to the kitchen to see Joss Skelton,
who had come over the hill and up to Roseroofs for some
advice about his sick wife, Blundell drew Miss Flora into
"I want to smell the sweet stocks," he said, plucking
at her sleeve in the boyish way she remembered.
"But you will catch cold," she protested, as she lit
the candles on the mantelpiece, "sit down, and I will get
you a beaten-up egg."
"If you knew how my soul sickens at the mere sound
of the words 'beaten-up egg' you would not say that
come along into the garden, there's a dear Flora."
Miss Flora left off swaying from her heels to her toes
and back: "Will you put on a hat?"
They went out through the window and walked down
to the front of the house on the dew-wet, mossy, flagged
path. The night-scented stocks grew in a clump by the
wall and there the two stood, looking up the dale to the
left. Suddenly Blundell said, "Flora, I want you to do
me a favor."
She looked at him, her sweet eyes bright in her faded
face. "I will if I can, Robert."
"Bob, then; what is it?"
"Well, it is about my poor little mouse, Cuckoo. I
want you to take care of her and teach her."
Miss Flora fluttered her head. "But I have not taught
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
a child for nearly thirty years, and I fear I was never Very
good at instruction. Besides, I have forgotten how."
"But I have. No, no, Effie is the clever one, Robert
Bob. She will do it; she is strong and wise, whereas
I," she made a sweet little gesture, and her eyes filled with
tears, "I was never clever, you know, and now I am old
Blundell was touched. "You are a sweet, good, gentle
woman," he said, with conviction, "and I love your ways.
Have it as you like, my dear. Let Effie teach her to be
strong as you say, but you know that after poor May,
you were always my favorite, Flora. Teach her to be
sweet and gentle like you."
Miss Flora blushed vividly. "Oh, Bob, do you really
"I know it, and I want my poor little Cuckoo to be
like you. Effie is firm, and strong, and good, but I want
Cuckoo to learn to sit and sew, to embroider and I
want her to be gentle and and sweet, Flora."
In this he was perfectly sincere, just as he had been
sincere with Miss Effie. He had always had this odd,
valueless gift of temporary sincerity.
"Try to make her gentle, will you, Flora?" he went
on, "she is a hard little nut" and Miss Flora promised.
Then she added, "I think poor Effie might be hurt
if she knew how you felt, Bob; she is so good and fine
under her slight how shall I say? roughness "
Blundell took her delicate hand and laying it on his
arm led her back to the window, through which a yellow
light now poured.
"I give you my word of honor, Flora," he said se-
riously, "that I will never tell Effie a word of our talk.
I must go to bed now, I am more tired than you can
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
Raising her two hands in his, he bowed his dark head
over them in the graceful way that had so struck her
when he had come to Roseroofs seven years before as
poor May's promised husband, and kissed them.
"Good-night," he said, "and God bless you."
BLUNDELL grew better in the clear upland air, and
for some time it looked as if his were to be one
of the marvellous cures the proud memory of
which is cherished by the natives of every particularly
Old Mrs. Bridlegoose of Brown End her mother was
a Skelton recalled for Esther Oughtenshaw's benefit the
story of Sam Christie's Gentleman, who forty years be-
fore came to the dale in a dying condition and lived to
return every year for just twenty- two years, when he
was killed in a carriage-accident.
"His loongs were a'most goan, t'London Doctor said,
but old Dr. Dawes set him oop fold doctor an* t'dale
This beautiful and cheering tale Esther Oughtenshaw
brought to Blundell, under whose spell she was quite
helpless, and though he laughed at it and assured her
that he personally had not enough lung left to make a
pen-wiper, yet he had liked it.
The sisters took great care of their self-invited guest.
The big basket-chair filled with cushions whose green
and mauve canvas covers had been embroidered by their
mother in her young days, was carried every morning
into the garden and in it Robert Blundell practically
lived. He and it followed the progress of the sun, moving
with the shade from one to another of the trees ; and Es-
ther Oughtenshaw had added to her manifold duties the
new one of watching the sun, to which end her pleasant
old face might have been seen every half-hour or so peer-
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
ing out of one window or another, inspecting what she
plainly considered the newly-adopted vagaries of a hith-
erto sober luminary.
"Surely, 'tisn't more than ten minutes," she would mut-
ter as she sallied forth, drying her hands on her blue-
and-white apron, "since I shifted him, and there sits the
poor gentleman in a champion blaze." And when Esther
had conveyed the chair and the pillows from the dwind-
ling shade of his last shelter to a new and more full-
bodied oasis, one or the other of the sisters would settle
the invalid in his chair and coax the old pillows into a
nest of comfort over which he never ceased to exclaim.
Not once did he forget to thank Esther Oughtenshaw
for moving what he always called, although it was of
basket-work, "that heavy chair" ; and Esther, though she
could have given no reason for it, liked to hear him call
the chair heavy. Poor Blundell, in spite of his mani-
fold sins and wickednesses, had always been a popular
man and the reason was probably that he was what the
Wiskedale people call, with no reference whatever to
He had always asked and assumed much, but his thanks
were sincere and warm ; he was a man of ample
The garden of Roseroofs was a little unkempt, for old
Benjie Brigworthy, the gardener, was a communal
possession and "did" for Dr. Loxley, the Vicar of Widdy-
bank ; for Mr. Briggs, the Lord of the Manor's agent : for
old Miss Dawes, the Doctor's sister; and came to Rose-
roofs only twice a week; but Miss Flora and Miss Effie
were both fond of flowers and worked in the garden them-
selves, so that it was always, except in the very depth of
winter, full of flowers of some kind. Moreover, Miss
Effie and Miss Flora had each a special garden, the plots
they had been given and taught to cultivate as children,
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
and these plots were the objects of their specialized at-
tention and skill.
It had better be explained that Roseroofs did not look
out at the dale view with its front windows, but with those
at the back, from the dining-room windows and the end
drawing-room window; the two other drawing-room win-
dows faced directly to the west. To the left of the gar-
den gate stood a small copper beech, and beyond, after
crossing a little grass plot to the left, one came to the
kitchen garden, which was overlooked by the kitchen and
scullery windows; and just to the right of the gate, on
entering, was Miss Effie's garden. Here grew the sweet
stocks and, in the spring, tulips. Amongst Miss Effie's
treasures, as the seasons advanced, were red roses, holly-
hocks, sunflowers and chrysanthemums.
By a tacit understanding, dating from the days when
Miss Effie's hair was cropped and pushed off her bony
brow by a round comb and Miss Flora's hung to the waist
in two attenuated pigtails, Miss Flora had in her garden
no tulips, and no red roses, and no chrysanthemums. In
return for this abstention Miss Effie eschewed wild hya-
cinths, daffodils, pink roses and the double white violets
that in the Spring were Miss Flora's special joy.
Sometimes, with a certain air, not perhaps of solem-
nity, but of a high holiday, Miss Flora presented Miss
Effie with a nosegay of The Violets, or of the pink roses
that grew so lavishly on her two old trees. More rarely
Miss Effie without a word would put at Miss Flora's
place at breakfast a few tulips standing stiffly in a favor-
ite old glass vase of their mother's, or, later in the year,
a tuft of chrysanthemums. To the two ladies their gar-
den was a place of real beauty and romance.
Sheltered as it was from the east and north winds, roses
of various sorts flourished exceedingly, the great tree of
yellow roses known as Father's rose-tree being one of the
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
finest in the country-side, and on the front wall of the
house where the study windows directly faced the gate,
there stood a row of old moss-roses that bloomed through-
out the summer and then continued their career, embalmed
by Miss Flora in salt and spices in old Chinese jars with
gilded and perforated tops, in the drawing-room.
Poor Blundell loved flowers he had always been a
man of pleasant tastes and that last summer he enjoyed
them to his heart's full content. On the little mahogany
sewing-table that followed him about from shady place
to shady pl^ce there always stood beside his books, his
newspapers, his cigarette and match-boxes and his bottle
of medicine, either a vase or a bowl of flowers.
Miss Flora, when it was her turn to beautify the table,
usually chose a bowl; she loved best what she called bowl
flowers. Violets are bowl flowers, and pansies; so are
the delicate wild hyacinths called blue-bells to the de-
spair, one is told, of Scottish folk ; and marsh marigolds,
and moon daisies. Miss Effie's own garden, of course,
Miss Flora never touched, but there were pansies in both,
as well as roses and many other flowers, and Miss Effie,
whose affections were fixed on a tall old vase of beautiful
Irish glass, would fill it with geraniums and stocks or lilac
or delphiniums, and then with her solid, springless gait,
she would carry her offering to wherever Blundell might
be installed and set it down on the table with a little bang.
"There," she would say, "these are not very fine ones,
but they are the best we have got," which was thoroughly
insincere, for Miss Effie was convinced that the Rose-
roofs flowers could not be beaten anywhere.
So the warm, still days passed by, and the fine air and
the vital palpitant silences of the moorland did indeed rest
and heal the invalid's nerves, although his lungs were too
far gone to be helped. It pleased him to watch the details
of the simple lives around him ; he learned how interested
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
one could be in the weather in places where the weather
is so important; no one ever came to the house, man or
woman, without a few words on the all-engrossing sub-
"Marning, sir, a bit windy, but a champion marning,"
or, "It's a soony day will be doing you good, sir," or,
"Ah, didn't mooch like the sunset last night, sir, a bit
too cloudy in t' west, but mebbe it'll fine up later," and
Blundell found himself enjoying these little talks and
looking out for them. He had, moreover, seen too much
of the world not to value the independence, of the dales-
men, and he liked the burr in their mournful, musical
voices. Benjie Brigworthy, a cross-grained, pugnacious,
tough old man of seventy, was his special joy, and Benjie
soon got used to what he called poor Miss May's hus-
band's foony wa-ays and the two often had long talks
Mr. Brigworthy was a Tory of very decided views;
Robert Blundell had no political convictions but his lines
had generally fallen in liberal places; and he found him-
self, to his own delight, becoming very angry with the
old gardener's antediluvian viewpoints. The old fellow
was pig-headed and advanced but little on his grand-
father's beliefs, but he was a regular reader of a Tory
paper, and some of his language, when goaded by the un-
principled Blundell, was in its unbridled wrath a source
of exquisite delight to the latter, who, to lead him on,
shamelessly professed principles that would have appeared
liberal even to Marat in his heyday. But in spite of these
diversions, Blundell was a good deal alone, rather to his
own surprise, for he fully realized himself to be the pleas-
ant fellow he was, and knew that against his peculiar
charm even extreme old age was no safeguard to women.
This charm of his, a thing not wholly reprehensible and
possessed of certain delightfully innocent qualities as
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
well as of others, had been compared by somebody years
ago for Robert Blundell was over forty to a bird that
he kept in a cage and gave wing to at will. If he wished
to be liked and he had almost always wished to be liked
by almost everybody he had only to open the door of
the cage and the bird would fly out to whistle and beguile
away prejudices and disapprovals, and to inculcate in
their stead likings of various kinds and degrees, of some