she could hardly now declare that she no longer felt any inclinatio

On Sunday morning Lallie got a letter from Tony telling her how ill
Tarrant was. She read the letter over and over again, feeling restless
and unhappy. She wanted Tony. She would have liked to go back to B.
House that minute, to comfort him.

“When I was at B. House I was homesick for Bridget, and now I’m here I’m
homesick for Tony. Shall I always be homesick, I wonder?” Lallie
pondered.

She felt curiously nervous and ill at ease. Sidney Ballinger’s
inevitable proposal was hanging over her, and she was no nearer any
decision as to her own answer. It was all very well “to be nice” to him
just to annoy Mrs. Atwood, as it plainly did; but quite another matter
to make up her mind “to be nice to him for ever and ever,” as she
considered would be her duty if she accepted him. She wished she could
talk it over with Tony once more.

Mrs. Chester insisted that her husband should take Mrs. Atwood to
service at Fareham church while the rest of the party went with her to
the church in the village.

Mrs. Atwood protested against the motor being had out on her account,
but her hostess was firm; and as she had, when they first met, expressed
such an ardent desire to behold that ancient building, she could hardly
now declare that she no longer felt any inclination to gaze upon its
beauties.

“Won’t you come too, Miss Clonmell?” she asked, as arrangements were
being made in the hall after breakfast.

“Lallie is coming with me,” Mrs. Chester said firmly, without giving her
guest a chance to reply. “Every one is coming with me except you and my
husband. Then the vicar won’t miss him so much.”

All through the service Lallie thought of College chapel and longed to
be there. From her seat in the gallery she could see Tony, and she
liked to look down at him and admire his decorous demeanour. She always
regarded his schoolmastering as something quite apart from himself, and
now, although she had been living in B. House for nearly six weeks, she
still thought that when he was what she called “stiff” it was only a
manner adopted for the benefit of the boys.

Her Tony Bevan was the Tony of the holidays, in shabby Norfolk jacket
and old fishing-hat. She never quite got over her first amusement at his
sober Sunday garb and college gown. But even in this she liked him.
She liked him amazingly. Her eyes were very soft and kind as she
pictured Tony, stalwart and grave, leaning back in his college stall.
And Ballinger, watching her, wondered what would be her thoughts, and
hoped they might be of him.

They all walked back from church together meeting the motor as it turned
into the drive. Mrs. Atwood and Mr. Chester got out and the whole party
went round the gardens before lunch.

“Remember, we meet in the drawing-room at three–no one’s ever there on
Sunday afternoon; you promised me a walk, you know–don’t forget,”
Ballinger contrived to say to Lallie as they neared the house. She
nodded without speaking, and Mrs. Atwood who was close behind them–she
generally was–heard his reminder and noted Lallie’s silent
acquiescence.

Her face was very sombre as she slowly went upstairs to take off her
hat.

She was leaving next day, and she was no nearer any explanation with
Sidney Ballinger than before she came. They had assuredly met once
more, but even her vanity hardly helped her to believe that the meeting
had, for him, been fraught with any pleasure.

Like Miss Foster, she considered Lallie “a designing girl,” and blamed
her for Sidney’s coldness.

“If I could only see him alone,” was the thought that repeated itself
over and over again in her head; and the reflection that it was
Lallie–and not she–who would see him alone that very afternoon became
unbearable. Something must be done.

In winter at Pinnels, bedroom fires are lit before lunch on Sundays, and
ladies retire to their rooms immediately after, nominally to write
letters. Most people sleep, but that afternoon Lallie felt unusually
wide-awake. She drew up a chair to the fire, intending to read till it
should be time for her walk with Ballinger, but the printed page
conveyed nothing to her mind. She was in that state of acute nervous
tension when definite occupation of any kind seems impossible, and every
smallest sound is magnified tenfold.

“I’ll get it over,” said Lallie to herself. “Nothing will induce me to
marry him, but I’ll get it over.”

Presently there came a very soft rap upon her door. Mrs. Atwood
followed the knock and, shutting the door behind her, came over to
Lallie.

“May I sit down?” she said. “I very much want to have a few minutes’
conversation with you, and this seemed the best opportunity.”

She was pale, and there was an atmosphere about her of suppressed storm.
Lallie hoisted a mental umbrella while she politely begged her guest to
be seated, and awaited developments.

“You have, I think,” said Mrs. Atwood, “known Mr. Ballinger for about a
year?”

“Just about,” said Lallie.

“I have known him for nearly seven.”

“Really,” Lallie remarked.

“Miss Clonmell, you are young, and I feel that it is only fair to you
that you should know–what he and I have been to one another.”

“Please, I have no desire to know anything of the kind. It is no
business of mine. I would rather not–much rather not–hear any more.
Please, please stop before you say things you will wish unsaid half an
hour afterwards–please.”

“You’ve got to listen to me whether you like it or not,” Mrs. Atwood
exclaimed passionately. “You think he is in love with you. I know him;
it is merely a passing glamour. Your youth, your music–your–oh, what
shall I call it–have carried him off his feet, but it will pass; his
heart, what there is of it, belongs to me.”

“But you’re married, Mrs. Atwood, so what would you be doing with his
heart? even if it is as you say.”

“_Married!_” Mrs. Atwood repeated bitterly–“married! so I was when he
first knew me, but that didn’t prevent his falling in love with me.”

“I fear,” said Lallie gravely, “that he is a very unfortunate young man,
and if he has done his best to cure himself of such a hopeless
attachment it’s not you who should stand in the way of his doing so.”

“Confront me with him,” Mrs. Atwood cried furiously; “ask him whether
what I say is true or not, and you’ll soon see.”




“My dear Mrs. Atwood, I shouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. It is an
unpleasant affair altogether, and the sooner it’s buried in oblivion the
better for all concerned.”

“But, girl, I love him! Can’t you understand? I love him!”

“I’m very sorry,” said Lallie.

“But what are you going to do?” cried Mrs. Atwood, her voice vibrant and
shrill with irritation. “The matter can’t rest here. What are you going
to do?”

“Nothing whatever. I never let it affect me when people tell me tales
about others. I wasn’t intended to know this. If Mr. Ballinger wants
me to know it, he’ll tell me himself.”

“You mean that what I have told you won’t affect your feelings towards
him in any way?”

“Mrs. Atwood, I am really very sorry for you, but I can’t see that
Sidney Ballinger is called upon to go single all his life just because
he was in love with you once and has got over it. He can’t marry you if
you’ve got a husband already, and it’s much better he shouldn’t go
hanging round you any more–better for both of you. Don’t you see that
it is?”

“You don’t understand,” wailed Mrs. Atwood. “You take the common,
narrow, early Victorian view of the whole situation. Does he owe me
_nothing_ for the years I have loved him?”

“If I had loved a man for years,” said Lallie softly, “I don’t think I
should talk about his debt to me.”

“You don’t know what you would do. If you were a woman, instead of a
child incapable of understanding any great passion, you would know.
Will you give him back to me, I ask you? Will you give him back to me?”

“Nothing can do that except his own will.”

“But will you stand out of the way, refuse him, have nothing more to do
with him? Promise me.”

A moment before, Lallie had looked frightened, and Mrs. Atwood thought
she could be bullied. She stood over the girl, menace in her eyes and
hatred in her heart. She caught Lallie by the shoulder and shook her.
She made a great mistake.

A moment before Lallie had been very sorry for her, though she despised
her and thought her shameless. But now–she shook off Mrs. Atwood’s
hand and she, too, stood up.

“I will promise nothing,” she said haughtily. “You have no possible
right to ask it.”

The two women stood looking at each other. Mrs. Atwood breathless,
panting, almost beside herself with excitement; Lallie quiet and
dignified.

The clock struck three.

“I think we have said all there is to say on this subject,” Lallie said
coldly. “I really would rather not hear any more.”

She crossed the room and held the door open, and in silence Mrs. Atwood
passed through it.

Lallie seized her coat and hat, fiercely stabbed in her big pins and ran
down stairs to the drawing-room, where she knew Sidney Ballinger would
be waiting.

So he was, and Mrs. Atwood was with him. The tears were running down her
cheeks. He was white and evidently very angry. His mouth, usually so
weak and amiable, had taken on a cruel look–the sort of snarl that
curls the lips back from the teeth as in an angry animal.

Lallie stopped short and looked from one to the other.

“I have told her, Sidney,” sobbed Mrs. Atwood. “I thought it only right
that she should know all we had been to one another–how greatly we
loved, how—-”

He turned upon her furiously.

“I never loved you. From its first inception the whole thing was false
and pretentious, as you are yourself. I was only a boy when you got
hold of me. I never really cared for you.”

Lallie moved a little nearer Mrs. Atwood.

“Believe me, Lallie,” he went on, “I never cared for her, and now she
won’t leave me alone. I care more for your very shoe-lace—-”

“Stop!” It was Lallie who spoke. “How dare you speak to her like that?
Oh, you—-”

Mrs. Atwood covered her face with her hands and fled from the room.

“Listen to me, Lallie! Don’t let her come between us.”

He spoke in sobbing gasps and caught at one of Lallie’s hands. She drew
it away.

“She has not come between us,” she said scornfully; “it is yourself.
You might have told me that it had all been the worst thing possible,
and I could have forgiven you. Who am I to judge a man? But not this.
You went back on her. You put her to open shame before me. You are a
coward, Mr. Ballinger.”

“Lallie, think of the provocation! What right had she to come thrusting
in with her grievances–wholly imaginary grievances–upon the most
beautiful and sacred thing in my whole life. Let us come out and forget
her. You will come, won’t you? You won’t let her spoil everything?”

“I told you before, Mrs. Atwood had no power to spoil anything. I
wasn’t even sorry for her when _she_ told me; but you– No, Mr.
Ballinger, I could never trust you. You went back on her.”

And Lallie turned and left him standing in the middle of the Pinnels
drawing-room, thinking bitter thoughts.

Who could have dreamt she would have taken such a curious line? That
she should be shocked, distressed, indignant, was to be expected–it was
what he dreaded. But she was none of these things. The affair with
Mrs. Atwood seemed to pass her by. She blamed him because he didn’t own
up, because he was cruel to Eileen Atwood when he denied that he had
ever cared for her. He had cared, as much as it was in him to care at
all–then. Now, he was absolutely truthful when he had said that
Lallie’s shoe-string was more to him than Eileen Atwood’s whole body.
But it had not pleased Lallie. Women were incomprehensible. He knew
that Lallie did not love him, but he had believed that he could make her
love him in time. She was so affectionate, so passionately grateful for
kindness: surely, surely she must respond some day if only he got his
chance.

Had this horrible woman ruined it entirely? He felt that he could gladly
have strangled Mrs. Atwood with his own hands: yet his knees bent under
him and his pulses were thundering in his ears. He went into the
deserted dining-room and mixed himself a stiff whisky-and-soda, and
drank it at a draught. He felt better after it and more hopeful.

Poor little Lallie! It had been a horrid scene. He wouldn’t appeal to
her again–not just now while she was still angry, but in
Hamchester–thank Heaven! she would be somewhere within reach where he
could see her sometimes. Perhaps by and by, when she had cooled down,
she would listen to reason. By the way, he might go and see that
schoolmaster fellow who was acting as her guardian. The Chesters said
he was a very decent chap, quite a man of the world. Ballinger thought
he might just give a hint that there had been unpleasantness about
another woman, and a tolerant, broad-minded man–the Chesters said he
was that–would say something sensible to Lallie, and it would have
weight. She was forever quoting him. She’d probably take it from him.

It never occurred to Sidney Ballinger that a guardian of any sort could
regard him other than in the most favourable light. After all, eight
thousand a year is eight thousand a year, and “I’m not a bad chap or
wastrel. There’s nothing against me really,” he reflected.

By tea-time he was able to take quite an optimistic view of the
situation.