She was in good hands

Tony Bevan did not meet Lallie again that day until nearly dinner time.
It is true that during the afternoon he beheld her afar off across the
College field, sitting on a seat beside the Principal’s wife and
watching the pick-up. He noted moreover that behind her stood a little
group of the younger masters, and that they appeared deeply interested
in her remarks; while her attention to the game was close and
enthusiastic. She was in good hands, and Tony was quite happy about
her. He had a great many things to do and to see to, so he left the
field with a contented mind.

Mrs. Wentworth had promised to keep her to tea, and after tea he had to
give a private lesson to two of the University scholarship people, so
that it was almost seven o’clock when he entered his own hall to be met
by a sound of music, and stood still to listen.

It was unusual music: vibrating, pulsating, mysterious; rising and
falling in waves of sound that billowed hither and thither like the mist
on the heath, the strain now soft and seductive, now loud and menacing;
again humming with the slumbrous, slow drone of honey-gathering bees on
a sunny afternoon in high summer. It was music that above all suggested
thyme-scented, wind-swept spaces, rock and river, and shady, solemn
woods. It was the sound of Lallie’s harp.

He remembered to have noticed the big case in the hall as he went out to
College that morning. Who had taken it out and carried it into the
drawing-room for her? he wondered. She certainly couldn’t have done it
herself, for it was very heavy.

He opened the drawing-room door and went in, closing it softly behind
him. The window at the end of the room was wide open, but a small fire
burned cheerfully upon the hearth, and save for its uncertain light the
room was shadowy and almost dark. Tony’s first thought was of how
shocked Miss Foster would be at the extravagance of a fire on such a
warm night; but this reflection was speedily superseded by astonishment
at the sight of his “driver,” Mr. Johns, and young Nick seated side by
side upon a sofa near the fire, while Lallie sat at her big harp right
in the middle of the room, and discoursed weird music to her evidently
appreciative audience.

She had already changed for dinner, and her gown–high-waisted, long and
clinging–fell in straight folds to her feet. Neck and arms were bare,
and beautiful old lace was draped about her white shoulders. In colour
her dress was of the soft yet brilliant green of July grass in a
grass-country where there is much rain. A green ribbon threaded through
her dusky hair was her only ornament save a wide gold band that clasped
her bare arm just above the elbow and caught the flickering firelight in
ruddy gleams as her slender, purposeful hands flashed to and fro over
the enormous strings, with long, swooping movements, assured and
definite in design and result as the swift stoop of a hawk.

Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes large and bright, and as the fire
suddenly leapt into clearer flame every farthest corner of the room was
revealed sharp and distinct, and her girlish figure seemed a sudden
incarnation of the Celtic muse.

Tony stood where he was just inside the door. Lallie faced him, but she
took no notice of his entrance till the last long arpeggio had shivered
into silence; then, in the most matter-of-fact tone, she remarked:

“On Monday, Tony, we must hire a piano.”

Tony felt the sudden shock of disillusionment that comes with the fall
of the curtain after a play that has thrilled the senses with its large
romance–the blank sensation that life is really rather a prosaic
business after all. He did not answer immediately, and in the meantime
Paunch and young Nick had arisen in some haste from their sofa, the
latter exclaiming confusedly:

“I had no idea it was so late. I met Miss Clonmell at the Principal’s,
and walked home with her, to show her the way.”

“And as he’d never heard a harp properly played,” Lallie added, “I told
him that if he liked to wait, I’d change and come down and play till you
came in; and on the stairs I met Mr. Johns, and he’d never heard a harp
either, so he came too.”

“How did you get it out of the wooden case?” asked Tony.

“Oh, they unpacked it and carried it in for me while I dressed; and
they’ve put the case in the box-room and all–ever so tidy we’ve been.
Come here, Mr. Johns, and put it in the corner for me–no, not that one,
that’s an outer wall. This one, by the writing-table. Thank you; that
will do nicely. Good-night, Mr. Nick. I beg your pardon, it’s Paddy’s
fault; I always stumble into the wrong names that I’ve no business to
know. Next time you come I’ll sing for you, but I’ve never any voice
after a voyage.”

Dinner that night was an unusually cheerful meal, and by the time Tony
carried in his work to the drawing-room that he might correct it beside
Lallie, it was nearly nine o’clock.

Everything was arranged for his comfort when he did appear. A table at
his elbow to hold his papers, his chair at the exact angle where he
would get the best light, and Lallie standing on the hearth-rug with a
box of matches in her hand ready to light his pipe.

“Oh, I say, Lallie!” said Tony, yielding weakly to temptation. “D’you
think I may? No one has ever smoked in this room. I don’t know what
Miss Foster would say.”

“A pipe, Tony! Surely a little pipe will do no harm? Why, the window’s
wide open and there’s a fire; and there are very few hangings and
precious little furniture. Never did I see such a bare, stiff room. I
had to have a little bit of fire to help furnish it. There’s one good
thing, it will be a capital room for sound, and a grand piano will fill
it up a bit. Now sit down, and I won’t speak another word till you
speak to me.”

Lallie pushed him down in his chair and fetched a stool on which she
seated herself, leaning her back against Tony’s knees, on her own she
laid an open book, and in her hands was a piece of knitting.

For a few minutes there was absolute silence. Tony Bevan tried to absorb
himself in the Latin prose of Lower VIth classical, but he was acutely
conscious of the soft weight that leant against him, and he found his
eyes wandering from the sheets he held to the top of Lallie’s head just
underneath, and thence to her ever busy hands, which held a pale blue
silk tie–a tie that was growing in length with the utmost rapidity, for
Lallie knitted at express speed, only pausing every now and then to turn
a page of her book.

Tony felt the strongest desire to talk, and was quite unreasonably
irritated at his guest’s complete absorption, which gave him neither
lead nor excuse.

The wood fire crackled cheerfully–Lallie had begged some logs from
Ford–and Lallie’s harp in the corner caught the ruddy gleams on strings
and gilded frame.

Tony looked round the large, handsome room with a new interest.
Hitherto he had not considered it as any concern of his. It was Miss
Foster’s domain, to be entered by him only on such occasions as she gave
tea to visiting parents. To be sure he had bought all the furniture for
it, and each piece, in itself, was good and possessed of qualities that
redeemed it from the commonplace. There was one really beautiful
Hepplewhite cabinet, a genuine Sheraton desk and bookcase, and some fine
old china; but Lallie was right, the room was stiff, bare, wholly
lacking in charm. Not to-night; it seemed neither bare nor stiff
to-night. It was full of an atmosphere subtler and sweeter even than
that produced by the comfortable clouds of tobacco smoke that floated
between Tony Bevan and the girl leaning against his knees. To-night the
room radiated a delicious atmosphere of home, and all because a slip of
a girl had disarranged the furniture and sat there at his feet looking
the very spirit of the domestic hearth.

In grumpy moments, Tony was apt to declare that in all his big house no
corner seemed really to belong to him except the writing-table in his
study. Among the many admirable qualities of Miss Foster, she did not
possess the power of making a man feel comfortable and at his ease in
her society. As a rule he was ready enough to admit that this was,
perhaps, an additional reason why she filled her post so efficiently.
The greatest gossip in Hamchester could not conjecture any matrimonial
complication with Miss Foster, and Tony rejoiced in the serene security
engendered by this knowledge. Nevertheless, to-night he was conscious of
very distinct enjoyment of, and interest in, his own drawing-room.

How still it was!

No sound save the little click of Lallie’s needles as she changed them
at the end of a row, and the soft sizzle of the wood fire. Why was
she–gregarious, garrulous Lallie–so silent? If only she had insisted
on talking he could have laid aside those tiresome proses with a sigh as
to the impossibility of work with such a chatterbox in the room. But
she was quiet as any mouse, and Tony wanted to talk himself.

“Can you see all right?” he asked at last.

“Perfectly, thank you,” and she never turned her head.

Silence again, while Tony smoked and made no attempt to correct papers.
Instead, he found himself admiring the straightness of Lallie’s parting,
and marvelling at the slenderness of her little neck that showed never a
bone.

Presently he reflected that it was hardly hospitable to condemn a young
and lively girl to complete silence during her first evening hi his
house.

Hospitable! It was positively churlish.

Tony pushed the papers on the table a little farther away from him. It
was his plain duty to talk to Lallie.

“What’s that you’re knitting?” he asked sociably.





“A tie for Mr. Cripps. Isn’t it a pretty colour? Have you finished?
How quick you’ve been! I thought you’d be hours and hours.”

“A tie for Cripps!” Tony repeated in tones that betrayed disapproval.
“Why in the world should you make a tie for Cripps? You never saw him
till this morning.”

“Ah, but we made great friends in a very little time,” Lallie explained
eagerly; “and the old string he was wearing was a terrible show. He can
knit ties himself, you know, the clever boy, but he always gives away
the ones he knits; and the poor chap’s awfully badly off for ties just
now. He told me so. And I said I’d make him one for Sundays and high
days. I shall probably finish it to-morrow, and he can have it by Monday
morning.”

“Cripps is a humbug. I’m perfectly sure he has plenty of ties. Don’t
you be imposed upon, Lallie; don’t you give him anything of the kind.”

She turned right round and clasped her bare arms round Tony’s knees to
balance herself.

“Ah, Tony, now,” she expostulated, “I must give the boy his little tie
that I promised, and him so dull in quarantine and all. Sure a nice
pale blue tie will cheer him up and make him think more of himself. A
tie to a boy is like a new hat to a girl. There’s nothing cheers me up
like a new hat when I’m down in the dumps. Now what article of attire
most cheers you, Tony?”

“I rather like ties,” Tony answered, with cold detachment.

“Then I’ll make dozens for you while I’m here,” and Lallie set her chin
on her clasped hands and looked up at Tony with eyes whose expression
reminded him of Val’s. “I’ll make ties for you and every dear boy in
this house, and for Paunch too. By the way, it’s a shame to call that
man Paunch. He’s not fat or bow-windowy. However did he come by such a
name?”

“He’s not fat now,” Tony said judicially, “but he’ll be fat long before
he’s my age unless he takes enormous quantities of exercise; and no one
notices a tendency more quickly than boys.”

“Is that why you’re called Bruiser?” Lallie asked innocently. “Have you
a tendency to get mixed up in street rows and to join generally in
disorderly conduct?”

“I fancy,” answered Tony, “that I got my name rather from my appearance
than from any specially rowdy conduct on my part. I was Bruiser Bevan
as a boy here, the name followed me up to Oxford, and was waiting for me
when I came back here as a master. I was only a fair boxer–too slow
and not heavy enough for a heavy weight. Besides I really never cared
much about it.”

“I think I shall like Paunch,” Lallie remarked; “he’s earnest and
serious, and thinks no end of himself, but he can unbend on occasion.”

“Don’t you go making him unbend till he refuses to coil up again into
his proper shape,” Tony said anxiously. “You must be serious, too, down
here, and be always thinking what Aunt Emileen would say.”

“Aunt Emileen would approve of Paunch; he is earnestly concerned for the
morals of B. House, and I’ll help him to raise the tone, till we’re so
superior no other house can touch us. As for you, Tony, I’ve discovered
already you’re a slack old thing, and don’t take nearly a keen enough
interest in these high matters.”

“Of course every one knows that P–that Mr. Johns and Miss Foster really
run this house,” Tony said dryly; “I’m merely the figure head. Lallie,”
with a complete change of tone, “why do you wear a bracelet above the
elbow? I never saw any other lady wear one there.”

“Have you forgotten?” the girl exclaimed. “Look there!” and unclasping
the wide gold band she displayed a long discoloured, jagged scar on her
white arm. “That’s where the mare ’Loree’ bit me when I was ten. Don’t
you remember ’Loree’? Perhaps you weren’t with us that autumn. We
called her after the poem, ’Loraine, Loraine, Loree,’ because she had
such a fiendish temper. But she was a great beauty, and a wonderful
jumper, and Dad thought he would hunt her that winter, in spite of her
temper, though he was a bit too heavy for her; but they were all afraid
of her at the stables, and declared she’d be the death of somebody.
Funnily enough she never showed temper to me, and I used to take her
sugar and apples and go in and out of the stable, and she never showed a
sign of ill-temper while I was there, but Dad would never let me mount
her. Then one day she’d just come in from exercising, and I went out to
the yard with her apple for her. Rooney called to me: ’Don’t you come
near her, Miss Lallie! It’s the very devil himself is in her to-day;’
but I laughed, like the silly little girl I was, and said, ’It’s you,
Rooney, who can’t manage her; I wish they’d let me take her out to
exercise, it’s a light hand she wants.’ I went up to her to give her
the apple, and she swung round and caught hold of my arm with her long
teeth, and broke it there and then–and Dad shot her that afternoon.
Oh, you _must_ remember, Tony!”

“I think I do remember something about it, but you know you were always
being bitten by something, or thrown by something else—-”

“I never was _thrown_ but once,” Lallie exclaimed indignantly. “If your
horse rolls in a ditch it’s not fair for any one to say you’re thrown;
but you, Tony, I suppose, keep count of the times you stick on, not the
times you come off.”

“Well, you were always in the wars, anyhow, so that perhaps the
accidents, being so numerous, impressed me less than they ought to have
done. But that was a horrid thing. Still, you know, I think the scar is
less noticeable than the bracelet.”

“Oh, the bracelet’s Dad’s affair. He can’t bear to see anything ugly;
and when I had my first proper evening frock he gave me this, and bade
me wear it always when I had short sleeves; and it makes a topic of
conversation with my partners at dances, and they’re always very shocked
and sorry, and feel kindly to me at once.”

Lallie snapped the bracelet on her arm again, and smiled up confidingly
at Tony, who continued to smoke in silence.

“I’ve admired you sufficiently,” said Lallie. “I will now devote my
attention to the dear Cripps’ tie,” and she turned round on the stool,
once more leant her back against Tony’s knees, and the busy needles went
to click again.

“I’d finish those papers if I were you,” she suggested, “and then we can
talk, or play picquet, or I’ll sing to you, whichever you prefer.”

“You,” said Tony sedately, “must go to bed almost directly.”

“Which means that you can’t work in this room, and that I worry you,
poor dear; but I’ll go, and I’ll be down to breakfast to-morrow and pour
out your coffee for you. I know just how you like it–don’t I?”

Lallie rose from her stool, looking, as she always contrived to do, far
taller than she really was, in her clinging green draperies.

“You’ll let me give tea to some boys to-morrow, won’t you? Paddy said
you always have chaps to tea in the drawing-room on Sundays, and
precious dull it is with Miss Foster; but to-morrow it won’t be
dull–you just see how I’ll entertain them. I think I’d like the nice
boys who were dining with you when I came. They’ll do for a start.”

“We’ll see what can be done,” said Tony, with unaccountable meekness.
“Good-night, my child; sleep well.”

He held the door open for her, and she passed out, only pausing on the
threshold to remark:

“There! I’ve never attempted to kiss you; I’ll get quite used to it
soon!”