An hour later Tony sat at his study table offering sacrifices
propitiatory to parental anxiety amid clouds of smoke, with a pile of
unanswered letters at his elbow.
Lallie peeped in.
“Has she come, Tony?” she whispered.
“She has,” he remarked briefly, whereupon Lallie vanished again, with a
In the passage she met Mr. Johns on his way to take prep.; she seized
him by the arm, whispering beseechingly:
“Come with me to the drawing-room just for a minute, there’s a dear kind
man. I’m petrified with terror, and Tony’s busy. Don’t leave me to go
in all by myself.”
“Certainly not,” Mr. Johns replied reassuringly; “I can’t stay, I’m
afraid, but I’ll come into the drawing-room with you with pleasure. If
it’s the dark you’re afraid of, and it soon gets dark now, I’ll turn on
the light; it’s just inside the door.”
Lallie gave a smothered laugh, but nevertheless she kept a tight hold of
Mr. Johns till he had opened the drawing-room door and turned on the
light. Then she drew her hand from his arm and sailed into the room
with her head in the air. The room was untenanted.
“She’s not here at all,” Lallie said blankly; then to the somewhat
flustered young master who had followed her in: “I’ll not detain you
further, Mr. Johns,” she remarked airily; “I know you are much occupied.
It was kind of you to show me the way.”
Somewhat huffed at this abrupt dismissal after so effusive a greeting,
Mr. Johns swung round hastily, only to cannon with considerable violence
against Miss Foster, who, unheard by him, had just entered the room.
Lallie stood magisterially upon the hearthrug while they disentangled
themselves, and Mr. Johns muttered apologies which were loftily ignored
by the lady.
Miss Foster was intensely annoyed. No one appears to advantage who has
just been vigorously humped into by an International forward; and
although Miss Foster’s ample form was calculated both to sustain and
repel a considerable impact, she was distinctly ruffled.
Mr. Johns almost banged the door behind him.
“I hope he didn’t hurt you, the clumsy fellow,” exclaimed Lallie, in
sweetly sympathetic tones, as she came forward with outstretched hand.
“I must introduce myself, dear Miss Foster, and apologise for invading
B. House in your absence.”
“I suppose you are but a bird of passage,” Miss Foster remarked, when
she had given Lallie’s hand a limp and chilly shake.
“That depends,” said Lallie gaily, “whether you’re all very good to me
or not. If I like it, I may stay till Dad comes back from India. He
likes me to be with Tony.”
“I wonder,” Miss Foster said thoughtfully, when she had seated herself,
“whether your father has fully considered Mr. Bevan’s many
responsibilities. A house like this–” Miss Foster paused.
“It seems a comfortable house,” Lallie suggested helpfully, “though ’tis
a bit cold. Shall I set a match to the fire?” and Lallie flew to the
little table–but the matches were gone.
“Pray don’t,” Miss Foster exclaimed, “I never start fires before the
first of October.”
“But if it’s cold?” Lallie expostulated.
“That, Miss Clonmell, is my invariable rule.”
“But it might be warm on the first of October.”
“If it is warm on the first of October I shall certainly not have a
“But we’ve _had_ a fire every night since I came.”
“I thought the room smelt rather stuffy,” Miss Foster said coldly.
“Won’t you sit down, Miss Clonmell? You look so uncomfortable standing
Lallie sat down obediently, and unconsciously folded her hands in the
devout attitude in which she had been wont to listen to the discourses
of the Mother Superior in her convent.
“It would be well,” Miss Foster continued, in a head voice, “if, before
we go any farther, I explain to you how rigid–necessarily rigid–rules
must be in a house of this description. It will save trouble and futile
argument afterwards. You must see, yourself, that the arrangements in a
College boarding-house containing fifty boys and over a dozen servants
can’t chop and change; the ordinary routine can’t be relaxed as in an
ordinary private house–though in the best managed private houses things
are almost equally regular.”
“But why should people be colder in a College house than in any other
sort, if they can afford a fire?” Lallie persisted. “Tony _liked_ the
“I never argue,” Miss Foster observed, with superior finality; “we will
change the subject. How is your brother getting on at Woolwich? I hope
he is settling down well.”
“I don’t know about ’settling,’ Miss Foster, we’re not a very settled
family, but he’s well and happy, and the dearest boy. Didn’t you think
him a dear boy, and isn’t he good to look at?”
“From what I remember of your brother he was quite good-looking–fair,
wasn’t he? You are not in the least like him.”
“No, indeed, more’s the pity,” Lallie said simply. “He is the image of
Dad. You’ve met my father, I think, Miss Foster?”
“I believe your father stayed a night here some time last winter, but I
don’t remember him very distinctly. We see so many parents, you know,
and it’s hard to keep them separate in one’s mind unless they have very
definite qualities, or are distinguished people.”
“Most people think Dad is very distinguished,” said Lallie, much
incensed at the implied slight upon her father; “but I suppose he
appeals most to brilliant people like himself. May I have my work-bag,
Miss Foster? I think you are sitting on it, and I may as well get on
with Tony’s tie as sit here doing nothing. Thank you; I hope no needle
has run into you.”
Silence fell upon the twain: a fighting silence, charged with unrest.
Dinner that night was not exactly a hilarious meal. Mr. Johns still
smarted under a sense of injury at the trick he considered Lallie had
played him. He held her responsible for his collision with Miss Foster,
and he came to table determined not to address a single word to her till
she should apologise. All the time he was mentally rehearsing that
apology and the form it should take. In some solitude–place not yet
specified–she would ask him what she had done to offend him.
Reluctantly he would allow her to drag from him the real cause of his
aloofness, and through the veil of his reticence she would perceive the
enormity of her offence–veils have an enlarging effect. Being really
good at heart and full of generous impulses–he was certain of Lallie’s
generosity–she would frankly apologise, and he would, as frankly,
refuse to allow her to do so. Mr. Johns saw himself, muscular, large,
and magnanimous, in the very flower of his young English manhood–gently
and imperceptibly raising little Lallie’s moral tone until her soul
should reach the altitude upon which it could meet his on equal terms.
After that, who knows what might happen? And it was dinner time.
At table, however, he couldn’t harden his heart against Lallie, who sat
opposite in a high white blouse that made her look like a schoolgirl.
Her eyelids were pink; so was her nose with its confiding tip; and she
never once looked across at Mr. Johns.
Miss Foster _would_ discuss the dates of various quarantines, and the
preventative measures that should be taken if any of the usual
infectious diseases invaded the other houses. Tony tried in vain to
head her off to other topics. By the time they had reached the
contagious, or non-contagious nature of tonsilitis, Lallie began to look
about her. From time to time she caught Tony’s eyes, and her own were
so merry and well amused that Tony, himself, began to see another side
to the germ question, which as a rule bored him to extinction. Mr.
Johns found himself trying to intercept some of Lallie’s glances, but
without success; and when the meal came to an end he had assuredly not
addressed a single remark to Lallie, but it was from lack of opportunity
and not because he was any longer offended. How could one be offended
with an irresponsible creature whose dimples were so bewitching?
Tony retired to his study; Mr. Johns went back to the boys; and Lallie,
who longed to go with Tony but didn’t dare, meekly followed Miss Foster
into the drawing-room. Tony was troubled about Lallie. The child look
pinched and low-spirited, he thought, and she was such a good child.
She had tried so hard, so kind-hearted Tony assured himself, to fall in
with their ways, to keep rules and regulations that were all strange to
her. He wished he could have her in here with him, but he supposed it
wouldn’t do; Miss Foster might be offended. She was such a quiet little
mouse–it was pleasant to work by the fire with her leaning against his
knees, with one of those everlasting ties in her hands. By Jove! it was
a cold night; he’d light his fire. Poor little Lallie! would Miss
Foster be friendly and motherly? He hoped to goodness she wouldn’t talk
any more about illnesses; he felt rather as though he were going to have
mumps himself. Tony pressed his neck on both sides anxiously. The wood
sparkled and crackled, he drew his chair up to the fire and lit his
“You must excuse me, Miss Clonmell,” said Miss Foster, when they reached
the drawing-room; “I have many things to see to upstairs. In a house
like this it is impossible to devote one’s whole evening to social
intercourse. I fear I must leave you for half an hour or so.”
“Of course,” Lallie said solemnly, not quite knowing why. “Please, Miss
Foster, would it disturb any of the children–the boys, I mean–if I
play the piano while you’re gone?”
“The boys’ part of the house is quite separate; you _may_ disturb Mr.
Bevan, who is usually busy at this time–but—-”
“Oh, I shan’t disturb Tony; he’ll probably leave his door open to hear
me; he loves music.”
“He has not, hitherto, made any parade of his partiality,” Miss Foster
said coldly, and left the room, shutting the door carefully after her.
Lallie flew across to the door and opened it wide, gazing after Miss
Foster’s portly form ascending the staircase.
“In a house like ’this,’” said Lallie to herself, and made a face, “St.
Bridget herself would lose patience, and I very much fear there’s more
than a spice of the devil in me. Anyway, I’m not going to freeze for
twenty Miss Fosters; I’ll get a cloak to cover me.”
She ran upstairs and reappeared clad in a wonderful theatre coat of
rose-coloured satin, embroidered in silver, a most incongruous garment
considering the severe simplicity of her frock, but it appeared to give
her great satisfaction; and again leaving the door wide open she seated
herself “with an air” at the piano, and began to sing.
It was surprising that so small and slight a creature as Lallie could
have such a big voice–a rich, carrying mezzo soprano voice; the sort of
voice usually associated with the full-bosomed, substantially built
women that one encounters on concert platforms or in grand opera.
Portali, the great singing-master in Paris to whom her father had taken
her when she was seventeen, explained it thus:
“She sings as a bird sings, but she would never make a public singer.
She hasn’t the physique, she hasn’t the industry; above all, she hasn’t
the temperament; but she can sing now as no amount of training could
ever make her. Give her good lessons–occasionally–but only the best;
never let any provincial teacher come near her. If she ever has a bad
illness she’ll probably lose her voice altogether, but if she only sings
for pleasure–for her own, and yours, and that of the fortunate people
thrown with her, never as a business–she may keep it till she is quite
an old woman. Let her choose her own songs–Folk songs are what she can
sing–but let her sing what she pleases; she will never go wrong. Let
her keep her wild-bird voice; don’t try to tame or train it too much.”
Lallie began to sing very softly “Synnove’s Lied”–the andante that is
sung as if humming to one’s self; then suddenly she let her voice go.
“Oh to remember the happy hours!” Right through the house it rang,
passionate, pathetic, pleading.
Tony leapt to his feet and opened his study door; at the same instant he
heard some one prop open the swing door that shut off the study passage
from his part of the house, and down the long corridor every door was
“Our world was bounded by the garden trees,
Then came the churchyard and the river.”
The big, beautiful voice died down, and once more came the quaint
humming refrain. Again–musical, intensely melancholy–the voice rang
“But now the garden is white with snow,
At night I wait, I stand and shiver,”
sang Lallie most realistically, for the drawing-room really was rather
“The place is frosty, the cold winds blow,
Oh love, my love, but you come never.”
Lallie sang in English, for she could not speak Norwegian, and every
word was clearly enunciated and distinct; the soft humming refrain
followed, and died away into silence.
“Heavens!” thought Tony, “the child is homesick alone in there with Miss
Foster; she sounds cold too–this is dreadful!”
He hurried to the drawing-room, expecting to find Lallie in the tearful
state her pathetic voice had indicated.
“I thought that would bring you,” Lallie remarked complacently. “Come
here, Tony, and admire my theatre coat Dad brought me from Paris.”
Tony stood where he was, staring at the gorgeous little figure seated
perkily on the piano stool; at the big cheerless room, with one electric
light burning in dismal prominence over the piano; at the black and
“Why in the name of all that’s idiotic haven’t you got a fire?” he asked
“In this house,” Lallie replied, in Miss Foster’s very tones, “we never
have fires till the first of October.”
Poor Tony looked very miserable.
“I am so sorry,” he said helplessly; “you’d better come and sit in my
study. I have a fire.”
“It’s I who ought to be sorry, Tony, worrying you like this. It was
horrid of me to tell tales. No, I won’t come and sit in your study, for
that would only make her hate me the more. I’m not a bit cold in my
beautiful coat, and I’ll go on making music quite happily. Run away
back to your little exercise books.”
“Try not to take a dislike to Miss Foster at the very first, Lallie,”
Tony pleaded. “She’s a good sort really; and perhaps I ought to have
written to tell her you had come.”
“It would have been better to break it to her gently,” Lallie responded
Tony crossed the room slowly, pausing on the threshold.
“I fear I must ask you to keep the door shut; the boys heard you
singing, and instantly every study door was opened.”
“Ah, the dears!” cried Lallie delighted. “Do let me have them all in,
and I’ll sing them something they’d really like.”
Tony shook his head.
“They must do their work, and I must do mine. Mind, you are to come
into the study if you are cold.”
As Tony crossed the hall even the shut door could not drown the cheerful
strains of that most jubilant of jigs, “Rory O’More,” and he felt a wild
impulse to dance a _pas seul_ there and then. However, he sternly
fastened the swing door, shut himself into his study, and tried to
forget the brilliant little rose-and-silver figure with the wistful
Greuze face. Over his mantel-piece hung an engraving of “_La cruche
cassée_,” bought some years ago because of its likeness to Lallie. He
shook his head at it now, turned his back upon it, and sat down at his
table. Val, who liked music, went to the door and whined to get out, but
Tony unsympathetically bade him get into his basket again, and gave his
own attention to the bundles of white paper that Lallie had
impertinently dubbed “little exercise books.”
When Miss Foster returned Lallie was singing “All round my hat I will
wear a green garland,” and accompanying herself upon the harp. She
finished the song and then went and sat beside Miss Foster on the sofa.
“You have a very strong voice, Miss Clonmell,” Miss Foster remarked,
gazing with astonished disfavour at the rose-and-silver garment.
“So I’ve always been told,” said Lallie. “You see it has never been
“Did you say trained or strained?”
“Oh, it’s plenty of training it’s had, but perhaps I haven’t profited as
much as I might have done. Are you fond of music, Miss Foster?”
“I can’t say that I am. I dislike every sort of loud music, and all
stringed instruments seem to me so very thrummy.”
To this Lallie made no reply, but took her roll of lace out of her bag
and began to work in perfect silence. Miss Foster picked up the
_Spectator_ and tried to read it, but could not concentrate her
attention. Against her will she was forced to glance from time to time
at the quiet figure beside her; at the deft white hands that moved so
swiftly and silently; at the beautiful work that grew so fast beneath
their ministrations. Like Tony, Lallie’s silence irritated her. If
only the girl had chattered she would have had a grievance.
“You were out with Mrs. Wentworth this afternoon, I think you said?”
Miss Foster remarked at last.
“Yes, Miss Foster; she took me to see Pris and Prue at their dancing.
Oh, it was lovely! Pris is just like a big soft india-rubber ball, and
bounds up and down in perfect time, and looks the incarnation of gleeful
enjoyment. And then Mrs. Wentworth insisted on my going back to tea
with her, for they were arranging about the Musical Society, and she
thought I might help. The organist is a nice man! That’s how it was I
couldn’t be here to welcome you.”
“The practises are a great nuisance,” Miss Foster said. “The boys have
so much to do, it really is not fair to make them practise in their
“But music’s good for them,” argued Lallie; “and it’s not a mental
“Of that I am by no means sure. If you will excuse me, Miss Clonmell, I
think I will retire, for I’ve had rather a tiring day.”
Miss Foster rose, Lallie folded her work neatly and put it in her bag.
She went and shut the piano and came back and shook hands with her
“Good-night, Miss Foster. I may be a minute after you, for I promised
Mr. Bevan I’d go and say good-night to him in the study;” and before
Miss Foster could recover from her amazement at this audacious statement
Lallie had vanished.
“She’s worse than anything I ever dreamt of,” poor Miss Foster lamented
to herself; “and I fear she’s a fixture for the present; anyway, we