She might be paying an innocent visit to some friend

Leo Swinford had been during all these proceedings haunted with a sense
of a visitor about the house, whose comings and goings were kept secret
from him. Those who were concerned were much too clever to permit this
to be known or suspected by the risks of absolute meeting, by sudden
withdrawal into corners, whisking past of clandestine shadows in the
dark. It was not that he ever met Mrs. Brown on the stairs or in the
hall, or just missed meeting her, as is generally the case under such
circumstances. She had, as has been said, an entrance kept for herself,
which opened upon the back part of the house, where there was a thick
shrubbery, and where it would have been as impossible to find a fugitive
in the dark as to find the proverbial needle in a bottle of hay. And
Artémise was far too deeply learned in all the lore of evasion to be
caught within the house. Nevertheless, he was well aware that the place
was haunted by a personality very, perhaps unjustly, disagreeable to
him, and with which he associated all those vague suspicions and
troubles which haunt the mind of a child brought up among family secrets
and discoveries. He had been accustomed all his life to this
uncomfortable sense of some one about who was not seen, who had
presumably unacknowledged errands of mischief-making, and whose
presence, whose very existence, was inimical to family peace. That Leo’s
thoughts went a great deal too far, and that this curious secret agent
and confidante exercised, in fact, no evil influence, but had in many
cases held the side of honour and justice, was a fact that Leo was not
only quite unaware of, but totally incapable of believing in. It had
always been, indeed, a sort of consolation when there was anything
equivocal in Mrs. Swinford’s proceedings, to be able to think that it
was not his mother who was to blame, but that wretched Artémise. Leo’s
father, so long as he lived, had laid that flattering unction to his
soul, and during his lifetime the appearance of Artémise had always
been the occasion of domestic trouble. It was natural that Leo in his
youth should have had no such right or reason to object or interfere;
and he had not even been of his father’s faction in the house until that
father was dead, and a natural compunction towards a man not happy in
his life nor lamented in his death, awoke his sense of reason, and of
right and wrong in this matter. But he had always had an instinctive
dislike to Artémise. She had teased and sneered at him as a child, which
is a recollection seldom altogether forgotten, and she was his mother’s
evil genius in life–or so it gave him a certain relief to believe.

The commission given him by Lady William to find this woman, so strange
and incomprehensible a commission, and which was not explained in any
way, roused all the indefinite feelings of disgust, and a kind of
despair which had filled his mind from the moment of her reappearance
(after a long interval, in which he had been of opinion that she was
permanently shaken off) in the house. He had expressed to his mother so
distinctly his objection to her presence, that it was difficult for him
to reopen the subject, and still more difficult to suggest, as he was
tempted to do, that since Mrs. Swinford could not live without her, it
would be better on the whole that she should come to live in the house
than haunt it clandestinely. Difficult, however, as these overtures
were, he felt the necessity of making them, as soon as he understood
that the finding of Artémise was necessary to his friend. What would not
he have done to serve her, to please her? The laugh with which she had
turned off his offer of service, the suggestion that such offers
belonged to the regions of fairy tales, had scarcely been necessary to
show Leo how futile, so far as she was concerned, was his devotion. But
this conviction rarely puts an end to devotion, and it must be said that
as there is fashion in all things, it was not disagreeable to Leo’s
fashion of man to entertain a devotion of this kind, however hopeless,
for an older woman, whom it was, in the nature of things, impossible
that he could ever marry. In the nature of things as seen by her, that
is to say, and which he clearly divined. His double breeding as
Frenchman and Englishman did him service in this complication of fate.
As an Englishman he was aware that such relationships as are possible to
a Frenchman’s ideal, without apparently injuring it in his standard of
honour, were here as impossible as that the sky should fall: while as
Frenchman he was not so determined on that strong step of marriage which
seems the foregone conclusion of love in an Englishman’s eyes. He was
willing to be utterly devoted to this lady of dreams who was not for
him, and to ask no more, seeing that more could not be–but that her
wishes should be obeyed and her commissions executed at whatever cost,
was the thing most certain to his mind.

‘Mother,’ he said, on the first occasion when he had the possibility of
an interview, for Mrs. Swinford, after the little controversy over Lord
Will, had exercised her usual caprice, appearing only when she pleased
at the common table, and ‘was not well enough’ to receive even her own
son in her boudoir, ‘you have, I think, a very frequent visitor.’

‘I–have very frequent visitors! Where do I find them? I should be glad
if you would tell me, Leo.’

‘I have no desire to be disagreeable, mother–you have Artémise.’

‘Ah, Artémise! Yes, fate for once has been a little favourable to me. To
keep me from dying of England, and your village, and all the exciting
circumstances of my life. I have Artémise–that is occasionally. You
know that I am not permitted to have her here.’

‘Mother!’ he said; then subduing himself, ‘You are very much attached to
this woman, who has never done anything but harm, so far as I know.’

‘Well,’ said Mrs. Swinford, ‘and what then? Is it not permitted to me to
love as well as to hate? Artémise is the nearest to me in blood of any
one in the world.’

‘You forget your son, it appears.’

‘My son–ah, that is a different matter. Sons have a way of being in
opposition to their mothers. Besides, isn’t there a high authority which
says that a mother is no relation, so to speak–an accident? It is so in
English law.’

‘English law has little to do with you and me, or any law. Mother, if
you prefer this Artémise to every one, why have her pay you visits
clandestinely like—-’

‘Like a lover!’ she said, with her tinkling laugh. ‘Well, say she is my
lover and I like it; have it so.’

‘Such a simile is insulting,’ he said. ‘I resent for you that you should
even yourself say it.’

‘Ah, but I do not resent; I like the simile. The thing itself might not
be so impossible. But you are a Puritan, Leo, like your father. I have
tried to prevent it, but one cannot stop the course of nature.
Fortunately, my own constitution is not so.’

He rose in impatience, as was generally the result of these
conversations, and paced the long dining-room from end to end. Then he
returned to where she sat with her back to the fire, which she still
insisted on, though it was now May. He stood half behind her, leaning on
the mantelpiece. It was better, perhaps, than being face to face.

‘What I mean,’ he said, ‘is, that if your comfort so depends upon this
woman–whom I don’t pretend to like, as you know; but that does not
matter: if your comfort depends upon her, mother, or if she is some
pleasure to you, it would certainly be better to have her here, living
with you, than skulking to and fro like a—-’

‘Lover!’ she said again, with a laugh to madden him. Then she turned
round upon him, as he stood with his head bent regarding the glow of the
fire. ‘I don’t say that you’ve made your offer an insult, Leo, which
would be the truth–but what is the cause of such a change? You have a
motive. Ah! I think I see it!’

He looked up with a more profoundly clouded brow than had ever been seen
in Leo before.

‘What do you see?’ he said.

She laughed again. Any one who has ever listened to the dreadful endless
tinkling of an electric bell at a foreign railway station will
understand how Mrs. Swinford laughed, and how it affected the nerves of
those who listened.

‘Ah! I think I see!’ she repeated.

Perhaps it was because he was used to these _agaceries_ that he bore it
so well. What tempests of impatience were in his heart! He did not move.
He remained as still as if he had been made in bronze, leaning against
the mantelpiece till the laugh ceased. Then he said coldly:

‘I have expressed myself willing to give up what may be my own prejudice
on your account, mother. I think it would be more dignified, more fit
and becoming for you that your visitor did not come by stealth. What
motive you credit me with I can’t tell. If you do not think fit to adopt
my suggestion, so be it; but at least let her come openly, not by
stealth.’

The tinkling began again with that supreme power of exasperation, and
she said amid her laughing, every word coming tinkling out:

‘That you may have her at hand and within reach when she is wanted, eh?
I divine you, my Leo. What is becoming for the mother who is so little
capable of understanding that for herself, is a beautiful pretext–what
is convenient for some one else—-’

‘Who is the person,’ he said, suddenly lifting his eyes, ‘to whom it
will be so convenient to know where this woman is?’ He did not shrink
or show any consciousness as he thus carried the war into the enemy’s
country. Leo, after all, was a man of the world, and his mother’s son.

‘Ah!’ she cried, stopping in her laugh, which was always a gain. ‘I
congratulate you, my son, upon your _aplomb_. But don’t you know you
take away all grace from your offer, if there were any in it, when you
say _this woman_? How dare you speak of your mother’s dear friend and
relation as _this woman_? It is an affront I will not bear.’

‘Mother, this is a subterfuge,’ said Leo indignantly.

‘And is not your proposal a subterfuge? Understand that I will manage
things in my own way, Leo. Artémise shall come to me how she and I
please. She shall stay with me if I wish it, and she consents to it, as
would have been the case whatever you had felt on the subject. I am not
here, you understand, as your housekeeper,’ she laughed scornfully, ‘or
your dependent; I am, while I am here, the mistress of the house: and
shall invite whom I please. If you think your order to shut her out
affected me, any more than your order to admit her does now–I think we
have said enough on this subject. You can give me your arm upstairs.’

She held out her arm, imperiously rising from the table, and Leo obeyed.
They presented a group full of natural grace, as he led her carefully
upstairs, subduing his steps to hers. She, wonderful in all her laces
and draperies, a _marquise_, a lady of the old _régime_, exacting every
sign of devotion; he, not made of velvet or brocade, as her cavalier
ought to have been, but in the spare and reserved costume of modern
days, with a manner very grave, very self-controlled, full of care, and
attention, and duty. There was nothing in it of that pretty gallantry,
so charming from a son to a mother, of which Leo for years of his life
had been an example, but a serious care of guidance and protection,
which was as different as night from day. They went upstairs thus, she
leaning all her weight upon him, he careful above measure to keep her
foot from stumbling even upon her own too ample skirts. When he had
placed her in her favourite chair, and seen that she had everything she
liked near her, he stood gravely by her side.

‘Is this your last word, mother?’ he said.

‘It is quite my last word. Should Artémise come here, I shall expect you
to be civil to her. Should she not come, you will be careful to let her
alone.’

‘I must act in that matter according to my own judgment,’ he said.

He could hear the tinkle of the laugh as he went away. That laugh!–it
had been compared to silver bells _dans les temps_. It was not that now,
but an electric jar or vibration that got on the nerves. Mrs. Swinford’s
son did not think of this, or feel any pity for the woman who had
descended thus from the poetic state of compliment and adulation. Sons,
perhaps, rarely consider that downfall with any sympathy. And Leo was
too angry to make any sentiment possible for the moment. He was all the
more angry because of his own undisclosed motive, which his mother had
been so quick to discover. Had he been quite single-minded, desiring
only his mother’s comfort and honour, things might perhaps have gone
better; but he was not single-minded. And now the question was, not how
to justify his mother, but to discover for Lady William the woman she
wanted–to secure her, wherever she was, and whatever might be the
motive for which she was sought. He did not very clearly know what that
was, nor was he sure as to the previous connection of Artémise with Lady
William’s history. But his mother’s revelations to Lord Will had helped
the vague recollections in his own mind, and he divined something of her
possible importance–importance most probably (he thought) more fancied
than real, for it would be in the nature of a woman to give weight to a
personal witness of the marriage, above all papers and records.
Importance or not, however, real or fancied as might be the need of her,
it was enough that Lady William wanted her to make Leo’s action certain.
She must be found, he said to himself, as he went downstairs.

He questioned Morris that evening carelessly: ‘Do you remember a lady,
Morris, who came here one evening in the dusk? A lady–who insisted on
disturbing Mrs. Swinford. Don’t you remember? And by dint of insisting
was allowed to go in?’

‘Remember ‘er, sir!’ said Morris, with much emphasis. ‘I should just
think I did–as well as I remember my own name.’

‘She has never,’ said Leo, carelessly aiming at a ball on the billiard
table, ‘been here again?’

He spoke in so artificially careless a tone to convey no suspicion of
any special meaning in the question, that Morris would not have been a
man and a butler had he not been put upon the alert.

‘Oh, ‘asn’t she, sir!’ said Morris. ‘I should say, sir, as she’s here
most days, is that lady; as if the house was her own—-’

‘I have never seen her,’ said Leo, with as natural an expression of
surprise as he could put on.

‘No more haven’t I,’ said Morris. ‘Never; and how she gets in and goes
out is more nor I can say; but she’s favoured, sir, of course, in the
‘igher suckles; that we know.’

‘Morris, my man,’ said Leo briskly, ‘you forget yourself, I think. I
asked you if a lady, who is a friend of my mother’s, had been here
again: and you take it upon you to talk of how she comes into the house
without attracting your intelligent attention, which was not the
question at all.’

‘I ‘umbly beg your pardon, sir,’ said Morris; and here the conversation
stayed. Leo felt that he had done as much as in the meantime it was
possible to do. His own faculties alone must arrange the rest. Those
faculties, thoroughly awakened and put to the sharpest usage that was in
them, were, however, of but little use to Leo for a day or two. There
could be no doubt, he felt sure, that Artémise was continually in the
house. But it was impossible for him to storm his mother’s apartments in
search of her, and equally impossible to show himself to a keen-eyed
houseful of servants as in waiting to trap her near his mother’s door.
The situation was one of the utmost difficulty, and demanded extreme
caution, and the only result he attained after twenty-four hours’
sustained observation was that it was possible from Mrs. Swinford’s
rooms to reach, without going near the formal entrance, a servants’
door, apparently little used, and which opened at an unfrequented angle
of the house, quite apart from the noisy and populous kitchen entrance.
He had made up his mind to post himself in the shrubbery close to this
door at the hour of dinner, when his mother would imagine him to be
occupied with his meal. She had sent down word that she herself was not
coming to dinner, and the opportunity seemed propitious. Leo was
pondering upon this resolution, and how to carry it out, as he returned
from the village, where Lady William had told him that the need for
finding Artémise was greater than ever. It was a hazy, rainy evening,
not dark, but growing towards dusk, as he walked home soberly under his
umbrella, full of this intention. And he had just passed the glimmer of
the lake, all dimpled with the circlets of the falling rain, when a
movement in the shrubbery behind caught his eye. The bushes were thick
there, a heavy _bosquet_ of all the flowering shrubs that make spring
delicious, a thicket of lilac and syringa, which extended along the
further side of the pretty piece of water. Leo scarcely paused to think,
but, putting down his umbrella, and pulling himself together, started at
full speed for the house to intercept the visitor who, on whatsoever
errand, was making her way towards the back entrance: probably only a
servant using the legitimate way. He was not near enough, nor was there
light enough to make out absolutely who it was, or, indeed, more than
that the figure was that of a woman, covered from head to foot with one
of the shapeless garments, ulster or waterproof, which are the habitual
wear of a humble class of the community. He managed so well that he
reached the neighbourhood of the house sooner than this gliding figure,
who was more a movement than a being, and whom, in a less excited state
of his nerves, he would probably not have noticed at all. He made for
the little entrance which he had discovered and arrived there before
her. Would he be convicted of spying by the astonished eyes of some
innocent maidservant? Or would he—-? What was that? Certainly the
movement had been there for a moment in the bushes, and there had been a
pause–a pause was it of consternation to see him on the watch? A moment
after, he perceived that the almost imperceptible quiver of the pale
lilac, washed almost white with the rain, had gone further off; the
visitor had retreated. He hurried along in the track, his heart beating.
Certainly it was retreating. Down again along the edge of the little
lake he followed, cautious, tracking the faint swaying in the branches.
If the evening had not been perfectly still, he could not have noted any
progress at all, the path of the fugitive was so judiciously chosen.
Then he gave almost a shout of satisfaction; skirting among the bushes
became no longer practicable, and, trusting to the dark and the rain, an
indistinct form suddenly appeared in the open, moving like a shadow, but
with great speed, over the grass. He uttered a cry, almost without
knowing it, and launched himself forth in pursuit.

He had almost stumbled in his haste and perplexity upon another figure
all cloaked in waterproof and sheltered under an umbrella near the
Rectory gate. By this time it was quite dark, and the rain, small and
soft but persistent, had increased so much as to be almost blinding. A
faint exclamation–‘Oh, Mr. Swinford!’–greeted him as he was passing.

‘Miss Plowden,’ he said, ‘I beg your pardon,’ and then he added,
breathlessly, ‘I am running after a lady–don’t laugh–an old friend of
whom I had a sudden glimpse. I have pursued her all the way from the
lake, and thought I had kept her well in sight, but at last I have lost
the track. Have you met any one? Excuse me for keeping you in the rain.’

‘A lady?’ said Emmy. ‘No, I have seen no one–that is, no one that is
not well known in Watcham. I suppose it was a stranger?’

‘How can I tell?’ said Leo in his perplexity; ‘a slight woman,
exceedingly swift and energetic–witness, I have not been able to make
up with her all this way–in a cloak–impermeable–what do you call
it?–like what you wear.’

‘In a waterproof!’ said Emmy. ‘No one has passed me but the
schoolmistress. It could not be the schoolmistress?’

The idea was so ludicrous to Leo that he burst into a laugh in the midst
of his wretchedness and perplexity.

‘That does not seem likely,’ he said.

‘No one else has passed,’ said Emmy; ‘but there are some lanes, if the
lady had wanted a short cut to the station, for instance.’

‘That is exactly what I should expect.’

‘Then if you will turn down to the right the first opening you come to,
and afterwards to the left, and then—- The quickest way,’ she said
suddenly, with a blush and a laugh, ‘would be to show you; for I fear I
am not clever enough to describe it.’

‘Not in this rain?’

‘Oh, I don’t care for the rain. We are out in all weathers; it will not
take ten minutes.’ She had already turned and was hastening on in the
direction she had indicated with a friendly desire to serve him, at
which Leo admired and wondered. ‘Besides, I don’t call this bad rain,’
said Emmy cheerfully, ‘it is so soft and warm. But for habit I should
prefer to have no umbrella. But you, perhaps, would like a share of
mine?’

‘Thanks, it would do me no good and hamper you. I am as wet as I can
be.’

‘Yes, you are very wet I see. Well, there is one good thing, you cannot
be any worse now, and you must change as soon as you get in. When one is
only a little wet one does not see the need, but when it is as bad as
that you must. This way: I am afraid it is a little dirty, Mr.
Swinford,’ said Emmy, with a tone of apology, as if it were somehow her
fault.

‘It is not very clean,’ he said, with a laugh, ‘but it is worse for you
than for me. I have an object, but you have none, save kindness,’ he
added, with a grateful look that pleased Emmy.

‘If it were kindness,’ she said, ‘that is the best object of all. But I
can’t claim that, for it is a pleasure to help a–friend if one can, in
such a very little thing.’

‘You hesitated, Miss Plowden, before you said a friend.’

‘Yes,’ she said, with the faint little laugh of embarrassment, ‘I was
not sure that I knew you enough to use that name.’

‘I hope,’ cried Leo, ‘you will never doubt that again after all the rain
and mud you have faced to help me.’

‘Oh,’ said Emmy, ‘I would do as much for any one–if I had never seen
them before: I should be a poor creature indeed if I took credit for
this. Is that your lady, Mr. Swinford, running down the lane to the
station? I am afraid she will be late for her train. Run on,
please–never mind me–I’ll follow and see if you find her, though,’ she
called after him cheerfully.

It was the pleasantest little excitement to Emmy, even had it not been
Leo Swinford about whom she had once entertained so many romantic
dreams. These dreams had faded away in the most wonderful manner in the
light of reality–though they still kept a little atmosphere of romance
about him. But it was perfectly true that she would have done this
little service for any one, and would have felt the exhilaration of a
small adventure in doing it, and the same curiosity to see how it ended.
She went on accordingly smiling under her umbrella: her hair was
touched here and there by the raindrops, and shone in the light of the
lamps, and her walk and the little excitement had given her a pretty
colour. All the likeness to Lady William, of which Emmy was so proud,
came out in the pleasant commotion in which she stood on the opposite
side of the platform to look if Mr. Swinford had found his friend. But
his friend, as the reader knows, was not bound for the station, and was,
indeed, at that moment secure in the last place in the world where he
was likely to look for her, shaking the rain from her cloak, and
changing her shoes with the sensation of warmth and comfort which dry
garments give after a drenching. Mrs. Brown had on the whole rather
enjoyed the stern-chase, in which she felt herself quite safe: for she
knew that she could elude her pursuer one way or the other–either by
allowing him to overtake her, in which case she was confident that her
own wits were quite equal to any encounter with Leo–or by vanishing
into some side way by which she could gain her schoolhouse–the last
place where he would seek her. Artémise was quite invigorated by the
incident, which kept up, perhaps, an interest which was slightly
flagging in her continued visits to Mrs. Swinford. If she were to be
pursued every time, it would give to these visits a wonderful zest.

Leo came across the railway with a sensation of pleasure, for which he
was quite unprepared, to give his guide the information that he had
failed in his search. Emmy had always been pensive and stony when he had
seen her before, a pale resemblance, like a half-faded photograph, of
her aunt. Now her bright interest and readiness to listen and sympathise
warmed him almost as much as the dry shoes which Artémise was
luxuriously putting on by her little kitchen fire.

‘No,’ he said, ‘she is not there. Perhaps she felt that I was likely to
go to the railway, and so avoided me–to take, perhaps, a later train.’

‘Oh,’ said Emmy, ‘did she want then _not_ to be found?’

There was a slight unconscious tone of suspicion in this which was very
flattering to the young man.

‘She wanted to avoid me–yes,’ said Leo. ‘She knows that I don’t love to
have her in my house. She is an old friend,’ he added, ‘I am not sure
what–but a sort of relation of my mother.’

‘Oh,’ said Emmy.

This very English exclamation, which is so often laughed at, has,
according to the intention–or sometimes contrary to the intention–of
the speaker, a wonderful deal of meaning in it. In the present case it
meant surprise, mingled with a sort of disapproval, and almost reproof.
An old friend, a relation, and yet you don’t like to have her in your
house! This was all expressed in Emmy’s tone. She would not–I need
scarcely say–have put such a sentiment in words for the world, and had
not the least intention of expressing it even in her astonished ‘Oh!’

‘You think that strange?’ said Leo.

‘Oh–no,’ said Emmy, hesitating slightly. ‘I–don’t know any of the
circumstances,’ she added hastily, with a sudden blush. ‘Please, don’t
think for a moment, if I knew them all, that I would set up myself for a
judge.’

‘Why not?’ he said. ‘You are as well qualified to judge as any one I
know; and even your surprise throws a little new light for me on the
situation. It is always good to see a thing through another pair of
eyes. However, what I want to find this lady for, is to prevent a wrong
thing being done–which she could set right, but I fear does not want to
set right. So I must find her.’

‘Certainly in that case—-’ said Emmy. She added, ‘I wonder if I could
help you–if there was any place here where you think she might have
gone!’

‘She may, perhaps,’ said Leo, with a laugh, ‘have doubled like a hare,
and got safely into my mother’s room after all, while I have been
hunting her here.’

‘Into–your—-!’ Emmy was so bewildered that she could not keep in
these astonished words, which were out of her mouth before she felt that
here was some complicated matter with which she had no right to
interfere. ‘Oh, never mind,’ she cried, ‘never mind! I did not mean to
be so impertinent as to make any remark.’

‘Well,’ said Leo, ‘perhaps I did not mean to say so much: but I must
tell you now, Miss Plowden—-’

‘Oh, nothing, nothing, please,’ said Emmy in distress.

‘That my mother and I don’t look on the matter in the same light. She
takes one view, I another. We need not enter into the question, but that
is the fact. It is permitted to a man to differ with his mother in
judgment when he is as old as I am.’

‘One cannot help it sometimes,’ said Emmy, in a low tone, with a slight
bowing of her head. ‘It is very painful, but I suppose God never meant
that we were not to exercise the faculties. He has given us. We may keep
the commandment all the same. It says “honour.” It does not say always
agree. The Bible is always so reasonable, don’t you think?’

‘Oh! I don’t know that I have very much considered that question, Miss
Plowden.’

‘Never anything excessive that would be a burden,’ said Emmy, with the
grave simplicity of assurance. ‘Perhaps if you could give me any
indication, Mr. Swinford, I might think of a place to look for her,
being on the spot, and knowing all the people.

‘Indeed you must go in at once out of the rain–with my most grateful
thanks for what you have done.’

‘To be sure,’ said Emmy, ‘no lady would be likely to stay out in such a
wet night–but there are two or three people who keep lodgings in
Watcham where I could inquire for you–or I could go to the early train
and see if she goes by that. But you must describe her–what she looks
like, and what I should say—-’

‘And you would really take all this trouble for me?’

‘Oh, for any one!’ cried Emmy. Then she laughed, and added: ‘That does
not sound very civil. Of course I should do everything I could–a great
deal more–for you, who are a–friend. But I mean I would do that
much–or any of us would do it–for any one. You know my father is the
Rector. It is in a kind of way our business to be of any use we
can–especially,’ she added, ‘when it is a question of right and wrong.’

‘You are too good,’ said Leo. ‘You are too systematically good. I don’t
want to be helped merely because I am a fellow-creature, which I fear is
what it comes to. I should like–very much–to be helped–because it was
me—-’

‘And it would be because it was you,’ said Emmy. These words were far
more pleasant to hear, on both sides, than it is to be feared they were
intended to be–but they were even upon Leo’s part perfectly sincere. He
wanted to be more than merely any one, to be helped and served for his
own sake, and perhaps it did not occur to him that to an unsophisticated
girl like Emmy (of whose romance, to be sure, he was profoundly
ignorant) such words as those meant more than they did to him.

‘You are very wet,’ she said suddenly; ‘will you come into the Rectory
and get dried? Perhaps you could wear some of Jim’s things. You ought
not to be so long in your damp clothes.’

This motherly solicitude amused Leo much, and, to tell the truth, he
began to forget the annoyance of his unsuccessful quest and to feel very
uncomfortable in his wetness, and disposed towards a little light and
warmth. He hesitated for a moment. ‘It would be wise to go home at
once,’ he said, ‘and change my wet things there.’

‘Oh!’ said Emmy, who had indeed expected no favourable answer to her
invitation, ‘I am sure mamma would be very sorry if you went away that
long walk without resting. She would ask you to share our dinner and go
home in the fly–for it means to rain on, I am sure, all night.’

‘Do you think Mrs. Plowden would be so very good?’ Leo said.

I do not deny that dreadful questions ran through Emmy’s mind about the
dinner. She did not know in the first place what it was, for Mrs.
Plowden was severely determined on the point of retaining the
housekeeping in her own hands: nor was she quite sure that she would
escape a lecture for bringing him in upon them like this without notice,
a man accustomed to a French cook. But Leo was town-bred–Paris-bred,
and not accustomed to long expeditions in all weathers, and it was clear
that he was beginning to shiver in the persistent though softly falling
rain.

‘I am quite sure mamma would never forgive me if I let you pass the
door,’ she said, leading him in through the damp garden, where already
the rain began to form little pools.

Emmy felt no cold as she went in by the side door, which was always on
the latch, leading her captive. Her cheeks had never glowed with such a
rosy colour; her eyes had never shown so like two stars. She slid off
her cloak in the passage, and stood dry and trim underneath in her
little gray dress as if she had come straight from her toilette. When
she pushed open the drawing-room door the light flashed about her in a
sudden warm dazzle, shining in her eyes, and in those raindrops that
were like pearls in her hair.

‘Mamma,’ said Emmy, in a voice that had never before sounded so soft, ‘I
have made Mr. Swinford come in with me, he is so wet; and I have told
him you will make him stay to dinner; and that he must put on some of
Jim’s clothes.’

‘Which will be much too long for me,’ said Leo; ‘but if you will really
be so charitable as Miss Plowden says—-’

What a sudden sensation it made in the drawing-room! Mrs. Plowden sent
Florence upstairs flying, to put a match to the fire in Jim’s room.

‘It is all laid ready; it is no trouble,’ she explained breathlessly;
‘but Florry will do it so much quicker than ringing the bell. And Emmy,
call Jim–he is in the study with your papa–to get everything
comfortable for Mr. Swinford. You are wet indeed. I will not even keep
you downstairs to give you some tea.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Emmy modestly, ‘a little wine or something, mamma, to
keep him from catching cold—-’

‘And what do you take to keep you from catching cold?’ he said. ‘Am I
supposed to be more delicate than you?’

‘Oh,’ said Mrs. Plowden, sending Emmy off with a look, ‘they are used to
it; they are accustomed to our climate. How glad I am you came! This is
the way, Mr. Swinford; let me show you the way. You must excuse me if I
don’t take you to one of the best rooms, but only to Jim’s, which will
be the most homely; for I think comfort is the thing to think of when
one is wet and cold. Oh, here you are, Jim. I will just go with you to
see that the fire is burning–and you must get out dry things to make
Mr. Swinford comfortable. Have you lighted the candles, Florry? And is
the fire burning up? Oh, well, then I will leave you with Jim.’

Thus the whole family ministered to Leo, who, half-horrified,
half-amused to see the two girls sent flying in different directions for
his comfort, and Jim much puzzled and flurried, extracted from the
dreadful depths of the study–submitted himself to these attentions with
the best grace in the world. If he had fathomed Jim’s dreadful
perplexity as to whether he should offer the brand-new coat which he had
got for the FitzStephens’ ball, or his old one, which he believed in his
heart would be a better fit, he could not have spoken more wisely than
he did on this subject.

‘Give me an old coat,’ he said, ‘one you had before you had grown so
big. You are a head taller than I am.’

The whole house was stirred by this unexpected visitor. Mrs. Plowden
downstairs was eager in her questions to Emmy.

‘Where did you meet him? What made you think of asking him? What a good
thing that we have such a nice dinner–really too nice a dinner to eat
by ourselves to-day. I said so to cook this morning. Those beautiful
chickens Mrs. Barndon sent us, and a piece of salmon, and—- Really, a
dinner for a dinner-party. What a very lucky thing it was to-day!’

Even the Rector came forth from his study to hear what the commotion was
about.

‘Emmy brought in Mr. Swinford to change his wet clothes and dine.’

‘_Emmy_ brought him in? Why, you must be dreaming, Jane!’

‘And why shouldn’t Emmy bring him in?’ cried Mrs. Plowden, triumphant;
‘indeed, what could she do else on such a wet night?’

Thus, instead of dining mournfully alone, with Morris behind his chair,
in the great dark dining-room with the mock marble pillars, Leo sat down
with the cheerful Rectory party around the severe but shabby mahogany,
upon a chair covered with horse-hair, to a dinner cooked by a plain
cook. He was more amused than words could say, and delighted with the
new scene, the kind people, and, above all, the contrast of the family
party with his solitude, and the _bourgeois_ comfort with his own
elegant and fastidious fare. The chickens, carved anxiously by Mrs.
Plowden with ‘Just another little piece of the breast,’ in addition to
the well-developed wing, were so good, and everything was so warm and
bright, so honest and simple, that his amusement soon grew into
pleasure. What a contrast! He told them even his story with judicious
elisions.

‘I cannot think how I lost her,’ he said, ‘even if she did not want me
to find her: and where she disappeared I cannot tell.’

‘I came all through the village,’ Emmy explained, to add to the tale,
‘and no one creature passed me but Mrs. Brown, the schoolmistress,
flying along in a great hurry to get out of the rain.’

Jim looked up at these words with a little start, but took care not to
say anything, as may well be believed.

‘Perhaps,’ said Leo, with a laugh, ‘it might be Mrs. Brown, the
schoolmistress, whom I was pursuing all the time. She might be paying an
innocent visit to some friend in the servants’ hall. In which case she
will think me a dangerous madman, and I owe her an apology.’

‘Oh, she’s not one of that sort!’ cried Jim. He said it under his
breath, and fortunately nobody heard him but Florence, who gave him a
look of inquiry, but no more.

‘So I might have saved myself the trouble–and the wetting,’ Leo said.