inasmuch as she needed more silk for the waistcoat she was working

Next morning Lallie went into the town between twelve and one. She had
a real and legitimate errand, inasmuch as she needed more silk for the
waistcoat she was working for Tony.

Since Mrs. Wentworth’s remonstrance she had never once walked down the
promenade alone between twelve and one, and to-day she felt particularly
virtuous and light-hearted. She would go straight to the shop, match the
silk, and come home at once. “I’ll walk up and down with nobody,” she
said to herself, “not even if the band’s playing ’Carmen.’”

As it happened, the band was playing selections from “The Merry Widow”
when she reached the shops, and she was not tempted to break her good
resolutions, for she met no friends at all until she had bought her
silks. “I’ll go just to the bottom of the promenade and walk up again,”
she thought, “it’s such a cheerful morning.”

It was. The sun shone as it sometimes will shine at the beginning of
the gloomiest month. The air was soft and humid, and though the roads
were shocking the wide pavement of Hamchester promenade was clean.
Lallie looked down anxiously at her shapely strong brown boots. No,
they had not suffered; they were smart and trim, and did no shame to the
well-hung short skirt above them. She squared her shoulders, held her
head very high, and strolled along serene in the assurance that in all
essentials she presented a creditable appearance. So evidently thought a
young man coming up the promenade towards her.

He was a man of middle height, slight and fair, and wearing pince-nez;
clean-shaven, with full prominent blue eyes, a large head, pinkish
complexion, and an amiable, if weak, mouth. Admiring friends told him
that he greatly resembled the poet Shelley, and he prided himself upon
the likeness while in no way dressing to the part. He had an extremely
long neck, which rather emphasised the fact that his shoulders were
narrow and sloping. He wore a stock and was generally sporting in his
attire, and his face and figure seemed curiously at variance with his
clothes. In academic cap and gown his personality would have been
congruous and even dignified, but clad as he was in a well-made tweed
suit with riding-coat, and wearing upon his head a straight brimmed
bowler, in spite of the fact that there was nothing exaggerated or
_outré_ in his garments he yet made upon the beholder a curious
impression of artificiality, and seeing him for the first time one’s
first thought was, “Why does he dress like that?”

Immediately he caught sight of Lallie he hurried forward with
outstretched hand and joy writ large upon his countenance.

“You, Miss Clonmell! What unspeakably good luck! I have been hoping to
meet you for the last three days, and never caught a glimpse of you.”

“How do you do, Mr. Ballinger?” Lallie said demurely, “and what brings
_you_ to these parts? Are you over for the day, or what?”

“I’ve come here for a bit. I’m going to hunt here for a month or
two–all the season if I like it. I suppose you’re coming out
to-morrow?”

“Why aren’t you hunting in your own country?” Lallie asked him
reproachfully. “What has Fareham done that you should desert it? Do you
suppose the hunting here is better?”

“I believe it’s quite decent here, really; and I know a good many
people, and I thought I’d like a bit of a change–and there are other
reasons. Of course you’re coming out with us to-morrow?”

Lallie shook her head.

“No, I’m not hunting–yet.”

“Not hunting, Miss Clonmell! What on earth is the matter? Have you
lost your nerve?”

“No,” snapped Lallie, “but I’ve lost my horse. Dad’s in India, as you
know; the horses are in Ireland; and I’m staying with friends who don’t
hunt and won’t let me hunt without them.”

“Oh, but that’s nonsense! Were you going this way–may I walk with you?
I’ve got a little mare here that would carry you perfectly if you would
honour me by riding her to-morrow. She has been ridden by a lady, and I
believe she has excellent manners and is a good jumper. I’m putting up
at the Harrow, the stables are so good. They’re just at the back here.
Won’t you come round and look at the horses and see the little mare?
It’s not three minutes’ walk.”

Mr. Ballinger talked fast and eagerly, in short, jerky sentences, as
though he were nervous.

“I’d love to see the horses,” said Lallie, turning with him into the
lane where the stables were, quite forgetful of her good resolutions to
“walk with nobody.”

“And if you like the look of the mare you’ll come out to-morrow?”

“Ah, that’s quite another matter. I don’t think I can do that. Tony
wouldn’t like it.”

“Why wouldn’t Tony, whoever he is, like it?”

“Because he can’t come with me.”

“And why not?”

“Because he’s shut up in school.”

“Now really, Miss Clonmell, that is going too far. I know how you
always spoil any boys you come across, but that you should give up a
day’s hunting because some wretched little schoolboy doesn’t like you to
go without him is absurd. Even you must see how ridiculous it is, and
how bad for him. Let him attend to his work and mind his own business.”

Mr. Ballinger spoke with considerable heat, and Lallie burst into
delighted laughter, exclaiming:

“But he’s not a little schoolboy that anybody could ignore, I assure
you. Besides, I’m devoted to him.”

“I have no doubt of it, but he wants putting in his place. Here are the
stables.”

Once among the horses, Lallie forgot everything except her delight in
them; but not even the charms of Kitty, the mare, could make her promise
to ride her the next day. So persistent was Mr. Ballinger, however,
that to get rid of him she said she would send him a note that night
should she happen to change her mind. He escorted her back to the very
gate of B. House, and of course she met almost every one she knew in
Hamchester while in his company.

She dismissed him at the gate, nor did she ask him in to lunch as she
assuredly would have done had it been her father’s house. She stood for
a minute watching his somewhat slow and disappointed departure, gazing
earnestly at his retreating back. Then she shook her head decidedly and
went into the house.

Up the back stairs did she go in her honest desire to conciliate Miss
Foster. One window on that staircase looks out on to the playground,
and as she passed she caught sight of Cripps standing with two other
prefects. The window was open and she looked out. All three boys
looked up and capped her.

“The dears!” said Lallie to herself, and kissed her hand to them gaily
as she passed.

At that very moment Miss Foster, followed by Mr. Johns, came through the
swing-door at the top of the stairs. Miss Foster stopped short some
four steps above Lallie, and of course Mr. Johns had to stop too, for he
couldn’t push past her, and to turn back would have looked odd.

“Miss Clonmell,” said Miss Foster, in tones that could be heard to the
farthest corner of the playground, “I really must protest against your
corrupting the boys of this house by vulgar flirtation of that kind.”

Lallie stood still in her turn, absolutely petrified by indignant
astonishment.

Cripps crimsoned to the roots of his hair, caught each of his friends by
the arm and hurried them indoors.

“How dare you speak to me like that?” Lallie gasped out; “and before the
boys too? How dare you insult me so?”

“I shall continue to do what I consider my duty whether it be agreeable
to you or not, Miss Clonmell, and I tell you again that I will not have
these vulgar flirtations.”

“It is you who put a vulgar interpretation on the simplest actions,”
Lallie exclaimed furiously, and with that she turned and ran down the
stairs again and across the hall and out at the front door before Miss
Foster fully realised that she was gone.



At Miss Foster’s first words poor Mr. Johns had turned and fled upstairs
again, through the swing door, and out to the landing from which he
could look down into the hall, and he saw Lallie’s swift and furious
exit. Down the sacred front stairs he dashed and out into the drive
after her, catching her just as she turned into the road.

As he joined her she lifted to him her white miserable face with tragic
eyes all dark with grief and anger.

“I must walk and walk,” she said breathlessly. “I am so angry; if I had
stayed another minute I should have done that woman an injury. You
heard what she said?”

“I quite understand,” Mr. Johns said soothingly. “I hope you’ll allow me
to come with you. I won’t talk.”

“It’s very nice of you, but really I’d be better alone.”

“I think not,” Mr. Johns said gently; “I hope you won’t forbid me to
come.”

He looked so big, and kind, and honest, and withal so hopelessly
uncomfortable, that Lallie’s face softened and laughter crept back into
her eyes.

“It’s really very nice of you to want to come when I’m in such a bad
temper. Let’s go this way, where there’s no people, and perhaps
presently I’ll feel better and we’ll talk.”

For nearly ten minutes Lallie pounded along in dead silence as fast as
she could go. Then she began to notice that the pace which was rapidly
reducing her to a state of breathless collapse had no sort of effect
upon her companion, who, hands in his pockets, appeared to be strolling
along in an easy sort of saunter at her side.

“This is ignominious,” she exclaimed; “here am I walking as if for a
wager, and you don’t seem hurrying one bit.”

“Am I walking too fast for you?” Mr. Johns asked, in poignant self
reproach. “I am so sorry; you see, I don’t often walk with ladies.”

“It isn’t you at all, it’s me; I’m walking too fast for myself, and it’s
so aggravating to see somebody alongside perfectly cool and composed.
If I could leave you behind, or you had to trot to keep up with me, it
wouldn’t be half so trying. As it is I give in. For mercy’s sake let’s
sit on this seat for a minute. You may talk to me now. I no longer
feel like tearing the hair off Miss Foster. Tell me now, what was it I
did to draw such an avalanche of abuse upon me?”

Side by side they sat down upon one of the hard green seats that are
placed at convenient intervals in every road leading out of Hamchester.

Lallie’s cheeks were quite rosy after her rapid walk. Her grey eyes
were clear and limpid again, candid and inquiring as a child’s. Mr.
Johns gazing into them felt compelled to speak the truth.

“I think,” he said slowly, “it was because you kissed your hand to
Cripps.”

“It wasn’t only to Mr. Cripps, it was to Mr. Berry and Mr. Hamilton as
well.”

“Perhaps she thought you did it to attract their attention.”

“And what if I did? Would she expect me to pass three nice boys living
in the same house with me–though it’s little enough I see of them–with
my nose in the air and never a word of greeting; and if I hadn’t gone up
by her nasty old back stairs just to please her, this would never have
happened.”

“After all,” said Mr. Johns, still gazing at Lallie, although she no
longer looked at him, “does it matter much what Miss Foster thinks?”

“It doesn’t matter to me what she thinks, but what she says does matter.
I can’t let her insult me in public and take no notice.”

“She often,” Mr. Johns remarked ruefully, “insults me in public, and I
take no notice.”

“Well, it’s very noble of you, but I can’t reach those heights. To be
told I’m a vulgar flirt and corrupt–_corrupt_, mind you–the boys, is
more than I’ll endure from any stout old woman on this earth. Do _you_
think I’d corrupt any boys, Mr. Johns?”

“I’m quite sure you would always use your great influence in the highest
possible way,” Mr. Johns said solemnly, “but—-”

“But what?” Lallie demanded impatiently as he hesitated.

“You might mislead a boy by–ah–for instance, kissing your hand to
him.”

“How mislead?”

“It’s very difficult to put it in such a fashion as not to sound
exaggerated and absurd; but you might, you know, make a boy think you
were fond of him.”

“So I am very fond of them; they’re dears, and I’m perfectly ready to
leave my character in their hands. _They_ wouldn’t misjudge me and
think horrid things.”

“I don’t think they would misjudge you, Miss Clonmell, but they might
mistake your intention.”

“My intention was perfectly plain–to give them a friendly greeting as I
passed. I’ve always kissed my hand to people ever since I was a wee
little girl–Madame taught me to do it–and if that’s corrupting them,
the sooner I leave B. House the better. I can’t turn into Diogenes in
his tub at a moment’s notice. If I mayn’t smile and wave to the people
I know, I’d best go where there’s a more friendly spirit. And so I’ll
tell Tony, only it will bother the poor dear so. Do you think Miss
Foster will go and harangue Tony, Mr. Johns?”

“I fear it is only too likely.”

“Well, she’ll get a pretty dressing down when she does,” and Lallie gave
a sigh of deepest satisfaction. “Tony understands me, however dense
other people may be.”

“Don’t misunderstand me, Miss Clonmell, I beg; I only tried to lay
before you a possible point of view–it may be a wholly erroneous one.
But you know people of great charm have also great responsibilities, and
it seems to me that sometimes–sometimes you are apt to forget how your
graciousness may raise false hopes.”

“Hopes of what? In the name of common sense what is the man talking
about?” Lallie cried despairingly. “Do you mean that if I kiss my hand
to a boy he will promptly hope I’ll kiss him in a day or two?”

“That’s precisely what I do mean, only I shouldn’t have dared to say
so,” Mr. Johns replied emphatically.

“Oh, the boys have got far more sense than you give them credit for.
Good gracious, what’s that bell?”

Mr. Johns hastily dragged his watch from his pocket.

“Do you know it’s a quarter past two and I’m due to play for the town on
their ground at three.”

“And luncheon will all be gone, and I’m so hungry,” Lallie wailed. “You
see it was nearly half-past one when I came in, and then Miss Foster was
so disagreeable and drove us both out of the house, and we walked and
walked; and now what’ll we do?”

“I, at any rate, must fly and change. If I take a pony trap down to the
ground I’ll just do it.”

“And you’ve had no lunch! Oh, I am so distressed!”

“That doesn’t matter in the least, I’ll snatch a biscuit and a bit of
chocolate. When I’m in training I often do without lunch.”

“Run then, Mr. Johns; never mind me. If you sprint a bit you’ll be at
B. House in five minutes.”

“Will you not think me very rude?”

“Don’t waste time talking–run!”

Mr. Johns ran, and Lallie followed very slowly, wrapped in thought.