She knew very well what it was that the curate had to say

In Miss Grey’s drawing-room, which was as small as Miss Grey herself,
there were three persons assembled. Miss Grey, seated at the
writing-table–much too large for the place, like the rest of the
furniture; Florence Plowden on the big ‘Chesterfield’ sofa; and a large
and tall individual standing in the middle of the floor. He was large in
comparison with the ladies, and with the limited space in which he
stood. But otherwise, though tall, he was a spare man; his length of
limb and scantness of flesh made particularly apparent by his long
clerical coat. Needless to say that he was the curate, and that it was
parish business that formed the staple of the conversation. Florence had
come in with her district visitor’s book; and other books of a similar
description were on the table. They were talking in that curious jargon
of business and gossip which makes up the talk of the workers in a
parish or ecclesiastical organisation of any kind.

‘In whose district is Mead Lane?’ said Mr. Osborne. ‘A man came to me
last night from No. 3, to ask me to go and see his wife. She had been in
bed for about six weeks–very ill now. There is a baby, of course, and I
don’t know how many children; man occasionally out of work–though not
now. Everything in disorder, as you may imagine. Nobody had called to
see them for weeks. A lady had come once or twice before the woman fell
ill; never since.’

He made this report very drily, in staccato sentences, as if he were
abridging from a book.

Miss Grey turned round, twisting on her chair to give Florence a look.
‘I knew it would be so,’ she said; ‘they are a couple of old maids
wrapped up in themselves. She says: “Do you think you should go out, my
dear, such a cold day?” and he says: “The parish can surely wait; but
you mustn’t go out, with your delicate throat, in the rain.”’

‘This is very interesting as a social sketch,’ said the curate, ‘but it
does not answer my question.’

Florence was far from being in high spirits, but her native genius was
too much for her. She turned upon him with a little mincing air, and
deprecatory friction of her hands. ‘Oh, don’t you really think so, Mr.
Osborne?’ she said.

He laughed, though with a certain look of disapproval, as if amused
against his will. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Mrs. Kendal; what is to be done
with her? If she will not do what she undertakes, some one else must be
got to do it.’

At which both Miss Grey and Florence shook their heads. ‘It would be
such a slap in the face,’ said the little lady of the house. ‘They are
good people in their way, and liberal enough. We must just manage it a
little. Florence and I will go and see this poor woman, and if Mrs.
Kendal hears of it we can say—- Oh, some excuse will be found easily
enough.’

‘Excuse! When she has let the woman die nearly—-’

‘A miss is as good as a mile. I’ll go over at once, and send in the
nurse if she wants it. What did you say was the name? Brownjohn! Oh,’
said Miss Grey, with a sudden diminution of energy, ‘I’m afraid, Florry,
we know the illnesses of Mrs. Brownjohn. She has a great many, and
whatever district she is in, the visitor always neglects her. We know
her case very well.’

‘The woman is very ill now, and the house in a dreadful state; and the
man, of course, as if things were not bad enough, taking refuge in the
public-house.’

‘Ah, that I can understand—-’

‘The filthy place, Miss Grey, or the public-house?’ the curate said,
with a little severity.

‘Oh, both, both! You must be a little human. The public-house is the
natural consequence of a crowded little room, and no comfort–even
without the dirt.’

‘But surely you don’t think that ought to be so? Surely you don’t
suppose that it isn’t the man’s duty to rectify things instead of making
them worse? If the wife’s unable to do her part, instead of abandoning
her brutally, and letting everything go to destruction, oughtn’t he to
stand in, to do what he can, to make life possible? That’s how I read a
man’s duty, at least.’

‘Oh, my dear Mr. Osborne,’ said little Miss Grey, ‘it’s a man’s duty to
be a good Christian and a perfect man. And so it is everybody’s duty; we
all acknowledge that.’

Mr. Osborne snorted slightly, with the impatience of a fiery horse
suddenly pulled up. ‘I hope I demand less than perfection, though I know
that I ought not to be content with less,’ he said. ‘But in the
meantime,’ he added, pausing a minute to expel that hot breath of
impatience, ‘I don’t suppose you will think it right because of Mrs.
Kendal’s feelings, or even her own imperfections, that this poor
creature should be left to die?’

Miss Grey and Florry exchanged glances behind the curate’s back, with a
slight shaking of heads. Oh, these arbitrary young men, wanting
everything their own way, and thinking you have no feeling if you don’t
go so far as they do! This was the sentiment in the older lady’s mind;
but Florence was naturally more fierce.

‘We are not in the habit of leaving poor people to die–when there is
any truth in it,’ she said.

He gave her a look half fierce, half tender, full of the natural
animosity of a man checked in his certainties of opinion, yet with a
longing that she at least should understand and know what he meant.

‘Oh yes,’ said Miss Grey, ‘I’ll go; and have a little order put in the
place, at least. That little girl— the eldest, Florry, don’t you
remember?–who was sent to the seaside after her fever, she ought to be
good for something now.’

‘There is a little girl,’ said the curate.

Miss Grey turned round upon him with a laugh that made him furious. ‘As
if we didn’t know!’ she said. Then, turning to Florence again, ‘You
might go in, as you pass, my dear, to Mrs. Gould, and see if the nurse
is engaged. Tell her, if she can, to run round to Mead Lane about two
o’clock. She’ll probably find me there, and if it is anything really
serious we’ll get the doctor to see her. Come now, let’s see if there is
anything else we want to consult Mr. Osborne about.’

‘I want to ask you, at least,’ he said, ‘if you will help me with my
meeting, to give them an evening’s entertainment. I recognise,’ with a
little severity, ‘as well as you do, that they must be amused as well as
looked after.’

‘Well,’ said Miss Grey, ‘if it’s children I am quite ready to play any
number of games with them. But I’m not a great one for providing
amusement, Mr. Osborne. In the first place I can’t sing to them, or
dance to them, or play the fiddle; in the next, I think they like their
own amusements best.’

‘The public-house, Miss Grey?’

The little lady had tears in her eyes. ‘I am not in favour of the
public-house, God knows–but I am not so sure that your meetings will
do away with that. It’s just as likely to make them thirsty coming out
at nine, after you’ve sung to them and fiddled to them, and seeing the
red light in the window that looks so cheerful to them. But never mind
me–Florry and Emmy will sing, and the London young ladies in the new
villa will play the piano, and you can get a quartette of fiddles, you
know, quite easily from Winwich. And Jim–Jim might recite; he used to
be very good at it.’

‘Oh–Mr. Plowden!’ said the curate, with a slight hesitation.

‘Jim I mean: he used to read very well when he was a boy.’

‘I asked Lady William,’ Mr. Osborne said hurriedly, as if to change the
subject, ‘but she said like you, Miss Grey, that she neither sang nor–I
am not aware I suggested that any one should dance.’

‘They would like that! but the thing is not so much what they would like
to see, but what all the ladies and gentlemen would like to do. And
by-the-bye there is that dark-eyed woman at the school–whom I have a
strong feeling I have seen before–and who looks no more like a
schoolmistress than–any one does. I feel quite sure she could act or
recite or something–or perhaps sing. I would ask her if I were you.’

‘I am unfortunate in not being of your opinion, Miss Grey; I should not
think of asking that person to help in any case.’

‘Oh, you’re too particular,’ Miss Grey said.

And then Florence got up to go.

‘The old Lloyds,’ she said, ‘want to have a week of their pension in
advance–may I say you will give it to them, Miss Grey?’

‘Oh dear, don’t say anything of the kind; if they get a week in advance
how are they to live the next week when they have none?’

‘I said so–but then she cried, poor old body, and said they were worse
off now than before–for if they wanted something very bad out of the
usual way, some kind person used to give it to them–whereas now when
they have a regular pension they have to stick to it, and nobody minds.’

‘There’s a sermon,’ cried Miss Grey, ‘on the uses of beneficence in a
small parish. You have only to tell Mr. Swinford, Florry, and he’ll give
them the advance and the week’s money too, and next time they’ll want a
fortnight’s advance–it’s what I’ve always said. He’s a nice young
fellow and a warm heart, but to sow money about is no good.’

‘You said yourself, Miss Grey, that so much a week—-’

‘Oh yes, I said it myself–I’d like to give them the advance and the
week’s money too, just as well as Mr. Swinford does–though Mr. Osborne
thinks on the other hand that I am ready, because I’ve little faith in
her, to leave a poor creature to die. Oh, don’t say anything–I know of
course you didn’t exactly mean that. Are you going too? Good-bye; I’ll
get my bonnet and I’ll be in Mead Lane before you’ve got to the Rectory
gate.’

It did not appear, however, that there was any intention in the mind of
these two young people to take the road which led to the Rectory gate.
There was a momentary pause when they got outside, and Florence
hurriedly, in view of the fact that the curate’s way to his lodging did
lie in that direction, held out her hand to him. ‘Good morning, I am
going up to Mrs. Gould’s to see about the nurse,’ she said, somewhat
breathless and eager to escape.

‘I am going that way, too,’ said the young man, but not without a blush.
Curates are, after all, like other men, and do not hesitate to change
their route and to assert that they always meant to go that way; but
there is so much consistency in the young Anglican that he blushes when
he announces that innocent fallacy. He was going that way: where, then,
was he going to? The part of the parish in which Mrs. Gould lived was
not in the curate’s district, and he could not surely have any
impertinent intention of interfering with what was in the Rector’s
hands? These ideas flashed through the mind of Florence, but naturally
she did not put them into words. She was very angry with Mr. Osborne,
full of indignation, and yet she did not wish him to turn back and leave
her at Miss Grey’s door. The blush which had surprised him as he told
that fib reflected itself on her countenance, but in both their hearts
there was a thrill of pleasure as they turned thus into the wrong
way–the way that Florry had chosen to elude him, without in the least
wanting to go to Mrs. Gould’s (for she knew all the time where the
parish nurse was); the way that he falsely asserted to be his, though he
knew it was nothing of the kind. It was a guilty pleasure, which neither
of them would have owned to, but yet there was not much guilt in it
after all.

‘Miss Grey is a very good woman,’ said the curate, ‘and excellent for
the parish–but she has very old-fashioned ways of looking at things.’

‘I don’t see that,’ said Florence lightly, ‘at all.’

‘You would, I am sure,’ said Mr. Osborne, ‘if you would allow yourself
to take a larger view. You won’t, I am afraid, adopt my standing-point,
for you think that I am opposed to her and that I don’t appreciate
her.’

‘You can’t of course know her as we do,’ said Florence, ‘for all our
lives she has been an example before our eyes.’

‘That is again entirely the individual view of the question,’ said the
curate gently, ‘and in that I grant you–but don’t you think we might
take a more extended range when the question is a public one? I don’t in
the least object to that, far from it. I know there is nothing so good
as the way of working by individualities, of getting hold of Tom, and
Will, and Peter, one by one, the door-to-door system, as I may call it;
but when you have a great public evil like that of intemperance, don’t
you think, Miss Florence, it is well, while not leaving the other
undone, to try what some large public method will do—-’

‘Like Father Matthew’s?’ said Florence.

‘Father Matthew was too sensational,’ said Mr. Osborne; ‘and it is
impossible to tell how much fiction there was in such a movement.
Indeed, I rather think the one by one system is the best; but to
interest them _en masse_, to make them see what a thing it would be for
all their families, and themselves, of course, and how much purer and
more rational pleasure they would get out of their lives—-’

‘Do you think they learn in that way?’

‘If they don’t, I do not know how they are to learn.’

‘But they all know beforehand how dreadful a thing it is–they know it’s
destruction. Oh, don’t you think they know far better than we do, since
they see it before them every day, and all day long?’

‘What would you do, then,’ said the curate, ‘to bring this home to them?
I’ve got all the statistics. Of course they know, for misfortune brings
it home; but if we could fully convince them what a prodigious evil it
is over all the country, how many better things they could do with the
money. I remember proving to a man once, that if he only put by every
penny he had been accustomed to spend in drink, he could buy his
cottage, he could have a little garden of his own, and a pig, and I
don’t know how many things which every man prizes—-’

‘And did he do it?’ said Florence.

‘Do it!’ said the curate. ‘Of course that meant a course of years. One
could not tell whether he did it or not, till a long time was passed.
Well, no,’ he added, with a sigh, ‘I am trying to deceive you, not to
admit my failure; he did not do it. He went on just in his old way, and
almost killed his wife, and starved his children, till he died.’

‘Is it true, Mr. Osborne,’ said Florence, ‘that you said to old Mrs.
Lloyd, if she would give up her beer, and take the pledge, you would do
so too?’

A flush came over the curate’s face, of ingenuous pleasure and
satisfaction. He liked her to know that he was capable of any sacrifice
to save his flock. ‘It is quite true,’ he said. ‘I was quite ready, and
had made up my mind to do it; for how can I ask my people to give up
what I don’t give up myself?’

‘But why did you choose poor old Mrs. Lloyd? It did her no harm, her
little drop of beer.’

‘Every drop of beer does harm, in a community like this, scourged by
that vice—-’

‘Mr. Osborne,’ said Florence timidly.

‘Yes,’ he said, bending towards her, ‘you were going to say something.’

‘I want to say something; but, oh, I don’t know whether I ought, I don’t
know whether I may.’

The curate trembled, too, as much as she did. They were in a quiet road,
with nobody in sight. He put his hand suddenly upon hers with a hurried,
tremulous pressure. ‘There is nothing you ought not to say to me,’ he
said. ‘Nothing, nothing that I will not gladly hear. If you should
reprove me, even, it would be as a precious balm–whatever, whatever you
will say!’

There was a little pause, and it was very still all about, a bird or two
trilling in the half-clothed trees, not a harsher sound to disturb the
two young creatures, there standing at the crisis of their lives. ‘But
first,’ he said, ‘first let me say something to you—-’

‘No,’ said Florence, ‘no, that was not what I meant, not now–I had
something to say. Mr. Osborne, listen. If, instead of an old woman, and
her a good old woman that did no harm, it were a man, a boy, a
gentleman, that you could have held out your hand to–oh, not to make
him take pledges and things! and perhaps, you, hearing of him, thought
him no company for you. But if you could have turned him away from harm
to go with you; if you had suffered his society, not approving of it,
because your society might have saved him; if you had thought to
yourself that to be your companion might have been everything for him,
and that to make him do things with you, and almost live with you,
though you might not like it, would have made life another thing to him.
Oh, Mr. Osborne, would not that have been a better way?’ Her eyes were
so full of tears that she could not see him, but when he spoke she heard
a sound in his voice which made her start and turn hastily to where the
man who was almost her accepted lover, who had the words on his lips
that were to bind them for ever, stood. The music and the softness had
altogether gone out of these staccato tones.

‘Miss Plowden,’ he said, as if a sudden gulf had come between them over
which his voice sounded far away, ‘I will not even ask what you mean. I
should feel myself a most presumptuous intruder, and impertinent—-
Good morning. I find I have not so much time as I thought for this
roundabout way.’


Florence went faithfully to Mrs. Gould’s to ask for the nurse, though
she knew the nurse was not there. A man, perhaps, would have departed
from that position when it was no longer necessary, but she considered
it needful, as a proof of good faith, to carry out her announced
intention. It was a long way round, and then she had to make another
tour to get to the place where the nurse really was, so that her walk
altogether occupied some three-quarters of an hour more than it need
have done, and the time was long, although, on the other hand, she was
glad to have it to herself, and to get over the pang of that abrupt
separation. She knew very well what it was that the curate had to say to
her. It had been on his lips for many days, and she had dreaded it, not
because she did not want to hear it, but because of a girl’s natural
evasion of the moment she wishes for most, the shy, half mischievous,
half visionary putting off of the sweet cup from the lips. The
expectation of it was sweet; all the pleasures of imagination lay in
that moment which would bring an entire change in her life, a
remodelling of all its circumstances. Florence had taken a pleasure in
stealing away, in postponing till to-morrow. But it cannot be said that
she experienced that pleasure to-day. She felt that she had received a
blow when the curate turned with that hasty leave-taking and left her.
To run away is one thing, and hold off a joy which is on the way; but to
be thus abandoned is another. It gave her a dull shock like that of an
unexpected, uncomprehended blow. She had wondered how he would take her
remonstrance, her statement of what she thought his duty, which had been
on her lips so long; but she had never expected him to take it with
instant offence, with a resentment which drove all other thoughts out of
his mind. What did he resent? To have this duty which he did not wish to
recognise pointed out to him, or that she should venture to point it
out–she only a girl, and the girl who, by loving him, he perhaps
thought was bound to see no flaw in him? Florence was not one of those
who can see nothing but excellence in those they love, but she felt,
with a momentary gleam of insight sharpened by pain, that perhaps Mr.
Osborne was of the kind which requires that in a woman. She had not
thought of the possibility before, that this might not be merely a
momentary offence, but a wound from which he would not recover, which he
would not forgive. A love-quarrel ever seems thus even when of the most
trivial origin. It appears at once tragic, a thing never to be got over:
an end of all the romance. Florence’s heart went down, down to the very
depths. She said to herself that it was all over: that the last step
would never now be taken, that there would be no more all her life but
only an aching void, not even the recollection of words said that never
could be forgotten. Had she let him speak she would at least have had
that to cheer her; but as it was she would have nothing, not even the
gloomy importance of an engagement to break off, a farewell that would
have a whole tragedy in it: not even that: only a mere drifting asunder,
a vacancy where there had been so much hope: a life blighted before it
had come to bloom.

This thought occupied her mind sadly as she made that unnecessary round.
He had gone off like a racehorse, scarcely touching the ground in the
heat of his vexation and offence, but she went along very slowly, with
the depression of the one who is in fault; whose interference and
perhaps unreasonable censure had made the breach. Who, after all, was
she that she should tell him of his duty, or that something else than
the course he had adopted was a better way? she, only a girl with no
education in particular, dictating not only to a man trained to
discriminate what was the best, but a priest with the highest of vows
upon him, and a special consecration to God’s service? Her presumption
overwhelmed her when she thought of it in this light. But perhaps to be
a member of a clerical family, used to see gentlemen of that profession
too closely, and amid all the little trials of life, takes away to a
certain extent the visionary reverence which it would be perhaps better
to keep like an aureole about them. Florence could not surrender her
natural judgment to this extent, nor convince herself that she had done
wrong. She had taken perhaps an inopportune moment, but she had not said
anything that was not true. She had managed badly for herself, and she
would have to bear the result: but it was not wrong what she had said,
nor was it wrong to say it; for perhaps, who could tell, he had never
thought of that side of the question before? Very likely he had never
thought of it. Some people are so happy that they never have in all
their lives to encounter misery in their family, and how can they know,
unless somebody who does know it, somebody who has been forced to
understand it, tells them? And perhaps–she thought with a forlorn
consolation–what she had said would bear fruit, though he might never
have anything to do with her again. He was too much offended, wounded,
hurt, to think of her any more; that was a thing to be received as
certain once for all; but perhaps what she had said would come back to
him, and he might feel that it was true.

Then if she had let it alone for the present, if she had allowed him to
say what was on his lips, and had answered what was on hers, and had
become his, and had pledged herself to him–why, then one time or other
she must have spoken, not as now in the general, but plainly of Jim? And
what if the righteous young man’s high disapproval and disgust with the
unrighteous had gone even further, to the length of putting poor Jim,
whom his sister loved, out of the charities of life altogether and
casting him off as some good people do? Florence felt that no tie, not
even marriage itself, would have made her bear that, and so concluded at
last, mournfully, that what she had done was, perhaps, after all the
best, so as to warn him off in time, and show him that her views were
very different from his. Oh, what mistakes men can make even when they
are the most highly instructed, the most high-minded and nobly purposed
of their kind! Edward Osborne was all that; yet he thought that it was a
more pious thing to make poor old Mrs. Lloyd and such harmless old
bodies give up their little harmless indulgences than to risk a little
trouble or company that, perhaps, might be distasteful to him, in order
to save Jim.

Florence got home at last just in time for the family luncheon, which
was a good thing for her, as it kept her from exposure to the close
personal observation of her mother and sister, who were too well
acquainted with every change of her countenance not to perceive at once
when anything was wrong with Florry. But the family meal occupied Mrs.
Plowden, and Emmy was fortunately so full of her own morning’s
occupations that her sister escaped notice.

‘You are not eating anything, child, and you have no colour,’ her mother
said, ‘after your long walk.’

‘It is the long walk that has done it, she has over-tired herself; you
shouldn’t permit those long walks,’ said the Rector. This was his
favourite way of treating any annoyance–with that consolatory
conviction that it must be his wife’s fault, which supports many men
through the smaller miseries of life. Mrs. Plowden took an equal
pleasure in the pleas of self-defence. ‘How am I to prevent long walks
when there is always so much to do in the parish?’ she said. ‘I am
constantly telling you you should have more district visitors, or a
mission woman, or something. Those girls have never a moment to
themselves.’

‘Oh, it is nothing, mamma,’ said Florence. ‘I had to make a long round
to get the parish nurse: for I went to Mrs. Gould’s to find her, and, of
course, she wasn’t there.’

‘You ought to have known that, Florry, so it is your own fault. Why, you
sent her off yourself to the little Heaths.’

‘I know, mamma: I can’t think how I could be so stupid,’ Florence said.

‘And who wants her now?’ said the Rector curtly.

‘It is that woman in Mead Lane, who is always in trouble. Mr. Osborne,’
said Florence, so anxious to keep her voice firm that she gave the name
an emphasis and importance she had no intention of giving, ‘had been
sent for to see her last night.’

‘Osborne! he’s always finding a mare’s nest somewhere–do you mean that
woman that always is in trouble, as you say?–trouble, indeed! drink you
mean, and all that follows. If he could get her to take the pledge it
might do some good: that’s if she would keep it–which I don’t believe
for a moment.’

‘Then why should he take the trouble, papa, if it is to do no good?’

‘That’s what I tell him for ever: but he believes in himself, the young
prig: I wish he would keep to his own business, and not mix himself up
with things he cannot possibly understand.’

‘My dear James,’ said Mrs. Plowden, ‘Mr. Osborne is an excellent young
man. There has not been a curate in the parish I have liked so much
since Mr. Sinclair’s time. And he is very well connected and well-off, I
believe, and altogether a creditable person to have about–an Oxford man
and all that.’

‘That’s why he gives himself so many airs,’ the Rector said–which was
not to say that the Rector did not really approve of Mr. Osborne, but
only that it was his rôle to take the critical side. Mrs. Plowden, for
her part, knew very well what was going on, and though she had burst
forth in the fulness of her heart to her sister-in-law upon his
shortcomings, she was on ordinary occasions very careful to keep up Mr.
Osborne’s reputation, and to impress Florence with a due sense of all
his qualities.

Now there arose a testimony in Mr. Osborne’s favour which was totally
unexpected. ‘He wasn’t at all a bad lot at Oxford, said Jim. ‘Fellows
that knew him liked him there: he played racquets for the University,
and won. I wonder if he ever gets a game now.’

‘You astonish me, Jim,’ said Mrs. Plowden. ‘I never should have thought
he was a man for games. What is racquets? is it a kind of tennis? for of
course tennis is played with racquets. Perhaps we could get up a game
for him here.’

At this Jim laughed loudly, and his father, who did not often join in
his jokes, such as they were, backed him up faintly with a smile.

‘No, I don’t think we could get up a game for him here. It’s a
tremendous game; not like anything so simple as lawn tennis. It is the
old _jeu de paume_, isn’t it?’ said the Rector, ‘the beginning of them
all.’

A conversation between the Rector and his son, on a general subject, on
a question, something they were both interested in, without reproof on
one side, or defence on the other: what a thing that was! Mrs. Plowden’s
eyes grew lambent with the light of unusual happiness; after a moment
she said: ‘I suppose you play it, Jim?’

‘I!’ said the young man. ‘Oh, I’m not half enough of a swell for that,
mother.’

‘I don’t see,’ said the mother, half happy, half indignant, ‘why you
shouldn’t be swell enough, Jim, to do anything Mr. Osborne does.’

‘You don’t remember,’ said the Rector sharply, ‘that it takes
application to play a game well, as well as to study well, and that Jim
never thought it good enough, either for one thing or another.’

Alas! how short the moment of happiness is!

‘Oh, girls,’ said Mrs. Plowden, when lunch was over, and the three
ladies were in the drawing-room again, ‘if Mr. Osborne would only take
up Jim! He is the only man in the parish who could do it; and now that I
hear he plays games and things I feel a little hopeful. For whatever
your father may say, I know that Jim is good at all games. We might get
up this racquets, whatever it is, and get them to play together. We
might ask the General, Florry, what it is. Army men always know
everything of that kind. Or, Emmy, you might remember to ask your aunt;
and there’s Mr. Swinford; perhaps he plays it too.’

‘I suppose it is a gentleman’s game,’ said Emmy, with perhaps not so
strong an enthusiasm.

‘Do you think I might speak to Mr. Osborne about it?’ said the mother,
pondering. When she asked advice of her girls it was in fact a sort of
thinking aloud, a putting of the question to her own mind. A thing often
seems quite different put out in audible words from what it does when
only turned over and over in the recesses of your own heart. ‘I might
tell him that Jim was very fond of it, and that hearing he was good I
thought I would consult him how we should get it up.’

‘But Jim never said he was fond of it, mamma.’

‘Oh, how matter-of-fact you are, Emmy! Jim would be fond of anything
that was a game. He would be glad of any break; and to get him
surrounded with nice companions like himself, and taking his pleasure
with them, wouldn’t that be better for him than Sophocles, or any old
Pagan of them all? Your father doesn’t think so, perhaps, but I do; and,
if you look at it reasonably, so will you too.’

‘I would not trust to Mr. Osborne if I were you,’ said Florence. She was
standing in the corner beyond the window at the big old-fashioned round
table, which had been dismissed from its old-fashioned place in the
centre of the room, but was retained in the corner because it was so
useful. Florence had her back to her mother and sister, and was very
busy cutting out clothes for her girls’ class, which, like Miss Grey’s
mothers’ meeting, met weekly for needlework. ‘I would not speak to him
about it. He sometimes takes offence when you suggest a thing, and then
goes away and does it. I would not say a word if I were you.’

‘But it never has been suggested to him, Florry! Why, you know I never
heard of this even, till to-day. Here is your aunt Emily coming. We can
ask her what she thinks. She has been more in the world than any of us,
and probably she can tell us what racquets is.’

A considerable time elapsed, but no visitors appeared; and then Mrs.
Plowden, from wondering what Emily would say, at last came to wonder
where Emily could be, or if her eyes had deceived her, and Lady William
had not crossed the lawn at all. ‘I declare,’ she said, ‘I shall feel
quite unhappy if your aunt does not appear: for I saw her as plainly as
I see you. I saw her black gown, and the feather in her hat, which
really ought to be renewed if she will go on wearing black for ever–and
that umbrella of hers with the long handle.’

‘But, mamma dear,’ said Emmy, ‘you must have known at once whether it
was Aunt Emily or not, without thinking what she had on.’

‘Well, so I should have supposed,’ said Mrs. Plowden, bewildered, ‘but
then where is she, and what has become of her? She should have been here
ten minutes ago. Oh, who is that? Mab! Why, child, where have you come
from? And where is your mother? I am sure I saw her cross the lawn ten
minutes ago or more.’

‘And we think it must have been her wraith, Mab.’

‘Mother has gone to talk to Uncle James,’ said Mab. ‘She says it’s about
business, but I think it is some worry, she looks so serious. So I came
on after to wait for her. Oh, are you cutting out, Florry? Shall I help
you, or do you want any help?’

‘Some worry?’ said Mrs. Plowden, with a sorrowful brow. ‘I hope it is
not anything new about your uncle Reginald, girls.’

Reginald was the brother to whom Lady William had given her money, and
who had never come back.

‘Hadn’t we better wait till we hear what it is, mamma? I thought Uncle
Reginald had not been heard of for years.’

‘That is quite true, and it was my opinion we should never hear from him
any more; but what worry can your aunt Emily have if it is not about
him? For I am sure otherwise she is a happy woman, and never has the
shadow of a trouble. Was it after getting a foreign letter that she grew
so serious, Mab?’

‘She has had no letter at all,’ said Mab, ‘and she did not say it was
anything but business. The worry was only my own fancy; and I daresay I
was wrong.’

‘What else could it be?’ said Mrs. Plowden. ‘She may have heard he is
coming home. And I am sure, if he is coming home, I don’t know what I
shall do. He shall not come here. I could not have him in this house.
Our own burdens we must bear; but Reginald Plowden–oh, Reginald Plowden
is too much! If he comes here I shall run away.’

‘Dear mamma, don’t you think we had better wait a little? Aunt Emily is
sure to come here when she leaves papa, and then you will know.’

‘Oh, it is all very well to tell me to wait–when Reginald Plowden would
just put the crown upon everything,’ the poor lady said.