The big window at the end of the room stood open to the soft September evening

On the second Friday of term Anthony Bevan, whom all his world called
“Bruiser Bevan,” Housemaster of “B. House” in Hamchester College, sat at
dessert with three of his prefects. They had exhaustively discussed the
prospects of the coming football season, had mutually exchanged their
holiday experiences, and now, when it was really time that the boys
should betake themselves to their several studies, they still lingered
enjoying the last few pleasant moments over the walnuts and the very
light port that their housemaster considered suited to their young
digestions.

The big window at the end of the room stood open to the soft September
evening, and the sudden crunch of wheels upon the newly gravelled drive
was plainly audible, followed as it was by a loud ring.

Master and boys fell silent, listening; and the parlour-maid opened the
dining-room door.

“Please, sir, there’s a young lady–” she began; when the tale was taken
up by another voice, a young voice, singularly full and pleasant:

“It’s me, Tony, dear; and didn’t you expect me? Dad promised faithfully
he would telegraph, but I suppose he forgot, as usual; and oh, I’m so
tired! We had a good crossing, but I couldn’t sleep, it was so stuffy.”

Val, the Irish terrier, who always lay under his master’s chair, rushed
at the newcomer, leaping upon her in rapturous and excited welcome.

“Ah! ’tis the dear dog is pleased to see me. Down, Val, down! You’ll
tear me to bits! Dear Val! but your welcome is too warm altogether.”

Into the circle of light thrown by the hanging lamp above the table came
a girl–a remarkably upright, small, slim girl of nineteen–clad in a
long light grey travelling coat, with a voluminous grey gauze veil
thrown back from her hat. Her little face was delicately featured and
pale. She was not particularly noticeable until she spoke: then the
_timbre_ of her voice was arresting, it was so full and sweet–not in
the least degree loud, but singularly clear and musical, with the
unmistakable lilt of a Southern Irish brogue.

Tony Bevan leapt to his feet and advanced to meet her, holding out both
his hands.

“You, Lallie! now! Why, I didn’t expect you for another fortnight.
Your father’s letter only—-”

“Well, I’m here, Tony,” she interrupted, “sure enough, and I’m ravenous.
Can’t I sit down with you and these gentlemen and have some dinner
now–at once? I’m fairly clean, for I had ever such a wash at
Birmingham.”

The girl included the three prefects who stood around the table in her
remarks, smiling radiantly upon the assembled company, and one of them
hastily set his chair for her near the head of the table which was
Tony’s place.

As she sat down she flashed another entrancing smile in the direction of
the prefect exclaiming:

“Bring another chair now and sit down by me, and don’t on any account
let me spoil your dinners. Just take it that I’m a few courses late,
and you’ll all be kind and keep me company. Have some more nuts now,
do, and then I’ll feel more at home.”

With the best will in the world those three prefects sat down again, and
each one hastily helped himself to nuts, in spite of the fact that their
host, far from seconding the newcomer’s invitation, turned right round
in his chair to look at the clock.

The concentrated and admiring gaze of three pairs of eyes did not in the
smallest degree disconcert her. She was manifestly and perfectly at her
ease. Not so her host; he looked distinctly worried and perturbed,
though he hastened to ring the bell and order some dinner for his
evidently unexpected guest. Then he sat down and poured her out a glass
of claret.

“Child, have you come straight from Kerry?” he asked.

“I left home yesterday afternoon and crossed at night, and I seem to
have been travelling ever since.”

“By yourself?” Tony asked anxiously.

“The Beamishes met me at Chester, and I had a bath and luncheon at their
house, and afterwards we drove round the city. Oh! here’s my dinner,
and it’s thankful I am to see it. How nice of you not to have eaten all
the duck!”

Again she included all the company in her charming smile, and the senior
prefect helped himself anew to nuts.

“You’re very quiet, Tony,” she said, turning to her host; “not a patch
upon Val in your welcome. Am I in the way? Is there not a bed for me?
If so, you must take me to some kind of a lodging after dinner. Dad
forbade me to go to any sort of an hotel.”

“Of course, of course,” Tony exclaimed hastily, “it will be quite all
right, only it is unfortunate that Miss Foster should happen to be away
this week, just when you have come.”

“For my part,” she said, catching her opposite neighbour’s eye and
making a little face, “I think that I will manage to exist without Miss
Foster quite nicely till her return. Don’t you worry about me, Tony. I
feel quite at home already. I know you, Mr. Berry,” and she nodded at
the senior prefect. “Paddy’s got your portrait, and you come in lots of
groups. Don’t you think, Tony, you ought to present these other
gentlemen to me?”

Mechanically Tony Bevan made the required introductions. Whereupon the
stranger added:

“I’m Paddy Clonmell’s twin sister, you know; he was here last term, but
he’s gone to Sandhurst now. You’ll remember him quite well, don’t you?”

“_Rather!_” came in vigorous chorus from the three, and for the moment
Tony Bevan’s anxious expression changed to one of amusement.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck half-past eight.

“I think you fellows will need to go,” said Tony; “Miss Clonmell will
excuse you; it’s more than time you were doing your prep.”

“Ah, well, we’ll meet again to-morrow,” Miss Clonmell announced
cheerfully. “There’s ever so many of you I want to see. I know lots of
you by name as well as can be.”

As the door was shut behind the last of the prefects the girl drew her
chair nearer to Tony’s and laid a small deprecating hand upon his arm.

“I’m afraid I’m fearfully in the way, Tony,” she said, in a voice that
subtly combined excuse, apology, and reproach. “You don’t seem a bit
glad to see me; and if you won’t let me stay here, Dad says I’d better
go to the big girls’ school in this town as a by-something or other, and
I’ll hate it!”

“My dear,” and as he spoke Tony patted the pleading little hand that lay
so lightly on his arm, “_I_ am entirely delighted to see you, but as I
said before, it is unfortunate that Miss Foster should happen to be
away.”

“Bother Miss Foster! I’m certain from all I’ve heard that she’s the
very worst sort of Aunt Emileen. I’m glad she’s away; I’d far rather be
here with you. Paddy says she’s a regular catamaran. Honestly, Tony,
now, isn’t she?”

Tony pursed up his lips, and tried hard to look severe as he shook his
head.

“I wish she were here just at present, anyhow. When irresponsible
children turn up unexpectedly, it needs some one strict to look after
them.”

“Please, Tony, do you mind if I take off my hat? I didn’t like to do it
before those boys, for I haven’t a notion what state my hair is in, but
you’ve seen me at all times ever since I was a baby, haven’t you? And
you’ll excuse it.”

She drew the big jade pins out of her hat and laid it on the senior
prefect’s chair. Without it, she looked absurdly young: her face was the
face of a child, full of soft curves and sweet, blurred outlines. There
was something timid and beseeching in the dark eyes she raised to Tony
Bevan so confidingly: eyes black-lashed, with faint blue shadows
underneath–the “mark of the dirty finger” that every pretty Irishwoman
is proud to possess.

“You can look after me beautifully yourself, Tony, dear; that’s why I’ve
come. Dad said I’d be safer with you than any one.”

“But, my child, I am in College the greater part of the day. Every
minute of my time is filled up in school and out. As it is, I have an
appointment with the Chairman of the Playground Committee in five
minutes. What will you do with yourself?”

“Can’t I see the chairman too? Well then, where’s Paunch? Couldn’t he
come and talk to me for a little bit–just while you settle with this
other man?”

“Hush! You must not call Mr. Johns by that nickname here. Besides,
he’s taking prep., and would be impossible in any case.”

“Now, Tony, don’t you be hushing me for saying ’Paunch.’ Everybody calls
him Paunch. I’ve heard you do it yourself.”

“Yes, Lallie, I dare say you have, but not here. It would be most
disrespectful and rude—-”

“Good gracious, Tony! You don’t imagine I’m going to call the man
Paunch to his face, do you? Did you think that when he was introduced
to me I’d make him a curtsey like this”–here she arose and swept a
magnificent curtsey–“and say, ’I’m delighted to make your acquaintance
Mr. Paunch; I’ve heard a vast deal about you one way and another’? Don’t
be a goose, Tony! What about Matron? _She_ hasn’t left, has she? Paddy
says she’s a regular brick, and anyway it won’t be a bit duller for me
here than it was with Aunt Emileen whenever Dad was away.”

“Child, who is Aunt Emileen? I don’t seem to have heard of her before.
Couldn’t she come and be with you for the next few days?”

The girl burst into sudden laughter–infectious, musical, Irish
laughter. She rocked to and fro in her mirth, and suddenly snuggling up
to Tony Bevan, rubbed her head against his shoulder.

“Oh, Tony, you are too delicious! She can certainly come if you want
her, but I’m not sure that you’d think her much good.”

“Sit up, Lallie, there’s some one coming down the drive. You haven’t
answered my question. Who and where is Aunt Emileen?”

“Aunt Emileen is my chaperon, but she suffers from delicate health.
When Dad took a little house at Fairham last November–and a nice soft
winter it was–he told everybody about Aunt Emileen, so that no one
should come pestering him and suggesting some nice widow lady to keep
house and take care of me. And she answered very well indeed, though it
was a little difficult when the clergyman wanted to call and see her.”
Again she lapsed into that absurd infectious laughter.

“But whose aunt is she?” persisted the bewildered Tony. “I know your
father hasn’t any sisters, and your dear mother was an only girl. Is
she the wife of one of your uncles? Or is she your father’s aunt?”

“Honestly, Tony, I can’t tell you any more about the lady except that
she’s Aunt Emileen.”

“But what’s her surname?”

“I can’t tell you, Tony, for I don’t know; we never bothered about a
surname.”

“Now, that’s ridiculous, Lallie; the servants couldn’t call her Aunt
Emileen.”

“Oh, Tony, you’ll kill me, you’re so funny. Listen, and I’ll tell you
all about it. Aunt Emileen is–a creation, a figment of Dad’s brain, a
sop thrown to conventionality by the most unconventional man in
creation: a Mrs. Harris. She could be as strict and stiff and
pernicketty as ever she liked, for she couldn’t interfere with us
really; and she pleased people very much, but they were sorry she was
such an invalid.”

“But do you mean to tell me that your father really talked about her to
strangers?”

“Of course he did. That’s what she was for; we didn’t want her. So
sympathetic he was; and then he’d break off and joke about her Low
Church leanings–she always reads the _Rock_, does Aunt Emileen–and her
wool-work, and her missionary box, and her very strict views of life and
its responsibilities–oh, there were some people quite pitied me having
such an old fuss to look after me.”

Tony sighed.

“I really don’t know which is the more incorrigible infant, you or your
father. However, you’d better get to bed now and we can see in the
morning what it will be best to do. I must see that chap at once; Ford
announced him in the middle of your interesting narrative about Aunt
Emileen. You must be dreadfully tired, poor child! I’ll ask Matron to
look after you to-night; come with me.”

“Can’t I just go and say good-night to those nice boys and see their
little studies?”

“No, my dear, you most certainly can’t. You must promise me, Lallie,
that you will never go into the boys’ part of the house unless I or Miss
Foster be with you.”

Lallie sighed deeply.

“I promise, Tony, but it is hard. I did like them so much, and it would
have cheered me up.”

The musical voice was most submissive, but in addition it suggested much
fatigue and loneliness and disappointment; and poor Tony Bevan felt a
perfect brute. Her dark eyes followed him reproachfully as he held the
door open for her, and she paused on the threshold to say beseechingly:

“Don’t try to be an Uncle Emileen, Tony; the part doesn’t suit you one
little bit, and I know you’ll never be able to keep it up. I’ll be a
jewel of a girl and a paragon of propriety without you looking so solemn
and trying to talk so preachey. You’ll be quite used to me being here
in a day or two, and I’m sure I’ll get on with the boys like anything.”

“My dear, you misunderstand me; I am delighted to have you, and I hope
you will be very happy. It is only that I am so sorry that Miss
Foster—-”

“Tony, if you talk any more about Miss Foster I’ll pinch you. I tell
you I’m thankful she’s away. Now take me upstairs to my bed.”

Matron, trim and neat in the uniform of a hospital nurse, met them at
the bedroom door. Lallie held out both her hands in greeting.

“I’m ever so pleased to meet you, Matron, dear,” she cried in her sweet
voice. “You’ll remember my brother, Paddy Clonmell? he’s devoted to
you, and I’m to give you his love and no end of messages.”

The matron’s kind, worn face beamed.

“Mr. Clonmell’s sister, isn’t it, sir?” she said, turning to Tony. “She
has arrived before you expected her, so I’ve put her in Miss Foster’s
room for to-night. I will see that her own is all in order to-morrow.
I’ll look after her and take care that she is comfortable.”

“Good-night, Lallie,” said Tony, looking much relieved. “Don’t trouble
to get up to breakfast; Ford will bring you some upstairs. Sleep well!”

He turned to depart, but the girl came flying after him to the head of
the stairs.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me good-night, Tony?” she cried reproachfully,
“an’ me so tired and homesick and all.”

She turned up her face towards his–the pathetic, tired child-face.

Tony Bevan’s somewhat weather-beaten countenance turned a dusky crimson.
He dropped a hasty kiss on the very top of her head and fled down the
staircase without looking back.

Matron, standing in the doorway, watched the little scene with
considerable interest.

“Perhaps he’d rather I didn’t kiss him now I’m here,” Lallie said
meditatively. “What do you think, Matron?”

The girl evidently asked her opinion in all good faith, and the matron,
who had a kind heart for everything young and a sincere liking for the
head of the house, said diplomatically:

“Of course I know Mr. Bevan’s just like a dear uncle to you and your
brother; but if I was you, I don’t think I’d expect him to kiss you
while you’re here. It is a bit different being in a College House, you
know, to what it is at home, now isn’t it?”

“It is, indeed,” Lallie agreed fervently. “Tony seems so funny, so stiff
and stand-off; not a bit like he is when he comes over to us. We’re all
so fond of him, servants and everybody.”

“Of course you are, and so you will be here,” the matron said briskly.
“Mr. Bevan is an exceedingly nice gentleman and a great favourite. But,
you know, a gentleman who is a schoolmaster must be a bit strict in term
time or he could never keep any order at all.”

“You think that’s it?” said Lallie, much comforted. “Of course I can
understand that. Paddy said he was quite different with us over in Kerry
to what he is here. I don’t mind a bit if that’s all. I was afraid
perhaps he’d taken a dislike to me.”

“I don’t think anybody could do that,” the matron remarked consolingly.
“You see, Mr. Bevan only got your papa’s letter, saying you were coming,
this morning, and I know he didn’t expect you for some days. Somehow,
your papa had not made it clear you were coming at once; and Mr. Bevan
was upset to think that nothing was ready for you, and Miss Foster being
away—-”

“I’d rather have you than twenty Miss Fosters,” cried Lallie, throwing
her arms around Matron’s neck. “You’re a dear kind woman, and I love
you.”