The green silk bag was slung over

That evening Lallie went into the study to say good-night to Tony. He
was reading by the fire, and she came and sat on the floor at his feet,
leaning back against his knees as she had done on the evening he
corrected papers in the drawing-room. The green silk bag was slung over
her arm, but her work was allowed to remain therein, and for once she
was content to let her hands lie idle.

“I’ve come early,” she announced, “because if you’re not very busy I’d
like a little chat. I’ve turned out the lights and shut the door, for
Miss Foster’s not coming down again, she says. Isn’t it funny to like to
go to bed so early?”

“She gets up early, I expect; and perhaps she’s very tired at night.
Wouldn’t you like a cushion or something, don’t you find the floor very
hard?”

“I’m quite comfortable, thank you. Now listen to me, Tony. Do you
think I’m getting to an age when I’d be better with a home of my own?”

With a mental ejaculation of “Ballinger!” Tony adjusted his mind to the
question, saying quickly:

“But surely you’ve got that already.”

“No, Tony; that’s just what I have not got. As long as old Madame was
alive it was all right. Dad came and went as he pleased, but there was
always the house for Paddy and me, whether we were in France or in
Ireland. But lately I’ve begun to feel I’m a bit of a drag on Dad; you
know how restless he is sometimes, how unexpected—-”

“It’s a family failing, Lallie,” Tony interrupted.

“And, you see, when he rushes off he won’t leave me alone in whatever
house we happen to be in, and Aunt Emileen seems no comfort to him
unless he’s in the house along with her; and there’s all the fuss of
arranging for me, and I’m sent off here and there on visits, whether I
like it or not; and I begin to feel that I’ve no abiding place at all.”

“Is your visit here one of the ’nots’?”

“Now that’s nasty of you. You know I meant nothing of the kind, and I
jumped for joy when Dad said I should come to you for all these months;
but when Dad has been home for a bit and the first delight in having me
again has worn off, he’ll want to be wandering. If it’s wandering I can
do too, that’s all right. I love going about with Dad, but if it’s
somewhere that he doesn’t care to take me, like this time, then it’ll
all come over again–the placing out–and I hate it.”

“But, Lallie, most young people like plenty of change and variety; the
one thing they cannot away with is monotony. That’s what most of them,
girls especially, complain of.”

“Tony, I’m going to make a confession.” Lallie turned half round, and
leaning an elbow on his knee lifted her face, earnest and serious, so
that she might look into his. “I’m fond of a house. I like
housekeeping, and pottering, and looking after things, and ordering
dinner, and sewing, and mending, and arranging flowers, and cooking if I
want to, and I can cook well; and you can’t do any of these things in
other people’s houses–at least, only the sewing part.”

“I’m sure you may cook here if you wish to. I’ll undertake to eat
anything you make if it’s really good.”

“Oh, it’s not that. I don’t mean that I’d like to be always cooking,
but I like to feel that I’ve got a house to look after–my own house.
I’d be perfectly happy if Dad wanted a house, but he doesn’t. He kept
it up for Paddy and me when we were small because he thought it was the
right thing to do; but now he doesn’t seem to think it so necessary.
Poor man, he’s too young to have grown-up children, Tony, and that’s a
fact. He has small patience with Paddy, because, you know, their
interests clash. It’s different with a woman, the younger she is the
prouder is she to have grown-up sons and the cleverer she thinks herself
that they are grown up. Don’t you think I’m right?”

“Your generalisation,” Tony began deliberately, when Lallie interrupted
by pinching his knee and exclaiming:

“Now, none of the schoolmaster, I won’t have it.”

“As I was about to remark when you interrupted me, what you say has a
certain amount of truth in it, but your father has not yet returned from
India. When he does return he may not feel the slightest inclination
for wandering; at any rate, not for some considerable time–so why
worry?”

“I should like to feel settled and secure.”

“My dear Lallie, you’ll never feel settled, you’re not that sort; and as
to security, pray in what way do you feel insecure at present?”

Lallie removed her elbow from Tony’s knee, she leant back against him
again so that he could not see her face, and said, very low:

“I feel insecure because in the course of the next few weeks I’ll have
to make up my mind definitely one way or other, and whichever way it is,
it seems to me I shall regret it.”

Again the whole of Tony’s mentality fairly cried the name of Ballinger
aloud, and although the stillness in the quiet room was so great that
you might have heard a pin drop it seemed that his thought must have
reached Lallie, for she broke the silence by saying in quite a different
tone:

“I wish you had met Dad’s friend, Mr. Ballinger, Tony; I’d like to know
what you think of him.”

“That can be easily managed; we’ll ask him to dinner when you come
back.”

“He is going to the Chesters, you know.”

“I didn’t know, but I’m glad to hear it for your sake, since you like
him.”

“Then you don’t think I’d be better in a home of my own–married, I
mean,” said Lallie with startling bluntness.

“I never said anything of the kind.”

“Well, you didn’t seem to smile upon the notion.”




“The notion, as you call it, appears to me in itself quite admirable, if
not exactly novel; but you would need to make sure, wouldn’t you? that
the husband–I think a husband is included in your scheme of
felicity–is in keeping–in the picture as it were.”

Tony’s voice was dry as that in which he instilled the rules of prosody
into his form. In fact it was less impassioned, for on occasion he
waxed eloquent though vituperative when dealing with that form’s Latin
prose.

Again Lallie turned half round and leant her elbow on his knee. Again
her grey eyes searched his face, apparently in vain, for some clue to
the tone in which he spoke.

“I wish I was a rich widow,” she said vindictively, “with a nice little
place of my own, then there’d be no bother at all, and you could come
and stay with me and arrange cricket matches all the summer holidays.
I’d put up that eleven you always go off with, and we’d have a cricket
week and lovely times.”

“The prospect is certainly pleasing,” Tony remarked, without enthusiasm;
“but it seems to me a little callous on your part to be so anxious to
kill off your husband before ever you’ve tried one.”

“Do you think Mr. Johns would make a nice husband?” Lallie asked in a
detached, impersonal sort of way.

“Good heavens! How should I know? I hope he won’t think of being any
one’s husband for years to come. He couldn’t keep a wife; for one
thing, he’s too poor.”

“Oh, but he is sure to get on; he’ll be a headmaster some day. You’ll
see. I never met a young man who was more wrapped up in his profession.
He’s influencing boys all day long.”

“By Jove! is he though? I’m glad to hear it.”

“I think he’d be a very _kind_ husband,” said Lallie, “but a bit boring
sometimes. I suppose I’d better be thinking of bed. You haven’t helped
me much, Tony,” and Lallie arose and stood in front of him, slender and
upright, in her straight green gown. Tony rose too.

“I don’t quite know what you wanted me to say, Lallie, but I’d like to
say this: Don’t you marry anybody for the sake of having a house of your
own. Your mother’s daughter is capable of something finer and better
than that. I cannot in all my experience recall such a happy marriage
as hers. Child, there is such a thing. Don’t you believe people who
say that respect, and affection, and mutual suitability, and all the
rest of it are one atom of good if you’re not in love with the man. You
spoke to-night of your father’s restlessness. Do you think he would have
been like that if your mother had lived? It was simply that he had the
most perfect home man ever had on this earth; and when she was taken
away from him the wrench destroyed his will-power, and he has been at
the mercy of his impulses ever since. Never judge him, Lallie; he can’t
help it.”

The tears welled up into Lallie’s eyes.

“I don’t judge him,” she faltered; “it’s myself I judge, and blame, and
yet I tried so hard to make his home happy and comfortable, so that he’d
want to stay with me; and I can make a nice home, I really can, but it
wasn’t enough for Dad. Last winter I thought we were settled. He liked
the hunting, and we were so happy, and had such jokes about Aunt
Emileen, but it all came to an end–and _he’d like me to marry_, Tony;
that’s the har-r-d part.”

The big tears hung on Lallie’s lashes, the corners of her mouth drooped,
and she looked so small, and pathetic, and forlorn that Tony fairly
turned his back upon her and leant his arms on the chimneypiece, staring
with the greatest interest at the shield bearing his college arms, which
he did not see.

“I am convinced,” he said, and his voice was almost gruff, “that your
father would hate to think you married anybody simply for the sake of
getting married. Of course he would like to see you well and happily
married–but—-”

“Good-night, Tony,” Lallie said meekly.

He turned and shook her outstretched hand and stood at the door watching
her as she went slowly up the stairs with drooping head and deep
depression in every line of the slender little figure that always looked
so much taller than it really was. She never turned her head to look
back at rum, and Tony shut the door and sat down at his desk with a
groan.

Matron was right: he’d got it late, and he’d got it badly. But she was
wrong when she informed Val that he didn’t know what was the matter with
him.

He cursed himself for an old fool; for a betrayer of trust; for a dog in
the manger.

Fitz wanted Lallie to marry this Ballinger; told him so. And here was
he, Tony Bevan, actually using what influence he had to prevent her
doing anything of the kind. Fitz wouldn’t want it unless Ballinger were
a good fellow. He knew Ballinger and Tony didn’t. Was it likely that
Fitz would be anxious for the marriage unless Ballinger was the best of
good fellows? And yet, he, Tony, who knew nothing whatever about the
man, had interfered. “But she doesn’t love him!” cried this old fool,
this betrayer of a father’s trust.

“How do you know?” sternly demanded the inward mentor; “is she a girl to
wear her heart upon her sleeve? She may be deeply in love with him, but
won’t confess it to herself even, just because he is rich and eligible,
and because she would like a home of her own.”

“She doesn’t seem a bit in love with him,” pleaded the fatuous one.
“Lallie in love would—-”

The mentor shrugged his shoulders and retired, for Tony Bevan had
embarked upon a sea of speculation so deliciously problematical, so
wholly removed from such sober themes as duty and expediency, that it
was hopeless just then by the clearest call to reach ears that were deaf
to all but the siren song.

“I wonder,” mused Tony, “if I’d met her now for the first time, if she
hadn’t always put me down as a friend of her father’s, worlds away from
any touch of sentiment–I wonder if, as a mere man, I might have had a
chance. Upon my soul I’d have tried for it.”

For a good half hour Tony sat dreaming; then he stooped and patted Val,
remarking, “I’m d–d if she’s in love with Ballinger,” and Val wagged
his tail in cordial assent.