FORTUNE’S WHEEL

“But that’s all shove be’ind me
Long ago and fur away.”
RUDYARD KIPLING.

The boys had been back at school a fortnight. Jane-Anne was quite
convalescent and got up to breakfast, but the date of her return to the
Bainbridge was still undecided.

The doctor came at longer intervals, but every time he came he still
declared that there was “a roughness” in Jane-Anne’s lung, and that it
would be madness to send her North until that roughness was smoothed
away.

Night and morning and many times during the day, Jane-Anne bombarded
heaven with petitions that “the roughness” might perhaps increase a very
little, since it gave her no inconvenience whatever; anyway, that it
might remain sufficiently rasping to confirm the doctor in his view that
her return to the Bainbridge was at present out of the question.

Mrs. Dew, although properly respectful to the doctor as a friend of Mrs.
Methuen, yet felt that in this case he pushed professional caution to
the verge of the ridiculous. Here was Jane-Anne eating and sleeping as
well as could be, with pinker and plumper cheeks than she had had for
many a long day, looking, in fact, as her aunt said, “the picture of
health,” though some people might have thought the picture rather
elusive and misleading; here was Jane-Anne eating the bread of idleness
with almost aggressive satisfaction in Holywell when she ought to have
been reaping the benefits of her “nomination” up in Northumberland.

Why all this fuss about a slight roughness? “Mark my words and anyone
can ’ear anything as he listens for,” said Mrs. Dew.

Finally, Mr. Wycherly interviewed the doctor, who said to him in plain
words what he had feared to say to the child’s aunt.

The doctor was an outspoken young man of sporting tendencies. He wore a
white hat rather on one side and drove an uncommonly good horse, and to
Mr. Wycherly he said: “It’s like setting a thoroughbred filly to pull a
cart-load of bricks to expect that child to do housework in her present
state. She ought to do nothing for three months, and even then I should
say she is singularly unfitted for the kind of life she has up there. I
know those schools—excellent for big strong girls; but that child isn’t
strong. She’s all nerves and brains and empty, craving heart. The lung
trouble isn’t serious if it’s checked in time, but if she goes back
she’ll get overtired and catch cold again directly. I’m sorry for her
aunt, but what can I say? I won’t be responsible for sending her back.”

The doctor spoke angrily. He hated interfering in other people’s
business and he thought it exceedingly probable that an old gentleman
living by himself might strongly object to having a girl child foisted
upon him for an indefinite period.

“It seems to me,” said Mr. Wycherly mildly, “that it would be criminal
stupidity to allow her to go back.”

The doctor looked rather astonished.

“But what’s to become of the child?” he asked.

“Surely there is nothing to prevent her remaining here with her aunt,
and when she is strong enough are there not good schools in Oxford?”

The doctor picked up his white hat. “Of course,” he said, “if you have
no objection to her remaining here the whole thing is perfectly simple,
but I understood from her aunt that the arrangement was the child was
only to be here in her holidays, and she seemed sadly afraid of
trespassing upon your good-nature in keeping her here so long as it is.
She’s a very decent, honest woman, but——”

Mr. Wycherly rose and rang the bell to summon Mrs. Dew.

And the end of it all was that somebody wrote to Lord Dursley.
Jane-Anne’s “nomination” at the Bainbridge was presented to a girl whose
physique was more deserving, and his lordship, instead of being annoyed,
as Mrs. Dew had feared, at Jane-Anne’s failure to benefit from his good
intentions on her behalf, declared himself quite ready to pay for her
“schooling” in Oxford whenever that fidgetty fellow, the doctor, should
consider her able for instruction.

“Not till the autumn,” said the doctor, to Mrs. Dew. “She can help you
till then, you won’t overwork her, I’m sure.”

Jane-Anne knew perfectly well that her fate hung in the balance when the
doctor sought his interview with Mr. Wycherly, and when the result of
that interview was imparted to her rather grudgingly, and with many
injunctions as to decorous conduct, by her aunt, she felt such a
passionate love and gratitude towards the gentle-mannered master who had
made this beatific state of things possible that she could not rest that
night without going to thank him.

Therefore, without consulting her aunt, she sought his study after
dinner and knocked timidly at the door.

Mr. Wycherly was, as usual, seated at his desk writing; the shaded light
was pulled low over his papers, making a little pool of brightness in
the grey dusk of the room. The big window was wide open and a scent of
wallflowers was wafted in from the garden below.

“Come in, my child, come in,” said the kind, welcoming voice as he saw
the timid figure at the door.

And Jane-Anne came in with a nervous rush, but she did not forget to
shut the door behind her.

She dropped on her knees beside him and seized his hand, kissing it
passionately, much to his confusion. He was quite unaccustomed to
violent manifestations of feeling, and his long residence in Scotland
had increased his natural reserve.

“I know it’s you who managed that I shouldn’t go back, and I do want so
to thank you. You don’t know what I feel like. Please, sir, I will try
to be useful. Anything you would like me to do——”

Very gently Mr. Wycherly withdrew his hand. “Suppose you sit on a
chair,” he suggested, “and we will have a chat together.”

With stately courtesy, he placed a chair for Jane-Anne, and, seated
again in his own revolving-chair, turned to face her.

As always, when much moved, she was very white, and to-night her great
eyes were soft and dog-like in their devotion.

“By the way,” said Mr. Wycherly, “I haven’t forgotten your inquiry about
the poem that you cannot remember, and I have marked in a volume of
Wordsworth a number of verses dealing with mountains. Perhaps you would
like to look through it at your leisure.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jane-Anne whispered.

“I know nothing,” Mr. Wycherly continued, “more annoying than a
half-remembered quotation. I sincerely hope that you will soon find it.”

For a moment there was silence, then:

“Sir,” Jane-Anne said earnestly, “are you very lonely now the young
gentlemen have gone back to school?”

“I do miss them greatly of course.”

“Do you remember, sir, when you came to see me, when I was in bed the
first day I was here, you said when they went back that the sun set for
you——”

“Did I?” said Mr. Wycherly, rather surprised at himself.

“You really did, sir, and I wondered whether—though the sun has
set—whether you’d let me try—to be a little tiny star—just so you
wouldn’t feel quite so lonely.”

Mr. Wycherly’s hand still tingled with the touch of those soft
unaccustomed girlish lips, nevertheless he held it out to her, saying,
“That will be very kind of you.”

Jane-Anne placed her own within it and she did not attempt to kiss Mr.
Wycherly’s hand again, but she looked at him as though she would read
his very soul and asked: “Sir, have you ever heard anything about a
place called Greece?”

Mr. Wycherly laughed. “For a considerable portion of my life,” he
replied, “I have heard about little else.”

“Will you tell me things sometimes, sir? Will you?”

“I shall be most happy,” said Mr. Wycherly. “You certainly ought to know
as much as possible about your father’s country—and there is so much to
know.”

“I have another name,” she said suddenly and with apparent irrelevance.
“Shall I tell it you? Very few people know.”

“Do you mean Stavrides?” Mr. Wycherly asked.

“No, sir, not that; I have another Christian name. Allegra; don’t you
think it’s very pretty?”

“Very,” said Mr. Wycherly; “it is a beautiful name, but it isn’t Greek.”

“I’m called after somebody’s daughter that died. I don’t know who she
was; mother knew. My daddie liked the name. I daresay I shall find out
some day all about her.”

“I daresay you will,” said Mr. Wycherly, and looked hard at Jane-Anne.

“Which would you like to call me?” she asked.

“I shall call you Jane-Anne, not Allegra,” Mr. Wycherly said decidedly.

“It’s a pretty name,” she said wistfully.

“It has rather sad associations for me,” he added.

The clock upon the mantelpiece struck nine. Jane-Anne rose. “I must go,
sir, now; good night, and thank you.”

“Good night, my child. Get strong and rest you merry. And here is the
Wordsworth; tell me when you find your poem.”

She took from him a large brown volume that bristled with inserted slips
of paper. He crossed the room and opened the door for her, and
Jane-Anne went out with her head held high. “Just like he did for Mrs.
Methuen,” she reflected ecstatically.

When she had gone Mr. Wycherly went and stood at the window and looked
out into the night. The sky was unclouded, of a deep, soft, soothing
blue, and right in a line with his window shone one star.

“I wonder,” he pondered, “what made him call her after Byron’s
daughter.”

When Jane-Anne reached the kitchen, proudly bearing her volume of
Wordsworth, she found her aunt sitting at the newly scrubbed kitchen
table darning a stocking.

“What made you stop so long for?” Mrs. Dew inquired tartly, “hindering
and worritin’ the master. It don’t take half an hour to say ’thank you,
and my duty to you.’”

“The master set a chair for me and talked to me,” Jane-Anne replied
gloriously, “and when I came away he opened the door for me, just like
he did for Mrs. Methuen when she came the other day, and he’s lent me a
great big poetry book. Look at it! Oh, aunt, I do believe the Almighty
must be just like Mr. Wycherly.”

Mrs. Dew nearly dropped her stocking. “Jane-Anne!” she exclaimed in
tones of horrified amazement, “how you can stand there and say such
things passes me. Go to bed this minute, you inyuman child. You ought
to be ashamed of yourself, that you ought.”

“But, aunt,” Jane-Anne expostulated, “Miss Stukely, the lady that taught
us Sundays, she said we must love God, be always loving Him, and always
talking about Him; we couldn’t think and talk too much about Him; the
more we did it the fitter we’d be for heaven, and I’ve never seen
anybody before as I’d like Him to be like—so where’s the harm?”

The child spoke with breathless earnestness.

Mrs. Dew stared at her, intensely disapproving.

“How you can stand there,” she repeated; “how you can have the face to
stand there and talk about the Almighty bein’ _like_ anybody, just as if
He was your next door neighbour, turns me cold. Where’s your respect?
Where’s your sense of decency? I’ll have none of your revival ways
here, I can tell you; quiet, respectable church I’ve always been, with
none of such goin’s on. It’s quite enough for most of us to do our duty
in that station of life without talking familiarly of lovin’ and such.
_Go_ to bed, I tell you, and let me hear no more of such fandanglements,
and I’ll come in ten minutes to fetch your candle and bring you that hot
milk as is all over skin you’ve been so long. Now bustle about
smartish.”

Jane-Anne bustled.

Mrs. Dew leant back in her chair as one quite unable to cope with the
force of circumstances.

“My stars! Good fathers!” exclaimed Mrs. Dew. “If that’s the sort of
thing they teaches at the Bainbridge it’s more than time my niece was
took away.”

Very early next morning Jane-Anne crept out of bed, pulled up her blind,
and seized the volume of poetry Mr. Wycherly had lent her. She read till
her eyes ached and her head swam; she read without the smallest
understanding or enjoyment, but with the greatest care and application,
and though there was much about mountains there was nothing that struck
the faintest chord of memory in Jane-Anne. Whatever it was that her
father had repeated when he used to carry her about, it wasn’t there.
And yet she was certain about “the mountains.” Yes, it was “the
mountains.”

“I’m afraid he’ll have to look again,” she said to herself. She had not
the smallest doubt that Mr. Wycherly would help her.

It was a very hot May, and as the doctor had said she could not be too
much in the fresh air, her aunt, that afternoon, put a little table and
chair for her under the apple-tree, gave her some needle-work, and
bidding her listen for any bell that might happen to ring, announced her
intention of going out to do some household shopping. “Unless anyone
calls to see the master it’s unlikely that anyone’ll come at all,” said
Mrs. Dew, “and the front door bell’s that loud you’ll hear it right
enough if so be as you don’t get moonin’. I shan’t be more than a
hour.”

Shortly after Mrs. Dew’s departure Mr. Wycherly came to his window and
looked out.

There sat Jane-Anne at the little table covered by a heap of white
sewing, and he thought what a pleasant picture she made in her stiff
buff frock, so maidenly and sweet, so suitably and sensibly employed on
this sunny afternoon in the midst of the green old garden, gay with
tulips and fragrant wallflowers.

Suddenly Jane-Anne stooped down and took off her heavy shoes and there
and then flung them one after another to the other side of the lawn.
Then she removed her stockings. Mr. Wycherly gazed fascinated. What was
the child about?

This was soon deplorably evident.

Jane-Anne was taking off her dress.

Mr. Wycherly felt that he ought to go away from that window, but he
didn’t. He stayed where he was and, what’s more, he placed his
eyeglasses upon his nose.

She gave herself a complicated kind of shake and the buff abomination
fell about her feet in stiff expostulating folds.

Daintily and deliberately, she stepped out of it as though withdrawing
her feet from something dirty and distasteful. She wore a skimpy little
blue-and-white striped petticoat of cotton; body and skirt in one piece
it reached just to her knees, but was sleeveless, and her long, slender
arms were bare.

A thrush was singing in the apple-tree and a blackbird warbled loudly in
a lilac bush trying to drown the thrush. They sang as though there were
no such thing as winter in the world, and neither of them cared a whit
for Jane-Anne and her disrobings.

Flinging her white arms above her head, she danced into the middle of
the lawn on slim, twinkling white feet and continued to dance all over
it with the greatest abandon and enjoyment, while her long black plaits
bumped joyously. So light of foot, so variously graceful in her
gracious suppleness, with such divine gravity and dainty decorum that
Mr. Wycherly watching was fain to take his glasses off and wipe them,
for suddenly he could not see as clearly as he wished. Her radiant face
was pale, but her wide eyes were full of a gladness that seemed to
mirror back the brightness of that May afternoon, and the little
petticoat was like the sheath of a flower enfolding and displaying all
this happy grace.

Loudly carolled the blackbird, lustily chirruped the thrush, and
Jane-Anne danced to their orchestra, and while she danced her mind kept
saying: “I’ve done with it; I’ve done with it. I shall never go back.
Life is before me, a new life; a life full of wonders, and a bedroom to
myself, with furniture like looking-glasses; a life with a kind,
sensible, if worldly minded aunt, who gives to little girls delicious
puddings that they like. A life with books in it, big books; not
interesting, perhaps, but very grand and splendid to have lent one. A
life that is to be lived under the same roof with a beautiful, kind old
gentleman who will perhaps, by-and-bye, let me wait upon him. Oh,
wonderful and delicious prospect, to wait upon Mr. Wycherly! To hand
him his plate and to pour out—what should she pour out? Wine, she
expected, though Miss Stukely said wine was wrong. Not, perhaps, for
the gentry, for the _real_ gentry, as her aunt would say. How soft and
warm the grass to the bare tripping feet! How kind of those birds to
sing like that! How lovely it was to be young and light and to have got
rid of heavy shoes and hot, uncomfortable frock. How——”

It was the front door bell.

Jane-Anne heard it and Mr. Wycherly did not.

There certainly was the making of a quick-change artist in Jane-Anne.
In a twinkling she had found her shoes and stockings and put them on,
and she ran to the house struggling into her dress as she ran.

“You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet,
Where has the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?”

said Mr. Wycherly, wondering why she had stopped so suddenly.