A Blore Manor Episode by Stanley J.
Not very remarkable was this courtship: there was nothing very strange
about it, or more romantic than is apt to be the case with such
things. I doubt not that since the daughters of the children of men
were wooed, there have been many millions of such May-time passages of
greater interest, and that countless Pauls and Virginias have plucked
the sweet spring flowers together amid more picturesque surroundings.
Every matron--and some maids, if they will, though we deprecate the
omen--can recall at least one wooing which she can vouch as a thousand
million times more extraordinary than that of my commonplace hero and
heroine. That is so: but for that very reason let her read of this
one, and taking off the cover of her own potpourri savor some faint
scent of the dewy roses of the past springtime.
It had its origin in the 12:10 down train from Euston to Holyhead,
which carried, among other passengers, Charles Maitland of the Temple,
barrister by theory and idler by, or for want of, practice. He
traveled first-class. When you come to know him better you will
understand how superfluous was this last piece of information. Ten
minutes before the train was due out, he arrived at the station
in a hansom. A silk hat, a well-fitting light overcoat--the weather,
for March, was mild--gray trousers, and brown gaiters over his
patent-leather boots were the most salient details of a costume of
which the chief characteristic was an air of perfect correctness. At
the bookstall he did not linger, culling with loving eyes the backs of
many books, and reveling in his choice with florin in hand, as do
second-class passengers, but without hesitation he purchased a
Saturday Review and a Cornhill Magazine. After he had taken his
seat a Smith's boy invited him to select from a tray, upon which
glowed half a dozen novels; but he gazed sublimely into vacancy over
the boy's head; who soon left him, and prompted by a vengeful spirit
only inferior to his precocious knowledge of passenger nature,
directed upon him the attacks of two kindred sprites with Banbury
cakes and British sherry. The window was slight protection against
their shrill voices, but soon the train started and freed him from
them. He changed his hat for a brown deer-stalker, and having the
compartment to himself, had recourse to his own thoughts. It was not
unlikely, he told himself, that he had been precipitate in undertaking
this journey. An Easter, coming somewhat early, seemed to have
forestalled his wonted invitations for that season: and, to stay in
London being out of the question, he had accepted Tom Quaritch's
offer. He began to have doubts of the wisdom of this course now, but
it was too late. He was bound for Tom Quaritch's. He had known
something of Tom at college; and recently he had done him a slight
service in town. No more genial soul than the latter existed, and he
did not rest satisfied until he had won from Maitland a half promise
to come and see his beagles at Easter. At the time our traveler had
but the remotest idea of doing so. He did not know enough of Tom's
people, while to have the acquaintance of the right people and of no
one else was part of his creed. But now he was between the horns of a
dilemma. These people, of whom he knew nothing, might not be the right
people; that was one horn. The other consisted in the fact that to
spend a vacation in town was not the thing. When we have chosen our
horn it is natural it should seem the sharper of the two. Mr. Charles
Maitland frowned as he cut the pages of his Cornhill. And then he
made up his mind to two things. Firstly, to bring his stay at Blore
Manor within the smallest possible limits, and secondly, to comport
himself while there with such a formal courtesy as should encourage
only the barest familiarity.
At Stafford he had to change into another train, which he did, even as
he cut his magazine, with characteristic precision and coolness. And
so he reached Blore Station about half-past five, still neat and
unsullied, with all the aroma of the street of scents about him.
He let down the window and put out his head. The country thereabouts
was flat and uninteresting, the farming untidy, the fences low, yet
straggling. A short distance away a few roofs peeping forth from a
clump of trees, above which the smoke gently curled, marked the
village. The station consisted of a mere shed and a long, bare
platform. There were but five persons visible, and of these one was a
porter, and one a man servant in a quiet, countrified livery. The
latter walked quickly toward him, but was forestalled by three girls,
the other occupants of the platform, who, at sight of the stranger,
came tearing from the far end of it at a headlong pace.
"Here he is! Here he is!" cried the foremost, her shrill voice drawing
a dozen heads to the windows of the train. She owed her success to an
extempore tug in the form of an excited bull terrier, which, dragging
violently at a strap attached to her wrist, jerked her after him much
as if she had been a kettle tied to his tail. She might be anything
between twenty and five-and-twenty--a tiny little creature of almost
fairylike proportions. Her color was high and her hair brown; she had
curiously opaque brown eyes, bright as well as opaque. Gloves she had
none, and her hair was disordered by her struggles with the dog. But,
after all, the main impression she made upon Maitland was that she was
excessively small. He had no eyes for the others at present. But one,
owing to the reckless method of her progression, gave him a dim notion
of being all legs.
"You are Mr. Maitland, are you not?" the first comer began volubly,
though loss of breath interfered a little with the symmetry of her
sentences. "Tom had to attend a meeting of the fox committee at
Annerley. I'm Maggie Quaritch, and this is Dubs--I beg your pardon,
how silly of me--Joan, I mean, and this is Agnes. Why, child, what
have you done with your hat? Pick it up at once! What wild things Mr.
Maitland will think us!"
The youngest girl, whose hat was lying upon the platform some distance
away, hung her head in a very pretty attitude of shy gaucherie. She
was about fifteen--rising sixteen in her brother's phrase--and taller
than the elder girls, with a peculiarly pale complexion, greenish-gray
eyes, and a mass of brownish-red hair. Her loosely made dress was more
in consonance with her style than Maitland, staggering under the shock
of such a reception, had time or mind to observe. He formally
acknowledged the introductions, but words did not come easily to him.
He was dumfounded. He was so unaccustomed to this, or to people like
"And we must not forget Bill," resumed Miss Quaritch, if possible,
faster than before. "Isn't he a beauty now, Mr. Maitland? Look at his
chest, look at his head, look at his eyes. Yes, he lost that one in a
fight with Jack Madeley's retriever, and I'm afraid the sight of the
other is going, but he's the most beautiful, loveliest, faithfullest
dog in the whole world for all that, and his mother loves him, she
does!" All in a shrill tone, rising a note perhaps with the final
The train was moving out. The last that the twelve faces, still glued
to the carriage windows, beheld of the scene was Miss Quaritch
rapturously kissing and hugging the bull terrier, while the Londoner
looked on sheepishly. He was horribly conscious of the presence of
those grinning faces and suffered as much until the train left as if
the onlookers had been a dozen of his club comrades. Whereas the fact
was that they found whatever amusement the scene afforded them not in
the girl's enthusiasm--she was young enough to gush prettily--but in
the strange gentleman's awkward consciousness.
"Now, Mr. Maitland, shall Abiah drive you up in the dog cart, or will
you walk with us? Agnes!" this suddenly in a loud scream to the
youngest girl, who had moved away, "you can let out the dogs! Down,
Juno! Go down, Jack o' Pack! Roy, you ill-conditioned little dog, you
are always quarreling! I'm afraid they will make you in a dreadful
Indeed it seemed to Maitland that they would. An avalanche of
scurrying dogs descended upon him from some receptacle where they had
been penned. He had a vision of a red Irish setter with soft brown
eyes, not unlike to, but far finer than Miss Maggie's, with its paws
momentarily upon the breast of his overcoat; of a couple of wiry fox
terriers skirmishing and snarling round his trousers, and of a shy,
lop-eared beagle puppy casting miserable glances at them from an
outside place. And then the party got under way in some sort of order.
At first Maitland had much ado to answer yes and no.
He was still bewildered by these things, crushed, confounded.
He could have groaned as he sedately explained at what time he left
Euston, and where he changed. He was conscious that when their
attention was not demanded by the pack of dogs, the girls were
covertly scrutinizing him; but in his present state of mind, it
mattered not a straw to him whether they were calling him a prig, and
a "stick," and affected, and supercilious, or were admiring half in
scorn the fit of his clothes and boots, and his lordly air. All these
remarks were in fact made by some one or other of them before the day
was over. But he was, and would have been, supremely indifferent to
The weight of the conversation did not fall heavily upon him: indeed,
when Miss Quaritch had a share in it, no one else was overburdened.
And from time to time they met upon the road old women or children to
whom the girls had always something to say. It was, "Well, Mrs.
Marjoram, and so the donkey is better," or, "Now, Johnny, get along
home to your mother," or, "How are you, daddy?" in the high-pitched
key so trying to the cockney's ear.
In these parleys Joan, the second girl, was foremost. Maitland glanced
at her. A young man may be very fastidious, but neck-ribbons awry and
brown hair in rich disorder do not entirely close his eyes to a
maiden's comeliness. It would be strange if they did, were she such an
one as Joan Quaritch. Not tall, yet tall enough, with a full, rounded
figure, to which her dress hardly did, hardly could do, justice, she
moved with the grace and freedom of perfect health. Her fair
complexion could afford to have its clearness marred by a freckle or
two, such as hers, mere clots in cream; and if her features were not
perfect, yet a nose too straight and a chin too heavy were more than
redeemed by great gray eyes that, sunny or tearful, could be nothing
but true--eyes whose frankness and good fellowship aggravated the
wounds they inflicted. Why she was called "Dubs" I cannot tell.
Perhaps no one can. But, in her good nature and her truth, her simple
pride and independence, it suited her.
He had just, to quote the language of this cynic's thoughts,
catalogued the last of the Graces, when the party reached the house,
which stood some way back from the road. Tom Quaritch had just
returned, and welcomed the guest warmly; his mother met Maitland at
the drawing-room door. She was a singularly comely woman, stately and
somewhat formal. Her greeting so differed from that of her daughters
that the visitor found himself speculating upon the extraordinary
flightiness of the late Mr. Quaritch. Wherein I doubt not he did him
At dinner our hero had in some degree recovered himself, and he told
them the latest news of the theaters, the clubs, and the book world,
and while their ignorance filled him with a wonder he did not hide,
their attention propitiated him. He talked well, and if he was
inclined to lord it a little, a shrewd word from Mrs. Quaritch, or a
demure glance from Miss Joan's eyes, would lower his didactic tone.
The youngest girl promised to be an especial thorn in his side.
"Does everyone in London wear shiny boots in the daytime, Mr.
Maitland?" she asked suddenly, à propos des bottes, and nothing
"A considerable number do, Miss Agnes."
"What sort of people? No, I'm not being rude, mother."
"Well, I hardly know how to answer that. The idle people, perhaps." He
smiled indulgently, which aggravated the young lady. She replied,
crumbling her bread the while in an absent, meditative way, her eyes
innocently fixed on his face:
"Then you are one of the idle people, Mr. Maitland? I don't think I
like idle people."
"How singularly unselfish of you, my dear Agnes!" put in Joan
vigorously--more vigorously than politely.
Maitland's last reflection as he got into bed was that he was quite
out of place here. These might be very nice people in their way, but
not in his way. He must make his visit as short as possible, and
forget all about it as quickly as he could. The girls would be
insufferable when they came to know him familiarly. Good gracious!
fancy young ladies who had never heard of "John Inglesant," or of W.
D. Howells' books, and confused the Grosvenor Gallery with the Water
Color Exhibition! and read Longfellow! and had but vague ideas of the
æsthetic! Miss Joan was pretty too, yes, really pretty, and had fine
eyes and a pleasant voice, and fine eyes--yes, fine eyes. And with
this thought he fell comfortably asleep.
He came down next morning to find her alone in the breakfast room. A
short-skirted beagling costume of scarlet and blue allowed him a
glimpse of neat ankles in scarlet hose. She was kneeling before the
fire playing with Roy. Her brown wavy hair fell in a heavy loose loop
upon her neck, and there was something wonderfully bright and fresh in
her whole appearance.
"How quickly you have fallen in with our barbarous ways!" she said
with a smile, as she rose. "I did not expect you to be up for hours
"I generally breakfast at nine, and it is nearly that now," he
answered, annoyed by some hint of raillery in her tone, and yet unable
to conceal a glance of admiration. "I think I must adopt the Blore
breakfast hour; it seems, Miss Joan, to agree with you all so well."
"Yes," was the indifferent reply; "we get the first of the three
rewards for early rising. The other two we leave for our betters."
And she turned away with a little nod as the others came in. In five
minutes a noisy, cheerful breakfast was in progress, and the chances
of finding a hare formed the all-engrossing subject of conversation.
On this calm gray morning, warm rather than cold, the little pack, to
the great delight of the household, found quickly, and found well. No
October leveret was before them, but a good, stout old hare, who gave
them a ringing run of two hours, the pleasure of which was not
materially diminished when she baffled them at last in the mysterious
way these old hares affect and huntsmen fail to fathom. The visitor
performed creditably, though in indifferent training. At Oxford he had
been something of a crack, and could still upon occasion forget to
keep his boots clean and his clothes intact.
Returning home, Maitland found himself again with Joan. The heat and
pleasure of the chase had for the time melted his reserve and thawed
his resolution. He talked well and freely to her of a great London
hospital over which one of the house surgeons had recently taken him;
of the quiet and orderliness of the lone, still wards; of the feeling
that came over him there that life was all suffering and death; and
how quickly in the bustle of the London streets, where the little
world of the hospital seemed distant and unreal, this impression faded
away. She listened eagerly, and he, tasting a stealthy and stolen
pleasure in seeing how deep and pitiful the gray eyes could grow,
prolonged his tale.
"I have enjoyed hearing about it so much," she said gratefully, as
they entered the village. And indeed she had passed several people
upon the road without a word of greeting. "I hope to be a nurse soon.
The dear mother does not think me old enough yet."
"You are going to be a nurse!" he said in tones of such incredulous
surprise that the amusement which first appeared in her face changed
"Why not? One does not need a knowledge of art and the newest books
for that," she sharply answered.
"Perhaps not," he said feebly. "But after such a life as this, it--the
change I mean--would be so complete."
She looked at him, an angry gleam in her eyes, and the color high in
"Do you think, Mr. Maitland, that because we run wild--oh, no, you
have not said so--and seem to do nothing but enjoy ourselves, we are
incapable of anything beyond hunting and playing tennis, and feeding
the dogs and the hens and the chickens? That we cannot have a thought
beyond pleasure, or a wish to do good like other people--people in
London? That we can never look beyond Blore--though Blore, I can tell
you, would manage ill without some of us!--nor have an aspiration
above the kennels and the--and the stables? If you do think so, I
trust you are wrong."
He would have answered humbly, but she was gone into the house in huge
indignation, leaving our friend strangely uncomfortable. It was just
twenty-four hours since his arrival: the opinion of one at least of
the madcaps had ceased to be a matter of indifference to him. The
change occurred to himself as he mounted the stairs, so that he
laughed when alone in his room and resolved to keep away from that
girl for the future. How handsome she had looked when she was flying
out at him, and how generous seemed her anger even at the time!
Somehow the prospect of the four days he had still to spend at Blore
was not so depressing as at first. Certainly the vista was shortened
by one day, and that may have been the reason.
Meanwhile Maggie, in her sister's bedroom, had much to say of the
day's doings. "Didn't he go well? My word! he is not half so stiff as
I thought him. I believe he'd be a very good fellow if he had some of
the conceit taken out of him."
"I think he's insufferable," was the chilling answer from Joan; "he
considers us savages, and treats us as such."
"He may consider us fit for the Zoo, if he likes; it won't hurt us,"
quoth Maggie indifferently. With which Joan expressed neither assent
nor dissent, but brushed her hair a little faster.
Maitland did not for a moment abandon his fresh resolution. Still he
thought he owed it to himself to set the matter right with the young
lady before he stiffened anew. As he descended he met her running up
two steps at a time.
"Miss Joan, I am afraid I vexed you just now," he said, with grave
humility. "Will you believe it unintentional--stupid, on my part, and
grant me your pardon?"
"Oh, dear!" she cried gayly. "We are not used to this here. It is
quite King Cophetua and the beggar maid." She dropped him a mock
courtesy, and held out her hand in token of amity, when the full
signification of what she had said rushed into her mind and flooded
her face with crimson. Without another word or look she fled upstairs,
and he heard her door bang behind her.
Mr. Charles Maitland, after this rencontre, went down smiling
grimly. In the hall he stood for a moment in deep thought; then sagely
shook his head several times at a stuffed fox and joined the party in
the drawing room.
The next day and the next passed with surprising quickness, as the
latter days of a visit always do. In another forty-eight hours
Maitland's would be over. Yet singularly enough his spirits did not
rise, as he expected they would, at the near prospect of release. As
he closed his bedroom door he had a vision of a pair of gray eyes
smiling into his, and his palm seemed still to tingle with the touch
of a soft, warm hand. He had kept his resolution well--small credit to
him. Joan had seemed to avoid him since her unlucky speech upon the
stairs; when she did speak to him her words, or more often her tone,
stung him, and he smarted under a sense that she repaid with interest
the small account in which he was inclined to hold the family
generally. He resented her veiled contempt with strange bitterness, so
that Agnes remarked with her usual candor that he and Joan never spoke
to one another save to "jangle." Afterward, walking on the lawn, some
line about "sweet bells jangled out of tune," ran in his head. The
girl was a vixen, he said to himself, yet he tried to imagine how
tender and glorious the great gray eyes, that he only knew as cold or
saucy or defiant, could be when their depths were stirred by love. But
his imagination failing to satisfy even himself, he went to put on his
beagling dress in the worst of humors.
Possibly this made him a trifle reckless, for a promising run ended in
ten minutes so far as he was concerned, in a sprained ankle. In
jumping over a low fence into a lane his one foot came down sideways
on a large stone upon which some pauper had scamped his work, and the
mischief was done. The ominous little circle that hunting men know so
well soon gathered round him, and he was helped to his feet, or rather
foot. Then Agnes fetched the carriage, and he was driven back to
Blore. Now, under the circumstances, what could Mrs. Quaritch, without
an arrière pensée in the world, do but press him to stay until at
least he could put the foot to the ground? Nothing. And what could he
do but consent? At any rate, that is what he did.
So he was established in the drawing room, a pretty, cozy room, and
told himself it was a terrible nuisance. But, for a cripple confined
to a couple of rooms, and surrounded by uncongenial people, without a
single new magazine or a word of the world's gossip, he kept up his
spirits wonderfully well. The ways of the three girls, and the calm
approval of their sedate mother, could not fail to amuse him. Lying
there and seeing and hearing many things which would not have come to
his knowledge as a mere visitor, he found them not quite what he had
judged them to be. He missed Joan one morning, and when with an
unconscious fretfulness he inquired the reason, learned that she had
been sitting up through the night with an old servant who was ill in
the village. He said some word about it to her--very diffidently, for
she took his compliments but ill at all times; now she flamed out at
him with twice her ordinary bitterness and disdain, and punished him
by taking herself out of the room at once.
"Confound it!" he cried, beating up his pillow fiercely, "I believe
the girl hates me."
Did he? and did she?
Then he fell into a fit of musing such as men approaching thirty, who
have lived in London, are very apt to indulge in. A club was not
everything, be it as good as it might be. And life was not a lounge in
Bond Street and Pall Mall, and nothing more. He thought how dull a
week spent on his sofa in the Adelphi would have been, even with the
newest magazines and the fifth and special Globes. In three days was
his birthday--his twenty-ninth. And did the girl really hate him? It
was a nice name, Joan; Dubs, umph! Dubs? Joan? And so he fell asleep.
How long he slept and whether he carried something of his dreams into
his waking he could only guess, but he was aroused by a singular
sensation--singular in that, though once familiar enough, it was now
as strange to him as the sight of his dead mother's face. If his
half-recalled senses did not deceive him, if he was not still dreaming
of Joan, the warm touch of a pair of soft lips was yet lingering upon
his forehead, the rustle of a dress very near his ear yet sounded
crisply in it. And then someone glided from him, and he heard a hasty
exclamation and opened his eyes dreamily. By the screen which
concealed the door and sheltered him from its draughts was standing
Joan, a-tiptoe, poised as in expectation, something between flight and
amusement in her face, her attitude full of unconscious grace. He was
still bewildered, and hardly returned from a dreamland even less
conventional than Blore. Without as much surprise as if he had thought
the matter out--it seemed then almost a natural thing--he said:
"You shall have the gloves, Dubs, with pleasure."
The girl's expression, as he spoke, changed to startled astonishment.
She became crimson from her hair to her throat. She stepped toward
him, checked herself, then made a quick movement with her hand as if
about to say something, and finally covered her face with her hands
and fled from the room. Before he was wide awake he was alone.
At first he smiled pleasantly at the fire, and patted Roy, Joan's
terrier, who was lying beside him, curled up snugly in an angle of the
sofa. Afterward he became grave and thoughtful, and finally shook his
head very much as he had at the stuffed fox in the hall. And so he
fidgeted till Roy, who was in a restful mood, retired to the
It would be hard to describe Joan's feelings that afternoon. She was
proud, and had begun by resenting for all of them the ill-concealed
contempt of Tom's London friend--this man of clubs and chit-chat. She
was quite prepared to grant that he was different from them, but not
superior. A kind of contempt for the veneer and polish which were his
pride was natural to her, and she showed this, not rudely nor
coquettishly, but with a hearty sincerity. Still, it is seldom a girl
is unaware of admiration, and rare that she does not in secret respect
self-assertion in the male creature. This man knew much too, and could
tell it well, that was strange and new and delightful to the country
maiden. If he had any heart at all--and since he was from London town
she supposed he had not, though she granted him eyes and fine
perceptions of the beautiful--she might have, almost, some day,
promised herself to like him, had he been of her world--not reflecting
that this very fact that he was out of her world formed the charm by
which he evoked her interest. As things were, she more than doubted of
his heart, and had no doubt at all that between their worlds lay a
great, impassable, unbridgeable abyss.
But this afternoon the dislike, which had been fading day by day along
with those feelings in another which had caused it, was revived in its
old strength upon the matter of the kiss. Alone in her own room the
thought made her turn crimson with vexation, and she stamped the floor
with annoyance. He had made certain overtures to her--slender and
meaningless in all probability. Still, if he could believe her capable
after such looks and words as he had used--if after these he thought
her capable of this, then indeed, were there no abyss at all, he could
be nothing to her. Oh, it was too bad, too intolerable! She would
never forgive him. How indeed could she be anything to him, if she
could do such a thing, as dreadful, as unmaidenly to her as to the
proudest beauty among his London friends. She told herself again that
he was insufferable; and determined to slap Roy well, upon the first
opportunity, if that mistaken little pearl of price would persist in
favoring the stranger's sofa.
Until this was cleared up she felt her position the very worst in the
world, and yet would not for a fortune give him an opportunity of
freeing her from it. The very fact that he addressed her with, as it
seemed, a greater show of respect, chafed her. Agnes, with a
precocious cleverness, a penetration quite her own, kept herself and
her dog, Jack o' Pack alias Johnny Sprawn, out of her sister's way,
and teased her only before company.
But at last Maitland caught Miss Joan unprotected.
"I hope that these are the right size, Miss Joan--they are six and a
quarter," he said boldly, yet with, for a person of his disposition
and breeding, a strange amount of shamefacedness; producing at the
same time a pair of gloves, Courvoisier's best, many-buttoned, fit for
"I beg your pardon?" she said, breathing quickly. But she guessed what
"Let me get out of your debt."
"Out of my debt, Mr. Maitland?" taking the gloves mechanically.
"Please. Did you think I had forgotten? I should find it hard to do
that," he continued, encouraged and relieved by having got rid of the
gloves, and inattentive at the moment to her face. Yet she looked long
at him searchingly.
"I have found it hard to understand you," she said at last, with
repressed anger in voice and eye; "very hard, Mr. Maitland; but I
think I do so now. Do you believe that it was I who kissed you
when you were asleep on Wednesday afternoon? Can you think so? You
force me to presume it is so. Your estimate of my modesty and of your
own deserts must differ considerably. I had not the honor. Your
gloves"--and she dropped them upon the floor as if the touch
contaminated her, the act humiliating the young gentleman at least as
much as her words--"you had better give to Agnes, if you wish to
observe a silly custom. They are due to her, not to me. I thank you,
Mr. Maitland, for having compelled me to give this pleasant
She turned away with a gesture of such queenly contempt that our poor
hero--now most unheroic, and dumb as Carlyle would have had his, only
with mortification and intense disgust at his stupidity--amazed that
he could ever have thought meanly of this girl, "who moved most
certainly a goddess," had not a word to express his sorrow. A hero
utterly crestfallen! But at the door she looked back, for some strange
reason known perchance to female readers. The gloves were on the
floor, just beyond his reach--poor, forlorn, sprawling objects, their
fingers and palms spread as in ridiculous appeal. As for him, he was
lying back on the sofa, in appearance so crushed and helpless that the
woman's pity ever near her eyes moved her. She went slowly back, and
picked up the gloves, and put them on the table where he could take
"Miss Joan," he said, in a tone of persistence that claimed a hearing,
and, starting far from the immediate trouble, was apt to arouse
curiosity; "we are always, as Agnes says, jangling--on my side, of
course, is the false note. Can we not accord better, and be better
"Not until we learn to know one another better," she said coldly,
looking down at him, "or become more discerning judges."
"I was a fool, an idiot, an imbecile!" She nodded gravely, still
regarding him from a great height. "I was mad to believe it possible!"
"I think we may be better friends," she responded, smiling faintly,
yet with sudden good humor. "We are beginning to know--one another."
"And ourselves," almost under his breath. Then, "Miss Joan, will you
ever forgive me? I shall never err again in that direction," he
pleaded. "I am humiliated in my own eyes until you tell me it is
She nodded, and this time with her own frank smile.
Then she turned away and did leave the room, this time taking Roy with
her. Her joyous laughter and his wild, excited barking proclaimed
through the length and breadth of Blore that he was enjoying the rare
indulgence of a good romp on the back lawn. It was Roy's day.
And can a dog ever hope for a better day than that upon which his
mistress becomes aware that she is also another's mistress: becomes
aware that another is thinking of her and for her, nay, that she is
the very center of that other's thoughts? What a charming, pleasantly
bewildering discovery it is, this learning that for him when she is in
the room it is full, and wanting her it is empty, be it never so
crowded; that all beside, though they be witty or famous, or what they
will, or can or would, are but lay figures, umbræ, shadow guests in
his estimation. She learns with strange thrills, that in moments of
meditation will flash to eye and cheek, that her slightest glance and
every change of color, every tone and smile, are marked with jealous
care; that pleasure which she does not share is tasteless, and a
dinner of herbs, if she be but at a far corner, is a feast for
princes. That is her dog's day, or it may be his dog's day. It is a
pleasant discovery for a man, mutatis mutandis; but for a girl, a
sweet, half fearful consciousness, the brightest part of love's young
dream--even when the kindred soul is of another world, and an abyss,
wide, impassable, unbridgeable lies between.
But these things come to sudden ends sometimes. Sprains, however
severe, have an awkward knack of getting well. Swellings subside from
inanition, and doctors insist for their credit's sake that the stick
or ready arm be relinquished. Certainly a respite or a relapse--call
it which you will--is not impossible with care, but it is brief. A
singular shooting pain, not easily located with exactness, but
somewhere in the neighborhood of the calf, has been found useful; and
a strange rigidity of the tendon Achilles in certain positions may
gain a day or two. But at last not even these will avail, and the
doubly injured one must out and away from among the rose leaves. Twice
Maitland fixed his departure for the following morning, and each time
when pressed to stay gave way, after so feeble, so ludicrous a
resistance, if it deserved the name, that Agnes scarcely concealed her
grimace, and Joan looked another way. She did not add anything to the
others' hospitable entreaties. If she guessed what made Maggie's
good-night kiss so fervent and clinging, she made no sign and offered
In the garden next morning, Maitland taxed her with her neutrality. It
was wonderful how his sense of humor had become developed at Blore.
"I thought that you did not need so much pressure as to necessitate
more than four people's powers of persuasion being used," she
answered, in the same playful spirit. "And besides, now you are well
enough, must you not leave?"
"Indeed, Miss Joan?"
"And go back to your own way of life? It is a month since you saw the
latest telegrams, and there is a French company at the Gaiety, I learn
from the Standard. We have interests and duties, though you were so
hard of belief about them, at Blore, but you have none."
She shook her head. "No duties, at any rate."
"And so you think," he asked, his eyes fixed upon her changing
features, "that I should go back to my old way of life--of a century
"Of course you must!" But she was not so rude as to tell him what a
very foolish question this was. Still it was, was it not?
"So I will, or to something like it, and yet very unlike. But not
alone. Joan, will you come with me? If I have known you but a month, I
have learned to love your truth and goodness and you, Joan, so that if
I go away alone, to return to the old life would be bitterly
impossible. You have spoiled that; you must make for me a fresh life
in its place. Do you remember you told me that when we knew one
another we might be better friends? I have come to know you better,
but we cannot be friends. We must be something more, more even than
lovers, Joan--husband and wife, if you can like me enough."
It was not an unmanly way of putting it, and he was in earnest. But so
quiet, so self-restrained was his manner that it savored of coldness.
The girl whose hand he held while he spoke had no such thought. Her
face was turned from him. She was gazing over the wall across the
paddock where Maggie's mare was peaceably and audibly feeding, and so
at the Blore Ash on its mimic hill, every bough and drooping branchlet
dark against the sunset sky; and this radiant in her eyes with a
beauty its deepest glow had never held for her before. The sweetest
joy was in her heart, and grief in her face. He had been worthy of
himself and her love. While he spoke she told herself, not that some
time she might love him, but that she had given him all her true heart
already. And yet as he was worthy, so she must be worthy and do her
"You have done me a great honor," she said at last, drawing away her
hand from his grasp, though she did not turn her face, "but it cannot
be, Mr. Maitland. I am very grateful to you--I am indeed, and sorry."
"Why can it not be?" he said shortly; startled, I am bound to say, and
"Because of--of many things. One is that I should not make you happy,
nor you me. I am not suited to your way of life. I am of the country,
and I love to be free and unconstrained, while you are of the town.
Oh, we should not get on at all! Perhaps you would not be ashamed of
me as your wife, but you might be, and I could not endure the chance
even of it. There," she added, with a laugh in which a woman's ear
might have detected the suppression of a sob, "is one sober reason
where none can be needed."
"Is that your only reason?"
She was picking the mortar out of the wall. "Oh, dear me, no! I have a
hundred, but that is a sufficient one," she answered almost
carelessly, flirting a scrap of lime from the wall with her
"And you have been playing with me all this time!" cried he, obtusely
enraged by her flippancy.
"Not knowingly, not knowingly, indeed!"
"Can you tell me that you were not aware that I loved you?"
"Well, I thought--the fact is, I thought that you were amusing
yourself--in West End fashion."
"Mr. Maitland!" she cried vehemently, "how dare you? There is proof,
if any were needed, that I am right. You would not have dared to say
that to any of your town acquaintances. I am no coquette. If I have
given you pain, I am very sorry. And--I beg that we may part friends."
She had begun fiercely, with all her old spirit. He turned away, and
she ended with a sudden, anxious, pitiful lameness, that yet, so angry
and dull of understanding was he, taught him nothing.
"Friends!" he cried impatiently. "I told you that it was impossible.
Oh, Joan, think again! Have I been too hasty? Have I given you no time
to weigh it? Have I just offended you in some little thing? Then let
me come to you again in three months, after I have been back among my
"No, don't do that, Mr. Maitland. It will be of no use and will but
give us pain."
"And yet I will come," he replied firmly, endeavoring by the very
eager longing of his own gaze to draw from her fair, downcast face
some sign of hope. "I will come, if you forbid me a hundred times. And
if you have been playing with me--true, I am in no mood for soft words
now--it shall be your punishment to say me nay, again. I shall be
here, Joan, to ask you in three months from to-day."
"I cannot prevent you," she said. "Believe me, I shall only have the
same answer for you."
"I shall come," he said doggedly, and looked at her with eyes
reluctant to quit her drooping lashes lest they should miss some
glance bidding his heart take courage. But none came, only the color
fluttered uncertainly in her face. So he slowly turned away from her
at last and walked across the garden, and out of sight by the gate
into the road. He saw nothing of the long, dusty track, and straggling
hedges bathed in the last glows of sunset. Those big gray eyes, so
frank and true, came again and again between him and the prospect, and
blinded his own with a hot mist of sorrow and anger. Ah, Blore, thou
wast mightily avenged!
* * * * *
It is a hot afternoon in August, laden with the hum of dozing life.
The sun has driven the less energetic members of the Quaritch family
into the cool gloom of the drawing room, where the open windows are
shaded by the great cedar. Mrs. Quaritch, upon the sofa, is nodding
over a book. Joan, in a low wicker seat, may be doing the same; while
Agnes, pursuing a favorite employment upon the hearthrug, is now and
again betrayed by a half stifled growl from one or other of the dogs
as they rise and turn themselves reproachfully, and flop down again
with a sigh in a cool place.
"Agnes," cries her mother, upon some more distinct demonstration of
misery being made, "for goodness' sake leave the dogs alone. They have
not had a moment's peace since lunch."
"A dog's life isn't peace, mamma," she answers, with the simple air of
a discoverer of truth. But, nevertheless, she looks about for fresh
worlds to conquer.
"Even Mr. Maitland was better than this," she announces, after a long
yawn of discontent, "though he was dull enough, I wonder why he did
not come in July. Do you know, Joan?"
"Oh, Agnes, do let us have a moment's peace for once! We are not
dogs," cried Joan fretfully.
Wonder! she was always wondering. This very minute, while her eyes
were on the page, it was in her mind. Through all those three months
passing hour by hour and day by day, she could assure herself that
when he had come and gone, she would be at rest again; things would be
as before with her. Let him come and go! But when July arrived, and he
did not, a sharper pain made itself felt. Bravely as she strove to
beat it down, well as she might hide it from others, the certainty
that it had needed no second repulse to balk his love sorely hurt her
pride. Just her pride, she told herself; nothing else. That he had not
stood the test he had himself proposed; that any unacknowledged
faintest hope she might have cherished, deep down in her heart, that
he might master her by noble persistence, must now be utterly
quenched; these things of course had no bitterness for her through the
hot August days; had nothing to do with the wearied look that
sometimes dulled the gray eyes, nor with the sudden indifference or as
sudden enthusiasms for lawn tennis and dogs and pigeons, that marked
her daily moods.
Agnes' teasing, by putting her meditations into words, has disturbed
her. She gets up and moves restlessly about, touching this thing and
that, and at last leaves the room and stands in the hall, thinking.
Here, too, it is dark and cool, and made to seem more so--the door
into the garden being open--by the hot glare of sunshine falling upon
the spotless doorstep. She glances at this listlessly. The house is
still, the servants are at the back; the dogs all worn out by the
heat. Then, as she hesitates, a slight crunching of footsteps upon the
gravel comes to her ear, breaking the silence. A sudden black shadow
falls upon the sunny step and tells of a visitor. Someone chases away
his shadow, and steps upon the stone, and raises his gloved hand to
the bell. Charles Maitland at last!
Coming straight in from the sunshine he cannot see the swift welcome
that springs to eye and cheek, a flash of light and color, quick to
come and go. He is too much moved himself to mark how her hand shakes.
He sees no difference in her. But she sees a change in him. She
detects some subtle difference that eludes her attempt to define its
nature and only fills her with a vague sense that this is not the
Charles Maitland from whom she parted.
It is a meeting she has pictured often, but not at all like this. He
signs to her to take him into the dining room, the door of which
"I have come back, Miss Joan."
"Yes?" she answers, sitting down with an attempt to still the tumult
within, with such success that she brings herself for the moment
nearly to the frame of mind in which they parted, and there is the
same weary sufferance in her tone.
"I have come back as I said I would. I have overstepped the three
months, but I had a good reason for my delay. Indeed I have been in
doubt whether I ought to see you again at all, only I could not bear
you to think what you naturally would. I felt that I must see you,
even if it cost us both pain." There is a new awkwardness in his tone
"I told you that it was--quite unnecessary--and useless," she answers,
with a strange tightening in her throat.
"Then it can do you no harm," he assents quietly. "I have come back
not to repeat my petition, but to tell you why I do not and cannot."
"I think," she puts in coldly, "that upon the whole you had better
spare yourself the unpleasantness of explaining anything to me. Don't
you think so? I asked you for no proof, and held out no hope. Why do
you trouble me? Why have you come back?"
"You have not changed!"
For the first time a ring of contempt in her voice takes the place of
cold indifference. "I do not change in three months, Mr. Maitland. But
there! my mother will wish to see you, and so will Agnes, who is
hankering after something to happen. They are in the drawing room."
"But, Miss Joan, grant me one moment! You have not heard my reasons."
"Your reasons! Is it absolutely necessary?" she asks, half fretfully,
half scornfully; her uppermost thought an intense desire to be by
herself in her own room, with the door safely locked.
"I think so, at any rate. Why, I see! By Jove! of course you must
be thinking the worst of me now! Oh, no! if you could not love me,
Joan--pray pardon me, I had no right to call you by your name--you
need not despise me. I cannot again ask you to be my wife, because,"
he laughs uneasily, "fortune has put it out of my power to take a
wife. My trustee has made ducks and drakes of my property, or rather
bulls and bears. I have but a trifle left to begin the world upon, and
far too little to marry upon."
"I read of it in the papers. I saw that a Mr. Maitland was the chief
sufferer, but I did not connect him with you," she says, in a low
"No, of course not. How should you?" he answers lightly. But
nevertheless her coldness is dreadful to him. He had thought she would
express some sympathy. And gayly as he talks of it, he feels something
of the importance of a ruined man and something of his claim to pity.
"And what are you going to do?"
"Do? We've arranged all that. They say there is a living to be made at
the Bar in New Zealand, if one does not object to riding boots and
spurs as part of the professional costume. Of course it will be a
different sort of life, and Agnes' favorite patent leathers will
be left behind in every sense. This would have been a bad blow to
me"--there is a slight catch in his voice, and he gets up, and looks
out of one of the windows with his back to her--"now I have learned
from you that life should not be all lounging round the table and
looking over other people's cards. It has been a sharp lesson, but
very opportune as things have turned out. I am ready to take a hand
myself now--even without a partner."
He does not at once turn round. He had not fancied she would take it
like this, and he listens for a word to tell him that at any rate she
is sorry--is grieved as for a stranger. Then he feels a sudden light,
timid touch upon his arm. Joan is standing quite close to him, and
does not move or take away her hand as he turns. Only she looks down
at the floor when she speaks:
"I think I should be better than--than dummy--if you will take me to
Half laughing, half crying, and wholly confused, she looks up into his
astonished face with eyes so brimful of love and tenderness that they
tell all her story. For just an instant his eyes meet hers. Then, with
a smothered exclamation, he draws her to him--and--in fact smothers
"I am so glad you've lost your money," she sobs, hiding her face,
as soon as she can, upon his shoulder. "I should not have done at
all--for you--in London, Charley."
There let us leave her. But no, another is less merciful. Neither of
them hears the door open or sees Agnes' face appear at it. But she
both sees and hears, and says very distinctly and clearly:
But even Agnes is happy and satisfied. Something has happened.