Only by going straight into College from the station

Lallie came down to breakfast in her habit. Miss Foster did not ask
where she was going or why she was riding so early, but contented
herself with a remark to the effect that the very short and skimpy
habits now in vogue were singularly ungraceful and unbecoming. Lallie
replied that the shortness of the habit mattered very little if only the
boots below it were irreproachable, and that after all a habit was not
for walking in and that it was better to look a bit bunchy on foot than
to be dragged if you happened to be thrown. Whereupon Miss Foster made
a complicated sort of sound, something between a snort and a sniff, and
the meal proceeded in silence.

Only by going straight into College from the station could Tony take his
class at the proper time, but immediately morning school was over he
rushed down to B. House, hoping to find Lallie and take her up to watch
the pick-up.

His letters were spread out on the hall table, and one, conspicuous from
the fact that it was unstamped, caught his eye at once. He recognised
the little upright writing so like Fitzroy Clonmell’s.

As he read, Tony’s honest face flushed, then paled to a look of pain and
perplexity.

“Tony, dear,” it ran, “I’ve disobeyed you and gone to the opening meet
after all. I’ve not gone alone, and I assure you all will be well.
Yesterday, in the town, I met a hunting friend of whom we saw a good
deal last season, and he tempted me with a charming little mare whose
clear destiny it was to carry me once; anyway–I fell–I gave in. His
name is Ballinger–he is quite a nice man; but he doesn’t ride a bit
better than you, Tony, dear, so except as an escort I don’t fancy I
shall see much of him.

“This morning I had a letter from the Chesters up at Fareham, and they
have asked me to go from to-morrow till Tuesday. They want me to sing
at a Primrose meeting on Saturday; that I know you won’t mind: it will
get rid of me for a few days, and give you all a rest. Try not to be
cross with me. I’m a tiresome wretch, I know, but I am also your loving
Lallie.”

Very deliberately Tony folded the letter, put it back in the envelope,
and into his breast-pocket. He gathered up the rest of his letters and
went to his study, but he made no attempt to read them. He forgot that
he ought to go and watch the pick-up. He sat down by his desk, staring
straight in front of him at nothing.

Evidently, he reflected, Lallie was unhappy in B. House; glad to get
away. She was afraid he might say something to her about yesterday, and
regardless of his expressed wish, nay his command, so far as he could be
said to exercise any authority over her, she had disobeyed him. It had
never so much as entered the realm of possibilities that she could defy
him, and he was hurt. Never until that moment did he realise how much
he counted upon her steady affection. He had always been so sure that
he and Lallie thoroughly understood each other. From the time, when a
little baby in her nurse’s arms, she would hold out her own, struggling
to be “taken” by the tall, shy undergraduate; throughout the somewhat
stormy years of her childhood, when he was ever her confidant and her
ally; during the many holidays he spent with Fitz and his family in
Ireland, till the day, two years ago, when he first beheld her in a long
frock with her clouds of dusky hair bound demurely round her head, and
became aware with a little shock of foreboding that Lallie was growing
up–never had he doubted her. And when he had got accustomed to her
more grown-up appearance he speedily discovered that the real and
essential Lallie was unchanged, that she was just as kind and merry and
easily pleased, just as warm hearted and quick tempered, as neat
fingered and capable and unexpected, as when her frocks reached barely
to her knees.

“If I had seen her yesterday I don’t believe she would have done this,”
Tony thought to himself; “it’s not like her somehow to take the
opportunity of my being away to do what she knows I would have done my
best to prevent had I been at home. And this young Ballinger–he’s no
fit guardian for Lallie out hunting. Confound him! I wish he had
stayed in his own shire. Fitz said I was not to discourage him, but I’m
convinced he never meant she was to go out hunting with him. I suppose
he is going to these Chesters, too; probably that’s why she’s going. I
know nothing about the young man, but, like Charles Lamb, ’I’ll d—-
him at a venture.’ It’s too bad of Fitz shelving his parental
responsibilities like this. Suppose anything happened to her
to-day—-”

This thought was so disquieting that Tony got up and walked about the
room. Finally he opened and read his letters. Then Miss Foster came
and added to his anxieties by informing him that A. J. Tarrant, a new
boy, had that morning started a bad feverish cold and complained of sore
throat.

“No rash yet,” Miss Foster added gloomily, “but of course we’ve isolated
him.”

Altogether Tony wished he could have stayed in Oxford. Yet the day
seemed very long, and when half-past five at last arrived Tony actually
sprinted from the College to B. House.

A great wave of sound met him as he opened the front door. Lallie was
playing the overture to _Tanhäuser_. It certainly was neither meek nor
repentant music. Nevertheless Tony ejaculated “Thank God!”

He opened the drawing-room door very gently. The ruddy firelight glowed
and gloomed in waves of flame and shadow, but the opening of the door
let in a long shaft of light from the hall, and with a final crash of
chords Lallie turned on the piano stool, demanding:

“Is it you, Tony?”

“I didn’t need to ask if it was you, and it was a great relief, I assure
you. Had you a good day?”

Out of the shadows Lallie came forward into the ruddy circle of light.

“Your voice doesn’t sound quite pleased with me,” she said. “I must see
your face to make sure. Please switch on a light and let me see.”

She laid her little hands upon his shoulders and looked up searchingly
into his face. The bright glare of the electric light made Tony blink,
and he was so inexpressibly glad to see her again that his joy wholly
crowded out the reproachful expression he had intended his homely
features to assume.

He felt an overwhelming desire to take her in his arms, kiss her, and
implore her to swear she would never go away again. It was only the
certainty that she would kiss him back with the best will in the world,
probably bursting into tears of repentance on his shoulder, that
restrained Tony. He felt that it would not be playing the game. So very
gently, with big hands that trembled somewhat, he removed those that lay
so lightly on his shoulders and said, in a matter-of-fact voice:

“Naturally I was anxious. You see I thought we had agreed that there
was to be no hunting until we heard from your father; and how could I
tell how this–Mr. Ballinger might have mounted you?”

Lallie clasped her hands loosely in front of her, and stood before Tony
with downcast eyes, and he forgot all about the matter under discussion
in admiring her eyelashes.

“I didn’t exactly promise,” she murmured; then louder: “no, that’s mean
of me, and untruthful; I broke my word. I knew you wouldn’t wish me to
go–but I went–and I enjoyed it–rather. Not quite so much as I
expected, though the little mare went like a bird. It was quite a short
run; I was back here by three o’clock.”

“Who brought you back?”

“Who brought me back? My dear, good Tony, I’m not a parcel nor a
passenger; I came back. I studied the ordnance map of this district
that’s hanging in your study for a good hour last night. It was broad
daylight when the run was over, and it’s a very good country for
signposts. I returned. Did you see Mr. Ballinger’s cards in the hall?
He came fussing here to see that I was all right when I was in the
middle of changing, and he dutifully asked for Miss Foster, but she’d
gone to the sewing-meeting for the Mission–I _ought_ to have been
there; I forgot all about it; I’m so sorry–and she’s not back yet, so I
sent down word that I was perfectly all right and _resting_, so he went
empty away, poor man, longing for tea, I’ve no doubt; so must you be,
we’ll have it brought in here, Miss Foster won’t be back till six. Some
one’s reading a paper to them while they sew, poor things! I’ll have
another tea with you, Tony. No lunch yesterday, no lunch to-day, and
to-morrow will be the third day, though Mr. Ballinger did bring me a
beautiful box of sandwiches, but I had no time to eat them.”

“Mr. Ballinger! Why should he bring you sandwiches? Why didn’t you ask
Matron for some?”

“Oh, you dear goose! How could I ask for sandwiches when I was supposed
to be going out to lunch. What would Miss Foster have said? Do you
think anybody will tell her I went out hunting all by my gay lonesome?”

“It depends how many people knew you in the field.”

“Ah, there you touch me on a tender spot. With the exception of one old
curmudgeon who used to hunt sometimes with the “Cockshots” at Fareham
last year, there was no one I knew at all, and he rode all round me
staring, and then grunted out, ’Where’s your father, Miss Clonmell?’ I
passed him at the first fence, that’s one comfort; but you’re right,
Tony–I missed Dad. People stared at me. It was all right when the
hounds were running, I forgot everything and everybody but the fun and
excitement, but at the meet it was horrid. Is your tea nice? Oh, it is
good to have you back again!”

“And you prove your joy at my return by going off to-morrow!”

“That’s only for the week-end. I always promised them to help at their
old meeting–and me a Home-Ruler–isn’t it an anomaly?”

“I didn’t know that your politics were so pronounced.”

“You might guess I’d be ’ag’in the Government,’ whichever party’s in
power. Neither really cares a jot for Ireland. I think the Tories are
perhaps the less hypocritical of the two. But any sort of a political
meeting is fun. I always long to shout, and boo, and kick the floor. I
think all the disturbances they’re able to make is what is so supremely
attractive about the Suffragettes.”

“Are you a Suffragette as well as a Home-Ruler? I shall begin to be
quite afraid of you.”

“I _should_ have been a Suffragette if I might have gone to meetings,
carried banners, or thumped on a gong to disturb Mr. Winston Churchill,
but Dad was quite stuffy about it, and put down his foot–really put
down his foot with a stamp; fancy Dad!–and forbade me to have anything
to do with any of them, so what was the use? It wasn’t the vote I
wanted.”

“Fitz really has, upon occasion, wonderful flashes of common sense, even
in his dealings with you.”

“Now don’t you be pretending to think Dad spoils me, for you know very
well he does nothing of the kind. He has never been petty nor
interfering, but in things that really matter, I’d no more think of
disobeying him than—-”

“Of going out hunting without asking his permission,” Tony suggested
mildly. “And since we have approached the subject of your general
submissiveness, might I suggest that you fall in with one little
regulation of mine, mentioned on the very first evening you came. Do you
remember my asking you not on any account to use the boys’ part of the
house?”

“Well, neither I have, _ever_.”

“What about the back staircase?”

Lallie flushed angrily and began indignantly, “It wasn’t my–“; then
suddenly she stopped and said with studied gentleness, “I’m sorry, Tony;
you did forbid me, but I quite forgot that those stairs came under your
ban.”




Tony smiled at her.

“That’s all right then. You’ll remember in future. In some ways,
Lallie, you are very like a boy.”

“Good ways, I hope?” her voice was anxious.

“Some of them are quite good. Some of them–well, they are apt to get
other people in trouble. See what was sent to me by the incensed master
to whom the remarks refer,” and Tony held out to her a large sheet of
lined paper, closely written in her own neat little upright writing.
The first few lines comprised a decorous statement to the effect that
“Marlborough underrated the difficulty of managing a coalition. In his
necessary absence abroad this difficult operation was in the hands of
Godolphin, always a timid minister without any real political
convictions,” when suddenly the style of the Reverend J. Franck Bright
lapsed into the wholly indefensible statement that “cross old Nick is a
silly old Ass,” and this was repeated line after line throughout nearly
half a page.

Lallie gasped, then burst into uncontrollable laughter, exclaiming:

“It’s Cripps’s lines. He told me he had to do five hundred, and that no
one ever looked at them, so I said I’d do three hundred for him as he
wanted awfully to play fives that day. So I copied the dry old History
Book till I was sick to death of the long words, and then in the middle
I put that in just to cheer things up. What had I better do? Go and see
Mr. Nichol, or what? He simply must not punish Cripps. He knew nothing
whatever about it, poor boy. I sent him the lines in a neat bundle, and
I don’t suppose he ever looked at them.”

“As it happened it was Mr. Nichol who looked at them, for Cripps omitted
the very simple precaution of putting his own pages on the top, and as
his writing in no way resembles yours, Mr. Nichol naturally suspected
extraneous assistance. He turned the pages over and came upon the one
you have in your hand–your capital ’A’s’ simply jump to the eye.
Naturally he was much annoyed, and I am sorry to say he describes your
friend Cripps as ’a surly, insubordinate fellow,’ and demands that he
should be starred.”

“But he can’t be starred, for he didn’t do it.”

“That, very naturally, Cripps did not explain; and after all he is
responsible for the lines he gives up.”

“Tony, have you seen Cripps?”

“I have.”

“Oh, what did you say?”

“I told him that he was a lazy young dog, and ought to do his lines
himself; that I hadn’t an ounce of sympathy with him, and that he
deserved all he got and more; but I need hardly say I did not send him
to the Principal with the suggestion that his prefect’s star should be
taken from him.”

“Oh, Tony, I hear Miss Foster; quick–ought _I_ to run out and see Mr.
Nichol? I’m not a bit afraid of him.”

“I think that the matter may now rest in oblivion; only let me offer you
one bit of sound advice. If you are charitable enough to help any poor
beggar with his lines, write large; it’s a fearful waste of energy to do
neat little writing like that–eight words to a line is the regulation
thing–and, for Heaven’s sake refrain from personal remarks.”

“Tony, you are a real dear. I will fly now, for Miss Foster may want to
talk to you about the house.”

Lallie darted at Tony, dropped a hasty kiss on the top of his head, and
fled across the room, opening the door to admit Miss Foster, who had
removed her outdoor things. She never came into a sitting-room before
going upstairs; she considered it slovenly.

Tony folded the large closely written sheet of paper containing the
reiterated animadversions upon the intelligence of Mr. Nichol senior,
put it in his pocket, and rose to place a chair for Miss Foster, who
regarded the tea things with a look of acute distress.

“I took the opportunity,” Tony remarked, “of speaking to Miss Clonmell
on the subject you mentioned to me yesterday afternoon, and–er–I
reminded her that I had on her first arrival asked her on no account to
use the boys’ part of the house.” Here Tony made a little pause, as
though he expected Miss Foster to make some observation. “I confess
that the fact of her being on that staircase at all did surprise me,” he
added meditatively, looking full at Miss Foster with kind, beseeching
eyes.

That lady flushed and sat up very straight in her chair, but she did not
meet his gaze.

“What explanation did Miss Clonmell give?” she asked.

“None; she expressed regret that she had forgotten my prohibition, but
said that she did not suppose that staircase came under it, though why,
I can’t imagine.”

Again Miss Foster felt herself encompassed by that glance, so full of
dumb, entreating kindness. This time she raised her eyes to his and met
them fairly as she said slowly:

“Perhaps I am somewhat to blame for Miss Clonmell’s presence upon that
staircase, though you may imagine I never dreamt of the use to which she
would put it. I confess that it never occurred to me as being in any
way objectionable during the day. The boys never go up or down, and she
often has such exceedingly muddy boots–I may have even suggested she
should go that way. I am sorry—-”

“It doesn’t matter in the least really,” Tony said heartily, and his
whole face beamed. “Thank you very much for explaining.”

He did not add that it was just what he had suspected from the first
moment that Lallie’s frivolous conduct was revealed to him; but he meant
Miss Foster to own up, and she had owned up. Had she failed to do so
Tony could never have respected her again.

“As to Lallie,” he reflected tenderly, “you never know what she’ll do
next, but there are things you can depend on her not doing, and that’s
to try and drag any one else into the unpleasant results of her
vagaries. She’ll never go back on any one, never make mischief; and who
the devil is Ballinger that he should have all this?”