Tony was daily getting more and more used to Lallie’s presence

Meanwhile, Tony was daily getting more and more used to Lallie’s
presence. The pleasant, almost exciting sense of novelty had worn off,
giving place to a still pleasanter feeling of familiar security.

She would be there when he got back, this girl with the soft full voice
and delightful welcoming manner, and he found himself watching the clock
like the laziest boy in his form during the last hour of afternoon
school.

For years past, although he lived in a crowd and possessed troops of
friends, he had been rather a lonely man, and his loneliness was
accentuated rather than lessened when he came into possession of B.
House.

“Truly you may call it a ’house,’” he said to a congratulating college
friend. “It’s far less of a home than my old diggings. I don’t feel as
though a single stick of the furniture really belongs to me except my
old arm-chair and my desk.”

Now, however, he thought more fondly of B. House; particularly of his
study, where he knew that he would find a bright fire, the little
tea-table drawn up beside his chair, and the brass kettle singing
merrily over the spirit lamp. Not that these things were new. There
had always been tea laid for him in his study when he came in at
half-past five; but now it was Lallie who made the tea, not Ford, and
Lallie made excellent tea. Moreover, she always had a great deal to ask
and to tell. She took the deepest interest in all College matters, and
absolutely declined to regard anything from a tutorial standpoint; and
this in itself was restful and refreshing to Tony.

To her, Tony Bevan was above all the old friend tried by time; “the best
of good sorts,” “the decentest old thing.” That he happened also to be
a schoolmaster was perhaps unfortunate, but she generously declined to
let this regrettable fact influence her attitude towards him.

She knew well that he wanted her above all things to be happy, and with
him she always was happy. Furthermore she had loyally kept her
resolution not to worry Tony with any knowledge of the friction that
existed between herself and Miss Foster. He was not much at B. House,
and being of a good-natured and tolerant disposition himself, he always
gave other people credit for being similarly well disposed until he had
ample proof to the contrary. Besides, in his presence Lallie and Miss
Foster almost unconsciously adopted a manner towards one another that
was at least free from signs of open hostility.

When Lallie had been a week at B. House she took her host’s personal
appearance firmly in hand. In the morning she flew after him to brush
his coat before he went up to College. She exclaimed indignantly at the
“bagsomeness” of his trouser knees. Finding that he did not possess any
form of trouser-press she insisted on his going with her into the town
to buy one. And when it was sent home, she folded the offending
garments and placed them in it herself. She objected to ties that
looked “like a worn-out garter,” and said so. She even suggested that
certain old and well-loved coats might be sent to the Mission, but here
Tony was firm in his opposition. He would buy a new suit to please her,
but part with his old coats he would not; and Lallie was far too
diplomatic to press the matter.

She tried always to be at home to make tea for him when he came in at
half-past five, and cut short many a tea-party to keep this tryst. She
was in great demand at other houses, especially the houses where the
heads were musical.

She was waiting for Tony on the evening of the footprint encounter with
Miss Foster, and when she had fed and warmed and cosseted him generally
she sat down in the big chair opposite his and faced him squarely,
announcing:

“Hunting begins this week, Tony.”

“Does it really? How the year is getting on.”

“Tony, dear, don’t you think I might hunt if I took out one of the men
from the riding school as groom–just one day a week?”

Tony shook his head.

“If your father had wanted you to hunt I am sure he would have suggested
it, and he would probably have made arrangements for you to have a
couple of the horses over; but he has never so much as mentioned it, and
I can’t let you do it on my own responsibility. I don’t believe he’d
like it for you here either. It isn’t as if I could go with you.”

“Much good you’d be if you could go with me. You know, Tony, you are
not at your best across a horse. As for Dad not having made
arrangements–this Indian trip was got up and settled in such a
tremendous hurry, he had no time to think about me at all. Listen to me
now! How would you feel if when they began to mow the grass in May, and
the good smell was in the air, and you saw all the others in their
flannels, and heard all round you the nice deep ring of the cricket
balls–and you mightn’t play a stroke, and your arm as strong and your
eye as true as ever it was. How would you like it?”

“I shouldn’t like it at all; but—-”

“Well, then, think of me. The smell of the wet dead leaves and the
south wind blowing the soft rain against my face is just as full of
association for me. And I never go out but I see long strings of horses
in their nice new clothing, the dear darlings! And me, ME, that has
gone hunting on the opening day ever since I could sit a fat little
Shetland pony, ME to stay pokily at home! Tony, I simply can’t! You
must let me.”

“Lallie, the two cases are not analogous. You can go out riding whenever
you like, provided you take a man; but hunting, no. Not without your
father’s permission. Especially here, you are too young–too—-”

“Too what? You can’t say I’m timid. You can’t say I couldn’t ride any
mount they choose to give me at that old school. Look here, Tony,
suppose they said, ’You may play cricket–oh, yes, at the nets with a
wee little junior boy to bowl to you; but no matches, no playing with
people who play as well as you do’–would you say ’Thank you’? And
that’s precisely what you offer me. Let me tell you I ride just as well
as you play cricket–blue and all; and to please you I’ve even gone
pounding round that ridiculous racecourse with half a dozen other girls
who sit a horse like a sack of potatoes, who’d be off at every bounce
but for the pommel. D’you think I call that riding? Oh, Tony, dear, if
I could just have one good gallop across country after the hounds, I’d
be a better girl–much nicer and easier to get on with.”

“I don’t find you particularly hard to get on with as it is.”

“Other people do, though”–Lallie’s conscience pricked her as to Miss
Foster–“and I dare say I’m often a great nuisance; but once let me work
the steam off on the back of a good horse and I’d be an angel. Just you
let me go out with the hounds on Thursday and you’ll see.”

“Lallie, my child, don’t. I would if I could, but I simply dare not.
Your father would never forgive me. It was quite different last winter
when he was there himself to look after you.”

“My dear, good man, a hunting field isn’t like the ’croc’ of a girls’
school. No one can ’look after’ anybody else. You either ride straight
or you potter, or you rush your fences and get in people’s way. But
whatever you do you’re on your own. If you come a bad smash there’s
always a hurdle to lay you on, and a doctor and a farmhouse somewhere
about. If you think Dad kept me in his pocket three days a week
throughout the hunting season all these years, you’ve a more fertile
imagination than I gave you credit for, and Dad would be the first to
disillusion you. We went to the meets together, and after that we saw
precious little of one another.”

“What about riding home?”

“Hardly ever did we come home together. Sometimes he got home first,
sometimes I did; and whichever of us was first in got the bath, and the
other was pretty sure to come pounding at the door before the early bird
was out of it. You _can’t_ chaperon people out hunting. Why, by the
time I’d been out three times here, I’d know the whole field, and you’d
be perfectly happy knowing I was among friends.”




Lallie sat forward in her chair gazing eagerly at Tony, who said nothing
at all; but from the expression of his face it might have been gathered
that this prediction of her speedy intimacy with all the field gave him
no satisfaction whatever.

“Well, Tony?” she demanded impatiently.

“I’m sorry, but it’s impossible. You can write to Fitz if you like and
ask him to cable his opinion.”

“No, indeed. I’ll write and tell him that unless he cables forbidding
me, I’m going to hunt. Dad will always do the easiest thing, and I know
will never bother to cable forbidding me to do a thing I’ve done for
years.”

Lallie’s voice was almost defiant, and poor Tony looked very pained, but
he said nothing; and after a minute’s silence she continued in a more
conciliatory tone:

“Then in a fortnight’s time from next mail if I don’t hear, I may hunt?”

“You must give him three weeks, for he may be up country, and his mail
takes days to reach him after the agent gets it.”

“And by that time there’ll be a frost; I didn’t think it of you, Tony, I
really didn’t. In this matter you out-Emileen Aunt Emileen herself.”

Tony rose.

“You have my leave to depart,” he said, opening the door for her; “I’ve
a lot of letters to write, and those chaps are coming to bridge after
dinner, so I must do them now.”

“Well, I think you’re horrid, and if a slate falls on my head and kills
me when I’m out walking, just you reflect how nice and safe I’d have
been if I’d had my own way and been out in the open country.”

“I’ll risk the slate,” Tony remarked unfeelingly; but still he would not
look at Lallie, who stood in the doorway gazing reproachfully at him.

“And you’re going to play bridge and have a nice time while I sit
solemnly in the drawing-room making a waistcoat for you, ungrateful man.
You’ve never asked me to take a hand, and I play quite well.”

“You see, this is a club; we meet at each other’s houses–there are no
ladies—-”

“Of all the monastical establishments I’ve ever come across this is the
strictest, and you call Ireland a priest-ridden country.”

“Lallie, I must write my letters.”

At that moment Mr. Johns came into the hall, bearing a large and heavy
book.

“Well, you deny me everything that keeps me out of mischief–on your own
head be it,” said Lallie rapidly, in low tones of ominous menace. Then,
turning to the newcomer, she smiled a radiant welcome, exclaiming
joyously: “You’ve brought your snapshots to show me! How kind of you!
I’m badly in need of something to cheer me up. Come into the
drawing-room, for Mr. Bevan is busy and Miss Foster’s out, so we’ll have
it all to ourselves.”

With quite unnecessary violence Mr. Bevan rang the bell for Ford to take
away tea. Yet, when Ford, looking rather aggrieved, had responded to
his noisy summons and removed the tea-things with her customary quiet
deftness, he did not sit down at once to deal with his correspondence.
Instead, he went and stood in front of the fire staring at the Greuze
girl who was so like Lallie.

He ran his fingers through his smooth thick hair–a sure sign of mental
perturbation with Tony–and he made the discovery that he was furiously
angry; not with Lallie, the wilful and inconsequent, but with the
unoffending Mr. Johns.

“Confound the fellow and his snapshots!” thought Tony; “if there’s one
kind of hobby more detestable than another it’s that of the ardent
amateur photographer. A man given up to it is almost as bad as the chap
who wears cotton-wool in his ears, and is always taking medicine. There
were these two” (with the second-sight vouchsafed to most of us upon
occasion, Tony was perfectly correct in his surmise) “sitting side by
side on the sofa with their heads close together, and that great heavy
book spread out on their joint knees. Heavens! he would be proposing to
snapshot Lallie next” (which is precisely what Mr. Johns was doing at
that moment). “He, Tony, would not have it. He would interfere, he
would–” Suddenly, exclaiming aloud, “What an ass I am!” he sat down at
his desk with the firm determination to attend to his letters. He drew
a neatly docketed bundle towards him, and selected the top one. It was
that of Uridge Major’s father, who wrote pointing out what a steadying
effect it would have upon the boy were he made a prefect that term.
Tony dealt diplomatically with this, but instead of going methodically
through the bundle as he had fully intended to do he drew from his
pocket a letter he had received from Fitzroy Clonmell last mail. It
consisted of two closely written sheets; the first mainly descriptive of
the sport they were enjoying, and duly concluded with the pious hope
that his daughter was behaving herself. This was manifestly intended to
be shown to Lallie. It was the second sheet that Tony read and re-read
when he ought to have been allaying the misgivings of anxious-minded
parents.

“By the way,” it ran, “if one Sidney Bargrave Ballinger should happen to
call upon Lallie while she is with you, be decent to him, will you? He
fell hopelessly in love with her at Fareham last winter, and followed us
to Ireland for fishing in the spring, when he proposed and she refused
him. Consequently she is unlikely ever to have mentioned his name. The
frankest and most garrulous creature about all that concerns herself,
she is extraordinarily reticent as to things concerning other people,
especially if she thinks it might be in any way unpleasant for them to
have their affairs discussed. They parted quite good friends, and I
take it as not unlikely that she might be brought to reconsider her
decision. You will probably think him a bit of a crock–old son of Anak
that you are! So he is in some ways, but he is also quite a good sort,
refined, kind-hearted, and a gentleman; a Trinity man, with somewhat
scholarly tastes. I am sure he would make her a good and indulgent
husband. Besides, he has an uncommonly nice place in Garsetshire, and
about eight thousand a year. He came into this money quite recently
through the death of an uncle, and having now a ’stake in the country’
he feels, I suppose, that he ought to be a bit of a sportsman, and he
does his best to achieve that character, although I don’t believe he has
a single sporting instinct in him. He broke his collar-bone the second
time he came out hunting last season; but he hunted again the minute it
was mended, and rode as queerly as ever. He followed us to Kerry for
fishing in April, and flogged the stream all day without getting a
single rise; but he contrived to see something of Lallie, which was what
he came for.

“Should he appear in Hamchester I’d like to know how he strikes you.
I’m so horribly afraid she may want to marry some impecunious soldier
chap imported by Paddy, who will carry her off to a vile climate where
she would assuredly go under in a year or two, that it would be a real
comfort to me to see her safely married to a good fellow who could give
her all the pleasures she most cares for and has been accustomed to; and
even if he isn’t a sportsman himself would not be averse from her fond
father occasionally sharing in the same–but this is a very secondary
consideration. A son-in-law will be such an incubus that nothing he can
bring in his hand will mitigate the nuisance much.

“Perhaps he won’t turn up at all, but if he does, don’t cold-shoulder
him–he has my blessing. Give him his chance. She’ll follow her own
line of country in any long run, but there’s no harm in giving her an
occasional lead in the most desirable direction. I wish he hadn’t been
called Sidney, it’s a name I detest; still, we can call him by his
middle name if it ever reaches the necessity for a familiar appellation.

“_Salve atque vale_.

“From yours.
“Fitz.”

Tony knit his brows and pondered. Had Mr. Sidney Bargrave Ballinger
already arrived? he wondered. Was that why Lallie was so ardently
desirous of going out with the hounds on Thursday? No; he acquitted her
of any form of stratagem. If she had seen the man she would have
mentioned it. She always made a bee-line for anything she wanted, and
intrigue was as foreign to her nature as mischief-making.

He was worried and irritable; he couldn’t settle to his letters; and he
felt quite unaccountably annoyed with Fitz for thus shifting the burden
of responsibility from his own shoulders to Tony’s. And Tony, being of
a just and charitable temperament, took himself seriously to task for
having instantaneously and irrevocably taken a violent dislike to the
unseen and unknown Sidney Bargrave Ballinger.