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advice. She told herself often that she had been right in
refusing to marry, that she needed no husband; her life was
full. And she learned her work, repairing her mistakes when
they were brought home to her, always self-conscious but
never self-satisfied.

With the land it was comparatively easy, although expen-
sive. Sanders was a canny Scotsman. When he thought
she might be right he followed her instructions ; at other times
he followed his own. The orchids, therefore, continued to
flourish after Squire Wanstead's death, winning prizes still
in London and at all the local shows. Agatha pursued her
father's hobby at first from a sense of duty, but presently she
fell under the fascination of the exotic blooms. That was
the most dangerous time, but Sanders won through, making
only permissible experiments.

She learned to manage Marley and the orchids, but
Monica, her little wayward stepsister Monica, who was her


only relative and greatest responsibility, she never learned to

Agatha, when she was little more than thirty, dressed as
if she were fifty, and had few apparent feminine weaknesses
or tendernesses. Yet, for all her certainty that the Wanstead
tradition and reinstatement of the ancient glories of Marley
were enough to fill any young woman's life. Nature taught her

Monica, for instance, found a dozen chinks in her
armour, and was always creeping through.

The real truth was that this shy and enigmatic young
woman, who had thrown away her chances of happiness
through reserve and supersensitiveness, pride and indefinite
feminine unreasonableness, felt her heart growing when the
time for other growth had passed. Conscience and conscien-
tiousness were there, water-logging and clogging it. But
there wa-s also this inconsistent weakness.

Before Andrew's marriage the child and her duty
towards her had been one of the excuses she made to herself
for having rejected him. And after Andrew's marriage she
came to believe it true. Monica was coaxing, a little sly, not
straightforward and truthful like herself. She was often
troubled by her, but her love grew as she felt the child's
need. Nurse and the household watched and said, " Miss
Monica has the length of her sister's foot — can wheedle her."
But Agatha felt in the wheedling and little crooked ways a
continual appeal.

The child was idle and averse to lessons; when she was
nine years old she could neither read nor write.

" I wonder you are not ashamed," Agatha said to her,
when the governess came to her in despair, complaining of
persistent idleness.

" I am ashamed, sister."

Monica came nearer, caught hold of her hand. "Don't
be angry with me. I only want to be with you."

" Will you try and learn if I give you your lessons ? "

" I am sure I could learn if you taught me."

And they began the very next day. This was in the


seventies, and the higher education of women only in its
infancy. The first thing Agatha tried to teach her little
sister was to count.

"You will have to help me with the accounts of the
estate when you grow up."

" I shall like that."

" Well, we will begin with the tables. Eepeat the figures
after me. Twice one are two."

Monica repeated them obediently, and up to twice five
are ten.

Agatha was proud of her success, praising her.

" You will soon be quite a scholar. Twice six ? "

" May I sit on your lap ? "

" Not now. This is lesson time."

"If it was my own mother teaching me, she would let
me rest on her lap," Monica said plaintively.

" Not in lesson time," Agatha repeated.

" My head aches so."

" It would ache no less if you were sitting on my lap."

" I believe it would. I love sitting on your lap."

" Not now."

"When I had the measles you took me on your lap."

" When you have the measles I will again. Go on. Twice
six are twelve."

Monica began to cry.

" I wish I had a mother all my own, like other little girls.
Janey Reid's mother nurses her all day."

The tables went on. So did the tears. And when twice
six had been acquired it appeared that twice two had been
forgotten. Agatha, so conscientious and strict when super-
intending the village school, could not bear to hear this child
cry. Monica knew it; also that her stepsister winced when
she spoke of other little girls with mothers of their own.
Agatha was never without the remorseful remembrance that
her father thought it was she who was responsible for her
little sister being without a mother. She wavered and said :

" If you really think you would do better "

Monica climbed quickly to her knee. A woman as any


other, although reluctant to her womanhoocl, Agatha liked
the little form upon her knee and the curly, satisfied head
against her breast.

" You really are a very naughty girl."

"But you'll always love me, whatever I do?"

"Nobody can love an ignoramus."

Monica's tears broke out again.

" What are you crying for now ? " But her arms tightened

" Because you won't love me if I can't learn my tables,
and my head does ache so when I try. And there's only you
and me."

This was a plea Agatha could not withstand. It was so
true. This little girl was all she had to make a home of
what was otherwise only an estate. She held her more closely,
dried her tears, said crossly, of course, she would always love
her, whatever she did or left undone.

Already Agatha saw the spectre of loneliness, for all her
independence. Whether she admitted it or not, she knew
she had made a mistake. She was not meanly jealous of
Andrew, with his wife and children, or the Campdens with
theirs, but she had a sudden pang sometimes when she saw
them. She never thought of herself as a wife, but often as a
mother. And then it seemed to her that Monica was her
own. More and more she came to think it as the years went
on. The child required care, was exacting, and would have
no tendance but her sister's. Agatha's thoughts and ambi-
tions, once the estate was in order, began to concentrate on
the girl. Of course she spoiled her, taking her love speeches
very seriously, regretting her own strange inability to respond
in words as warm; mothering her, not too wisely, perhaps,
but with all her heart engaged.

" You will learn to do everything I do, and to keep up
all the traditions of Marley. Marley will be yours one day,"
she told Monica often, endeavouring to interest her in the
village, now become a model, and her many charities at Great

Thus, when fortune flung another opportunity to her, she


seemed too deeply committed to take it. She said she had
given the girl her promise; Monica was to be the heiress of
Marley. It was of Monica's marriage and not her own she
was thinking when Andrew came to her again.

*' You said ' no ' to me fourteen years ago," he reminded
her, " I don't suppose you like me any better now that I'm
grizzled and have three children.''

" It is no question of liking." She had foreseen ever since
his wife died that he would reopen the question. She could
not deny, even to herself, that she was glad of his freedom,
glad she need not think of him with another woman. She
believed, nevertheless, that it was only his friendship she
prized. " I have always liked you."

" Will you marry me now ? " he asked a little bluntly.
" Marriage is the only life for a woman."

He knew now no better than before how to woo her.

" I have been very content."

" That is because you have known no better."

** Marriage has no attraction for me," she faltered, per-
haps disingenuously.

" That is your ignorance. You don't like marriage because
you don't know it. Try it with me. Aren't you lonely some-

*^I have always Monica. No, I don't think I'm lonely."
There was something staid and sedate about her, and yet
remote, reserve was what the world called it, but it was more
than that.

" Never distrustful of yourself or your capacity to stand

" I should not be less distrustful of myself if I said ' yes '
to-day, after having said * no ' fourteen years ago. And I am
too old to change now, too fixed in my habits."

" You'll never be too old. You'll die young enough still
to believe that Marley could not exist without a Wanstead
at her Court. Men and women were never made to live alone ;
haven't you found that out yet? There is everything in
favour of a marriage between us, and nothing against it. I
don't know you any better than I did, for I always knew you


through and through. I can't woo you passionately, we've
passed that age."

He had, perhaps ; for her it had never dawned. Yet she was
curiously wounded by his tone and strengthened in her resolve.

" It is quite impossible," she said, and added quickly,
"You say yourself you have outgrown your feeling for me."

Before he had time to grasp her meaning or realise what
lay beneath it she went on even more hurriedly :

" I have so many interests ; I know every cottage on the
estate, every villager."

*' I know as much of Marley as you do. We'll come down
as often as you like. London is not in my blood as it is with
some people. I have a good business, but I'll give it up if
you ask me ; I can afford to do so. On Campden Hill I have
a house I care for almost as much as you love Marley, but
that shall never be put before my liking for you. Be honest
with me. What is standing between us ? "

"I will tell you the truth." She flushed in telling it,
for though it was the truth it was not the whole truth. " No
one, not even you, could be to me what Monica is. And she
depends on me. I will not put anything between us. I mean
her to have Marley. I owe it to her."

"^ There need be nothing to prevent Monica inheriting
Marley," he said dryly,

" It is possible that I might "

And then she broke off, her cheeks crimsoning for all her
thirty-seven years. Andrew's eyes were whimsical,

" Of course you might,"

" But it was not only that," she went on, hoping to con-
ceal her embarrassment with rapid talk. " In a way I have
given her my promise."

^' You owe her nothing. It is she who is in your debt. You
are the most generous and least selfish of women, but you are
obstinate and not very wise for all your intelligence. Per-
haps that is why I care for you so much. There might have
been an epidemic of typhoid, and there wasn't. That's the
beginning and end of what you are blaming yourself for.
You say yourself that Monica's mother was delicate. You


were not responsible for that, I suppose? You are sacrificing
yourself for an idea."

" I am not sacrificing myself."

" That is all you know. You don't realise what sort of a
husband I should make you."

"I don't want to know/' she said hastily, surprised to
find him all at once so near her.

"Don't you? Don't you? Then how wrong you are."
She shrank back from him.

"It is too late; I am too old; I have outgrown the time
for marriage," were the phrases with which she defended
herself. Never dreaming what the future held for her, nor
how she would blunder into the estate she had said so often
was not for her.

He told her again that she was obstinate, but only suc-
ceeded in confirming her in it.

" Have it your own way then," he said in the end, almost
irritably, but his irritability was due to his disappointment.
" I can't compel you to marry me, although I know it would
be a good thing for both of us. You are building on a quick-
sand if you are reckoning on ending your days here with that
girl. Isn't she to marry either? You are so young, for all
your years, that when you talk of the future it seems to you
so far off that it's not worth reckoning with. You and your
Monica! Two old maids together, opening bazaars; the
Misses Wanstead, of Marley ! " He was angry, or he would
not have spoken like that. He had come here to-day full of
hope, and was going away without any. " I don't know where
your sense has got to. And what after — what after? Is
Monica to have a husband, and is he to live here with you ? "

" If she marries suitably. This is her home."

"I've no words for your foolishness." He was too exas-
perated for courtesy.

Afterwards, and not very long afterwards, both knew that
there had been indeed no words to cliaracterise her folly.

Andrew was sent away again to bring up his babies as best
he might. Agatha persisted that Monica was all the children
she would ever have.


She was not unconscious of what she was giving up, but
was of a nature to whom sacrifice came naturally. The more
she gave up for Monica the more she cared for her. It was
true, as Andrew said, that the future and Monica's marriage
seemed very far off and hazy.

At seventeen Monica was very pretty and very light, and
although she loved her elder sister as well as she was capable
of loving anybody but herself, she had a half-contemptuous
pity for her because she was an old maid. Every man who
came to the Court, young or old, and in whatever station of
life, was Monica's admirer. Monica demanded admiration
and received it. She had a way of looking up from under her
lids, and of smiling. Agatha was uneasy about her, although
she understood her so little. The very word flirtatiousness
was unknovni to Agatha, but she had her standard of good
manners. She thought there was something a little vulgar
or imworthy about Monica's pleasure in compliments and
her way of receiving and talking about them. Monica, on
the other hand, deemed her elder sister a little prudish, a
little priggish, old-maidish, and found it difficult to keep
her opinion to herself. Finally Agatha made up her mind,
but not without mature and anxious thought, that until the
day came for the girl to be presented, to take her place in
Society, by which time she might have acquired decorousnese
and the knowledge of what was expected of a Miss Wanstead,
of Marley, she must no longer be allowed to appear at dinner
or garden party; she must be kept in the background. She
was a little too old and a little too young to be with grown-up
people, lacking dignity, almost decorum.

Monica was furious at being told she was to be
banished to the nursery or schoolroom, deeply resentful of
the slightest remonstrance as to her behaviour. Yet Agatha,
so outspoken, frank and almost curt with the rest of the
world, was gentleness itself with this wayward one. But for
a short time, and until Monica learnt to evade her restrictions,
relations were strained between them, and nothing Agatha
yielded availed to put them right.


In her eighteenth year, with the least possible excuse, Monica
the cherished, the spoiled, the girl for whose sake Agatha had
refused Andrew for the second time and turned her back on
personal happiness, ran away from home, from the Marley
that was to have been her life work and inheritance. Basil
Fellowes was the companion of her flight, a son of the bank
manager at Great Marley, a young fellow of twenty, recently
gazetted second lieutenant in a line regiment, Agatha scarcely
knew his name.

The girl was missed at lunch-time; by four o'clock in
the afternoon the whole household was in alarm. If anyone
guessed the truth no one told it, and Agatha would never
have believed it. All night they sought for her; they searched
the Chase and dragged the river, Agatha, imagining every
disaster but the real one, distracted and beyond reason, sent
in the end for Andrew, although she had averred so often that
she needed no man's arm on which to lean.

Andrew's coming synchronised with Monica's belated tele-
gram. Of course, he triumphed at seeing his predictions
come true. And Agatha was so wounded, so hurt in all her
pride as well as in her hidden tenderness, that his triumph,
his smiles, and his " What did I tell you ? " drove her mad
with pain. She must have been mad in the months that fol-
lowed; nothing else can account for her actions. Andrew
saw Monica's letter, smiling at that too. He still wanted
Agatha, and Monica's flight seemed to deliver her into his

"Darling Sister,

" Don't be angrier with me than you can help. I wanted
to tell you, but I knew you wouldn't understand. Basil and
I are simply mad about each other. And you've never had



a love affair at all, nor been mad about anybody. Basil is
sure his father will make him an allowance if you'll do the
same and see him for us. We used to meet in the Chase. I've
only kno^vn him six weeks altogether. I wanted to tell you
ever so many times, but you think such a lot of birth and that
sort of thing, I knew you wouldn't hear of my getting married
until I was eighteen, and neither Basil nor I felt we could
wait. At first we thought we'd just get married and come
back home, and tell no one until his two years in India were
over. He's got to go there next month. But after we were
married and had lunch — I want to tell you everything, but, of
course, you've never been married and I don't suppose I could
make you understand — we simply couldn't be parted. I know
you'll think we might have waited. . . /'

There were incoherent pages of excuses, but no word to
show she knew what she had done.

Agatha did not reason about it at all, she was too greatly
hurt. Andrew's tender triumph — he meant to be tender with
her — ^was like a blow on the head after concussion of the
brain, unbearable.

"You made a mistake, that was all," said Andrew con-
solingly. " You mustn't take it too much to heart ; the girl
was never worthy of all you lavished on her." He wanted to
comfort her, and was ready to show her how to fill her life

Friends came in sympathy or surprise, in condolence or
condemnation ; it was impossible to hush the matter up. One
said the girl had had too much freedom ; another said she had
had too little. Agatha was accused of having spoiled her,
and then told she had been too austere. Everybody was sorry
for her, but some of her friends blamed her and said or
implied that the girl had been brought up badly.

The time came when Agatha found herself unable any
longer to bear her neighbours' criticism or comment, Andrew's
gentleness and triumph, or her own thoughts in solitary hours.
Later on she might be able to face it, but not now.

She saw all her mistakes so much more clearly than they


did. But it was not her conscience that suffered, it was her
heart. She had thought that Monica loved her, could not do
without her. But in the watches of the night it seemed that
no one loved or needed her. And she was nearing forty, incon-
ceivably lonely, too old to reconstruct her life. Who now was
to inlierit Marley? Not the bank manager's grandchildren.
She hardly knew her own next of kin, but must make search.

Andrew, for her own good and because he could not bear
to see her look so unhappy and forlorn, chaffed her about the
girl's flight, took it for granted that now she would listen to
reason — what he called reason. Not even Andrew realised
her sensitiveness, nor exactly how she was hurt. Often the
girl had slept by her side; always her heart had been full of
her. She had been bent on her welfare, planning for her.
Not a day or a night could she remember for all the years
since her father died that she had not planned for Monica or
Marley. Never a selfish thought had come to her. People
called her proud, standoffish. Perhaps that is how Monica
regarded her. Love words had come to her with difficulty;
but she had held this little sister in her arms and against her
breast, denying her nothing. It was a psychological time with
Agatha, and she saw youth behind her and loneliness in
front — loneliness, or Andrew telling her of her many mistakes.

There were hours when she had an immense antagonism
toward Andrew, when he seemed an enemy to her, glad of her
pain. She had the sense to see she must get away from him,
from all her surroundings, until she was in better humour.

Eound and ridiculous in figure, ill-dressed always, and
intermittently philanthropic, Alice Metherby had nevertheless
the human touch. She was in London when she heard what
had happened at Marley Court.

" Come to us for a few weeks," she wrote to Agatha ; " it
will be a complete change for you; the Colonel and I will
be so pleased to have you. You've never been in London
during the season, and there will be nothing to remind you
of anything you want to forget. You can be as quiet as you
like, or as gay. The great thing is that everything will be


The great thing wa5 that everything would be different.
How different she never dreamed. She felt she must get
away from Marley, from Andrew's weekly visits and proprie-
torial air, from the house that echoed no longer to the child's
pattering feet, to the girl's chatter or wayward affection, away
from the woods where she must walk alone, and from all the

She drew a long breath when she was in the train, and
thought that now the pressure on her head and heart would
lighten, her brain would grow clear again. She would make
new plans.

Andrew was satisfied that Agatha should be in London
for a time. He thought it best for her to have a change of
scene. The distance between Eaton Square and Campden
Hill was not unsurpassable. Colonel Metherby was the best
of good fellows, the youngest colonel in the British army, with
Afghan medals and reputation. She would see people, get
used to being without the girl, come to a different way of
thinking about things. Andrew was ever an optimist; he
saw Agatha and himself together, and the wedding bells ring-
ing. It was time his children had someone to look after them ;
Agatha would soon find her life full again. So he argued,
and, although the distance from Campden Hill to Eaton
Square proved longer than he expected, he lived in his fool's
paradise until half the season had gone by.

Campden Hill and Eaton Square are only twenty
minutes apart as the cab flies, but there was a whole quarter
of social circumstance between them. The Metherbys lived
in one set, Andrew McKay in another. They could have
managed to meet, of course, but Agatha had no inclination
to meet Andrew.

In London she got a little outside her pain, the pain of
failure and loneliness; she went to receptions and dinner-
parties and theatres, made new acquaintances and renewed
old ones, talked more than she had ever done before, and with
authority, perhaps gave a false impression of importance,
making somewhat of a figure. In those days it was a little
uncommon that a woman should talk freely and well of agri-


cultural conditions and farming, the labourer and his housing.
She talked from the standpoint of experience. The tale of
her wealth grew, and the number of her acres. Although she
was in her fortieth year she looked younger ; her hair was thick
and abundant, her eyes were unwrinkled, her complexion was
clear. Her fine hands and arched instep were hereditary, and
she carried herself as a Miss Wanstead of Marley should.

It was the Hon. Mrs. Dacre who first conceived the idea,
Lord Grindelay's sister. Lord Grindelay was the talk of
London that season, and his sister was half proud and half
ashamed of him, knowing more than the world knew.

In London, early in the July of that year, there was
political talk that no woman in the Metherby world could
hope to escape. There were fierce party cries and disruption,
partisajiship and appeal to national passions and posses-
sions. It was the year when Parnell was fighting with his
life's blood for a country that threw him' aside like a dead
dog on the first trivial excuse. It was a year of aggressions by
the Land Leaguers, of maiming of cattle and murder of land

The Lockhara incident will not have been forgotten,
although the feeling it aroused is perhaps difficult to recall.
Ulster then, as now, was steady and staunch. There was a
meeting of Land Leaguers advertised for a certain date,
and a manifesto headed " God Save the Queen " was issued
by Lord Grindelay, of Languedoc, asking Orangemen and
Loyalists to prevent it taking place. The two processions
started, came into conflict at Lockhara, and there was some
loss of life. There was a great outcry in London and in
Dublin as to who was responsible, and to satisfy a section of
the voters at Westminster it was Lord Grindelay who was
finally indicted. The trial was several times postponed, and
Lord Grindelay became the hero of the hour. He may have
been a patriot and a hero, but that he was also a scamp who
loved a row was well known to his sister and her intimates.

Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 2 of 27)